Today is Sunday. Tomorrow is Labor Day. The Spring collections start in a week or so. Everybody is getting excited and the Buzz is buzzing. Whatever . I had a close encounter of the truly frightening kind. Sitting by the pool( when you've got the sort of pool I have, one sits by it rain or shine,and it was pouring...) I had this otherworldly ,out of body experience. No I wasn't seeing dead people, only feeling their presence. Poverty, loss of hope, jobs, a shot at the American Dream, a shot at slow moving targets, a political battle which could bake or brake all of us, let's call it a total eclipse of a HEART, fashion becoming a luxury one can ill afford. Fashion is becoming an afterthought, with little or no validity to ones daily purpose, unless you own a business, work in the business, sell it, push it, shoot it, snort it , eat it or copy it( all of the above are pretty much different ways of expressing the same idea). Fashion is quick becoming a mistress we can ill afford. She's disloyal, will sleep in any offered bed, or rub up against any proffered body with the promise of profit. Haute or low she is a temptress will one thing on her mind:FLEECE. Not natural fabric , but polyethylchloridatednon-greenbutpoisondemi-cloth. I mean RIP OFF the public. Where goeth I with this? I remember now. This Mistress, this Jezebel is not Heidi Klum, or Paris Hilton, Denise Rich, Miley Cyrus, Hannah Montana ,MK Olsen , Donatella, Judy Licht, Corinne Roitfeld or that other one who runs a magazine. NOPE...it's Sarah Palin. The ex-beauty queen of Alaska contestant. The incumbent Governess/nanny/Au-pair, the Fashion nightmare in need of some down home INTERVENTION. Not the Brittany, Donatella or Makenzie Phillips brand...but honest to god LOCKDOWN.
HAVE YOU SEEN HER? ARE YOU READY TO LOOK UPON HER? I'M SCARED SHITLESS TO ASK IF YOU'RE PLANNING ON VOTING FOR HER?
This creature is begging for our help. She is howling like a muskrat chewing it's leg off that's stuck in a rusted steel- toothed trap. She's screeching like the endangered Juno Junebug for the only assistance we in the fashion community can offer no I mean some constructive fashion advice. She's already on TV, so we have to work against the clock. The convention is coming, the world will be watching(through hand covered eyes) and we gotta do something STAT.
My suggestion is this: We start from the ground up. She's a grass roots Gal,: huntin' and shootin' and trappin'. We begin with sensible footwear that can take her through the jungles of St. Paul. I think it should be Peek toed patent leather Dorsay court shoes from Easy Spirit. Something tells me nothing foreign, meaning anything beyond the border fences of the Rio Grande, west or east of the closest melting glacier, and certainly nothing from the rival state of Europe with those Designer's shoes you can't pronounce, wear or afford. We're going to put her in something truly American(who cares if it's made in China...that's just another one of our territories) which feels like a sneaker but looks like pump.
Next is the outfit. She'll need about 4 different Looks to carry her through the heady, gruelling and life reaffirming experience of the convention. I think we start with something smart, sensible , yet Vice Presidential from A Pea in the Pod. She just had a baby and I understand she's still nursing , so I suggest a dress the first night that can convert to a nursing dress. One with lots of buttons or zippers , in red, which makes that last minute meal for the Palin issue happy and sated. Suits suit her. This is an opportunity for Filene's Basement to pull out all the stops and load her up with a garment rack full of strong shouldered power suits , peplummed and decorated with epaulets and soutache to give her the look of someone spiritually connected to our military forces and the top brass of the Pentagon and foreign policy leaders she doubtlessly will never ever have the opportunity to meet. But it's TV so we gotta make it look good. Governor Palin strikes me as an accessories fan. I can see important scarves mixing with these suits of power. I'm sure Isotoner will supply whatever is needed.
The glasses are a challenge, as I see she has an attachment to very unflattering shapes. Contact lenses might take care of that. One imagines her speech to be mercifully short, so there's no need for vision. She has little or no vision to speak of. The essence of her message are cobbled bits and pieces from Hillary, and Laura Bush, all memorized so no need for teleprompter reading.Whether glasses, cornea replacement surgery or even a seeing eye dog won't help this hopeless wife,mother, sister,niece,cousin, ex-girlfriend,Brownie,Girl scout,Candy Striper, 4-H member, governor, and rifle toting Harpie. Sight will never be one of her 5 senses.
That leaves the hair. Her pride and strength as a woman calls for a hairdo more akin to the look that Brittany Spears popularized when she was going through her rough patch a short time ago. A shaved head would speak to so many women in so many different walks of life. The disenfranchised, the independent thinkers, the mentally ill, the fashion mavericks and most of all the ones whose hair was sheared off in the 18 million cracks of that proverbial glass ceiling. It's a sisterhood of the travelling wig case.
Last but not least is make-up. This is the simplest job of all. We'll get someone between shows, a junior non-payed make-up assistant and give her /him a chance to truly contribute. Sarah is nothing if not all about giving jobs to those who are willing to pull themselves up by their boot straps and really WORK. I can promise this make-up ARTISTE will suggest lots of black under her eyes like pro football players wear before the big game. Something that will both cut the reflection of the cameras flashing constantly and the message that this woman, this future Vice President of our fine country is ready to go to battle. She's ready to follow Bin Laden straight to his cave. Once there, I would bet my lotto ticket she'll offer him the same advice and guidance we've shown her. She'll be the Mary Kay of Foreign Policy and start from the ground up , like she was taught.
I see her suggesting to Osama bin Laden the only shoe that still means something: Thom McCann.
One day on the subway after a particularly gruelling day, I sat across from a man. He looked like most everyone else on the train: tired, unwashed , unshaven and taking up 3 seats . That isn't what caught my attention, though. It was his 2 pet ferrets which were resting on his shoulders and crawling in and out of the collar of his shirt. The huge clear trash bag of cans and redeemable bottles weren't nearly as interesting or unexpected as those ferrets. He was a host and they the creatures living off him. No one seemed to notice him, almost like he was just there for me...a ghost dressed in trash filled bags and overly playful rodents. When the train went a few stops he made a heaving sound like labored breathing and rose from his seat. With agility I never would have imagined, he gathered what must have been a couple thousand bottled filled jumbo trash bags and moved towards the door. The ferrets kept right on frolicking as he lumbered along. Just as he got in front of me he paused and lowered his arms just enough so that I could get a look at him and gave me a big toothy grin. Toothy,because all he had in his mouth were a few teeth. But what almost made me scream with laughter was his tee-shirt. It said in big bold red letters " I SEE DEAD PEOPLE". You know something ? I believe he did.
When I read about Isaac Mizrahi being given the design directorship of Liz Claiborne along with John Bartlett doing the menswear equivalent, I couldn't help but think about the man on the train. The fact that the company keeps selling off and shutting down companies which have been huge money makers for them, like Sigrid Olsen and downgrading to the extent of putting a pillow over the face of Dana Buchman ,makes me wonder what is really going on there. Isaac Mizrahi is indisputably one of the stars of American fashion. Certainly in the 80's and 90's he was pretty popular. A critical success definitely. Having the blank check book of the Werthheimers behind his company certainly helped to keep the dream alive. Larger than life runway shows, press, self and brand promotion were all his. Why true financial success eluded him is an interesting question. Personally, I loved the clothes. Loved the verbiage behind what spurred his creative juices and the way it all caught your eye. Color , color and more color. Fantastic shapes and odd tricks, like the coat which could be worn right side up or upside down. That one piece has stayed in my mind for 20 years.
So why didn't it all add up to a company with MEGA written all over it? Why did in one day the Werthheimers take away the checkbook and lock his doors. It was so sudden and seemingly without any warning. ISAAC, the secondary /bridge collection was cramming every major department store all over the country. That cash cow collection, drenched in press and promotion sat there on sale growing hair from the first day it was introduced. That was the proverbial writing on the wall. The public loves a clever fast talking, TV and film referencing entertainer, but if they don't get the point, the point being his clothes, the tent can stay up but so long before the road show is forced to make room for the next act in line.
Isaac the entertainer, best buddies with so many of the rightest people has gone on to do lounge acts, host a cable show, created a collection of Demi-Couture sold through Bergdorfs and a handful a specialty stores ,while simultaneously doing a collection of clothing and home furnishings for Target . It appears to have been successful, but again you never can believe all you see or hear or read....that could include this piece, but let's suspend our imaginations and go along for the ride a bit longer. I bought sheets and towels of his for my winter hideaway and loved it. The clothes that I saw at Target as I headed for the check out line didn't appear to be checking out, but I was happy with what I had.
So to hear the Target thing is now finished and he has been brought in to do Liz C. is just dumbfounding. It's like a brilliant corporate strategy that eludes me and probably many of you as well. What do they expect he will bring to the table which didn't get served and spoil a few times before? I've never found sustenance from an other's ego and I doubt anyone else has . Perhaps , they see him as that biblical character who took one bagel and a little cream cheese and made it feed millions of starving consumers. That is another example of not believing everything you read. I know it's the good book, but still that's a stretch for the most optimistic of us all. How is it they make these choices ? What parallel universe do they live in? I guess it's the one where ones bank balance blinds one to the other one. That other one being this one where stuff doesn't sell anymore unless it's unbelievably right or on triple markdown.
So we'll just have to wait and see. Like Patrick Robinson at Gap and Todd Oldham at old Navy this appears to be a parade of zombies.
I'm starting to think that man on the train was right.
This sounds so fatalistic and I am not going to write a post about how empty so many collections have become . I won't waste your time and mine discussing the truth of big business BRANDING and how it's all but defaced the look of fashion and the focus of the marketplace....or how it's perverted the minds and eyes of the public either. For that matter I won't dwell on the state of sameness in fashion; the fact that as many collections are different, many many more are basically saying the same thing. I would like to say that the effort that some designers are making to find, hone and deepen their voices is exciting and interesting. Collections like Rodarte, Bottega, Calvin,Michael Kors, Chanel,and others are ones that capture and hold my attention. The voyage that goes on at Calvin to find the essence of a design, to strip away everything except the actual bones of the piece is really so beautiful. Who cares if it sells alot or a little. It's so beautiful and of this moment. Chanel in a way is it's antithesis , but glorious in its revel in the luxurious. Couture and RTW that makes the most out of a limitless palette of fabric, decoration, cut embellishment, but with the same feeling of subtracting extraneous elements. It's lush and rich and pushes the envelope in every sense. It stimulates and forces you to consider what the definition of HIGH fashion means. For a designer like Karl Lagerfeld to do this in almost every single piece, let alone collection after collection is really pretty astounding. Michael Kors is just so ripe with a vocabulary of great American sportswear elevated to it's highest form. It makes Ralph Lauren look redundant, as much as I like the fact that Ralph honestly has everything anyone could possibly need from High to semi-low. You are enticed to wear or admire the off handed perfection of Kors. He is the heir to the great American look. His mixing and not matching is the essence of real life dressing. The days of head to toe recognizeable designer fashion is honestly blurred in his hands. It could look new ,old right and odd but always adds up to cool. His men's wear will hopefully rise to the same level of perfection. He inspires me. He puts his collections where his mouth is. To deliver on a message is a fine and difficult science. Real science is so much more interesting than mad science. Isaac Mizrahi and Vera Wang,he of the 'do rag 'and Belgian loafers, and she with her Expressionist's approach to 'all over the map' design. This is what identifies them today. I won't go any closer than that with those two. Isaac calls for his own story...one I'll tackle shortly. Vera , I'll take a pass on. Bottega Venetta just makes me want to shop. That company in the capable hands of Thomas Maier, is sensational. European design at it's very best. Serious, playful,luxurious and commonplace taken toe 5 levels above what has become the norm. I've never gone into an expensive European deluxe boutique and wanted to buy just about everything I see. Be it womenswear or men;'s it all has such beauty. There is a lightness of hand that makes it all look so effortless. Granted, it screams designer, but without the self consciousness of LABEL. There is humor and unexpected color, fabric choices and details that make it so covetous. If you're going to invest in clothing, and this is definitely a collection that calls for some serious investment, you get the goods with a brown leather cord bow on the box. Hip, cool , ageless and friendly. It's not for everyone, but is is accessible to all types, should one choose to go that route. The shearling slippers of last fall, not to mention the separates for spring , are the thing I have not gone a day or any place to stay without. I have had them resoled and would kill for a back-up pair if only they could be found. The color of them makes me moan: olive/taupe. I never met a neutral I didn't love. I save my money for that boutique, sale or no sale, I keep an eagle eye out for what percolates on those shelves and racks. To think I used to walk past and not bother to go in is something I am still trying to come to terms with. Rodarte is a bit of a conundrum for me. I want to not like it .I want to say it is self absorbed design , home sewing of the highest order, but I can't. There is something there, a vision that is all it's own. The Mulleavy sisters are really onto something. They have come up with a style all their own. Sure it references other designers, that odd-ball crew Three as One, whatever, oddball japanese deconstuctionists, a smidgen of Beene and a quarter teaspoon of Cappucci and Halston, but it is all theirs. It's a celebration of women, an ode to women and a crazy mad love for charting new ways to say BEAUTY. I have been critical in the past and have knocked them for the fact that Vogue embraced them early. This case of MOTHER LOVE( did anyone see that great film of the same title starring Diana Rigg years ago? She , the mother that sets out to kill every member of her family because of her own special brand of LOVE) caused me to look at them with a jaundiced eye. But as I continue to look, I see clothes that are more and more beautiful each season. They work very hard and never compromise. The fact that they work outside of NYC is working for them. They eat healthy, have a clearer view and are influenced less by the energy that is tsunami-ish in this claustrophobic fashion ghetto. I wish them well and look forward to what comes. So shallowness which does parade as depth with other designers, too many to name, is not the case with these above spot lighted designers. Obviously there are more in this group, but these posts are not supposed to go on and on, as I fear this one has,again, but I wanted to mention them. I have been caustic in my criticism many times, but it is partly for the sake of levity in this overly serious medium, but I do stand by all I've ever written. I am not off the cuff FLUFF and not random with my comments, they are truly held opinions. I speak what I feel.
What would happen if all things current, popular and unquestioned were to suddenly go before a higher power? A celestial judge of sorts. What would get shaken up, wrung out or get a pass ? The culture as we live it in a world of sophistication has shifted like the tectonic plates that stand for solid ground. People have ceded all power to an elected body whose only concern is keeping power and sacrificing all else in the bargain. The media has taken charge. What is shown , written or stated is the new truth.
The idea of fashion has evolved to a science of branding. Gone are the days of creation and the publics' embrace or rejection of a new vision. Now we have a culture of propaganda which herds and drives the minds of people as to what has been approved . We're not free to choose in ways we used to. No room is left for choice with out the risk of exclusion. Exclusion means being out of step. No longer being seen. Standing and no longer being counted.
The value of design is only validated if it lands on the radar of the press . This body is very similar to that of the elected official. It's an organism that feeds on itself . Self sustaining and self referential. Something akin to a worm in sheep's clothing. It's impossible to cut off because it grows a new tail or in most cases just another head.
This question is asked as we are on the threshold of yet another season. It's collection time and the gears are churning, minds are reeling, imaginations are being mined for the next cycle of validation. Will efforts go rewarded and reflected back from the powers? Will the overarching be toyed with and as quickly forgotten? Maybe some new talent will be blessed and given a sip from the grail. Then again others will be looked over and looked through like glass , merely transparent.
This all is a fact of life. Unfortunate in some cases due to an uneven playing field, the ever shifting ground. You can't reverse the orbit of a planet. One can opt out and walk in another direction. Best is probably to consider your options and decide what's right for you and let go of the rest. Either way, that day comes and just as quickly goes. A false positive, mostly a false negative. Take heart, intrepid designers: time is the one constant that can not be ruled.
The story always has an ending. The circus never stays in town forever.