Friday, October 3, 2008

Panic at the Fashion Show....

Alexander McQueen

Today was, thankfully, a bit of a return to form for Alexander McQueen, who recently has been inconsistent in his output giving us strictly showroom type clothes one season, romantic historicism the next, then an aggressively theatrical presentation followed by more showroom type stuff after that. It's gotten a little frustrating to witness because, generally, when he goes commercial he neglects the things that make him "him" such as dramatic tailoring, macabre undertones and gothic romance. He's like his fellow Saint Martins alum John Galliano in that you can always tell what he was feeling just by watching his show. So in the past when he's shown lackluster commercial collections, the audience, both at the show and not, is left to assume that he was feeling frustrated. Not to point the finger of blame or anything, but this pattern seemed to start around the time that Domenico DeSole stepped down as head of Gucci this significant? I'd guess so. Last season he broke this pattern offering a blend of wearable McQueen signatures like built out hips, sharp tailoring and historicism and pure show in the form of a Maharajah meets Jane Austen meets Swan Lake fantasy finale. Needless to say that the Burton/Goreyesque gothicism which opened the show was seriously overshadowed by the finale that, frankly, was more Marchesa than McQueen. For all of the beauty of it, it felt completely out of left field for fashion's own Edgar Allen Poe. That finale was the main reason why I wasn't especially fond of the collection, and why I wasn't feeling completely optimistic about his Spring/Summer 2009 collection.

However, I've been wrong before, and luckily I was wrong today. It was fairly familiar territory for McQueen, but after a few years of not seeing this part of his personality, it was a very welcome reminder of what he's all about. At this point I couldn't begin to tell you what the inspiration or story behind it was, one look at the set would be enough to throw you off. An array of taxidermied animals was spread out as the backdrop like some sort of dead version of Noah's Arc, with the girls making their entrance onto the runway from beneath a giant glowing globe. Right away it reminded me of the hall of animals in Museum of Natural History in NY. Then come the clothes, some printed with this strange mutation of an animal print that was treated like a Rorschach inkblot; a mirror image on the right and left. This print was used on sculpted mini-dresses with kimono collars that stood away from the neck and shoulder, sharp frock coats and second skin blazers with peaked shoulders, skinny trousers, and even a voluminous parachute dress. Interspersed with these looks were two dresses in yellow and red that combined flesh colored tulle, crushed satin or taffeta and flattened out flowers that look like they had been dried and pressed, then inserted between the tulle and the body underneath so that they would "float" on the skin. There was also some of McQueen's signature skirts with built out angular hips. Two looks came lashed at the waist with embroidered leather corsets, which reminded me a lot of his famous S/S 99 robot/amputee collection, right down to the parchment and brown colors with delicate floral patterns worked over the fabric.

After this, the collection went a bit Sci-Fi with some short, stiffened bell shaped dresses covered with embroidery, a maroon sequined catsuit that reminded me a bit of the rubber suit worn by Jennifer Lopez in "The Cell" which was worn with a printed sleeveless jacket with built out shoulders and some more variations on those Rorschach prints, this time in multicolor brights or black and white which wound up looking a bit like an X-ray illustrated by H.R. Giger.

For evening, McQueen decided to forgo the traditional gowns in favor of skintight catsuits or more sculpted mini dresses completely encrusted with crystals in black, smoky beige or topaz. Overall, this wasn't his most moving collection, nor was it his most disappointing. This seems to be the general theme of the shows for the S/S 09 season, they don't blow your mind, but they don't let you down either. More than anything it's a frustrating feeling when all you want is to be blown away by something, anything really. But on the positive side this collection seems like a positive return to more traditional Alexander McQueen territory, and that's something any McQueen fan can appreciate.


Today marked Alessandra Faccinetti's second, and last, Ready to Wear collection for Valentino. In know what you're thinking, didn't she only present her first collection 6 months ago?. Why yes, she did. And didn't she only get one opportunity at doing a Couture collection? Right again. In yet another sudden, and this time sad decision, Faccinetti is leaving the house before she even got to show the world what she could do. Rumors have been swirling all week, and today after she presented the S/S 09 collection, the word seemed to be that she will be replaced by the duo who currently serves as the head of accessories at Valentino. Sound familiar? It could be because when she left Gucci in early 2005 she was replaced by Frida Giannini, the head of accessories. At the time that decision baffled me beyond belief, I mean, what does somebody who has been trained to design handbags and shoes know about designing clothes? Now that the fashion world has seen the situation play out yet again, and with the same woman, it all makes sense. Accessories designers wouldn't know anything about designing clothes, ergo, management can control what the ready to wear looks like. The people at Gucci clearly wanted more influence in what the ready to wear looked like and the Valentino people seem to feel the same way. It's one thing to eject one ready to wear designer for another, but when two major luxury fashion houses have made the choice to put people who don't have any background in designing clothes in the head designer role at the expense of someone who not only has a background in it, but talent too, it's a disturbing look at where luxury fashion is headed. Clearly, fashion design isn't even about design any more.

It's not as if Faccinetti went into the house and went off entirely in her own direction; quite the contrary. Her work was extremely respectful of the Valentino legacy, and she made it clear that she had no intent to completely rip apart a 45 year old image. Her work was overtly feminine, pretty, elegant, and classic, in other words, it was very Valentino. The only difference between the Maestro and Ms. Faccinetti's work was that her approach was lighter and more relaxed which ultimately translated into it being more youthful. There's so much riding on a debut at an established house. The designer is expected to keep the identity of the brand, show the world what they're going to bring to it and sell products. Many people accused her work of not being true to the Valentino name. Others accused it of being too safe. What the people throwing these accusations around fail to realize is that any new designer at an established house is faced with the inevitable situation that no matter which route they choose, it won't be good enough. If she was too literal in her approach to the Valentino DNA she'd be ripped apart for just mimicking a legend with less successful results, if she injects her own vision into the work she's not being true to the house. No matter what she did, not everyone would be pleased. That's the main reason why these rapid decisions to oust designers are so problematic. This isn't Hollywood. It's not a situation where you either screw up an audition or you don't. You need some time to be able to meet the challenge and it's unfortunate that the suits have lost sight of that fact.

The announcement certainly can't overshadow the beauty of the collection, which was like a breeze. It was light, easy and pretty and most of the palette revolved around soft neutrals; black, white, blush, soft yellow and icy blue, but there were occasional pops of color like foresty green, rich teal and of course, Valentino red. One of the predominent looks was a boxy jacket with bracelet sleeves and embellished detail paired with shorts. It looked particularly chic in a faded black/dark navy variation. Mixed into the daywear were short, loosely fitted shifts with strangely beautiful embroidery.

This being Valentino though the real magic was saved for nightime. Alessandra revisited the softly draped empire silhouette that she played with for her couture collection in July. Done mid calf in black polka dots or full length in assymetrical pale nude it looked like the perfect option for any summer evening, the kind of thing you could easily imagine blowing in the breeze at an outdoor soiree. But for me the best look in the lineup was a deep teal draped off-the-shoulder empire dress, worn with matching flat slippers and jeweled neckpiece. It was absolutely striking shown in the sea of soft non-colors, and was made even more striking worn by the red-headed Olga Sherer. In fact, it looked so beautiful that any woman who wears the dress should be required to dye her hair red, just to preserve the impact (you can't really tell her hair is red in this photo, but trust me, it is.).

Overall though, the collection felt a little....defeated, like she knew what was happening and her heart wasn't in it. I can't blame her for that really. It's a shame we'll never get to see her expand on the bold ideas she tried out for her couture collection.

These last few years the whole game of musical chairs in fashion seems more prominent than it was, say, 6 years ago. A lot of that could probably be attributed to the decline in the economy that's taken place, and not just this recent crisis, but the cumulative effect of the last few years. But overall it represents a sense of panic on the part of the big shots in the luxury biz, and as anyone can tell you, good decisions are rarely ever made when you're panicked.

all fashion show images from via Inaya and Faith Akiyama at the Fashion Spot.

No comments: