Thursday, September 30, 2010

Zac Posen SS2011: Look Ma, No Head!

What a curious "collection". Just because you send a bunch of women down a runway in "clothes" doesn't make it a show or a collection. Maybe it's enough that it's simply an event. That's what I think happened in Paris. Zac had an event that was billed as a fashion show but could be better described as self indulgence on an international scale. It's like too much information. We had to hear about his new french boyfriend/stylist and his decision to show in a city that would better understand and appreciate his gifts. That's all well and good assuming that Paris is the right city and his gifts would be wrapped and ready to go. Judging from what I saw it was more like a trip to the continent with Mommy's suitcase filled with her 40 year old trousseau. Why would he choose to present his "collection" in a venue that was the setting for YSL shows in the past? Then, to decide to recreate the hair and makeup of those shows from the history books on a slew of black girls (they were HOT then) and a warhorse like Karmen Kass and not arm them with fierce fashion was an oversight. What they did wear was in essence all that he brought in his carry on luggage: some filmy nighties a few feathers, oh, and the kitchen sink. I think he ran out of time and space and had to leave the good ideas behind.

The few tweed Chanel-ish jackets that opened the show were about as good as it got. The bits that accompanied them are still a question mark. What, how and why? Sheer jeggings with feather appliques or patch works of lace abounded. Chiffon dresses that were all peek a boo with "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" bras and panties peeking through were the essence of his brand of mystery. This is the school of lead feet. Why whisper when you can SCREAM? Technique was wasted on draping, tucking and twisting when the motifs are dated looks via Valentino that've been hammered to death. I was dismayed at how old the girls looked with their painted lady lips and raccoon's eye eye shadow. The feathers employed in a number of looks read more La Cage aux Folles than sexy siren. It brought to mind a fire alarm sounding in a cheap hotel for down and out vaudeville acts. Come to think of it even Zac's wave was a TOTAL knock off of Val's at the end of his shows. What?

I know how harsh this sounds but someone should have told him not to go without the goods. Paris is an unforgiving place with some of the greatest talents in the world. Why do you think so few designers show there as opposed to NYC? Here it's a free for all where anyone can play as long as they have the price of admission. Paris is not. Where was Mama Posen, CEO and president of the company, when this was all in the planning stages? Could it be that her own unbridled ambition exceeded his exaggerated self regard, adding up to a lethal cocktail of hubris on the rocks with a twist? More than likely this romp was the brainchild of his "amour fou" who piggy backed his way to glory on Zac's fragile shoulders. Love is meant to be selfless, or is it selfish? Well it's a good thing he has his Z Spoke collection, he'll need it. This "collection" looks to be a "hard sell".

Balenciaga SS2011: She Ugly.....

Maybe it's just me but looking at this collection is a bit like watching someone get punked. This season Nicholas Ghesquierre has managed to create a world so aggressively hostile that even the IT girls near the end: Amber, Stella, and Giselle look like bloodless, pasty, chunky mares. That takes a lot of effort which appears to be where his energy was directed. How are the uber-Editrixes going to climb onto this bandwagon in shoes without heels and clothes that are completely without irony. This is more menswear for a Bryan Boy or a Tommy Ton and perhaps a little something, something for Tavi that she can grow into. No doubt it will sell but that is small comfort. I've noticed that the uglier the collection the more noise it makes.

The show opened with "real" girls from the street in short boyish haircuts, all androgynous and sensibly shod. There were no shoes other than the brogues that stomped through the show. Fantasy leather made up a series of coats and suits in a bold houndstooth. The workmanship was impressive but the slippery plasticity of these pieces was ultimately repellent. Neon mixes of lace made up stark tops with asymmetric necklines. All of these hard shapes were familiar fare from him but done in a more discordant way. There was a feeling of clashing dissonances that may be melodious to his ear but grating to mine.

The moto-cross jackets in leather were fantastic but not enough for me to lift this heavy load. Tuxedo jackets were beautiful examples of the skill of this venerable house. I wondered why they weren't mixed with shapes that would balance and soften the message. Perhaps, Ghesquierre wants to see how close he can dance the lemmings to the edge of the abyss. Well, if they're screaming, "Brilliant!!!", then they're already dead.

There was a Tru Blood vibe to the proceedings with all of his girls looking whiter than white. There was a distinct absence of color in their faces or in their skin. That's cool but it makes for a rather lifeless presentation. I loved last season and had no expectations for this one except to be challenged and amused. This collection left me as cold as these girls appeared. There is a real beauty to such a forbidding landscape like the icebergs you see shot by Olaf Otto Becker in his book, Broken Line. I've often thought that the clothes coming from Balenciaga have a very similar quality. Unfortunately, this can swing too far to the right becoming harsh. They are a metaphor for a person who appears too cool to care but just below the surface she's hoping that someone, anyone, is watching.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Chado RalphRucci SS2011

Is this Ready to Wear parading in Couture's clothing or the opposite? Ultimately, that becomes a moot point. It is what it is, which is in a word, extraordinary. Trying to answer that question is as difficult as it is to figure out how this master works. I don't care who you are or what your sartorial inclinations are, Ralph Rucci is by far the master of design in this country and one of perhaps 4 in the world. As grand a pronouncement as that is, so is the other worldliness of his clothes. What satisfies so completely this season is his approach to the themes that run through his work for the last 20 years. He is almost scientific in his quest to find a more essential way to express his passion for volumes, the way fabrics and construction can go beyond a simple garment and the magic of surface detail. Whether it is the mind of this designer, the art of the embroiderer or the skill of the sewer this collection went the distance in offering up clothes that looked more like creations from nature than those from of a man.

I had the pleasure of viewing the collection in the stillness of his art-filled show room. Each piece was a microcosm of his overwhelming imagination. Whether it was simply (never) a strapless column that was a vehicle for an Edo period chair of stag's antlers printed on bias-cut gazar and chiffon or a jacket tailored in a crisp cotton cloque whose surface was a Chinese pagoda folly by Clarence House, I marveled at their seeming simplicity and power. One after another dresses, suits, and evening gowns wafted into the room like a mist off of water. Some were symmetrical in cut and detail but most were as varied in their elements as bark on a tree or the surface of water. The simple fact of their beauty and subtlety of their message annihilates much of what passes as fashion. These clothes are a testament to women and their magnificence. Chado is a celebration of women in all of their variety. These clothes are a love letter.

No detail is superfluous. From his "glove" to the evening bag to his shoe with invisible straps and elegant heel the presentation was achingly glamorous. I say achingly because it gave me a twinge in my stomach. I looked at these clothes and had the desire to see them on everyone. If only women who are seen by the world would wear these clothes. If only magazines like Vogue, Harper's and the like could take off their collective sunglasses and see this work for what it is. The Annas, Glendas, and a legion of other sycophants of this world have shown their allegiance to a pagan god, the god of self interest and self aggrandizing power. This myopia only diminishes their validity and does us all a great disservice. The very people who should champion this work are the ones who ignore it. That said, I was inspired by his obvious joy in the creation of this collection. Everything about it showed his unwavering commitment to his muse. There was only a mood of optimism, not a trace of rancor.

There were many favorites. Horse hair bands with "sound wave" embroideries were a running theme throughout. Such a simple motif gave energy to the clothes as if they were alive, vibrating. "Embroideries" of small planes of silk taffeta that read as tiles randomly placed in an all over grid on a ground of tulle made for a black cocktail dress that boggles the mind. The time and effort that go into these clothes explains their cost. A column in black double-faced wool suspended from the shoulders and cut with a single spiraling seam was the most perfect gown. That dress alone would make all other red carpet dresses blush. That one dress would finally and forever silence that likes of Rachel Zoe and other so-called style gurus who do nothing more than listen to themselves talk. His palette of cream, "paper bag", the perfect taupe, blackest black, lime, saffron and sunset red were beautiful in their absolute purity.

I wish you all could have sat in on this narrated journey. Ralph is a fascinating man with a child like wonder. He makes the magic that is design come to life in the most natural way. And like a child he possesses a well of joy that nothing can diminish.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Jason Wu SS2011/ TSE SS2011

There's something that just doesn't add up in this picture. Jason Wu's collection and the one he does for Tse have something distressingly in common with each other. Neither of them expresses any clear idea or purpose. They're like a movie that's all credits and no story. So much attention has been paid to the most meager of talents. An inaugural dress is just 1 dress and in this case, one that was forgettable at best and dreadful at worst. How far can someone go with nothing of substance is the question I ask whenever he shows a collection.

The Jason Wu SS2011 collection, for me and I'm speaking very subjectively, is a hackneyed attempt at what he must see as "uptown" togs for the ladies who lunch. What's lacking is any stamp of individuality or creativity. The vocabulary is supposed to be that of greats like YSL, Blass of old and Oscar for that added pinch of spice. What we have is a line up of wooden suits with tiny skirts or shorts and silly blouses. The overall effect brought to mind a bad reinterpretation of Zang Toi, perhaps Jason is his illegitimate love child, with delusions of grandeur. Look at the images for yourself and draw your own conclusions. With each successive exit I kept waiting for things to heat up but they got colder and more vague with every beat of the base. It's an insult to Zang to mention his name in the same sentence but that was the closest I could come to describing his look. These are clothes for Housewives on the upper east side who strive for the style cred of the Jill's and Ramona's of the world. All blow and precious little go.

The Tse collection was marginally better. There were a few sweaters and dresses in a heavy guaged hand knit that looked smart. A chesterfield long jacket was very clean and elegant over a sweater and skirt as were a few tailored pieces. A disjointed feel permeated the collection where different parts stayed separate and unrelated as a whole. It all looked more like a random sampling of thoughts all culled at the last moment. This could be Jason's way of expressing the hip, downtown side of his personality. Perhaps Tse feels that this will all fly because it comes from the designer who dressed the First Lady. Whatever their reasoning is, it looks iffy. I don't take pleasure in stories like this. I want to like what I see and be inspired and impressed. I follow my gut and feel frustration when I see a collection that is little more than snake oil in a dixie cup.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tom Ford SS2011: A Singularly Smart Man

There's something to be said for a collection that everyone and his mother wants to see but can't. On top of it there's a lock down on all images and descriptions thanks to a confidentiality agreement. What can I say? It sounds mighty cool. The little that I heard and saw sounded like a very rich and luxurious dish. Fashion is and will always be made up of a bunch of cool kids in the playground with dibs on the swings, teeter totter and even the sandbox whether it's filled with sand or mud. Perhaps, things have gotten a bit too open with all this technology and people busting down the barriers. It seems like Tom Ford took a look at how things are and decided to turn the game around. This controlling of the front door and keeping images of the collection under lock and key has done what all this easy access has failed to do. He's restored an atmosphere of anticipation, excitement and desire. Like debuts of collections in the past, his was an invitation only affair for a very few leaving the rest of us clamoring for a peek. What's really funny is that most will probably site this collection as being the best of the season though no one except 100 people actually saw it. I have a feeling this may start a trend towards smaller, more tightly controlled environments. :It's a game changer that will have an interesting effect that we will have to roll with. Coolness will be a much more competitive game. What I like about this prospect is that it will hopefully be more about quality than quantity. Designers will have to work harder, dig deeper to live up to their new found exclusivity. It's ironic that just when you thought you had a handle on the new rules of the game, they're changed again.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Derek Lam SS2011: An Embarassment of Riches

I mean that in the best possible sense. Derek Lam has everything going on. He's playing a winning hand with a full deck. There was so much to love in this collection at the beginning, the middle and the end. I kept waiting for one of his platform shoes to drop but it didn't happen. Whatever talk there is out there about an Asian Invasion is just talk. He stands head and shoulders above the group, a one man army. There were moments when I found myself associating what I was seeing with designers from before and ones that operate now. Never did it feel like copies but simply as references in the truest sense of the word. The mood of the collection was similar to that of Rochas last season. I thought Rochas was rich, varied and KILLER. Derek's Spring has a very similar dynamism. I also had images of Oscar de la Renta and YSL (the actual/real one) in my head only done lighter and less stuffy. You could say that this collection was somewhat similar to theirs but with all the layers of construction removed. Still the clothes had real bones to them in an utterly weightless way. From tailored denim to tucked and pleated chiffon and gauze there didn't seem to be anything that was beyond his ability to marshall. Knits were just another part of his arsenal that he unleashed on everyone in that audience. His color sense is just as sophisticated. This is only the 4th day of the forced march toward sensory overload and with this collection I feel it may be downhill from here. It was all so effortless and unstudied. That for me is a sign of a mature designer in command of his craft. Certainly, there were other great collections these last few days and in the days to come but this one will stand out as one of the pivotal ones of the season.

Victoria Beckham SS2011: Portrait of a Working Girl

Ms. Beckham doesn't give up easy. She's going to have the last word and make creatures like me gag on humble pie....maybe. Despite the fact that her "collection" is a top seller at Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, each previous outing has left me cold, even colder than I am without the benefit and protection of fur. It appears that she's determined to join the dysfunctional family that is Fashion. There are many posers and opportunists who see this business as the perfect launching pad to celebrity. She always struck me as a person who would do anything to be noticed, talked about and envied. That she would decide to become a creator and not just a hanger was always something that left me stymied. With this season she has taken a step forward. I don't know who's doing the work but things are beginning to take some shape. The voice I hear still sounds like that of others, but she has given this collection a twist that is her own.

Imagine bits of Beene, Alaia, Lanvin, Balenciaga and some delusions of grandeur to taste and you have the meal she plated for a select few in a smartly tarted up townhouse uptown. The setting looks like an ersatz couture house anywhere on the Avenue Montaigne or Marceau depending on your point of view. The dresses, sunglasses, very smart bags and carrying cases all looked much more grown up they did a season ago.

Fit, fit, fit was the leitmotif. Shapes were subdivided in lines that called to mind Alaia. Farther into the show I sensed I was seeing reinterpretations of Geoffrey Beene and Balenciaga. The empire line was a verbatim Beene-ism as was a dress in black with an embroidery on the skirt in the same way the master would apply a top coat of lace. Inspiration comes from all over including vintage shops and in some cases ones own closet. What really matters is the way you choose to express that inspiration. I have to say she did a good job of it. There were some very cute dresses. It still smacks of the work of a dilettante, think the finishing school of someone like Jacqueline de Ribes and you get the gist. Getting the nod from players like Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford and the like, it's not surprising that she is starting to believe her own press. I love the portrait of her that looks like the face of a working girl. Her new face is that of the serious designer hard at work in her own personal sweatshop.