Sunday, October 4, 2009

The body beautiful...

Ann Demeulemeester

It's rare that I ever swoon over an Ann Demeulemeester runway show. Clothes aside (and her clothes are always beautiful) her vision can at times be a little unrelenting. Don't get me wrong, I know that Ms. D has her clientele and knows what they want. She doesn't invest much time in thinking about what's trendy or of the moment. Some might say that's part of her appeal, others might dislike her for that very reason. I personally fall somewhere in between. I don't mind that she sticks to her aesthetic, it's just that sometimes I wish there was a little more variation from season to season. While Ann may not spend much time thinking about fashion's next direction, that doesn't always mean that she's completely out of the loop either. In a season where so many designers are revealing skin, Demeulemeester decided to cut away at her signature layers and bare some her own way of course. The collection she showed for Spring 2010 reminded me of two of my favorite Ann D collections of the past, S/S 2001 and S/S 2006, which could explain why I like it so much. Then of course there's the undercurrent of sex and bondage that's on display. I mean really, it'd be kind of strange if I didn't like it at least a little. Keeping the silhouette predominantly lean, with an emphasis on short skirts and black leather, Demeulemeester's band of nomadic poets looked tougher and sexier than they have in quite some time. Her artfully destroyed jewelry and soft, flimsy layers were replaced with chains of zippers and bare sternums. Her trademark cropped, boyish trousers were shown in black leather and paired with everything from roughly beaded tunics to matching leather bandeaus. Belts were made of zippers that had been undone so as to fall apart in places, making them look more like harnesses than belts. Those zippers also appeared sweeping down the lapel of jackets and coats, dangling down the front of tops like fringe, even wrapped around the models' faces (romantically, of course). Balancing out the aggressive elements of the collection was a black and white print of birds, which I honestly wasn't a big fan of. Normally I like Demeulemeester's prints, but overall the avian motif didn't really do much for me. Worn with most of the looks was a leather cummerbund/girdle kind of thing that gave the silhouette a high waisted look, and also prevented the looks from baring too much skin all at once. I love the look of a plunging neckline that's been interrupted by something that has the look of fetish wear. For evening, or at least Demeulemeester's version of evening, washed leather vests or slouchy jackets were worn open over long, sylph-like skirts that dragged along the floor. Accessorized with those multi-harnessed belts or a thin chain collar dangling from the neck and attached around the waist, they were an edgy update of a cliched evening silhouette.

Like I said, I think the reason why I like this collection so much is because it's not territory that she always explores. It's not often that she goes for a really tough, aggressive, sexy mood; her vision has skewed more romantic and soulful these last few years. So it was a welcome change to see her embracing sex and severity. I also like that the lines of the clothes are kept close to the body, stripped down to their simplest forms instead of layered, gathered and voluminous. While I would give anything for her to delve into color more, like she did last spring, it's nice to see her shaking things up even a little bit.

Haider Ackermann

I've been aware of Haider Ackermann since about 2007, and in the two years since first seeing his clothes on I have followed his work and slowly fallen in love. On the surface there are some similarities to his fellow Belgian Ann Demeulemeester, as well as to Rick Owens. But once you look closer it becomes easier to spot what makes Ackermann distinct. For one, he uses sensuality and sexuality much more freely than Demeulemeester or Owens does. His clothes, from his twsited, super-soft leather jackets and fluid tailoring to his languid, soigné goddess dresses, are designed to exploit the female form. He has no qualms with baring flesh, cutting away fabric to reveal shoulder, back, hip or leg, which gives his work an erotic edge that isn't really to be found in the work of many of the designers whom he can be compared to. Perhaps that's due to his background. It seems natural that someone who was born in Colombia and raised in Belgium would design clothes that are a clash between passionate sensuality and moody romanticism. It also seems natural that Ackermann developed a bit of nomadic streak in his work. This season his mind went to India, though not being one for themes the results were anything but literal. In a way though the inspiration suits Ackermann's talents perfectly. On the one hand you have the elegant, regimental tailoring of the English colonial period; on the other you have the sensual wrapping of saris. That basically sums up the two things that he is best known for. Whatever led Mr. Ackermann to his inspiration, it produced what is probably my favorite collection of his thus far.

Opening with one of his signature washed leather jackets with attenuated shoulders and sleeves pushed up past the elbows worn over a short, twisted mini dress in what looks like suede that was slashed open across the hip bone, he didn't seem to stray too far from the look that has become his trademark. Sure, the silhouette was shorter, and the dress was more body conscious, but the look was instantly recognizable as his own. Then followed a number of riffs on a safari jacket. One was sleeveless and worn with cuffed leather shorts, while another in black leather was lengthened into a kind of mini dress. Yet another had been hacked away to create a halter top that was worn with a long bias cut fishtail skirt. Around look 7 was when the sari-esque elements came into play. A charcoal mini dress had cutout cold shoulders and was wrapped at the waist, while an asymmetrical top had one sleeve and was paired with slim pants in wrinkled washed satin. In the soigné department, a mannish safari jacket with face framing collar was worn over a mini skirt with a billowing train. All of these looks were in varying shades of black and gray, which isn't surprising as Ackermann tends to stick to fairly monochrome colors. Look 13 then was quite a surprise coming from him; a golden yellow silk military vest paired over matching draped shorts that swooped up across the front of the vest.

After that the collection lightened up. There was another head-to-toe yellow look of a cropped jacket worn over a draped halter gown with that same double-length skirt (which would appear throughout the collection. Then came a few looks in deep navy satin that were the perfect contrast to the bright yellow that had come before them (and which I wish there had been more of). After those three navy looks the color lightened even more into pale icy blue for a clingy v-neck column gown and an asymmetrically wrapped mini dress, faded blush for a halter dress and suede jacket combo, a soft sand colored jumpsuit in softly metallic looking fabric, and some pale, vaguely military inspired looks in beige and taupe before the collection moved into dark browns and finally black. Closing the show were three black looks, a single sleeved gown, a jumpsuit with cutout shoulders and a keyhole neckline, and finally an asymmetrical one shoulder goddess gown designed to bare one breast.

Like I said, I think this may be my favorite Haider Ackermann collection of all the ones that I've seen. His signatures are all there, the draping, the sensuous tailoring, but there's something more. Maybe it's because the pale color and the unabashed display of naked flesh is so on track with where the season seems to be going. Maybe it's just that all of the elements he's become known for seem to be amped up a bit more; the color is more unusual, the sex appeal is more overt. I'm honestly not sure what it is. It's also interesting to note that this is probably the first time that Ackermann's collection has been so much apart of the trends that are going on, but I'm sure that was purely coincidental. He's just not a trendy designer. Still, it doesn't hurt that he managed to give everyone what they want and expect from him while also managing to be a part of the moment. Whoever said you can't have your cake and eat it too clearly didn't work in fashion.


What can I say about Lanvin that hasn't already been said before by those with more colorful vocabularies than mine? Beautiful, glamorous, feminine, flattering, timeless; all of them work. This season, in addition to all of those things, Alber Elbaz injected his collection with more than a little bit of sex, and a big dose of good old-fashioned fun. It sounds kind of cheesy when it's put that way, but really, that was the most exciting thing about this collection; it was all about the joy of going way over the top. If you look at this collection and last season's collection side by side, they'd appear to be polar opposites. But last season, besides the restrained glamour and echoes of wartime austerity, there was a hint of eccentricity. That's nothing really new for Elbaz, his collections always have this slightly askew feel to them, but last season the effect was a bit more least to me. This season however the volume was turned up all the way to 11. The collection seemed to revel in that beautiful eccentricity. The show opened with sharp, fitted dresses and skirts that were finished with exaggerated, exuberant ruffles that traced the edges of a top or the waist of a dress creating a peplum. Skirts were cut tight and cropped well above the knee, while dresses or tops with deflated puff sleeves fell assymetrically off the shoulders. This whole opening section had echoes of Elbaz's F/W 2007 collection, with it's focus on exaggerated mutton sleeves and sculpted ruffles. Here though the effect was sharper, more aggressive in a way. Paired with the models' messy chignons, smoky black eyes, mile long legs, as well as the cinematic lighting, these looks made for some of the most overtly sexy looks that I can ever recall on a Lanvin runway. Mixed into the sharper looks was a beautiful asymmetrically draped ecru dress that was twisted to one side. Even that though had a sexuality to it because with the dramatic lighting and the softness of the farbic, it seemed to blend into the models' skin. There was also a one sleeved draped black jumpsuit, a surprisingly trendy moment in the collection that was a sign of what would follow.

From there Elbaz began to lighten up, both in shape and in color. After the parade of monochromatic looks that had come down the runway, out came 5 draped dresses, some slinky, others more structured, in different shades of red and pink. Two in particular caught my eye and were a good indication of the new-found sex appeal to be seen throughout the collection. Both were softly draped with a wrap skirt that opened on the side, one with a draped v-neck and a single rolled up sleeve, the other seemingly tied and knotted around the neck and falling off one shoulder. The beauty of them was that, sexy as they were, they looked like they had simply been flung onto the body and artfully arranged; like they would fall into a puddle of fabric on the floor at any moment. That's the beauty of Lanvin though, as haphazard and spontaneous as the clothes appear, they're always perfectly made. There were two looks in leather, one a black dress with puff sleeves, the other a draped chocolate blouse worn with a black skirt, that offset the prettiness well, though I do think that they would have been better had they been shown with the more aggressive opening looks. After them Elbaz moved into soft makeup shades of blush, pale tawny orange, beige and taupe. This section of looks, all of them falling in soft drapes or gathers, tied in perfectly with the whole super-soft, super-pretty lingerie mood that's become the dominant theme this season, though the clothes never really referenced lingerie. Then came two more jumpsuits, one in a faded cocoa color, the other in a pinkish taupe. The fabric of the brown one almost had the look of loose Fortuny pleats, and worn with a jeweled belt and whopping enamel and brass snake collar, it definitely recalled the era when Fortuny was at the height of his popularity.

Up until now there was no embellishment on the clothes, but it almost seems like Elbaz made a conscious decision to not only embellish the evening clothes, but to go as far as he could with sparkle and glitz. First came a fleshtoned one shoulder jumpsuit completely covered in beadwork, accessorized with a jeweled belt and layered necklaces. A beaded t-shirt was worn with a draped skirt that had clashing beadwork lightly scattered on it. Another ensemble paired a matching top and pants completely encrusted with brass colored paillettes with a beaded track jacket, again finished off with huge layered necklaces. And finally a trio of sparkling party dresses, one each in green, sulphuric yellow and red, had contrasting pieces of black that almost looked like a t shirt layered under the dress. Mixed in with the over the top beadwork were simpler draped options. Two floor length dresses were slit all the way up the thigh. One in khaki was almost like a draped shirt dress, while the other in washed black was gathered on one shoulder. Again these looks were uncharacteristically sexy for Elbaz, but they still had the languid ease and unfussiness that is associated with Lanvin. There was a beautiful navy jumpsuit with those same destroyed Fortuny-esque pleats, a simple full skirted dress in pleated teal silk, and the final look which was a nude body that had randomly draped bright pink tulle covering it. It kind of looked like cotton candy.

Needless to say, I love, love, LOVE the collection. The one thing that Alber Elbaz consistently does is create beautiful clothes that make the viewer (and I would assume the wearer as well) feel good. I love the feisty twist that he gave the collection. There's a sexiness to it that feels both right for now and fresh for Lanvin. Don't get me wrong, Lanvin is always sexy, but it isn't usually so overt. I also love how deliciously over the top this all is. In almost any other designers' hands (save maybe for Lacroix) accessorizing a fully beaded, brightly colored party dress with multiple statement necklaces, bracelets and earrings would be way too much. For whatever reason though, none of this comes off that way to me. Instead of being tacky or loud, it reads as quirky and fun, and fun is something that fashion is in desperate need of right now.

all photos from

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