Saturday, October 24, 2009
Bottega Veneta and Oscar de la Renta drink from the same well.
There's a well in the fairy land of Fashion. It lies in a enchanted dell whose entrance is guarded by trolls and hags. Granted, with the right password the lucky are given admittance. Without that riddle of a password, the unfortunates are barred. The number of pilgrims increases each season in direct relation to the guards , who are now legion. Not everyone gets a ticket to imbibe.
Two who obviously drew from the well, must have done so simultaneously: Oscar de la Cha Cha and Thomas Maier of BottegaVeneta. All I can deduce is that one drank from a 2-fisted beer stein and the other from an etched crystal, Georgian water goblet. Who do you think sipped and who drank heartily? The collections answer the question. The taste and purity of that well water is evident in both, simply because one collection almost mirrors the other. Not everything is similar, but the guts of the collections are similar in silhouette and treatment. What separates them is a freedom of expression in one and an uptight, self consciousness in the other.
Some would say that age plays a part in this. One designer being younger and the other more senior. That's too easy when you put them to the Lagerfeld test. He is categorically considered senior in terms of age. Creatively, he is clearly not trapped by that label. So, with the leadership of Alex Bolen ,CEO son in law and his charming Junior League wife,Eliza Reed Bolen, Oscar's step daughter, age is something that need not apply. They are the fresh blood coursing through the veins of Chez de la Cha Cha.
Shifts, safari suits,dirndls with embroidery, and draping that looked decidedly organic, not fussy, were evident in both collections . I will illustrate this by placing each example side by side to prove my point. Oscar consistently uses a hand that constricts the shape, whereas, Thomas lets the same idea breathe. Ultimately, the consumer decides what works best for her. It's only interesting to me that one collection exudes ease, the cool factor and modernity and the other is matronly and devoid of cool. It's unfortunate in that fashion needs to be about NOW. It must inspire, seduce and weave dreams. Perhaps the fault of one and the success of the other lies in the styling of the collection.
Styling for the runway is as essential as it is for the editorial page of a magazine. Without the right mix and the imagination of a visionary stylist, the clothes are too often earth bound. In seasons past, and we can go all the way back to when Oscar designed Balmain Haute Couture, his stylist of choice was Andre Leon Talley. I remember collections over the past 5-7 years that were some of the very best in this country and the world. Whether Oscar was your cup of tea, the collections had a cohesion that is all but lost for the last two seasons. They appear to drift left and right across a treacherous terrain.There was a symbiotic relationship between Oscar and Andre that created real fireworks on the runway. One show left me in tears, and not in that pathetic, fashion victim, breakdown sort of way. I cried because I felt I'd just seen a collection that answered all the questions and left no stone unturned. My tears were simply because I saw that there really wasn't anything I could say with my collection that would or could say it with any more clarity or artfulness. I was bummed, but I was powerfully impressed. Oscar had Andre by his side and the two together were greater than Oscar alone. Now his collections are styled by Alex White of W magazine. She may be serviceable, but her youth and freshness is not adding anything to the mix. It is a collection that looks like it wants to be one thing when it's hopelessly another. WWD and W may herald that Oscar is on top of the heap, but exactly what is the nature and composition of that heap? His collaboration with Oscar was far from broken , so why did they feel compelled to fix it?
Thomas Maier wins the day and he does it quietly, elegantly and with a minimum of fuss. Whomever styles the presentation, or doesn't, Thomas is spot-on leaving us all sated.