Saturday, August 1, 2015

Balenciaga: Have at it!!!

First of all, Hi everybody. How are all of you? Still engaged in the discussion that is fashion? I've been very much distracted of late with the mysteries and magic of plain, old, simple, everybody-can-participate in: Life. For all its dullness and repetition, life seems to hold so many more surprises than fashion. For one, it never ceases to surprise and stimulate one. Fashion doesn't do much of that. Life instructs and even rewards one. Fashion doesn't do much of that. Life has a way of taking one from point A to point Z with a million stops along the way. Fashion appears to do that until you realize it doesn't. It may seem like it's taking you along but in reality it's the train that rarely stops. It doesn't so much pick up passengers as it runs them down, even barrels over them.

The news of Alexander Wang's departure from Balenciaga comes as no surprise. That 3 years have come and gone with 10 collections under his belt is more surprising. The time just flew and to a large degree due to his positive contribution to the house. To my surprise, Wang's Balenciaga was refreshing, respectful and elegant. Contrary to Nicholas Ghesquierre's monotonous, self referential and tepid displays of (dud) pyrotechnics, Wang stepped agilely into the fray giving us a vision both sentimental and forward reaching. His use of the man made with techniques informed by the past, to my mind, was a masterful balancing act worthy of applause. I went into his tenure with little enthusiasm but the surprises kept surprising. Shapes, textures, color and their successful marriage is that near impossible trick so many attempt. Again and again, he succeeded or came that much closer, keeping this watcher on the lookout. Wang made Balenciaga cool. Something Ghesquierre could rarely do, certainly never sustain. I would hazard the same will be Louis Vuitton's fate.

So with the news of his departure, the question is "who's next?" Who cares? In a world obsessed with Khloe, Kendall, Kim, Kylie and Karlie, the lows are so low that the idea of high is just too foreign to imagine. Maybe they (Kering) should just break down and let Kimye, even Caitlyn have at it. Stop fighting that red tide and let the barbarians in. They can't do much worse than Nicholas or Lindsay Lohan or ... Maybe Raf Simons should climb off the back of Dior and go cock up Balenciaga. The fit makes more sense even if Simons makes little sense there or anywhere, for that matter. Watch the film "Dior and I" and you see how limited, soulless and dull are his gifts. It's all about his assistant......

Cecil Beaton's "The Fashion Glass", first published in 1954, reissued by Rizzoli and RIFE with typos, has recently re-landed on book store shelves. This old read is as prescient as if written earlier this month. It should be required reading for any and all. Perspective, that rarest of qualities is exactly what this tome delivers in spades. Perspective is that thing that's been hopelessly skewed, clouded and hijacked by the likes of our most feared of leaders, Mistress Wintour. I fear its a vision permanently changed, forever dimmed. The likes of Edna Woolman Chase, Carmel Snow and eventually, Diana Vreeland are discussed in detail. You never get the sense of their intrusion in the process. You don't worry that they had 3-D printers stashed in their purses for the sole purpose of creating their idea of the perfect designer....One wonders what he would have made of Anna Wintour. Unholy comes to mind. So does unfortunate. Her "involvement" in the process is not so much about the betterment of fashion but a flexing of her muscle. That her favors can be bought is a story too old and tedious to tell. The result of this meddling is what we are faced with today; musical chairs, whereby all the music and the few remaining chairs all are controlled by her. Not much game in that. This shepherdess is leading her flock right over a cliff.

I get it that the times change, that rules change and the needs of people change.  Perhaps editors should be a bit more like presidents. After a few terms, it's not the worst idea to pack up your things and let someone else with some fresh ideas have at it!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Not my monkeys. Not my circus....

Please come to my party?
It was impossible to dodge all the news stories leading up to the party of the century, or at least the party of the month. Everywhere you looked there were stories about Anna Wintour and her visionary status. The queen of the zeitgeist. Or better yet, the createur of the zeitgeist. Considering, the shift from models as cover subjects to stars of the movies, reality TV and the music industry, and an occasional athlete (Serena Williams to fill the color quotient), has made her job really pretty easy. First off the gates are officially closed to all and sundry who do not meet the requirements of her stringent list. The ticket price which is nothing but a stab at democracy when in reality no invitations are "paid for" as Ms. Wintour instructs her sponsors (LVMH, etc) to pony up while she takes care of who comes with whom wearing what and where those someones will be seated. No longer is a designer on the rise welcome or even invited but only those who've ascended to her particular zip code in heaven....

It looks like a hell of a party. The decoration, food, entertainment (Rihanna singing, "Bitch better have my money") look grand compared to most "benefits" in town. The museum certainly is a huge draw with the costume institute exhibitions only getting better. The Alexander McQueen "Savage Beauty" exhibit set a new bar for the subsequent shows. This show, unlike Charles James which to my eye was a rambling mess of a show was well thought out and beautifully arranged. At the James show I trekked upstairs, downstairs, around the corner, all over the place and in the course of trying to find another part of the show, I found the front door and called it a day. This show is pretty fabulous in that it is beautifully integrated into several of the museum's galleries culminating down below in the original galleries for this show. The dark, dank basement.

My beef with this rite of spring is the sheer level of crass self regard, not to mention a noticeable lack of restraint on the part of all the women who came in nothing more than a spangle (partially) covered slip that couldn't be bothered with covering her nether regions. Between the utter scale/degree that "entertainers"went to to get a little love from the press was nothing short of taking to the steps and dropping all pretense, starting with a silly article of clothing. What does that say about China and a looking glass? Beyonce', Jlo, Rihanna, Kim K and others seem not to have gotten the memo that perhaps it's a good idea to show positive examples of womanhood and beauty for the little girls out there looking and yearning to be just like them. Images of Kim K and her rear end were like looking at a sideshow star on the night the circus is closed. Even Anna Wintour was dressed in a not so flattering look. That dress coupled with a smiling, de-spectacled Wintour was like looking in the tent where they keep the babies floating in formaldehyde. Unsettling. Even nightmare producing.

The Costume Institute Ball was once a party to end all parties, if you cared for fashion and the world that made it up here. It was elegant. Exciting. You got to meet the players and dance til dawn with a whole mad mix of New Yorkers. Amazing things could happen. It was Vegas jackpot experience for me one year. A stylist from Vanity Fair complimented my date and muse Bernadette on her gown and next thing I knew there were 6 looks at a cover meeting for the Hollywood issue of the magazine. I ended up with 2 gowns on that cover. The only guy with 2 and on the backs of Jada Pinkett and JLo that year. Who knew? For 150. and a tux the world could be your oyster. If it were today? Well, if it were today there'd be no story to write. Still, go see the show. It's great. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Copping to Oscar... Fall/Winter 2015

I suppose next to the shows of Marc Jacobs, Carolina Herrera, Proenza Schouler, Tom Browne, Calvin Klein, Alexander Wang, Joseph Altuzzara and Jason Wu, the debut collection of Peter Copping for Oscar de la Renta was the hottest ticket of the season. So much anticipation and speculation roiled the denizens of Park Avenue and points farther east, south and west. What would he do? How would he handle the enormous pressure of moving the storied house forward. Would Annette, Oscar's still-in-mourning widow and all of her ladies in waiting give the nod to Mr. Copping? Forget the singing, the dancing, and courtliness of that legendary man of the world. Those arts died with him. Instead, what of Oscar's 6th sense for knowing precisely what his Ladies wanted, needed and craved? Could this Englishman schooled in the subtle art of French Haute Couture come to this raucous land of snap crackle pop and actually make an argument for the house's future? The answer to that question is a qualified yes.

Qualified simply because it was neither a triumph or a failure. The 47 looks added up to a safe, at times sparkling, but most often an almost quaint display of artistry. The first looks out with their lovely, weightless silk and lace trimmed blouses over short bias striped wool skirts had a youthful quality. So delicately wrought were those blouses that they looked untouched by human hands. That's technique at its best. Perhaps the absence of jackets or coats over those looks gave them that schoolgirl feel that every matron over the age of 60 craves. Though lengths were short, the high waists added that extra above that had so skillfully been excised  below. One detail seemed to cancel out the other and all in the same piece. Then came the suits, the suit and coat dresses and printed silk dresses. Sweet but redolent of the days of Jack Mulqueen and the $150.00 silk dress, a working girl's dream! With prim coats in plaids and fur trim circling the hems and cuffs, this was not so much a fashion question as it was a style statement; familiar and yet hackneyed.  Styling becomes a thorn at this moment as that sense of mad mixing and matching begins to color and underwhelm the work.

The Lady never slips off her pedestal. Instead that pedestal becomes crowded with the "codes" of the house we hear so incessantly about: sweetheart necklines, skinny belted uptight suits with little sex appeal, jeweled pumps and smart bags of indeterminate origin. Cocktail dresses abounded in racy lace, nude appearing bodices armed with boning to keep all that order in order. About now I started to yawn.

Gowns followed with many in black and white. For all those women who beg to have a dress with sleeves, well, come and get it. Copping showed his ability as a colorist with rich saturated mixes in short and long dresses. Nice. Where I found issue was that some of the colorations felt like timid YSL mixes and shapes smacked of older Oscars by way of new Diorisms. Nice but not great. Nicole Phelps of fame went further to question the fit of the clothes. The clothes fit. The studio there is so deeply schooled in the discipline of quality, make and fit that questioning that is utter nonsense. But like Vanessa Friedman of the New York Times, Ms. Phelps is a dilettante better suited to chronicling her own outfits than analyzing others, like the pot calling the kettle a plate.

Perhaps in time the collection Peter Copping wants to propose will appear without the weight of other's expectations, mine included.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

New York collections Fall/Winter 2015: Wu, Altuzarra, Wang, Rosie Assoulin, Proenza Schouler,Prabal Gurungetc

Jason Wu
The mundane in fashion is like a floater. No matter how many times one attempts to flush the low, the pretentious and the banal that crowds the runways here, they all seem to congeal creating a scum trapping the new and the inventive below its ever multiplying mass.

Wes Gordon
That statement succinctly identifies most of what passes as fashion in New York, and not just here. There appears to be a dearth of little to say in many design studios around the city. Popular belief is that the fashion designer is something of an oracle, sniffing static spray, inhaling fumes from "new" developments in man made fabrics and suffering vertigo due to a lack of solid ground below. One is supposed to believe that with each collection there is a story told that identifies a designer's particular world view; the intersection of art/craft with real life loaded with an antidote to the poison of the past, the past being last season's prescriptives. The fact is there are few if any oracles in the fashion world other than the conglomerates who manufacture the fumes by means of blanketing the media, internet and stores with its toxic perfume. That's what it feels like these days looking at shows. Program notes by the designer is no help at all. It's just more gas floating in the air.

Prabal Gurung
I passed on attending just about everything I usually go to see. Instead, I went up to Massachusetts during NY Fashion week and sat through 8 solid days of snow storms with only the company of my sister's cat Tito. She and Mom headed south to Peru and Macchu Pichu. It disturbed me that I wasn't there to watch and worse, I didn't feel one way or the other about it. The New York Times can be found in my hometown so I trekked into town and got it to read reviews. Unfortunately, the new NY Times fashion editor at the wheel, Vanessa Friedman, was busily talking folksy and dumbed-downedly to the masses. A quip here, an aside directed at you or me there and all with such earnestness I thought I was being nursed at my mom's breast. Yet, no nourishment. Only burps and a lot of gas. Her praise of Jason Wu who changes stripes this season to stretch those arms and show us he can do a good rendition of sportswear ala Oscar and Kors. His collection along with Altuzarra, Wes Gordon and Alex Wang read more like a women's wear daily review issue. Short, sweet and empty. Not all were written by her. Some were from her team of editors, but the tone was distressingly similar. The customer be damned. These clothes are playing to the front row of editors. It's a branding game where the substance is overshadowed by the performance.  It's also a game of designers once noted for a preponderance of evening clothes have opted for sportswear as that is the category that wins one prizes....

Proenza Schouler
Proenza Schouler took the crowd on a romp that showed a degree of considered madness. Great jackets and coats have come out of there but the sheer grommetted and knitted bits are just that, madness. Unappealing shoes and derivative bags finished the look along with models whose look was all stringy, sweaty hair and a pallor just this side of jaundice. But hey, that's the look of love.

Rosie Assoulin

Prabal Gurung made a good collection after a few seasons on listing in the shallows. When he does what he does best, real and glamorous clothes, and not the collage/construct looks that say "forced", then the outcome can be pleasing. Still a collection should rely on more than just a change of fabrication. There can be a variation in shape, as well.

Rosie Assoulin

Rosie Assoulin is a gem. Not even a diamond in the rough, but polished, expertly cut and gleaming. Her ideas all are based on the idea of scale. Shapes, colors, graphics are designed to make the grand statement. Her message appears simply as one of glamour, mystery and a celebration of women. With expert craftsmanship and a love of the finest in fabrication and technique sets this designer apart from the little boys scrambling to be king of the hill. No designer is without a Waterloo in most every collection and she is no exception. Though I liked her most recent Spring and Resort collections more, the beauty of this rare talent is that she continues to develop and explore themes from the previous seasons.


Bring It ! *some of this is foggy as I don't remember the facts or care.... Like Fashion.

 One night several months ago I was watching some of my favorite escapist television shows: the reality juggernaut of (un)Real Housewives from hell and worse (Orange County, Miami, Sydney, Jersey, New York and Beverly Hills, oh, and Atlanta). Nothing new ever happens except maybe a husband cheats, dick-tates, and even commits suicide. The wives do pretty much as they please and all under the guise of self empowerment, sisterhood, and brazen uncontrolled self delusion. In short, this is a documentary on the lives of Americans with not enough of one thing and way too much of the other. Visually, it's all the same no matter the zip code or their nationalities. Cheap clothes, joke jewels and houses parading as homes. By sheer accident, I found another show whose characters watch these shows and are filmed reacting to the action/inaction. It's called The People's Couch....something or other. A few of the families watching are really fascinating. Actually, they're all fascinating. Much much more so than the crap they're watching. The mom and dad and their 2 precocious sons all crowd into the parent's bed to watch with food and withering commentary. That the teenage sons sit between mom and dad and have an acute understanding as to how the world of fucked up TV works is in itself disturbing. At the same time, their parents show love and understanding for their sons, who act more like daughters, giving their reality a refreshingly nonjudgmental aspect.

There are 2 other characters who hold my attention almost as strongly as say a State of the Union address or a winter storm warning: namely 2 women, both white, one a lesbian and the other not...? or at least a sympathetic/empathetic BFF. These women never fail to make me choke on my popcorn or blow a mouthful of Root Beer straight out my nose laughing. The  matter of factness of their reactions are almost completely impossible to dispute let alone ignore.I have this very same feeling when I look at the collections. Hang on....this is getting to the collections. (indulge me just a bit longer, please.)

On one evening the girls were watching a dance show, called Bring It! or Dance Moms or something, and the teams were doing a medley of Beyonce' songs with seriously athletic death defying moves. Kind of a pissing contest in tights and outfits of questionable taste. Team one was given a rousing pep talk from their no nonsense coach. She impressed upon them that their lives, reputations, futures, even their self esteem, and hers by extension, were on the line. All the money, hopes and dreams were riding on the next 2 minutes or so and if they failed there'd be no more potato chips, fruit, hair straightener or even a bus to get them back (I'm paraphrasing and clearly driving without a Poetic License) if they didn't BRING IT! Watching the bathos their coach spews in that dingy dressing room is enough to make even the most hardened cheer leading dance squad weep into their pom-poms.

Their moment comes, the routine revs into high gear and their 2 most ardent supporters on the couch with their drinks in hand and their hearts in their mouths, cheer them on, pray them on and plead to the heavens to bring them through this valley of (dance off) death. Like an army of divine believers they face their opponents in formations and drop face first like a forest of felled (black) pines and fallen face first onto the ground and all at the same time. The lesbian on the sofa declares it a total triumph due to their signature move "the Drag Queen Death Drop". Well, I certainly was convinced that these little girls had done the job, rescued their dignity and would bring home the prize on a bus that had waited full of hopes, dreams and yes, popcorn. In short, these little soldiers of song and dance had done nothing less than "BRING IT!" but there was still the other team's turn; The Baby Dancing Dolls and the Divas of Olive Branch.

With a name like the Rudettes (Dancing Divas) or something this team stepped forward in answer to the question and started their routine. It was all provocation. Some neck waving, hand gestures, barely there costumes (on 13 year olds....) gyrating to a very "grown up" beat, these (little girls) had clearly been given a different pep talk altogether. These girls twerked, gyrated and teased to the point of embarrassment. It was actually hard to watch. One would imagine it might even be hard for their parents to watch. This routine was well past the border of propriety and firmly in that netherworld of questionable taste. I call this world Conde' Nasty. But unlike the previous team with their quaint naivete, the Raunchettes wore very little and all carried a CHAIR. WTF was the chair for? Well, these girls had a mission and it was punctuated by that chair; the coda and exclamation point to their routine. If I said they mounted more than sat on those chairs gives you enough information. At the end as the judges tallied their scores, the 2 BFF on the couch were appalled at the vulgarity of team 2's display hoping against hope that good taste would win out. Well we all know having watched the collections from here to Paris and all points north and south east taste rarely carries the day, Chanel, Valentino, and a few exceptions excluded.

As I feared, but knew deep in my gut, Team 4 the Little Vixens of Vacantville (The divas of Olive Branch) stole the trophy. All the lesbian could say in defense of the first team was that "We did what we had to do. But they had chairs...". She's right. All the collections in this land and farther afield that managed to twerk their way to reviews utterly devoid of comment, analysis or fact  (a big hand goes out to Vanessa Friedman of the New York Times) had one thing going for them...they all came with a chair. A chair that fits neatly under the table at Cafe Conde' where the menu special each day and night is "Nasty in Asspic"! Now that that hairball is up and out, I can get specific.

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....