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.

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