Thursday, February 14, 2019

Marc Jacobs closes NYFW, reincarnates beauty

American fashion can’t escape the commercial pragmatism connotations. A sense of urgent practicality pervaded the New York collections, perhaps as a response to a divided time and country. The clothes are ready to rumble, there and then. 

Not many designers delivered a way forwards. Those who came closest were Chromat, Telfar, and Eckhaus Latta, with stories of inclusion. They captured the quotidian of the subcultures they represent but there was still something missing. Something bigger than American fashion in its current guise.

It’s why Marc Jacobs’ couture concept on Wednesday night crowned itself the best show of the week. With the Park Avenue Armory plunged into darkness, the intimate kind, the only light illuminating the models was a spotlight. It was the guiding light of New York Fashion Week. Following was following Jacobs’ reminder that fashion, in its purest form—the art of creation, its commentary on the time in which its presented and how it offers a direction forward—is still the apex of all fashion weeks. Where are the ideas, you ask? Marc Jacobs has them, of course. 

It was utterly gorgeous, a sumptuous visual delight that stripped back theatrics to a haunting degree but still revelled in its own drama. Voluminous silhouettes of historic couturiers: Cristobal Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent! 

And in the bright hues of red, lemon, seafoam green, alongside sombre hues of black, grey, and beige. The constant dialogue between the prismatic extremes explained something about American fashion—there are those whose colour palette reflects the ennui of the times, and those who use colour as method of rebuking the turmoil. 

The glamour! The colours! Jacobs strived for beauty and he delivered it ad infinitum.

The final look, worn by 90s supermodel Christy Turlington Burns, was a black evening dress bursting with glossy plumes. It was unlike anything else on the runway this New York Fashion Week. It underscored the belief that there is room for fashion that will hit you like a sucker punch. Perhaps, as an audience, maybe we should demand more of it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Oscar de la Renta & Coach make modern clothes at New York Fashion Week

On the final day of New York Fashion Week, Michael Kors paid homage to the legends of Studio 54, spinning a tale of a Broadway dancer-by-day who spends her evening revelling in the ritzy enclaves of New York’s most famous nightclub. Barry Manilow provided live music, singing ‘Copacabana (At the Copa’ while models—typically stiff and stoic—swayed along in a surprisingly loveable, camp and kitsch affair. 

The models, with their hair fashioned in tight curls, took to the runway in layers of crushed lamé, extravagant fleece coats, and flouncy party dresses dripping in feather trim and crystal embroidery. From lacquered leathers in animal print to fur-trimmed jackets, Kors touched all bases. For the guys, there were tank tops emblazoned with the Studio 54 logo, flared denim, and buttoned-down patterned shirts. However, was lost in a sea of womenswear. 

Kors likes to make his fashion as easy as apple pie. He spared no expense on explicit references to the 1970s.
Michael Kors
It’s why Stuart Vevers take at Coach 1941 was much more nuanced in his approach and, thus, more successful in its execution. His latest offering was influenced by youth culture in the decade that brought the collision of punks with hippies, glam rock and disco, and the evolution of skate and biker cultures. Vevers is skilled at taking American history and making something desirable out of it—if it’s not wholly compelling, it’s modern. 

Alongside plaid tailoring and floral print dresses accented with black ruffles, he presented his strongest menswear to date. His propositions skewered tailoring and streetwear, seamlessly catering to the two markets by bringing them together. Whether it was joggers or tapered trousers, everything was styled with sneakers. His man could have easily stepped out of Gia Coppola’s youth culture odyssey Palo Alto, or quite simply, a Californian suburb. Wait for high street retailers to copy it. It’s with the times, even if he didn’t push it forward. 
Coach 1941
On Tuesday night, Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia, the designers at Oscar de la Renta, went in the opposite direction. For Kim and Garcia, the question is simple: how do you infuse the tasteful proclivities of the uptown elite with a modern, urban sensibility. It’s the guiding light in their collections. Their attempts aren’t always auspicious but they have come quite close for Fall. 

They fused the Islamic and Christian history of the Mosque-Cathedral in Córdoba, Spain. The duo assimilated the disparate worlds of gloriously eclectic pattern and fluid silhouettes—in rich shades of vermilion, ochre, and gold—and the subdued elegance of black, white, and grey. They showed daywear, using fabrics traditionally associated with menswear, for all ages and glamourous evening wear for all occasions. 

The main attempt was to thread a global line through the work—nothing was supposed to feel rooted in one city. Oscar de la Renta, of course, is a global brand, and it showed. The standout was a floral-embroidered lace dress in a sublime shade of crimson. A veritable update on the flamenco dress, it could also be read as an homage to the late Mr. de la Renta’s Spanish roots.  

Furthermore, Kim and Garcia’s modernity was rooted in practicality and femininity. Trousers and asymmetrically-cut blouses, funnel-neck sweaters and oversized tailoring finally clicked with the evening wear portions. A comprehensive vision for their iteration of Oscar de la Renta finally makes the most sense for the time it's being presented in. Kudos to them—and management—for taking the time to work things out. 
Oscar de la Renta

Photo Credit: Andrea Adriani via Vogue Runway

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

New York Fashion Week isn't dead yet: Standout collections from Helmut Lang, Proenza Schouler, Gabriela Hearst

On Monday night, the second iteration of the Helmut Lang revival was unveiled. In 2018, Alix Browne, founding editor of V magazine, was appointed editor-in-residence, replacing Isabella Burley. Under her purview, she tapped Mark Howard Thomas and Thomas Cawson to envision Helmut Lang for 2019. 

Thomas will look after the men’s and women’s collections while Cawson will be responsible for Helmut Lang Jeans. Thomas’ pedigree includes stints at Joseph, Givenchy, and Neil Barrett; Cawson served as global creative director of Calvin Klein Jeans during the Raf Simons era. 

He restored minimalist rigour to the brand, in all its 1990s glory. It was truer to the original than Shayne Oliver’s attempt for Spring 2018, the brand’s first attempt at revitalising the label in the latter half of the 2010s. Focusing on a 1970 Joseph Buey’s sculpture called, Felt Suit, a two-piece suit, Cawson’s narrative was about purity, minimalism, and constructing a new wardrobe. Those were the beliefs synonymous with Mr. Lang himself. For the modern era, Cawson envisioned power dressing—tapered trousers, sharp-shouldered jackets, and the slew of leather looks added an urban sensibility.

He called on the androgynous tropes of the house with men and women in matching tweed boiler suits, leather trousers, and coordinating crimson tailoring. Thomas delivered double denim in bubblegum pink, There was something entirely refreshing about this homage to the 1990s. It’s good to have Helmut Lang back, even if the namesake founder isn’t at its helm. 
Helmut Lang
Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez at Proenza Schouler have borrowed a thing or two from the original Helmut Lang. For one, they have the same inclination to subvert simplicity, attempting to elevate the banal while maintaining a detached yet sensual cool. Moreover, their preferred show venues—anonymous, incomplete spaces—attracted Lang too.

Experimentalists at heart, their creative streak has often made them scatterbrained—especially in recent years when a short-lived jaunt to Paris for two seasons threw a spanner in the works. However, for fall 2019, they built on their musings on workwear staples in oversized, boxy silhouettes, full of asymmetric twists and turns. They carried forward the distressed denim look—applying it a beige trench coat, covetable fabric alchemy. Consistency paid off. Their clothes were convincing, if not a little too reminiscent of some European labels.
Proenza Schouler
Gabriela Hearst is 12 collections in and she’s nicely developing her minimalist aesthetic with warm and romantic tactile touches. At her Tuesday morning presentation, she proposed colourful tweed, quilted jackets and skirts in neutral shades of olive and beige, double-breasted suits in slate grey and charcoal, fringed shawls, and subtle, unstructured dresses suitable for lounging or entertaining. It’s the fashion equivalent of comfort food.

The story of New York Fashion Week has not really been what’s on the runways, rather what’s missing. Firstly, there are those tentpole names that have decamped the schedule for another city or schedule or altogether—Thom Browne, Altuzarra have gone to Paris; Rodarte showed in Los Angeles; Alexander Wang presents in June and December; Shayne Oliver’s Hood by Air is no more. 
Gabriela Hearst
Secondly, many have argued that New York is bereft of serious talent. I wouldn’t fret too much about New York’s voicelessness. Talent is alive: look no further than Telfar Clemens, Becca McCharen-Tran at Chromat, Kerby Raymond’s Pyer Moss (a no-show this season), and the duo at Eckhaus Latta. These guys have big ideas about class, race, and gender—the touchstones of American society—but are still working out how to translate those to the runway.

Enter Thomas and Cawson at Helmut Lang. “We’re tired of meme fashion,” they told British Vogue. It’s about time the crux of fashion went back to the idea of creation. There aren’t many new ideas around anymore but passion still exists and it counts for something. Heck, throw Gabriela Hearst and the Proenza boys into the mix and you’ve got yourself a fashion week with competent designers with a passion for invention and reinvention, All things said and done, even if the schedule could be trimmed by at least five days, New York Fashion Week isn’t dead yet.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Fashion that 'sparks joy' at Sies Marjan, The Row. Plus Carolina Herrera's modern twist

Sander Lak has stuck to his guns for the past couple of years. The Belgian designer, and once an assistant to Dries van Noten, exploded onto the fashion scene in 2017 with colour stories worthy of Tate Modern exhibitions. Lak started out as a relatively-unknown, in an unsold, unfurnished New York real estate property. 

Three years later, he’s one of the most in-demand names at New York Fashion Week, commanding the attention of top editors and important buyers. He’s proved himself as one of New York’s finest, and one of the few designers worth travelling to America’s fashion capital to see. 

Fall 2019, presented yesterday afternoon in a darkened space illuminated only by spotlights and shimmering Swarovski crystals, felt like a true progression for him and the Sies Marjan label. Yes, there was the emotional involvement of colour. This time he was thinking about love. Lak explained that he wanted things to feel “magical.” 

Falling in love meant fluid forms. On paper, it was your typical Sies Marjan show but there was newness abound. Firstly, he segued from softer palettes into extraordinary neon hues. Slightly chaotic styling evoked the near-incapacitating rush of falling headlessly in love, playing on the duality of comfort and discomfort. He introduced lace and asymmetric drapery and fine-tuned his tailoring output.

Lak trod new ground whilst continuing to compel his audience with fantastic fashion that can be adopted into a woman’s everyday wardrobe. It’s the kind of fashion you can fall in love with. 

Established in 2006, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s brand, The Row, prescribes the ease of luxurious basics with the rigour of Saville Row tailoring. A coat could cost you $8,000. You won’t get change out of $5,000 for a suit. A handbag commands a $1,500 price tag. Of course, their clientele won’t have an issue with this. 

Press, buyers, and eventually customers, flock to The Row for a soothing repose, a momentary lapse from the tumultuous political climate, and a balm to the world’s woes. They fashion a narrative driven by neutral shades and supple shapes. From oversized blazers with nipped waists, turtlenecks to retreat into on dark days, and jackets to swaddle oneself in when the temperatures begin to plummet. They do everything with such effortless mastery. They’re the kind of clothes that ‘spark joy’ and it’s a recipe that never gets old. 

Wes Gordon had to update Carolina Herrera, where he started a year ago. Gordon’s gambit is the uptown chic doyennes that his predecessor connected with but Herrera’s legacy will only be honoured if the incumbent catches the eye of younger clientele. His attempt last season faltered in its datedness. He responded to the lukewarm critical response with a collection that was modern in its disposition and colourful in its expression. 

Amidst a sea of twee cocktail dresses and flowing trapeze gowns, Gordon incorporated some neat tailoring, blazers with cut-out details, and oversized jackets. If Gordon wants to have the same grasp on New York Fashion Week that Sander Lak and the Olsen twins have he’ll need to cohere his point of view.  
Photo Credit: Vogue Runway

Sunday, February 10, 2019

America's got talent - Eckhaus Latta and Brandon Maxwell impress with sharp collections

America fashion sorely lacks authoritative voices. Raf Simons exited Calvin Klein following a poor commercial response to his collections. Marc Jacobs is still around but he relies heavily on his own archive to push things in a new direction. Helmut Lang left the fashion industry even though the ghost of his aesthetic presides over most collections. (Editor-in-residence Alix Browne will endeavour to revive the Lang project next week.) But America’s got talent, as we saw on Saturday afternoon at New York Fashion Week at the Eckhaus Latta and Brandon Maxwell presentations.

Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta, the design duo behind Eckhaus Latta, refined their ‘awkward/art school’ aesthetic with a collection that sang to the heart of commerce. Eckhaus Latta has packaged gender and class commentary for men, women, and the gender non-binary person from the outset. Over the years, they’ve garnered a following for their post-Margiela aversion to contemporary fashion, where ‘pretty’ is not part of the vernacular but the words ‘asymmetric’ or ‘deconstruction’ are more likely to be found. 

Nowadays, their focus is much more on designing an impressive product that uplifts their raison d’être as opposed to solely focusing on cultural commentary, which isn’t a bad thing. They have to push things forward if they want to continue to lure audiences to Bushwick on a Saturday afternoon. They were nominated for the ANDAM Fashion Award and the LVMH Prize recently. With two flagship stores and a host of worldwide stockists, the pressure is on to sustain the momentum. And they did just that.

It was still very much an Eckhaus Latta collection. Furs that looked more like roadkill than exotic animals; fleeces that looked positively ordinary in lieu of a glossy, expensive exterior; knitwear patchworked like it had been purloined from a bin of deadstock fabrics; and jeans that looked like weathered the aftermath of an excitable spray-painting session. Moreover, cue a collaboration with UGG. Square-toed backless UGG heels? A savvy collaboration for Eckhaus Latta, enhancing their narrative as the brand that riffs on bad taste. 

What they manage to do to all of the above is making it desirable. Furthermore, they perfected slick tailoring and it produced a polished exterior, a departure from the bric-a-brac mood one has come to expect from the duo. Of course, their ‘rough around the edges’ cool remains, but a grown-up wind prevails.

Brandon Maxwell is the antithesis of Eckhaus Latta in terms of aesthetics, but they are one and the same in the way they generate interest in contemporary American fashion. Maxwell, a Texan, is the lovechild of Ralph Lauren and Carolina Herrera with the spirit of your grandmother. He delivers fashion for the high society like he’s been practicing for decades. This season was no different. 

He could be the next household name. He’s warm and charming, he’s gracious and inviting, he’s got America’s sweethearts supporting him on the red carpets, and stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, and Bergdorf Goodman are lining up to have him in their stores. Not to mention, he produces a plus-size range for retailer 11 Honoré. And at the end of Saturday’s show, he took his bow with his mother and his team of seamstresses. Wholesome. 

For fall, he stripped things back to black and white—albeit with an occasional pop of cerise and lime green. He noted a family illness had put a dampener on things. Yet, he continued on with some familiar silhouettes, strengthening his sharp perspective. There were satins shirts with high collars, slinky tank dresses with pencil skirts, ribbed turtlenecks over duchesse satin skirts, and a slew of functional daywear options punctuated by cigarette trousers. There wasn’t much development but it’s worth sticking with consistency in the early stages of your career. With a restricted colour palette, Maxwell allows the silhouettes to do the talking. His point of view doesn’t falter.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Tomo Koizumi is the name to know at New York Fashion Week, thanks to Katie Grand

Fashion’s fairy godmother, Katie Grand, stylist, and founder of Love magazine, knows how to create a capital F-fashion moment. She can summon casting director Anita Bitton, makeup artists Pat McGrath, and hairstylist Guido Paulo to make something special. Or launch a career. She’s done it with Marc Jacobs before. She helped London designers Amie Robertson of A.V. Robertson and the wunderkind Matty Bovan start their careers. Not many young designers can claim top models walked in their debut shows. They simply can’t afford them. But the swish of her sparkly wand, anything is possible.

In the Marc Jacobs boutique uptown, Grand announced Tomo Koizumi to the world, a Japanese designer with a penchant for rainbow bright tulle confections, so sweet they can give you a toothache, so extravagant you think they’re borrowed from a dream. 

Grand discovered Koizumi through Instagram, as one does nowadays. He hails from Tokyo, Japan and without fashion training, he has managed to build a name for himself. He shared his inspirations—which range from Cristóbal Balenciaga to John Galliano, Leigh Bowery to “oddly proportioned Japanese dolls”—with Vogue Runway. 

Grand enlisted Rowan Blanchard, Gwendoline Christie to walk the show amongst models like Joan Smalls, Bella Hadid, and in-demand upcoming faces like Sara Grace Wallerstedt. They descended a staircase into a packed den of fashion editors bedecked in kilometres of tulle, in highlighter shades of lime green, bitter lemon, mandarin, and fuchsia. The dresses were detached from reality—fun for the sake of fun. T-shirts emblazoned with the Statue of Liberty’s head were superimposed with beaming smiles. Meme t-shirts and dreamy layers of frothy tulle.

Koizumi’s aesthetic mightn’t connect with a customer but one could hazard a guess and say that there’ll be few spectators who don't want a slice of his world—exotic, extravagant, and exciting.

A “loofah”? A “meringue”? “Armour”? Koizumi’s smocked tulle concoctions have been likened to an assortment of items but threading the line between each one is a recurring word: joy. Yes, that old thing. Remember that? With constant battles between the European Union and the United Kingdom, government shutdowns in the United States, and natural disasters in California, it would appear joy, in its purest form, has evaporated into thin air.

It takes someone like Tomo Koizumi to arrive and to restore our fate. In what, though? Is it fashion? He certainly achieved that much. He’s a new name who’s gotten everyone from Vogue to Robin Givhan at The Washington Post talking about his debut. He’s backed by Katie Grand, that speaks for itself. What about the world? It goes without saying we need things to remind ourselves what our imaginations can create in times of darkness. 

Why Telfar Fall 2019 wasn't your normal fashion show

Telfar Clemens didn’t showcase his fall 2019 collection in a traditional manner. In lieu of the conventional catwalk show, where models emerge from the backstage area and strut for twenty-five metres, Clemens’ models walked out, dived into a mosh pit and crowd-surfed.

Clemens’ label Telfar was the recipient of the 2017 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund prize of $400,000. Late last summer he took over London’s Serpentine Gallery for a night of music and fashion. He previewed pieces from his spring 2019 collection and had his collaborators perform to an eager audience. “We’re calling it ‘concerts’ now, instead of ‘shows.’ We started feeling like we were going on tour with this collection,” Clemens told Vogue’s Sarah Mower in 2018. How better to spend some of that prize than on a show… that wasn’t a show… 

Entitled ‘Country’, the clothes weren’t the sole focus. There was too much going on to catch a glimpse of them. But study the images online and you’ll see some of Clemens’ recurring motifs. Once again, he proposed Y-shaped crop tops, trousers akin to chaps, deconstructed sweaters. There were polo shirts and grandfather cardigans alongside flared denim and fringed t-shirts. Was Clemens democratising symbols of class? Were garments deconstructed in order to accentuate the importance of rebuilding and starting afresh?  

A mosh pit like any other—the metaphoric resonance of community spirit unmistakable. In Telfar’s country, inclusion is essential. From his diverse casting to the banding together of creatives from different spheres, Clemens’ vision is full-bodied, bursting from the seams with deeper meaning. 

Clemens is remaking American fashion one season at a time. He’s challenging perceptions of race, gender, and class with such belligerent force that one can sense his restlessness and resilience. His clothes don’t always bear the same impact as his ideas but, right now, that’s okay. With a few other authoritative voices around, his presence on the schedule provides a sense of hope for American fashion and beyond. 

Photo Credit: Vogue Runway