Friday, November 26, 2010

Balenciaga: Spanish Master

Last week was a bit of culture binge. A marvelous retrospective of the master of haute couture, Christobal Balenciaga opened at the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute at 680 Park Avenue. It is an exhibition initiated by Oscar de la Renta who started his career in design at the house of Balenciaga in the 1950’s. Hamish Bowles, European Editor at large for American Vogue is the curator behind this multi-layered show of iconic dresses, suits and gowns along with films of collections dating from the 50’s and 60’s. This show is fantastic in its depth and scope. The oeuvre that was Balenciaga’s is richly displayed with mannequins dressed in his creations in front of backdrops that put in context his references and recurring inspirations. Spanish art, its historic royal dress, the garments and ritual associated with the Church, the visual spectacles associated with the bullfight and flamenco dance are all represented literally and figuratively throughout his collections. Bowles has beautifully staged an exhibition that gives voice to a period that shaped modernist design. Shape, cut, and flawless technique are the hallmarks of these exquisitely understated clothes. We see the drama of a profound statement in dress devoid of superfluous artifice and tricks. These creations acted as foils for the innate mystery and beauty of women. Balenciaga’s reverence for the inner life of cloth is matched by his respect and regard for the female form.

Two floors are devoted to still-life presentations of the clothes which included day dresses, suits, beaded and embroidered jackets, hats and gowns. Many of the pieces are from Hamish Bowles' private collection along with loans from the Met's Costume Institute, and from private persons. On the top floor we have the unique pleasure of sitting and watching filmed presentations of his collections. Unlike today where the average number of exits for a collection is 60 outfits lasting 10-15 minutes, he typically showed 200-plus exits lasting often 2 hours or more. It’s fascinating to see the myriad ideas he displayed for day dresses and suits culminating in a tour de force onslaught of evening gowns.

Watching these shows reminded me of collections at Givenchy in the early 80's. One of my early tasks as an apprentice assistant was to sketch the whole collection in miniature, matching Monsieur's style of drawing and including details of the fabrics and embroideries. It was an endless job with often 50 or more suits for day, endless day dresses in patterned wools, silk printed dresses in multiple colorations of the same print and evening gowns that went on and on and on. It seemed like a job with no end but it taught me how to sketch and to sketch quickly. You'll notice that the style of walking and overall presentation of the clothes is a far cry from today's soulless parade of homogeneous child women. I heard a woman say to her companion that the models looked "so classy". It's true, they did. They had allure, mystery, and a subtle sex appeal.This exhibition is a wonderful chance to see the way fashion used to be created and displayed. It is a time long past but still one that informs so much of what we enjoy today. A beautiful program and book accompany the show with information and images also compiled by Hamish Bowles. You’ll want to add it to your collection.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Fluff and I would like to wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving. Many of you here are celebrating and those of you abroad will just hear about the insanity of this holiday, not for reasons of giving thanks but for the excuse of scorching sale events at everything that is a store or pretends to be. Either way, have a great time eating, watching the parades and sleeping OR shopping for those things you neither want nor need.

I'd like to take a moment to thank each of you who take the time to check in on this blog. I appreciate those of you who are followers, even the guy who is my latest fan; the one with the avatar of two guys F&%#?*G(removed). I'm also grateful to those of you who check in on a staggeringly regular basis. I'm constantly (daily) surprised that the Emperor has the presence that it does. I'm not Tavi, BryanBoy or The Sartorialist, but it feels good to be a player even if it's the minor leagues. That said, I would also like to apologize for being somewhat spotty in my contributions since the SS2011 collections but have felt a bit of a dearth of subjects to discuss. Things on the catwalks and grand stages of the fashion world are sadly slim in content and I've been less than inspired to say much. When Anna dello Russo's closet, Courtney Love's botched re-hab, Tom Ford's much hyped retro romp, Marc and what's his name's redo, Vogue/CFDA's reward, Ralph Lauren's new Madison Ave. retail outlet, Rodarte's ground breaking collection that's a retailer's dream (not), Dolce and Gabbana's possible tax evasion incarceration rumors (reliable), Karl's pick of Haider Ackermann for his Chanel replacement, oh, and the Asian model renaissance along with all things Asian regarding fashion, and whatevahs.......

So not a ton to talk about without rehashing tired, dull non information. Still, I'm inspired by your devotion and interest. You all have given me a second chapter to a career that seemed to be a memory. Have a great day and weekend. If it's time spent with people you love then love a lot. If it's time in the trenches going after the big game lurking in aisle 3, then happy hunting. I'll see you soon or when the next Moda moment causes our fragile earth to shift. We are experiencing some turbulence so keep your seat belts fastened until the Captain tells you it's safe to move about the cabin.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tom Ford: The Secret Collection

Finally, the top secret images of a handful of looks from Ford's SS2011 collection are beginning to bleed into the public domain. They are beautiful and interesting in contrast to other collections that showed. I'm struck by their overwhelming aspect of control and restraint. They're elegant and somehow sentimental odes to what he is known for without all the hyper-active sexuality of old. This time around he seems to be more interested in the woman as total being and less so an object. The suits are the most emphatic displays of texture, line and suggestion. That isn't to say that the other pieces are lacking, they aren't. What I expected to be a tour de force of wheel re-invention is more a collection of very beautiful clothes infused with loving and sentimental touches.

The look of the presentation feels very 80's like a cache of undiscovered designs. The mood of Saint Laurent floats above and below the models and even informs Ford's image of himself. It feels like the days when Loulou and Betty were the world's muses and Yves was only coming into the full bloom of his allure. That Ford was clever to restrict the flow of information is testament to his savvy as a business person. As long as people are denied access it is all they will want. This ploy should work well for the debut of this collection much like a similar formula worked brilliantly for Bijan back in the day. I just wonder how long the magic will hold with so much of it rooted in images of a bygone era. Maybe its enough that there's someone out there who's willing to put their own neck and resources on the line to make seriously beautiful clothes.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Is Iman a terrorist?

Iman is now Imam according to the NY Daily News. The writer who skillfully performed a craneoplasty on "The Fashion Show", the new season which airs tonight starring Isaac Mizrahi and Iman referred to her as Imam a total of 4 times. I thought it was a mistake until I kept running into the name again and again. From the sound of it, the new name may be an apt one. Assuming one equates that name with all things dark and destructive it appears to be a tag that fits her new guise. It appears that she is that avenging style angel of death. She bombs, blasts and water boards the unwitting an not so innocent contestants on this dead duck show with willful abandon. Just like a real terrorist. It appears that reality fashion tv has a new formula: take no prisoners and spare no viewers. This show noisily sucked wind with Kelly Rowland its first time down that rutted catwalk. Though the formula sputtered with her "tepid" contribution the producers couldn't resist the frisson of having a woman of color in the co-pilot's seat. Enter the erudite, multi-lingual and arrestingly telegenic Imam. All the better if she walks tall and carries a baseball bat. Isaac might've had one too, had it fit in his monogrammed L.L.Bean tote. It didn't so he couldn't.
Even the trailer for this show was all about Imam. Her vitriol was so over the top she could barely shriek her protests. All staccato and flying spittle she declares while "judging" that the work of a clueless "designer" is a "Fashion Emergency" in need of an" evac-oo-ation". Is this fashion speak for "Code Brown"? She may speak 5 languages, but her annunciation, like her legendary walk, is all her own. Apparently, her style cred as an uber-supermodel is writ large with her unusual choices of costume, hairs and make-up. Hairs is the only way to describe her weave which is perfectly in keeping with her new identity.

The reality fashion show is a curious species. It makes a much better radio show than television. Using your own imagination would be infinitely more satisfying than looking at these characters. This is just another hatchet blow to an industry that used to be about beauty and style. I just wonder why two success stories who worked their way to the top are screaming and swinging that hopelessly dull weapon of mass destruction. You watch and tell me what you think.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wasted in Margaritaville....

Well I wasn't, but countless others were. That's Key West. It's the end of the line in more ways than one. Besides being the most southerly point in the US, it's home to a lot of people who want to dangle their toes in the abyss. I can see the attraction and joined them for a few days. It felt great and I had little urge to look back, let alone return. It wasn't the cruise ships backed up to down and out rum joints or even the man in the wheel chair parked at an empty bar one morning at 10. It wasn't the fact that his head didn't reach the bar or that his chair had a side car holding an oxygen tank, either. Don't feel bad. I'm giggling too. You can't make this up. No, the thing that turned my head and drew me back was a Tea Bagging geriatric couple who'd just gotten married and were staying at the same guest house I was hiding out in. This was a gay guest house filled with gay guys and a few lesbians. This couple apparently loved gays as much as their ultra right wing politics and insisted on sharing their views with anyone within earshot. That would be everyone because we were all crammed into a space that resembled 28 Barbary Lane in Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City. The blushing (thanks to copious amounts of rouge and spackle) bride's wedding dress was a Vera Wang and yes it was strapless. HONEST. The reception was by the pool which was 4 feet deep and 8 feet square. TRUE. It was so spectacularly unremarkable I failed to document it. The cake from the freezer of the market next door was served with raspberry chocolate red wine. The entertainment was another much older woman everyone called Ma who sang bawdy songs and was helped by her daughter who had to have been about 70. Ma was sporting a vest with floor length fringe, a bikini top,loud colored bell bottoms, orange Go-Go boots and a cap that Austin Powers must have borrowed for his films. I'm DEAD SERIOUS. This all took place on election day. You can't invent this S%#T. It wasn't the boozy incoherence of the setting that felt like a heart to heart with Vera, but the crazed look in Ma's eyes (who looked disturbingly like Anna Wintour) that shocked me back to my senses. I realized then that I couldn't outrun my past. The only thing to do was to face facts and return to the scene of the crime. Susan Posen could "pursue other interests" and leave the nest though she was the mama bird. Brad could leave Rache and Rodge, Demi and Kate and Cameron to boldly go where no assistant stylist has gone before. I just know that I can't leave. I have to stay. There's a show (somewhere) that's about to start with a front row seat with my name on it (somewhere). As God is my witness, I'm going to sit there and write about it. And you're going to read it (maybe). So I drove back to Miami, boarded a plane, finished watching "Eat, Pray, Love", didn't cry and came home. If I didn't have this killer tan I'd think it was all just a wet, wild and wonderful dream in a fantasy setting of old, eccentric houses painted pastel colors, over taken by lush tropical foliage and marauding packs of feral cats who happen to love to be fed and petted.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Paradise Lost.

I got down to Islamorada, Florida on Saturday. Leaving NYC in 50 degree weather and landing in Miami just moments later was like a gift. Palm trees and a searing sun was all it took to put a smile on my face. 85 degrees and humidity can be an instant game changer. I brought along a cineplex worth of movies including Eat, Pray, Love which I'd successfully avoided watching til that morning. The crowd in the waiting area was unnervingly gritty. Traveling used to be glamorous. Not anymore. Planes are little more than subway cars with snacks and shitty coffee you have to pay for. The bookstore in the terminal had a book that elicited a screech. Right next to "Eat, Pray, Love" was a new book I wish I'd written. "Drink, Play, F%@k". As touching as Julia Roberts can be, I couldn't help thinking that "Drink, Play, F%#k" would make a much better film. It would be a great vehicle for.....well, me.

Little did I know that the Moorings Village would be that answered prayer I'd impatiently waited for. All pristine beach and elegant bungalows punctuated by a forest of palm trees. One palm in particular grew parallel to the beach and rose out over the water. The minute I saw it I felt as though I was running into someone I'd seen before but couldn't place. The mood was quiet and seemed focused on some very distant point. It took a couple of days to down shift but once I did, I couldn't imagine a more perfect place. It felt better than good, it felt right. No computer or phone or TV. Almost no music. Just a little "Namaste Shanti" for good measure and conch whatever. Imagine a spotless beach that has been mysteriously raked, only you never saw anyone do it. Or an Olympic sized pool nestled in a grove of palms with no screaming kids, in fact, no one in sight anywhere. We only saw a few people on the beach in 4 days and they were at a safe distance. From the front porch I could look through the palms, past the hammock and out to sea without anyone or thing interrupting.

That was the case until this morning. Paradise was invaded by a film crew with a string of cheesy blondes in fuchsia bikinis and sprayed on tans. I thought QT had gone the way of red dye #2. It's alive and well on Tiffany from Iowa and BreeAnne from Winetka. They, along with Todd from Colorado were about 30 feet from my front door loudly proclaiming their weight loss secrets to a camera and crew. Hydroxycot had snagged paradise yanking me back to the harsh reality I thought I'd cheated. I just stood there on the porch staring at about 30 people wondering what the f%@k happened. I guess I'm lucky to have had a few days of peace. This is surely an absurdly lame luxury problem and one to get over butt fast and I have. I packed my toys and headed south and now am sitting at the end of the line in Key West. What a strange and compelling place this is. Even though I bitterly complained of paradise lost I actually stumbled onto a paradise found. It may be just another trashy t-shirt shop but it works for me. This must be the right place. I could have sworn I saw Marc and what's his name stumbling into the bath house across the street. It was a blur of tattoos and an Hermes Birkin along with a manly scent of pepper.

Fashion never sleeps. Chow!