In the late 70's when many of us were off to college, some to boarding school and still others just getting into the groove of high school, the age of the poster was at its apex. As I hailed from Groton, Mass. the Harvard Co-op in Cambridge's Harvard Sq. was the place to go for posters. I'm not talking just Led Zeppelin, Farrah Fawcett or Beatles posters, but fine art posters of some of the greatest Old Masters to the Contemporary greats of the time. I was partial to the Abstract Expressionists like Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler but more than anything, I was a freak for Adolph Gottlieb. I guess I've always been a special case in most things that interest me. Many of my contemporaries at that time were particularly fond of Escher prints. You know the ones of lizards, fish and birds all going to and fro morphing in an out of each other, all positive/negative mind bending images. Honestly, I think the attraction had everything to do with getting high. In those days all of us were stoned 24/7 and anything that enhanced that permanent state of twistedness was, well a necessary accessory.
I'll never forget a night at a friend's parent luxury apartment at Charles River Park that had a sign saying, "If you lived here, you'd be home now". High above the Charles River we had taken over the apartment which was really 3 connected apartments filled with art and beautiful antiques. Judy's parents were competitive ballroom dancers and were in NYC for the weekend and we were getting"primed" there for a Bonnie Raitt concert later that night. It was one of the few times I took acid and my imagination which was very active on its own went through the roof. Looking down at the river from 20 stories up the water lapping at the edge looked like millions and millions of serpents and lizards scurrying into the grass just like an Escher print. I don't particularly like reptiles so I failed to be amused at this hallucination. For that reason and others, Escher didn't really speak to me. But he sure spoke to others. The poster I remember seeing the most were the labyrinthine staircases that at once looked to be ascending and at the same time descending. That's what Oscar de la Renta's collection looks like to me. On the outside it looks like its on the rise, with its sweaty-browed attempt at youthful irony. On second glance, one realizes it is working its way ceaselessly down the ladder of relevance and stylistic importance.
His choices of color for Fall2012, namely palest pink, cream and "Wallis" blue are not in themselves wrong. The reference to Wallis Simpson is a cloying one especially with Madonna's tepid, revisionist story of the grasping, brittle, tough as nails, arriviste, American social climbing, bigoted creature who stars in the new film W.E. The recently published biography "That Woman" by Anne Sebba, cleaves a bit closer to the truth, but I digress yet again. The cotton candy colors are neither here or there, but the motifs, styling and decoration employed all adds up to a question mark. Prints of jumbo-sized brooches on skirts, gowns and jackets look poor. Oscar is an elegant man with very refined tastes. Don't forget he goes home to Annette Reed de la Renta of the Charles Engelhard Court, Metropolitan Museum Trustee, and all around super swell pillar of New York and International society. When you do the math it all adds up to the best, not the least. So what gives with the rat's nest hair, regrettable tiaras, shoes that look uncomfortably like those worn by Minnie Mouse, not to mention the clothes? I love horses so I will refrain from beating this one. Obviously, it needs attention, care and a re-boot. You all can look this over and decide for yourselves.That isn't to say that there weren't a handful of looks that showed his elegant eye. A black paillette cocktail was free of tricks and simply beautiful. Another standout was an unadorned "Wallis" blue faille cocktail dress wrapped and draped at the waist with a signature portrait collar. The same can be said for an embroidered dress and jacket in black that echoed his tenure as designer for Balmain's couture, but they were buried in an endless parade of banal costumes.
I loved this collection for many many years. It was one I'd never miss given an invitation and the opportunity. I cried after one of them, it was so fantastic. Now I just feel empty, even bereft. The most unexpected development that happened almost simultaneously, was the ascent of Carolina Herrera up that same funhouse staircase. For all of her blanks she's fired the last several years, suddenly she presented a collection that should have had Oscar's label in it.....
Birdwell Flies High.
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