Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A look at the future....


Today was B-Day. For those of you who aren't me and don't know what the hell I'm talking about (which is most of you), that stands for Balenciaga day, the day when Nicolas Ghesquiere sent his models into battle dressed to the hilt in clothes that will inevitably effect the course of fashion history....for the next 6 months at least.

I personally approached this collection both with a sense of excited anticipation and nervous aprehension. Would it be good? Would I love it? How on earth could it possibly live up to F/W 08, which won me over instantaneously with a one-two punch of sex, glamour, strength and above all, Fashion with a capital F. My reaction was pure adrenaline while looking at it, and in case enthusiasm doesn't translate in type, that feeling has yet to wear off. It was the kind of fashion show that only comes along so often, that hits you right in the gut and leaves a mark, I'd call that a fashion moment. I've only experienced a few in my short lifetime, Balenciaga F/W 08.09 was one of them. In a way it's similar, and yet opposite, to how I've been approaching Dior lately. With Dior my expectations have dropped to the point where I don't expect much anymore.

So you can understand why I felt the way I did about seeing the collection for S/S 09. In a way I was prepared to be not entirely blown away, I mean I knew it would be good, but I realized that the chances of me reacting the same way twice were slim. This collection didn't excite me, or at least it hasn't excited me yet. I've been feeling that a lot this season, and in a way it's not so unexpected. We're living in unsure times, it's only natural that designers are feeling unsure, and that it rubs off on the people seeing it.

That's not to say Ghesquiere failed, because he didn't. The show was a technical marvel right out of the best kind of Sci-Fi film; cold, precise, alien. In that sense it was classic Ghesquiere, and classic Balenciaga as well. But for me, it didn't make as powerful a statement as his last collection did. Instead it just further elaborated on things he's already done. I can see beauty in the collection, in the strangeness of it, in the tiny pleats on a metallic jacket with rounded shoulders, in the shine of pale sequins under the dim space age lighting that cast a robotic glow on the runway. But once I look past the surface beauty and interest, I'm left wondering what this really says about where Ghesquiere, or fashion, is going.

A short seven look menswear collection was placed about midway through the lineup. It had a Hedi Slimane sharpness, but cleaned up and de-trendied thanks to Ghesquiere's rigorous eye. Overall though, it was a bit jarring to just place a handful of men's looks in the midst of a women's collection, especially given that Balenciaga isn't especially well known for it menswear. One thing's for sure, if I had the limbs of a praying mantis and the body of a junkie, I'd be all over this partiular look. But the fact that I don't have either of those things could be why I've yet to buy into the super slim menswear that seems to be the only thing that matters in mens fashion anymore. God forbid you have discernable shoulders or a broad chest, you're shunned quicker than a slutty gay Mennonite.

As the show progressed, it did get stronger, with the evening looks being particularly beautiful and managing to capture some of the glamour that Ghesquiere gave us last season. I also love the geometric skinny cropped trousers, which are sort of a continuation of the black, gray and white cropped skinny trousers of fall.

I think the thing that bothers me most about this collection is that it doesn't let you know where Ghesquiere plans to take fashion next. It's not like S/S 08 where he showed structured, anatomically exaggerated and protective silhouettes smothered in flowers, both of which would influence the fashions that came after it. Nor is it like F/W 08 where the futurism was so finely distilled as to make truly modern looking, wearable clothes that seemed destined for powerful women as opposed to trendy girls. At the end of the day, Nicolas can do this sort of hyper modern futurism seen through a retro 80's lens in his sleep. It's nothing new from him, and it's nothing new for fashion, no matter how technically accomplished or captivating it is.

Comme des Garcons

Comme des Garcons is one of those houses that you need to grow into, or at least I did. Rei Kawakubo's aesthetic isn't for everyone, which is probably why it's so appealing to people...not that that makes any sense, but you get where I'm going. This season she abandoned the insanely exaggerated boudoir femininity and Amy Winehouse tartiness in favor of predominantly black 3-D shapes cut from hexagonal pieces of fabric and huge pompadour wigs that look a bit like the ash that explodes out of a volcano. Sound strange? It is, and it's not the kind of collection where you can see where the inspiration came from, or even make something up in your head to explain it to yourself....like with Prada. The thing with CdG is, my guess is as good as anyone else's....and it's never right anyway so here's to guessing. Who knows, between the boulder like shapes and explosive headgear, my volcano idea might not be so far off. There was a first time that I loved a Prada collection right away, imagine the first time that I'm right about what a designer was thinking. It could happen.

One of the major trends I've been noticing on the runways these past few weeks is three dimensional cutting, which has produced some extremely angular, interesting and no doubt challenging shapes. None the less it's an interesting trend to see, and Kawakubo's collection represents the trend perfectly. It's strange given these insane financial woes all over the world that so many designers, Francisco Costa, Donatella Versace and Christopher Kane among them, are proposing such daring and potentially alienating shapes. Sure, there are showroom collections to cover the financial needs of a label, but you have to wonder, what's the use of all of this innovation and newness if it isn't likely to impact what people wear?

all fashion show images from Catwalking.com via MulletProof and thoth at tFS.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Taming a wild spirit...

Today was the Dior show, and John Galliano seemed to be paying tribute not to Mr. Dior, but to Mr. Dior's successor Yves Saint Laurent. The inspiration was Africa, everything from safari, to earthy prints and animal skins, to tribal-esque embroidery, all territory that Saint Laurent made his own in the late 60's. When YSL mined Africa for inspiration, he infused the rawness and beauty of it with the fashions of the times. That meant wood and horn beaded minidresses, conical beaded tops that recalled fertility goddess statues, tiered raffia capes and gowns and midriff baring printed and beaded ensembles.

This seemed to be the route that Galliano took, comprising a short, flared out silhouette that made up most of the collection. Unfortunately John seemed to hesitate for reasons unknown; it could be pressure from the suits to keep the theatrics at bay, it could be a desire to restrain himself as a challenge, or it could be that his heart just wasn't in it. I'm not sure if we'll ever know for sure, and this seems to be the question that has arisen in response to Dior shows for the past few seasons. Most people have assumed that it goes above Galliano, that Dior and LVMH have told him to tame his wild spirit and by extension, to tame his imagination. This is not the first time that John has found inspiration from the Dark Continent. In his very first collection at Dior in 1997 he drew inspiration from the Massai tribe, using the colorful glass beaded collars that the tribe is well known for to create elaborate corsets over mermaid dresses, ballgowns and illusion warrior tunics.

images from corbis.com

In 2000 he created a look that can only be described as the New Look if it was worn by a Voodoo shaman.

image from showstudio.com

And in 2002, he drew inspiration from fertility goddesses and, presumably, the Khoikhoi Venus body which has exaggerated breasts, stomach and behind. He combined this with elements of an MGM costume vault circa 1932 and Vivienne Westwood style punk to create colored metal body armor that paid homage to the voluptuous beauty of African women through a purely modern lense. Even the makeup had a sort of warrior vibe to it.

images from style.com

But this time the results weren't anywhere near as captivating, creative or beautiful. In many ways it felt like the way any designer might interpret Africa. It wasn't something a genius like Galliano would create. The opening looks were neutral colors, tan, cool brown, beige, white and black. The silhouette was fitted on top and flared out at the skirt which gave the look a very youthful spin, odd given that the Dior camp has been trying to gain back a more mature, respectable clientele and dressing French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. All in all they were nice enough, but they don't scream special.

The segue into evening was a bit tricky. Out of the neutral opening came brights, which were honestly a little jarring. That's become something of a Galliano signature recently, using an unfocused array of super-bright colors. Luckily this was a spring collection, so Galliano couldn't bog the looks down with head to toe, dyed to match accessories and makeup. In fact, the makeup was good. Gone were the oversized drag queen eyes and lips. The only drama in the beauty sector was the hair, which looked a bit like a vase sculpted out of crimped hair. The short, colorfully beaded dresses reminded me a bit of the rainbow finale of party dresses at last spring's Lanvin collection, just not as much fun or desirable. Then came the full on evening dresses, which were all in shades of taupe, black and gray, and sheer below the waist....clearly taking inspiration from the Haute Couture collection over the summer. Some of them were beautiful, but they didn't connect to the rest of the collection.

These last few seasons Dior has been frustrating me to no end. We've all seen John do amazing things, not just with his couture shows, and not just when he's doing insanely theatrical runway pieces. He cuts beautifully and knows how to take his immense skill and create interesting, flattering, jaw dropping clothes. It feels like somewhere along the line he lost sight of that fact. And the most tragic thing about these recent collections is that they've made people lose sight of just how brilliant John Galliano is. These collections have people doubting that fact, questioning his genius and wondering if he's a one trick pony. I know that these collections aren't the result of a lack of imagination, skill or new ideas, they can't be. You don't just go from being a genius one day to a mere dressmaker the next.

all fashion show images from style.com

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The French boudoir, Vegas style...

So Paris has finally arrived, and not a moment too soon. I think we're all in desperate need of a moment, no?

Unfortunately I think we'll have to wait a few days for that moment to arrive, but in the meantime....


I have to preface this little review by saying that I don't entirely get Balmain. Or rather, I don't get what's so great about it. Yeah, they're fun, easy to comprehend clothes that young women would have a great time wearing. And yeah, it's a bit of eye candy....the kind that rots your mind and burns your retinas, but eye candy none the less. But beyond that I'm constantly left feeling like I'm looking at a totally different collection than everyone else. I think the cult-like love arround this house lately comes from two things. The first is that it's worn by Carine Roitfeld, the oh-so-chic EiC of Paris Vogue that everyone (including me) worships. The second, and in my opinion more important reason, is that these clothes are shown in Paris. If the same rock and roll cliches and party girl colors were shown by some up and coming hyped up designer in New York, people would call it out for being boring, unimaginative, not innovative and any other adjective you can think of for predictable. If one of the Italians who really invented this brazen rock chick territory were to do it (Cavalli, Versace, Dolce et al), people would rip it apart for being trashy, slutty, tacky and dated.

Exhibit A
(Balmain vs Cavalli)

Now, I'm all for some fun party clothes that wobble the line between tasteful and trashy, I love mile-long legs, and my inner drag queen (yes, I have an inner woman and an inner female impersonater....Freud would've loved me) loves a bit of sparkle. It's a whole flamer to the moth situation. But to me Decarnin's collections have wobbled so much that they've slipped, fallen, and woken up in a Vegas revue. This makes me question if these are all just conditioned responses. Why else would I put this stuff in the guilty pleasure section instead of just out-and-out liking it? Is it because my opinion has been influenced by outside sources that essentially tell me that if I really love fashion, I shouldn't like this garbage? And why else would people praise the same stuff that they criticize from a different designer? If we're going to hold Cavalli to a standard then should everyone be held to it?

Anyway, enough of my pseudo-existential rant and more on the clothes. This season, Christophe Decarnin seems to be sticking to his glitzed up, crotch baring, body binding silhouette but now adds a shoulder pad into the mix. It's fine to catch a buzz like the current one going on with the shoulder, but when you put a shoulder pad into a fully beaded and sequined micro-mini dress it's a one way ticket into bad 80's territory. You might wonder how someone who's 22 years old would know this kind of stuff, but I've seen the family photo albums....I know of what I speak.

I love Tina Turner, but she's shown us that love has nothing to do with it and moved on. Shouldn't the rest of us follow suit?

Get past the mile wide shoulders and the rest of the collection is pretty run of the mill Balmain; skinny rock-star-poseur jeans, some genuinely cool jackets, and more bandagey, bondagey, sparkly little dresses than even Kylie Minogue would know what to do with.

^ I swear my cousin used to have a Barbie doll that wore this same dress...

Nina Ricci

Ever since Olivier Theyskens landed on his elfin feet at Nina Ricci, he's produced some extremely beautiful clothes (particularly evening dresses). But he's failed to make as powerful a statement as he did when he started at Rochas back in 2003. He has given Ricci an identifiable look; soft, oversized jackets, airy dresses with seams and drapes that twist around the body, and fantastical evening pieces that seem like a fairy tale that your mother might tell you right before you doze off and you can never remember it....like a dream. Overall his Ricci girl, as he likes to call her, is diametrically opposed to his Rochas woman. She wears louche, slightly dishevelled layers of clothing with matted, doll like hair and pixieish makeup while his Rochas woman was always immaculately tailored, restrained and coiffed in her couture crinolines. But for all of the beauty and individuality of the look that he's created so far chez Ricci, he hasn't managed to make a real impact.

This season, he seems to be continuing with some of the ideas he proposed in his oddly beautiful fall show; rounded coats with an oversized proportion, blurry flora inspired prints, vaguely Victorian details like ruffled necks and puffed sleeves and floor sweeping trains. I wasn't the biggest fan of that collection, and even now the only things about it that I like are some of the coats and the stunning evening dresses that look like they were dragged on a forest floor. This season he stuck to one look for the majority of the lineup; long sleeved dresses with a dropped hem in the back that creates a train. They came printed, transparent, layered and frilled, some with puffed sleeves, some with no sleeves, mock necked, scoop necked, and boat necked in every washed out shade of parchment, ecru and ivory you could possibly imagine. There were occasional pops of color, like a floor sweeping bright orange coat and pale plue prints and blush, but the dominant colors were non-colors.

In the entire collection of 30 some-odd looks, two of them consisted of pants. Maybe he took the bad reviews of the pants he showed last season to heart and only threw these two pairs in as a token gesture. About 2/3 through the procession he sent out some slippery camisoles and tap shorts paired over stockings which, if you want to be technical, would fall into the pants category. How many woman are gutsy enough to wear them as such is open for debate, but the looks have a sexy deshabille sort of appeal....they're lingerie after all.

All in all, this collection was too one note for my liking. Almost all of these dresses are strictly evening attire. After all, not many women wear trains for daily life. I mean, could you imagine having to walk around in any city across the world all day and having to worry about who might step on your dress or if it might get caught in the subway doors? There are things that I like about the collection, and I get a certain ballet vibe from some of the simpler looks like the cream transparent numbers that opened the show. There's beauty to be found, but that's to be expected from Theyskens, so I can't give him too much credit for that. I do think he achieved his goal of making a statement, but I don't think it really pushes his work at Ricci forward or stops to make you think about fashion as a whole....it isn't that powerful. I guess I'm a bit ambivalent about this, and I truly hate when that happens in response to a show. I like to respond powerfully, passionately and decisively, whether I love it or hate it. There's nothing worse in fashion than to just like something, because at the end of the day most of what you see ends up in that category.

all fashion show images from Style.com and Catwalking.com via chessmess at tFS.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Next stop, Paris; part deux

And now for the intellectual portion of our program...


It wouldn't be Milan fashion week without the subtlety of of Italy's own resident Troll dolls, the Caten brothers. In all fairness, this presentation wasn't quite as boneheaded as usual from the twins. The inspiration, or theme depending on your preference, was iconic 70's tv show Charlie's Angels. Besides the opening segment of vet models Esther Canadas (I miss seeing that pouty bitch), Nadege (who I'm not familiar with but is stunning) and Fernanda Tavares posing it up Angels style in brown jersey dresses, the kitsch was kept to a minimum.

For the most part it was 70's infused fare; high waisted flared denim, jersey dresses, and sharp leisure suit-ish tailoring. In a way I think designers like DSquared are essential to the success of other designers. NYC has Heatherette, Paris has Jeremy Scott and Milan has Dan and Dean. Those designers are owed a debt of gratitude for making even Frida Giannini look semi-competent.


To be completely frank, I have some trouble with Fendi this season. It's not because the clothes are ugly, tacky, boring or any other adjective that could suggest sub-par fashion....this is a Karl Lagerfeld designed collection after all. But despite the Kaiser's enviable gift for innovation, craft and the ability to balance three houses on the tip of his finger, his last few spring collections for Fendi leave something to be desired. Since S/S 06, they've played with the same shape, styling and even colors. It's always based around white with pops of primary color or pastels, with crisp, sharp fabrics (some of which have laser cut patterns that suggest lace), bell or circle shaped skirts with a massive belt cinched at the natural waist, clunky shoes and a bag. Even the set has started to look the same every spring. At this point I'm beginning to wonder if Karl's just stuck in a rut or has run out of ways to channel the ingenuity of Fendi's ubiquitous furs into spring fashions.

Maybe we the public just have ridiculously high expectations of him at this point. Or maybe Karl sets himself up to fail by constantly upping the ante. I mean, once you come up with 24k gold fur, can you realistically do something more impressive than that? Either way, one thing is certain; for all of the technical achievement that goes into making these clothes by using the same laser that cuts diamonds for de Beers or splits atoms or whatever, the clothes don't look any different than they did last year, or the year before that, or the year before that. So with that in mind, if you don't know what's gone into making the clothes, does it really matter?

all fashion show images from Style.com