Sunday, November 16, 2014

Straight Talk: The Ralph Rucci problem, continued.

One has to wonder how a designer who's collection is on the same level or higher than the most important couture houses in Europe could remain almost permanently off the radar of fashion magazines the world over. With the exception of his ad campaign shot by Steven Meisel over the last 2 years, there is rarely if ever a sighting of his work in the editorial pages. Otherwise, one fails to see even that. The problem that irked me most was the almost deliberate refusal of these magazine and newspaper editors who had pride of place in the front rows of his shows. Anna Wintour was never in attendance, either here or when Rqlph showed the Couture in Paris.I have a problem with that as it makes little sense considering the description of her job.


The implied dismissal by a press that should know the difference between the mediocre and the divine, I know, big sweeping word, divine, but to many, including me, that's precisely what it IS. What were they so afraid of? Perhaps, his work would overshadow the formulaic contributions of others. Maybe modernity trumps the mundane. Possibly, it came down to whomever pays for ads gets to play on the swings. That rule is a very slippery one as so many exceptions are made. The Vogue Fund with its council partnership is just the perfect example. Check out the Ovation channel to see just how the "system" works.

My anger doesn't do anything but creates division and bad feeling, mostly for me. Ralph is a very Zen person. How can you create in the way he does and be anything but. His world is one filled with an appreciation for every single detail and element that conspires to be a thing of beauty. He's like a composer who's capable of playing every instrument in the orchestra. That is a wondrous thing to behold. It exists only rarely in precious few.

Perhaps this is an example of the new regime. Control is the new term for team playing. The owner rescues a struggling concern and then dictates without prior experience in the field. The designer must now march to the owner's beat or else... It happens everywhere now. The contract a designer signs serves management and benefits the designer, only temporarily. Management now controls the long game, the short game is the domain of the designing squirrels scrambling to get a nut.

It looks as though largess of the sort slithers from the hands of editors-in-chief to the head office of conglomerates. The tops of the mast heads "suggest" to the LVMHs, Kerings, Puigs to bestow plum creative directorships to the same stable of 10 spreading around their mediocrity.  Throw around a name often enough, move them through a few old and true design houses and you may even create a new brand in the process. Fashion clearly takes the backseat. Few people seem to see it that way and yet it's writ large on every surface, shop window and page. It's something to consider. The new mediocrity is here. All else left the building before the opening credits.

I'm sure Ralph Rucci will be fine, even better than fine, happy even. At least he no longer has to submit to the whims of people who are better suited as extras on some regrettable Fashion based reality show. The conversation appears to focus on who will replace him. High stakes fashion has become a blood sport. One gladiator is mauled by the Emperor and another is thrown to the lions.

It's unfortunate.






Saturday, November 15, 2014

Straight talk: The Ralph Rucci Problem

Ralph Rucci Spring 2015
I've sat quietly digesting the events of the last week. I am not privy to the nitty gritty of the story but am imagining what possibly happened having known Ralph as a friend for the past 6 years or so. The departure of Ralph Rucci from his storied house sits in my stomach like a jagged rock. I doubt that I'm alone in wondering what went down. The press release states obliquely that he walked away willingly from his couture house to pursue other creative endeavors. Besides his furniture design for Holly Hunt, his painting and other activities such as speaking engagements, there don't appear to be any other creative pursuits beyond designing his eponymous collection. My impression from numerous occasions where we've spoken, dined, hung out and laughed is there is nothing in the world, nothing, that's more important to him than his chosen metier. Having had the privilege to witness 5+ collections seated in the audience, I can safely say there are precious few collections that have filled me with such wonder, amazement and satisfaction. And almost none where I felt that I was a witness to the very best that design and fashion in particular have to offer.
Ralph Rucci Fall2013

The audience at these shows would sit rapt in attention as every look came past. From the clothes, divine, to the accessories, unseen before, and the elegance of his models who never took center stage but showed the clothes with a quiet, hyper elegance transcending the almost banal concept of what a model is today. They were like a sleek army of reed thin Amazons doing battle with the status quo and then seducing a 1000 people huddled in a dark cavernous room. The ovations at the end were almost always standing and endless. More than that, one left feeling as though something important had just happened and we, the fortunate 1000, happened for once to be in the right place at a decisive moment.

The financial strain was certainly a herculean weight on his shoulders but it never stopped him from doing his best. His best can not be compared to others efforts. Simply, because his mission started 30 years ago and never wavered from its original target. Schizophrenia just doesn't exist in his aesthetic. The thread is clear, taught and reinforced with steel cables. This explains a clientele as loyal to him as say the Balenciaga or Beene client. These women just don't see fashion as having any weight, vision or ubiquity unless it is from the hands and atelier of Ralph Rucci. When Diana Vreeland talked about Mona Bismarck at the time that Balenciaga closed his house, she said,
"Mona took to her bed for 3 days...You have to understand that when Balenciaga stopped it was the end of a certain part of her life".
I'm sure that the same goes for the Ralph Rucci client. I saw women at his shows who wore his clothes from top to bottom. They didn't believe there was anything else worth owning and wearing. What of those women who ordered countless outfits each season, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars? What becomes of them?

Ralph Rucci Spring 2014
I have trouble believing he left willingly. It seems more plausible that the new management (the Marks, Nancy in particular, Guy the CFO and "Joey" the CEO) took steps to encourage his departure. What did they want that he wasn't producing? Fast fashion? Price points in the $500-$1500. range? Maybe they wanted him to design the couture and put someone else in place for the ready to wear? The bottom line is there was no ready to wear. It was either couture lite or Haute Couture. Meeting them briefly, they appeared to be the farthest thing from managers of a couture house. Hooking up a caboose of start-up designers in a mass showroom under the aegis of "Joey" to the Rucci organization is like tacking a paper tail onto a Grand Prix dressage horse. Then consider him, Joey, as the new CEO over Ralph and calling the shots along with Ms. Marks who's experience in the couture is writing a check and putting on the dress. Who does that?

The last time I visited I asked in the workroom what the gowns were that were on forms with the bulk of the staff working feverishly on them. I asked if they were new designs for the show which at that time was about 6 weeks off. The answer that came sent a shiver down my spine. They were all for the new owner. It seemed that all important production, that bane to the existence of a new collection in need of equal attention. Yet, production was on hold as was the creation of the new collection and all for the needs of the new owner. Priorities appeared dangerously skewed.  The heat I took in my studio to start the new collection when production orders for the previous season caused shouting matches between me and my production manager. To stop all the works to make a number of very time consuming gowns for someone, instead, was met with a firestorm. It just didn't happen.


One doesn't expect this sort of behavior at a company as vaunted as Ralph's. But this is what looks to be the case. It's so unnecessary and wasteful in an age where nothing seems to hold any value. When investors come in to save a company and then turn around and strip it of its essence, Ralph Rucci, then the business model proves to be flawed and blind. The consequent exodus will prove this to be true. For the record, I've not spoken directly with Ralph since last week. This is solely my speculation.

to be continued....




Monday, November 10, 2014

Ralph Rucci to step away from his company.

For those of you who've read this blog on occasion or followed it over the past few years know how highly I regard Ralph Rucci and his incredible contribution to the increasingly rarefied world of Haute Couture and fashion in general. Here in NYC, America and the world at large, there's no one who can match his particular gifts. It takes only a moment to get a hint of the genius behind most every single piece of clothing he designs. Taking the language of classical design and construction, he has inverted and invented whole new techniques. The work is so alive, dynamic and provocative in a most quiet way, that it's hard to look at his clothes or watch a collection on the runway without being moved in a physical way. They challenge and they excite. Most of all they satisfy in a time where there is little satisfaction in fashion to be found on almost every level. Ralph is that rare exception.

Today, the company announced that Ralph has decided to leave the company and "pursue other projects". This is a tragedy and travesty. Ralph Rucci has given his life to his metier, his family of brilliant technicians and a muse that has brought many of us to tears more than once.  The pressures of maintaining an Haute Couture collection of such exquisite beauty, made of the finest materials, leathers, furs and embroideries has to be staggeringly expensive. Fortunately, or unfortunately at this juncture, a client who's husband is an industrialist bought the company and name, I fear, 2 years ago. The Marks control it now and have decided to remove him and reshape it in their image; pedestrian and soulless. They intend to name a new creative director in the next weeks and debut the re imagined RR collection for Resort 2015.

It's a sad day for many of us, especially his loyal clients who are practically collectors of his treasures. They will be flattened by this news. I'm stunned though I feared this was coming sooner than later, just not this soon. I hope that Ralph will continue to create if he chooses. More than anything I hope that he knows how much he is revered and admired. There is no one on this planet who can speak so poetically through fashion design as he. I miss him already.



Monday, September 8, 2014

Cushnie and Ochs Spring 2015: The Good, the Bad and the Commercial



This pair has interested and confused me for several seasons now. Just when I think I have a fix on them they do something really great or the opposite. I'm constantly off balance and unsure how to call it. 



Last year this time I was in the middle of a very interesting offer from a school of higher education. To be honest, it seemed so far out of my experience that I approached it more as an experiment/experience than something I might actually be chosen to do. In the midst of the 4 day obstacle course of meetings, lunches, interviews, demonstrations (on my part) I was given a book, The Little Black Dress, the catalogue of Andre Leon Talley's hugely successful museum show, and thumbed through it after yet another day of "vetting". That book was jammed with amazing images of black dresses by a mix of likely and unlikely designers. Cushnie and Ochs were included with a couple of the most astounding dresses in the mix. Andre has an incredible eye to isolate really great design in a sea of mediocrity. As I looked again and again at their work in that book I was struck by their obvious talent and unique point of view. Then today I took a look expecting to see more and found so much less. Confusing.



What moves me about their work is a natural bent towards abstraction. They take familiar shapes and upend them in a way that suggests a real sophistication and understanding of cut and proportion. The clothes for the most part swung from the banal to the obvious. Grommets on evening dresses without the Versace stamp too often tend towards the obvious.  Pair that with a dress with 'cold shoulders' and car wash fringe and you have a perfect recipe for drive thru fast food. The long evening looks that make ample if uninspired use of silk crepe, charmeuse and chiffon and you get old fashioned lady like looks perfect for the New York Social Diary. Its the raped one shoulder dresses with one fabric and one sliver of a strap holding it all together and you have a look that will stop traffic. There were too little of those and way too many of the other. Knowing the marketplace and all it's contradictions this should be a commercial success (?).



A few looks in black and white stripes starting with a bikini that looked oddly out of place were interesting plays on graphics. Other dresses that were draped twisted and draped some more felt stale when one considers the freshness of say Donna Karan's nimble fingers. On a very critical note the styling was off putting. The makeup, hair and jewelry was distracting. The models looked like they came from the imagination of a novice. One can only hold out hope that they will some day settle on a language that is all their own. In the meantime I take more more pleasure in the 2 looks in an old (now) book. In closing I was offered the job...




Dion Lee Spring 2015: Fresh Air







Wouldn't you know it would take a relative unknown to step up and and get this party started. Lee has done just that with an assured and original collection taking the language of active sport and translatin it into unique and wearable clothes that remind one of no one other than their author. Straps with buckles and zippers opening and closing areas of a given look are skillfully employed producing a feel of both utility and glamor. 




A subdued palette keeps the focus on his technique. Clever cuts that fit are what stops the eye and keeps it focused. Whether separates or dresses the pieces fit and appear to mix effortlessly. Fit, that elusive quality that is increasingly a thing of the past, is firmly in his grasp. The knits and printed looks are well executed even if they are visually less arresting. Nevertheless, he uses them with deliberation cutting them to their best advantage. There is little sense that Lee is pandering to his audience. His commitment to his vision is clear. Inventiveness is his m.o. Dion Lee is a breath of fresh air and someone to watch.


Jason Wu Spring 2015: Into the Koi pond



The big news at Wu is his new partner, or I should say boss, InterLuxe Investments. They recently bought a majority stake in the company giving Wu more financial Terra firma on which to do his modest dance. So the flagship, the accessories, the makeup, what have you, is soon to be out of the microwave and onto a plastic plate. 



I'm sure the fans of Jason Wu will be ecstatic that their boy is soon to become a man among the big men. Think Michael Kors, Reed Krackoff and Christopher Burch. All in all, it's been a banner year for the designer with his overwhelming success with the rebirth of Boss Women and, well, other stuff I'm sure.



Boss women, briefly, a collection of sportswear, suits and dresses have failed to find any meaningful traction in the US market. Visiting the store, (factory store) and headquarters in Metzingen, Germany there's little sign it had much traction there too. Racks and racks of sterile looking numbers with bits of lace, skinny silhouettes, skinny belts and complicated seaming (too little or no effect) heralded this new aesthetic. Considering the factories of Boss with their German HIGH TECH facilities, one would think that some brilliance or just a touch of magic was one shazamm away. But all I saw was a spotted rabbit being pulled from a knit cap looking none too pleased.



This collection has a bit more life with some shapes that were new for Wu and even interesting. The white coat over a sheer knit (multi-seamed) top over a white skirt. The fabric looked rich as did the ovoid shape of the coat, all cut on the round (CHoryn-ism) and looking citified and sharp. 



The same goes for a long sleeved white dress that followed with a dropped shoulder and requisite skinny belt. So much of the rest of day consists of Wu digging deep in his trove of go-to patterns and re cutting things like t-shirts, straight skirts and jackets and dull wrap dresses in suede and leather giving them the same look only in suede and leather. The little zip front knit tops are cute but do little to keep this stew all neatly in its bowl. The slouchy low-slung pants and corresponding big shirts suggest a languor and hipness that looks clearly foreign to Wu. His idea of sex is a dress or skirt slit up to the top of the thigh. Never other zones of suggestion. Necklines stay firmly set at the throat or demurely V'd or wrapped across the chest. He seems at odds with his subject. As though a woman, his chosen muse Charlotte Rampling this time, though there was little sense she came to mind in the collection's creation other than being a clever image/name to toss out to the hungry journalists, is as much a mystery as the numbers he whipped up for Michelle Obama.




The same goes for his cocktail and evening dresses with their self conscious 'sexuality'. The wrap, drape and tuck method is in strong evidence with the result of vague references to Halston and Elie Saab and even Michael Kors. He has consistently with his artistry de-sexified the likes of Karlie Kloss and Caroline Murphy which, let's face it, takes some REAL effort. The last 2 evening gowns were a case in point. The first in rust was all awkward peek-a-boo with an annoying strap grabbing the ribcage  and buckling the bodice as it plunges to the waist sporting a deep to the navel V. Sexy? No. An attempt to warm up the fusty front row? YES... The navy one with the same idea was more successful largely due to his stepping out of the way. So into the Koi pond he goes. That place where little fish become big fish even when they have just one fin.


Prabal Gurung Spring 2015: Misappropriation and missed opportunities...



It all started so well. Like his debut collection just a few short years back, Prabal Gurung showed more promise than most in the field of new, young talent. There was a purity of vision and purpose that was exciting to see. The opening to his spring 2015 collection had a similar feel. But from look 5 or 6 all the long, long way to 33-37 of 38 exits, there was nothing short of a drought. 

Too many details and looks reminds one of others work: Dior, LVuitton and bits and pieces of Ralph Rucci. The trailing ties and tails were all too familiar from RRucci's last spring collection. The odd-ball patchwork of prints and solids in successive looks with asymmetric ruffles and feathers tacked on for good measure did little to strengthen his message. They brought to mind the retread of LVuitton. Ghesquierre sent out  a group of dresses late in what was another endless show of banalities that also played the patchwork game to equally dull effect. Though Gurung has more drape in his arsenal the result was too similar. The question that dogged my mind was how many dresses can one dress be?



The references to tough chic moto cross trousers in silk complete with stripes across the leg, cargo zippers and all in multi-colors look forced and not particularly cool, though the accompanying blazers did have an interesting edge. That's the irony in all of this. COOL seems to be the very thing he's trying to express. Like in the beginning with a fellow contemporary Altuzzara, they both worked overtime to appear edgy and ahead of the curve. Altuzzara has moved on. Gurung is still attempting to draw water from a parched well. The small group of knits he showed over trousers was one bright spot an an area that could be further elaborated on.



Deconstruction is an interesting way to find the essence of an idea. Gurung appears to be committed to this idea but with mixed results. Not until look 33 appeared did it seem that he's found his groove. Still, the mix of shapes, eroticism and technique came together in an exciting way. Great gowns worth seeing on a great looking woman. Maybe less would go a long way towards more. His star shines bright nevertheless. It goes to show that clothes are not the most important currency of a designer.....