Saturday, August 15, 2009

Flashback: Dior Haute Couture Spring Summer 2000

To celebrate my 50th post, which, considering I started this blog one boring, sleepless night during fashion week is kind of a big deal, I'm going to look back at what was one of the most controversial fashion shows ever presented. It also happens to rank amongst my all time favorite collections.

The collection that John Galliano presented in the first month of the new millenium provided me with my very first hit of a wondrous drug known as Dior Haute Couture. I don't know how, why or where I first heard of this collection, a collection that has since gained a level of infamy within the industry, but I do remember hearing about it and after all, that's the most important thing. Even so, at my age and having not yet fully immersed myself into the world of fashion I didn't realize just how big a deal this collection was. The collection was inspired mainly by the homeless population that John frequently saw during his morning runs along the Seine, with inspiration also pulled from Charlie Chaplin's iconic "Tramp" character, Diane Arbus' photography of social outsiders and oddballs, mental patients, and the artist Egon Schiele. Pretty intense stuff, huh. But keep in mind that Galliano is nothing if not a romantic. From the earliest part of his career he has loved to concoct stories built around an impoverished, eccentric muse, whether real or imagined. As I've heard it explained by him in many an interview, including one for
back in 2001, he imagined that these people had chosen to live outside of society, to retreat from their lives and that out of their need they inadvertently created a kind of style all their own. Also brewing in John's head was a desire to expose the inner workings of haute couture garments, while also chipping away at the elegant, respectable image that Dior had always maintained.

The clothes themselves drew heavily on the deconstruction and reconstruction techniques championed by the Japanese and Belgian avant garde designers who first gained noteriety in the early 80s, as well as his own experiments with deconstruction from his days at Central Saint Martins. With his penchant for drama and romance, as well as the expertise of Dior's atelier's, Galliano managed to make deconstruction, something which had been firmly established as an aesthetic unto itself, all his own. Probably the most interesting thing about this collection, and for me the real genius of it, is the dichotomy between the impeccable craftsmanship and the worn, destroyed look of the clothes. That the garments were painstakingly crafted by hand using the finest materials and most precise handwork, and yet look as though they've been ripped to pieces and are libel to fall apart at the seams is probably the most brilliant bit of "high/low" fashion I can think of. Another thing is that this collection was shown to an audience that included some of the worlds most well-off women, with the hope being that they might buy the clothing, and yet the clothes themselves were inspired by poverty. I mean think about it, many of these haute couture clients give donations to or throw benefits for various charities. It's not unlikely that somewhere along the line they've done something towards helping those in need, and yet they're being offered a selection of incredibly expensive fashion to buy from that looks like the clothes worn by the very people they've worked to help. It's completely perverse really, a fashion mind-fuck for the ages. The controversy that resulted from this collection was so great that it was being discussed heavily outside of fashion circles. While I can understand some of the sensitivity that the public felt about the topic, I think that Galliano was dead on in that SHOWstudio interview when he pointed out how hypocritical it was for people to attack him for his perceived insensitivity and vulgarity in using poverty as an inspiration, given how so many of the go-to cultures and destinations that designers look to for ideas are completely poverty striken themselves. Besides, other artists have found inspiration in povery, but since fashion is often derided as vapid, useless and shallow it's a much easier target for criticism than contemporary photography or painting.

By far my favorite pieces in the collection were the four closing looks, inspired by Egon Schiele. The gowns were entirely de-and-re-constructed, featuring fans of fabric held up by exposed boning, asymmetrically sliced slits bound with lacing, angled seams traced with a shadow of black tulle and trains with lopped-off hems. Each of the gowns were streaked with paint in faded colors taken directly from Schiele's work, and the illustrative quality was enhanced by the aforementioned tulle, which was veiled over the fabric. That little trick gave the seams the look of dashed off brushstrokes, as well as making the creamy silk taffeta look a bit like canvas that had been ripped off of it's frame.

That was the real beauty of the collection, the romantic little details, from belts of twine strung with
objet trouves (broken jewelry, books, miniature liquor bottles, love letters) to the raw edges on the fabric which had been delicately frayed by hand, one thread at a time.

To this day I think that this collection was one of Galliano's best, and certainly most thought provoking. It was such a huge departure from the elegance, drama and overt glamour that he built his reputation on and which had characterized his work at Dior up until that point; that alone was risky. Combined with the subject matter and the inherent social commentary within it you have to at least respect just how far out on a limb John went. Even though I don't believe he was deliberately trying to push buttons (that just doesn't seem his style) he had to have known that there would be some reaction to this collection. The fact that he stuck to his guns and did what he felt without hesitation is proof, to me anyway, that he is one of the few fashion designers who truly is an artist.

all photos from

Friday, August 7, 2009

Not A-mused...

I finally took the time to go up to the Met and check out this years Costume Institute exhibit, The Model As Muse before it closes this Sunday, and as promised here's my $.02. Honestly there was a part of me that was debating whether or not to even bother since it's such a schlep up Madison by bus to get to there. I just wasn't as interested as I've been for past exhibits, and the only reasons I went were a) because you're not required to pay the full admission fee at the Met and there aren't many things to do in Manhattan for $3 and b) because I haven't missed an exhibit since Chanel in 2005, and I wanted to keep that track record going. Plus, I figured maybe I'd be surprised and it would be better than I thought...didn't quite work out that way, such is the power of positive thinking. I'm sure I'm making it sound like it was just a train wreck, and that's really not the case. As always Julian d'Ys did an amazing job with the wigs, masks and "makeup" that adorned the mannequins, and the set design was pretty good, particularly in the "Grunge" room (graffiti on the walls, dim lights and Nirvana on the sound system). But on to the subject itself. Being that the focus of the exhibit was models there were a lot of photographs, more than any other Costume Instititute exhibit I've seen anyway. There was everything from prints by Penn, Avedon, Newton and Meisel to archival issues of Vogue displayed in showcases. Getting to see such iconic images, like Avedon's "Dovima With The Elephants" or Erwin Blumenfeld's January 1950 Vogue cover of Jean Patchett up close and personal was actually pretty cool.

"The Doe Eye" by Erwin Blumenfeld
Vogue Jauary 1950

Sunny Harnett in Gres by Richard Avedon
Harper's Bazaar September 1954

"Dovima With the Elephants" by Richard Avedon
August 1955

Marisa Berenson by Hiro
Haper's Bazaar February 1966

Twiggy at FAO Schwartz by Melvin Sokolsky

"Fetching is Your Dior" by Chris von Wangenheim
Christian Dior advertisement 1976

But the photos were just part of the story. The other part of the story was the clothing. The exhibit was divided into rooms which each housed a decade, and therefore represented a "look". It started with post-war Paris, since really the mid-to-late 40s were when the idea of the supermodel was born. In that room there were poised, haughty looking mannequins with arched brows and red pouts dressed in clothes from the golden age of haute couture like Balenciaga's "shawl" coat and sack dress, and evening gowns by Charles James. The next room focused on the 60s youthquake, the mod era of Pierre Cardin, Paco Rabanne, Rudi Gernreich and early Saint Laurent. The centerpiece of this room was three aluminum dresses worn in the movie "Qui ĂȘtes vous, Polly Maggoo?" rotating on a platform under psychedelic lighting. Then came the 70s, which was pretty much glossed over with one small display showing what was supposed to be a V.I.P room at a club, but struck me as looking more like a painfully hip Williamsburg loft space than Studio 54. Lounging on a couch were one group of mannequins in gilded peasant blouses and ball skirts from Saint Laurent's Ballet Russes collection, and another group in slinky Halston jersey. Like I said, the 70s disco era was completely glossed over in terms of clothing. Then of course came the 80s and the supermodel era, which you'd think would be treated as some sort of holy grail kind of experience given that everyone (not including me, however) worships the supermodels. Here's what the supermodel era amounted to as far as Harold Koda and his team of curators is concerned; a couple of Versace, Chanel, Armani(?), Ralph Lauren(??) and Donna Karan (???) looks in front of a projection of George Michael's "Freedom" music video. That's all. The pinnacle of the model obsession and all we got was a music video and some clothes. I can't imagine why Azzedine Alaia wasn't featured in the exhibit given that this room was so utterly flat. I mean, are Ralph, Donna and Giorgio really the designer names that come to mind when you think of the supermodels? Where was Mugler, or Galliano, or Dolce and Gabbana even? After that came the phase of alternative beauty embodied by grunge and unusual looking models. The clothes were nothing special, mainly just some grunge looks from MJ's infamous Perry Ellis collection and some Anna Sui with a side display of Prada and Helmut Lang to cover the "minimalism" end of the 90s, but the room itself was pretty cool and completely blew the f-ing supermodel section out of the water.

The post-war years: Balenciaga (left photo), Charles James (right)

The 60s Youthquake

The late 70s

Alternative beauty - 90s grunge

One thing that was done in an attempt to really combine the two concepts of models and clothing was to recreate iconic images using mannequins and the actual clothes that were photographed. So there was a life-sized recreation of Dovima with the Elephants or a group of models dressed head-to-toe in Charles James photographed by Cecil Beaton, Peggy Moffit in Rudi Gernreich's "monokini" from 1964 and Brooke Shields' infamous Calvin Klein jeans ad. Unfortunately these little vingettes were limited, and the majority of the clothes were really just like a brief walk through fashion history, and were basically incidental to the pictures of models wearing them. Ultimately they weren't the focus, and about halfway through the exhibit I found myself thinking that the theme would make for a much better photography exhibit than a fashion exhibit since the images were what it all boiled down to.

All in all, not a great exhibit. Like I said in my post about the Gala back in May, I think calling the exhibit "The Model as Muse" is completely misleading because the truth is that the models didn't actually inspire the clothing, they merely embodied an aesthetic that the designers were striving to achieve, so to imply that Peggy Moffitt inspired Rudi Gernreich to bare a woman's breasts, or that Gianni Versace never would have printed Warhol's image of Marilyn Monroe on a gown had it not been for the models he surrounded himself with is simply untrue. The most that can be said about the women to whom this exhibit was dedicated is that their images defined an era in fashion, which is nothing to scoff at. But ultimately that doesn't have anything to do with clothing because the clothes would have come about with or without the models who wore them. This wasn't so much a fashion exhibit as it was an examination of changing ideals of beauty throughout the second half of the 20th century. I stand by my statement that this subject would have made a much better photography exhibit, since that was really the focus here. But since there was also a Francis Bacon exhibit open, I wouldn't consider my $3 completely wasted.,,,,,, metropolitan museum of art

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Pussy Galore...

Finally the Lanvin campaign has debuted, and for the first time I'm truly excited by a campaign since the F/W 09 ads began to surface. That's not so surprising given that Lanvin campaigns have the unique distinction of never being truly bad. Oh of course some are better than others, but because each season looks so distinct (which means they're unpredictable) and the ideas are always so interesting (which makes them stand out) it's a sure bet that you'll never be let down. Since 2005 Alber Elbaz has used Steven Meisel to bring his visions to life, and the results have produced some of the more creative fashion advertising that I can think of. This campaign is no exception.

Picture this if you will; supermodel Kristen McMenamy, elegance, madness, a touch of Bourdin and a pair of black cats. The result is sort of Crazy Cat Lady: The Early Years...before her beauty withered and her surroundings became squalid. As for those black cats, they bring to mind so many different things; mystery, the occult, danger as well as the legendary Chat Noir in Montmatre. For me though the whole thing kind of brings to mind the scene in Batman Returns when Michelle Pfeiffer is killed and then transforms into Catwoman, particularly the first shot.

As of right now I'm going to call it; I love these ads. I love the look of insanity etched on Kristen's face. I love the severe lighting, white skin and odd, angular poses that recall Guy Bourdin. I love that the only color is the red lipstick, and most of all I love that the ideas used in the campaign combine to create something completely unexpected. I mean, can you honestly say that this is what you would have expected to see given the collection of vaguely '40s Parisian elegance Alber delivered in March? I certainly wouldn't have, and yet, the ads suit the collection perfectly.

images posted on theFashionSpot by surrealseven