Monday, February 29, 2016

Who's Afraid of Kanye West?

Kanye's Army
Silly question but it seems like just about everyone is. Even his Kardashian family other than his long suffering wife are afraid to voice their opinions showing up in public wearing those chewed up rags and re-purposed, re-dyed and re-labeled American Apparel merch. To look in the stands of Madison Square Garden and see Anna Wintour nestled with his homies/family is to understand the degree to which he's cowed the general public. COW is the operative word here. Cathy Horyn is one of the few journalists to call it for what it is: dreck. To give him any more attention is only to encourage him. I for one won't. Make music not t-shirts and while you're at it spare us all your frustrations for having been born witless.

Alber Elbaz and the neutering of Lanvin

* this was stuck in draft phase and then i decided to tie it up and send it on. forgive the old news-ness of it, but it still rankles, maybe for you too....

what can i say? everybody else has said it already. the firing of Alber Elbaz came as a surprise. to me anyway. hadn't he just been given a big deal award at someplace in nyc just a couple of weeks ago after having shown his Lanvin collection to rave reviews a week or so before that?  wasn't the world feeling nothing but love for the designer considered by many to have the biggest heart and one of the greatest talents for keeping the world guessing and wanting? hadn't he turned around the oldest remaining french house of fashion from a sleeping beauty to a lively robust force? he of the exposed zipper, artlessly tugged, twisted and tacked cocktail dress. the chunky, naive jewels that celebrated humor, caprice and iffy taste. the jersey dresses in moody color combinations, draped, and held in check with unexpected leather leashes. inverted seams, raw edges, the dressmakers version of dangling participles.

those are just a few of the things that made Lanvin special. the other thing was a sense that the message came through loud and clear. a message that didn't so much change as become deeper and more emphatic and consequently more clear. clarity in fashion is in short supply and when you find it you absorb it. think chanel, rick owens, Ralph Rucci. crystal clarity. in a sea of murk with sand falling away under foot it's refreshing to witness a designer who can string together ideas, moods and propositions that go further than from just A to B. Alber is one of the rare few who does. though i am guessing, i'd say he looks like the consummate team captain. in the press he appears almost without ego and self deprecating to a fault (that humility and sad clown Pagliacci-ishness got old, but whatevs...) which in itself is novel, even rare. so with all the years he invested, the popularity of the brand, his 10% ownership stake, and the presses' support and the publi'c's embrace it seems such a waste. but all is waste now. the throwaway generation where the next idea is tossed aside for another and another til the idea of ideas is no longer the idea. now just shake, bake and fake.

i started this months ago and then stopped in disgust. now it seems there's a storm in the courts between Elbaz and the company's owner. certainly, he'll be fine and land again on his feet. it could be dior or saint laurent, again, or perhaps his own eponymous label. either way, the system has broken and we have people like anna wintour and her ilk to blame. as they say," a fish rots from the head down.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

RR331 Fall 2016: Return of the Master

Ralph Rucci is back. Actually, he never left but instead, took a sabbatical, regrouped and cleansed his soul. With humility and a simple desire to create, Ralph Rucci has returned to his chosen metier and like the moon setting and the sun ascending, a new day is upon us. His exit from the company he spent the last 35 years building shook many of us with its inexplicable timing. Why would a master of Haute Couture exit his house from one day to the next after having created a language that defines luxury here and abroad? The answers are many and at the same time painfully singular. That modern phenomenon of teaming talent with money is the cautionary tale that is playing out to disastrous and destabilizing effect. And despite the "marriage" that took him from the sublime to a quagmire of ridiculousness, Rucci has risen far above the petty wars of his recent past to begin again. With not a word of rancor or accusation, Rucci has done what he does best: design.

This season RR331 (which stands for Ralph Rucci and 331, the number of steps in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony) eschewed the runway for a still-life presentation in a gallery space on the far West side. Approximately 25 looks were shown on mannequins throughout the space. The crowd of well wishers, clients and press were a crush making the event more of a celebration than your typical static fashion show. It seemed people were there just as much to show their respect and appreciation for the master as much as to see his new collection. 

Without the ubiquitous front row it was a decidedly democratic event with the big guns, his friends and admirers having to line up to get the chance to greet him. Gone were the annoying security phalanx with their myopic way of handling the pilgrims. The crowds were so thick it was difficult to get close enough to the clothes to see the intricate, mind boggling details. Even from a distance you saw the double faced wool suits and dresses with his signature details employing his suspension technique, slivers of silk tulle exposing the contours of the body, tissue taffeta with snaking zippers to define and abstract the shape of a gown and the Infanta dresses of digitally printed Gazar and Duchesse suggesting antiquity in its most modern iterations.

Unlike some collections in the past with their hyper technique this time there was an almost palpable desire on his part to draw the viewer in. Like the true artist Ralph is, he consciously engages and challenges us to approach his work, to take its measure. I watched as people shyly touched the velvet of a sweater and full trouser and weighed the stone printed chiffon as if it might have weight. 

The sable coats and trimmed pieces were impossible to view at a distance. Their color, texture and details were like siren songs. One sable coat in particular was inside out with the fur as the natural lining. The hides were stitched together and inscribed with calligraphy by his own hand. It wasn't the first time he employed this medium, but the audience lingered over this artistic masterpiece as they did so many pieces in this exhibition. And perhaps because Ralph has walked away from the fashion system as we know it, he has freed himself to express himself more fully as an artist. He's an accomplished painter, sculptor and designer of clothing. He is a man obviously at ease with himself and his gifts. He no longer seems driven to prove something. His mere presence is proof enough. Fortunately, Ralph Rucci no longer must toil under the ham fisted hooves of an industry whose only aim is to stare at its reflection in a pond dense with scum.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Dior up. Designer down.

We all know by now that Raf Simons has sent in his letter of resignation. Another visionary sees black and we get an earful of white noise. Reading the accounts in the press leads one to believe that the couture crown is just too heavy for all but the most buff among us. Alexander Wang is just too lean. Galliano, too fragile. And now Simons is perhaps too sensitive, too distracted to continue. I'm ok with it. I won't say I'm happy, delighted, thrilled or even vaguely amused by the turn of events. As much as his work leaves me cold, even irritated, I don't wish him ill. To make it to the top of one's field is an accomplishment worthy of respect; not something to be taken lightly. In this case, my feeling from the beginning was one of skepticism. Sure, Simons did great things at Jil Sander but Jil Sander isn't Christian Dior.

Having spent the last 30 years in this business, having started my career in Paris and watching the action up close, the houses of Dior, like Givenchy, YSL, Chanel, Ungaro, and Valentino,  were almost sacred. What came from them was taken by the world as near holy writ. The authority of these design houses were beyond challenge. To work at one of these houses was considered a gift from the Gods, one taken on like the royal families of Europe; it was an ordination that one carried until the end. That end was decided by the fates. Meanwhile, you did your best for the glory of the house. Like the many "petit mains" upstairs toiling in the ateliers, one worked selflessly to that glorious end. At Givenchy, Monsieur was the ultimate team leader. His success was in large part due to the master technicians who realized his dreams; even realizing them in ways that exceeded the beauty of his initial dream. I sat a few feet from Monsieur's desk and often stood over him as he sketched. (sounds far fetched, but true. He was a patient man with the likes of me, a recently college graduated apprentice, invading his studio) In the fittings that followed I saw more than once the original sketch was improved upon by the most capable technical hands in the world. The respect for the m├ętier superseded other more self aggrandizing motivations. As much as it could be a team, at that time it was like an extremely well tuned team working as one. That included the models and stylists. Well that quaint idea is history. It's a free for all now.

At the risk of sounding hopelessly lost to the past, it's exactly that PAST (the Paris days and the NYC decades that followed) and many other experiences which inform my opinions today. Upon hearing of Simons' hire my first thought was why? How could someone who's aesthetic was antithetical to the Dior oeuvre be considered relevant? In simple terms, there was little romance evident in his approach. If you could characterize Dior in the simplest terms it was a very romantic way of dressing. And not just due to Galliano, but historically starting with Christian Dior to Yves Saint Laurent to Marc Bohan and on through the glorious tenure of Gianfranco Ferre to Galliano. Each of those designers added layers of mystery to the house's history that only enhanced the original mission statement of the master. With Simons it felt like the opposite. Other than his penchant for flower arranging on grand scale, the work was more about peeling away to the point of no return(s). The couture was no more or less interesting than the RTW with the same dead eyed girls marching to a beat only he could hear.

So with the benefit of a week's reflection, Simons looks like a man released from a velvet prison. Or perhaps he's feeling sympathetic pains of the mass exodus of men, women and children from the Middle East and chose to save himself; an innocent swimming to a safe harbor. And then maybe he just wasn't the right fit for a behemoth that no longer can even fit in front of a mirror, let alone take it's own measure.......

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Us vs. Them: Paris SS2016

Remember way back when the calendar was such a big deal? New York was suffering penis envy in relation to Paris and Milan and took the lead so as not to be accused of copying. That little switch in dates put us on the big stage before some of our best laid plans had hatched, or even formed. The stalwarts at that time: Calvin, Donna, Bill, Oscar and an upstart named (?) , you know, the Austrian guy (Helmut Lang) who's no longer bothering, all of them ran to the starting line desperate to be first. This ego trip proved very expensive and detrimental to all the others who raced right behind them. Still the NY output was forever considered quaint on a good day and lackluster the rest of the time. Sure, trends like Grunge benefited by the schedule, shooting to the heavens and influencing unfortunate generations (seasons) to come. Fashion on these shores didn't benefit so much as strain itself to the point of herniating the whole sacred process.

I would argue that in many ways it was a curse we still labor under to this day. When you toss in the immediacy of social media we see in many cases that fashion has been substituted for a quickie InstaStyle that has nothing to do with the original mission. We no longer celebrate the clothes, but instead the brand and all of its soulless elements. The runway has become the featured attraction with bigger and more distracting pyrotechnics. The clothes are little more than afterthoughts. It's no longer enough to design a collection. Now one must art direct a happening, a fitting setting for the vaunted front row. We must play to the sun glassed, the jaded, the counterfeit in hopes they'll grace our front row the next time around. That's a sad commentary. The progeny of our reality TV fixation have infiltrated the casting, scooped up all the juicy contracts, and all before they've learned manners, how to dress or how to walk. That may sound harsh but it's not that far from the truth. This fork in the runway has sent us hurtling on to the land of irrelevance.


Looking at Paris collections that stun, amaze and delight (Valentino, Chanel, Stella McCartney, Celine,Versace) you get the feeling that the one thing that many here forgot was to stop and think. Really think. Though I'm not of the school of thought that a collection only counts if it's tied to a current event (mass migrations of people from war torn countries) or a current cultural fixation (what the editor wants, what Kim wears, what Kanye appropriates). What does speak clearly are clothes that allow the audience to dream, to want and hopefully to buy. I'm talking about design that goes beyond the obvious. Maybe that means revisiting an idea from a completely different route. 

Stella McCartney
A polo shirt and skirt at Stella McCartney comes in a crisscrossing pattern of hand painted stripes. At Chanel there would be the familiar tweed jacket beautifully tailored with hidden closures and devoid of all surface decoration. 

Phoebe Philo at Celine takes the familiar and makes it extraordinary. A simple top, pants and coat become the agents of change. Sportswear is elevated to the divine... At Valentino a caftan takes on the identity of cultures far removed from Madison Avenue. None of it feels gratuitous or forced. None of it feels lazy and derivative or worse, self indulgent (see: Saint Laurent, Balmain, Balenciaga, Dior). 

Donatella Versace sent out a platoon of foot soldiers in fatigue green and crazed camo-printed dresses and suits. The only thing that felt familiar or sentimental was the energy behind the clothes. Donatella's indomitable spirit shows through in their insistent relevance. The conversation moves forward with every look that stalks her runway. She gives you something to think about. She gives you something you can want.

Showing a collection on the grounds of a chateau outside Paris (The Row) isn't enough when all you're offering is pared down, pared-down-ness. Staging a show at an iconic NYC theater (Marc Jacobs) teeming with a grab bag of looks that reference your oeuvre isn't enough when all of it feels trite, derivative and just "cool". Who needs it? No one does. If it's all in service to a bag,  then why not just show the bag and be done with it?

Maybe we should consider the long game and not the Instagram/Twitter quick fix. Maybe we should try doing things differently. Perhaps, we should put down our smart phones and take a look around. It's a jungle out there and the natives are beyond restless.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

New York SS 2016: Dingleberries and Cream

For all the hurry up and wait, the collections here went by relatively quickly with little or no fanfare with the exception of a couple of spectacles (Givenchy and Marc Jacobs) and a whole lot of partay-ing. Sticking one's finger into the scrum would feel more chilly than warm to the touch. The in-ness of it all has done the opposite of what one might have expected.

One's attention now must turn to the wattage of the attendees and not so much the subject: fashion. There's lots and lots that passes as fashion but like the crowd of bright lights it's way more styled than actual style. Unless your thing is Kimye, Kendall and Ko. there's not much to hold onto.

Zac Posen Spring 2016
Still there were some surprises that were, well, surprising. The first of which is a feeling of the spirit of Ralph Rucci in the air. Well, the upper layers of air, at least. You could see traces of his oeuvre in collections from Zac Posen and Carolina Herrera. 
If you look at the details of Posen's cuts they are rife with RRucci's little worms connecting the suspended elements. It feels clumsy.

Carolina Herrera Spring 2016
At CH the picture is decidedly different. The clothes are really nice. I mean yummy yummy nice. They look good enough to eat! The colors, the shapes, the chic of it all. Maybe, because I have a very warm spot for RRucci's aesthetic, I'm swayed by it. But in this case not.

Carolina Herrera Spring 2016
The work at Carolina Herrera just gets better and more interesting every season and this season it made another leap in my eyes. They are the last remaining house that exists in NYC from the Golden Age of fashion. They are informed by Haute Couture and have always worked in a similar way. It's not about tech packs and samples being done in some foreign country there. They do things the old fashioned way. They make it. And they make it in all of it's blinding, complex, envelope pushing, luxurious, modern and romantic yumminess. In this instance, she paid homage to his genius. 

The Frick Collection was the setting for the show adding a quiet grandeur to the proceedings. It was first class from start to its assured finish. Wow, who knew you could see design at its most beautiful and forward reaching at New York fashion week? Especially, since the closing of Ralph Rucci. But that may have been just a momentary absence from the calender. My sense is that RRucci is not finished pushing the envelope. And if CH and Zac are any indication, his oeuvre is far from forgotten...
Givenchy Spring 2016
Givenchy's presentation was very interesting. A setting outside on the water, ubiquitous in its location but seriously beautiful in its offerings. That it would all be held up waiting for the Kimye juggernaut to be seated makes me wince, just slightly. But that's what you have to do nowadays. Take the bitter with the sweet. Prabal Gurung proposed some very nice clothes. Great dresses are at once unassuming in their complexity.

Altuzzara Spring 2016
Bibhu Mohapatra Spring 2016
There were also moments at Altuzzara and at Bibhu Mohapatra. Rosie Assoulin is another collection that intrigues. She makes a feast of her pants. They are a ball gown's version of a pant. Unlike a few season's past where her energy was more successfully channeled with graphic color plays and skirts constructed of straw, this outing felt decidedly tame. The same can't be said for Wu, Boss by Wu and a handful of other notable stars on the horizon. I won't list them at the risk of being vague. Those collections are vague and freighted with expectations not yet met...You can start with A for Adam and work your way thru to W, X, Y and so on.

Delpozo Spring 2016
 Delpozo was an event. Especially, with the clothes standing still. That is an imagination with all its engines firing. The shapes, colors, details, etc. were traffic stoppers. But in motion they look more like floats, barges and luxury liners. It's hard to imagine coexisting next to many of them but harder still to imagine trying to navigate your way from say point A to point B. Still, what a treat to have what looks like the work of a youthful couturier shown on these barren shores.

Delpozo Spring 2016
What can you say about Michael Kors other than he's got a death grip on the middling bag market. The clothes just go past. It's a formula that neither excites nor disappoints... Marc Jacobs is in the same vein. The grand gesture of a staggering production does little to explain what we see. It's just a ton of styling with some nice moments. The glittering paillette wrap skirts paired with bits above and over pieces below are great but in the larger scheme it's just show biz.......

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!