Monday, December 15, 2008

Rogue Waves have replaced the Trickle Down Effect

When first I learned the meaning of a Rogue wave, I thought it was something that only happened way out at sea. The Perfect Storm, a great novel, explained how these waves came out of nowhere, churned up from the belly of the ocean building and growing to the height of a 30 story building. This is not the sort of wave you body surf, not even a wave for the best of surfers to hang ten. This baby picks up and demolishes ocean liners. What was quaintly referred to as the Trickle Down effect is no longer applicable to the sort of damage we're witnessing now. With one you just hang on and wait for the clouds and winds to shift. The latter causes you to bend over, put your head firmly between your knees and kiss your ass goodbye.

Try as we all must, everyday seems to get a little trickier. Cleverness is no longer enough. Brilliance and a mind geared towards strategy is the new daydream. One by one designers, companies and fashion is losing it's tenuous hold. When people talk about how things are going , it's a veiled question as to "Are you still in business?" or " Do you still have your job?" Personally, it feels like an invasion to even broach such a dicey subject. No one wants to really answer it, few are prepared to admit the truth to themselves ,let alone share it with others. It's a bit like rape victims who are reluctant to admit that they have in fact been raped.

This past week was one that I've never experienced in years of working in this industry. I actually thought about packing it in. It wasn't a fleeting thought, but a cloud of indecision that settled on me and wouldn't budge. Everything I could muster to shake myself out of it did nothing but bring the dreaded choice closer and closer to home. I felt physically ill. Couldn't sleep, eat, couldn't even enjoy watching Dexter ....nothing. Some yoga, meditation,praying ,kick boxing,nothing could shake it. I even tried looking at my treasured collection of books and still I couldn't escape. A call to Mom only elicited an invitation to come home to my room that hasn't changed since high school graduation. That prospect , I will admit, got me thinking about the cons of quitting. Still I remained stricken.

Friday night compelled me to call a friend , for whom I care very much. This call brought my fears to the surface. As we talked, I shared my dilemma and the week of self inflicted torture I had endured. In relating these horrors of indecision it came out that I was not alone with my dark thoughts. My friend had been suffering the very same nightmare, only had taken the giant leap to call it quits. That admission stunned me. My first response was to try to talk him down from the cliff's edge, but his decision was made. We have been at this game for the same amount of time. His success has been real and appreciable and yet he felt the time was right to stop. It hit me so hard I started to cry while still on the phone. It felt so pointless and grossly unfair that this wave had come out of nowhere and took hold of his ship. When I hung up, secretly I prayed that his mind would change, but this is a decision one makes alone. No words from others can change that when all else has been weighed.

I spent the weekend going over and over our conversation and came to a conclusion. The full moon shone through the trees illuminating the forest and cast a clear sharp light on my thoughts. For every reason I could list for giving it all up and taking a nice long rest I couldn't give up this desire to keep going. Whether an audience or economy is there to cheer me on, I realize I've always done it for myself. I'm not ready to stop for myself or anyone else who has gotten satisfaction and pleasure from what I do. The song "The Moon is a harsh mistress" came to mind. Wanting out, wanting a respite from the undertow is not as strong as my desire to thrash through the water, the waves, life as it is at this moment.

...."then the darkness fell, the moon's a harsh mistress, the sky is made of stone"....

Each of us must choose. For today I choose to accept facts, but I don't choose to be undone by them.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Premie-Fall Collections

There was something decidedly premature about many of the pre-fall collections offered over the last few days. Much like infants taken from the oven a few months too soon. Some actually looked as though they'd been yanked from the life supporting incubators, tossed down a runway or in front of a photographer and tossed back. I seriously wonder if some of them will survive. A head, 10 fingers and 10 toes doesn't mean that the little one is alive , let alone ready for the bright glare of the critics. Many of these collections were mercifully small. Some were regrettably large. More has never been a rule for better and a few key collections proved this .

I mentioned in my last Post that Oscar de la Renta sent out a rather sad lineup of exits. There were a handful of looks that were directional,modern and provocative. They were more in the daytime phase . Beautiful,yet simply draped silk tunics,more like actual dresses,over pants were two complete statements in themselves. Too much of the collection looked forced. It was a pendulum swing between the expected and the sure sellers.

Badgley Mischka was very tired. They were recently resold (the Collection) and it looked as though they were shackled to the OLD BM look. Apparently the lower priced Platinum collection is selling ,so that one gets the gas. This one was definitely running on empty. There were only about 15 looks and all were poorly made and depressingly predictable. That isn't to say that there's no life there, only that the pulse is so faint that it's any ones call.

Francisco Costa's collection for Calvin Klein, which very often is one of the most forward collections in this country was surprisingly self conscious. Not cool, but somehow trying too hard. The fabrics were so tech based and hard in many instances, they looked sculpted and uncomfortable. Many of the cuts looked poorly tailored. Some of the coats and jackets were unflattering. I was disappointed and wondering what was in his head. The fact that so much was black didn't disturb ,but black clothes call for a precision and degree of brilliance that color can easily camouflage. Black leaves very few places to hide technique. It's either banal or merely derivative or it's great in it's own way. Too many looks were between banal and derivative. The pieces in white were just forgettable . Modern isn't always that thought provoking. In the end one felt anesthetized...drowsy.

Isaac Mizrahi cobbled together a collection that was supposed to evoke 'comfort clothes'. He quipped that they were the equivalent of Mac and Cheese dressing. Cheese was about the best that could be said for it. I don't get the press' fascination with his design aesthetic. From unappealing dresses,coats,Jammie suits to ugly satin construction boots it was a thankfully brief cavalcade of unattractive looks.. The evening gowns were no less interesting than his day looks with the exception of the first suit. To think that he's the Creative Director of Liz Claiborne leaves me speechless.

Zac Posen went on a nostalgia trip back(again) to the forties. That is easily my most unfavored periods. There were some lovely dresses. He has a gift for dresses, but it was all a bit too literal . Fringe abounded and suits that looked like vintage store copies. Leopard prints were the highpoint in dresses ,a jacket and the lining of a full length peach leather coat. He is a rising star but I can't see the brilliance that so many others do. He still appears to be searching for a voice . I'm waiting to hear his own and not the whispers of others' who came before.

Vera Wang was regrettable. But that's not news.I saw 1 dress that was great , but only 1. Her styling is beyond me and the choice of models looked like early cro-magnon women. Very Museum of Natural History Diorama. Not modern and certainly not pretty.

Donna Karan found this season's signature drape and worked it left right and center. Some great things especially for evening. Silk jersey draped gowns that were probably the best of all the contenders, but overall it was Donna in a zen time warp. OM.

Narciso Rodriguez saved the day from the very first exit. The MOST perfectly cut charcoal coat. Narrow shoulders,shaped waist and beautifully curved hips gave it the shape of a perfect hour glass. That coat was IT. From there simple straightforward artful separates and great young cool dresses. Some were in his now signature cut out theme and others very young ingenue looks with controlled full skirts and wrapped or draped sexy bodices. All in all a fresh, always fresh take on cool urban dressing that works anywhere on all ages. His collection was what a fall collection or Pre-Fall should be. Complete.

Now let's see who will buy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pre-Fall. Concept or Condition???

All these Pre-Fall collections are being shown this week. One has to wonder what's up. Pre-Fall is considered the most important collection of the year because it delivers early and sells the longest. It's also the one that grabs the largest dollars from retailers. For some strange reason, it is the new Fall and the old Fall which happens in a couple of months is mostly window dressing. If that is really the case, then why bother with Fall proper?

Oscar de la Renta showed his Monday and Chanel presented theirs" a la Russe" last week . All the other usual players are doing the same throughout this week and next. It just seems like an exercise in futility when we can't find a flashlight bright enough to find our way out of Black Friday. There isn't a battery strong enough. Stores can't give the stuff away and design houses are scrambling to put out new collections for dollars that are as fictitious as the idea of a bright tomorrow. The night we're in makes the far northern hemisphere look like a blindingly bright endless day. The truth is that it's dark at this moment. Pitch black dark. Friends and associates are losing jobs or shutting down businesses everyday. Not one day goes by without someone ending on the proverbial down beat.

This need to pump product for a public who is no longer able or interested in buying unless the markdowns start at 60% with an additional "friends and family" 30% off on top. Try to make something on that ........ This is the new math. I was never good in math, though my Mom was a math teacher, but even I can do that simple subtraction. If I didn't know better you end up with a negative number. That is not good, is it? Am I making a mistake on the equation? I could call Mommie and ask, but something tells me I could be right on this one. So what to do?

Pre-Fall looks more like a condition than a business concept. Pre: as in just before the tumble. The next month or two will sort out the results of this effort. We'll see who and how many benefit from this early sell. The pie is the size of a half eaten cookie. There is not that much to go around. Oscar was lackluster, which really surprising. He is so much of the time right on the money, but this collection was as depressed looking as the state of the economy. A bummer parade of bummer looks. Karl sent out a Russian inflected modernist take on Poirret,Bakst, YSL and some Coco to taste. It was rich and in some cases the total opposite reflection of what the mirror reflects. I kind of like that attitude. It gave you something to ponder,dream about, and basically took your mind to a different place. The collection was inspiring,probably absurdly expensive, but amusing. Amusement is so lacking in the air. To smile, enjoy and feel a lightness is in short supply. For that I am grateful. Many commenters on the NYTimes fashion blog "On The Runway" were less than positive about it. A lot of criticism about Karl /Chanel being out of touch and living too much in the past and not pitching forward to the future(quite unknown). Call me old fashioned but there was something brewing in that collection that could be an antidote to the malaise which has infected the public at large. Some fantasy grounded in real time can't be all bad. Otherwise, why get up in the morning. It takes more than meds now to navigate these shoals. Just inches below this rising tide are jagged rocks that I have no intention of tripping over and being pulled under.

For those of you who have not looked at the Times' fashion blog, check it out. The conversation and criticism is very lively and thank God, intelligent.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Bill Blass Couture is Shuttered.

For several months I've written about the House that Blass built. Granted, many of my opinions in regards to the designers who have taken hold of the wheel were unlicensed for the job. That would have to include the president of the company, Michael Groveman. The most unfortunate thing that could have befallen such a venerable and landmark establishment was the appointment of Michael Groveman. His story is the dark tale of the effects of nepotism. Perhaps Dad could do it, but Junior couldn't.

Bill Blass will officially close up shop ( it already has) on Dec. 19, 2008 , unless they decide to go to press sooner. The company has disbanded the design studio and now are in the process of selling off machinery, supplies and fabrics in order to lessen the debts which still hang over them. It's a fire sale in it's most discreet form.

There was no White Knight to come to it's rescue. The parent company NexCen was unable to find a suitor for a house that was for sale at one point for as little as 10 million dollars, down from it's purchase price of 54 million. At one point it was offered for $1.00 if all debt, loans and all related baggage would be assumed. The Direct to Customer Collection ( a la Tupper Ware party presentations for Ladies who neither shop nor lunch) which was generating 1 million this past year was closed down a few weeks ago. That collection had it's own designer and was priced below designer and above bridge. Effectively, the Budget Blass collection. At least that collection was making headway. The part of the Blass body that was gangrenous was the Couture. Peter Som proved season after season , like Lars Nillson, Steven Slowick,Probal, the long suffering assistant designer, and Michael Vollbracht , perhaps the most wise if not most lackluster of creative designers, that the job of moving the collection forward and still maintaining it's solidly loyal customer base was beyond his meager talents.

Peter Som was over faced by that job. One must have a point of reference , a knowledge of the history of more than the house , but of the unique client who's needs it serves.This isn't a case of "being to the manor born", per se. This just means years of experience in life, an understanding of a specific culture and the frame within which it functions. That is what was so unique and successful about Bill Blass, the man. He may have been from Indiana, served in the military and had little or no money in the beginning. What he did have was an eagle's eye for the nuances of a world in which he strived to inhabit. He studied his clients before they were his to dress. He was a self created man , some would say affected, an ersatz gentleman...but he became and fully inhabited the person he chose to be. In doing so, he also became the go to guy for the society client who demanded a like minded Designer to answer their needs. He was a perfect fit and foil for his Ladies. This dogged determination on his part is a perfect example of this new book, The Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell(also author of The Tipping Point). The idea is that laymen and scientists agree that for a person to become essentially expert in their field, it takes 10,000 hours of practice. That means that 10 years of steady work must happen before one can master a skill, truly master it. Blass spent those 10,000 hours working for other companies before opening his own. He had his schtick down by the time the Nan Kempners, Chessy Raynors, Pat Buckleys, Casey Ribicoffs, Nancy Kissingers,Louise Grunwalds,and so many others of his "Gals" walked through those doors. Peter Som and the rest of them, save Vollbracht, have not clocked those hours. They are amateurs, gold leaf plated arrivistes. I'd go so far as to say "ambitious actors". When the curtain comes up one needs to know more than just ones lines. It helps if one knows the play .

I always wondered why a design house as good as Blass would go the way of a lost penney. It was a viable business with a bright future. It kicked the butt of other competing houses like Herrera,and others not worth mentioning. Now there is only Oscar in 550 Seventh Ave. to carry that torch. Fine with me. He is a master and will not be unseated for years to come.

This reminds me of a cocktail party where I was standing next to Peter Som and his acolytes. They were giggling like little school girls about something . He was clearly the leader of the group , but everything that he uttered was pure chatty kathy ,cotton candy archness parading as cleverness. I walked away thinking that if that is the heart that beats in the body of that house, it will die in it's sleep. Well, It appears that that is exactly what has come to pass.
Bill Blass Couture has died while sleeping. Unfortunately, we all stood by and had to watch.