Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli are the Posh Spice of the couture; you could call them Deux-Luxe Spice. For seasons they've churned out some of the most banal, tortured clothes in the name of the god of glamour, Prince Valentino. Every time I pass the boutique on Madison Avenue and spy from the corner of my eye some scary shoe with eleventeen buckles and straps next to a bag that is laden with pounds and pounds of circular leather ruffles with the ubiquitous zipper-tooth trim I ask myself what is going on. They were touted as the accessories brains behind the label and given the task of taking on the mantle of creative directors of the ready to wear and couture. The clothes looked worse than the accessories which looked god awful. So where did this sublime collection come from? How did they shake off the Butt-Uglies and hit the road to Fab-u-land? Honestly, I don't care. It's as though they cast off all their needless pretensions and just got down to good old fashioned work. There was a purity to the clothes that was at once reminiscent of Valentino's taste but clearly the ideas of new blood. The finish to each look had that supreme confidence you expect from the couture. You could see that every piece was as beautifully rendered inside as out. The fuss level was almost non-existent with the fabric taking the lead with a modicum of decoration applied. Details like a wisp of pleated tulle attached to the shoulders of a gown that was all blossoms and petals of silver and gold was just the last punctuation of the statement. Devore silk velvets in designs of feathers and panne velvet the color of flat champagne was like liquid suspended. Even the red crepe column with its elegant cowl was another dramatically austere addition to the house's pantheon of red gowns. The lattice lace trimmed gowns in pale gray were also beautiful in their delicacy. My misjudgement of Chiuri and Piccioli as two designers not up to the task, just like my dim view of Victoria Beckham was premature. I eat my words and am glad to be proven wrong. There's nothing greater in couture than great clothes and Valentino looks poised to move that tradition forward.
This is a very pretty petting zoo. It perfectly exemplifies the heaven and hell of theme park design. His mission to create couture manifestations of things that fly, trot, prowl and slither is a great point of departure. In many cases it is a potent and exciting one but in others a bit of a concrete pump chained to his feet. The dressmaking for the most part is sublime. Especially, the lace gown with its artfully placed design that makes a feast of the model. The addition of pheasant feathers to the bodice and the lone wing rising from the center of her head was probably the most beautiful of his kingdom. The swan (le Cygne, I imagine it was called in the program) was one of the unfortunate beasts with her saffron tights which made her look more Princess Valiant than a bewitching bird. It was at moments like this and also his ant with her cut-outs at the shoulders and the deep slits up the sides that made his theme awkward and forced. The couture means to me fit of the most rigorous sort. These clothes are supposed to be cut within an inch of the model's life, not gaping and yawning around her hips, absent bust or insect thin arms. So when I see a gown that looks as though there was not enough time to be properly fit and altered to the body of the model I begin to ask questions. The moment you start to puzzle is when the pieces begin to fall away or worse, become hopelessly lost. With that said, i enjoyed many of his creations but can't help feeling that he may be not yet ready for life in the wild.
This was such a satisfying collection. Looking at it I had to ask myself what the point is of the mega spectacle, the towering inferno of lights, music, steel beams and glass. Can fashion that's presented in the most artificial of environments withstand the harsh light of day? Looking at Chanel's Byzantium collection of last season all smashed together on a rack in a tony shop for a trunk show without the benefit of a Karlie Kloss or even the attentions of a steamer, still looked mighty fine to my eye. The buttons alone made the rumpled wool jersey of a few dresses absolutely irresistible. Still there was a feeling that the clothes were meant for a world more lofty than the Miracle Mile in Manhassett. I don't have that same feeling when I behold Alaia. This is not a diatribe coming from some powder slurping, liquid swilling Kool-Aid stained, Queenbag, A-list, shopping bag pumping Alpha-douche. (part of that description was lifted from some guy's profile on Manhunt. It was TOO good NOT to use...) I like Alaia but I'm not going to go on the record saying he is the Messiah or Meshiach, or what have you. He is damn fab though. His collection with its patent crocodile in black, celadon and claret, whether real or faux is just beautiful. The shapes which are essential to his oeuvre (love that word, especially when you accent that last snotty syllable) are just so clean, feminine, sexy, evocative. They are the perfect vocabulary for a woman and without the fuss of a 150 seat orchestra. The coats with their shaped and dropped waists and full, bell shaped skirts are the only ones of their kind around. Givenchy mastered them way back when as did Balenciaga and Oscar to a degree after the masters. But now they are impossible to find except for one's well stocked memory or thank god, here in Azzedine's hands. The wool Jacquards with their subtle patterns are so complex in their simplicity. The cut-out whatever fabric of the black dress and the gown near the end with a layer of silver silhouetted underneath creating a shape like a pannier and a quiet shot of color was just something to behold. His brand of ruffles that appear to be scalloped on the edge by hand in layer upon rigorous layer spilling down the narrowed length of skirt is at once flirtatious and then again not. That too tired adjective "empowering" seems particularly apt for the message his clothes send. The fabric that moved me the most was his use of velvet. Its just the most romantic of fabrics the suggests so much as it brushes the surface of every one of our senses. The depth of color in claret and black is like an abyss. Perhaps, the odd twist of an Elizabethan feel to the clothes is what speaks to me about his work. It was the first period of history to spark my imagination as a kid and it still does to this day. The fact that he hadn't shown a collection on the runway in 8 years and did not invite anyone from Vogue USA was probably not lost on anyone. Its unfortunate that they missed it, just like last season's Ralph Rucci, though a couple of members of the Vogue chorus were in attendance. I wish that I'd been there. I'd have been tempted to stand in line at the Kool-Aid stand.
photos courtesy of tenmagazine. special thanks to Beth Terry!
When I look at fashion I don't generally go digging for a back story, I avoid programs that discuss a designer's "inspiration" and I try my best not to read into or make sweeping pronouncements as to the psychological or emotional state of the creator. If the thing looks dark, it looks dark. When it's bright, well then it's bright. What I'm after is whether or not the work succeeds on any or all levels; is it beautifully made even if the thing is studiedly un-made? Does it elicit an emotion response either positive or otherwise? Is there a soul somewhere inside it or is it lacking a soul or spirit? Does it succeed on its own or does it need some sort of crutch? Does it make the grade, or is it consistent with the expectations of its place in the larger spectrum of where its supposed to be? In other words, is it "shit or Shinola"? Granted, its a murky thing that experts in the fashion field are often at pains to define. Objectivity is all but lost in the bargain but still fairness should always have a seat near the front. All of this patter is leading to my comments on Dior and Bill Gayttens efforts. Looking at the collection, it's almost impossible to view it without imposing the Galliano standard on it. Dior and Galliano are inseparable which makes anyone else's attempts at creating a Dior collection a lost cause. But if you put that thought in your Birkin and take off your Tom Ford sunnies and look closely, and past the Memphis colors/combos of some exits, take the clunky jewelry and silly "fascinators" off some unfortunate heads you end up with more than just a couple of marvelous couture creations. I admit that the rigorous fit, unerring choice of colors and some proportions that Galliano achieved while flattened in a K hole was missing, still there was music playing on that runway. To say that it was an abysmal failure or an unfortunate parade of misguided ideas with no rudder or Admiral is a little off the mark. It's also interesting that other work that was presented on the runway this week, after Dior, was strangely similar and managed to escape the hatchet. That's all I'll say. These images I've included are just a handful of things that spoke to me. Look for yourself and see.
It was just a few weeks ago that I hustled my way back to the "preferred standing" area for the Resort shows. I'm not sure if it was the lousy vantage point or the pointless clothes that started to flood the runway that sent me racing for the exit. Once I was outside I kept on running until I found myself on Three Mile harbor Road and inches from the safety of our house, the one in the woods with almost no one within shooting distance. Certainly, no one fabulous with the exception of marauding turkeys (real) and some black guy who's been swimming in our pool and raiding the refrigerator. Grief is such a strange thing. It creeps up on you when you think things are finally settling down. It can be triggered by a sound, a smell or the reflection in a mirror when you think its you you're seeing. My father seems more present now than when he was alive. Last night at a Rickie Lee Jones concert I could have sworn he was sitting right next to me. His cologne was in the air and too many songs brought him more and more to life. Daddy didn't even care for Rickie... The truth is that I didn't know I cared so much for my father until he was gone. Perhaps, that affection can be applied to fashion. I'm so bothered by it lately. This month will be 2 years that I bowed out and ran for the hills. It feels so much longer. The scene is so different now than just 2 years ago. I feel guilt for casting such a jaundiced eye and struggle to keep sharing my views. Something in me feels that I should be drinking the Kool-Aid but I can't. I won't. Reading press and looking at what's being done is rough going. I keep grumbling so much that I'm forced to come back and vent. Resort was a snooze to a large degree. I watched and took mental notes. I wished that most of what I remember about it was inspiring. It wasn't. Now the Couture is happening and I feel more engaged. Stuff you read about Dior and the dissing that Bill Gaytten has gotten is grotesque. He is no less a designer than other charlatans like the team at Valentino, the clowns that ran Ferre into the dirt, the 2 girls from Pasadena with issues of taste and technique not to mention serious challenges in the creativity department. Let's not forget Marc Jacobs who's greatest talent is pumping iron and feeding the press. The slap that Gaytten received was undeserved and unwarranted. Sure there were some things that were wooden and without subtlety or nuance but there was a collection that still had a relationship to the aesthetic of the house. That's much more than can be said for Givenchy and the stuff that's being passed off as couture. Hypocrisy is the order of the day. So I'm around and thought I'd stop by and say hi to you guys. Its interesting how much people despise John Galliano but are not ready to let go of his artistic contribution. That job will be one of the most thankless we've seen in a long, long time. The field is not only rutted and flat. It's also turning to dust.