In the weeks since the Prada collection was shown during Milan Fashion Week, I've gone from liking it but wishing the ideas had been taken further to liking it for what it is. Who knows why, but for some reason some collections, particularly those from Miuccia, require a little bit of time to digest. Whether it's a case of simply becoming more accustomed to what you've seen or eventually "getting" it I can't say for sure, my guess is it's something different for everyone. But I will say this, seeing the video of a collection can make all the difference because so many things are completely lost in still photography. Even though it was visible in photos that Miuccia chose to send the models out into a closed space surrounded by bleechers and scaffolding instead of a runway, getting to see it from multiple angles made it seem much more powerful. It was almost as if the models were being displayed to a crowd of on-lookers at some sort of bloodsport event, like they were the unwitting animal or criminal thrown into the ring . It could be Thunderdome, it could be some gladiatorial arena, hell, it could be some down and dirty dog-fighting venue in the Bronx. Once you have those sort of images in your head, the tweed skirt suits take on a whole new spirit. The music, too, is pretty great. And of course, having multiple camera angles lets you see all of the details that the reviewers always talk about but never show up in the photos, like the skirts and coats slit up the sides to reveal the leg. I love that detail, and I pray to God that at least some of the pieces make it into boutiques with that slit intact.
John Galliano fashion shows are always a highly anticipated event, even if the previous collection was something of a let down, as was the case with Spring/Summer. Regardless, he is one of the few designers whom people seem to really count on to lift the spirits when the rest of fashion is a little low on joy and excitement. And it seems that when he does have an off season, it makes people even more hopeful that he'll really pull off a great new collection. While he succeeded in putting on a good show this season that's all he really managed. Don't get me wrong, the clothes were far from being bad, and I really don't think that John is capable of doing truly bad clothes, but they were both extremely costumey and out of touch with where fashion is.
Staged in a warehouse with a fake snowstorm falling for the duration of the show, colored lasers were used to create the illusion of a tunnel, like the snow was falling around the models in a cylindrical shape. This was actually the most amazing thing about the show, and my description of it hardly does it justice. The set, or rather special effects in lieu of a set, could have been the prelude to any number of things. Even though it was a snowstorm, the blue-ish cast from the lasers made the whole thing seem much more sci-fi than anything else, which might have been a welcome change from Galliano. He's never really been much of a futurist. The closest he's ever come to sci-fi territory was his F/W 1999 Haute Couture collection for Dior, partially inspired by "The Matrix". But it could have gone anywhere. Where it wound up was in Eastern Europe, territory that John has covered before both at his own label and at Dior. I was pretty let down right away. The opening looks combined the bundled, rounded shapes of Russian nesting dolls with the flared out Faustanellas worn by Greek soldiers. What that amounted to were jackets and coats with panniered hips that were sort of an extreme take on Dior's padded Bar jacket, and hugely flaring skirts in varying shades of gray. A gray checked wool coat had angularly cut shoulders, though the structure wasn't stiff like all of the shoulder pads we've seen this season. A black skirt was inset with godets in a yellow floral pattern while yellow flower embroidery traced the edges of the peasant blouse that was worn with it. After the monochrome looks that opened the show came a section of looks, predominantly short with full skirts and voluminous tops in bright red, royal blue, white and black that wre further lavished with Gypsy-esque embellishments and embroideries. Most of the skirts were paired with loose, billowy peasant blouses, while others were worn with heavily decorated jackets. A royal blue A-line coat was covered in thick black embroidery around the edges, and there was something vaguely Christian Lacroix about it. Overall this section of looks might as well have been a bunch of national costumes, at least that would have made sense. As fashion however, I just don't see what could be taken away from it, and I don't just mean in the sense of what can be worn. I mean, what's in there that women are going to desire, to aspire to? What is going to inspire them? The whole "Gypsy/bohemian" thing has been established time and again as more of an aesthetic than a trend, so it's not as if anyone is going to see this and feel the need to adapt it for themselves. And it's just so literal that I really can't look at this and feel inspired by it on a purely creative level either because the truth is, I just don't think it's that creative. So I was just left feeling pretty uninterested in the first portion of the collection.
Being that this was a very small collection, just 30 looks and most of them repetitive, the national costumes moved right into Galliano's signature bias cut eveningwear. While not much more interesting than the first 2/3 of the show, it was certainly the most wearable and the most beautiful part of it. Eight gowns, all in shades of gray, silver, and one in black, were beyond ethereal. Some were transparent, shown only over jeweled thongs, others were in metallic silk, one came draped in gray fringe and all of them were accessorized with veils, crowns of jewels, heavy Byzantine jewelry around the neck or waist, and a rosary. The whole look was sort of a combination of icons from Eastern Christianity and Tim Burton's "Corpse Bride". The dresses themselves, while nothing new for Galliano, were still mesmerizingly gorgeous, and even though I'm getting really tired of the transparency thing, I can't deny that. But then again, John has an instinct for making beautiful dresses. His bias cut numbers are stunning even when they're stripped of any kind of embellishment or dramatic styling, so maybe I'm being too easy on him there.
I really wish I can say that the collection moved me, but beyond reassuring me that Galliano hasn't lost his flair for the theatrical, it didn't do anything for me. This is mostly because it's just entirely out of touch with things, and I don't mean money-wise. I would be more than happy to indulge John in some over the top fantasy, especially now considering that money and wearability has become more of a priority than ever in the fashion world, but it's depressing that his inspiration has absolutely nothing to do with what's going on in fashion or outside of it. I mean, beyond the fact that there is minimal, if any, true imagination involved in this collection (it's basically a bunch of extreme takes on various national costumes) the whole folksy/gypsy/ Eastern European thing has been beaten into the ground for the time being. I could see if that was his aesthetic in a nutshell, just like Ann Demeulemeester is consistently dark, brooding and slightly gothic even when those things aren't in fashion, but that's not the sum of his aesthetic. It's one tiny fraction of the whole thing. And even in the past when John has done really out there collections for both Dior and his own line, they still do relate to the mood of things. I mean, even his completely over the top Victorian Dolls collection of S/S 2004, which may have seemed insane in a season that was in a very Gatsby sort of mood, the overt, delicate femininity of it made sense because really that's what everyone else was doing as well, just in a different way. But in this season, when designers were largely creating very strong, polished, aggressively elegant clothes his faux-naive peasant blouses and paisley prints make no sense. While I'm fine with his attempt to make people forget about things for a little while and maybe bring some joy to fashion in a pretty joyless moment, it would have been nicer if it didn't feel so trite.
Question: What do you get if you cross Marie Antoinette with mid-80s Haute Couture and add a touch of the Pigalle district?
The Louis Vuitton F/W 09 collection, that's what. If Marc Jacobs' own collection in New York set the stage for the prevailing obsession with the return of the 80s this season, then his collection for Vuitton both cemented that obsession, and offered a different take on it. Instead of the the drug fueled glam club scene 80s or the hard edged Mugler/Montana 80s, the Vuitton show picked up on another side of Parisian fashion in the decade, the joyous, poofy, colorful, eccentric 80s of Christian Lacroix and Emanuel Ungaro. It was a much more overtly feminine take on the era than what has been shown for four weeks now, low on glitz, low on aggression and high on exaggerated prettiness. If most of the collections have left people seething at how literally the 80s is being used, the Vuitton collection actually did manage to deliver some clothes that wouldn't look retro worn today. Essentially what the show boiled down to was using things like ruching, tucking, folding and gathering to create volume. There was a certain haughty feel to things in that a lot of the looks were very pulled together, very "done", but there wasn't anything fussy about it. Combined with an almost cartoony girlishness and a tarty attitude, the whole thing made me think of a girl who has pillaged her mother's vintage couture, ripped it apart, reconfigured it for a night out and wears it with all the elegance of a streetwalker. It was that mix of something really chic and "Parisian" with something kinda trashy that made me like what I was seeing. The opening looks were mainly in black with one brightly colored detail; a long teal or coral ribbon tied at the waist, a candy pink lining peeking out the hem of a jacket, a hot pink pom-pom nestled in a puff sleeve. They weren't garish like neon, but against the black clothes they made an impact. A fantastic LBD came with two mismatched sleeves; on one there was a huge ruffled poof at the wrist, the other had a puff at the shoulder with the aforementioned pom-pom peeking out. A mini skirt was made of overlapping loops of black ribbon trimmed in fuschia and was worn with a jacket made of strips of fur. After the black with bits of color green looks started to come into play, first as a black coat with rows of scrunchy ruffles that was actually kind of ugly, then as a tulle and printed fabric tutu worn with a darker sweater and matching bra. There was also a tailleur of tightly ruched olive green iridescent taffeta worn with a giant black bow that looked like bunny ears. Those bunny ears popped up throughout the collection and added a really fun, Helmut Newton-esque touch.
After a few exits in shades of blue there was a black coat, very simple and chic, belted at the waist with two giant puffs on the cuff of the sleeves. Needless to say I love it and would die if I saw someone gutsy enough to wear it on the street. A midnight blue tailleur paired a short cropped jacket with short puff sleeves with a puckered skirt that had a huge puffed up ruffle around the hem. Even though I can see the 80s in it, I think it could absolutely work as an outfit on the right girl. As separate pieces, it definitely could. I don't see how that skirt is any more or less retro than the bubble skirts that first got huge a few years ago and still refuse to go away in certain market sectors. A beige draped dress in matte and shiny silk on Stam was worn with those black bunny ears and patent leather thigh high boots with lacing up the back. It was a weird mix of pretty and vulgar, but I liked it...though something tells me we'll be seeing a lot of these bunny ears when the fall magazines start circulating. That look led into a section of similar face powder beige and Barbie pink looks accented with black. A simple draped short sleeve mini dress in pink was probably one of the least threatening looks in the entire collection and I could see it on any number of girls in a heartbeat. There was also a fabulous brown leather coat with a slight bubble shape on the bottom that gave the model a fantastic figure. How it'll look on a girl that already has hips remains to be seen, but hey, it could work.
And just like last season, the looks kept coming and coming. Bright color, bubbled, ruched, be-ribboned and tucked to the nth limit. There was a really cute look that paired a plain black long sleeve top that had a big blush colored ribbon at the neck with a short, transparent black bubble skirt that had rows of what looks like pleats running horizontally across it. It was lined in the same blush color as the ribbon on the top and paired with trashy patent platform boots with ribbons lacing up the front. Another fitted black mini dress had a panel of colorful print ruched across the front and a slight ruffle at the hem. It was, I hate to use the word cause it sounds kind of cheesy, but it was sassy. It had attitude, and I like attitude. There were some pieces with dense paisley-ish patterns on a red or yellow background paired with matching leggings, striped t shirt/tunic mini dresses, a voluminous astrkhan coat, a fitted wool motorcycle jacket paired with a pleated bubble skirt and gold brocade hooker boots, and finally a shiny lame and tulle bustier paired with capris that had a huge ruffle around the cuff followed by a ruched lame mini dress worn with patent hooker boots.
I actually love the spirit of the collection, particularly the joy in dressing up and the fact that none of it is taken so seriously. I also think that, unlike Jacobs' own collection, there are bunch of really great pieces in here that aren't complete throwbacks to another era. But I really don't mind the 80s vibe of this, particularly because it's such a different side of the 80s then what has been popular for a few seasons now. I get that it's not something that will appeal to everyone, but I was actually kind of surprised by how negative some of the comments were towards it on tFS. When compared to last season's LV show, which was pretty well received on tFS, I can't see how this is so bad. Yes it's tacky and over the top, but so was last season, probably even more than this was, so I really didn't get the complaints about this being too much. It was as if the handful of really, really bad looks were all people were seeing, while the good look or the look that were a least really fun got ignored completely, and I have a theory in regards to that. I think, and I may be wrong, but I think that people who have an interest in fashion are sort of trained to hate the 80s. All I've heard about for four weeks of shows on the Fashion Spot is how horribly, dreadfully evil the 80s were in terms of fashion and how anything inspired by the 80s should be nailed to a cross, not worn by people today. Now, I'm sure some of the people moaning about the return are old enough to have lived through the 80s and experienced wearing these clothes first hand. That's fine, but that doesn't mean that a younger generation should be told that they should hate the clothes as well because they're ugly. But the thing is, the people who lived through the 80s probably aren't the best people to lay judgement on this whole comeback that's being staged right now simply because their opinions aren't unbiased. Then there are those who didn't live through it and probably hate it because they're taught that the 80s = BAD. Sure, there are people who these clothes simply don't appeal to on a gut level, but I'd guess there's a decent amount of people who don't hate the clothes, they just hate what they think the clothes represent. Let's be real here, most of the high fashion clothes in the 80s weren't hideous, in fact, plenty of them were beautiful and also pretty interesting in their newness. It's the look of the 80s that's so abhored, the big hair, big makeup, big nails and big jewelry that went with the big shoulders, not the shoulders themselves, but I don't know if many people would be willing to stop and think about that. Sure, there were bad fashions in the 80s, but from what I've heard in my 2 short decades there have been bad fashions in EVERY era. I mean, polyester leisure suits, bellbottom jeans worn with patchwork leather jackets, vinyl minidresses....none of those things sound particularly appealing to me. Yet the 80s is always the one decade that is declared universally bad because of the bad things that happened to come with the good. I just don't get it, and I probably never will. Don't get me wrong, I understand that at this point people are probably sick of having the 80s redux rammed down their throats, but let's keep "sick of" and "hate" separate. I'll be honest, I really do hope the 80s thing dies down by next season. Not necessarily because I'm so sick of it, though I am, but mostly because if I have to endure another four weeks of complaints about the 80s I may just have to start following sports instead of fashion.
After a few years where people had begun to question whether or not Alexander McQueen had lost his edge, he has finally set the record straight. With his Fall/Winter 2009 collection, McQueen proved that he is still the king of macabre chic, and his timing couldn't possibly have been better in a Paris fashion week that's turning out to be largely disappointing. Opening his show with chicly tailored looks made in head to toe houndstooth of different sizes, he set the tone perfectly for what would follow. Now I know what some people might be thinking; "What the hell is macabre about houndstooth?". Well, nothing, unless you happen to cover the entire body in it at paint the models face up like some mutant sex doll on a murder spree. The first looks were all fairly traditional once you zero in on the clothes. Sharply tailored jackets with sculpted collars, draped sleeves, asymmetric peplumed waists or exaggerated cocooning shapes reminiscent of vintage Balenciaga were all shown in either traditional houndstooth or houndstooth that had been scrawled with red graffiti. I'm sure all of these jackets, paired with either flaring circle skirts or below the knee pencil skirts, will be offered in a myriad of different fabrics come summer when they make it to the racks, so for those women who aren't interested in looking like a checkerboard, fear not. The shapes themselves, particularly an asymmetric jacket with a single kimono-esque sleeve and sculpted portrait collar, are beautiful and would make for an interesting take on a wardrobe staple. There was a fur coat dyed with an overblown houndstooth pattern worn over a ruffled top and a leather pouf skirt, a jacket with flared sleeves and huge ruffles on the front that were trimmed in black and white striped fabric worn with a matching skirt, and a loose fitting dress, printed with a deformed houndstooth pattern that had a big ruffle on one of the shoulders. Mixed in with the graphic black and white houndstooth were two pieces in an orangey red and black harlequin pattern, one a voluminous blouse worn under a mini houndstooth jumpsuit and the other an even more voluminous organza dress.
From there McQueen moved into black, showing plastic-y looking fabric made into a cardinal type coat, a fitted double breasted trench with rounded sleeves and a big bow at the neck, and a stunning dress with a harnessed and corseted torso over a full ruffled skirt worn with over the knee platform boots. A knitted dress had thick tubes wrapped around the neck and shoulders, as well as around the hem, and an orange and black striped look could have been right out of Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas". A red and black striped ballgown was like the demented version of last year's Swan Lake ballerinas, the skirt lifted up onto the shoulder to form a sleeve. Red and black prints featured houndstooth that dissolved into a flock of birds. A red and black tiered fur jacket was absolutely gorgeous, and on the more savage side of things a shaggy goat fur coat came lashed at the waist with a corset, while another had sleeves in the same fur and a body made out of leather covered with a lattice of harnesses over the torso. A molded top covered in red and black feathers was worn with a cage on the models head and a vinyl looking pencil skirt. The look reminded me a bit of his F/W 1997 Haute Couture collection for Givenchy, as did the general mood of the collection. I also got bits of McQueen's own S/S 2000 and F/W 2001 collections for his own label, particularly the latter with the sort of twisted clown vibe running through this collection.
From there McQueen went into evening, and ever since 2002 or so, he has had a way with very dramatic eveningwear. A black beaded wrap dress with a hood came lined in red and looked like what you'd get if you crossed Grace Jones with Leigh Bowery. A sculpted mermaid gown covered with those black and red feathers was similar to some of the gowns that Olivier Theyskens showed earlier in the week at Nina Ricci, though here the effect was a bit more balanced and also less jarring coming from McQueen. Coral snakes were used as a photo print in a mirror image like the crystal and wood prints from spring to make two fitted gowns, one straight and worn with a leather harness, the other with a kimono collar and pouf skirt. And a gorgeous sheath with an exaggerated mermaid skirt was draped in what looked like trash bag plastic, but is more likely some kind of synthetic/silk blend. It was worn under a long coat in fabric that looks a bit like bubble wrap. The two closing pieces were duds in my book, two strange sculpted forms covered in white or black feathers. Beyond not being particularly attractive, I just don't get what they're supposed to be.
All in all, an exciting collection. It certainly provided a shot of adrenaline for anyone who's been following the shows this season. I am, however, not without complaints. The first is the color palette. Black and red is a time tested combination. It makes quite an impact and in the right hands can look very chic. Unfortunately here, combined with the goth/industrial overtones, it reads as a little more Hot Topic than Haute Couture. It's unfortunate that a part of the teenage subculture, all of the purposefully sullen "nobody gets me because I'm alternative" types have destroyed a perfectly good color combo, but that's the way things go when teenagers are involved. Another is the overwhelming amount of patterns. I enjoy houndstooth, there's something very crazy-rich-woman about it as opposed to traditional tweed, but seeing so much of it per look, as well as back to back really took away from the individuality of the clothes, which is a shame because separated into pieces they are no doubt beautiful. My final complaint is that this isn't as McQueen as usual. In fact, something about it seems almost Junya Watanabe/Comme des Garcon, though I can't put my finger on it. I also think that the whole Leigh Bowery/80s London Club Scene thing has been handled better, namely by John Galliano in 2003. That collection wasn't remotely wearable, but it also wasn't a completely literal take on the inspiration. I think that's probably the biggest issue with this one, the level of imagination isn't really where it should be. But what the collection lacked in vision and variety, it did make up for in impact. It definitely won't be one of the collections that fades into the background this season, and if the reaction on tFS is anything to go by it certainly got people to sit up and take notice for a while. So I'm of two minds about the collection. On the one hand, it's almost too theatrical to the point of being student work which is certainly beneath McQueen's usual level of drama. On the other, I'm just happy to see that McQueen still has his twisted side intact since for a few years now he seems to have gone all soft and romantic, or worse, commercial. Is it bound to be one of my favorite collections of the season? Probably not, but hey, at least it had me excited enough to review it...
There was a lot riding on the Givenchy collection for me this season, mainly because the couture collection shown in January made such an impression on me, and while Riccardo Tisci didn't exactly exceed my expectations he did meet them, though not in the way I would've expected. I was hoping that the lightness and the softness of the couture collection would translate into the ready to wear, but instead we got more of Tisci's very dark, very strict and somewhat aggressive romanticism. I'm not complaining however, since it was really a collection that took many things that he has previously explored in his early days at Givenchy and removed the tortured student aspect to produce a blend of dramatic experimentation and truly gorgeous, wearable clothes.
In seeing the first images as they came out I got a sort of fallen angel vibe from what I was saw in them. White ostrich feathers decorated one look while leather sleeves or chains decorated another. But, as is always the case with the first images that get published by the news and media websites, the images weren't in the order that the looks were shown on the runway. Now after seeing them in the correct order I see that my original take was actually kind of backwards. The collection seemed more about demons becoming angels rather than the other way around. According to Tisci though, the collection actually has nothing to do with mythology or religion. He was inspired, at least in part, by Elsa Schiaparelli's work during the late 30s and early 40s. It turns out that Hubert de Givenchy worked for a short period of time as an assistant to Schiaparelli (you learn something new every day) and that Tisci saw some of her influence in the archives. Combine that with raw, animalistic sensuality and what you get was this collection. However, I kind of like my spin on things better, and that's what I'm sticking to. Really though the collection did proceed a bit like Dante's "Divine Comedy", starting where else but in Hell. Out came a parade of sinners and demons, starting with sharp pagoda shoulders and strict tailoring all in black. The first dress had those pagoda shoulders, built over a regular fitted sleeve on one side with tufts of some kind of fur sticking out from underneath, and a similar top was paired with a shiny eel leather pencil skirt. Full cut trousers had drapes and geometric pieces worked into them from the waistband. One pair was worn with a sheer top that had a sleeve covered with a combination of shaggy hair and ostrich feathers that appeared to be harnessed to the body, while another pair of trousers was paired with a simple turtleneck sweater that had leather sleeves. And there were two dresses that also used that shaggy hair and ostrich feather combination on sheer bodies that definitely had a beastly, demonic sort of vibe that I actually kind of loved.
After that there was more sharp tailoring, from pants suits and coats in a gorgeous textured black wool with leather sleeves, to simple wool crepe trousers worn with an organza and leather blouse that had a black coneshaped bra worn underneath, a one sleeved sheath worn with a fur capelet and a fitted skirt suit with an oddly draped, but very beautiful skirt worn with a huge metal chain around the waist. Here was also where Tisci started to lighten the colors, segueing from black into navy blue by way of black/navy checked wool tailoring. From there he sent out sheer blouses in plisse silk worn over those cone bras, simply draped organza tops, a coat worn with a black fur collar and another trimmed with ostrich feathers, some more of those trousers (really the best pants I've seen all season) and a fantastic pantsuit that had a double peplum effect at the waist. I'm pretty sure the pants underneath have it's own peplum as opposed to the jacket having both of them, but I'm not positive. Either way, it's great looking. Mixed into the navy stuff was a look that was one of my favorites in the lineup; a fox jacket with leather sleeves worn over a fluid black dress with a deep v-neck. There's something incredibly glamorous about it that I can't put my finger on, and why such a simple look stands out to me I don't really know, but it does. I'd love to see more of the dress underneath, because knowing Tisci it's not as simple as it appears to be.
After the navy looks things started to lighten up, literally. Ecru tailoring and ivory lace came into the picture, though, this being a Riccardo Tisci designed collection that ivory lace wasn't exactly virginal. Worn with those recurring cone bras and built out with sparkly cobalt shoulder pads, the three dresses were really the only flat looks in the collection. I just don't think they added anything, and I don't think the collection would have suffered if they had been left in the studio. As it is the angular tailored looks with vests or stoles in ostrich feathers that bookended the lace dresses were much more appealing. After that there came three looks in a sort of mint-tinged white color completely covered with silver studs. The caped jumpsuit I could live without, but the two drapey dresses were a nice contribution to the growing trend this season for completely covering a garment in hardware. It's not hard to figure out why designers are making clothes look like armor, tough clothes for tough times and all, but I'm actually really liking some of the results on a purely aesthetic level. The pieces here, as with the pieces at Cavalli in Milan, have a great movement to them due to the weight of the metal on the fabric. How wearable they all are remains to be seen. After this trio came a mish-mash of looks, which is kind of unusual for Tisci since he tends to divide his collections into sections based on color, shape or details. There was a black leather coat worn open over a cone bra and trousers, a gorgeous long sleeved black dress with a cowl draped into the front with strands of beads attatched, some white tops with strands of beads that were covered in fabric worn with black pants or a twisted shiny leather skirt and some draped sheer black looks that combined fishnet, chiffon and chains. One of them, a long dress, was strangely beautiful, though the top made in the same way and worn with draped trousers was a much more approachable option. If the black section was Hell, then middle portion of the collection was Purgatory. The sinners aren't quite purified yet, their sins still weigh on their souls and keep them from Heaven....or whatever. Then of course, after paying your dues in Purgatory there's only one place you can wind up. Pure white draped gowns, and what looks like a jumpsuit, had "wings" made from a combination of ostrich feathers and pleated fabric. My personal favorite was also the simplest; a fluid halter neck colum with some feathers sprouting around the shoulders. I'm dying to see what the back of it looks like. But apparently these angels weren't quite purged of their sins, because the last look out was anything but pure; a black top with a deep v neck and draped trousers accessorized with some kind of bolero or jacket covered with fans of white fabric in the front and more of that shaggy beast hair in the back. I guess Heaven wasn't really their thing afterall.
I have to say, I really thought the collection was great. It may even be my favorite ready to wear collection Tisci has ever done. He managed to touch upon so many of the things that are huge this season, strong shoulders, architectural cuts, sharp tailoring, armor, barbarism, texture, the 40s, extravagent fur, and make them all work together in one collection without coming off as disjointed or worse, overloaded. Most of the clothes he showed would look gorgeous on a variety of women, from the fabulous pants, to the sharp little jackets, the interesting skirts and even some of the dresses. My only complaint would be the editing. I would've liked to see the black and white looks that were interspersed before the all white eveningwear worked into the collection better instead of just jammed in between two sections of solid color. Even if the whole "angels and demons" thing is total b.s. on my part, as I suspect it is, keeping the collection broken up into sections of black, navy, beige, and white would've just made for a really nice progression. But it's a minor complaint, and really, the only looks that I truly dislike are the three lace dresses. So maybe this season isn't the season that Riccardo decided to throw a surprise our way and continue with the color, softness and lightness he touched on in his S/S couture collection, but what he offered instead is still pretty damn great.
In a very short amount of time, just two years almost to the day, I have gone from dying to see John Galliano's ready to wear collections for Dior, to dreading seeing them. It's because for the last few years John's work at Dior has been singularly fixated on the Dior archives, and he's pretty much given up the magpie mad genius part of his personality that got him the Dior job to begin with. The reasons for the change can only be speculated upon, and there are plenty of possibilities. I'm beginning to think that instead of pressure from the company heads, it was triggered by Steven Robinson's death and that John was more affected by it than he may have let on. Since Robinson passed away John's collections for Dior have been lacking the one major thing that made him him; passion. There's none of it to be found, and even though you might be able to create a convincing argument against that, saying the passion is still there under the surface, I personally wouldn't be convinced because in all of John's work, through every stage of his career that I have seen from the early 90s to when it started to decline, the passion was always in your face. That burning need to create something new, something beautiful, something strange was always the defining characteristic of what he did. Even when the work became a little stagnant, like with his F/W 04 Haute Couture collection, you could tell that he at least poured his heart, soul and guts into making it. Sadly, that is no more. Then there's the fact that at the time Steven died John had recently celebrated his 10th anniversary at Dior by delving into the Dior archives more literally than he ever had before. Maybe since he no longer has Steven around, he doesn't know what the next step to take is and has just been treading water. But my theory brings up a who new set of questions, like why his namesake ready to wear collections suddenly got stronger around the time of Robinson's death. Point is, there is no clear cut answer just yet.
So, as has become normal, I approached this collection expecting something flat, lifeless and extremely commercial, much like his dreadful S/S outing. Thankfully the fashion gods were feeling oh so slightly benevolent, and the collection wasn't the downer I was expecting. Don't get your hopes up though, it was hardly the visceral event of days gone by, but there was a sense of relief to see that some of the old Galliano is still there. The inspiration this season was Orientalism via Paul Poiret. Now, Galliano has called upon the spirit of the self proclaimed "King of Fashion" in the past, most memorably for his S/S 1998 Haute Couture collection, but in a way. Poiret's influence is often to be found in John's work, sometimes subtley, sometimes overtly. This season was sort of in between. The show started with more of the Dior inspired tailoring that has been the main focus at Dior for some time now, this season showing up first in black and white ikat prints, then in electric purple tweed, violet floral brocades and gray spotted jacquards. Instead of a circle skirt or an A-line skirt, this season's skirt for the New Look suits was a bubble shape brought in tight at the hem, a sort of take on Poiret's hobble skirt. A black and white ikat print coat with a flared out skirt came trimmed in black fox as did an electric purple wool dropped waist coat that called to mind Poiret's lantern shapes. A gray straight cut coat with a frog closure and fox trim definitely harked back to Poiret's kimono shaped opera coats, though heavily watered down and de-glamourized. A jacket in a black and gray print with rounded bracelet sleeves and horizontal pleating was quite beautiful, but it looked more like something you'd see on an Armani runway than at Dior. So far the collection was immensly helped by the hair and makeup, which featured bobbed hairstyles covered in bobby pins and burgundy bow lips paired with penciled on eyebrows that upped the ante in terms of glamour. But still, the clothes were pretty standard, so while the potential for greatness was there, they didn't quite manage it.
After the largely monochrome opening with shots of purple came a section of completely mundane paisley printed silk dresses and some stuffy skirt suits in red or pink. Completely forgettable in my opinion. Then the extravagence started to make an appearence. Straight cut silk chemise or directoire line dresses in golden yellow, cerulean blue and peach were mixed in with golden brocade lantern coats, harem pants and bias cut columns covered in silver or gold embroidery. A purple and gold brocade jumpsuit with voluminous harem pants made for the most interesting and trendy piece in the collection, while a deep purple chiffon and organza dress had scrolling fabric embroidery along the V-neck which gave a beautiful touch to an otherwise uninteresting dress. Overall the eveningwear was like a commercial-ified take on Galliano's own F/W 08 collection, where he helped start this harem pants trend. Here though, with the mish mash of bright colors, straightforward use of the theme and pretty but largely forgettable pieces, it just came off as kind of flat.
Usually when a designer taps into vaguely Eastern exoticism there's a real stream of decadence to it, very rich, very sumptuous and very heady. Here, not so much. It's like Orientalism for dummies. There's no need to know what an odalisque is, or who Poiret was and where his influence can be seen in the collection, or even to be able to pinpoint what part of the world it seems to be referencing. It's homoginized and pre-digested for your convenience, just like his take on Africa was last season. Even something as simple as a different color palette would have changed the mood of this completely and made it more sophisticated. Instead of the bursts of red, peach, magenta and blue, how about some richer colors like burnt orange, dusty olive green, prune, ochre, and bloody burgundy? As it is now the effect is more Disney's Aladdin than Wilde's Salome, but at it's core the place where it's coming from is closer to Galliano's spirit than his recent efforts have been. However it's just not quite there yet, it's still too controlled and methodical in the thinking behind it. So while my faith is still not quite restored, I think there's a chance that it can be.
Smoky light, wet pavement and a little black dress. It's the ultimate in what everyone imagines Paris to be, and turned out to be the look and feel of Alber Elbaz's collection for Lanvin. If last season was largely disappointing, then this collection more than made up for it. Continuing with the eccentrically chic, decadent mood of his gorgeous pre-fall collection, Elbaz stirpped away some of the prettiness, and what he ended up with was a fabulous collection of gorgeous clothes. There was a strong Pre-War Parisian vibe to it; elegant but not quite, austere, but still very sexy, and extremely contemporary all wrapped up with a hint of the late 30s/early 40s. In a nutshell, it was all about women and the many contradictions that make them so very intriguing. This season Elbaz cut many of the pieces on the bias, from coats, to jackets, to his signature minimal sheath dresses which, as anyone who has either cut something on the bias or worn something on the bias can tell you, makes the garment infinitely more flattering and sensual. The first look out was a one shouldered black dress, knee length, very fitted in the body with a voluminous puff on the shoulder, a detail carried over from Spring and perfected here. It was worn with long leather gloves, platform pumps and a feathered headband in the girl's hair. Then came a shapely skirt suit, the jacket flaring out at the waist worn with a thin belt. A red belted coat had a molded scroll at the hips that gave it an hourglass silhouette, and a stunning strapless sheath had a large draped ruffle spiraling from the bust and over the hip. Furs came patchworked onto felt or knit coats, straight skirts were gathered onto one side or folded randomly to give a bit of dimension to a simple shape, and a gorgeous chalky white coat was gently molded to the body, the only details on it were the reversed seams down the side, across the shoulder and around the armhole. It was so classic, so spare and clean, but with that slight twist that made it utterly Lanvin.
At this point, besides the Pre-War Parisian mood, I also was getting a sort of eroticism. The way the clothes were worn, very elegant but slightly askew, accessorized to the nines with big jewelry, leather gloves and those feathered hairpieces, the occasional fur stole thrown haphazzerdly over a dress or coat, combined with the wet pavement that made up the runway made me think of prostitutes as captured by Brassai. It was subtle, but it was there. A girl in a long, loose black coat with a floppy collar could very well be naked underneath. And a gorgeous velvet dress in the same shape as the dress that opened the show had a trim of tulle around the collar bone.
Tulle was also layered over a black shift and formed two little puffs on the shoulders, made into a sheer blouse with a zip down the front which was paired with a pencil skirt that was also draped with tulle, and ruched into a ruffle on one side to make a fleshy beige colored dress. From there Elbaz started introducing some opulence in the form of chunky beadwork on chemise or shift dresses and devore velvet cut into draped dresses, voluminous gathers and tunic tops. Paired with major necklaces that were a little bit tribal, a little bit futuristic and a little bit like the kind of silly dress up jewelry girls play with, they added an irreverent and contradictory touch to the elegance of the clothes.
It was an extremely strong collection. Strong in focus, strong in technique (which is always the case with a Lanvin collection) and strong in it's harmonizing of pragmatism and fantasy. It's truly investment dressing in that these are clothes that will never, ever be out of style. But the thing is, they're not boring. A Lanvin collection never reinvents the wheel, it's rarely about a trend although Alber has given birth to more than his fair share of those, and it's never far reaching in terms of some statement that it's trying to make. Elbaz just has an innate ability to make really simple, practical, flattering clothing seem extremely desirable. I have no idea what it is exactly, but I'm assuming you'd need to put the clothes on to fully appreciate them. Still, just looking at them on the runway and on the rack is always a pleasure.
Well, Paris Fashion Week is officially underway and yesterday, the second day of shows, was the real start to the excitement with not one, not two, but three of the most highly anticipated collections on the fashion calendar each season. Balenciaga, Balmain and Nina Ricci all showed today and with these collections, the 80s redux was firmly cemented as the message of the season. Even if the week continues and no other designer hints at the 80s, it won't matter, especially since the god-among-mortals Nicolas Ghesquiere has ditched his vision of the future for a vision of the past.
To be completely honest I wasn't sure what to expect from Balenciaga this season. Ghesquiere was one of the first designers to begin bringing back shoulder pads, and has since left them for other things, so I can't say I was expecting him to get on the 80s bandwagon. And on top of that, his last few collections have been so forward in terms of the ideas. Even when his inspiration was coming from the past (and it usually does) the clothes always look towards the future. That's always been his thing. Last season in fact, the clothes on the runway looked so far ahead that they seemed almost unrelatable to the here and now, which is fine in concept, but leaves the racks in Balenciaga boutiques kind of bare. So as I said, I didn't know what to expect, but I do know what I was hoping Ghesquiere would do. Given that this season is shaping up to be about two major messages so far, the 80s and post-apocalyptic futurism, I had hoped that Ghesquiere would deliver an incredible take on the latter. It's a completely logical step when you think about it. You take the brightly colored, shiny pod people from last season, imagine some sort of natural or man made disaster and presto; the techno pod people become a tribe of survivors in a desolate future.
But sadly that was not to be. Instead what Ghesquiere produced was something that was pretty commercial (which could come as a releif to people) and pretty retro (which could be a disappointment). The inspiration seemed to be mid 80s-era Saint Laurent, all rounded shoulder pads, colorful prints, puff sleeves and tulip skirts. Of course, that's slightly oversimplifying it. The main direction of the collection was softness and draping, which completely replaced Ghesquiere's signature scapel-cut tailoring and stiffened silhouettes. The collection began with a trio of dresses, each of them with a smooth, fitted long sleeve bodice in tweed, a dropped waistband in tightly pleated satin and a heavily draped short skirt in satin that formed a somewhat round shape around the hips. As a silhouette it was kind of interesting, and the draping on the skirts was perfectly done, but as I said, it was heavy looking. There is a point when using draping to construct a garment when it begins to look torturously worked, and these skirts all passed that point. Those looks then morphed in dresses that had the look of a silk puff sleeves blouse worn tucked into a draped skirt. Worn underneath were lacey badeau bras that were exposed by the deep plunging neckline. In colors like creamy beige paired with pale pink and icy gray with lavender they were definitely some of the more overtly feminine clothes I've ever seen from Ghesquiere. Those then moved into pants outfits that paired smoking jackets with drapery worked into the chest, waist or hip area worn over heavily draped sarouel type pants. The jackets were actually quite pretty, and between their belted waists and fuller hips, they had a great hourglass shape. I could see them looking flattering paired with a slim skirt or narrow trousers. Then, just as the draped, colorblocked satin was getting to be too much, out came two wrap dresses made of sheared mink worked onto knit fabric, an extremely luxe take on a wardrobe staple.
Up until now the 80s vibe had been pretty minimal and then came a beacon of hope that Ghesquiere hadn't lost his touch; an ivory silk puff sleeve blouse with a sharp black tulip skirt trimmed in satin with a leather waistband. Paired with gold cuffs at the wrist and a lacey bandeau bra it was a very sexy look; chic, a bit 80s, but still contemporary enough to be worn today.
Unfortantely my enthusiasm over that look was short lived, because after it came a deluge of blurry, splattered print dresses. For the most part, they all came with some kind of accentuated shoulder, whether by use of a pad or due to a puff shape, and they were all draped, ruched, pleated and wrapped. Now, if the draped satin pieces at the beginning of the show looked a bit heavy, they at least had a very discernable shape to them. It was impossible to make out the silhouette of these printed pieces because between the busy prints and the busy detailing it all wound up looking like a shapeless blur of color. On top of that, they looked retro. Now, I'm not old enough to remember what YSL was doing in the mid 80s first hand, but I'm definitely old enough to have fleeting memories of the YSL inspired dresses that my female relatives wore during that era and I can tell you that from what I remember, these dresses shown today look pretty familiar. That's not to say some of them weren't pretty. Two beaded V-neck numbers both with a black and white splatter pattern, one in cobalt blue the other in jade green, were simple and conteporary enough that I could see them working with different styling. But even still, except for the beading they could easily be by Diane von Furstenburg. Ghesquiere did relent from the colored dresses a bit, sending out an all black ruched jersey number with a leather belt on Chanel Iman, a sharp black smoking jacket worn open over one of those lacey bandeaus with great gray and black striped trousers, and some printed tops and jackets with more variations on that sharp, straight cut trouser. Unfortunately though those looks were too few and far between, and by the time I saw pictures of them I had already started to feel like I hated the collection.
That opinion hasn't changed yet. Hate is a strong word, and under most circumstances I would probably just say that I disliked or was disappointed by a collection. But in this instance, the collection being Balenciaga and the expectations being that much higher than they are for most designers, I'm going to stick with hate. While it's decidedly more wearable in conventional terms than anything Ghesquiere has put on his runway since F/W 07, as well as being more traditionally feminine, it's completely lacking the vision one associates with Balenciaga. Ghesquiere has shown that he can combine concept with clothing to make modern fashion that is easy to picture on flesh and blood women, notably with his fall collection from last year, so this is just a complete head scratcher. But more than that, more than not having the creativity one normally gets from him, this is just lacking in the technique. Draping is clearly not what Ghesquiere does well, and while you could applaud him for pushing himself into an area where he's not normally drawn, you could also ask why the hell he would abandon everything he and the house are known for at a time like this. And what gets me most is that almost everything that's contained in this collection, bold prints and colors, exaggerated shoulders, 80s influences, has been done by Ghesquiere in the past with much, much better results!
Who knows, maybe the risk of doing something unexpected will pay off. Maybe this collection will end up growing on me and maybe hell will freeze over. But I have my doubts.
Sequins, studs, shoulder pads, leather and lots of leg, it could only be a Balmain collection (well, maybe not anymore since for three weeks designers have been using all of those elements in force). Christophe Decarnin's brand of 80s inflected trashy glam party clothes has proved to be one of the most influential trends of late. Though I tend to think that people give him too much credit at times, making it sound like he invented sparkly micro-minis and shoulder padded jackets, he does deserve credit for being at the forefront of their ressurection. I'm sure that my comments about the label make it sound like I hate it, and really, that's not the case. While I do hate how worshipped Balmain is, and how hypocritical it is that so many people that would criticize designers like Roberto Cavalli and Donatella Versace for sending out clothes that look very, very similar fawn all over Balmain like it's the most amazing thing they've ever seen, I do understand the appeal of the clothes. They're fun, and they don't require a detailed explaination of what they're all about. But still, that doesn't explain why they're worshipped the way they are.
Here's the catch though, at this point Decarnin has basically been sending out the exact same collection with a slightly different twist since he began. It's always got a popular music inspiration, the skirts are always short, the jackets are always sharp and it's always styled in a supposedly off-hand, cool way, i.e. minimal makeup, wash and go hair, and a slinky t shirt half tucked into whatever pants Decarnin is showing for that season. Bottom line, it's become a forumla. You can pretty much predict what a Balmain collection will look like each season. The only reason more people aren't bitching about that yet is because Balmain is having a huge moment. The 80s are back in full force, the Vogue Paris crew are the darlings of every blog dedicated to street style, thus every "hip" fashion acolyte dies over it, and celebs are catching onto the Balmain buzz now too. But what happens when things get old? Does Decarnin have anything else to offer besides overpriced 80s inflected party clothes? Does he even have any aspirations to take the Balmain image and expand on it? I have no idea, but I'll tell you this, with the 80s comeback at it's crux this fashion season, it's only a matter of time before what's hip now is rejected in favor of something else. Such is the nature of fashion. And when that time comes, it might not be so easy for Balmain to continue riding this wave of success. In a strange way that time may very well have begun as far as Balmain is concerned.
Decarnin continued with the 80s MTV inflected spirit he started pushing last season, and even though some of the pieces may as well have been leftovers from spring, the collections couldn't be more different. While spring was definitely tacky and trashy, I think it succeeded in not looking like garbage. It looked expensive, not as expensive as it actually is, but definitely at a higher level than the Zara and Topshop knockoffs. This season I'm afraid, the same cannot be said. The show really didn't start out on a promising note. The first look out was a loose sparkly black top with sharp pagoda shoulders and a loosely tied bow at the neck paired with hideous (beaded???) drapey zouave pants tucked into moon boots a la Napoleon Dynamite, but with a stiletto heel. The Balmain look has always been body conscious, so it's a mystery to me why Decarnin decided to cover a body in soggy, shapless glitter. A leather jacket with those same pagoda shoulders worn over a white t shirt with skinny black capris was a cute look, if a little bit Rizzo from Grease. Seriously though, you could get the entire look for much less elsewhere, and I don't just mean from high street retailers. Some of the leather jackets from the spring collection are retailing for close to $5,000 US, so I'm guessing that jacket will be around the same price. Considering that you could get two full priced Rick Owens leather jackets for that kind of money, you'd have a hard time convincing me to buy it even in the best economic climate. As for the denim capris, they're cute, but so not worth the price. There was a black long sleeved dress covered in grommets that was cool enough, but honestly, I liked the ones that Cavalli showed last week much better, and they'll probably be less money. After that came the only shot of color in the all black, white and silver collection; cobalt blue. The dress in that color was straight up ice capades; one shouldered with a sleeve, covered in contrasting bands of sequins with a giant ruffle running across the top. I don't care how cool the label has become or how many Vogue Paris issues feature it on their pages, the dress is ugly and extremely cheap looking.
There were some off the shoulder and sleeveless minidresses worn with a single sleeve that were right out of a Bangles music video, high waisted crystal covered mini skirts and truly the most heinous thing in the collection, MC Hammer pants that were split down the front to show off some leg. There were also two sequined mini skirts, one in black, one in cobalt with industrial zippers down the front which begged the question "who would be stupid enough to pay for that when you could find the exact same thing in Topshop?". Seriously, they didn't look even remotely expensive. Two spacey mini dresses with sharp panels sticking out at the shoulders or hips covered in bands or triangles of crystal mesh were a skosh too drag queen for my taste, and jumpsuits with those hideous zouave pants or mini dresses with huge ruffled trains weren't much better as far as I'm concerned.
Overall this collection feels like Decarnin has let the coolness go to his head and has taken things a step too far while at the same time making the clothes look crappy. And the constant comparisons to Gianni Versace that both critics and acolytes are throwing around are really starting to bother me because a) Gianni Versace's clothes were revolutionary and therefore helped to define not on the look of the era when he came to fame, but also helped to define an entire aesthetic and b) because Gianni Versace's clothes weren't so one dimensional. There was thought involved in the designs, as well as a range in what he created. Like I said, I really think this collection will set some change in motion. It's not new and exciting any more, and this collection seems very self-consciously cool rather than genuinely so. That's what really sets the greats apart from the flash-in-the-pan types. Designers like Tom Ford, Miuccia Prada, Nicholas Ghesquiere and Marc Jacobs have managed to, if not extend that moment when their coolness is at it's height, then at least build upon that moment by knowing exactly when to change gears. I just hope that when the time comes for things to shift, that Cristohphe is prepared to offer us more than bedazzled minidresses.
Perhaps the last person anyone would have expected to be channeling the 80s this season is Olivier Theyskens at Nina Ricci, which is perhaps why I'm still not quite able to get my head around the collection he showed for F/W 09, rumored to have been his last. For a few months now, rumors have been going around that Theyskens was in trouble due to the poor reception his S/S 09 collection received with buyers. The suits at Puig (the company that owns Nina Ricci) had denied the rumors, but still they circulated. Now with this collection, which some weren't sure would even be shown, the word is that Theyskens has already been replaced and is only sticking around until his contract expires in October. But unbeknownst to the management, his collection would be extremely well received, if commercially, then at least critically. Perhaps in response to the blade hanging over his head, or perhaps just wanting to do something different to push himself, Theyskens delivered a collection that can only be described as being the exact opposite of his previous work at Nina Ricci; very structured, very dramatic and very bold.
According to Theyskens, he wanted to express a nocturnal mood, and I can see that in places. The largely black palette with occasional pops of color and glitter like neon signs in a city at night, a jacket that looked like wet pavement with those neon signs reflected off the surface, beading that looked like the night sky, but that's really all I got from it. If there was some sort of deeper meaning to the "nocturnal" elements of the collection, it went over my head. Balanced on huge platform boots (we're talking a good 6 1/2 inches) that had no heels whatsoever, the first looks out recalled Mugler during his late 80s heyday of big shoulders, sharp lines and plenty of drama. A black wool jumpsuit was worn over a black tulle turtleneck with a sprinkle of beading on the arms and a helmet on the models' head. It perfectly demonstrated the point of the ridiculous and honestly quite hideous footwear, to create the longest line possible. Between the use of all black, the fact that the jumpsuit was one unbroken piece and that the pants had a flare towards the hem, it made the model look bizarrely long and lean, very much like how designers draw their sketches. Then came a beaded mini dress paired with a cropped jacket that huge rounded sleeves and padded shoulders. It made for an interesting shape on the runway, but I doubt if many women want to look like they have the arms of a steroid junkie. There was a black mini dress with the hem dipped in teal glitter, sharp jackets and skirt suits with exaggerated points and swoops a la Mugler, full pleated trousers, beaded tunics and mini dresses, sculpted bodysuits in metallic pewter and a beaded catsuit worn with a corseted leather jacket. And that was only the first half of the lineup.
From there things moved into eveningwear, which is what Theyskens has become known for best at Nina Ricci. Ever since he sent Reese Witherspoon to the Oscars in a royal purple tiered organza mermaid gown he has specialized in fantasy evening pieces, from sculpted gowns covered in white ostrith feathers, pleated metallic ballgowns, Pre-Raphaelite empire dresses in the colors of autumn leaves, or ruffled Victorian inspired chiffon. This season however, there would be none of that soft-focus romanticism. Instead, Theyskens sent out gowns with molded shoulders and hips covered in beads, strapless gowns with dropped hems in the back that had scrolling edges built on boning in shades like teal, inky purple and one in an iridescent blue/copper color that looked like an oil slick, ruffled floral patterned lame mixed with a nude bodice and even an iridescent inky blue/violet taffeta pantsuit. The scrolling hems built out with boning did hark back to his work at Rochas, though the effect couldn't be more different. Whereas those gowns were about capturing an old world couture sensibility, these were more graphic and aggressive in spirit. Like some of the other looks in the collection, they definitely had a bit of a Mugler feel to them, though not in a very literal way. It was more in the overall drama and severity that they exuded.
While the reviews from the critics have so far been extremely positive, reviews from the fans on the Fashion Spot (which can sometimes offer a better look at things than the pros do) were more mixed. Some people loved it, some people hated it, and some people, like me, don't know what the hell to make of it. I'm still trying to decide if my unease about it is due mostly to the fact that this is so unexepected for Theyskens or if I really just dislike the clothes on their own. I'm definitely leaning towards the former though, because there are some things I like in this collection, namely a lot of the jackets. But as it stands, this just isn't the Olivier Theyskens I know. It's not like his work at Ricci has been, it's not like his work at Rochas was, and it's not like his namesake collection was either. So at the current moment, I'm more perplexed than anything else. The collection may grow on me in time, or it may just make for an impactful last collection from Olivier at Nina Ricci (should the rumors prove to be true). If the rumors turn out not to be true, or if the suits at Puig change their minds because of the way this collection is received, I'd be very interested to see where Theyskens will go from here. One thing is for sure though, this collection is bound to make for some great photographs come summer.
Had you asked me two days ago if I saw myself wanting to review the Cavalli collection shown this week, I would've told you no. So imagine my surprise yesterday while looking at images from the collection. I didn't want to review it because it was so painfully bad, like Gucci, I wanted to review it because I really, really liked it. My relationship with Cavalli goes back to when I first started following fashion circa 2001. That was around the time that he started getting a lot of attention for his brand of flashy, trashy, rock & roll. As for me, I was young and thought the clothes were fun, and mixed in were always some fabulous leathers, furs and prints. But as he gained notoriety his collections become more and more over the top, any kind of cool or hip factor he had was banished in favor of blinding beadwork, feathers, big hair, bright colors, and overdoses of animal prints. This could be why he's developed a reputation for dressing the so called "footballer's wives" type of woman; very loud, very over the top and pretty tacky. Looking at things in hindsight, the reputation he's gained is actually pretty different from what he was doing when he first started getting noticed. It's not that his earlier work was more subtle or anything, but it just had a very different vibe. Anyway, cut to now. For almost two years now, Cavalli has been completely suppressing his identity and experimenting with a more girly, soft and romantic spirit. The only problem is that it's not at all true to what Cavalli's about. So even though he might get praise for doing something new and less trashy than his usual work, the fact is that he's being praised for not being himself.
But thankfully, he seemed to find a good balance with F/W 09, and I honestly think it's one of the best collections I've ever seen from him, the other being F/W 06. The rock chick of old was back in full force, but the image was more controlled, less over the top and cleaned up a bit. That's not to say it wasn't in your face, because it was, but the elements were used more sparingly. The overall look of the collection was very tough, with Cavalli channeling a warrior vibe throughout. It was also very sexy, with crotch high leather boots meeting thigh-high hemlines, but there really wasn't much skin on display in most of the looks, save for a few transparent gowns with bodysuits underneath. Cavalli clearly has learned that being completely covered up can be very, very hot, sometimes even hotter that showing a lot of skin. From the start to the end the silhouette was almost exclusively short, with lots of leg on display whether it was those crotch high boots or skintight pants with lacing down the front or side of the leg. But while the bottom portion of the body was very fitted, the top was a bit more loose and layered. The first look out paired a short fur mini skirt with fringe at the side with a plain knit top, studded scarf and a coat with a floppy, oversized collar, all in shades of black. The next look was similar, only the coat had been removed and instead of fur, the wrap mini skirt was covered in flat silver studs. A loose fitting printed silk tank dress with an asymmetric skirt was belted at the hip, and apparently some of the prints used in the collection were distorted images of dresses from previous collections. Fur jackets were cut in slouchy, blanket-like shapes that were actually pretty reminiscent of Rick Owens, and loose fitting mini shifts cut in angular panels of fabric came covered in concentric rows of grommets that gave the dresses the look of chain mail armor.
The color palette was extremely limited by Cavalli standards. The entire collection of 35 looks was done completely in shades of black, navy blue, brown, taupe and gray. This really threw the focus onto the details, whether it was those grommets covering entire dresses, the thin woven strips of suede or lacing inserted into the skintight pants, or the tiny brass rings that decorated the few transparent gowns in the lineup. Although there was a lot of surface decoration, it was all done in a pretty streamlined, paired down way. It was less for the sake of sparkle and more for the sake of creating textural interest. But more than the decoration, there was a focus on tailoring. Most of the collection was made up of tailoring, from the razor sharp mini skirts to the oversized blazers with cropped sleeves and boyish little jackets. Cavalli also seemed to go back to his roots in terms of some of the leather work that was in the collection. Drapey leather or suede jackets and tiered skirts had bands of grommets around the edges that had a bit of an Alaia feel to them, and a mini skirt paired with a shaved fox jacket and simple knit top was made of thin leather cords held together by metal armor discs.
None of what was in this collection was particularly new to fashion, and there were elements of it that seemed influenced by other designers (like those drapey fur jackets), but the whole package was definitely new to Cavalli. The glitz was stripped away, the ruffles, mermaid trains, feathers and plunging necklines were completely absent and the collection seemed more focused on creating a strong shape and silhouette than creating a Vegas revue. Even the styling was cleaner. The models had their hair pulled into slick, tight little knots as opposed to the voluminous sex kitten hair Cavalli usually favors, and the makeup was kept clean as well, just a sharp black eye. The only accessories were the occasional suede scarf, opera length gloves and small, studded clutches. Even though this is pretty different approach for Cavalli, I think this is a much better direction for him to be persuing than the pretty, romantic flowery stuff he's been doing for the last few seasons. It still feels like him, just cleaned up and seemingly made with someone other than celebrities in mind. I feel like I've said this a lot recently, but I really hope this collection is a sign of things to come.
Evolution is rarely something you see on a Prada runway, at least not in any short term way. Sure there's been a definite evolution of the Prada woman since Miuccia Prada's Ready to Wear first became influential in the early 90s, but Prada usually prefers revolution to evolution. But lo and behold, Prada wound up evolving some of the ideas she toyed with in her fabulous S/S 09 collection for F/W. For the most part it wasn't an obvious evolution, but it was there once you scratch the surface a bit. For Spring, Prada toyed with an idea she described as being primitive, and while you could kind of see that in the wrinkled fabrics and overt sensuality, the primitive aspect of things didn't really fall into place until you saw the ad campaign. It wasn't primitive in some neanderthal way, but primitive in an ancient Greco/Roman way. Those wrinkled fabrics took on a whole new meaning. Instead of looking rumpled and textural, they suddenly looked like crumbling stone ruins. Anyway, for F/W 09.10 Prada continued that primitive train of thought. The collection, she said, was about going back to nature, something more raw and uncomplicated.
The show opened with sharp, bordeline elegant tailoring in heavy wool tweeds in colors like bark, ochre and crimson. The clothes were heavy and substantial, but thanks to the belted waists, kimono necklines that stood away from the collarbone and skirts with overlapping panels that opened up the side of the leg, the look was also entirely feminine. Skirt suits were paired with lug-sole high heel pumps. Fisherman's sweaters were worn with high waisted shorts and high heeled wellies with bulky socks peeking out the top. And a peacoat was worn over a matching sweater with thigh high wader boots completing the look. There were a few pieces in a tapestry patterned devore velvet that looked like it had been ripped right from the walls of a stately manor. And a simple sheath paired a deep v-neck top portion in ochre colored velvet with a fitted skirt in oatmeal colored tweed. The clothes thus far weren't obviously primitive, if anything they had a very English country life meets wartime austerity kind of feel, but if you want to be creative, you could say that the designs themselves were primitive in that they were such classic, traditional pieces. I know, I know, that's a ridiculous stretch, but half the fun of a Prada collection is trying to figure it all out. The only clue that there was more to these classic clothes was the hair and makeup. Some reviews described the hair as "roll-in-the-hay" hair, but to me it looks far more barbaric than roll-in-the-hay, and the makeup was anything but country ready; smokey burgundy eyes with streaks of red glitter on the lid are hardly something you'd see in the woods.
Overall the early parts of the collection, even the fisherman's boots that I have a hard time picturing in the real world, was very autumnal and fairly straightforward. But then, as with any good Prada collection, Miuccia threw a curveball; a straight-cut dress made entirely out of mink that was made to look quite a bit less luxurious than mink normally looks. Paired with the hair and makeup it draws the inevitable comparisons to cavemen and women. Another dress with a deep v-neck combined mink on the top and tweed on the bottom. Yet another had chunky beadwork that looked a bit like armor. And the suits and coats that opened the show now came in leather instead of rustic tweeds. There were also some stiff wool felt pieces embroidered with vaguely floral patterns done in black paillettes. Then came the final twist and the one that sealed it for me that this collection was in fact evolutionary; the finale looks. Dresses and skirts made from strips of leather that had chunks of paillette embroidery in places worn with linings that were covered in tiny studs were less goddess and more gladiatrix, but clearly Miuccia isn't over her interest in the ancient world. They wouldn't have looked so out of place in Sparta (the real thing, not the homo-erotic fantasy world of "300"), but the embroidery added a glamorous and decidedly quirky touch to them. No warrior would leave for battle without that staple accessory, a helmet with a giant feathered crest down the center of it, but since helmets have sort of fallen out of fashion Miuccia did the only sensible thing, she put the crest on the back of stack heeled studded pumps or sandals in pink patent leather and red velvet.
It pains me to say it, but I wasn't as blown away by this collection as I had hoped I would be. I think I'm learning to never get too excited about seeing a collection because you loved the season before it. Even if you wind up really liking the new collection, you'll still be let down if you get your hopes up too high. Like Jil Sander earlier in the week I was left feeling like Prada didn't go to the fullest extent of things. The barbarism that made up the last part of the collection was exactly what I was hoping for from Prada after her men's collection in January, but given how much of this collection was made up of basics (beautiful basics, but basics none the less) I was just left wondering why Miuccia didn't really expand upon it. That's the thing about the Prada woman though, just when you think you've got her all figured out it turns out that you couldn't be more wrong. I may be wrong, but perhaps that's the real secret to Prada's success.
I'd like to take you back a bit, back to February of 2006. At that time, a young up and coming creative director, who I don't even need to mention by name since it should be obvious, sent out her second major collection. In that collection, she had done a complete 180 from her first effort, sending out gaudy, glitzy, trashy disco inflected mini dresses and gowns. While the thinking behind that collection was actually in keeping with what the label had previously stood for, the elements were so poorly handled in both the design and styling that the final result couldn't have been more different. Two years later and she seems to have dug that very same grave for herself. While her efforts in the time between these two collections have been nothing short of mind numbingly boring and increasingly more predictable, she was smart to never, ever try her hand at sexy, glamorous clothes again. But if the new collection is anything to go by, she ain't so smart after all...
I doubt if you'll find anyone who can say they were surprised by the direction Frida Giannini went in for F/W 09.10. She basically just took her mens collection, added more glitter to it, and made the pants even tighter. That, my friends, is the genius of Giannini. She doesn't actually have to design two collections per season, she just has to fit them on two different types of bodies, and since male and female models' bodies are looking more and more alike as the first decade of the new millenium comes to a close, that really isn't too much work. Her boy and her girl are essentially the same person, and that person, unfortunately, is none too interesting. But, that's what Frida likes. She likes mindless youths who are more than happy to indulge in only the most mainstream of trends long after those trends have come and gone. So this season, Frida is giving us mid-80's nightclubbers. The shine of the clothes (and they were shi-ny) competed with the shine from the polished catwalk with spotlights reflecting off the surface (yet another area where she is far exceded by Tom Ford, set design). Very few of the clothes she showed would look anything but ridiculous worn before 8 pm; skintight leather leggings (the kind that girls have been obsessed with for a while now) were paired with micromini dresses in hideous overblown polka dots or stripes, cheap looking furs and sparkly lame blouses. Suits were comprised of cropped jackets paired with skintight pants in fabrics that only someone sipping a martini in Vegas circa 1963 should be wearing. Do not plan on looking good in these suits if you have anything that resembles an ass. For that matter, don't plan on looking good in most of these clothes if you have an ass, breasts or hips, translation; if you look like a woman, move on, cause Frida ain't dressing you. Her clothes skew younger and younger every season, and this fall, she's in friggin teenager territory. So if you've already gone through puberty and you don't gag yourself after eating, I really don't know what Giannini has to offer you. Seriously, who exactly is this Gucci customer she's dreamed up for herself? The hipster party girls who would actually want to wear this stuff (and I'm not counting celebs since they don't pay) likely can't afford the real thing, and the grown women who might go to Gucci for luxe fashion probably aren't interested in looking like Lady GaGa threw up on them. So who's left? Rich bitch trophy wives on Bravo reality series? Is that really the ideal Gucci woman nowadays?
But then there was eveningwear, or at least, the clothes that in Frida's head are eveningwear. What the real distinction is is beyond me since this all looks destined for an overhyped club that's clutching to the 80s revival thing that's going on. The eveningwear really just seemed like a cry for help to me. It's clear that poor Frida has a sequin abuse problem and does not know when to put the hot glue gun down. Dresses ran the gammut from short and sparkly to short and sparklier, with a hideously dumpy crystal covered jumpsuit thrown into the mix. It takes quite a lack of talent to make these models today look fat, but would you expect anything else from someone who cares less about creating flattering clothes and more about trying to prove to the world that she's a real designer? But the interesting thing is, for all of the effort she's put into trying to eradicate the memory of Tom Ford from the house, some of the clothes suggest that she was spending some time in the archives when nobody was looking. Specifically, she seemed to take a few elements from the F/W 97 collection, namely the sparkly crystal embroidered mini dresses and a one shouldered black jersey mini with a black patent leather band across the shoulder that looked an awful lot like a series of gowns that were suspended from patent leather harnesses in that 1997 collection. Besides the dresses and the unfortunate crystal covered garbage ba....jumpsuit....she also showed a few beaded tunicy/t shirt things over lurex leggings. I have no f-ing idea what those looks were about because, as with the jumpsuit, they made the models look fat and dumpy. It's like, if the Golden Girls were heading to Danceteria or Paradise Garage, that's sort of what you'd expect them to wear. All they need is a set of shoulder pads. The final look was definitely the best though, a silver and blue leopard print sequined skin tight pantsuit. I don't even have an insult for it, it speaks for itself. Now, besides the fact that this collection clearly displayed why Frida should never try to do sexy clothes (she just goes too far with everything), it also displayed how delusional some designers are when they discuss their collections. Supposedly, this collection was meant to convey a sense of dangerous, tough, seductive femininity. Call me crazy, but isn't that EXACTLY what Gucci was all about before this woman took over, and isn't that the very identity she has been making every effort to suppress for 3 years??? Did she just have her head planted firmy up her own ass while Tom Ford was creative director, or did she want to quash the identity he built at Gucci just so she could revive it years later when the time was right and she'd end up being on trend? (somehow I think the first theory is the more likely one. I just don't get manipulative genius from this woman). Whatever the case is, the fact that she attempted to tread the exact same territory (read: tough, slightly androgynous, highly sexualized and very glamorous) as someone who didn't exactly invent it, but who did write the handbook on it just proves that this woman should stick to what she knows...or whatever it is that she usually does. But the funniest thing that came out of the show notes is that the muse of this collection was, get this, Tina Chow. Tina, f***ing, Chow. Now, I'm sure a lot of people who didn't live to experience the 70's and 80's first hand won't know who Tina Chow was, and frankly I don't actually know how I do myself, but she was a renowned style icon who was known for her somewhat minimal, androgynous personal style and for having great taste in, and a large collection of vintage haute couture. Please, if someone sees the similarity between this collection and Ms. Chow's style, let me know. Seriously, just because you were inspired by early 80's disco doesn't mean you can pick any random style icon from that era and call them your muse, Frida!!! On top of all that though, this collection is pretty awful on a purely aesthetic level. In addition to looking so much like what young girls have already been wearing for a few years now, none of these clothes look remotely expensive. Oh sure, they're decked out in Swarovski, and those tacky shiny silks are probably very high quality, but the clothes look worlds apart from what the pricetag will look like. They look cheap.
In a way I feel bad for Giannini. She's in a terrible Catch 22 situation. On the one hand, when she does her usual work, picking up the breadcrumbs of old trends that other designers left for her, her work has nothing to do with the identity that's still associated with Gucci. And that identity is still stuck to the label like an albatross because to this day she hasn't established her own identity for the brand. Trendy and young just isn't an identity. Then on the other hand, both times where her work has come close to resembling what Gucci is all about it has sucked so thoroughly that all you can think is "don't even bother, dear". So really, what is there that can be done in a situation like that? The thing she does well (making Zara knockoffs) has nothing to do with the house she works for, and the thing she does terribly has everything to do with the house she works for. I think the only option is to put her out of her misery, thereby putting all of us out of ours.