Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Giambattista Valli F/W Haute Couture 2012: Old and Lost Gardens

Giambattista Valli is an old soul. His collections embrace the art and beauty of old school Parisian fashion complete with the all the bells, whistles and ruffles that have defined it over time. That he moves the conversation forward with somewhat eccentric ways of reordering the puzzle pieces to achieve a new and oft times compelling story is to be admired and commended. There have been collections and pieces of those dreams that have struck me as truly original, which is big reason I follow his work expectantly. There's a freedom in his Pret a Porter collections that can at times overshadow his Couture efforts. The process of experimentation is somehow backwards; the lab seems to be his ready to wear and the couture feels more like an overstatement of those previously explored ideas. It was that thought I couldn't escape while watching this show.

His abiding love is obviously fabric. The Fall couture was awash in Warp Printed silks that looked like gardens from the 19th century. Like heirloom blossoms that exist only in the rarest gardens, these prints that opened the show in reds, pale washed out reds, coral, oxblood with black accents,some of them against a barely there ground of oyster, were just glorious. When they changed and became an expanse of greens that mixed with browns, bronze and black, that were at once dusky then almost camouflage shades, it seemed like watching a garden through the prism of the late afternoon into night. It was his die-hard embrace of layers and layers of ruffles starting at the neck and running down sleeves, outlining the length and the waists of the skirts below, that I started to feel overwhelmed. Some of the treatments of extreme ruffled volumes on skirts started at the very middle of the rib cage. Peplums were stiffened and massing at the same point. In many instances as the model passed the back was left bare. The effect was a front loaded dress or gown that was all about coming and not so much about going. The fact that the taffeta was stiffened with horsehair on all the edges and the skirts, both long and short, created a stiff, bobbing effect that looked awkward. Imagining the model sitting would create big, noisy breaks in the body of the dress. This effect was repeated ad nauseum.

Then a fabric change came with printed,floating, diaphanous chiffon and airy, crisp organza. He played with razor thin tucks, again layers of ruffles, shirred and flowing skirts with trains a kilometer long, all grand and otherworldly. A group of metallic shot brocades joined the scrum as stiff as a vintage Balenciaga dress but without the same finesse or weightlessness. They moved more in opposition to the body than in harmony with it. There were so many unintended references to vintage Balenciaga, Valentino and Oscar de la Renta that I began to get restless and impatient.

The accessories were another story, altogether. Regrettable Point d'Esprit tulle that looked like chicken wire covered each model's face. Butterflies in silk were liberally placed on this second skin as well. The ones alight on their heads were dreamy. It was the ones that landed square on the model's mouths that brought to mind "The Silence of the lambs". I doubt that was intended, either. Jewelry consisted of golden crowns of branches sitting at the neck (doing battle with Elizabethan ruff collars) and cuff bracelets of enormous beetles and scarabs. Menacing.

As beautiful as the setting was and the obvious technique that went into the making of the collection it felt old and lost. The dream of couture can and should be new and compelling, not a retelling of an old dream.
As beautiful as the setting was and the obvious technique that went into the making of the collection it felt old and lost. The dream of couture can and should be new and compelling, not a retelling of an old dream.

Valentino Haute Couture F/W 2012: Catholic Gilt

For starters, this show had all the pep of a Requiem Mass. The whole cast of characters that pack the hi/lo rafters of Catholicism were represented. Sinners, Saints and a convent-full of Nuns walked a raised black wooden runway that was more plank than catwalk. Like a crowded and stuffy baroque chapel, the setting was claustrophobic and dour. My first 3 years of school were at St. Mary's in Ayer, Mass. and I remember all too well just how severe everything and everyone was. Even then I was the odd man out wanting badly to be an alter boy. It didn't matter that the frankincense and myrrh that was smoking up the place during mass was so suffocating I couldn't breathe. I so wanted to wear the 2-tiered capelet and gown while processing behind the priest down that endless runway, I mean aisle, but never got the chance because I was Protestant. (another lost opportunity at fabu-ness)

Bad Girl

Maybe that's where my love affair with Valentino stems from. That little ensemble was eerily like the double dirndl skirts that were the theme of a collection he did for Fall back in 1979, I believe, to a soundtrack by Stanley Clarke. That show had pep in spades. This one was different. Chiuri and Piccioli dispensed with red in exchange for navy until very late in the show. It was a rich dark statement that had more bite than the clothes.
Borgia Priestess
(lovely)Couture Hair shirt
This collection opened with Sinners. A group of scantily-clad models came out in black chiffon layers with artfully placed silk charmeuse patches over breasts and nether regions. The work was beautifully executed but strange in its extreme peek-a-boo-ness. It felt forced and oddly at odds with the house's DNA; kind of like a case of mutated and/or missing chromosomes. That schism was quickly followed by a bevy of Nuns. Actually, I found these dresses and gowns the most pure and satisfying of all. Just clean, clear, elegantly spare columns in dark navy, mostly, with simple necklines and long sleeves. Jumpsuits were introduced into the conversation giving the proceedings a retro 70's vibe. They spare gowns in crepe and charmeuse were impressive in that there's no place to hide a lack of technique with overbearing layers of ruffles or truckloads of crystals. Their timelessness was appropriate when you think of couture as treasure for the ages.

The Sacrifice

The Tree of Life
Then came Halstonettes that were simply confusing. Cheesy beaded cardigans over beaded jumpsuits and charmeuse numbers. They were sort of the Ghosts of Good Girls Gone Bad. It was the brocades in stiff, unrepentant radzimir, I think, that was totally ecclesiastical. In hard as nails capes and severe little cocktail dresses they marched down that plank. Though the motifs were vegetation and exotic fruits, they felt like costumes for a Borgia. They were the couture equivalent of hair shirts. The music was curious in that it starts with strings ascending and never resolving  forbodingly then shifting to Brahms giving the whole affair a self consciousness that you could cut with a hacksaw. A tiny window of hope emerged with a few exquisite pieces that displayed a motif of the Tree of Life; first in a rich embroidery on a cape and then in soft hand painted pastels on chiffon. Those exits were heaven sent. Chiffon confections with miles and miles of ruffles rounded out the show in typical Valentino Garavani style, blood red in meters and meters of plisse chiffon. Some other looks in re-embroidered lace cut as jumpsuits with a soupcon of sable trim at the neck were symbolic of the religious zealot, the Holy Wino. The last dress in the collection in rich navy with a cut out pattern down the front and back I'd have to call the Sacrifice....

Overall, the service felt very labored, long, and without much charm, insouciance or wit. Ultimately, it was just another day at Mass.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Ulyana Sergeenko: Another face in the crowd

The Russians are coming. The Russians are coming. Actually, they're here, there and everywhere. That includes couture salons  the couture runway. Ulyana Sergeenko is the newest addition to the lineup with her first presentation in Paris a short time ago. I've been seeing her more and more in the press as an avid client of several couture houses and had heard she dabbled a bit with scissors and thread. Not until yesterday did I realize she'd gone and put on a show (thanks to my eagle-eyed friends Spirou and Anya, who are all seeing, all hearing and all knowing!!!). Not wanting to remain in the dark too long, I dashed to YouTube and took a peek. My bestest, BFF Jolain of Style Illustrated has a rule of thumb when perusing collections: if it doesn't grab you by the short hairs in the first 5-10 exits, well then, that's your cue to exit. I broke that rule with this collection. It didn't grab me in the first 20 exits, but I hung on out of a perverse curiosity to see just what was coming down that runway next. After 32 exits it finally ran out of gas. That's being kind. It ran out of gas after the first 5 or so, but after that I stopped counting.

It's always interesting when you see designers, I use that term loosely, tackle this complex job when their roots are more solidly planted in the retail world. What I mean by that, are designers who are really world class shoppers, not creators. Think Vera Wang, for instance. Ulyana Sergeenko strikes me the same way. Unlike Wang who copies much of what fills her closets, Ulyana seems to draw a blank when it comes to design. Her vast couture wardrobe fails to register when she's hard at work in the studio. Instead her inspiration comes from that fertile ground where she roamed as a child. There's an overarching Dacha vibe complete with peasants, the military, rebellious teens on a barren plain and the maids who did the sewing and cleaning. How else can one explain her eccentric take on fashion design?

 She opened with quilted skirts like the comforter I used to sleep under by night (as a kid) and wrapped around my waist as a gown during the day. I'd go up and down the stairs holding it like a deb at his first cotillion and then sitting on the sofa spreading it out around me like the Queen sitting for her official portrait, but I digress.... Add to that a blouse with mutton chop sleeves. There were printed long dirndls in sobering oxblood with gold dots and a criss-crossing ribbon harness. Another had a faux apron in applique lace panels off the sides. The barren wintry plain was referenced in snow bunny knit sweaters, pouty little bloomers, down mittens and a fur hat shaped like a crash helmet. There was a homespun feel to some of the looks in fuzzy angora sweaters and long full skirts that said neither this or that. The sable trimmed Military coat that fell to the floor was sobering in it's dark grey color with a red skull cap atop the model's head. She liberally sprinkled military issue medals on blouses, and coats alike. The towering Drum Majorette hat crowning a sheer chiffon tee shirt and velvet booty bloomers was pretty much the last word. Not to be a total Debbie Downer, there were a few looks that were amusing and creative. A long fitted coat had sable pelts falling from the waist to the floor which had a little something. A black lace gown was particularly pretty at the bodice and the looks that were pure sportswear looked smart and relaxed in a serious sort of way.

So, with that said, I'll say no more about it. Take a look and see what you think. If you can't make it and have buckets of rubles, then just buy it....

Sunday, July 15, 2012

That's what I'm talkin' about...

I feel kind of guilty not having said more about the couture and maybe I'll get back to it. I'm sitting up in bed with the AC blasting wondering why I didn't get out of town and head for the beach. The weather here is stultifying and the news is even more so. One thing I look forward to on a Sunday is the New York Times. That little diversion has been a let down for months. Is it just me or do you all find it filled with bad news and the Style section devoid of any news at all? For the life of me I can't follow the little that I read. When Eric Wilson writes or Guy Trebay for that matter, there are things to consider and things to learn. Ruth Laferla has amusing stories that skip along the surface of many odd subjects like a stone whizzing across a sill pond. But when Cathy Horyn gets into it I am almost always backtracking to find the subject, the verb and the predicate of the story. I swear I just can't make out what's being said. The word oblique comes to mind. In the end I just feel hopelessly thick and out of the loop. So I have to rely on my own sketchy powers of deduction to get to the heart of so many non stories.
An interesting turn of events this week is the purchase of Valentino by the Qatar royal family. I would imagine it is the Qatar Luxury Group headed by Sheikha Moza that orchestrated the sale. This fascinates me on two levels. First, who knew the house was on the selling block? Sheltered, uninformed me certainly didn't. Also, what is going on with the design house that QLG has been busy birthing for the past year and a half with Stephane Roland at the helm? Where is that breakthrough collection and why haven't we seen or heard a word, with the exception of the few of us who've been fortunate to spend a few moments in that desert paradise. I guess its easier to buy than to build, even if you have billions to use as seed money. I made 4 collections a year for almost 30 years without a dime to spare.... Whatever.
Thanks to my extremely well informed readers I got news that John Galliano may be the choice of Diego della Valle to design the revivified house of Shiaparelli. Like most of you, I saw the images of Galliano and Madame Wintour supping at L'Espadon but didn't do the math. I just figured 1+0=1. Who knew that equation could equal a total eclipse of the runway? I have to say that the possibility of such a match will make the boredom we've been suffering just a little less boring. Shiap used to give Chanel a run for her money back in the days of War. Dior turned the tide on both those warring women. With a fast forward to today, I daresay Galliano could give them all a run for their billions. I'm a sucker for blood sport. This is not to overlook Galliano's sullied past/present, but the fashion world has no memory worth speaking of, so why not let the games begin, again. Stripping him of his Dior employee ID, taking away his own label, doing soft time in a white-collar rehab facility and designing Kate Moss' wedding dress is perhaps punishment enough. If nothing else it will put the new, new Dior in a bit more realistic context.
The couture as a whole was pretty dull. Giambatista Valli starts to look a little over cooked. Bouchra Jarrar should stick to the Pret a Porter schedule, Valentino should reconsider a lot of what they're about, Lagerfeld might try showing and not so much telling, Gaultier might just take a breather from his nostalgia trip, Elie Saab would be wise to simply restage last spring's Pret again, and again, Givenchy should try to talk Hubert into consulting for the house and Alaia should join the line up and stop being so obstinate. Hedi Slimane and YSL are a tantalizing question...
Time for another shower and a fresh bowl of ice cold milk. Thank god I don't have hair!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Chanel Resort 2013: Let them eat Suzie Q's.

Rare is the season when I don't find myself prostrated at the spectator shod feet of the house of Chanel, moaning, "I'm not worthy...I'm not worthy". I admit I can be starstruck and have been by the machinations of Graf Karl von und zu Lagerfeld for many many years. He is undeniably one of the most prolific and creative design minds in this universe and the parallel one inhabited by a jaundiced few (too many). Like everything in life, the good stuff comes and goes. His Byzantium collection inspired by the Empress Theodora was pretty special. So was the last couture collection that took us to Atlantis. Even the gigantic garden party that conjured images of Last Year at Marienbad left me  stupefied, flattened and crawling on the floor.

Resort didn't have the same effect. I want to pop this in before pouncing on his Fall 2012 couture collection simply because this looked like such an obvious aberration. I keep going back to his diatribes regarding modernism, the future, "yes", the past be damned. Sentimentality is an emotion and word that has no place or meaning in his world. Still, we get subtle glimpses of that chink in his armor with clothes that made up the resort collection. Granted they were to a degree site specific. Versailles is not the setting for booty shorts and tube tops. Neither is it the best spot for get ups that looked like the work of an army of Chanel interns...perhaps it was Choupette's maiden voyage. This Chanel girl is a high top wearing, multi-colored bobbed wig tossing, quilted leather-clad water can swinging, saddle bag adorned bathing suit posing, shear, lattice and floral embroidery covered house dress donning, ruffled pantelette baring, been there done that tweed suit parading, bicep curling, sleeveless denim d'Hameau gold braid trimmed pedal pusher strutting, hyperbole spouting kid. The moments are too few leaving us with a pastiche of what Chanel can mean. It has meant many things but very rarely does it mean banality.

So you win some, you lose some. Ines de la Fressange put it diplomatically when congratulating Lagerfeld at the end..." Oh Karl, you have so many ideas"(air kiss, air kiss, air kiss). Could that be a nice way of saying "Meh"?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Dior Fall couture 2012: The Situation...

Well the day came and the day went. Raf Simons gave Christian Dior his own personal imprint and it was a light touch at that. If not for the floor to ceiling walls of blooms, those 5 salons would have been as deathly quiet as a street in Juarrez after a drive-by shooting. Just looking at the faces in the front row, all five of the front rows, with Marc and Anna and Grace and Glenda and Azzedine and Alber and, well, just about everyone that matters in fashion, there wasn't an expression of delight or even interest after the first 10 exits came and exited. It was clear from the beginning with the exception of a sexy little peplumed bustier in black over matching ciggies that in his haste to leave Jil Sander, Simons forgot to grab his imagination. There was more life in one pair of the shoes he did for his last Sander collection than in the whole of this dreary march to nowhere. The same 4 themes repeated themselves over and over. There was the ubiquitous Bar jacket with exaggerated round hips, the bustier with frothy, "COUTURE-SHAPED" abbreviated skirt over slim black ciggies, a coat dress with a bustier or peaked-lapels, with or without sleeves, and a full skirted bustier dress in cloth or fur. Mix into that heady group some archival embroideries on the backs of dresses with another current iteration in another color running down the front and you have a couture collection that someone said, "....changed the landscape of Haute Couture forever". Mmm...I'm not so sure about that, but then again...amazing is the new meh.

I awaited this show as much as many of you. My curiosity was spurred not so much by Raf Simons as by the fashion world's hunger and conviction that this would be the game changing marriage of the  century. I had my doubts especially considering the fact that Anna Wintour and other confused hacks were so convinced. I will say that these things take time and one couture show doesn't make one god or the devil. I am surprised that there wasn't more life and creativity in the collection. In 55 looks there was ample opportunity to lay out a road map for what the future might hold. Looking back at the Fall 2012 presentation Simons made for Jil Sander, it was rife with ideas, dreamy colo, a nod to the golden age of fashion with a steely eye on its future. There were so many things that one could imagine seeing, wearing and having. That did not happen today at Dior. The looks of boredom and disappointment in the audience made me uncomfortable. What's more, I can promise that everyone will rally around the bonfire and say how amazing it all is. The furs were a big red flag. The first black Broadtail coat was beautiful. Even the dyed navy blue bustier in Broadtail was working, but that was the end of that riff. The white peplum strapless over skinny pants that were on the chubby side of skinny fell flat. The fit of the top of the ensemble was droopy and buckling. The same could be said for several other exits. All of those furs looked like a stilted vision of luxury.

Fit, which is a hallmark of the couture ateliers at Dior, was uneven. A few of the long gored skirts in faille had a rippling surface that did not look intentional. Pairing that with sheer stretch tulle long sleeved tee shirts was off putting. If you look closely at the ensembles you can see what I mean. I wasn't fishing for this, it stared right off the screen at me. There was a grey wool wrapped coat that looked like a mistake. It was poorly conceived and made badly. The attention to the bust on many of the looks with little tucks and inset cups like wall sconces drew attention to itself in a jarring way. The girls looked like little girls in need of some padding. The digital prints of tie dye on a few dresses, a gown and coat were great looking but didn't seem to have a place in the larger scheme of the collection. All in all, it looked like very serious sportswear. It was not what one would expect of the Couture. Maybe that will come in time, we'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, I'm wondering if there was a rush to marry the two entities; a shotgun wedding of sorts. If so, maybe the house should re-think this step and Raf Simons should re-think what he really wants to do. This feels like a no -win situation.