Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ungaro is DDB.

Deaf, dumb and blind. Yep, that's DDB. No one ever expected the company to have the same footprint when it passed from the hands of Emanuel to Asim Abdullah. These changes always bring an eruption of sorts. The old timers want it to stay the same and the new kids want radical, news breaking shifts. What always seems to make or break these rebirths are owners with a vision, a strategy for the future. Patience with the design team as well as the public's perception is also key to a gradual and ideally smooth transition. Listening to the marketplace, the press and one's own gut is a part of the process, but that's where it can get sticky. It's the listening and to whom one listens that can help or confuse. Too often the voices of the crowd carry more weight than the voice in your head. With Ungaro's owner, Asim Abdullah, it's increasingly clear that he hears and sees nothing.

Esteban Cortazar, the first Creative director to take the reins with Ungaro's departure, seemed to be doing a good enough job. The collections were not mind blowing, but that's rare these days. It was sufficient that he was finding his way and bringing the buyers, press and clients along with him. All was well, enough. The insidious virus circling these grand couture houses undergoing cosmetic surgery is always one form or other of the celebrity. The celebrity face, the celebrity endorsement or the most fatal of all, the celebrity Creative Director. The most virulent of infections took over this house when Lindsay Lohan was dragged from the lowest depths of the celebrity pool to come in and Direct the designer and be the face of the company . At the time I was kind of dumbfounded by this decision. Cortazar 's reaction to the hire, and his decision to leave seemed rash and immature. I understood his feelings of revulsion, but also thought he'd outlast this aberration with just a season's patience or two. How long could she possibly last before she got booted or bored ? He left in a huff and Estrella Archs came to the rescue, surely with the same disgust and reservations of having to tackle this huge responsibility with a stoned tween in the driver's seat.

That pivotal collection came off to a cacophony of boos. Archs grimaced and bore it, Lindsay was so wasted she likely doesn't remember if it was a dream or a nightmare. Universally, the fashion community laughed at the company and not in a good way. You'd think that would be the end of Lindsay considering she was responsible for the lion's share of looks that staggered down the runway, but she kept her head and the CEO lost his. From there it went precipitously down hill. Finally, Lindsay got the boot and Estrella took a pass leaving the house of Ungaro rudderless. What to do? Who to hire? Who to advise? I would venture to guess that somewhere at some point the Vogue Employment Agency stepped in and made its recommendations which Abdulla was only too happy to follow.
Giles Deacon, an English designer with his own collection of spotty merit is the name that has bubbled to the surface. He's popular, considered star material by those who know, and has a career that's on the rise. His collections are also wildly inconsistent. The last 3 I've seen have left me puzzled and unmoved. Using Daphne Guinness as muse and design compass is like taking a divining rod to the middle of the Sahara. You'll do a lot of walking until you drop dead of thirst. Daphne is the rich man's Isabella Blow, highly overrated and suspiciously self serving, but those are magic ingredients for stardom on the fashion stage. Deacon's Spring 2010 collection, which prominently featured Daphne as model/muse was sophomoric, repetitive, uninteresting and banal. Those adjectives add up to a very low number in the new scoring system. Giles has shown little zip since then other than his wildly successful note card collection he created for a very highbrow stationer in London featuring his sketches of dresses. I did see signs of life in his recent Fall 2010 collection that looked clean, minimal and had an esoteric twist that showed a promising departure from corset dresses with flyaway skirts. There were conceptual head ornaments that were memorable.

Ungaro has shown itself to be lost in the woods. I'm hopeful this hire, if it turns out to be Deacon, will be fruitful and not leave them adrift at sea.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tara Subkoff : Imitation of an Imitation....or The Horse is dead.Put down the baseball bat and just walk away.*

* the title comes from a reader whose comment was so hilarious, I had to include it in the title.

Tara Subkoff plans to resuscitate her dead label Imitation of Christ. Now that it's been gone for some time and she's always been a girl on the crest of the trend, she's chosen to shorten its name , and most likely its concept to just Imitation. That almost sounds like a truthful statement about her design ethos and ability. Imitation is the highest form of flattery and she's a flatterer if nothing else. She's also a narcissist when you consider the flattery is all self directed.
She has recently come back from a rough patch ( that would be an inspired name for the collection) after having suffered a brain tumor. She's also back from the dissolution of her company, all of its support team, the loss of her partner Matt Dunhave and her chief support, cheerleader, and mascot, Chloe Sevigny. Matt moved on and Chloe moved up to becoming a more serious actress and uber-style icon......................... Chloe makes a great renegade wife to a polygamist but a less than awe inspiring fashion plate.

So Tara goes it alone with the gusto that has always been her trade mark. She complains of the work involved, its hours and hours of details and the commitment needed to see it through with a whine. That is the nature of the business. It's not all parties, shows, happenings and interviews. Work often comes into the equation. Subkoff was pretty masterful the first time around keeping the work aspect at bay. That was the first mistake she made. I have a feeling the same thing might happen again, considering that here heyday was before the fall and we're in a very different world now. Characters like Rodarte have picked up her mantle and have shown an ability to ride that bucking donkey. Tara is better suited for the little pony parked in front of Duane Reade or CVS where you put a dime in it and it rocks back and forth. She's never been a worker always a celeb. I can't see her changing her stripes at this late date.

She was doing costumes for dance companies (modern dance...) that consisted of thrift store finds without any alteration or stylistic additions which was her stock in trade. She'd show up with shop worn bits and hand them out and leave. She couldn't be bothered with any of the details like fitting , adjusting, or changing. It was simply just, "Here, bye". I have a close friend in this dance company who is a principal dancer who shared these stories which made me cringe. This sort of behavior is all too familiar from those posers who crave the fashion klieg lights with absolutely no interest or clue about the craft. It's purely a bait and switch game. "Here is something really, really advanced". What nestles in the bottom of the plastic grocery bag turns out to be something really, really tired that cost you really, really alot. She's resting up in sunny California as she plots her return. You can read her story in next month's Harpers Bazaar. The two puppies are rescue dogs a friend gave her. They look like King Charles Spaniels, but something tells me they may be the only thing that's not imitation.
So here comes another player, make way.

Monday, April 19, 2010

It's Award Season.

It's difficult to get excited about the big events which are coming up shortly. The Fashion Awards or the Night of the Big 10 leaves little to the imagination. The same names are again slotted into the same categories, and in some cases multiple categories for the 3rd or 4th time in recent years. You'd think there was a drought in the fashion world with designers dying off like the dinosaurs. Well, let me refresh you, there are plenty of dinosaurs left and some baby ones too.
I loose interest when the same 4 or 5 names are put up over and over again. There are many great and talented designers in this country and in this town beyond the tiny handful which appear to be the favorites. The playing field has been dug up and straight down the middle is a barbed wire fence. A special pass allows some to pass through to the sunny side and the rest are left on the clouded one. I don't know why that is, but like so much in life, that's the way it is.
There is a category I'm interested in watching the results of and that's best new designer for women, the Swarovski Award. Two of the nominees are Prabal Gurung and Joseph Altuzzara. These are two very different, and very interesting designers. They bring some fresh blood and a feeling of maturity to the event. For the past several seasons , both have grown steadily and have presented convincing collections. Convincing because they've shown a development that is consistent with their original messages. Some seasons have been stronger than others, but all in all they are believable talents. They also , for the most part don't have the obvious stigma of being "darlings" despite their popularity. Their work seems to do more of the talking than their beauty or charm, though Prabal gets high points in the beauty department....just a fact of life and good, designer genes! I am curious to see how that horse race will turn out. One is a classicist(Prabal) and the other an iconoclast. There's more than enough room for both and I'd be thrilled to see a tie like that bizarre evening when the best Women's award was shared by Oscar de la Renta and Proenza Schouler. I still can't get over that, and I honestly doubt that Oscar has either.
The rest of the evening's categories are not so interesting or particularly nail biting. Iman as Icon, well they're working down the laundry list of faces, next year it might be Hamish Bowles or the Gaga. Accessories is silly, as Proenza Schouler is just coming into their own in clothing design and have barely gotten a grip on accessory design. Yet, they are up for it again for the 2nd or 3rd time. Marc Jacobs is nominated in at least 3 categories, again, at once and mega designers like Donna Karan is up for 1. There's no sense of proportion, which is so intrinsically important to fashion.
Why isn't Ralph Rucci up for Lifetime Achievement? Who in the last 10 years has produced work quite like his? When Geoffrey Beene died, the baton was symbolically passed to him and no one has even come close to catching up with RRucci in the race. What's up with that? I don't care if you play the game or not or how artfully your butterfly kisses hit or miss the mark. Great talent and incredible vision used to mean something.
Why not a Best Blogger Award with Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist, Tavi Gevinson and Bryanboy and let's not forget Suzy Bubble? They've certainly worked it from every possible angle and have brought fashion to the world in much more far reaching ways than many magazines and news papers.
So, things are a bit tepid in this hot tub at the moment. It reminds me of a rather tasteless joke I heard long ago: "What do you call a Jacuzzi filled with ..........." Well that's a bit too tasteless to finish but you can probably figure it out.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Louis Vuitton Fall 2010

This collection is a little like a placebo. You think it's the real thing, and in some ways it is, but in reality it's just a sugar pill. Beautiful fabrics, a cool and sleek presentation, all the attendant hoopla for a major fashion moment, but when the lights go down and everyone files out you realize that what you thought you just saw was really a lite version of something else; something of much greater weight and import. The other something was a collection by Christian Dior back in the golden days of his "New Look". This collection was more "Looks New".

The first indication that there was something vaguely familiar was when the first suit walked down the runway. It was Dior's classic Bar Jacket with almost the same details and fit, over a long, full, swinging skirt that fell well below the knee. It was a great look, totally new in proportion to what we see from most others and advanced in a charmingly retro way. Many looks in the collection aped the same idea and proportion. This is not to say they weren't smart and fresh, they were. The fabrics and leathers he used to create this jacket many times over were rich and technically superb. My quandary is more that the overall presentation, in retrospect, feels like a clever stylist with connections at the best haute vintage couture shops put together the bones of the collection and filled in the rest with variations on the main theme.

Well that's certainly how a collection is created and how a successful one works. I just believe in the outmoded method of coming up with a more original idea, developing it and then building a collection around it. It's just too easy to buy it all from a vintage store or outbid everyone at Drouot, the Couture Auction house and take it back to the workrooms to dissect and reassemble. The last several seasons have been cases in point: Saint Laurent was the direction from last spring and variations on that theme informed Marc's eponymous collection as well as LV. They are collections that were more the work of a stylist, a master stylist with his finger on the pulse of what editors and magazines wanted. It doesn't feel authentic despite my criticism.

This was one of the prettier collections I've seen, like last season when I felt similarly. Maybe it's because he's riffing off of some of my favorite designers at their most vital periods. I just want to see something that makes me sit up and shut up. The models were decidedly more curvy which was a statement on or against the starving waif. These girls were more than just buxom in his clothes , they looked too big for them. There is something annoyingly haphazard about the fit in these shows. Nothing seems to fit. It's like a rush job. Things look ill proportioned and too tight. For my eye, that's not a statement about a new direction. It's more a statement about poor planning. I want to believe that there is a method to the madness and not that he or others have declared that it is the season of the bust (big and full) or that the waist and curvy hips are the new G-Spot. So many dresses under coats or suits with long full skirts were beautiful in their fabrication and distracting in their fit. The evening gowns at show's end were just pastiches on the glamorous gowns from Dior's salon in the late 50's. If you're going to go there, go all the way and don't just drive by. It wasn't so much Mad Men as it was Bodacious Babes. So in some ways these collections for me are not so different than lesser more banal ones because they don't move things forward. They just add a bit of sugar to a cake that is no longer fresh.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Wes Gordon Fall 2010: A Debut

Wes Gordon is a prince. There are hacks, pretenders to throne and then there are princes of the blood. Wes is one of the latter. Fall was his debut and he walked through that door with more than just perfect posture and charm, he delivered a very fresh, well conceived collection. Unlike many young, emerging talents Wes had an obvious plan. It takes courage to start in times where too many are in flux or closing businesses. Wes didn't waste his time with a strategy, he went straight away to the logistics. His CV states that he graduated from London's Central Saint Martin's and worked as an apprentice with Oscar de la Renta and Tom Ford. So his pedigree is not only impressive, he has a real design ethos to back it up.

The idea behind this first collection isn't so much a thematically driven one. His woman isn't traveling back to the apartments of Madame du Barry where she lounges on a Louis Quinze chaise longue in a laudanum stupor while Paris falls to the rioting citizenry. She instead likes the feel and style of a young Lauren Bacall. He seems to want to be in this moment dressing women whose lives have purpose. I would have expected lots of fantasy and instead found practicality.
Granted, there were obvious signs of an artful eye and rich imagination for unusual detail at work. There was also an understanding of what high quality workmanship means. Wes seems committed from the start to deliver clothes that are timeless and very much of this moment. It's a maturity that I don't often see in young designers or old ones, for that matter. He's not wired for expendable, throw away clothes and that alone sets him apart.

So no line up of 20 gowns and 30 cocktail dresses or red carpet hand outs. He's not a rest stop for Tinsley or any of her debauched BFFs. His seriousness would put off the Housewives, as they only understand the obvious and the banal. He's so lucky he won't have to disinfect his studio on a daily basis with that sort of creature. The people and women who will appreciate his work are the confident, self possessed ones. There are sleek, well tailored jackets and suits that incorporate superfine wools with insertions of leather. Some have razor sharp stitched welts in a star motif across the back which is his leitmotif and the symbol for his logo. Smart, sexy dresses that can be worn for day or night come in jersey one minute and silk mousseline and crepe the next. Though there aren't a slew of gowns, the ones he made are surprisingly simple on first inspection and not at all when you get up close. A white column with fan pleated detail at the neck with a deep open back both defines and suggests a slim long line and all with just one color and a precious little detail. It presents the woman, taking a back seat to her allure, but gives shape and height to her without any obvious contrivance. That's the sort of design and dress making that turns me on. But that's the same sort of dressmaking that has all but disappeared.

It's exciting to see these gifts and this understanding in someone so young. His humility and obvious respect for women is clearly expressed in his work. You could have a conversation and hear his responses just by looking at these clothes. His debut is an impressive one and I find myself wondering what comes next.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Haider Ackermann Fall 2010

Haider Ackermann is not exactly an unsung hero, but surely a very special and intelligent designer who's not gotten the attention he deserves. This collection like several of his previous ones is a mesmerizing story that takes you in from the very first moment. He is an alchemist, a sorcerer who makes clothes that feel new and unquestionably valid. I've rarely seen a man take such a masterful approach to materials, primarily leathers, suede and cloth, and mold them into brutally romantic pieces that have the attraction of the softest most desirable clothes around. There is a feeling of security, like your favorite blanket or sweater as a child, only they're thoroughly grown up, sophisticated, even aggressive.

I was taken with the organic vein that ran through this collection that brought to mind vegetation; leaves of fantastic texture and scale. The sculptural aspects of the jackets, coats and belts worked ceaselessly to embrace and celebrate a woman's body. It felt like a bit of Donna, and a more generous, humane Rick Owens, but strangely like Claude Montana for the new century. The mix of shine and matte, leathers and suede with and without top stitching details to add another layer of detail and texture, and all crowning some of the most evocative and provocative leather pants to come down a runway in a long time. The spiraling, zipped, waist cinching belts were multifunctional as they could be done up or left open at the top and bottom to create more shapes, more mysterious elements. Many elements of jackets and coats were multifunctional. Peplums could zip on or off or be left dangling. Shaped jackets reminded me of the jackets worn in 18th century France at the court of Louis IV. Layers of laser cut leather mimicked lace for collars and peplums, but never as dramatically when they were cut as long evening looks . They were simply beautiful. Leathers with leather lace. The architectural aspect of the shapes was achieved with a light, sure hand and played both sides of the coin from strict to soft, elliptically shaped coats as well as cinched, sharp, layered jackets.

One could call this aesthetic "Brutalist" but that would be too confining. Rick Owens works constantly in that manner, but Ackermann goes beyond that vocabulary to create a new result. His woman is essentially armed and protected in these clothes. She is also seductive and deceptively vulnerable in a way that draws you to her. The technical brilliance of his vision is unavoidably in your face. I wonder why this collection is such a well kept secret. This man has got it. If I were the buyer, the consumer or the editor, I would have to have it.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

20/20 Hindsight

With the Collections here and abroad over, I've had time to digest and ruminate on Designer's offerings for Fall 2010. Without the pressure of deadlines, I take my time. It's too easy to get caught up in the moment and blurt opinions that are not always authentic or honestly felt.

New York was a bit of a blur and Paris was more intense and weighty. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Paris, in particular, is historically the birthplace of fashion as we know it. In the old days before the calendar of shows was changed and we the Americans presented our collections after Europe, everything had more clarity. American designers, both established and those who were Emerging, had the benefit of time to make stronger, clearer statements. Now it's all a rush to the gate. This is not meant as a slam in any way, but I've always sensed a degree of anxiety when looking at our industry working as quickly as possible to lay down the gauntlet. The large,well financed houses do it with relative ease but the smaller houses too often look semi-prepared. It's an unfortunate reality but that is my feeling. When a designer is trying to make and ship orders to stores and has the added burden of creating a new collection at the same time, there will be a schism. This is all too apparent with smaller houses.

There was a prevailing feeling that the Americans needed/wanted to show first to lay claim to originality and not be perceived as following the leads of the French and Italians. This was never a reality but more an insecurity on the parts of some established design houses with fragile egos. We, the American fashion industry have always marched to our own fantastic drummers and always will.Whether we go first, second or last that will never change. The benefit of going last would only give us the benefit of much needed time and thought to push harder and reach higher. As a consequence, the season like others in the past, felt too collectively safe and not as imaginative or forward thinking as we're capable of being. Collections I saw here that moved me or didn't resonate that much more powerfully now that the dust has settled. The young guns in a few cases were very impressive. Some of the "directional "collections that have commanded so much attention and praise looked less solid than one would have expected or hoped for. I want to revisit some of them now and share why I feel this way. It's like a great bottle of wine that needs to breathe a bit before decanting. I hope you won't see this as revisiting already harvested fields.

This makes me think about the perception of Bloggers that some people and magazine editors have; that we're a pack of armchair experts without knowledge or experience to intelligently discuss this business. I have to thank some of the trailblazers like Bryanboy and Tavi, to name two of the most recognized members of the Fashion Blogging Community, for pushing the envelope and creating a dialogue. They've helped so many of us to have a seat (or stand) at the table. There are many of us who are passionate and committed to what we write and that's a new fact of life in this field and many others.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

We're All April Fools!

Happy April Fool's Day. It's warming up and I've escaped the city for a romp in the woods chasing an ever growing flock of wild turkeys. A few flocks numbering between 75 and 100 birds have decided our property is the park of choice. Kenny Sr. who keeps an eye on the place when we're in town discovered them one afternoon filling the back yard that's surrounded by a 10 ft. deer fence. Who knew wild turkeys could fly so high. He told me that they like to hang out in the yard in the afternoon and roost in the trees at night. I was a little horrified at this because these guys are not only big, they're huge and they have an unpleasant habit of depositing their meals all over the deck and lawn. I thought we were under siege by a marauding pack of lap dogs. Kenny set me straight, though. It's not dog doo but BIG bird BM that I've been cleaning up for weeks. They are pretty in a very primeval sort of way. I like watching them, even chasing them because they just run away....all 50 of them at a time. Anyway, it's their hideaway, too. i just envy that they can hang here all the time and I'm limited to weekends. They must have splurged and bought the deluxe time share package. You always get what you pay for!

I did something the other day that was a little off my beaten path. I wrote a guest blog for a cool store out on Long Island called, Hirshleifers. I've written a series of pieces on things I love about fashion that they seem to love as well. The first one on SHOES is up today. Perhaps you'd take a look and see what you think. Their audience is a bit shy when it comes to commenting, so comment away if you would, so that others see that that is the fun of a blog; to invite and encourage a dialogue. So thanks for the visit. All of this is fact including the turkeys and not some lame April Fools trick. I'll think of something along those lines later today. Have a good one.

xo, Fluff and Eric