Sunday, September 4, 2016

Monse (back) to Oscar de la Renta...where they belong.

Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia

 Enough with the bullshit. Ok, I've said it. Yeah, but what bullshit you ask? The story that just ran in the NYTimes about Laura Kim and her sidekick and ex-fiance Fernando Garcia returning in triumph to the waiting arms of Alex Bolen, tough-love Dad, son-in-law and acting toll collector at Oscar de la Renta. After a gloriously banal performance at Carolina Herrera, having taken the wheel for a season and a half, they are returning to the fold that spawned them. Like Zika, they hatched, flew around the immediate neighborhood infecting any and all in their paths, and now are returning to that puddle of standing water from whence they came. When Oscar lived it was a crystal clear pool but now... Why the harsh words? Because this is precisely the diseased behavior and magical thinking that has undermined the business of fashion.

Carolina Herrera

The piece written by Matthew Schneier is a regulation 'birth notice' of sorts, more press release than story touching on the few things that can't be disputed: They worked at Oscar for several years, Laura Kim became the creative director and Fernando chased celebs, Oscar became ill, Laura and Fernando auditioned for the permanent post of creative director and celeb chaser but were passed over for Peter Copping, Oscar's hand-picked successor, Laura and her celeb chasing fiance start their own 'brand' and jump ship to consult at Carolina Herrera, usurping Herve' Pierre, the creative director at CH for the past 14 years and one of the greatest working designers on either shore. The Kim/Garcia fit at Carolina must have been poor as they produced a forgettable couple of collections. The culture at Herrera is old school in the best possible way. A devoted staff directed by a very professional seasoned team led by Herve Pierre ran that ship without incident. The collections were ready on schedule and were eagerly awaited by stores and clients. Carolina Herrera is that rare company that worked civilized hours leading up to the show. Late nights and weekends were alien to their process. Imagine a company that could actually be ready for their presentation with samples made, fitted and styled on the models with time to spare. Images below illustrate the beauty and modernity that was CH under the capable hands of Herve Pierre and his team. The sophistication and chic of the collection is a stark contrast to the Resort 2017 collection by Kim and Garcia. The Resort 2017 collection, their first at the house, debuted weeks later than CH's customary timing, with a look both derivative and strangely flat and received with little  fanfare.
Herve Pierre's CH Spring 2016
Herve Pierre's CH Spring 2016
Herve Pierre's CH Spring 2016
Herve Pierre's CH Spring 2016
With Laura and Fernando the ship went aground almost immediately. As is customary with new hires some of the old regime has to go. Executives, design assistants and boutique staff were dismissed or left because of low morale and an environment of uncertainty. Digging around in the press I searched for the message, the grand design they had for CH. I didn't find one. It seems that Monse (Mon-say) is their priority and these 'jobs' are a means to finance their fledgling brand. CH was clearly a means to an (early) end. They got their paychecks and CH got, well she got what she got. And now Oscar de la Renta will assist with the grunt work of Monse in order to have the benefit of their vision and leadership. Think Galliano, think Raf Simons, think LVMH. Think again.
Kim and Garcia's CH Resort 2017

Monse Spring 2016
 The reviews for Monse were fawning, overblown and judging from the collection, overstated. The reviews they received for their CH Resort 2017 were luke warm in comparison. A few celebs wearing the clothes on the red carpet is nice but ultimately doesn't mean much. Freebies have always been a hit in Hollywood. Selling clothes in stores used to be the metric for success. Now you just need buzz and the press will anoint you. The story implies that they returned to Oscar having succeeded at CH. On the contrary. They were asked to leave CH before returning to Oscar. This was many things but it was not a victory lap.
It's fitting that they have returned to the house that Oscar built.  At least their culture is in sync with that of Alex Bolen, whose reputation preceeds him, and the shell that remains of that once powerful company. Peter Copping wasn't so bad. He benignly maintained the status quo and that's all that Oscar really is good for at this point. It's not about news and it's not new and hasn't been for several years. It's telling that Oscar did not choose them to take the helm. He must have had his reasons. Judging from their work so far, I'd say he knew what he was doing. Oscar's words of encouragement Kim shares in the piece sound more like encouragement than a benediction. SPIN is everything.
SJParker's collaboration with Kim and Garcia for Met Gala
I'm kind of curious to see what sort of clothes they'll offer up. Whether it speaks to the clients or not, the press is sure to love it. The depressing thought that I can't shake is the real loser in all of this: the client. Herve Pierre gave her what she needed and what she didn't even know she wanted. Now there's nothing for her but a lot of buzz and nothing to wear. Sounds kind of familiar, no? Something about new clothes for the Emperor or was it Empress.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Bill Cunningham 1929-2016

I've just read that Bill Cunningham has died. An unassuming man  who moved within the highest circles of fashion and society, chronicling every moment through his ever ready camera gave so many a reason to get up, get dressed and get on with it. So many women and men made it their mission to catch his eye hoping to be captured through his lens or just having a good time crossing the street, posing in front of a shop window or shamelessly planting themselves directly in his path. For many Bill was the barometer of their getting it right or not. And all who came in contact with that voracious viewfinder looked longingly in the Style section of the sunday New York Times to see if they'd made the cut.
Peddling his way through the streets of New York he was a man possessed. Like a little boy looking hungrily through the candy store window, Bill would shoot any and everything that caught his fancy. From fashion shows to big flashy benefits to his beloved summer carriage meets in Newport, he expressed his love of life and humanity through his photographs. With his passing we see ever more sharply the shift and progression of time. The Golden Age of fashion as we once knew: Bill, Oscar, Yves, Emmanuel, Hubert, Valentino, Jimmy, Donna, Calvin, Geoffrey, Carolina, Carolyne and on and on...well, the bright lights of that era have all been dimmed. It's somehow fitting that Bill would in essence close the book on that period.

He functioned like social media before social media became a thing. His pictures gave so many of us an inside look at a magical world we could only dream of one day entering. In the film that documented his life a few years back, we all saw his humility, his Yankee spartan way of living that he fiercely guarded and maintained. Like a monk, Bill eschewed all offers of entertainments and gifts by the grateful hosts and hostesses, whose parties he covered. I always found that really admirable. He was his own man and refused to be beholden to anyone, including the New York Times.

He will be missed by many here and abroad. I expect out of respect for his passing the Bergdorf Goodman corner at 57 and Fifth Ave will close to all pedestrians and traffic on Sunday, which was Bill Cunningham's day!

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.