Most seasons I eagerly await the Haute Couture collections. They're the sartorial equivalent of the running of the bulls. The idea being that all the ready to wear collections are like the reckless young men playing chicken against big horned big balled bulls. As my mom would say, the couture comes along to "kick ass and take names". Well this season had a bit of a twist to it for a change. The big, hairy pendulous balls of that rarefied few was distressingly dull. The burning spear was less than hot in many instances and actually blunt. I won't get into all of the collections that did far less than one hopes and mention two or three that were the equivalent of neutered steer. The beauty and technique of the Couture is based on a few simple tenets: the clothes must be made predominantly by hand, a certain number of hands should be involved in the making of them, specific techniques like hand embroidery are to be employed and a minimum of styles must exist in the collection to qualify and be sanctioned by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture , the governing body. It may be a case where that laundry list of pre-requisites are met but the stringency of the governing body to uphold the standards has become rather flaccid.
The first show that set off the alarms for me was Alexis Mabille's ode to the magic marker. His leap into the void was inspired by the energy and therapeutic power of color. That means monochromes of color on dresses, echoes of the same color in huge cabbage rose blossoms atop the heads of the models and then the said same color slathered onto the model's faces. There was pink, peach, turquoise, fuchsia, yellow on and Asian girl and finally deep purple on a Black girl...I can only assume there was no brown in duchesse satin for him to employ or the black satin was voted out as too "outre". Thank god for small blessings. The worst of it is my usual complaint with his clothes. They tend to be derivative, obvious, mired in passe details and most damning in their lack if fit and refinement. The embroideries are more in keeping with show girl pyrotechnics and their overall effect is the sort of glamour one associates with pageants. So what message is he sending? I'd have to say that the bar is so much lower now that anyone with a set of markers and a dream can show in Paris, and why limit one's self to the ready to wear, go all the way...
Maxime Simoensis another outstanding example of overarching ambition. When the press notes say that your claim to fame is dressing Beyonce and a front row peopled by little known 'artists' looking for a dress for their upcoming 'single' and an editor or two for good measure, well it doesn't exactly make me sit up and take notice. What it does do is make me take a very long hard look to see what's smoke and what's just plain gas. It didn't take long for the smoke to clear and the noxious gasses to fill my screen. My first question was this: " Who buys this?" Then I answered my own question:" Nobody." This sort of stuff is for 'artists' with soon to be released 'singles' with no budget and big dreams. Actually, the clothes looked to be suffering the same set of conditions. Unattractive collages of ensembles in mixed mediums and unrelated shades of color seems to be his 'look'. One after another these grim creations followed each other broken up by sad little cocktail dresses with illusion necklines and wisps of fluttering chiffon tumbling from the back or the shoulders. They were like fallen angels looking for a place in an unholy land. That's what the couture is becoming; an unholy place that welcomes the most banal work from undistinguished players.
Versace really wasn't much better. It would be closer to the truth to call it Mugler considering it bore little resemblance to Versace and had everything to do with vintage Mugler. I wasn't particularly moved by Chanel either. That jumbo jet seemed to have had engine trouble. No one is saying it but I'm convinced that flight was cancelled and was pushed back to the gate...
Happy New Year, again. This is supposed to be an unusually productive and stimulating lunar year. All engines will be firing and it appears nothing will stand in any of our ways. So on this wet, grim, mushy morning in the Heights I wish you all sunshine, warmth and unshakeable optimism.We are the Champions, we are the champions of the world!
Let's wander down the ivy strewn path to a calmer, less complicated time when Miss Porter's School was filled with the likes of Jacqueline Bouvier and her beloved hunter, Danceuse along with a gaggle of America's bluest, bloodless debutantes. That appears to be his inspiration. Wood panelled common rooms filled with swanning, young ladies doing what well-bred young ladies do: play field hockey, play with their hair and little else. Oh, and compliment each other's hair,too.
The classics are in full evidence in toggle coats, camel hair coats over letter sweaters and slacks, demure shifts, fifties heels, and yes, rounded hips and dropped shoulders which we know now equals "COUTURE SHAPES". So, all in all a slam dunk collection. What one sees clearly are clean, sporty dresses and separates that have a mid-century modern feel that looks timeless. The boots and bags are elegant. Letter sweaters do little for me unless you're living a varsity life, which I don't. It's the sort of cliched nostalgic detail that puts me off. Perhaps, I'm also a little more than critical when the clothes are almost impossible to see with the models draped over the furniture and each other. If you're showing clothes, then let us see. This is like so many meals served in the dining halls of East Coast prep schools: meat and potatoes, hold the spice and a tall glass of milk to chase it down. Simons who has appropriated this world like Ralph and Tommy before him. It's as if he and they long for a world before angry people of color took a seat at the table off to the side. It reminds me of the "black table" that existed at my school, The Lawrence Academy in Groton, Massachusetts, where all 7 black students would sit together in hopes of feeling apart of the experience. I'm not an angry black man like Michelle Obama (she's a woman for those who may have missed that point)has been accused. I'm just an aware one who is still amazed, but not surprised that this sort of ignorance still persists.
So maybe this is just a nostalgic look at a bygone era when Miss Porter's School flourished before affirmative action and all was just gin rummy, mixers with St. Paul's and pregnancies that were hushed up. I'm sure rounded, stiff fabrics cut in "couture shapes" came in very handy then!
photos: Style.com and archival images of Miss Porter's Daisy Chain ceremony.
There's something going down at Dior that feels unfair and wrong. The Pre-Fall collection opened this past week and almost nothing from the press has been said. Despite the fact that a collection was conceived, created and presented by Bill Gaytten the creative director of the studio and his team, it seems to be a non-event. Perhaps, because he has been dismissed by the editors of some of the most important papers and magazines as simply an employee. Type casting him as a pattern maker and not a designer is a huge insult. Just looking at his effort this season and the growth he and his team have shown since the departure of Galliano shows how steadily he's grown into his position and responsibilities. That appraisal has nothing to do with the offerings of other houses which have been largely uneven and in some cases really weak; think Valentino and Balenciaga.
It's a sorry state that after all the years he's been working there along side John Galliano and now keeping the label alive and growing it on his own he gets absolutely no recognition from the Times, the fashion blogosphere, a single run-on sentence at Fashionologie, nothing but the images shown on Style.com and little else from others. I could understand if the clothes were off key but they're not. They're good and in some instances really great. The suits with sharply tailored, snug jackets over long, slim skirts are beautifully made. They're utterly French in their attitude and even have the much desired "couture shapes" worked into the mix in duchesse satin short skirts and jackets with kimono sleeves. What's funny is that they are actual shapes cut with the precision and perfect balance that is the hallmark of the couture. No posturing here, just the real deal. And then there are the cocktail dresses in satin and razmir some with appliqued lace on the bodice. Another in a blush color with a bifurcated ( I know, big word...) skirt in that "couture shape" we've all come to demand from our high fallutin' fashion stars. Original. Exquisitely constructed, young and chic. That sounds like a busy checklist of details and all of them are executed.
The shoes with which I would normally take issue with their towering stiletto heels and platforms are really fresh and sleek. A platform that doesn't read: a brick with heel. There are some bags that look great as well. The total picture of these looks all shot in the open air are smart, smart, smart. Considering there are only 22 images available one must assume that the collection is modest in size and yet the majority of looks are strong with very few Waterloo moments. The evening gowns are as clean, simple and rich as the day looks. There is one gown in particular that gave me a deep satisfaction. If some maverick stylist decides to pull this gown for one of her intrepid stars for the Oscars, I daresay people will be falling over themselves praising the style chops of the lucky actress and the fearlessness of her stylist... I'm referring to the pale pink column with reversed cardigan on top. To my eye it's perfect.
So why no noise from the peanut gallery? Because it isn't Marc Jacobs? Or not yet Raf Simons? Or god forbid, Jason Wu, Alexander Wang or Olivier Theyskens? No matter how ill suited that pack of names are, they would be easier for the press to get behind. Style.com can't even review it until someone else weighs in first. I think this sort of myopia is disgraceful. When it's good we should all admit it and not play childish games. Bill Gaytten deserves better. He deserves respect.
One way to look at the traffic jam that are the Pre-Fall collections is to consider them all as pilots for TV shows. Maybe even more to the point Reality TV shows. There's an almost audible sound of out of breath designers doing their best to come up with a hook, a gimmick that will promise them a coveted multi-episode run. What that gimmick is is any one's guess and from the looks of it, the audience is happy to eat whatever slop is heaved into the trough. Don't get me wrong. I love a good collection and failing that, a few good numbers. It isn't with glee or satisfaction that I write that I'm not seeing much of either. What I am seeing to a large degree are so many efforts not yet ready for prime time or even the deepest of darkest cable. That nether world is already populated with one legged fashion "shows" that would give these collections a run for their money. There are some great offerings out there by capable and brilliant hands. Chanel comes to mind. Such an elegant and almost spare show of exquisite clothes with a point of view. One thing about those clothes, even if you stripped away the jewels, the accessories, the up-done dread locks and almost Mod sixties flat heeled spectator boots, the clothes would shimmer and seduce. The banquet setting is the perfect metaphor for the feast Lagerfeld serves season after season.
The same can be said for Alber Elbaz at Lanvin. This is a collection with a point of view and the rigor to back it up. I don't categorically love all that he does but what he does is make very real fashion. He explores and experiments with unusual shapes and volumes in search of a language that's all his own. As old school as that appears to be, he does it with a hunger for the new in fabrics, fabrication and proportions. What makes it cool in the end is his unselfconscious presentation. The clothes always have a strong and clear voice.
In contrast, too many other collections are mired in noise and pretense. If I hear another editor drone on about "couture" shapes as an all-purpose "pass" for clothes that consist of rounded shapes cut in stiff fabrics I'll start to bark. I blame myopic editors for coining that pig latin. It's a way of giving weight to things that have little to recommend them. The Louis Vuitton collection is a good example. It's disappointing that Julie de Libran turned out such a lackluster line up as she seems to generally cook with gas. It starts to look like Marc Jacobs, all blow and no go. The Americans are similarly lost in the labyrinth. So much is expected of new talent that they trip over their shoe laces to please. Corny sunglasses, awkward shapes in fur, liner notes that show little connection to what is shown all add up to a meal without taste or smell. Perhaps, the clothes should be forgone and just give the audience a moody video with models of the moment swirling in smoke and a wall of mirrors.
The season has come to be known as the most important for retailers and designers with the longest selling time. You'd expect to see collections with depth and interest but instead they look superficial. Maybe it's time to clear the calendar of the endless parties, balls, tributes, competitions, awards and photo-shoots/ops and get to work? Is that hopelessly quaint and middle-class of me? Well, it's what I think? I think?
Am I the only one who hears English spoken as a perpetual question? Have any of you overheard conversations where every statement ends as a question? At first , it seemed to be a kid problem? Now its people of all ages? Not just women but also guys? I've tried to track it and I think it started with Valley Girls? Then , it was like, everyone was like unable to like cobble together like a complete thought without like ending in a state of unexpressed confusion? It seems that the questions started there and have never stopped? The biggest turn-off is when I hear men affecting this annoying habit. Somehow, the culture has encouraged it as cool.
Alexis Swerdloff of the New York Times wrote a piece last week on the new breed of blogger: The Straight Talking straight guy? Really? Are you kidding me? Flogging baseball jerseys, Barbour gear, varsity jackets, out of production J.Press oxford cloth shirts and elephant hair athletic supporters is apparently what straight talking fashionistos want to wear. The truth of the matter is this: Straight talking straight guy bloggers sell swag. Not ideas, just stuff. It's a transactional business that has little to do with a point of view. It's more point of sale, not that there's anything wrong with that.
Tote bag swinging, tight, drop seat khaki's with rolled hems, too small, too tightly cinched trench coats, bearded with awkward chunky glasses under ski caps, smart phones in fingerless gloved hands and shod in Red Wing stompers is the new image of masculinity. And the beard makes it butch? GIIRRRLLLL? I say lose the bag especially when its on your arm and not in your hand, reconsider the pants unless you have legs and an ass that say, "Yes I can", shave the mangy beard and slip into a pair of court jester slippers by Charles Philip Shanghai! Nothing says, "Game On" like these shoes. There's nothing hotter than a man who's unafraid to celebrate his inner gay. Straight is the new gay? Skinny is the new buff? Stupid is the new smart? Amazing is the new "Meh"? Ugly is definitely the new pretty. Well, that's the straightest talk this blogger can deliver!
The universe seemed to conspire against my being able to watch the Golden Globes last night. Cable at the house in East Hampton was busted and driving back we got waylaid at a painter friend's studio where we spent close to 2 hours of primetime Red Carpet viewing looking at his most recent work. Reading in the NY Times a couple of days ago about the new breed of super stylists in Hollywood and their scientific methods for "branding", "positioning" and "monetizing" their clients by way of a dress on the red carpet was almost enough to put me off the whole awards season. Memories of my brushes with Hollywood and the stylists who warehoused, dirtied and stole clothes in the name of servicing their clients gave my already unsettled stomach a twinge. I was luckier than most with an amazing PR firm out there, LA Film Fashion run by a super pro, Susan Ashbrook, but nevertheless some unfortunate things happened that were beyond even her capable staff's control. It was tough enough then having to compete with the likes of Valentino, Gucci, Chanel and Versace, not to mention Vera Wang, Randolph Duke, Badgley Mischka, and Oscar de la Renta. Now you have to get past the gatekeepers of the stylists. Everybody's a reality star. Rache, the Bradster, and a herd of others are much worse than the Philip Blochs, Debra Waknins, and Jessica Pasters, who by the way were not always easy but always professional. Now a designer has to kiss so many asses there's little energy left to get the job done...and it showed last night BIG TIME .
You know its a slow night when the girl on stage who directs traffic has a better dress than just about everyone else. Like I ranted a year or so ago, it's all about the train wreck. Every gown with the exception of the girl who directs traffic had a train that dragged, got mangled, soiled or caused pile-ups going up to the stage. It reminded me of codpieces in Elizabethan England: who's packing the biggest, heaviest, most awesome load? The ladies seemed to be competing to see who could take up the most space. Skinny, inked and shrivelled arms (Angelina and Madonna) with constricted and miniscule torsos (Angelina again, Nicole, Reese, Salma and Kate Beckinsale), some exaggerated and curious hip action ( Natalie Portman, Sophia Vergara and Charlize) and then the endless sweep of interminably voluminous trains (Sophia Vergara, Tina Fey, Charlize, Madonna, Jessica Biel,etc). Even maverick Tilda Swinton seemed caught up in the madness of the moment with her charmless Haider Ackerman that looked more like Escada. Methinks the renegade doth protest too much. She looked like a caricature of herself in someone else's dress in a screwy color to boot. Jessica Biel was unusually depressing in that lace and beaded Elie Saab shroud. It looked like a Ralph Lauren wagon train wedding dress after a particularly arduous westward crossing.
Why is it Tadashi Shoji is the go-to guy for large size black actresses who are nominated and win the big prizes? I say good for him, but what about the actresses? Why don't they get the great dress? Octavia Spencer won for best supporting actress for The Help and looked like the one girl in the room that no one bet on. She more than deserved the win and her humble gown made so many others look that much more vulgar. Speaking of actresses of color, Viola Davis in her Pucci gown was a vision of loveliness. Glenn Close looked killer in her subdued and severe black velvet and satin ensemble. Jane Fonda rocked too. Charlize Theron has that high wattage star power glamour that not even a silly dress (Dior) can dim. Same goes for Kate Beckinsale. She looks like the real deal in Cavalli, or at least last night she did. Piper Perabo in Theory looked fetching. Ingenues who dress like ingenues always work in my book. Julianne Moore in Chanel looked great, too.
Michelle Williams is a very pretty girl who should choose her dresses with extra care. In Chanel at last year's Oscars she hammered the competition but last night in Jason Wu(who?) she was like a guest at a wedding on Long Island. The headband couldn't lift that look. Reem Acra (Madonna) and Marc Jacobs (Amanda Peet) should sit out the dance for a while. It's just not working. The same can be said for Zac Posen (Reese Witherspoon and Elle Macpherson). It's no fun when they see you sweat...Givenchy Couture got some penalty points for the confection worn by Jessica Chastain. Sleeveless, beaded, turtle-necked gowns in white conjure images of retired figure skaters at testimonial dinners. She looked to be channeling Tanya Harding, who by the way was a much better skater than Nancy Kerrigan, with or without the metal pipe.
So there you have it. With the Screen Actors Guild Awards coming, the Blockbusters, if they still exist and the granddaddy of them all, the Oscars, there are a few opportunities left for these girls to get it right. I'll have the cable guy come and fix the problem and start hoarding popcorn in the meanwhile. Tomorrow is another day to be great!