Friday, July 25, 2014

Haute Couture Fall2014: The Valentino Method !!!

All this talk about the past vs. the present, the old world vs. the new, Couture that addresses the now is what many espouse and precious few deliver. One could argue that new is the new old, but honestly it isn't. There's old and new but the bulk of what constitutes the new is only a gaping grey area, a mountain of scraps of this and that in a dull mix filling slop buckets to overflowing. The same slop bucket is what feeds most of our authorities on the subject.

At a discussion the other night after a screening of the Diana Vreeland film, "The Eye has to travel" by Lisa Imordino Vreeland, China Machado a famous model who worked with Balenciaga and then Givenchy was asked by a person in the audience if there exists an editor in chief of any major fashion magazine who has a vision that approaches that of Mrs.Vreeland. Unequivocally, China all but shouted, "NO". There's no room now for that when all that matters is the bottom line. "MONEY has killed what once was", she lamented to an audience that sat silently.

So what does it take to cut through the fetid cloud of mediocrity? As much as vision is of the utmost importance, it's a commitment to a path that moves ever forward that is the soul of the new. I'll go a step further and say that the designer who looks inward has a gravitas that the others who play to the crowd don't. Code fixated designers choking on a house's DNA have little room to move. Exceptions exist and that would be Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaulo Piccioli of Valentino.

From almost the beginning, there's has been a contribution that is at once true to the grandeur of Valentino but goes steadily forward. The glamour associated with Valentino Garavanni's lexicon of exquisite luxury is the backbone that informs the new team. The techniques of the atelier at the fabled house remain in practice but turned to address a new aesthetic, one that is based in the now. Evening dresses and cocktail dresses are possessed of the same integrity and impeccable workmanship but distilled in a way that applies to women today, the working, the pampered and the young and old.

Whether its tailored jackets, suits, coats or draped dresses in chiffon, jersey, etc. the skill is apparent. Even in the sportswear looks, they too are imbued with couture technique of the highest order. The breadth of the collection is another difference from many other Haute Couture collections.

Whether bold graphics, completely new ways of handling lace, embroideries that suggest an odd romanticism vs. conventional sap add evermore mystery. Color is another element in the mix that arrests the eye. Combinations of color, often muted creates a mood, a feeling that touches the wearer and viewer in much the same way. It's an effect that draws one in, making one hungry to see more. Shapes are so varied that most women are included with a symphony of ideas, not 1 or 2 notes only. This is not Chopsticks but a Rachmaninoff piano concerto with full orchestra.

What speaks loudest is the fearlessness with which they work. Perhaps there's strength in numbers but I would hazard that their partnership is based on mutual respect and admiration. Even better, Valentino and Giancarlo Giametti applaud louder than the audience embracing the duo at each shows end. Where do you see that? At YSL? No. Rather than break it down exit by exit I wanted to speak more to the heartbeat of the house. The collection speaks for itself.

Now is no time to look back, whether longingly or literally. The world is reminding us of that ugly fact minute by minute. The mission we all face in all aspects of life is to move ahead. Mrs. Vreeland said, "Don't give them what they want (or what they abhor) but what they didn't even know they wanted"! There's only one way to do that. IMAGINATION. INTEGRITY. HONESTY... and WORK.
graphics courtesy of Garnet Spagrud

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Haute Couture? Fall 2014

Ralph Rucci

Good question... This most recent round of Couture presentations for Fall 2014 further defined the new as well as begged the same nagging question, "What constitutes Haute Couture?" It should be more than the sticker price. If you read the reviews of the collections on or in the New York Times you might think that there exists a collective brilliance that centers in and around Paris' Grand Palais. Names such as Chanel, Armani Prive', Versace, Givenchy and Valentino represent the 21st Century concept of Haute Couture, or they certainly used to. One must be vetted by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture to be accepted and invited to show. One must have a certain number of models (styles), the models must be made predominantly by hand, a minimum of Premieres d'Ateliers and Petit Mains working under them (the seamstresses and tailors) in order to technically apply. The larger question is a creative one but that's purely subjective though the Chambre Syndicale... is designed as an objective body of what at least used to be of the most stringent and high standards. All of these conditions as it were are neither here nor there when looking at an actual Haute Couture collection. Just for the record, I apprenticed at Givenchy Paris when Monsieur Givenchy was  at the wheel. While there, I sat as an apprentice assistant and watched 2 Haute Couture collections and 2 Pret a Porter collections conceived and created.

The price of fabrics, embroideries and woman/man hours, not to mention the multiple fittings that are included make this the Grand Daddy of dress shopping. The luxury of clothing made specifically to fit, flatter, hide, transform and enhance a woman's body is, I guess, something so astoundingly satisfying that women who can shop the Couture, do and those who can't, dream. None of that is at issue here. What stymies me are the motley crew of collections trotted down the runway that look neither particularly astounding, trans formative, satisfying and least of all "Haute". To read it in the press one might think the price tag was all that mattered. There was no criticism per se, just a droning dialogue on the beauty and sociological implications of clothes almost completely devoid of context or message.

Christian Dior

At Dior, Raf Simons' re imagined Marie Antoinette was yet another trudge down a chic cul de sac. With his Resort collection I started to change my mind about him and the validity of his message. His recipe for modernity left me starving in the beginning and only began to tempt me with little bonbons that started to become cupcakes if not full on cakes with lavish decoration. Fall and Resort gave me a jolt like the best of his last work at Jil Sander. The double dresses that laced and played color contrasting duets in a single piece pointed to a path out of the thicket he's busily created since taking charge of the house. To my dismay, the collection shown a couple of weeks ago was so silly in proportion, detail, and (tired) concept that my eyes glazed over after the 10th exit. His explanation of drawing from the past to create a language that is new and modern was little excuse for these sad sack dresses. Over lunch with a great friend we got down to the nitty gritty of the discrepancies that pass undetected by "knowing" eyes. Poor construction, a paucity of creative curiosity and the fact that ultimately this demi-couture may very well become just good enough for a public no longer even aware of what this highest form of craft used to mean. I was distracted by the shape of the skirts that suggested panniers but without the structure underneath to hold them up and out. Beyond that there was the question of proportion that was exaggerated beyond reason as the shirts shot out in some cases well below the low hip and then stopping at the shin. Very bottom heavy milkmaids in dresses that read more as upholstery than rich fabrics. Still it was passed off as a deliberate manipulation but read to my eyes as just lazy, crazy chop shop drag. There was more said on this and other subjects but that's private.

Chanel                                                  Alexis Mabille

Chanel didn't fair that much better. Lagerfeld's was a collection of tweedy ensembles molded into rounded shapes like a series of ellipses. Coats over dresses and suits were all rounded front, side and back, shoulders, sleeves, you name it it was molded to a round plumpness that made the thinnest of his models look short fat and dumpy. The strangeness of shapes culminating in a series of stark white dresses at the shows end didn't suggest so much the future as it did an undecipherable present. Lagerfeld can do no wrong and the press never came close to taking him to task. Rarely, do they. It seems that everyone is so convinced of his brilliance that they fear questioning his authority, much the same as that of editors at most of the big mags. Think Anna Wintour and extrapolate from there.

Armani Prive'

Armani Prive' was just old. The shapes, the tame jackets that were straight out of his archives from 20-30 years ago and splashy beaded numbers were saying not so much about the future as they sat sleepily in the past. The sound was more the sharp outtake of a yawn. There looked to be no future there, only a past whispering its authority.

Alexis Mabille was just ugly. This young man who looks like a student or some one's kid has consistently delivered stillborn collections for years now. Poorly conceived, wretchedly executed and totally lacking in chic, his clothes leave me annoyed. There is no mystery there. Enough.


Versace is, well, Versace. Think of the girls who service oligarchs or Naomi Campbell and you get the picture. Vulgar displays, the lead foot instead of the soft touch, the obvious over the implied, blood and sweat instead of ease and elegance and you get where I'm going with this...

Giambatista Valli

The exceptions to this curious state of affairs would be someone like Giambatista Valli. His collection that played a symphony of stripes in black and white with his signature shots of yellow were a treat. It looked to me as though it were the collection that should have walked down the Dior runway. Valli is a clever iconoclast with marvelous technique that gets better with time but is it Haute Couture?
Ralph Rucci, the American Couturier based here will never lower his standards which are some of the most staggeringly high in existence. He shames the "competition" just by his mere existence. Valentino is another that shames the competition. The work coming from the team of Pierpaulo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri is exceptional in so many ways, but they are worthy of their own story as they showed us again what the Couture can and should mean for today and the future. Just look closely. You can't miss it.

Ralph Rucci

Monday, July 21, 2014

YSL: A Myopic Biopic.

I don't know about you but I was very excited to see the new film on the life of Yves Saint Laurent by Jalil Lespert. Things got in the way of racing to catch the premiere so it wasn't until last night that I finally sat down to watch. Maybe it didn't help that we'd just ridden bikes in the dark to watch the fireworks display over the harbor here in East Hampton. For a mere 15 minutes the sky was alight with displays of pyrotechnic wonders, all of them more astounding than the explosions that preceeded. I kept thinking that it all looked so new, so abstract and "modern". It was almost an intellectual experience beyond simple entertainment. The grown-ups standing at the water's edge all seemed to be thinking and saying the same thing. We were witnessing something new and it was somehow moving in a hard to describe way.

Pedaling home in the dark praying not to flip over onto the concrete by way of some unforseen pothole or worse, being flattened by an oncoming car careening its way to yet another Saturday night benefit, the thought of a yummy dinner and exoticism that was YSL caused me to pick up the pace. Like so much in life, the journey was more interesting than the destination. From the first minutes something felt off. Pierre Niney, the actor playing Saint Laurent with his requisite heavy black framed glasses, enormous eyes and beak-like nose was a dead ringer for Hamish Bowles. Fragile, melancholic, and fay Saint Laurent goes from wunderkind at the controls of Christian Dior to basket case in a psych ward of a Paris hospital over a letter of conscription. The melodrama from here on in was so thick it became a chore just to get from one dress to the next. Little or no explanations were supplied for who characters were and a timeline so pock marked it was impossible to follow unless one knew the story and the players. Lou Lou, Karl, Pierre and Mama were little more than paper dolls. It seems everyone in the circle functioned purely as enablers. That much is probably fact but the film serves up this dish with all the grace of a short order cook stumbling through the kitchens of Le Cote Basque.

That Pierre Berge sanctioned the film is no surprise as it is more his story, again, than that of the "master". That sanctioning is the only thing that gives a hint of life to this DOA docu-drama. Some actual pieces from seminal periods like the Mondrian dresses, a group of looks from his Russian collection, and sketches give much needed flesh to the otherwise brittle bones of the story. But even they are as lifeless as the narrative. The models and "faces" chosen by the director to recreate YSL's legendary cabine and closest friends, Betty Catroux is one, were incredibly unattractive. The stand-in for his most famous of muse/models, Mounia, was a sad choice. Others were simply grotesque, that would be Betty(Catroux) and Karl(Lagerfeld).

The film's pace and the poaching of scenes from other YSL films, namely L'Amour Fou, added up to less than zero. We basically watch Hamish Bowles complain about how he will die if he can't design and how the world is his enemy. I can think of few designers who had it so incredibly good. The backing of Charles of the Ritz, the brilliance of Berge as business partner and guard dog and the clients who elevated him to the heavens do not add up to a hard luck story. But if you're inhaling cocaine and alcohol like other people do air and water sooner or later things are going to get messy. Watching Hamish, I mean Yves at a sex club with manacles on his wrists and some dark business going on behind his heaving body is somehow too much and not enough information. Better to stick to books like  Alicia Drake's "The Beautiful Fall"  in order to get a clearer picture of the players and how they knew one another and interacted. This film does little more than give you a reason to question why we find these people and this industry, Fashion, so compelling. Perhaps it was the sub-titles that wandered veering maddeningly away from what I assumed was being said. I will need to hear my dear friend Spirou's take as she's the real deal; French and someone steeped in the fashion and players of that period in Paris. Actually, Spirou would have made a much, much better film simply as someone who lived on the frontlines of fashion both in Paris and here.

Unfortunately, this film failed to illuminate a period when a single man changed the way women dress. Unlike the fireworks that not only amused but confounded us this film failed to shed even the tiniest sliver of light on a world that's slipping deeper and deeper into darkness.