Monday, September 30, 2013

Saint Laurent Spring2014: P minus

In case you're wondering what P minus stands for, it is a grade that was used in my Junior High school. It stands for Passing but below grade level. It's better than an F but not quite a D and certainly a long way from a C. I got that grade once. It was for shop class or something along those lines. Put simply, I wasn't that great working with wood and Hedi Slimane to my eye isn't so great at working with cloth. But in all fairness this collection was an improvement on the last.

There were a proliferation of dresses that were in stark contrast to the little Home Ec confections of the last season. He made huge leaps from the spangled Baby Doll dresses. There were many cocktails with a twist here and a pouf shoulder there. But just when you started to warm to these looks out came the scissor and there went the skirts. Everything was chopped well above the knee. When the skirts traveled south of the mid thigh they were cut at severe angles that brought to mind the sorts of looks one finds in design school. 

The opening look of a paillette covered little shift with a broad shoulder and slim skirt looked promising and then the next look appears in a wrap dress covered in a print of red lips. Saint Laurent doesn't need a dose of DVF no matter how dire the future looks. There was a little black strapless number that looked so sexy. There were several draped and swinging skirted cocktail dresses that had some kick. It just didn't feel like he really cared.

The suits which are his strength looked good if not very much the same as the first and second collections. The suits in leather and black wool, Smokings from here to next Tuesday, felt like they had a pulse. Smart tailored jackets and slim trousers got the "Oo la la" treatment with sheer chiffon blouses that are sure to be hits at retail. When in doubt, give them some T***. I loved the Prince of Wales suit simply for its simplicity. That purity of purpose was in short supply elsewhere. Mad mixes of a leather jacket (smart) over a striped sequined top in pink and black (cute) with a leopard printed skirt (umm) added up to a stylist's free (heavy) hand. This formula of 'some of this and that' occurred again and again but with the same result: flat and forced.

With evening there were some hot little dresses buried under jackets which left them a mystery. The styling of sparkling anklets stuffed into forgettable shoes was jarring. Chic is demode in his eyes. The paillette covered one shoulder black gown looked awkward as did many of the looks near the end. The suits buoyed what was to a large degree a listing raft. There was a little black strapless number that looked very sexy. There were several draped and swinging skirted cocktail dresses that had some kick. It just didn't feel like he really cared.

Still, I have to say it was an improvement but not what one might expect from such an important house. Maybe LA is just a bit too far from the epicenter of fashion. Hollywood Boulevard is maybe too far from Avenue Marceau. Too much gets lost in translation. Perhaps in the shops it will look better when you can see the clothes without the annoying styling. Quality doesn't appear to be in doubt only the paltry quantity of things to make one want to spend the big bucks.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Dior vs. Balenciaga : Spring 2014

Looking at 2 legendary houses whose creators helped to change the face of fashion and in doing so changed the way people dressed, moved and acted. You could characterize one as the ultimate romantic (Dior) and the other the ultimate intellectual. One's passion flowed from his heart and the other from his head. Still they both reached a similar point. Both were all about shape, volume, architecture.

With the passing of these giants, their successors have an enormous  responsibility to, in some fundamental way, honor the house's traditions while advancing the conversation. It can be argued that Nicholas Ghesquierre did just that as did John Galliano at Dior. I, for one am in agreement on Galliano's tenure, despite his untimely dismissal. Not so with Ghesquierre. His aesthetic I always found too hard, flat and forced. He is for me a stylist with a range that is neither very broad or deep, for that matter. All bark and no bite. Galliano on the other hand was a mad scientist; a theorist, brilliant storyteller, magician and above all a designer with more than  100 tricks up his sleeve, which brings us to this moment. Raf Simons is now at the helm of Dior and Alexander Wang is driving Balenciaga.

shoeHonestly, I had little faith that either would add much to their new gigs but in one instance I was wrong. Alexander Wang appears surprisingly adept at steering that bus. I'd go even farther and say that he's quickly transforming it into a sleek sports car with 4 on the floor and a convertible top. If his first collection was rather tentative and safe honoring the master with a collection that tread the shoals with many shapes and references to the past. This spring is another matter.
With the opening exits he looked very assured with suits of woven braided leather sculpting short jackets with round shoulders and flared short skirts that never lost their sharp clean line. Added to that, leather pieces that came after, laser cut, buttery and substantial in subtle colors he seemed to be saying that he was clearly up to the challenge. There were some snoozey sections that if anything were a bit too contrived and stiff.

 Then Wang woke up and sent out a series of beautifully tailored jackets in white with precise tailoring and a row of delicate buttons. All of this was paired with a film of chiffon that floated over them like a mist. They were simple and superb. So many of the shapes had great flyaway backs that kept your interest coming and going. The more artful evening pieces with stark corsets anchoring draped and tucked silk cloque' with blown out short skirts banded with what looked like wide satin ribbon. They were new, sophisticated and beyond what one would expect from such a young and relatively inexperienced designer like Wang. Let's be real here. The street rarely gives way to the boulevard without a slew of pot holes and construction cones along the way. In short, he was full of surprises and almost all of them welcome.


The Dior show was a very different affair. One would come to expect greater things from a designer like Simons who has had years of experience at Jil Sander as well as designing his own collection. The set was yet again a cavern of abundant flowers both real and fake creating a space that looked claustrophobic. Like his debut collection I couldn't help feeling that the set was a foil for the clothes. Unintentionally or not he seemed to fall back on the same formula of presentation. You could squint and imagine you're cruising on a chic glossy surfaced superhighway with lush rolling hills covered in all manner of flowers real and imagined. So fast and so intense is the passing landscape until the camera pulls back and you realize the only thing moving is the backdrop. The actual vehicle you're supposed to be in is just a side window a partial hood and no seats at all.

This time the clothes were more adventuresome with jackets, the strongest statement throughout the collection, paired with all manner of skirts pleated and printed. There were beautifully cut coats with oblique shapes and eliminated details like closures and collars, pockets, etc. Underneath were stretch tanks with asymmetric cut out in back and askew cut necklines front and back giving the combination of coat and top or jacket and top a dynamic game of hide and seek. It was a chic game of graphics catch with beautiful saturated colors given to each player. It reminded me of how seductive Galliano's haute sportswear for the house had been in the past. Talk about a frisson. Then the heavy hand of self consciousness creeped from behind the bushes and sent it all to... well, off the highway and onto the shoulder.

Printed and pleated floral dresses with black bands circling the busts, wrapping around the high hip (to show a division, some clever redefining of proportions) with word embroidered bands of cloth saying things like"Whisper" and "Primrose Path"the pleats were arrested and so was our imagination just as it was about to be set free. This annoying trend of words printed on clothes and dangling from necklaces and plastered on bags is less than imaginative. It does for me the exact opposite. It forces the issue making you react and respond in ways that is as stage directed as the clothes. I can't imagine a woman with personal style wanting to walk into a room like a bit of graffiti, essentially a sandwich board advertisement for designer's stalled agenda.

Once the audience was passed that detour the show with a dizzying number of exits (70+) continued with more and more variations on shapes that either Dior or Simons had introduced previously but in those all important "new fabrics" that the press craves. I don't think the consumer really gives a shit about new fabrics. She just craves new and beautiful ideas. When the ideas are rehashed but worded in a way that is over the heads of the most curious of consumers and then re-interpreted by editors imposing all sorts of cultural, political and implausible meanings to the dress, jacket, bag or skirt we all end up in a crowded ditch.

 Seriously, most designers just want to design something that for them is beautiful. Beautiful means different things to different people. But statements about the human condition, the bashing of tropes, the annihilation of notions and the Nobel prize for most humanitarian IT bag, are not really thoughts swimming in the heads of most designers. Its more like, who will come to the show? Can I get so and so for my front row? Will Anna let me close enough to kiss her ass? Can we get Karlie to open and close? Do these short shorts make my ass look big? You, know, stuff like that. Oh, and if we send this fur to Mrs. Roitfeld will she keep it, maybe even wear it? You know, shit like that. Still there was a dress in multi-colored stripes that was great. In fact there were 2 of them back to back that looked fresh ans sexy and unforced. A few of the Diorisms in stiff metallic silk with fitted bodices and dropped waists exploding below with skirts held aloft by means of some serious underpinnings. I loved these dresses though like Oscar de la Ho Hum they have become to look like a recipe and not a bold new nibblet.

So in the final analysis, when you look at these 2 shows your conclusions be counter to mine. Fine. But you also may see that Balenciaga has a powerful punch. Great clothes with real style and an elegant aspect that will make some women and others swoon. Dior, in contrast, is a whole lot of synthetic noise with little bite, just a cloyingly artificial aftertaste.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Agony and the Irony... Rick Owens Spring2014 and other things.

Someone stopped me at the gym the other day and asked why I wasn't at the collections in Paris. It surprised me and then I felt flattered that he thought I should be there. Actually, I think I should be too. Maybe some day if I don't completely lose interest in fashion and where it's going.

I fully intend to be front and center when Ralph Rucci shows his first haute collection there next season.He's been off that particular map for the past several years and it's high time he was back playing with the big girls, showing the world what the couture can look like for today and tomorrow. That's an event I don't plan to miss.

Watching on line and reading what the "media elites" (there's a latent tea bagger in all of us) have to say is one way but not the best way. Up close and personal is preferable even when what's up close is less than exciting, interesting or even relevant. Still you have the total experience and can draw your own conclusions. It's ideal to be in the midst of the action feeling the excitement, soaking up the mood with the help of a set, if there is one, the music and the movement of the models in the clothes that hopefully move as well.

So much of New York was stiff, dull and irrelevant. Clothes that are made to play to only part of the front row, the editorial section, not the retail section which increasingly thinks of itself more and more in the club of the editors, are devoid of a message. The designers who've fallen prey to this malady are steadily killing a business that was at one time compelling and provocative causing people to think and dream.  There are legions in fact but to name them all would take up too much space. It's agonizing. And then the press takes it a step further by encouraging this mediocrity and punishing it at the same time. Talk about circling the drain of a clogged sink.

Diversity or the lack, thereof, is on the minds of a few and surely there are some out there counting how many models of color are walking the most influential shows like a pea counter with a clicker at the gate. Rick Owens added to that total with a show that almost exploited the situation. With a group of four separate "stepping" sororities from here, he staged a show that was almost all black with not a model in sight, choreographed and performed by real women with an accent on "real". Strong, muscular, aggressive, scowling, full figured young black and white women "stepping" like an army of warriors marched onto the runway invading and storming the gates of the complacent world of the international fashion cognoscenti. I could just imagine them leaning back in their chairs, all clenched jaws and tight smiles looking at each other silently asking what the hell is going on? Then being swept up in the energy and otherness of it all with phone cams flashing like kids at the zoo.

Strangely, Rick Owens' clothes were pretty fantastic looking on these women. Great sportswear shapes on top and bottom with the line and technique normally associated with more haute fare. The drape of tunics over shorts, the cutest short jumpsuit in leathers, suede and cloth looked like something everybody would look great in... male or female. Whether clean lined planes or draped, wrapped and twisted the clothes have a beauty and "realness" that is missing most everywhere else. What's more, I couldn't help but think that if the clothes looked this good on these girls imagine how good they'll look on figures with fewer curves.

My first impression (pics/review in the Times) was not positive. The review was just short of patronizing. Then I went to YouTube and watched the video. It was rough, hard, harsh, strangely beautiful and exciting. Kind of like what
fashion should be. Did Owens take advantage of the diversity issue by tossing a bomb in the marketplace? Perhaps it was an Owens/Adidas ploy to play the race card considering his ever growing sneaker empire, or just a clever move by a talented iconoclast? Whatever it was, it made a huge statement. It was irony at its most effective. It's the stories behind the screen that can't be shared (discretion) that explain the why and the how. In the end it's the presentation that counts most. When you get something like this you forget how agonizing the journey can be. The sun peeks out and you feel good inside.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Thom Browne Spring2014: Time for your Meds, Ladies...

It seems fitting to be siting in a "cafe" here in Amsterdam writing about a few collections I looked at before catching my flight. The one that seems most appropriate to consider in this den of iniquity is Thom Browne. Reading some choice assessments in a number of press outlets commented that it ran the gamut from A to B. One that particularly caught me eye was from the New York Times saying something to the affect that it was deeply felt and compassionate towards women.Granted,that's loosely stated but the word "compassionate" really astounded. Still there were others who loved it for its forward thinking and Browne's fearlessness in a system of the safe and the same. These clothes brought to mind an asylum filled with inmates dressed in get ups that were nothing more than riffs on the work of deceased or disgraced designers:designers like Galliano, McQueen.Their clothes moved, transporting you to worlds of fantasy,forever changing your way of looking at fashion. Even the most avantgarde, romantic and fantastical came from a place of passion and conviction. Thom Browne's vision lacks both unless you one equates his dogged attempts at profundity and cleverness as passion and his unrelenting repetition of the unwearable as conviction.

Looking at Thom Browne's collection was not at all the same experience as a McQueen or Galliano collection. technique was no more evident than fresh ideas of shape or context. Other than an obvious effort and plenty of creative energy his woman looked little more than a costumed Miss Havisham attempting to overcome her agoraphobia. This woman with her bird's nest hair and slathered, smeared scarlet lips is little more than a costumed actress in a make believe locked ward. The tortured fabric with decoupaged lace swatches that look glued in place like a child's arts and crafts project are all affixed to a rotating silhouette of long sleeved, arched shouldered dresses and suits that hobble the model impeding movement.

High waisted hourglass shapes recalling a looser, modern Victorian period with bonded lace sleeveless "coats" over knife pleated organza skirts with blouses, rice powdered faces, black-lensed white spectacles and the de-rigeur snood all made for a silly picture of a confused inmate. Perhaps its all the attention Dior is getting with their rehash and re-do of the now banal Bar jacket, that Mr. Browne feels compelled to shape the hips of jackets and skirts, cutting them on the round as some who know a thing or two about "couture shapes",which makes this such a tiresome exercise.

The front end of the collection is heavily weighted in white lace on white organza with pearl buttons and bug net snoods. When he shifts gears to the bonded white plaid matellasse with china blue pattern and layered laytex, the clothes take on a clinical aspect not too unlike blow-up dolls that satify hje fetishes of a select few. Maybe that's what the NY Times meant by "compassionate". Crackled black/white jackets that looked too much like Wang's Balenciaga but tarted up in an Elizabethan way were just more ho to his hum.

 I have to say some of the dresses and jackets were feats of construction but to what end? The most intriguing aspect of the show was the crazed banshee models with their teased hair and red smeared mouths.The bags held by the models by one handle and spilling open at a dangerous angle was a clever, humorous touch. The same could be said for the rigor mortis strands of pearls around the necks of the ladies. Mostly,I love a locked ward scenario especially when it's peopled by the unholy offspring of Baby Jane Hudson.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Ralph Rucci Spring2014: Second Nature

When one looks at a collection by Ralph Rucci it's absolutely essential to clear your mind of the mindless chatter that surrounds almost every other show that's staged here in New York. In his deceptively simple venue with a beige lacquered runway, scores of clear acrylic chairs with blackened risers ascending from the sides, one knows almost immediately that something unfathomable is about to occur. There's an excitement in the air and an almost palpable feeling of agitation through the audience for the show to begin. It's like a rare dish is about to be served to a mass of starved devotees and everyone can barely sit still to receive it. This is the rare show where the photographers attempting to shoot the high voltage faces come up empty as everyone is too keyed up to have the patience to endure the flash of the bulb or the inanity of the press' questions. This audience is here for an experience. They are here to be transported. We've all come to see a fashion that is in every sense new. My determination to see this event was so great that I got pulled over approaching the midtown tunnel for speeding 25 miles over the limit. All I could think to say to the Officer was to please hurry I had a very important show I could NOT miss. (he took his sweet time and I ended changing in the car)

From the first exit Ralph Rucci set a tone that he sustained without the slightest deviation. Calm, almost meditative clothes poured out before us like wine into a proffered glass. White Python jackets, skirts and a slip dress with bands of snake attached in curvilinear rows. No straight lines, these. Fluid, stark jacket shapes with zippered seamed backs revealed the body beneath. Silk jersey in colors of black, bronze and white with a modicum of detail. Ralph's signature seaming, tendrils of rope dangling from the sides and skirts that fell to points at the sides with sheer chiffon echoing the shape fell from beneath. No tricks, a restraint that was as surprising as it was refreshing gave each look the effect of being so wearable, so essential in its detail and cut and ultimately recognizable as purely his own. Black double face wool dresses cut like shirtwaists were broken in tiny vertical lines of tulle making each plane appear to float on the body. This technique of suspension is one he's developed and refined again and again, only now he displays this difficult technique as though it's an organic process and no longer a flex of bravura technical skill. A jacket in tan double face wool started as a near solid form in front only to break into islands of shapes across the back held in place by the most delicate tulle. The clothes looked organic, unstudied, and far less manipulated than in the past, as though he has found an inner satisfaction without the need to show all of his abundant imagination and skill.

There was one wonder of creativity after the other as the models progressed at rapid fire pace. The ideas were hitting you so hard one didn't know where to focus. The backs of things were as enigmatic as the fronts leaving one to follow their approach and departure like spectators at a finals tennis match. Evening was just as effortless as day only with more intricate workmanship, fantastic brush stroke printed organza tunics, blouses and long dresses and a flock of feathered pieces in white like the most exquisite birds. The beading that struck me the most, and there were many of them and each more unusual and abstract than the one before, but the most beautiful one was a simple column in black with a modified apron covered in black micro bugle beads running horizontally across it, which looked like a surface of liquid. The gown was dramatic, spare, commanding and utterly guileless.

The accessories that Ralph included with the presentation were a group of crocodile bags, totes and black baguettes that oozed sophistication and simplicity. The shapes were so assured and the colors as haunting as the many shades he employed in his clothes. Everything was a mid range tone giving the  greens, bronze, nude, chalk, and coral the look of never before seen shades. Even his black and the white of his python pieces looked like colors he mixed himself. The crystal rings that adorned every finger tip of each model was the ultimate in sophistication and chic. Such a small detail made everything so much more attenuated and alluring. In short, Ralph Rucci's work and process has for him become second nature. The flood of ideas from his fertile imagination seem to flow with little effort. These are clothes every woman in the audience could imagine wearing. Every woman from the youngest to the oldest were riveted to the runway with a look of desire, wonder and a barely disguised craving. When all was said and done, Ralph Rucci appeared from the wings, cool calm and contented. This collection was clearly a reflection of the joy and peace of mind of a true master at the very apex of his career. It was an honor to sit in that audience and behold.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Alexander Wang Spring 2014: Jet Lag

Alexander Wang has been on a roll as of late. Not only has he lifted his collection to the level that it has taken over the conversation that has been strictly about Proenza Schouler, Altuzzara and Prabal Gurung. There is a singular message there that is at once original, youthful and knowing. His clothes are what women young and not so young actually wear. They spend the money and go out in it. I've even lingered at the racks in Scoop and thought that this looks good and so does that only to discover it was his work I was considering.

Then Balenciaga came along and I thought that there was no way he could add anything of substance to that chit chat. And then he did. I never felt it for Nicolas and shed not one tear when he left. But Alexander's Balenciaga has something I never expected. He's begun to absorb the language of the master and to filter it through his ripe imagination. His Balenciaga is sexy with just enough archness to make you stop and look, even think. He makes me excited to see what's coming next.

This season, back in NYC there was an absence of energy. It felt as though he left his mojo in the hotel in Paris. There was little cleverness in evidence beyond a handful of mischievous denim jackets and skirts at the very end of the collection. Exactly 32 exits into the show, the first truly interesting look appeared. It was followed by some great perforated and woven leather pieces. Still it was too little too late. The fetish pleated skirts with stiff tops that opened the show were rote naughtiness.

Lackluster. This is what I fear for all the burgeoning talent coming up; too much will be asked of them too soon. They may be willing, but ready and able is another thing altogether.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Jason Wu Spring 2014: A Dialogue between Construction and Ease....

I know. Believe me, I know. What does that pretentious liner note have to do with Jason Wu's collection? How can this be considered a conversation when neither construction or ease had anything to talk about except for maybe that the conversation overheard in the background was Jason talking to himself? Personally, he had me at the first glance of his runway adorned with the sexiest lighting fixtures passing as sculpture. (Spoiler alert: When the runway/set looks too good it's usually a distraction from a show that needs all the help it can get.) Those gleaming sleek chrome rods criss-crossing and intersecting each other created an elegant obstacle course on a floor of polished metal. I wanted each and every one of those fixtures. They said, "Modernist constructs piercing the notion of form by way of beams of light bouncing off of the infinite." I swear that's what I heard. That's what they whispered with sexy abandon. This was a new language. This was poetry, and then the first look came out.

The materials were interesting as were some of the ideas. But they said nothing more than this is a designer hyped to the stratosphere with so so technique, a million ideas all coming from his betters and a look that is as focused and consistent as a schizophrenic. If Karlie Kloss can't breathe life into a dress, no matter how banal,

and come off looking like a wet bird, magic is not happening.

The slink in his slinky is devoid of sex appeal, like a french kiss minus the tongue. His tailoring says nothing new. Only that it is acceptable from a distance but not interesting enough to wear. Certainly not enough to hint at style. A fashion for the moment, but not one to stand the test of time or scrutiny. 2 gowns on the First Lady, still does not a designer make. I watched and waited to be grabbed, shaken and stirred. A few gowns near the end cut on the bias had a growl to them. In the spirit of fairness there was one draped organza dress that was beautiful. But most of the time, he'd begin to whisper sweet nothings and then deliver exactly that; nothing.

Well maybe next time. Or the time after that. Or.......

Does this make my ass look big?

Who out there besides me thinks Jenna Lyons of J.Crew fame looks kind of stupid? For that matter, what about Michael Kors and Reed Krakoff? Come to think of it, what about Vera Wang? Why is it designers feel the need to make up a cartoon image of themselves and then stick to it forever? What happened to looking your best? Isn't fashion about looking good? Even though Alber Elbaz is full figured, why does he make himself out to look like the moribund clown in Leoncavallo's opera, Pagliacci?

Of course, these are questions that will never be answered. But if you look at photographs of Mademoiselle Chanel, Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, even man-tanned Valentino, they all looked elegant in their own inimitable way. Exaggeration and silly props were not necessary.
Lagerfeld was perhaps the first to pervert the image of the designer followed closely by Claude Montana, he of the tight, basket revealing jeans, high heeled cowboy boots and a heavy handed application of base make-up, lip gloss and the mascara brush.

Still, that playfulness had its place back in the rocking 70's and early 80's. Now it's just a tired retread on what should be a new-ish wheel. Perhaps Anna Wintour is the only person capable of working a pair of shades without looking silly. I would venture to say that all the others and that includes Vera Wang, who might consider putting down her cocktail long enough to eat some solid food, look like big butts in poorly cut Jeggings.

But maybe that's just me. I'm only a cat who has chosen to dispense with fur. That's my attempt at political correctness.

Now back to the shows. I promise.