Monday, October 31, 2011

Doha : Dispatch from the Desert

Doha, the capital city of Qatar is part desert and part dream scape. The buildings that are going up, the luxury hotels like La Cigale where I was bivouacked are grand affairs. Every important architect in the world has been commissioned to do something there. The university I visited, Virginia Commonwealth University, is just one in a cluster of about 5 in Education City the complex built by one of the the Emir's wives, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al-Missned. That woman is a force behind everything from education for the Qatari people to a luxury goods conglomerate, Qatar Luxury Group. She hopes to build an industry there that may one day rival the PPR and LVMH's of the western world. It's all in the beginning stages but is very interesting to watch. I had the feeling that absolutely anything was possible there. Perhaps the largest challenge they face is bringing people from the west to help develop and guide this nascent group of designers and crafts people. The other schools at Education City were branches of Georgetown, Weill Cornell Medical College, Texas A&M, Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern University and the University College of London. Each school was housed in buildings that were monuments to the legacy's of their individual architects. I'm talking VAST structures of incredible design. Driving through the complex and seeing one after the other it was hard to imagine why a student wouldn't want to go there to study. The facilities at VCU Qatar for fashion, graphic design, industrial design and other disciplines was unlike anything I've seen in this country. Other than reputation, places like Parson's , Pratt, Savannah College of Art and Design and Otis in Ca. were no match for what students were offered at VCUQatar in large part due to the director of the department Sandra Wilkins, a veritable force of Nature. Just for starters, every student was supplied with state of the art Apple computers, all books and supplies necessary depending on their discipline. The equipment in the classrooms from sewing machines, dress forms, computers for pattern making and grading, knitting machines and other things that print fabric or embroider any possible design on cloth or leather, all was at the student's fingertips. The level of instruction they receive was excellent as well. I witnessed it firsthand when I worked each day with the fashion students and the whole graphic design department. Many students were older than the 18-21 years old range we have in this country. That added a seriousness to their work ethic as many students were more engaged in their work than playing games and skipping class. Due to the culture's dress code the look was markedly different from what I often see here. Very little piercing or completely tattooed bodies faced me in class. In many instance I saw only the eyes of many of the females. The guys were very elegant in their long white robes and white head dresses( Igal) with black corded crowns. (pardon my lack of proper terminology for the guys' costumes but I was running ragged each day) The girls were in abayas (long black robes) and veils that sometimes obscured their faces altogether or just covered their hair. Under the abayas were very colorful long skirts, designer jeans and everything from beautiful sandals to Louboutin heels. The latest in YSL, Givenchy, LVuitton, Chanel and Hermes were dangling from almost every girl's arm. The contrast of black robes and veils and these luxe accessories was striking to see. I took pictures after one of the classes as the students made an extra effort to be particularly colorful for my visit. They sweetly lined up for me to capture the beauty of their concealed clothing but all chanting at once, "No Faces! No Faces!" It was against the rules to photograph their faces. Such a pity as so many were so lovely. Having class after class hang on my every word was daunting and gratifying. For a culture that has so much they have a humility and desire to know as much about the west as they can discover. It was an honor to be there and share some of what I've learned over the past 30 years. I hoped that it might make their journey's a little easier and the process a bit less mysterious. I'll tell you about some of the cool people I met in my next dispatch.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Haute Qatar !

That's not sloppy spelling or the effects of too much rich cat food when the dry stuff or a stray mouse will do. I've just been to Qatar and the experience was nothing short of exceptional. It was about a 8 day trip spent with the fashion department at VCUQ (Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar) where I was invited to speak at their Crossing Boundaries lecture series and to work with Fashion design students sharing my experiences and critiquing their work. Nothing new for me as I've played this role over the past ten years at Savannah College of Art and Design, Pratt, Parsons and Kent State University.

What was unusual was the setting and the beauty of this extraordinary part of the world. The reception I received was so warm, and the students so interesting and interested, that it woke me from my somewhat jaded stupor. The fashion machine that we witness here season after season and the barrage of information catapulting our senses has a dulling effect (on me, anyway). It takes a physical remove to realize that so much of what we see, do, think, consume and aspire to is the too in too much. That isn't to say that Qatar is like a remote outpost on the edge of the Arabian gulf or a hinterland with nothing but sand and roaming herds of camels. Believe me it wasn't. It is a tough thing to describe, a strange mirage in the midst of a vast and arid desert. As one of the Arab Emirates it is oil rich. That's actually an understatement. It is crazy rich with almost every single square meter in a state of construction, irrigation or drilling. But unlike Dubai that is leveraged and buckling under the weight of debt, kind of like us poor slobs over here, the Al-Thani royal family has the desire to create a world for the Qatari awash in art, culture, the most mind boggling architecture and state of the art education. With natural reserves of oil and gas under those sand dunes to last a good 400 years before waning they are well set for the foreseeable future.

Having never been to the Middle East, I really had little to go on other than what I read in the press or see in films or on the television. Sex and the City 2 was of little help. I was relieved not to see SJParker and co. slogging through the desert in heels while dragging douche bags, I mean IT bags. That's not to say that the capital city of Doha where all the action is is subtle and without artifice. It was rife with expensive toys, obviously wealthy Qataris and expats. The cars were only the best on the luxe car market. Jewels, fine watches and yes, the luxury goods that dangle from the arms, wrists, ears and necks of the wealthy are there in large numbers but thanks to veils and abayas (robes) you don't see it staring you down like a stroll down Madison Avenue. Mystery was a component of everyday life that kept things interesting. I'm a visual person and am endlessly fascinated by what goes on around me. I wasn't blind to the darkness in the corners of the blazing sunlight. The place was blisteringly hot and everywhere I looked I saw men working in construction, planting trees, watering sod for miles and all of them looked to be Indian, Filipino and other races that were more difficult to identify. As an honored guest my experience was obviously different from that of those who labor in the shadeless sunshine.

Still, I had a fascinating time and met some very special people. Too many things happened over that week to describe here, so I'll dole it out a bit at a time. It's great to be back despite the cold shower effect of a blizzard and a city almost brought to its knees months ahead of schedule. Its shocking to go from booty shorts and a tube top to a down jacket and snow shoes in under 24 hours. But this pussy cat is a fast change artist when nature comes screaming down the pike. I'll be back with more a little later. Inshallah! (definition: God willing)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Louis Vuitton Spring2012: Paper Dolls

One thing about carousel horses; they may be the hardest workers at the fair but in the end they drop you off right where they picked you up. The same can be said for this cotton candy treat that Marc Jacobs whipped up today at Louis Vuitton. It had all the elements of a high minded amusement with a captivating set, beautiful models and clothes that appeared to be something more than they were. From the first, they had a paper doll feel with couture-ish cut out clothes. Flat, hard and fake come to mind. Even the most seasoned models looked out of their depth with these brittle dresses in Broderie Anglaise and organza. Much was made of the matte crocodile jackets and coats that followed in pastel shades. Editors marveled at the techniques employed to match the scales and create an illusion of uniformity to the skins. Well, that's what one does when working with skins of that nature. That attention to detail and technique was lost on a few of the Broderie dresses with flowers hacked in half an misaligned to others that were seamed to them. The lace collars on many of the pieces had that familiar awkward shape; too round, too sweet and so rigid. They are a hallmark of his oeuvre as they appear time and time again in his own collections as well as LV. It seems even the best hands in the business can not disabuse him of this unappealing detail. Still, the look of it from a vast remove was interesting and even beautiful in one or 2 instances. The Prince of Wales plaid slicker with the navy Broderie invading its surface was choice as were the pale yellow gator pieces. The shoes with their metal banded straps and a bag here and a bag there looked worth the price of admission. It's when the dresses become artsy with scrims of organza covering their surfaces with a pleat here and a fold there that I began to ask myself what point was being made? The same question ate at me with his dresses that debuted here a few weeks back in clear vinyl. The same grab, twist and tuck action marred them over and over again throughout the show. All I could think was that it is Marc's idea of couture technique in draping. Sort of the Lanvin/Elbaz method employed by even more confused hands. When the dresses and tweed suits sprout feathers and fail to fly I start to yearn for the fun house or even the side show. Feathers, like clowns, can scare people and not just little kids. Despite Kate Moss' hankering for the spotlight now that she's an old married woman, her closing number would have looked more appropriate on her kid.
The Dior elephant was hovering to the side of the Merry-Go-Round but not out of view for everyone there and the rest of us filling the cheap seats. If this collection and the Marc Jacobs collection that was just shown here are a job application of sorts for the Big Brass Ring, I for one am not convinced that Marc is the right man for the job. The proportions that were proposed here were odd, unwieldy and amateurish. That they referred to shapes that Christian Dior created but without their sophistication and elan is a red flag in my estimation. It would be a pity to not only alter the course of the house yet again, but to send it down a dark and rutted road would be too modern...and not in a good way.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Chanel Spring2012: The Pearl Fisher

85 looks.That's a lot a looks. If the big pebble beach set is a metaphor for the multiplicity of ideas to be found in a split second of fashion's beached consciousness, then why not a collection that is more like 4 rolled into one? Now I feel like Cathy; more scientist/analyst than mere fashion journalist/blogger. Still there was everything in this collection including the kitchen sink. How do you say that in French?
It all looked seductively simple with tweed reduced to a relaxed game of warp and weft on net with a mysterious embroidery of a thin black line squaring off in opposition to itself. I liked the off handedness of it. Luxury can be as simple as a dot or a dash. Models appeared to stroll along this phantasmic beach clutching conch shells or pearl encrusted tiny bags. The bubbles that are left when the tide recedes formed the backdrop of the scene. The suits were so clean in white and putty almost like he took a hint from Ralph Rucci's recent spring collection, with curved cardigan and bolero shaped bodies and round full articulated sleeves over deluxe white jeans or sheared and shirred chiffon minis. With all the recent biographies out on Coco, her lovers, supposed Nazi sympathies and more newly uncovered tidbits Karl perhaps is busy keeping all eyes on himself. The dresses that came early on after the suits in beautifully pleated chiffon prints had a very post-Poiret feel like the tea dresses Coco wore as a young kept woman in the house of Boy Capel. Still he seems to have sworn off of decoration relying on a line of black to underscore an idea. No jeweled buttons and nary a single strand of pearls to be found. My impression was one of luxe sport almost like exercise gear in suits and separates. The models had a freshly showered look to them without makeup or coiffed hair as though they had just come from this futuristic beach. Then the collection began again with another lineup of day suits and tweed jackets over puffed, teased and poufed organza skirts and beautiful pale printed abstractions on pleated chiffon, only pleated horizontally instead of the regulation vertical pleats awash on so many other runways in Paris. Some dresses in this segment had rather odd proportions that he delivers now and again. They propose a new shape but rarely go further than just a suggestion. Still they make you think and they also show Lagerfeld as a unique wanderer on the beach, digging away at some possible buried treasure that we've all yet to consider. The tweeds were more laden with decorative touches by way of fringed strips of the same dividing the planes of the jackets and skirts. The colors like a pale tobacco were so soothing that you felt this overwhelming calm like the center of a vast storm. Then another collection took up where the previous dissipated with fantastic bathing suits like delicious minimally draped cocktail dresses minus the skirt. Then, just like Ralph Rucci and his glorious collection of a couple of weeks ago, he shifted back to white in knit and lighter than air tweed suits, an array of pale pastel short evening dresses and ending with white and black. They looked more like forms from beneath the ocean's surface in random threads twisting over grounds of tulle. Nothing had the look of man-made.
As familiar as the Lagerfeld/Chanel lexicon has become he never stops pushing the boundaries of shape and uses of decoration. He always talks about being unsentimental and leaving behind the past to find the future. This show felt very personal in a way. Almost like he's racing to say in design as much as he does with the spoken word. I think he's aware of the passage of time and perhaps wishes he could control it like he does his various and vast empires. Its ok to value today and yesterday. Tomorrow is not a given.