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 The respect for the métier superseded other more self aggrandizing motivations.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!

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.