Saturday, February 28, 2009

Almost, but not quite...

Gianfranco Ferre

Question; What do Elizabeth I and Rachel from the movie Blade Runner have in common?

Nothing actually, unless you happen to be looking at the Gianfranco Ferre collection for F/W 09.10. Designers Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi channeled the 80s inflected futurism that has been fashion's obsession as of late and blended it with elements of Elizabethan fashion, most notably in the form of ruffs around the neck. The reason for mixing that seemingly random reference into a collection that would otherwise be pretty straightforward? Because they love Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I. The truth is, the mix doesn't look nearly as weird as it sounds because the sharp, aggressive 80s influence ended up being dominant. The first look summed up the mix with gorgeous results; a strong shouldered black belted coat in fabric that had a corded texture, with small metal studs tracing the seams across the shoulder and down the sleeve and topped with a small ruff collar. The coat was worn with over-the-knee suede boots with a platform that, from the front anyway, looks a bit like a chopine. It made a dramatic first impression, and the inspirations were blended well enough that it just looked like an architectural coat with a frilly collar. This being the house of Ferre, founded by the so called "architect of fashion" and lover of all things dramatic, the things that followed were equally bold. One of the main looks were skirt suits in mixes of stiff silks, wools, textured fabrics and velvet that had pagoda shoulders, built out, almost blocklike hips, ruffs at the neck, giant folds of fabric anchored by a belt and either pencil or deflated pouf skirts. A strapless bustier dress in purple so deep it could almost be black paired a matte bodice with a velvet bubble skirt made of horizontal bands. Another dress was made out of a blend of fabrics that created a sort of moire effect, almost like the rippling patterns you see in certain kinds of rocks when they're cracked open. A black coat in heavily corded fabric with velvet bands on the outer sleeve was cut as a rectangle with a belt anchoring the front to the body from inside. Overall the sihouette they were playing with, especially those skirt suits, made me think of Sean Young in Blade Runner right away. I don't actually know if the designers were looking at the film or not, but a lot of what they showed could very well have been worn in it. Now I can see why people might not go for that sort of thing, but personally I love Blade Runner. And if I have to see 80s inspired fashion, that's the part of the 80s I'm interested in seeing.

The color palette was almost exclusively in dark shades; different blacks, charcoal, deep plum, muted gray-brown and petrol. The only bits of contrast were a few looks in lighter shades of gray and a few white blouses. As with their men's collection in January, the lack of color suits me just fine here as well. I love black, as well as really dark colors like plum, and on top of the fact that I like them, I think that when it comes to architectural fashion dark colors just work really well. On the one hand, black makes a really sharply cut garment seem even sharper. On the other, when it comes to more experimental shapes and proportions, doing it in black makes it seem more believable as actual clothing. Plus, Aquilano and Rimondi were smart to play with texture in this collection, another thing they carried over from their men's collection, which helps add dimension to an all black look. They sent out some really interesting fur pieces, like a coat that combined a few different fur textures that gave the coat a sort of barbaric feel (a trend that first surfaced in NY). After that came a gray blouse with a banded collar and what looks like reversed seams paired with an embroidered pencil skirt. Unfortunately though the move into eveningwear was kind of where the collection got a bit heavy. Gray skirts featured scrolling hems that looked incredibly bulky. A pagoda shoulder jacket in petrol velvet with a ruff was paired with a deflated pouf skirt in a slightly lighter shade of silk. On it's own the jacket is quite beautiful, worn with the skirt however it just looked kind of dated. A simple velvet bodice was paired with a huge, asymmetric pouf skirt that looked quite messy and unbalanced, and a gray dress covered in tiered pleats was shapeless and, again, kind of messy looking. The simple, fitted columns that closed the show were much more successful evening options, and were actually some of the most wearable pieces in the collection.

Overall it wasn't a great collection, there were definitely some slips in places, but I think that so far the designers are showing promise at Ferre. They definitely understand the legacy left by Ferre himself and are mindful to incorporate it into their work, but they are definitely doing it their way. It's unfortunate that with this collection comes the news that IT Holding, the company that owns Ferre, filed for bankruptcy earlier this week. Here's to hoping that things work out and that Aquilano and Rimondi are here for a while.

Jil Sander

Raf Simons has slowly won me over at Jil Sander. His first few collections at the house were very respectful and pretty restrained in terms of ideas. As a result, they didn't really interest me very much. But then something happened with the S/S 08 collection. Simons began to open up and play a little bit, introducing things that were foreign to the Jil Sander label. Last season he delivered his best collection since starting at the house in 2006. It was sensual, it was erotic, it was playful and it was just really beautiful to look at. His inspiration for that collection came from the work of Man Ray, the 1920s and Africa. This season he found inspiration in art yet again, in the work of Pol Chambost, an artist who created curving, boldly colored ceramic pieces in the 50s (not that I actually knew who he was before Googling him, but hey, you learn something new everyday, right?) Chambost's work seems to be categorized by the curving, wavelike lines (some of it reminiscent of flowers and plants) and contrasts of bright colors with black and white. Once you see some of the pieces, Simons collection makes absolute sense. His interpretation was actually pretty literal, which is kind of unexpected. My take on Simons was always of someone who used his inspiration in very vague sorts of ways, as was the case with his S/S 09 collection.

Anyway, the collection started out simply, boring even, with some of the precise, classic, understated looks that Jil Sander herself was so well known for and which Simons worked with when he first took over. Sensible overcoats, jackets, trousers and shift dresses came in black, gray, light camel, ivory and navy, paired with pointed toe flats in colors like yellow and deep orange. The clothes are undoubtably luxe, in fabrics like double faced cashmere and the plushest of wools, but besides the fact that they're the kinds of staple pieces that most women work into their wardrobe, there really wasn't anything remotely interesting about them, and I'm guessing that that was the point. Simons is definitely able to take minimalism somewhere beyond perfectly tailored cashmere, so this homage to the Jil Sander heyday was entirely deliberate. Maybe it was meant to serve as a foil for what was to come in the second half of the show, or maybe it was just proof that this recession is real and that many people within the industry feel that sensible, investment clothing is what's going to sell these days. Who knows? But there really isn't much to be said about these looks. Then around look 17 things changed, colored light was projected onto the walls and, apparently, a strobe fickered to signal the change. From the front look 17 didn't look so different from the looks before it. It was a simple, clean, white sleeveless sheath dress worn with black platform pumps. From the back however it was far more interesting. A panel of the white fabric fell away from the body to reveal a panel of black underneath. After that there was a white coat with a slight hourglass shape to it traced in softly curving seams. The front opening, which mimicked the curving seams, led up into a collar that formed a sort of curl right next to the face and opened to reveal a red lining. Another white coat was cut in a sort of oval shap with rounded shoulders that led into tapered sleeves. It featured similarly curving seams and inside of the built-up bateau neckline was a shot of bright orange lining.

From there Simons continued adding shots of color. A high waisted black pencil skirt had a comet of yellow curling around the waist and was paired with a simple black turtleneck. A bright orange one-shouldered sheath had a curl built out at the hip. Heavy knits were molded into rounded shapes that stopped just under the chin and fell off the shoulder, and a navy pants suit had a folded collar that was lined in yellow. From the back you could see that the collar formed a narrow v shape down the shoulder. It reminded me a bit of Georgia O'Keefe's famous flowers and the way they unfolded to reveal the petals. Cathy Horyn at the New York Times observed that besides looking a bit like flora, some of the folds and curls had an anatomical look to them. No need for me to point out what part of the anatomy she was referring to, since it's actually kind of obvious in that yellow collar. A simple gray coat with a wide, floppy funnel neck was also lined in bright yellow that showed off the collar bone and neckline beautifully. After sending out a fairly simple electric purple shift with a curl near the neck though, Simons stuck entirely to black for the remainder of the collection. It was actually disappointing that he didn't go further with the dramatic streaks of color. The dresses that closed the show were beautiful, and proved that architectural fashion can in fact be wearable and even flattering in some cases, but after the jolt of excitement caused by the colors and shapes, it was a let down. I really don't think he took it to it's conclusion, which just makes the handful of really amazing pieces seem like a tease rather than a sample of what's to come.

All in all, the collection built me up just to let me down in the end. For me the major difference between this and the spring collection is that with that collection, Simons really seemed to have gone for it and pushed his ideas as far as they could go before they wound up becoming something that was no longer Jil Sander. I don't think he managed that here, which is why I think S/S will ultimately be remembered as a better collection.

All images from

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

An uncertain future...


For the last year, Rodarte has been among the few New York collections that I (and plenty of others inside and outside of the industry) look forward to seeing, so much so that it's among the most highly anticipated shows of New York Fashion Week. It's amazing to think that it's only been about three years since Kate and Laura Mulleavy began showing their collection. In that time they've quickly established signatures such as streaky, handpainted fabrics reminiscent of watercolor, airy, ethereal dresses in gauzey silks, quirky textural embellishments and fabric combinations and colorful, cobwebby knits that look like they're ready to fall apart. With all of these signatures, they've also become known for their craft and their way with pulling disperate, very unexpected inspirations and melding them into a strangely beautiful look. One would imagine that having their work so heavily scrutinized might get to them, make them feel the pressure, but if their work is anythig to go by they seem completely unaffected by all the attention. They've continued to evolve their work gradually, pulling one or two elements from one collection and mixing into the next.

I really think you need to see the clothes in person to appreciate how beautiful they are. After finally making it my business to treck up to Barney's this winter I got to see bits of the F/W 08 runway collection in person and let me just say, it didn't disappoint. There are such tiny little details, sequined panels on the underlayers of a skirt, beading outlining the zipper on sheer gauze and the seams on a shoulder, that you don't always notice in the runway pictures. And those cobweb knits! They were incredibly soft, and the mix of yarns looked very cool up close. Their clothes are really a visual pleasure.

Last season saw the Mulleavys adding some sharp, graphic elements into their ethereal repertoire. Shown with their signature floaty, handpainted dresses were razor sharp metallic wrap skirts, skin tight patchwork tops and cutout latex thigh highs. Unknown to anyone at the time, that would be the direction they would take for fall. In favor of their normally soft lines the silhouette for all 35 looks was short, sharp and structured, softly a line in the skirt and fitted in the top. With each look they paired crotch high leather boots that were uckled and wrapped from ankle to thigh (courtesy of Nicholas Kirkwood). At this point the shoes that they have designed for their collections are almost as eagerly anticipated as the collection itself. Some of the looks included fitted leather jackets with marble prints and straps lashing the body a la Edward Scissorhands, but with the exception of those few jackets and some shaggy knitwear the look was consistent from start to finish. The inspirations were as interesting and varied as ever. The main idea was deconstruction and reconstruction, and that definitely played into Kate and Laura's love of collage-like construction. Specific references included demolished buildings, aerial photographs of city streets, organic surfaces and, the best reference of them all, Frankenstein.

That's one of the most interesting things about a Rodarte collection, the inspirations are so random and strange, but when you see the clothes all you can think is "Oh!". What doesn't make any sense at all in writing makes perfect sense in fabric. The demolished buildings meant that the sisters would silk screen silks and leathers to look like cracked stone and use textures that look like crushed bits of concrete and debris. The aerial cityscapes? They took shape in pieces that used a patchwork of curving pieces that actually did look like criss crossing city streets. Some even included a streak of yellow that recalled the painted lane dividers on a highway. And Frankenstein? Well once you know the reference that one's pretty easy. The way that all of the fabrics, mis-matched textures and slightly off colors were pieced together was taken right from the Monster's crude patchwork of skin. Plenty of designers channel movies as inspiration, but few of them can count Japanese slasher flicks, Star Wars and Universal's horror classic among their source material. The color palette started in neutral shades of stony beige and gray with bits of cream and moved into shiny black with streaks of electric blue or shiny copper and ended with vibrant emerald greens, bits of yellow, lilac and pale aqua combined with cooler shades of gray.

What the collection lacked in variety it more than made up for in impact. This was a new Rodarte, sharp, tough and with a heavy undercurrent of dystopian Sci-Fi. It was definitely new territory for the sisters, but it was also completely within the vocabulary they've built for their label which is something that shouldn't be undervalued. Their ability to stick to their guns while gently moving it forward is one of their strengths. While I love the collection though, I do think they should have broken up the look a bit. I'm sure that there are other pieces that were made for retail that just weren't included on the runway, and they've already shown that they can make great separates that are in keeping with their artistic approach to fashion design, and while I love the impact of the lineup I do wonder why they wouldn't want to show those other pieces. So where this collection falls short on wardrobe options, it's a great progression for the Rodarte aesthetic.

Narciso Rodriguez

I first fell in love with Narciso Rodriguez around 2003 which was about the same time that a huge amount of buzz was centered around him and his particular brand of razor sharp, curvy and oh-so-sexy minimalism. He quickly became known for elaborately seamed coats traced in piping, below the knee pencil thin sheath dresses, skin baring cut outs and simple but sensual evening gowns. It seemed like every starlett in Hollywood was wearing Narciso, and rightly so. His stuff was modern and incredibly flattering. Then around 2005/05 he began to play with volume, adding softness to his rigorous lines, playing more with bold color and experimenting with proportions. Even though I didn't really love the collections from the 05/06/07 era, I can at least recognize that he was smart to evolve as fashion did. But in 2007 fashion changed again, returning to shapes that were more body conscious with bondage-inspired detailing as well as getting rid of the heavy embellishment that reigned supreme in favor of cleaner silhouettes with minimal detail. But Rodriguez continued doing looser fits, boxy shapes and empire waists. It probably didn't help that at the same time he lost his financial backing. The last few seasons, Spring 2009 in particular, have not met my expectations for a Narciso Rodriguez collection. In wanting to broaden his range by playing with prints, softer lines and a more relaxed feeling, I honestly think he lost his touch, and the Fall/Winter 09 collection did virtually nothing to reassure me that the old Narciso is still present and accounted for. It started out promisingly enough with some of his elaborately simple coats and separates in beige, black and white. Granted a great white sheath on Raquel was paired with opaque white tights (a very poor styling choice), but it seemed like, even if it wouldn't be exactly like the old Narciso, it might be close. But then he sent out a lemon yellow t-shirt dress paired with matching tights and shoes followed soon after by a lemon yellow bandage dress with matching tights and shoes. Now, the color itself wasn't what bothered me, but I HATE when designers do the whole head-to-toe color thing. I hated it when Riccardo Tisci was obsessed with it and I hate it now that Narciso's caught on. It's so distracting, and honestly it's too much of an impact. But still, the pieces were looking good. A beautiful yellow skirt suit was worn with solid black tights and some kind of black bondagey top underneath. A black coat had some of that signature Narciso piping at the shoulder and collar.

But then he sent out not just one of the ugliest dresses I've seen him make, but one of the ugliest dresses I've ever seen. A black white and gray camo print (just like the one your resident High School death-metal loving badass might wear with his Rob Zombie t shirt) with a net overlay and a deflated bubble skirt. It was a WTF moment that I just didn't see coming and was a sign of what would follow. After that he sent out a look in a head to toe mutant cow print, and perched on the model's head was an upside down bucket with slits for the eyes. The print looked awful and the hat was straight out of Fat Albert. It was the kind of ridiculousness I would never have expected from the designer who used to be the king of icy urban perfection. A few of the looks were worn with that idiotic looking headgear and unfortunately it not only distracted from the clothes, it kind of dragged them down as well. Then he sent out another reminder of what he's actually capable of, though in a color he never would've used in the old days; a neon coral bandage dress worn with a matching zipped shrug with overlong thumb-hole sleeves. I really detest the color, but the look itself is fantastic. He also sent out some nice pieces with shiny gray insets worked into the black fabric. But then came more ugliness. A black and midnight blue shift with a cutout at the bust looked good enough but there was a useless looking little frill around the neck. A classic sheath with a harness neck and cutout bust was ruined because the boobs were covered in more of that heinous camo print. Tight fitted neon dresses with some kind of lace overlay looked cheap and frankly were more along the lines of what someone like Alexander Wang would do. And the final three looks? One was more WTF then the next. A black shiny bodice (I'm pretty sure it's sequins) had a limply draped skirt that would only look appropriate paired with ice skates and a gay skating partner. That sequined bodice showed also showed as the top to two other dresses, one with a skirt in that neon coral color and another in red. Both were worn over white tights. Pairing those white tights (which were bad enough) with that neon coral was the last in a string of bad decisions within the collection. Gone was the sophistication, the coolness, the chicness and in their place was a disjointed mess.

Now, I can't really blame Narciso, he's having more trouble with his backers and it certainly shows in the collection. I'm just hoping that business wise he finds his feet and realizes that right now, with all of the tight, sharp, aggressively sexy stuff going on in fashion he should be in his element.

All photos from

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Brace yourselves...

Even though the Fall Winter 2009/2010 season has been under way since this past weekend, yesterday marked the beginning of the big New York shows, the shows that people wait up all night to see pictures and video of, the shows that serve as the unofficial start of the season on a broader scale, and the shows which...well....matter. Monday brought out collections from not one, but two heavy hitters, Donna Karan with her signature collection and Marc Jacobs with his. That's pretty much where the similarities end however since their collections, as per usual, couldn't have been more different.

Donna Karan

For me Donna Karan's collections are always among the few I anticipate seeing during New York Fashion Week. Even when she's resting on her laurels, and she's got plenty of them to rest on, she still manages to make feminine, sensual, chic clothes for feminine, sensual, chic women. You'd have to be crazy not to at least appreciate that she knows how to flatter a woman's body in ways that few of her male counterparts can. And it is admirable that her clothes usually seem aimed at grown women with less that perfect model physiques. On a personal note, I just think the woman is a master, or rather mistress, of draping. She creates dresses so fluid, so slinky and cut with just the right amount of skin on display that it's a wonder her gowns don't see more of the red-carpet. All of those actresses in their cliched mermaid gowns with rigid bustiers and diamonds pouring out their ears could learn a thing or twelve from the Queen of 7th Ave on how to look sexy and be comfortable at the same time. On top of having an amazing eye and hand for draping, she makes it look easy. Her gowns and dresses look like the fabric just sort of fell onto the body that way and is just barely staying in place. As someone who has seen her runway pieces up close however, I couldn't even begin to tell you how they're constructed, it's that complex. But you'd never know it looking at the clothes, they just sort of hang there perfectly on the hanger. So what if she's one of those designers who doesn't always give the world something new? If it looks that good, who needs newness? Her Spring Summer 09 collection was very fluid, very easy and it had a youthful, sporty feel to it even though the clothes were signature Donna. For Pre-Fall all signs indicated that she would be going more structured, more polished and more tough than is usually the case for her with shorter hemlines, thigh revealing slits and very fitted shapes. It's not always the case that a Pre-Fall collection is a good indication of what's to come, but in this case, it was actually pretty close.

For Fall/Winter 2009 Donna went for grown up sophistication that was one part 40's, one part 80's and one part now. The silhouette was almost always very long, lean in the bottom half with draped or tailored pencil skirts cut below the knee or to mid-thigh. Some of the draped versions wrapped in the back and while the models walked, a slit opened up to reveal a bit of leg (such a sexy touch, very seductive). The top half had a bit more volume to it, though the waist was always in focus. Karan caught onto the shoulder-pad trend that has been literally everywhere for what seems like an eternity (but in reality is only one or two seasons) and showed that, despite the popular belief that they're a tragic relic of the 80's that should never be brought back, they can actually look totally right for the here and now. Sharply tailored jackets and coats had a strong shoulder line, some with over-sized portrait collars that spread open over the decollete to show off the huge necklaces some of the girls were wearing, others with cowl necklines in fur. With some of these looks she put fur half-sleeves over the arm of the jacket, which I actually think was a great touch. It kept those looks from being too elegant since the fur had a sort of raw quality. But some of the most gorgeous things had to be the very softly draped, high neck, dolman sleeved tops in jersey. Karan draped them on a shoulder pad, which not only created a beautiful line, but gave a nice bit of structure to a top that otherwise would have been fairly shapeless. But the best part? The split running down the spine in the back. So subtle, but so sexy.

In the dress department, Karan didn't disappoint either. One of my favorites was a fluid high necked number in a really deep brown charmeuse worn with a leather belt at the waist. It was so simple and just looked, I hate to use such a banal word so many times in one review, but it looked chic. Of course this being a Donna Karan collection the best dresses were saved for last. A gorgeous gray number with a slash neck, dolman sleeves and draping coming off of one of the shoulder pads looked gorgeous from the front, and even better from the back. It went into a deep V and had a swag that draped into a train. Another stunner, in that same deep-brown-almost-prune color featured a softly draped cowl, long sleeves with cut out cold shoulders (a Karan signature) and flowing train that unfortunately must have gotten a little tangled on Jourdan Dunn's foot. But if you're not really planning on strutting a runway, then it's a gorgeous evening option. The last two looks featured strapless tops with flattened fan pleating spread out across the bust and hips and belted at the waist worn over simple fishtail skirts. The looks were gorgeous, but the color combinations were a little off to me. One paired a cognac top with a black skirt and the other paired a black top with that gorgeous deep brown. Were it me I might have paired the cognac top with the brown skirt and the black top with the black skirt...but it's a minor complaint on my part. All this time as the girls came out, a live pianist was accompanying the procession with renditions of Mr. Brightside by The Killers and Going Under by Evanescence (at least I think, still not too sure about that one). The choice in music really added to the elegance of the collection, and I imagine it must have been a nice change of pace for those in the audience who are normally subjected to remixes of the same songs that happen to be popular at the moment.

All in all, a really beautiful collection. It kind of made me think of Cukor's "The Women", a very glamorous, independent urban females looking fabulous at all times kind of spirit. Even though I would have hemmed some of the skirts a bit shorter, changed some of the shoes to something more streamlined and switched up those last two evening looks, it was still very beautiful and contained plenty of gorgeous pieces. So maybe I am a little disappointed that she didn't completely stay with the sharp, aggressive and youthful mood she captured for Pre-Fall, but I can at least say that I like the collection, particularly after seeing it in motion.

Marc Jacobs

Alright, so it may be a little early, but I'm gonna call it anyway. The most fun collection of the week is bound to be Marc Jacobs. For sheer ridiculous, silly, giddy, loud, in your face fashion, I doubt if Jacobs can be beat. For next fall he sent out a collection so trashy, so over the top and so-bad-it's-good that I kind of can't help but love it. It's like, cerebrally I know I shouldn't like it because it contains so much of what I've been hating about fashion for some time now, but I just can't help it, it's too infectious. Jacobs claimed that he was thinking about that time in the Mid-80's when the cool kids of Manhattan would dress to the nines, kill off the ozone layer with hair product and lacquer their faces with enough makeup to make most modern day drag queens look tasteful. Unusual for Jacobs his references were right out there for everyone to see. That got me thinking right there. He's one of those designers that is not only very vague about any specific references he was playing with, he's also very good at blending them. So the fact that his references were A) completely obvious and B) focused on something very specific is pretty significant. Clearly this collection was coming from the heart and he really didn't care what anyone thinks of it.

Some of the concerns (or rather complaints) I was seeing on the Fashion Spot, besides the obvious hatred of how retro and kitschy the collection was, was how out of touch with the times it is. It's no secret, everyone's going broke, some more quickly than others, and here Jacobs sent out a collection of extremely trendy, of-the-moment clothes when the commonly held belief is that safe, investment clothing is the right way to go right now. I beg to differ. I actually think Jacobs was smart not to go the route that so many designers undoubtably will this season. I don't claim to be some sort of expert when it comes to fashion buying, but my thinking is that the pieces that sit there on the rack and call to someone like any other guilty pleasure are the pieces that people will really want. It's no different than downing one too many drinks, eating junk food or having hot sex with the hot ex, they're all things that are triggered by some form of desire, and even though the voice in the back of your head tells you you shouldn't be doing it, you do it anyway. The decision you make isn't cerebral, and that's what is going to sell clothing in this economy.

Since my main concern isn't the economics of fashion, back to the collection. Let's start with color; every shade of super-bright day-glo marker you can imagine, Barbie pink, canary yellow, Kelly green, chemical blue, violet, gold and red all put in appearances, many in a single look. Fabrics as well were equally varied, wool, shiny velvet, taffeta, alpaca, lace, satin, lame, brocade, cashmere, all that and more. The show started out safe-ish, with gray punk inspired threads. The first look was an oversized cardigan lashed with zippers around the neckline that had a scarf pulled through one side was paired with pants that were simple in front, but had a half-kilt (Marc's wardrobe staple of choice lately) in the back. Then came an oversized sweater dress with the a zipper across the shoulder worn over patterned tights. And so out marched Marc Jacobs' gang of party people. A semi-transparent dress was covered with tiny circular mirrors that looked like studs from a distance, another combined tarty black lace with silk satin that was embellished with little round beads. A blood red sequined top was worn with a black, white and red striped pouf skirt and another dress was made of navy strips of satin that were falling apart to show off the pink underlayer. Just when you thought he was going to stay with the vaguely punky mood, he sent out some more glamor-tinged stuff. A yellow velvet top had a wavy off the shoulder neckline and was worn with gray tapered trousers and Guy Bourdin makeup. A minidress on Stam featured a similar neckline, just exaggerated to form some sort of yellow flower around the shoulders.

After this came the full on retinal assault of colors. A chemical blue jacket with cape sleeves had black piping around the edges and was worn with a velvet mini skirt in a darker shade of blue. A pink coat had shoulders that defy description, but let's just say they make Martin Margiela's of two years ago look tame by comparison. And so it went, a bright yellow coat/poncho hybrid, a green coat over a pink minidress, a purple hoodie dress over printed tights, an astrkhan poncho over green tapered pants, sweaters with boning in the waist, ruched taffeta party dresses in pink, plum and olive green, some with a zipper at the waist creating a ruched effect, multi-colored brocade jackets, stiff bubble shaped skirts in a blown up wallpaper pattern, and finally a black and white graphic print dress with poofy sleeves and skirt.

It was an insane parade of looks. No two were exactly the same, and from start to finish it didn't seem like there was one real flow to it. Besides the clear inspiration from the 80's, there wasn't a connecting thread from look #1 to look #60, and I actually think that was the point. Each one of the 60 models had a different hair and makeup look, and it really wouldn't be fair to talk about this show without mentioning the hair and makeup. There were huge pompadours, fried out perms, faux-hawks, crimped bobs, waves and spikes. Some girls even wore Flock of Seagulls inspired looks. And the makeup was just as eclectic, from heavy neon eyeshadow painted in wings across the eyes, blush that went from the forehead to the cheek, frosted blue, silver and purple lipstick, from Siouxsie Sioux to Debbie Harry and even Grace Jones, all of the icons of that era were represented. There was even one model made up to look like Tina Chow. Clearly Jacobs wanted each one of the models to look like an individual and wanted the whole show to be about different personalities, lot's of different people expressing themselves through style. So even if he didn't mean for the collection to feel a bit scattered and unfocused, I don't think it suffered because of that, in fact, it's probably what really made the collection.

Overall this wasn't his best collection in terms of originality or beauty, but I still love it despite that. I have a feeling a lot of people will be comparing it to last season's show, but as much as I loved that collection, I really don't think it's fair to compare the two. They're coming from two completely different places. It'd be like comparing Roberto Cavalli and Rick Owens (that's the fashion equivalent of apples and oranges). I also think a lot of people will look at this and immediately see costumes or retro fashions, and in truth the full looks are costumes, but if you zero in on the pieces, a bright wool overcoat, those fabulous zippered sweaters, a fun little party dress, the pants with the half-kilts, it really isn't so unwearable or even all that literally 80's. I mean yeah, the big shoulders are insane looking, but they don't make up the entire collection. And these pieces will no doubt be offered in more colors than just the neon that Jacobs showed on the runway. So really, what you're left with is fun, upbeat, vibrant clothes that would certainly lift the spirits of anyone wearing them come fall. But more than the clothes I really just love the spirit of this. It's so obvious that Marc and his team were having fun and wanted everyone else to as well. And when you compare this show to a lot of the other 80's inspired fashion that's been everywhere, this seems truly nostalgic, nostalgic for a time when fun reigned supreme and fashion wasn't burdened by worries of whether or not it would sell.

Check out the video. It's bound to put you in a good mood, for 10 minutes at least.

All photos from

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Like a virgin...

So kids, I'm sure you've all just been dying to hear my take on the Spring/Summer 2009 couture collections. Unfortunately, the real world called....and called, and called, and called until finally I had to answer. Luckily, I'm back to focusing on the wonderful little bubble of beauty and bitchiness called fashion.

Well apparently white is the new black if the recent couture collections are anything to go by. It's strange. Every season when the handful of couture houses present their collections there's always some common thread throughout most of them despite the fact that the designers themselves couldn't be more different. This season the major similarity in all of the collections is that classic non-color representing purity, virginity, lightness, delicacy and space. Perhaps that's why I'm not loving it...not that I mind white clothing per say, but when it seems like every collection I've seen in a 3 day period has had an abundance of white I think it's fair to say that I've had my fill. In a way it's kind of easy to read into. Things are in a pretty dismal state these days and there doesn't seem to be any quick turnaround in sight. You could say that all this white perfectly mirrors how bleak the world seems....I'm not actually saying that though, just throwing the suggestion out there. Every big name collection shown featured it's fair share of white. Dior showed it as taught little cocktail sheaths or full skirted ballgowns decorated with Delftware patterns in shades of blue. Givenchy sent out a procession of Vestal Virgins in a take on a broderie Anglaise. Gaultier had thick bands trimming a plunging black V-neck. But the biggest and whitest of them all was Chanel, where Karl Lagerfeld kept his lineup almost exclusively white on white. We'll cover all this and more in due time.

So the inevitable question has of course come up this season of how couture is relevant in a world that is slowly going broke. The fact is it's not, but couture hasn't actually been relevant in a long time. And besides, I highly doubt that the women who can actually buy couture need to worry too much. Oh sure, their husbands might tighten their budget a bit, but the way I see it, if they can still even consider buying couture then there's no point in trying to make couture relevant for the tough times we're in.


Dior. Dior, Dior, Dior. Just thinking the name makes me feel exasperated at this point in time. It has so thoroughly slipped from it's place of relevance, creativity and prestige that every season I wonder to myself why I even bother looking at the collections anymore. It only ends up disappointing and frustrating me. Does that make me some kind of fashion masochist? Or worse....a delusional optimist hoping against hope that this season will be the season that things finally turn around, or even offer a glimmer of hope that things will turn around. Looking back it's so clear to identify the turning point when Dior slipped into this rut, and the answer is bound to upset or offend someone. The Spring/Summer 2007 couture show was the moment when John Galliano got lost in Dior's heritage and as of right now he has yet to find his way out. Yes, that collection was mind-blowingly beautiful, but it was also the first time where he treated the Dior archives with devout reverence. Before that, he thought nothing of taking the heritage of Dior, the tradition of overt femininity and elegance, and subverting it in an effort to make things contemporary, brash and powerful. It certainly couldn't have helped that soon after the S/S 07 show he lost his right hand man and longtime collaborator Steven Robinson. So now here we are, in a place where all of John Galliano's skills, imagination, passion and genius are being squandered while he's trying to hold on to a form of elegance and sophistication that has absolutely no relevance to the here and now. Is it any wonder that looking through the photos of his collections (I really don't even watch the whole videos anymore) I always feel like I'm banging my head against the proverbial wall?

This season his inspiration came from Vermeer, Van Dyck and of course, Christian Dior. Now, I have nothing against the Dutch Masters. Nor do I have anything against Flemish baroque portraiture. I don't even have anything against the New Look, but this is all territory that Galliano has visited in the recent past. His S/S 05 collection was heavily inspired by 16th and 17th century Dutch art. And his F/W 07 Bal des Artistes collection paid tribute to all of those Baroque masters, in some vague form or another. So right off the bat I wasn't exactly thrilled. The only difference between those collections and this one was that the "Diorness" was much more literal and dragged the collection down. One of the predominant looks in the collection was yet another take on the nipped-waist, full skirted Bar suit, this time with stiff, standout skirts with scrolling hems that bounced as the girls walked paired with those padded waist jackets. Shown in golden yellow, Delft blue, white and red, they really didn't do very much for me. Even though the skirts were probably meant to give of a suspended, light sort of feeling, they ended up looking clumsy due to the afformentioned bouncing. The fact that the stiff fabrics that these looks were rendered in showed every crease near those hems didn't help matters. The two best looks were among the simplest; an ivory tailleur with an off the shoulder jacket that had full, honeycomb pleated organza sleeves and a slim skirt with oversized cartridge pleats at the waist, and a slim off the shoulder white sheath, also with a cartridge pleated waist and a corseted torso with tonal embroidery on the skirt. Neither of them were anything remarkable, and the poor little sheath shown on Chanel Iman was practically drowned out by the colorful, voluminous looks that dominated the lineup, but both stood out for their simplicity and the fact that they were just downright pretty.

After the repetition of the skirt suits and clumsily draped cocktail dresses, the collection segued into evening. What used to be Galliano's specialty has now become formulaic and not even all that beautiful. I think the single most frustrating thing about this current state that Dior collections have gotten stuck in is the fact that he has all but abandoned the one thing that he's so well known for; bias cut siren gowns. He hasn't shown a column of liquid silk satin cut to mold around the body in so long, and I just can't figure out why. He's proven time and again how talented and versatile he is, so why is he wasting the skill that made him famous in the first place? It's absolutely baffling. This season he sent out some mostly forgettable structured ivory columns before moving into a parade of ballgowns. Some had Delftware inspired embroidery, others featured trim in handpainted floral prints and swags of fabric draping around the bodice and skirt. In shades of ivory, pale pink, blue, peach and coral, they were definitely lacking in the sophistication department. They looked heavy, retro and very much like the cliche of a "Couture" dress. Then he sent out a finale gown straight out of a Renaissance fair; blood red, an off-the-shoulder corseted bodice with dark floral trim, and tired ruffles trailing down the back. For every accusation that's ever been hurled at him that he designs costumes, this gown was probably the single most costumey thing I've ever seen from him. It could be straight out of a period film or costume rental store.

Honestly this collection was even more of a disappointment than the last few have been. Even though last season's foray into extreme delicacy and elegance was a largely predictable homage to all things Dior, it was still beautiful and a little bit sexy in places. This though, besides being a flat and lifeless affair, wasn't even that pretty and worse than that, it was kind of sub-par in the craftsmanship department.....and while that's always a no-no for couture, it's shocking considering how refined Galliano's finishing always is. Every season I feel more and more frustrated by Dior couture. Not to sound completely melodramatic, but it's becoming kind of painful to see Galliano destroying his reputation this way. Galliano has always been that rare breed of designer that's truly an artist. He imbued his work with his blood sweat and tears, and you could always tell that he truly put his soul into it. But these last few seasons, well, I can't say for sure if he's still putting his all into his work at Dior, but it certainly doesn't seem that way.


I have a theory; Chanel is to couture what the heartbeat is to every living thing. It's the one house that let's you know that couture is alive and kicking. As long as it's there, couture will never die. It probably has something to do with the, er, tenacity of it's namesake, Coco. But over the last few years, I feel like Chanel couture collections have fallen into a bit of a routine. Spring is always very light, very airy, very feminine and very delicate. Fall on the other hand is usually a bit more baroque, heavier in the textures, colors and decoration. Spring especially though has gotten a little frustrating for me because every season there's a lot of white, pale pink and soft grays, ostrich feathers, tulle, flowers, and ultra delicate beadwork. Besides the fact that the craftsmanship is impeccable, and the results are almost always without flaw, I'm always left wondering what all of the fuss is about because really, Lagerfeld isn't actually doing anything new season to season. Like Dior, it makes me yearn for earlier days, maybe circa 2001/2002. Those collections were all based around simple ideas that in turn became amazingly chic clothes. And they didn't fall into predictability. But who knows, maybe nothing has changed except for me. Maybe I'm becoming jaded, I've come to expect too much from fashion and now take beauty for granted. I just don't know.

Anyway, this season Lagerfeld went to extremes, making almost the entire collection white. The only other color that appeared, and very sparingly at that, was black. The collection was inspired by paper, and you could see it throughout. From the sharp, neat little lines on the jackets and skirts that opened the collection, to the headpieces which, I think, were the most incredible thing in the collection. Each one, and no two were exactly alike, was made out of paper. Flower buds, braids, laurel wreaths, and for the bride at the end, a giant camellia that was in bloom around the face all made an appearance. Now I know that Lagerfeld is no stranger to accessorizing his Chanel collections from head to toe, but I actually think these creations distracted from the clothes.

The opening looks, small boxy jackets with neat, raised collars and A-line skirts, paired with the big dramatic floral headpieces, actually looked more Valentino than least to me. I can't put my finger on exactly why I feel that way, but I can't possibly be the only one who sees it, can I?

After about the first dozen looks I have to admit, my eyes were starting to glaze over. Seeing so much white completely obliterated the individuality of each look to the point that they started looking the same. It's strange, I don't usually mind seeing an abundance of black, but I was not a fan of seeing this much white. Maybe it's because the details all got so lost on these least in the pictures. Thankfully Lagerfeld relented a bit and introduced a bit of contrast into the mix courtesy of black piping around the edges of suits, bands of paillettes defining the waist and a dress scattered with black embroidery.

After showing some more white, Lagerfeld sent out some all black looks. A simple shift with cap sleeves was entirely embroidered in black bugle beads which only enhanced the linear quality of the dress and it was easily my favorite piece in the collection because it was in such stark contrast to everything else. Then came three dresses in a black and white blurred floral print which, quite honestly, were very New York Fashion Week looking. After this came the evening dresses, straight columns with a black geometric patterns covering the white surface, layered tulle embroidered with rosettes and a pair of skinny trousers with a strapless embroidered top all made an appearance, though the connection to the inspiration became pretty much non-existent. The bride also wore pants, paired with a tunic-style with a long, ruffled train coming out the back.

Overall it was very beautiful, but kind of bland. I mean, I can only handle so many variations on a white shift with white floral embroidery before I lose interest. Yes, couture needs to be relevant to the times we live in, and Lagerfeld almost always manages that end of things by making clothes that truly are wearable to those members of a certain income that has a lot of zeros, but does excitement and a little bit of drama need to be sacrificed to achieve wearability?


In his three and a half years since he started at Givenchy, Riccardo Tisci has very quickly established a look and spirit that is instantly identifiable. Super slim trousers that could be leggings, masculine influenced jackets paired with delicate, feminine blouses and long, draggy, wraithlike gowns all rendered in a dark, tortured palette and shown in an equally dark and tortured setting. While I have occasionally been a fan of his haute couture collections, both of his couture collections for 2008 left me completely underwhelmed because he was basically just repeating ideas that he had already explored. It seemed too early in his career to be treading water and reworking pieces from past collections rather than creating something new. This season I was completely prepared for yet another procession of Tisci's signature doom and gloom, but thankfully I was caught completely off guard. The usually dark runway was strewn with pale, colorful rose petals and the very first image I saw was a draped, bondage straped gown in a painterly purple floral print. What was this? Givenchy doing prints, and a romantic, colorful floral print at that? Then the photos started coming in. Gone were the dull browns, blacks and grays of past Givenchy collections. Instead we were seeing ivory, dusty lilac, pistachio, pale yellow and alabaster. It was like an immediate breath of fresh air, and it certainly made me sit up in my seat and wait anxiously as more pictures came in. As the photos were posted on the Fashion Spot, it was clear that even though things wouldn't stray too far from Tisci's aesthetic, this collection was going to be different.

Inspired by a mix of the exoticism and eroticism of Lawrence Alma-Tadema's Pre-Raphaelite paintings, the minimal, flowing dancewear of Pina Bausch and a touch of bondage carried over from the spring RTW collection, what Tisci presented was a collection that was not only quite beautiful, but also proved that he's willing to make an effort to push himself. The show opened with an alabaster dress that had exaggerated puff sleeves, a fitted skirt with body-con seaming and a top portion that was done in transparent pleated silk that offered a glimpse of the harness that criss-crossed the chest. Next was a suit, the jacket with similarly exaggerated shoulders and fitted like a glove. Then a draped white blouse paired with yet another fitted, seamed skirt and worn with a massive metal collar. Soon after he sent out dresses in transparent silk that flowed around the body in organic looking drapes. I especially liked the one shown on Jourdan, with that gorgeous crinkle pleated texture in that incredible buttercup yellow color....and I don't even really like yellow. There's just something about it, the color, the lightness of the fabric, the ease of the silhouette that really says springtime.

From here Tisci sent out a small section of draped white dresses with delicate cutwork reminiscent of broderie Anglaise if it was blown up and distorted. Some of them featured elastic bondage underpinnings while others had draped hoods that covered the face and led into plunging necklines. I've been thinking of these looks as the "Vestal Virgins", and it really is quite fitting. They do look like priestesses off to some pagan ritual, don't they? I actually really like the clash between the super delicate fabric and the bondage bits underneath. It's a great contrast, and since it's rare that you see bondage inspired fashion done in pristine white, it's a bit unexpected.

From here Tisci went into evening. Flesh and pale mint gave way to lilac, black and those aforementioned floral prints. Shocking for a Tisci collection, he only used black for the last five looks, and you really can't even count the printed dresses as being black since the purple print is really what stands out. Some of the simple, toga-like draped dresses featured big crystal brooches that looked as if they were what was holding the entire thing together, while two of the flesh colored dresses had this really intricate embroidery or something covering the surface. I actually can't really tell if it even is embroidery, or if it's the fabric itself, but it looks really beautiful against the skin underneath. The three lilac gowns, all a narrow silhouette that gently fluted out below the knee, featured chains trimming necklines with ostrich feathers or completely covering the top in rows, or chain mail that draped across the bodice and waist to give the body some movement. Then came the two floral printed gowns with corseted bodices and straps lashing the shoulders and waist. It seems that the main focus of the collection was taking design elements that are traditionally quite tough and aggressive, like bondage, corsetry and hardware, and softening them. It really was quite interesting how that played out, and it didn't even really dawn on me until after I had looked through the show a few times. To conclude, Tisci sent out three gowns in black, one was trimmed with ostrich feathers and featured transparent insets, another was slightly drop-waisted and had bondage straps around the hips, and the final one featured a simple, plunging v-neck and had voluminous pleated and embroidered sleeves. The last one reminded me quite a bit of his S/S 07 couture show, which also featured gowns with big, face framing pieces that featured beaded sea anemones, leather scales and coral branches. This gown however was a bit more subdued and I'm pretty sure the sleeve and collar portion is a separate piece.

Overall there wasn't much that I didn't like about this collection, and I would definitely say it was my favorite of the week. The great thing about it is that you can totally see the inspirations in the clothes, I mean all you have to do is Google Alma-Tadema or Pina Bausch and it's right there in front of you, but the collection really didn't stray into theme-y territory. I can totally picture a certain type of woman looking amazing in most of it, and I really want to see something from the collection at the Oscars (Eva Green, that means you!!!). While this wasn't Tisci's best couture collection (that honor still goes to S/S 07) it was certainly one of his best because as I said, it's clear he wanted to push himself into areas that he's not naturally drawn to, and it really made for some great fashion. I certainly hope that this new found freedom to explore carries over in his RTW collection come Paris fashion week.

Jean Paul Gaultier

Every now and then a designer manages to find inspiration in some of the most unassuming little places. That was the case this season for Jean Paul Gaultier. His inspiration was calligraphy, specifically the kind used on the edges of currency. You just have to love how dead on Gaultier's timing is, and honestly, if it was anyone other than him that inspiration would probably have just served as a depressing reminder of what's going on in the world. Luckily Gaultier is one witty fellow who knows how to handle his puns. The collection, like most this couture season, was light on color focusing mainly on graphic black and white. But where the Chanel collection had virtually no contrast, Gaultier's show was full of it. The show started, as most Gaultier couture shows do, with some of his signature sharp tailoring. This season he focused on straight, extended shoulders. Some were quite tame, like the one shouldered "Smoking" dress on Ines de la Fressange, others were more exaggerated proving that, at least as far as designers are concerned, the shoulder pad is anything but a flash in the pan trend. Besides the painfully chic Smoking dress, I loved that Gaultier showed pin-stripe power suits. The timing is just so dead on considering how many Wall Street power brokers are losing their shirts (and suits as well, I suspect). In these opening exits the inspiration was handled pretty carefully, a scrolling black pattern trimming the collar and waist of a jacket, beige geometric gridwork on a pin-stripe skirt suit, it was all perfectly chic and, if you didn't know what the theme of the collection was, it would just make for some interesting detail on otherwise classic pieces.

Speaking of details, that's really what made this collection so interesting. Gaultier worked delicate spiraling curls for all they were worth, trimming a nude inset on a white sheath, morphing into fishnet and lace prints on silk coats and as the collection progressed into evening, forming elaborate collars from which the dresses were suspended. Those collars were actually incredibly beautiful and weren't quite like anything I've seen before. One in particular had a metal structure in the shape of a collar and lapel, and in between thin cords criss-crossed in a gridlike sort of pattern. Suspended from this was a simple draped satin column. From the full size pictures, you couldn't even really tell what was going on, and those are the best details in couture collections, the ones that you can only make out from up close.

The evening dresses were where Gaultier really let loose with his inspiration creating dresses of draped fishnet with standup collars, simple goddess colums with insets of inky blue weaving at the waist, graphic geometric corsetry built into nude tulle and a gorgeoous white organza gown with a panniered waist that had delicate scrollwork trimming a sheer panel up the leg and bands of black crin going around the hem. But my favorite piece had to be the black and silver chain mail mini dress on Jourdan. Attatched to the scrolling metal collar that held the dress up were bunches of quill-like feathers, and with the black lipgloss and finger-waved hair she looked like a modern day Josephine Baker.

It was a classicly Gaultier collection, filled with his witty takes on traditional Parisian chic. It was also a much needed return to form after last season's excrutiating neon drag-queen collection, and while it wasn't my favorite collection of the week, it was definitely a close second.


So, up until this point I would assume that the title of this entry should be pretty self explanatory. All of the collections mentioned have featured a substantial amount of white clothing. No mystery there. With this collection however the connection is less, er, tasteful. There were plenty of colors in the Valentino collection, the first since the two cobblers...I mean accessories design directors Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli were appointed as design directors of womenswear. Their first collection, though regarded as a triumph by the leather-faced Maestro and all of his aging acolytes, was a bit like two virgins going at it for the first time; awkward, fumbling and not very good. Hey, I didn't say that the connection to the title was particularly clever or anything...

As anyone with an interest in fashion knows by now, Alessandra Faccinetti was kicked out on her elegantly attired ass by the Valentino people because they, and Valentino himself, felt she wasn't being true to the Valentino heritage. Well, Chiuri and Piccioli were determined to make sure that everyone knew that they had studied and worshiped the archives and fully understand what Valentino is all about. As if it wasn't bad enough that they seemed to have their heads lodged securely up Val's ass, it seemed like he had both his hands firmly up theirs because the collection "they" sent out may as well have been created by Valentino himself. The only thing about it that let you know that the Maestro hadn't designed it was the fact that the technique was so sub-par. Drapes were bulky, details lacked finesse and the evening gowns in stiff silk duchesse and similarly structured fabrics had all the lightness and delicacy of deep fried lard.

The only interesting thing about this collection was the fact that it cast a glaring light on the fact that for years, Valentino himself was entirely out of touch with how contemporary women dress and live. He was stuck in a world of elegance and drama that just didn't resonate with the here and now. But because that was what he had been doing for the entirety of his career, it made sense and nobody questioned it. Plus, his technique was always impeccable. But seeing a parade of pale imitations of the originals was not only insulting to anyone who knows that couture is about perfection above all else, but insulting because apparently this was exactly what Valentino and the people running his company wanted. All they wanted was two sycophants to stroke Valentino's ego and keep things exactly the way they always have been. The whole thing, from the giant "Valentino" scrawled across the backdrop to Valentino's (crocodile?) tears as the designers came out to take their bow and were bowing to the master, just seemed like one giant staged ceremony. It was like that part in Wayne's World when they meet Alice Cooper, except, you know, not funny. Worse than that, if this is the direction the label continues in, and it will no doubt, the label will slip into irrelevance the likes of which only Frida Giannini can relate to.

It really isn't even worth it to post pictures, because if you've ever seen a Valentino couture collection you already know exactly what this collection looks like. There are no surprises, and unless all of the parties involved in the Valentino get their heads on straight, there probably never will be. If this collection proved anything, besides the fact that accessories designers have no business assuming the role of clothing designers, it's that imitation isn't the sincerest form of flattery, it's the cheapest.

All photos from