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 Chanel...at 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 clothes...at 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 Style.com

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