Saturday, February 25, 2012

Oscar de la Renta Fall2012: The Escher Effect

In the late 70's when many of us were off to college, some to boarding school and still others just getting into the groove of high school, the age of the poster was at its apex. As I hailed from Groton, Mass. the Harvard Co-op in Cambridge's Harvard Sq. was the place to go for posters. I'm not talking just Led Zeppelin, Farrah Fawcett or Beatles posters, but fine art posters of some of the greatest Old Masters to the Contemporary greats of the time. I was partial to the Abstract Expressionists like Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler but more than anything, I was a freak for Adolph Gottlieb. I guess I've always been a special case in most things that interest me. Many of my contemporaries at that time were particularly fond of Escher prints. You know the ones of lizards, fish and birds all going to and fro morphing in an out of each other, all positive/negative mind bending images. Honestly, I think the attraction had everything to do with getting high. In those days all of us were stoned 24/7 and anything that enhanced that permanent state of twistedness was, well a necessary accessory.

I'll never forget a night at a friend's parent luxury apartment at Charles River Park that had a sign saying, "If you lived here, you'd be home now". High above the Charles River we had taken over the apartment which was really 3 connected apartments filled with art and beautiful antiques. Judy's parents were competitive ballroom dancers and were in NYC for the weekend and we were getting"primed" there for a Bonnie Raitt concert later that night. It was one of the few times I took acid and my imagination which was very active on its own went through the roof. Looking down at the river from 20 stories up the water lapping at the edge looked like millions and millions of serpents and lizards scurrying into the grass just like an Escher print. I don't particularly like reptiles so I failed to be amused at this hallucination. For that reason and others, Escher didn't really speak to me. But he sure spoke to others. The poster I remember seeing the most were the labyrinthine staircases that at once looked to be ascending and at the same time descending. That's what Oscar de la Renta's collection looks like to me. On the outside it looks like its on the rise, with its sweaty-browed attempt at youthful irony. On second glance, one realizes it is working its way ceaselessly down the ladder of relevance and stylistic importance.

His choices of color for Fall2012, namely palest pink, cream and "Wallis" blue are not in themselves wrong. The reference to Wallis Simpson is a cloying one especially with Madonna's tepid, revisionist story of the grasping, brittle, tough as nails, arriviste, American social climbing, bigoted creature who stars in the new film W.E. The recently published biography "That Woman" by Anne Sebba, cleaves a bit closer to the truth, but I digress yet again. The cotton candy colors are neither here or there, but the motifs, styling and decoration employed all adds up to a question mark. Prints of jumbo-sized brooches on skirts, gowns and jackets look poor. Oscar is an elegant man with very refined tastes. Don't forget he goes home to Annette Reed de la Renta of the Charles Engelhard Court, Metropolitan Museum Trustee, and all around super swell pillar of New York and International society. When you do the math it all adds up to the best, not the least. So what gives with the rat's nest hair, regrettable tiaras, shoes that look uncomfortably like those worn by Minnie Mouse, not to mention the clothes? I love horses so I will refrain from beating this one. Obviously, it needs attention, care and a re-boot. You all can look this over and decide for yourselves.That isn't to say that there weren't a handful of looks that showed his elegant eye. A black paillette cocktail was free of tricks and simply beautiful. Another standout was an unadorned "Wallis" blue faille cocktail dress wrapped and draped at the waist with a signature portrait collar. The same can be said for an embroidered dress and jacket in black that echoed his tenure as designer for Balmain's couture, but they were buried in an endless parade of banal costumes.

I loved this collection for many many years. It was one I'd never miss given an invitation and the opportunity. I cried after one of them, it was so fantastic. Now I just feel empty, even bereft. The most unexpected development that happened almost simultaneously, was the ascent of Carolina Herrera up that same funhouse staircase. For all of her blanks she's fired the last several years, suddenly she presented a collection that should have had Oscar's label in it.....

Ralph Lauren Fall2012: Downton?

What is it about the obvious that everyone finds so appealing? A leaden foot is so much more interesting than a bit of mystery. It's almost as though the whole idea (or notion...I HATE that word, trope is another one...) of a point of departure is nothing unless one spells it all out in really large letters. So what if the spelling is wrong, mis-spell it anyway. And if you're going to beat a dying horse why not club it with a wrecking ball, just in case your aim is as faulty as your spelling.

That is what I came away with after seeing Ralph Lauren's silly show. After so many years of his Gatsby routine you'd think that even he would tire of its predictability. With the this country and the world entranced by the Crawleys of Downton Abbey, Ralph and his team would have to pay homage to a story that I'm sure he claims as his own. After all, anything with a manor house, a horse and an heiress is fertile ground for him to plow. Actually, a tenant from the estate known as Polo Court would do the actual plowing. Ralph, Earl of Lauren would likely be sitting in the morning room looking over the paper's financial pages and planning shooting weekends (that's photo shoots not the bang bang variety). The crystal chandeliers in the great hall would be polished, the fires laid by noiseless upstairs maids, rugs beaten, and Ricky, Countess of Lauren would busy herself with the seating, menus with cook and doing her best to keep track of her delightful issue: Candy, David, Lauren squared, his wife, and Osiris the pet Labradoodle.

In his haste to top the show with his own show, I think he mixed up his metaphors and did Albert Nobbs by accident. Unless I was watching the wrong show I saw about 250 cross dressing girls march down the great hall in everything from "beaters" tweeds to smoking jacketed ladies with ascots to dressing gowned girls getting ready for dinner complete with argyle socks, velvet slippers all sorts of mannish accessories. Once dinner was set these same "ladies" appeared in formal wear, white tie, tails and the like before he realized his mis-step. At the last moment they quick changed into heavily beaded tea dresses and flapper drop waists ready to Charleston their way to the new century. There was one smart little black crepe dress with a bit of fun at the neck that looked like it had been plucked right off the boney shoulders of Wallis, Duchess of Windsor. Another gold bullion embroidered evening jacket over something long and silky was the spitting image of a smart little ensemble Coco Chanel was photographed in. The point I'm making is that it was another show of a bygone era ripe from the make believe world of an everyday grunt from the Bronx. His exceptional success is to be commended but fashion, it's not. It is more "Of A Fashion". The design was period-perfect, the fabrics exquisite, the detail is top notch and the atmosphere is, well, atmospheric. But when the press gushes over it I'm reminded that the Lord of the manor is too often cheered simply because of his wealth, not his ideas.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Musical Chairs

Right on the heels of the announcement of Raf Simons' exit from Jil Sander comes the not too surprising announcement that Jil Sander will return to the company she started so long ago. This all fits a pattern when I think of Uniqlo's announcement that this past fall's +J collection would be her last. The dominoes just keep tumbling and where they scatter nobody knows, or maybe not.

As much as I enjoyed +J, it was a frustrating experience on 2 levels. When collections broke it was a stampede to get in. In a matter of days merchandise for men would sell out and not be restocked. Women fared better with more and greater selection and they kept it coming. The other bummer was the fit. It wasn't ideal if you were an average height with an average body, meaning a bit of muscle and/or flesh depending on the mirror you consult. The other issue was one's ass. As it happens, mine is convex and connected to thighs that are wider than my lower leg. +J designs for the concave ass and the stick leg that loves to be embraced. Needless to say, the pants were not coming home with me. Jackets had unusually high waists and the shoulders and upper arms were always just a bit too snug. I know the fashion is skewed towards a Thom Browne ideal, but I feel stupid in clothes that make me look like I'm wearing womenswear, as much as I love womenswear and not that there's anything wrong with guys wearing it. Still, I'll miss the outerwear and cashmere sweaters I scored. The bottom line is ultimately one gets what one pays for. The cheap end is not without its pitfalls. The same can be said for the high end. The problems there are ones of a more luxurious nature. They're too expensive to be fraught with such absurd flaws like quality of make and fit.

I liked Raf Simons at Sander. It was interesting, fresh, irreverent but with integrity and style. Unlike Marc Jacobs, it always felt like he was invested in advancing the conversation and not tossing out sartorial bon mots in search of the biggest laugh. Smart and clever are worlds apart. The inevitable chatter leads us to the gold caned chair in the gilded salon of Christian Dior. One senses the music is about to stop and there are maybe only one or two players still circling. I'm ambivalent about Simons taking up that baton, but it could be a very interesting development. The travesty that was Jacob's collection for Fall2012 here in NY is proof that his brand of humor would in my estimation fall flat at Dior. Better that he stay put with a house whose most important product is a logo-riddled bag that even he wouldn't be caught dead carrying. (He lugs a jumbo-sized Birkin).

So this passes for news, and I guess it is news, but it feels a little like bad news. Bill Gaytten has done a commendable job under very stressful conditions at Dior. His Pre-Fall a few weeks ago was nothing short of beautiful. The Couture was also better than his previous offerings though it still felt haunted by the ghost of Galliano. It seems that with time he would find his voice, but no one seems interested in listening. Unfortunately,the business of fashion is tone deaf and sightless.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fall 2012: Who will buy?

For the most part I passed on the spectacle that was MBFW Fall2012 but not completely. My enthusiasm for it was dimmed by the cancellation of, for me, the most anticipated show of all, Chado Ralph Rucci. After last season's collection at Lincoln Center, not to mention the 3 previous collections I'd gone to, I was primed for the experience. Alas, it was not to be and that took the shine off the upcoming week. Nevertheless, I tuned into and took in much of what paraded by and found it impossible to avoid the reviews in the New York Times. So, without the benefit of the scrimmage before showtime, the posturing of the front row, middle and standing room sections with the attendant swarm of cameras and TV crews aimed at the front row, or the mood of the show by way of music and in some cases incredible sets and staging, I just took in the clothes one look at a time. Considering the number of shows that were staged, that's a ton of clothes. Fatigue set in early but that made the bright spots that much brighter when the banal gave way to the brilliant. So much is printed about the Blogger as being the most sought after guest. I am one blogger that seems to come up with very few invitations. So as much as I'd prefer to see the circus under the big top, I satisfy myself with viewing it from the comfort and safety of home.

Initially, I had the feeling that the party line was waving the same flag: black, red, gold and oxblood sportswear-heavy looks with a lot of hair, or more precisely, fur. I was surprised to see the editors give approving nods to Jason Wu for a collection that was as one-dimensional as it's consistently been for some years now. Wu who embraced his Asian roots with an ode to Tokyo Rose or Shanghai Express, put together a collection heavy on the red, black and gold. Military details and the cheong sam of the 50's, all tight bodied and above the knee felt about as authentically far eastern as a trip to China town. The lines of his shapes are a bit more wavy, giving the clothes a hint of technique. The saccharine cocktail looks that weighed it down in the past were replaced with more sportswear that was just as aimless as the cocktail but that seems to be the thing that makes editors happy. Nothing gets praise more than another tedious line up of soulless separates. But it's the tortured evening looks with as much life as a dress cut from a McCall's pattern that make me question why he is touted as the heir to Oscar de la Renta. But the way Oscar looks these days it's not too far off the mark. They both make Zang Toi look like the elder statesman of the Park Avenue two-step. These clothes are fit for a Real Housewife and little else. I still don't get it.

Prabal Gurung did a nice job this time out with a collection that had some muscle behind it. The look is quirky with sour and sweet mixed to give it that international feel. I get the feeling that the race track is starting to be a bit less crowded with the fastest and flashiest horses breaking away from the pack. Prabal Gurung's collection felt vast with a multitude of ideas that could easily have been a few collections. There was a slickness to it that belied its relative freshness on the scene. The black embroidered chiffon cocktail dress and gown at right were 2 examples of his maturity that impresses me. Some of the looks in the front end of the collection in black with sleek trousers, cashmere cape or jackets look like a seasoned designer's output. As polished as it was, it felt like the product of a stylist operating from a road map. The public who buys it didn't appear to be included in the conversation. More than for the consumer it had a feel of being produced for an editorial or a red carpet moment. Not that there's anything wrong with that. There is a feeling of overarching ambition to define the brand in as little time as possible, as though the clock is off and the idea of time and taking time is a notion for the past. Unfortunate, in my book.

Joseph Altuzzara who is annually pitted against Prabal in some minds was celebrated as having one of the best collections of the season. Having just won the CFDA/Vogue initiative with a cash infusion, he seems to have put it to good use. This season was more valid in my eyes than last fall with his one big idea; the parka with fur trimmed hood just like the one I wore along with thousands of kids in 1973. This time we were taken along a gypsy caravan to Morocco and parts unknown. Where the points are scored is consistently in jackets, a few coats and belts. There were great big stamped, tooled and gypsy coin laden belts that would let anyone know you were coming or going. The shapes and details of a few felted and cashmere peacoats with toggles (gold plated horn!!) were cool and looked well made. The under pinnings like sweaters with paint by number horse heads left me cold. It's become such a "thing" to do the animal thing on clothes that it just looks derivative and unoriginal, not to mention awkward. The jodphurs in wildly printed gypsy/moroccan rug motifs look as buyable/wearable as the low slung tight, cropped cargo pants. Not good on the models so most likely heinous on a real woman with a shape. Still there was a cohesive, complete harmony look to the clothes. Fur is used with little or no thought to correctness or not. One has the feeling that fur is a detail that designers today feel validates them as being players in the high end, luxe stakes. I'm not convinced of that, but hey. There you have it.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Whitney: Where do broken hearts go...

Last night on the way to see a Sondheim revival, "Merrily We Roll Along" at City Center someone in the line of people waiting to go in said, "Did you hear Whitney's died?" Well, I, for one, hadn't heard and it was like a blanket was tossed over me blotting out everything going on around me. The sounds of the street, the people milling all around and the noise in my head was instantly muted. We took our seats, saw the show, enjoyed it, headed to a restaurant high above the Time Warner building and acted like one does on a Saturday night in NYC. It wasn't until we were leaving the restaurant that a few of the servers by the waiter's station were playing "I want to dance with somebody (who loves me)" that the same sensation came over me. A couple of the employees were dancing to it and saying things like ,"we just love Whitney" and "we've been trying to play her on the sound system all night". That was when I was reminded of how much a part of all of our lives she's been these last 25 years or so. It isn't until someone or some thing is gone that you notice how much they mean.

It was freezing at midnight but we walked the 20 blocks home instead of taking a cab or the train. I felt like so much is so easily lost to us when we spend so much of the time busily trying to get more. I also thought about the difference between really making something and spending the time and the sacrifice in service to that end. When I was new to this city it was all about building something that would last and enjoying the fruits of that labor. Now it seems all backward and inside out. We sat on the couch and turned on the television and computers to see what was being said and it was one long reel of Whitney performing in long jersey gowns framing her long lean line, the sweat pouring down her face, the hand flicking the air and tapping her chest and her exquisite mouth forming the words to a song that we could more feel than hear. I loved the way she used her mouth to form the words.

I grew up to R&B just as much as I did to acoustic folk music. I guess that's what happens when you're black, all your relatives come from and live in the south and yet you grow up in a New England village. I know every word to every Joni Mitchell album produced just like I know every word and nuance to every single song that came out of Chaka Khan's throat. Almost the same can be said for Whitney. We looked on Youtube to pull up favorite performances of hers and still I can not watch her live duet with CeCe Winans singing "Bridge Over troubled Water" without a pounding in my chest and goose bumps. It's somehow her story and a moment when she was at her most powerful and best. I'm glad that her trials are behind her now and hope that wherever we go when we leave here, that it's peaceful and the music just plays on.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A P.of C. ?

Does anyone know what a P.of C. means? Is it a style rule you live by or is it a statement of fact about the world we live in? Maybe it's specific to the business of style, fashion and the arduous climb to the heights of social conquest. Like so much in my life, I could be over thinking it and not just letting go, letting God as it were. It feels like an over simplification for the mysteries of how to find, have, harness and flog a certain kind of success.

With Fashion Week bearing down on us like Midnight Madness at your local Best Buy, everywhere you look you read stories or see fluff/puff pieces on the fashion mob. Underage models working the runway at 10 years old and older, if their past their prime, and doing it for clothes. Then there are the stories about the new "kids" on the block who have taken the reins of old horses with razor sharp spurs and the aid of pills and PR people to make the poor broken beast hobble a step at best, or pass wind at worst. Cranked up agents like PR Consulting's Pierre Rougier are in the news with his particular brand of toughness. I guess a huge price tag coupled with his nail studded club gives them what they want (clients) and the others what they need (editors). The NY Times delicately finessed that story which did little but act as a promo piece for his agency that looks hard up for business. It's never easy when the client has to wait to be chosen while the PR agent gets to choose. Losing the big fish only to retain the small and ailing ones doesn't look like the best business model. The more interesting story would be how and why he lost some of his stars...

Christian Siriano takes over the cover of the Style section today in the Times and says more than a few honest and interesting things. I'm not a big fan but I do admire his drive and determination. It's unfortunate that the CFDA has kept him at arm's length when they have so readily embraced other designers with less of a business and sagging profiles. The clubbiness of it is disheartening. Why has he been black balled again and again? The bottom line should be how well your clothes sell and not your pedigree. Let's be real here. Most members are self created. Even with pure blood lines they tend to be the runts of the litter. If the client out there loves you and the stores see that you perform, well that's about as good as it can get. The rest is just fairy dust. That organization had a much warmer heart when Stan, Fern and Peter sat in the driver's seat. Lisa has a heart that still beats loudly there, but you'd have to search high and low to find anyone else with a pulse.

To bring this to a close on a really low note, I have to say a word about the Blogger. The cover story of the New York Observer has a bloated, shopping bag besieged BryanBoy with a cadre of supplicants kneeling at his feet. Marc Jacobs, Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld. The artist takes a degree of poetic license but the fact remains that that is what the Blogger (the successful iteration) has become. We learn little of BryanBoy other than all the secrets he keeps hidden regarding his past, how he profits from being a fawning bullhorn for the establishment, his questionable finances that come from that fawned upon establishment and the secret to his rise from some backwater town in the Philippines to the comped suite of any given 5-star hotel from here to parts unknown. It looks like bloggers of note get co-opted then commodified then ushered into the magazines, neutered, de-fanged, brainwashed, gifted, then sent back out like Mormon missionaries to spread the word of the gospel according to Seventh Ave. (or sing and act out its praises which is Tavi Gevinson's new gig). So much for independent thinking.

I guess I'll go to my closet and think about what to wear to the shows. I keep forgetting... I can go in my Paul Smith boxer briefs and flip flops. Everyone will think its couture! Obviously, Kanye and Ko. are disciples of It's a Brad, Brad World! According to Brad Goresky, a P.of C. is a "pop of color". He's staking his reputation on it along with his new reality show. I personally think its a .... Point of Contention?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Giambattista Valli Spring Haute Couture2012: Reference/Reverence

Giambattista Valli is a hybrid. He’s a designer who is as easily at home with PrĂȘt a Porter as he is in the Couture atelier. Like a gifted concert pianist he’s as dexterous with one hand as he is with the other, all along creating opposing rhythms and harmonies with both. For this and other reasons, I find him to be one of the most compelling creative forces on the scene today.

Valli has the unique distinction of having worked and trained under some of the greatest creators of fashion of the last century. From the Roman formalist, Capucci who sculpted gowns with the precision of an engineer to the House of Emmanuel Ungaro one of the most gifted drapers whose collections were the personification of poetry and romance. Add to the mix references to the great and almighty Christian Dior with a taste of the big screen drama of Adrian and you start to get a picture of his pedigree. This collection seemed to reference and show reverence to the masters under whom he was shaped. The final analysis is undeniably a collection that’s all his own.

Early on he showed delicate cocktail dresses in airy, dotted silk mousseline draped to one side and over one shoulder that felt like a creation from the hands of Ungaro if he were still working. Like Ungaro it appeared organically grown with no effort from a human’s touch. Colors were subtle, never jarring. Lots of black and white in 2 ensembles in particular that felt like a Dior-ism: molded gleaming crocodile in a strictly shaped and fitted jacket with rounded hips over a lithe white lace skirt and again in what might have been a simple

draped coat dress with a full sweeping skirt. The base was white but embroidered from the shoulders down were thousands of black petals that fell like blossoms in a windstorm randomly to the hem. Valli’s genius and marvelous technique made it all look as though it was an act of nature.

The gowns that took us to the crescendo of the presentation shifted like a tide from grand, over the top creations of layer upon layer of chiffon and organza in many shades and prints of rose to sleek paillette covered surfaces of deep aubergine. Whether you wanted a scene stealing bravura gown or a haunting wisp of draped chiffon that trumpeted restraint, he offered them up in equal measure.

Giambattista Valli is an exciting Couturier to behold. His respect for the past and his free wheeling way of offering us a glimpse of the future keeps us on the edge of our gilded caned seats. Viva L’Alta Moda!

Chanel Haute Couture Spring2012: Engine Trouble...

The couture this season for the most part was a non-event. Chanel which usually sends me into paroxysms of awe and delight, didn't. The set was awesome and delight producing, though. Who doesn't get gooey in a first class cabin of a jumbo-sized ultra prive jet? I'm not too big to admit that I do. Even Business class on Qatar Airways sent me to the moon and I was only supposed to go as far as Doha. Still, the cabin is one thing, but the service and in-flight entertainment is something altogether else. Unfortunately, Chanel Aire basically served nuts and flat champagne and charged an arm and two legs for the privilege.

Captain Karl announced over the loudspeaker that there would be no 50's, 60's 70's or any other era as reference points. He implied that that was not on the flight pattern and the plane was headed to parts unknown, which is esperanto for: the future. Well, if the plane had taxied out onto the runway we might have gone somewhere new or not so new. As it seemed to me we were caught in a windshear of Lagerfeld's own sentimentality, which is an oxymoron when you realize his absolute allergy towards nostalgia of any sort. The clothes looked steeped in his personal style ticks that have excited audiences and clients for the past 30 years or more. With the groan of engine troubles after the first 10-30 looks the over heated plane was towed back to the gate. In the end the flight was essentially cancelled and the only view I remember was a long look at his past.

I'm sure they'll tinker with the engines and get it up and running next time but what a whole lot of chatter for a voyage to nowhere.