Saturday, March 7, 2009

Almost, and just right...

Christian Dior

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.

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