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.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My name is Precious.

Last night I was invited to a screening of Lee Daniel's much anticipated film "Precious". I'd heard it was a big hit at Sundance and was making the rounds at a number of film festivals , but more importantly it was getting the kind of response few films receive due to it's unusual subject and extraordinary cast. Andre Leon Talley had extended the invitation and that alone was in itself not an everyday occurrence. My life is one of observation. I'm not a player, I watch the game. So accepting this invitation was stepping out of my comfort zone.

I googled the film and looked at the trailer over the weekend about 4 or 5 times, simply because it knocked the wind out of me the first time and I kept going back to see what about it had such power to stop me dead in my tracks. More than that, I found my self crying and disturbed each time I watched. The brute force of the the story was something that I couldn't shake and at the same time was afraid to watch. I didn't want to be so uncool that I'd be at a screening seated next to Andre in tears or trying to hide them. I sent him an email and warned him I might not be able to hold it together but was honored by his invitation.

We met early, by accident. I was keyed up with anticipation, knowing that he'd invited two other close friends and was worried that I would be very much out of my element. Getting to the restaurant early seemed like a chance to steel myself for an evening that filled me with second thoughts. My hesitation was that I'd be too emotional and not feel comfortable with 3 people who knew each other well. I knew him casually, but his friends, not at all. Andre was already there, so we sat down and got reacquainted after a long time. We talked about the universality of what we were about to see. The story centers on an impoverished black girl living in an abusive home with a mother that has done everything to kill her, her spirit, and the last shred of hope that flickers like a spark in a gale. I realized that this story was much larger than what happens in that squalid home but that it's about the lives of many people, all of us in one way or another. I also realized that I was afraid to lower my guard and give myself up to what I was about to see, certainly not in the company of people I barely knew and only knew as larger than life characters on a global and social stage. What would be their reactions?

One of the first things Andre said before the others arrived was don't judge people by their appearances or ones perception of them. I realized I do that alot. It's a defense mechanism and one that stems from feeling constantly that I am not good enough. Well this movie was going to turn that whole pointless way of thinking on it's head. Being open to life and experiences , new or uncomfortable is what it's all about. The safety zone is only that; safe and predictable. When Gloria von Thurn und Taxis walked in I was not prepared. I expected a return to the eighties and not a woman who has had many lives since those Go-Go years. She could have been the woman who lives next door. Her eyes said it all. She was warm, natural and crackling with energy and curiosity. But her big brown eyes were a sea of kindness. Being German was also a huge part of her charm. She listens and takes in information. She doesn't take over and control things. Like many Germans and some Europeans, Gloria has a curiosity and fascination with life, cultural differences and similarities that I found immediately engaging . We were all headed to a crash course on one pocket of culture that would raise and answer more questions than I imagined. Star Jones was Andre's other guest who joined us in time to head to the screening. She too was a very sweet and pleasant surprise. Besides being a very visible and successful Black woman in the entertainment industry, she's knowing and anything but naive. I knew when we all headed over together that this was going to be an interesting night.

The film hits like a hammer's blow. There's nothing remotely subtle in it's telling. Precious is a young woman struggling at 16 , still in Junior high school living with a mother on Welfare, a baby already a few years old , a second one on the way and both of them fathered by her father. She's the antithesis of the name Precious at 200 plus pounds with an expression of frustration, anger and fear. Without telling more of the story, because the film is the only way for one to know the story, it's about a person without love, suport, or the smallest shred of a dream to make it to a brighter tomorrow. Every force in her world is doing it's best to kill every last ounce of hope. It's a story that mirrors all of our lives in many ways: overcoming impossible odds, be they inside us or from without; wanting, deserving and needing love and respect to be able to stand alone and find a path through life no matter how fortunate or handicapped we may be. Clareese Precious Jones finds her way with the help of her teacher and welfare agent , both brilliantly played by Paula Patton and Mariah Carey (no make-up and clothes that say TJMaxx). Gabourey Sibide, the actress who is Precious is as staggering as Mo'nique, who plays her mother. Certain scenes between the two and Precious' struggle to survive and take charge of her life and those of her babies is so gut wrenching that I cried again and again along with many others.

It will open in about 2 weeks. You need to see this film. It's message is that we are all a family. We all need each other's support, acknowledgment, understanding , respect and love. Love is the one element that makes it possible for every person to survive and grow. Without that we are lost.

The reception afterwards had some of the usual suspects. Tina Brown led a panel discussion with Lee, Gabourey(Precious) and the Chancellor of schools. Instead of directing the questions to Lee Daniels and the star of the film, allowing them to share how they managed to create such an extraordinarily powerful story, Tina kept asking the School's Chancellor about NY City schools. She was less than interesting and was disappointing all around. We managed to be the first ones to take our seats and somehow, being lost in a conversation that kept breaking down different moments in the story, the last ones to leave. Not for a moment did the evening or the experience we shared slow to silence. We could have sat up all night talking. I, for one, was sad when we said our goodbyes and headed off into the night, each in a different direction.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Alexander McQueen is not of this World.

I've never, in all these years, seen anything quite like this collection. McQueen's Spring 2010 is a tour de force of technique, technology and a laser sharp vision. The fabrics were consistently printed digitally. This method of printing is the portal to the future. I first discovered and bought fabrics with this printing technique from Jakob Schlaepfer of St. Gallen Switzerland and another otherworldly firm, Fabric Frontline of Zurich about 5 years ago. The technique was life like and yet so delicate and nuanced that one was struck dumb by it's possibilities and beauty.

Alexander has taken this technique, together with the mills responsible for it's execution, to unforeseen heights. The effects which they've created are the colors and textures of deep, under sea and reptile life. It's actually difficult to tell if one is looking at amphibious life or life from other star systems. The absolute mystery of the visual in this collection causes one to suspend all attempts at finding references and just give oneself over to a sensory journey with no beginning or foreseeable end. You won't want it to end. I didn't.

This collection has all the elements of his skill, the skill of his brilliant workrooms and together he creates a world that is utterly complete. It isn't an easily accessible one, but it's terrible beauty is at once disturbing and transcendent. I am at a loss of words to acceptably describe what I saw, only that I was moved in a way that was utterly foreign to my taste and experience, and it's something that I'll long remember; a benchmark that many collections in the future will be compared to. The dresses, the cut of the clothes and their precisionfit is juxtaposed with the ultimate design of the shoe. There were no shoes that were developed to this extent. To try to label them as platform shoes does them an unforgivable disservice. These were another species all together.

I must just show images and let you draw your own conclusions. I don't want to spoil it further with my words which, at best, hopelessly stumble in the darkness.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ungaro: Stop blaming Lindsay Lohan

The skewering that Lindsay Lohan has gotten over the Ungaro collection is so absurdly misplaced and unfair. To pin the blame on her for a collection that has been called a bomb is just complete and utter bullshit. WWD and the Herald Tribune's Suzy Menkes and countless others are hopelessly lost in their self righteous spitefulness. The blame game, the utter ruthlessness of the fashion press to create a typhoon in a tote bag, is the essence of gutter press. This is not to say brilliance happened that day on that catwalk, but neither was it Lindsay who was solely responsible.

Let's back up a second. When it was announced by CEO, Mounir Moufarrige, that Lindsay would act as Artistic Advisor(NOT Director) to Estaban Cortazar, the collection's designer and creative director, he quit. That was the beginning of some very idiotic and sophomoric decisions. He had a wonderful job and increasing success and tossed it away in a fit of childishness.Obviously, Ms. Lohan wouldn't and couldn't design the collection. A suggestion here and there by her surely would have been followed with the approval of Cortazar and a committee of others. With half a brain he should have realized that she was purely a publicity stunt who would run her course in a season or two and the pie would remain all his. Sometimes(all the time), it pays to look farther than your own reflection to see that playing the game gets you more of what you want than if you walk out with nothing.

Cortazar's egotism and immaturity lost him a very good gig. Walking down the runway with Lindsay is not the worst 45 seconds in any one's life. It certainly didn't kill Estrella Archs, Cortazar's replacement. What offends me is that the deaf, dumb and blind press declared the collection a bomb and pinned it all on Lindsay. If it was a bomb, then it bombed because of the company director and the designer in charge. If the decisions made were so heinous they must be placed in the hands where they belong.

Lindsay wasn't there long enough to create a collection or kill one. If she was involved in half a dozen pieces that would be alot. Perhaps, her suggestion for heart motifs which ran through the collection or pasties on the model's breasts was not the most inspired idea. But there was a plethora of T&A all ove rthe runways and this was by no means the most ill-informed stylistic choice. Other snipes referred to ill chosen color combinations. I didn't see them. Every collection has it's Waterloo somewhere in the line-up and there were a few things that didn't add to the presentation, nor were they abominations. So where's the crime?

Estrella had exactly one month to put the collection together. We all know that 3 of those weeks at least had Lindsay firmly planted on U.S. soil or at least solidly sprawled in some U.S., V.I.P. section of a club far, far away from the workrooms of Ungaro. It's just sniping and blame gaming from editors who should be more mature and less self serving. It felt like everyone got together and decided to pan the show the minute it was announced that she would be a part of it.

The collection itself was not earth shattering or particularly bad. It definitely was no better or worse than any of the middling shows that crowded so many New York, Milan, London or Paris runways. The hypocrisy of editors like the phalanx from WWD and the ever annoying Suzy Menkes is just mind numbing. That mile high bang of Menkes, I'm convinced, is trying to hide an ever growing lump she received when a lighting beam landed on her head at a Michael Kors show many years back. That bang/lump seems to have a life all its own. Watching her fawning video on the NY Times blog "On The Runway", where she interviews the Rodarte /Mulleavy sisters at the uber-cool Collette emporium, was the last time I could take her seriously. She was cloying, macabre and sycophantic.Don't stand there and call their work Haute Couture and think that the knowledgeable public is going to tap your keg of Kool-Aid.

So let's consider cutting Lindsay some slack. She's not a designer. She's a decent actress with a ton of problems and no family that cares enough to help her. She could grow into her real art if she'd get out of her own way. The public chasing her to an early grave is a brutal and vicious act. We should all try walking the runway in her mile high platforms.

These photographs are proof that this collection was not so awful. Isn't that what these clueless retailers want? Commercial ,wearable clothes? This looks like it to me.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Paris Vogue suffers a lapse of Taste

What's going on in Carine Roitfeld's head? Has her mind gone the way of hem lengths for this season: short circuited? Maybe she had the idea to ape Italian Vogue's BLACK issue and decided to pay homage with a regrettable spread of her own. Maybe in her rush to shoot she forgot that the model was supposed to be know like Leya Kabeede, or Chanel Iman, or Alek Wek. Maybe she just thought it would be clever and original to just go with a black faced(actually, black bodied) Lara Stone. Where does one draw the line between commerce, art and stupidity?

I bought French Vogue for a much needed change of pace from our homegrown version. I expected to find a different take on what's modern, an aesthetic shifting of gears from first to fifth. What started out as a nice revving of the engine stalled out on page LARA. What appeared at first glance to be a Moorish princess was at closer inspection a white Lara Stone spray painted to look like a Black woman. I thought it was just a momentary lapse of judgment til I turned the page and came upon a whole story of black-faced and black-bodied Lara . Iffy judgment shifted to ferociously bad taste in a Paris minute.

The associations and connotations of black-faced white people is a one way street in reverse to Minstrel entertainers, the days of Jim Crow laws and segregation. It it is not stylish, amusing or creative. Vogue has started a very unpleasant and offensive habit, thanks to Ms. Sozzani and Steven Meisel at Italian Vogue, of celebrating Tokenism and all of it's odious and depressing implications. What irks me the most is I fear they aren't even remotely aware of the offense most women of color will take when they look at these pages.

The first of the "Black Issues" that came out last year was annoying enough. One whole issue dedicated to black models was a sad statement when the rest of the year precious few , if any, were used in the editorial pages. This summer it was down-sized to a spread and not the full issue. They dragged it down to a new low by using Barbie dolls (white featured ones spray-painted brown) instead of Black models. Maybe the only models available were all booked and the shoot had to go on. I think the agency who handled Barbie cut a better deal and the magazine went with a cheaper price.....It's just a matter of economizing in these difficult times. Now French Vogue and it's thoughtless editor along with Steven Klein, who should stick to shooting horses and hosting Madonna, have gone a step further. Fashion seems to be saying that it can no longer afford or be bothered with a social conscience.

I don't want to waste another moment on this issue . It gives it legs and in a backhanded way supports this idiotic myopia that is running helter skelter through the halls of Conde Nast's farther flung offices.

I have done the only responsible thing and lined my litter box with this issue. It's a dirty job but I'm not about to waste perfectly good reads like Horse and Hound or Ebony.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Rachel Zoe Problem

Watching last night's season finale of the Rachel Zoe Project, I realized that Diletantism has a new room mate. On the bottom bunk sleeps Dilecan'ts. That is about a 12-step program away from its big sister. The cliff hanger was more of a free fall. The drama and anti-climax of every commercial ridden scene was more and more uncomfortable to watch. Rachel is the definition of a train wreck, a pile-up of epic proportions. Her sourness seeps into every moment she's caught by the cameras. Even when she's supposedly doing good by her feckless workers, she looks like there's a dead cow decomposing just off camera. She is the Empress of the one-liner: Everything is F*** this and and F***that. Her emotions like her vocabulary stretch from A to B, and that's a huge stretch for her.

I guess because it's a reality show Rachel Zoe is in the middle of everything and every scene, whether she's doing something or in most cases in the midst of walking out. She does an awful lot of leaving for someone so busy and overwhelmed with the pressures of her empire. Every time she comes to the office, she leaves within 5 minutes. In this episode she styled a shoot for V magazine. That kept her in place for what must of been an eternity. Between shooting all of 5 or 6 looks in about 18 hours, all she did was complain about her headaches, nausea and vertigo. Otherwise, she was jumping around saying how fabulous she was, and also the shoot. The moment the last shot was taken she grabbed her battered Berkin , blew air kisses to the models and team and walked out.

Rachel with brain trust, Taylor. (above)

Where does she go, what does she do? I remember now. She had a Valentino party, another grueling trip back to NYC for her fragrance(Red Carpet or Road Kill, it's all a blur), her QVC faux-fur collection, and a quick trip to TJ Maxx to see if that's where she lost her mind.

Rachel's life consists of being tired, angry or ill. She tells us through a heart to heart with her father, who adores and applauds his baby girl, that all she wants is to be a good wife, boss and to build her brand. She's very big on branding. She excels at none of those things. Her marriage looks sketchy, her employees are just waiting for her to lose it and the brand is, well it's mutating. The only thing that looks real is her vertigo. She really looks like she's ready to heave in every scene. I was guess it's like reality , wholly false and a desperate cry for TV-styled pathos.

The greatest line of the evening besides, "these clothes look like s***", was, " I want my empire to be as big as Martha Stewart's". What she doesn't seem to get is that it takes brains, focus and commitment. Of these 3 she she has them all, but they're all skewed up: her brains are fried, her focus is myopic and she should be committed. The public loves a car crash. They all slow in hopes of getting a glimpse of blood and twisted metal. Rachel gives the public what they want. It's all the designer clad broken bones and flaming wreckage one can squeeze into an hour.

Her illness is manifested in her face through the course of the episode. It appears to swell, bags appear below her eyes and her mouth fluctuates between a snarl and a pout.Her husband begs her to take her doctor's advice and slow down but she won't listen.The result is this time lapsed aging we watch as though her face is the window of her neurosis.

Rachel with Brad, her spiritual support and the object of her addiction,besides fabulous Designer clothes. (above)

Rachel Zoe is the face of what's wrong with fashion. She's a female Dorian Grey who forgot to leave the truth in the closet and also forgot the bit about being charming and seductive. She's raw and crass. Did I say she was vulgar and selfish? Well, that too.

At the shows end when we all think that an intervention or the dissolution of her disillusioning business is going to happen, the plot twists in on itself. Husband Roger decides to take over her business, promote Valley girl drop-out Associate Taylor to take charge of the "branding and styling" ( the equivalent of handing a 6 year old a loaded Rocket launcher) when Taylor is late for every meeting, shoot , walks out on every business trip, complains of having to be Rachel's hand maiden, never getting anything she's been promised by Rachel and refusing to remove her sunglasses inside during meetings with said boss. Oh, and she's challenged getting Rachel her Starbucks tea most days. Anyway, she gets the big promotion so Rachel can heal. Brad , the other key member of the team is either spouting superlatives about his legs in short-shorts, driving around L.A. in a big-assed Mercedes or clowning with Taylor on the set of the V shoot playing dress-up. Very grown-up. Very scarey, very over-rated.

Rachel with the man behind her, Roger; her husband and savior.(right)

I love the fact that the blind so willingly drive the blind at hair raising speeds. It's their special Hollywood brand of humanity. There's a sisterhood/brotherhood of the arch Poseurs there that makes New York look tame. I'd like to say we can all learn something from Rachel's example but I can't. This cliffhanger sent a message as large as the Hollywood sign:

If you find that you're a DILECAN'T, for God's sake, DILEDON'T.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Chanel is like a good roll in the hay!

Imagine the excitement of spring. Blood pumping , hormones on the wing and love is wafting through the air. In the near and far off distance is a barn of absolutely perfect, romantic proportions with a hay loft just begging to be explored. What fantasy comes to mind? Pleasure? Adventure,perhaps? Naughtiness of the most forbidden and delicious sort? Well you must have stumbled into Marie Antoinette's Petite Hameau: the last word in barnyard perfection, and your guide and host is Karl Lagerfeld along with a flock of beauties to amuse and beguile you.

Chanel's Spring collection was everything that Paris need offer in one beautiful be-ribboned box. That's not to say that some other collections were not worth seeing or having, only that this one seem to hit all the notes and sublime chords from high to low , major to minor resolving to major.

The fact that the presentation was a grand tableau vivant, a picture come to life, with the most interesting characters is not doing it justice. The fabrics, the combinations of pieces, the brilliance of technique, all worked so effortlessly to tell a story from start to finish. Romance, suspense, poetry and comic relief were all included. A good writer is expected to show, not tell his story in order for the reader to actually taste and smell, not to mention hear and feel its message. Karl did that with this collection. Every sense was sated.

The commonplace trends of the season were either addressed in a clever way which never pandered to the audience. The idea of bareness, lingerie and thinly disguised nakedness was treated with taste and sophistication. Instead of the obvious, he used lace under jackets which created a suggestion of bareness. Lace over a ground of georgette achieved the same ends but without exposing the woman. The idea of nudity is so much more alluring than baring all.Tulle layered over layers of sheerest chiffon created mystery. The techniques employed by his couture collection applied to the pret a porter but in an artless, unprecious way striking the perfect note.

There were so many suits in tweeds woven to look like the most humble fabrics. Also little lace and embroidered organdy dresses were beautiful in their straight forwardness. Colors were dove gray, ivory, palest blue with ribbon colors of red,blue and pink and hints of beaten gold. Marie Antoinette wanted a world separate from the court of Versailles and so created the village on the grounds of the palace only open to her friends. Her aim was to have a private world where all would play farmers and milk maids and forget the formality of court and her position. It was a fantasy that was impossible to maintain but an understandable idea under the circumstances.
We live in a strangely relative world where so much is wrong that we can't help but wish for escape. These clothes , even in their obvious richness have a quality that personifies this desire.

To break down specific looks only lessens their appeal and wit, so I'll show instead of tell what was so moving about this romp.

I'll take a sheaf of wheat to concrete under foot any day of the week.