Friday, January 29, 2010

A brave new world...

Last year when Pier Paolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri presented their debut collection for Valentino during the spring couture collections I, along with countless others, was scandalized that these two designers were chosen to replace Alessandra Faccinetti after her unceremonious dismissal from the house. Besides being accessories designers up until that point in their careers, they sent out a collection that, save for the not-quite-perfect design and workmanship, could very well have been designed by Valentino himself. In his sleep, I might add. During the summer, with their second couture outing, they showed a collection that went in another direction entirely. It was more youthful, filled with thigh high hems and lace-y transparency, and it was done entirely in black and nude, a very unusual sight for a Valentino collection. It wasn't without it's flaws, but it showed some potential. Then in the fall they sent out a RTW collection for S/S 2010 that was almost perfect for where Valentino should be now. It was youthful, but not overwhelmingly young or trendy, it was far less fussy and "Barbie-esque", and most importantly it was incredibly beautiful. Regrettably it came to my attention a couple of weeks after the shows ended and I never got around to reviewing it, but it raised my expectations for the new design duo ten fold.

Now here we are a year into their tenure, and the couture collection they sent out for the new season could only be described as the polar opposite of their debut. Ditching the Paolo Roversi-esque romanticism of their ready-to-wear collection and replacing it with a sci-fi/fantasy spirit, their cyber-Eden inspired collection came as quite a shock to me, and I'm sure to every other person who looked at it as well. It was brash, loud, very, very young with an unmistakable clubby-vibe to it, and it looked nothing like something Valentino himself would have designed. Most people who posted about it on the Fashion Spot seemed pretty offended about that last part. Personally, I'm thrilled that it doesn't look like the maestro's work, because there would be no point in a new designer trying to imitate an old one. But as happy as I am to see that Piccioli and Chiuri have dislodged their heads from Mr. Garavani's perma-tanned ass, I'm not happy with the results. In their zeal to make their work distinct from the immense heritage of the house, and to attract a younger clientele, the collection was just too heavy handed and the clothes suffered as a result. Using a palette made up of both neons and pale shades of beige and blush, the clashes of color didn't always work. In fact, combined with the tight draping and color-blocked, cross-over panels the look was cheap in that Leger/Pucci 80s body-con kinda way. There were also some loose beaded or embroidered mini tunics, which were some of the more appealing pieces in the collection, worn over ugly ruched or beaded chiffon leggings, a couple of quieter gowns that wouldn't be out of place on a red carpet, as well as some that would (tiered ruffles in a mix of taupe, blush and hi-liter yellow), two ruffled mini-dresses in patent shark skin (one in red, the other in olive green), and a heinous caped jumpsuit. The jumpsuit itself wasn't anything offensive, unless jumpsuits just aren't your thing, but the cape was like an ugly acid trip; red, coral, hot pink and neon yellow worked into a pattern that looked like the petals of a man-eating plant or something. Way too much would be an understatement. Basically, for every piece that wasn't half bad there were two that were. Overall the collection suffered from over-design and a lethal dose of trendiness.

Now, while I don't think this collection was good by any means, I also don't think that it was wrong. Chiuri and Piccioli have shown that they do in fact have more to offer than their initial collection would have led us to believe. Clearly they know that in order to keep the Valentino name relevant, it needs to be of the time, and that's the one good thing I can say about this show. Regardless of how tacky or poorly conceived it may be, it is most definitely in tune with what's going on in fashion. I don't think you could say the same about Valentino's work for his couture line. His work was always perfect, but for the better part of the aughties it really didn't manage to surprise or impress. You knew what a Valentino couture collection would look like before the first stiletto hit the runway. I could see why dependability like that might appeal to some, but I've always loved the fact that fashion, unlike almost any other fine or applied art, is constantly changing. At the very least the duo's collections have gotten people's attention and have been anything but predictable since their first venture. But so far none of the couture collections that Chiuri and Piccioli have shown have been a total success and I have a feeling that it's because they feel more pressure in the couture arena than they do with ready to wear, and rightly so. Couture is the ultimate test for any designer. But for two hand-picked successors with a background in accessory design, and after the mini-scandal that was unfolding at the time of their promotion? Let's just say I don't envy them. Who knows if they'll ever really amaze with their couture. But given more time I think that they'll at least learn to hold back from over styling and over designing, and the ride should be somewhat exciting for us to watch. Their spring collection showed what they're capable of doing, both in terms of making clothes and making Valentino youthful and current. They'd be smart to stick to whatever instincts led them there and to avoid, at all costs, neon yellow chiffon.

all images from

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I want candy...

You know the old saying; sugar, spice and everything nice...

Well imagine if the little girl in question decided that she needed a bit of an edge. What you'd probably wind up with is Karl Lagerfeld's Spring 2010 Haute Couture collection for Chanel. In a show he titled "Neon-Baroque", he sent out a parade of clothes in the kinds of colors that would make most little girls swoon. Gone was the graphic black and white-based palette that usually dominates a Chanel couture offering, and in it's place were perky pastels as far as the eye could see.

Opening with the requisite Chanel tweed, Karl's update on the age-old classic this season was to trade in a traditional narrow skirt for culottes. Now, I'm all for doing whatever it takes to make pastel tweed seem a little less octogenarian, but culottes? Really?? Needless to say, not the Kaiser's best twist on the house's signature look. The semi-opaque lurex tights, chunky silver booties and fingerless gloves didn't exactly help. But some of the jackets had this amazing detail around the edges or next to seams, tiny little blotches of molten silver. Trimming the edges of the collar or the front of the jacket they were a modern alternative to the classic braiding. Around the shoulder seam they almost looked like metal stitches or medical staples holding the sleeve up. There were also a few straight-cut shifts with neat little stand up collars and glass/lucite tubes assembled into brooches at the neck before the collection moved soundly into "dress" territory. I've mentally blocked the fussy, lacey little numbers and the heavily beaded dresses with caped sleeves and landed right at look #31; a white pleated shirt dress with a soft pink tint at the hem. I wish I knew why that look caught my eye, maybe it's the relative simplicity compared to everything that came before it, but I find myself drawn to it. After that it was full on, pastry light confections that could put the Ladurée-designed food in Sophia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette" to shame. If you've seen the movie, you know exactly what I mean. A short tiered dress came in Mille-feuille layers of delicately shaded pink organza. A coat reminiscent of topiary came covered in swirling mauve ruffles from the shoulder down. An empire line bubble dress and corresponding Balenciaga-esque cape were made out of tiny flat rosettes. And there were numerous softly draped options in icy shades of satin with ornate beadwork at the neckline.

But none of that compared to the evening dresses. In every conceivable shade of pale pink, with bits of yellow, coral, lavender and gray mixed in for good measure, the sweetness of these fluid columns of liquid satin was cut by the baroque silver embroidery. Most of the dresses featured one knockout embroidered detail. Take the coral one for example; under the sari like drape the bodice was covered with metallic silver sequins embroidered into swirls that had an almost armor-like look. The yellow one had a kind of breast-plate embroidered onto the top, covered with 3-D camelias in silver paillettes. Another one in pale pink had a pleated faux-wrap top with billowing kimono sleeves, and the skirt had horizontal metallic bands worked into it. But my personal favorite? The pristine white floor length shirt dress with pleated shoulders, starched collar and over-sized black necktie. It was so simple, with no embroidery or beading at all, only a brooch on the tie. And it was humorous too, with the not-so-subtle reference to Karl himself, but it was also just plain beautiful. After the gowns the rest of the evening pieces were mainly short, voluminous, and so light and frothy with layers of tulle and fragile ruffles that they looked like meringues. Honestly though they were just too pretty, too delicate, too sweet for my taste.

I'm truly shocked that I like this collection at all, let alone that I like it quite a bit. There's just so much in it that I normally turn up my nose at. I think it might be the sheer overload of all those things, the pretty colors, the softness, the sugary girlishness, that ultimately makes it appealing. I mean really the whole thing is so obnoxiously feminine. It's taken to such an extreme that it's almost aggressive, which of course makes it interesting. Then there is the balance from the space-agey elements, the silver, the heavy beadwork, that makes these clothes different than your run of the mill frou-frou. And for the first time in as long as I can remember Karl didn't completely overload on details. Even though the collection is called baroque, a lot of it (barring the passage that I've blocked from memory) is actually pretty spare by Chanel HC standards. All of those evening dresses, for example, have their embellishment contained to one area; the neckline, the shoulder, the hip, what have you. Most of the suits are only trimmed with those tiny silver dots, instead of the usual textural overload. Even the accessories, which any Chanel show is overloaded with, were kept to a minimum, just those Barbarella booties, tights, gloves and occasional bit of jewelry. So as much as Karl went full tilt with the prettiness, he actually managed to rein in the details and, for the most part, control them. I really never thought I'd see the day that I'd root for pastel satin, but I guess stranger things have happened, no?

images from via Festat at tFS

Saturday, January 23, 2010

All About Evil...

For me the only thing besides the awe-inspiring, vertigo-inducing footwear shown on the Alexander McQueen S/S 2010 runway that made an impression was the film, directed by Nick Knight of course, that played at the opening of the show. In it model Raquel Zimmermann, lit in deathly shades of blue and naked as the day she was born, was writhing around in a state akin to ecstasy (really, the only way to writhe imo). Slithering around on the aforementioned naked model were dozens of snakes. It was an incredibly powerful image, a giant video screen dominated by a beautiful woman falling prey to the evils of temptation. Or, you know, not. Personally the video made me think more of Lilith, the personification of temptation itself, than of Eve, the mortal who gave into it.

TBH I'm not at all surprised that McQueen and Knight chose to adapt that image for the campaign. But whereas the video was haunting, dark and overtly sexual, the campaign is lighter, both literally and figuratively. For starters, you'd be hard pressed to find pythons or boa constrictors that haven't already been made into accessories in the colors that Knight dreamed up. Pretty much every primary and secondary shade on the color wheel is present and accounted for, and with the sheer amount of serpents both large and small the first impression of the shot is like a bomb exploding in your retinas. You don't know where to focus first, though the chartreuse snakeskin "armadillo" platforms, as they've been informally known, are a good place to start. Of course, those shoes are on someone's feet, and those feet are connected to a body somewhere under the swirling mass of cold-blooded color. Let your eyes adjust for a second and then you see her, though just barely, and that's where the otherwise striking image falls flat for me. All you see is snake patterns everywhere, dominating the entire image. While the intensity of the color and pattern makes for a strong first impact, any impact that the image of a woman tangled in serpents might have is completely lost. I cannot fathom why anyone would have chosen that snake printed catsuit as the wardrobe for this shot because it blends right in. That may very well have been the intent, but I don't think it makes for a great image. It's simply too much of one thing. Besides that, and more confusingly, with all of the extravagantly molded, printed and puffed mini dresses shown on the runway you pick a printed lycra catsuit to represent the collection? I mean granted, all that the runway collection amounted to was a bunch of beautifully manipulated prints, and that's exactly what the ad is trying to sell you, but again, the printed clothing is canceled out by the snakes. It's basically just part of the background.

So I'm torn about it. On the one hand it's a really cool image on it's own. Even though McQueen's ads don't show up in magazines, there is absolutely NO WAY you would miss this if it did. Plus it's the polar opposite of all the other ads this season which have been focusing first and foremost on the clothes. This is an unapologetic feast for the eyes by comparison. But the problem is that the eyes, or at least my eyes, don't really have anywhere to go once the initial bang of "Ooh, colored snakes" wears off. There really isn't anything else to look at after that because that's precisely what dominates the entire photograph. Quite honestly I think that she should have been naked, wearing only the shoes (and might I add, not those particular shoes). As it is the ad doesn't have the same dark eroticism going for it that the film did, which in all fairness could be partly because there's no motion. But they still could have achieved a sense of dangerous sexuality without the benefit of movement. And besides, it's not like this ad is actually selling you a product anyway, so she really didn't have to be wearing anything at all. The image would have been better had she not been. I think what's frustrating me is that I can totally see what could have been, and the fact that it's not is driving me crazy.

Monday, January 18, 2010

One pill, two pill, red pill, blue pill...


Granted it's only a couple of days in, but so far the mens shows aren't quite blowing my mind...with one exception. The Versace mens collection for F/W 2010 is, without a doubt, the most gutsy and exciting collection for men that Donatella has sent out in years. For a while, I'd say since Versace began her quest to revamp the house and steer it in a more luxurious, modern and profitable direction, Versace menswear has lacked quite a bit of the verve and attitude that made it so much fun back in the early naughties. That's not to say that it hasn't been good. Ever since Donatella hired Alexandre Plokhov to head the mens collection the results have been consistently beautiful, with a new emphasis on streamlined masculinity and sharply tailored chic. But the attitude; it was just a little too tame. Granted Versace is a label that will never appeal to everyone, you either like it or you don't, but I think anyone who cares even a little bit about fashion would agree that at the end of the day Versace just isn't meant to be tame. Ever.

If this collections makes one thing clear, it's that you can only tame Milan's platinum blonde beast for so long before she breaks free of her shackles, ready to tear it up. The collection, in all of it's hard-edged, cyberpunk glory, is fantastic for the simple reason that you could not possibly have seen it coming. It was completely unpredictable. For the last few years Versace's menswear has been classic, very grown up and sharply tailored bordering on formal, with a strong focus on a mature sense of luxury and glamour. Imagine the polar opposite of that and you have the F/W 2010 menswear collection. For starters the look is pure youth; narrow tailored trousers in black or gray worn stuffed into multi-strapped-and-buckled patent boots, motocross pants in skintight black leather or a patchwork of fabric and patent, tops made of strips of leather slit open like Venetian blinds to show the skin underneath, and streamlined biker jackets cut narrow enough to give Rick Owens a run for his money. While this all sounds like the type of stuff that trendy young fashion boi types have been wearing forever, Versace and Plokhov upped the ante with the details. Those biker jackets, among my favorite pieces throughout the collection, aren't mere Rick Owens rip-offs; instead they're detailed with cut-work, padding, topstitching, or a faux-wrap shawl collar. There were some gorgeous knee-length coats, in particular a gray tweedy looking one with lapels and no collar, or for the more ballsy type a patent leather car coat. A few pieces had this weird bump detail, like studs pressed under the surface of the leather or fabric, kind of a punky take on ostrich leather. A gorgeous knit top in silvery-gray had panels of laddered fringe, while other tops were woven like a fishing net. For evening, thought it wasn't traditional by any stretch of the imagination, Versace paired sharply tailored jackets and trousers, or more of those leather pants, with tops in the house's signature chain mail. The few times I've ever seen it used for men, I haven't liked the results, but somehow these tops looked cool. Mixed in with the black and grays were shots of electric blue, cobalt, burgundy and purple, as well as some multicolored "laser" print tops (which were not among my favorite piece in the collection).

Honestly the only thing I don't like about this collection is the fact that I'm in no way cool enough to pull the look off myself. I don't have a multi-million dollar record deal to accessorize my outfits with, and to work these looks I think that may be a necessity. But broken apart most of these pieces aren't as extreme as they appear. The styling is decidedly fashion-y and to be honest I'm thrilled with that. I'm tired of having my fashion spoon-fed to me. If all I wanted was to look at nice clothes, I wouldn't devote my time to following fashion. An added bonus is the shock factor that this collection provides. In yet another Milan mens season when the results are less than lust-inducing, this collection is like an adrenaline rush. Versace and Plokhov seemed to throw caution to the wind and just do what they wanted to do without any hesitation. They didn't just put some patent trim on a classic coat and call it futuristic, they went full tilt with their inspiration. For that reason this show stands out, and will likely continue to until the mens collections wrap up in Paris by the end of the week. But then I wouldn't expect much less from a member of the Versace family. Donatella may fall into her ruts, indulging in too much glitz for a while, then reigning things in too much after that, but when the woman decides to make a change there is no such thing as doing it subtly.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Doll parts...

Even though I didn't end up reviewing the S/S 2010 collection during the shows this fall, don't for one second think that I was just ignoring it. The truth is I really liked it. It wasn't a blockbuster up to par with the extremely high standards that Miuccia Prada has set for herself over the years, but there was something about it that appealed to me. Now the ads are popping up slowly and surely, and from the first shot that I saw it had my attention. A trend that seems to be permeating the new spring ad campaigns is that a lot of them are focusing mainly, or almost entirely, on the clothes and accessories. There aren't interesting stories, amazing locations and dizzying special effects on display, which forces the viewers (that would be us) to focus on the other things that make up a photograph. Those elements of a photograph that we can often take for granted or just not notice are coming through loud and clear now that some designers and photogs are stripping back to the bare essentials; model, clothes, hair, makeup and light.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with the new Prada campaign. In the model's articulated poses and blank expression throughout the shots that have surfaced so far, the fledgling model looks more like a mannequin than a human. Besides the creepy plastic quality the most striking thing in some of the shots is the way that the image is cropped. The top half of the girl's head is missing, only showing everything from the lips down, and her legs are cut off right at the hips. The only color in the shots is the model's glossy vermilion pout. Feminists would probably have a field day arguing the subliminal chauvinist messages that an image portraying a young girl with no face contains. Let's not even delve into the fact that the faceless girl on display is in pigtails. Lucky for us fashion isn't a staunchly feminist universe, because chauvinism aside the images are pretty damn gorgeous. The last shot, in the floral dress, isn't as exciting to me for the simple fact that you can see more of the model's features. So take that feminazis! Sometimes a full face just doesn't make for a standout photograph. But truth be told I also don't love the poses in those two shots either. Overall it just isn't as interesting an image.

I absolutely love how minimal this campaign is. As with minimalist clothing, a minimalist photograph isn't just something that's plain. Meisel proves that point exceptionally well with this campaign, managing to fill the space with enough detail to keep the eye interested. In fact, the photos are good enough that you can almost ignore the fact that they are simply and blatantly pushing the product, and nothing more. They're not saying anything about fashion, about femininity, about beauty, about life...they're just saying "buy me", and that kind of honesty is rare these days.

images from Northern Star and honeycombchild at The Fashion Spot, and Love Magazine Blog

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The thrill of the new...

It's a new year and a new decade too. That can only mean one thing; New name. New look. Same attitude (as if I could get rid of that).

That's right readers, this fashion fiend has become a full blown addict, and with any luck you will too. Like any restless creative soul I got sick of what I had made and decided to move on. Plus that old title was too effing wordy.

So please make sure to edit your links, and keep coming back for more of the same potent mix of sarcasm and satin.

Here's to a fabulous 2010!!!