Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The rundown....

The Spring/Summer 2009 collections are probably not destined to be among the most memorable collections in recent seasons, and that was bound to be the case. Overall this season was defined from the start in New York by a sense of precariousness. During the Fall/Winter collections all you heard about was an impending recession which could account not only for the overwhelming amount of black clothing, but also the overall theme of the season; asserting power. Unfortunately, with the recession becoming a reality and a financial crisis arising half way through the show schedule, that message of power just didn't carry over into the the collections for S/S 09.

It has me thinking about the last time fashion was affected by major life changing world events. The Fall/Winter 2003 collections were marred by the ongoing threat of war between the U.S. and Iraq (not to mention the international controversy this created) with the U.S. declaring war not long after the collections came to a close. When you're forced to think about the cold, hard reality of things, fashion loses a lot of it's importance. But the interesting thing is that either in spite of, or perhaps even as a result of these issues, many designers delivered really strong, confident and directional collections. Maybe it was simply an attempt to lure in customers with exciting fashion. Maybe it was a collective realization that fashion does serve a purpose in tough times, the same purpose that glamorous movies served during the Great Depression and WWII. Like those films, fashion, and on a broader scale beauty itself, are an escape. Buying something that you love isn't going to change the world, but it could make you feel just a little better about things. But besides the escapist element of that season, designers were showing collections that conveyed a message of strength, empowerment and confidence.

Most of what was shown this season was exactly the opposite, perhaps largely because the worries are financial instead of political, which is bound to impact what people will buy. But it's still strange that so many designers played it so safe. Sure, it seems like that would be the obvious solution; deliver dependable, customer friendly clothes that people will want. But let me pose a question, if you were going to spend $1,000 of your money on what is essentially a luxury item in troubled financial times, would you be drawn to basic, dependable clothes that you could find elsewhere for a bit less money, or would you buy the bold statement piece that feels a bit special? Granted I'm looking at women's fashion as an outsider and something of an idealist as well, but I can't help but feel like if I was in the position to spend, I'd want that something special. That's why the few collections that really went out on a limb and fully embraced "fashion", the concept not the clothing, really stood out for me.

Hands down, one of the highest of the highlights this season was Marc Jacobs' signature collection. His show was full of everything that makes fashion exciting; color, glamour, eccentricity, beauty and real creativity. This being Marc Jacobs, the presentation masked the fact that so many of the clothes, pulled apart and worn out of the context of a runway show, are bound to be fantastic. I mean, the clothes look like wearing them would make you feel good. I don't know what it is, but the collection just radiated a joie de vivre that was really lacking in most of the collections that were shown this season. More than that, it was a timely return to form for Marc, who in the last couple of years has strayed too far into the realm of experimentation and gimmicks (his F/W 07 collection being the exception to this). This collection was much closer to what he's always been about, and because of that it felt right. I kind of felt like it picked up where his Fall/Winter 2006 neo-grunge collection left off. So what if it took him two and a half years to get here?

The guesses as to what the collection was all about were endless; Cukor's "The Women", Saint Laurent's Broadway collection (which was inspired by "Porgy and Bess"), Sufragettes, Prairie women, Depression Era glamour. My own guess was George Seurat's "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatt". But Marc summed it up concisely as "America". That has a nice ring to it, and it allows plenty of room for people to read into the collection whatever they feel. But forget all of that, the only thing that matters is that it was fashion, with a capital F.

While we're on the topic of Marc Jacobs, let's talk about his Vuitton collection. It was just as vibrant as his signature line, probably even more so, and the spirit of enjoyment in dressing up was present here as well. It was a delirious mix of so many different references, colors, textures and details that I can't even imagine what it must have been like to sit in the audience at the show and take each look in in a matter of seconds. Lucky for those of us who weren't special enough to be there, we get to see the pictures. Marc's collection was meant to portray America, and according to him his Vuitton collection was all about Paris, seen through Yves Saint Laurent's exotic lens of course. But just like with his own collection in NY, the idea behind it really didn't matter. It was, you guessed it, fashion with a capital F....multiplied times 10.

Who knows what had Marc in such a good mood while he was working on these collections, but clearly he was feeling optimistic, or at least trying to pretend he was. The thing is, the optimism here didn't seem forced, it felt real. And if someone like me, an ardent lover of all things black, slick and bitchy-looking, can wind up enjoying something so exuberant, upbeat and colorful, then he's definitely done his job well. After watching the video I'm hooked, and I can't get Edith Piaf off my mind. It's a must see.

Louis Vuitton Spring 09 Fashion Show - FBK

Another strong, directional collection was Prada in Milan. As always with Prada, it was bound to garner polarizing opinions. She is one of those designers whose shows always end up in one of two categories: love or hate. You rarely see or hear people expressing indifference about a Prada collection. There really isn't much middle ground with her, and I think she's the type of person who likes it that way, which would explain why she tends to make very focused, very particular and very strong statements with her work. People always question the hold she had on the fashion world. The simple truth is, she doesn't seem satisfied to just make something that people will like. That in a nut shell is why she is so revered. She pushes buttons and makes people think, not only about the subtexts in her collections (of which there are many), but about what they think is beautiful. I admit, I'm not always a fan. Sometimes I'm intrigued and sometimes I'm repulsed, sometimes it takes time to grow on me and sometimes I start to like it quickly, sometimes I see the point she's making and sometimes it goes right over my head. But I always look, it's unavoidable. Even if you detest Prada, you still look.

This season it suprised me, in a very good way. I loved it instantly. Like I said in my review of the collection, I can't remember ever being in love with a Prada collection right off the bat. More than that, I can't remember ever being able to read beneath the surface with a Prada collection right away either. It usually takes looking at it a few times before I digest it. This season not only did I like it right away, but I got it too....or at least, I got something.

It was a fantastic take on sex, and in that way it reminded me of her work circa 2000/01. With Prada there's usually this hint of frustrated sexuality to it. For all of the directions she's taken off in, the fairies, the furry bathmats and the Forties pinups, Prada is, at it's core, about a vintage type of traditional feminity that's part mousy odd-ball, part sexually quirky slut. In this collection I saw Catherine Deneuve as Severine Serezy in Belle de Jour, the frustrated bourgeois housewife who lives out her sado-masochistic fantasies as a prostitute during the day while her husband is at work. It's not that there was anything in the collection that screamed "woman living a double life", but for some reason that's what I got from it. Thinking about it now, two weeks after it was shown, I can't help but respect how a designer, any designer, can make you think just by showing bra tops, wrinkled fabrics, pencil skirts and platform shoes. You can never underestimate the power of good styling. And you can never underestimate the importance of imagination when it comes to fashion. Not the designer's imagination, but the viewer's.

Balenciaga, as well, was certainly one of the most outstanding shows of the season. This isn't really news since a Balenciaga collection is always, for one reason or another, a standout each season. But to be honest, I'm still not sure how I feel about it. It's strange. It isn't one of those collections that I just plain hate. But I don't love it either. My ambivalence about it comes from the fact that I just don't see the point that Ghesquiere was making, and the actual designs don't seem as directional as his past collections have been. Creative and technically masterful, yes, directional and trendsetting, no. Maybe they are and the direction just eludes me this time around, I'm not sure. But if I put my frustration about that to the side, I can say that the clothes and the presentation really are beautiful, and memorable. Truth be told, the presentation is actually kind of genius. For Ghesquiere to use something as simple as light, color and reflection, things that are such an integral part of daily life that nobody even thinks about them, to create an entire collection is brilliant in my not so humble opinion. It's something you need to see for yourself, really.

So maybe I don't get the point yet, and maybe I'm not dying from my excitement about it, but even still it was one of the most interesting and captivating shows of the season. Balenciaga is like Prada in that way, if you love fashion, you have to look.

Other than that, I can't really think of any collections that really made an impression on me. There were others that I really liked, like Versace, Jil Sander, McQueen and Rodarte, but even though those collections were beautiful, they didn't really move me. I didn't feel that electric buzz about many of the shows this season, and even though I was pretty much expecting to be underwhelmed, I still can't help but feel a level of disappointment about it.

Even the trends, which are essentially what defines a season, were largely untraceable. There were only a few major trends that I noticed, and most of them were carried over from the last few seasons.

One of the big trends I noticed, and you can see it at both of Marc's shows, was the color yellow. I know what you're thinking. In your best Miranda Priestly voice you're thinking "yellow, for spring...groundbreaking". Of course it isn't, not by any stretch of the imagination. Yellow is one of those quintessentially "spring" colors. It's something to do with sunshine and dandelions or whatever....I'm not usually a fan myself. But I found the timing interesting. Yes, on the surface yellow is a perfectly happy color. Those ubiquitous smiley faces are yellow after all. But symbolically, yellow means something entirely different. You've probably heard that old cowboy cliche of being a yellow-bellied something-or-another. That comes from the fact that yellow represents cowardice. Not to mention that, at least in States, many hazard signs are yellow. I highly doubt if any of the designers who used it did so because of it's symbolic meanings. More than likely it was forecasted as a color for this season and designers chose it because it looked fresh and upbeat, but you've got to love those rare moments when fashion is so dead on. Especially when it's not trying to be.

clockwise from top: Alexander McQueen, Giles Deacon,
Louis Vuitton, Versace, Lanvin and Marc Jacobs

The biggest trend, however, was something I keep calling "3-D", clothes that utilize special fabrics, folds, seams and pleats to create sharp, angular lines that are molded around the body. This isn't an entirely new trend, designers have been playing with geometry for a while now, but this season it's much sharper and much more exaggerated than it has been for the past few seasons. It's actually a pretty interesting trend, though probably one that needs to be worked out a bit more before people fully embrace it. Even though the results weren't always entirely wearable, it was nice to see a bit of risk and experimentation in a sea of blandness. And besides that, it feels contemporary. Even though there's this sort of retro futurism feel to it, a bit like the way the future was interpreted in the 1960's, it doesn't look like it's borrowed from any particular time period. It looks like now, and that's becoming increasingly rare these days.

clockwise from top left: Calvin Klein, Christian Lacroix, Christopher Kane,
Dolce and Gabbana, Gianfranco Ferre, Giles Deacon, Marchesa and Versace

And who knows, with less extreme proportions this could actually yield some beautiful and flattering results. It's like Cristobal Balenciaga used to say "If you come to me, you don't need a body. I'll give you one".

Another trend that's also been brewing for some time now was transparency. It was everywhere last spring, continued into the fall and into the spring collections this year. Overall I don't have a strong opinion about this trend, at least not anymore. Last spring when designers began showing airy, vapory looking clothes over nearly naked bodies, I was definitely into it. There's something both romantic and sexual about seeing sheer silk layered over a body with nothing underneath. It's also just downright pretty looking, the epitome of delicate femininity. Of course, there was the whole "how is that wearable" reaction to it last year. Perhaps people lost sight of the fact that no one is actually expected to wear the clothes without a layer underneath, and that sheer clothes worn without a slip is nothing new on the runways. But a year on and people have definitely adjusted to this trend, and there are plenty of ways to make it work. As for me, I'm a little burnt out on it. It still looks beautiful, but it doesn't feel particularly interesting to me anymore.

Clockwise from top left: Calvin Klein, Givenchy,
John Galliano, Rodarte, Vera Wang, YSL

Overall though, I don't think this season was particularly directional as a whole. It was more like one of those times where designers work to distill trends that have been in the air into understandable fashions. For instance, when the futurism thing started up in the collections for Spring 2007, designers were using techno fabrics, extreme silhouettes and an overall aggressive feel to push fashion forward. It didn't seem entirely realistic at the time because the trend was still in it's raw form. Two years later and designers are now translating those extreme ideas into wearable clothes. The public's eye has shifted as well. What seemed unreal two years ago is slowly becoming apart of mainstream fashion. Right now fashion seems to be in a transitional period, the time after one movement has been proposed and another has yet to be created. I guess we'll just have to stay tuned to see what happens next.

all fashion show images from

1 comment:

JadoreHauteCouture said...

Wow, such a loooooooong article. You got my admiration for that....
About Balenciaga: very good points made. My personal opinion is very similar. Nicolas is undoubtly a genius, but although this collection wasn't as defined as his previous ones (for instance FW08, stunningly constructed LBDs, amazing coats and jackets, and those pants and velvet drappe T-shirts, it was just breath-taking), Nicolas did a completely new Balenciaga woman. This time, the clothes were more body-concious, more feminine, more flexible, less sharp and sleek. At first, when i expected something unbelievably constructed, and then I saw those weird glittery things on the hangers, of course I was like 'What the heck?' but then the collection somply grew on me. And now I just looove it.