Monday, September 8, 2014

Cushnie and Ochs Spring 2015: The Good, the Bad and the Commercial

This pair has interested and confused me for several seasons now. Just when I think I have a fix on them they do something really great or the opposite. I'm constantly off balance and unsure how to call it. 

Last year this time I was in the middle of a very interesting offer from a school of higher education. To be honest, it seemed so far out of my experience that I approached it more as an experiment/experience than something I might actually be chosen to do. In the midst of the 4 day obstacle course of meetings, lunches, interviews, demonstrations (on my part) I was given a book, The Little Black Dress, the catalogue of Andre Leon Talley's hugely successful museum show, and thumbed through it after yet another day of "vetting". That book was jammed with amazing images of black dresses by a mix of likely and unlikely designers. Cushnie and Ochs were included with a couple of the most astounding dresses in the mix. Andre has an incredible eye to isolate really great design in a sea of mediocrity. As I looked again and again at their work in that book I was struck by their obvious talent and unique point of view. Then today I took a look expecting to see more and found so much less. Confusing.

What moves me about their work is a natural bent towards abstraction. They take familiar shapes and upend them in a way that suggests a real sophistication and understanding of cut and proportion. The clothes for the most part swung from the banal to the obvious. Grommets on evening dresses without the Versace stamp too often tend towards the obvious.  Pair that with a dress with 'cold shoulders' and car wash fringe and you have a perfect recipe for drive thru fast food. The long evening looks that make ample if uninspired use of silk crepe, charmeuse and chiffon and you get old fashioned lady like looks perfect for the New York Social Diary. Its the raped one shoulder dresses with one fabric and one sliver of a strap holding it all together and you have a look that will stop traffic. There were too little of those and way too many of the other. Knowing the marketplace and all it's contradictions this should be a commercial success (?).

A few looks in black and white stripes starting with a bikini that looked oddly out of place were interesting plays on graphics. Other dresses that were draped twisted and draped some more felt stale when one considers the freshness of say Donna Karan's nimble fingers. On a very critical note the styling was off putting. The makeup, hair and jewelry was distracting. The models looked like they came from the imagination of a novice. One can only hold out hope that they will some day settle on a language that is all their own. In the meantime I take more more pleasure in the 2 looks in an old (now) book. In closing I was offered the job...

Dion Lee Spring 2015: Fresh Air

Wouldn't you know it would take a relative unknown to step up and and get this party started. Lee has done just that with an assured and original collection taking the language of active sport and translatin it into unique and wearable clothes that remind one of no one other than their author. Straps with buckles and zippers opening and closing areas of a given look are skillfully employed producing a feel of both utility and glamor. 

A subdued palette keeps the focus on his technique. Clever cuts that fit are what stops the eye and keeps it focused. Whether separates or dresses the pieces fit and appear to mix effortlessly. Fit, that elusive quality that is increasingly a thing of the past, is firmly in his grasp. The knits and printed looks are well executed even if they are visually less arresting. Nevertheless, he uses them with deliberation cutting them to their best advantage. There is little sense that Lee is pandering to his audience. His commitment to his vision is clear. Inventiveness is his m.o. Dion Lee is a breath of fresh air and someone to watch.

Jason Wu Spring 2015: Into the Koi pond

The big news at Wu is his new partner, or I should say boss, InterLuxe Investments. They recently bought a majority stake in the company giving Wu more financial Terra firma on which to do his modest dance. So the flagship, the accessories, the makeup, what have you, is soon to be out of the microwave and onto a plastic plate. 

I'm sure the fans of Jason Wu will be ecstatic that their boy is soon to become a man among the big men. Think Michael Kors, Reed Krackoff and Christopher Burch. All in all, it's been a banner year for the designer with his overwhelming success with the rebirth of Boss Women and, well, other stuff I'm sure.

Boss women, briefly, a collection of sportswear, suits and dresses have failed to find any meaningful traction in the US market. Visiting the store, (factory store) and headquarters in Metzingen, Germany there's little sign it had much traction there too. Racks and racks of sterile looking numbers with bits of lace, skinny silhouettes, skinny belts and complicated seaming (too little or no effect) heralded this new aesthetic. Considering the factories of Boss with their German HIGH TECH facilities, one would think that some brilliance or just a touch of magic was one shazamm away. But all I saw was a spotted rabbit being pulled from a knit cap looking none too pleased.

This collection has a bit more life with some shapes that were new for Wu and even interesting. The white coat over a sheer knit (multi-seamed) top over a white skirt. The fabric looked rich as did the ovoid shape of the coat, all cut on the round (CHoryn-ism) and looking citified and sharp. 

The same goes for a long sleeved white dress that followed with a dropped shoulder and requisite skinny belt. So much of the rest of day consists of Wu digging deep in his trove of go-to patterns and re cutting things like t-shirts, straight skirts and jackets and dull wrap dresses in suede and leather giving them the same look only in suede and leather. The little zip front knit tops are cute but do little to keep this stew all neatly in its bowl. The slouchy low-slung pants and corresponding big shirts suggest a languor and hipness that looks clearly foreign to Wu. His idea of sex is a dress or skirt slit up to the top of the thigh. Never other zones of suggestion. Necklines stay firmly set at the throat or demurely V'd or wrapped across the chest. He seems at odds with his subject. As though a woman, his chosen muse Charlotte Rampling this time, though there was little sense she came to mind in the collection's creation other than being a clever image/name to toss out to the hungry journalists, is as much a mystery as the numbers he whipped up for Michelle Obama.

The same goes for his cocktail and evening dresses with their self conscious 'sexuality'. The wrap, drape and tuck method is in strong evidence with the result of vague references to Halston and Elie Saab and even Michael Kors. He has consistently with his artistry de-sexified the likes of Karlie Kloss and Caroline Murphy which, let's face it, takes some REAL effort. The last 2 evening gowns were a case in point. The first in rust was all awkward peek-a-boo with an annoying strap grabbing the ribcage  and buckling the bodice as it plunges to the waist sporting a deep to the navel V. Sexy? No. An attempt to warm up the fusty front row? YES... The navy one with the same idea was more successful largely due to his stepping out of the way. So into the Koi pond he goes. That place where little fish become big fish even when they have just one fin.

Prabal Gurung Spring 2015: Misappropriation and missed opportunities...

It all started so well. Like his debut collection just a few short years back, Prabal Gurung showed more promise than most in the field of new, young talent. There was a purity of vision and purpose that was exciting to see. The opening to his spring 2015 collection had a similar feel. But from look 5 or 6 all the long, long way to 33-37 of 38 exits, there was nothing short of a drought. 

Too many details and looks reminds one of others work: Dior, LVuitton and bits and pieces of Ralph Rucci. The trailing ties and tails were all too familiar from RRucci's last spring collection. The odd-ball patchwork of prints and solids in successive looks with asymmetric ruffles and feathers tacked on for good measure did little to strengthen his message. They brought to mind the retread of LVuitton. Ghesquierre sent out  a group of dresses late in what was another endless show of banalities that also played the patchwork game to equally dull effect. Though Gurung has more drape in his arsenal the result was too similar. The question that dogged my mind was how many dresses can one dress be?

The references to tough chic moto cross trousers in silk complete with stripes across the leg, cargo zippers and all in multi-colors look forced and not particularly cool, though the accompanying blazers did have an interesting edge. That's the irony in all of this. COOL seems to be the very thing he's trying to express. Like in the beginning with a fellow contemporary Altuzzara, they both worked overtime to appear edgy and ahead of the curve. Altuzzara has moved on. Gurung is still attempting to draw water from a parched well. The small group of knits he showed over trousers was one bright spot an an area that could be further elaborated on.

Deconstruction is an interesting way to find the essence of an idea. Gurung appears to be committed to this idea but with mixed results. Not until look 33 appeared did it seem that he's found his groove. Still, the mix of shapes, eroticism and technique came together in an exciting way. Great gowns worth seeing on a great looking woman. Maybe less would go a long way towards more. His star shines bright nevertheless. It goes to show that clothes are not the most important currency of a designer.....