Saturday, October 31, 2015

Dior up. Designer down.

We all know by now that Raf Simons has sent in his letter of resignation. Another visionary sees black and we get an earful of white noise. Reading the accounts in the press leads one to believe that the couture crown is just too heavy for all but the most buff among us. Alexander Wang is just too lean. Galliano, too fragile. And now Simons is perhaps too sensitive, too distracted to continue. I'm ok with it. I won't say I'm happy, delighted, thrilled or even vaguely amused by the turn of events. As much as his work leaves me cold, even irritated, I don't wish him ill. To make it to the top of one's field is an accomplishment worthy of respect; not something to be taken lightly. In this case, my feeling from the beginning was one of skepticism. Sure, Simons did great things at Jil Sander but Jil Sander isn't Christian Dior.

Having spent the last 30 years in this business, having started my career in Paris and watching the action up close, the houses of Dior, like Givenchy, YSL, Chanel, Ungaro, and Valentino,  were almost sacred. What came from them was taken by the world as near holy writ. The authority of these design houses were beyond challenge. To work at one of these houses was considered a gift from the Gods, one taken on like the royal families of Europe; it was an ordination that one carried until the end. That end was decided by the fates. Meanwhile, you did your best for the glory of the house. Like the many "petit mains" upstairs toiling in the ateliers, one worked selflessly to that glorious end. At Givenchy, Monsieur was the ultimate team leader. His success was in large part due to the master technicians who realized his dreams; even realizing them in ways that exceeded the beauty of his initial dream. I sat a few feet from Monsieur's desk and often stood over him as he sketched. (sounds far fetched, but true. He was a patient man with the likes of me, a recently college graduated apprentice, invading his studio) In the fittings that followed I saw more than once the original sketch was improved upon by the most capable technical hands in the world. The respect for the m├ętier superseded other more self aggrandizing motivations. As much as it could be a team, at that time it was like an extremely well tuned team working as one. That included the models and stylists. Well that quaint idea is history. It's a free for all now.

At the risk of sounding hopelessly lost to the past, it's exactly that PAST (the Paris days and the NYC decades that followed) and many other experiences which inform my opinions today. Upon hearing of Simons' hire my first thought was why? How could someone who's aesthetic was antithetical to the Dior oeuvre be considered relevant? In simple terms, there was little romance evident in his approach. If you could characterize Dior in the simplest terms it was a very romantic way of dressing. And not just due to Galliano, but historically starting with Christian Dior to Yves Saint Laurent to Marc Bohan and on through the glorious tenure of Gianfranco Ferre to Galliano. Each of those designers added layers of mystery to the house's history that only enhanced the original mission statement of the master. With Simons it felt like the opposite. Other than his penchant for flower arranging on grand scale, the work was more about peeling away to the point of no return(s). The couture was no more or less interesting than the RTW with the same dead eyed girls marching to a beat only he could hear.

So with the benefit of a week's reflection, Simons looks like a man released from a velvet prison. Or perhaps he's feeling sympathetic pains of the mass exodus of men, women and children from the Middle East and chose to save himself; an innocent swimming to a safe harbor. And then maybe he just wasn't the right fit for a behemoth that no longer can even fit in front of a mirror, let alone take it's own measure.......

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Us vs. Them: Paris SS2016

Remember way back when the calendar was such a big deal? New York was suffering penis envy in relation to Paris and Milan and took the lead so as not to be accused of copying. That little switch in dates put us on the big stage before some of our best laid plans had hatched, or even formed. The stalwarts at that time: Calvin, Donna, Bill, Oscar and an upstart named (?) , you know, the Austrian guy (Helmut Lang) who's no longer bothering, all of them ran to the starting line desperate to be first. This ego trip proved very expensive and detrimental to all the others who raced right behind them. Still the NY output was forever considered quaint on a good day and lackluster the rest of the time. Sure, trends like Grunge benefited by the schedule, shooting to the heavens and influencing unfortunate generations (seasons) to come. Fashion on these shores didn't benefit so much as strain itself to the point of herniating the whole sacred process.

I would argue that in many ways it was a curse we still labor under to this day. When you toss in the immediacy of social media we see in many cases that fashion has been substituted for a quickie InstaStyle that has nothing to do with the original mission. We no longer celebrate the clothes, but instead the brand and all of its soulless elements. The runway has become the featured attraction with bigger and more distracting pyrotechnics. The clothes are little more than afterthoughts. It's no longer enough to design a collection. Now one must art direct a happening, a fitting setting for the vaunted front row. We must play to the sun glassed, the jaded, the counterfeit in hopes they'll grace our front row the next time around. That's a sad commentary. The progeny of our reality TV fixation have infiltrated the casting, scooped up all the juicy contracts, and all before they've learned manners, how to dress or how to walk. That may sound harsh but it's not that far from the truth. This fork in the runway has sent us hurtling on to the land of irrelevance.


Looking at Paris collections that stun, amaze and delight (Valentino, Chanel, Stella McCartney, Celine,Versace) you get the feeling that the one thing that many here forgot was to stop and think. Really think. Though I'm not of the school of thought that a collection only counts if it's tied to a current event (mass migrations of people from war torn countries) or a current cultural fixation (what the editor wants, what Kim wears, what Kanye appropriates). What does speak clearly are clothes that allow the audience to dream, to want and hopefully to buy. I'm talking about design that goes beyond the obvious. Maybe that means revisiting an idea from a completely different route. 

Stella McCartney
A polo shirt and skirt at Stella McCartney comes in a crisscrossing pattern of hand painted stripes. At Chanel there would be the familiar tweed jacket beautifully tailored with hidden closures and devoid of all surface decoration. 

Phoebe Philo at Celine takes the familiar and makes it extraordinary. A simple top, pants and coat become the agents of change. Sportswear is elevated to the divine... At Valentino a caftan takes on the identity of cultures far removed from Madison Avenue. None of it feels gratuitous or forced. None of it feels lazy and derivative or worse, self indulgent (see: Saint Laurent, Balmain, Balenciaga, Dior). 

Donatella Versace sent out a platoon of foot soldiers in fatigue green and crazed camo-printed dresses and suits. The only thing that felt familiar or sentimental was the energy behind the clothes. Donatella's indomitable spirit shows through in their insistent relevance. The conversation moves forward with every look that stalks her runway. She gives you something to think about. She gives you something you can want.

Showing a collection on the grounds of a chateau outside Paris (The Row) isn't enough when all you're offering is pared down, pared-down-ness. Staging a show at an iconic NYC theater (Marc Jacobs) teeming with a grab bag of looks that reference your oeuvre isn't enough when all of it feels trite, derivative and just "cool". Who needs it? No one does. If it's all in service to a bag,  then why not just show the bag and be done with it?

Maybe we should consider the long game and not the Instagram/Twitter quick fix. Maybe we should try doing things differently. Perhaps, we should put down our smart phones and take a look around. It's a jungle out there and the natives are beyond restless.