Friday, July 29, 2016

Rick Owens // Spring 2017 // Menswear

Rick Owens has been contemplating the world around us recently. It’s a tragic mess, a derailed train plummeted towards the cliff’s edge. Sadness is a greatly felt emotion; the general tone of today is sombre. In March at his womenswear show he was looking at climate change. The clothes suggested they were “defensive suiting to shield the models from the invasive perils of global warning.” In June at his menswear show, Owens was thinking about the apocalypse.

Apocalyptic inspirations are no stranger to fashion. Rei Kawakubo and Karl Lagerfeld have both dabbled with it before. At Rick Owens their is a unique take on the theme. There’s sensitivity and gentleness, something that we don’t usually get to see. Between blearing techno music and stomping models, serenity is often lost—not this time. Neil Young’s “After the Goldrush” played overhead as the models graced the runway. It was strangely fascinating, the sonic departure. 
The clothes weren’t so much of a departure. Besides jackets, they weren’t as commercial as previous offerings but it’s Rick Owens, who gives a damn? The first model was swathed in layers of gazar and duchesse satin, looking like a frothy cloud. The next model looked like a clothing hanger, the layers just falling onto his slight frame. The fabric appeared multi-purposeful, it was as much clothing as it was a tent or a large blanket, coiled around the model’s figure in distorted shapes. That’s something Owens does so well. Clouding the model with swaths of fabric, creating peculiar optical illusions that deter the everyman who sometimes fail to see the poetry in his work. The gentleness I spoke of earlier is a poetic technique Owens employs in his work. The delicate yet raw-edged fabrication—unfinished items; Owens comments this is his aesthetic as a designer. When the models walk, the clothing brought to life, the vision is complete. To think of these clothes in presentation format or on a rail would be unfair; they simply wouldn’t be done justice. 

Owens distinguishes clearly between spectacle and runway show. There’s never a spectacle. His work is seen against the seemingly anonymous backdrop of a car park, but really the car park bears significance. It’s the homeland of this work, an urban situation. The jackets and the brilliant trainers are indicative of the urban reflections in his work. The slightly run down car park is the perfect stage for an apocalyptic study.

I find there can be aggression in Owens’ work. It’s sometimes off-putting but witnessing this collection you see nothing but softness. The gender-blending casting of androgynous models fused masculinity and femininity to create a balanced portrayal of the wearer. Rick Owens, the man himself, is the perfect example of a wearer of these clothes. He believes in what he's saying and he'll wear his statements on his back. That's inspiring. 

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

J.W. Anderson // Spring 2017 // Menswear

The reaction of non-fashion folk to contemporary fashion is predictable. Victoria Beckham, Michael Kors earn thumbs up from those uninvolved with the industry. The clothes are easy, beautiful and familiar. When you show someone J.W. Anderson, Comme, or Margiela in its current iteration, you’re generally met with unanimous head-scratching. Those, realistically, aren’t the clothes that most of us are exposed to on the streets. Many men don’t wear dresses, women choose not to wear coats with more sleeves than two. The trickier the clothes get, the harder they are to present to the masses. But that’s the beauty of great fashion isn’t it? It’s a secret club bubbling with ideas—although there are commercial traps to entice a specific consumer.

J.W. Anderson’s recent menswear collection was as polarising as expected. Presenting it to my father, he was bemused by the wackiness of it all. Combing through the looks quickly, it will appear as an acid-trip of colours, dresses for men, crowns and goggles, but when scrolled through slowly, each look brings something to the consumer; whether that be a great black coat, a well-tailored pair of trousers or a navy bomber jacket. But those were the saleable points; it would be far too boring to discuss. The boatload of ideas is where the focus should be at.
Reusing the set from the womenswear show in February, Anderson reintroduced the concept of “confrontation”. In tight interior spaces, single rows of guests watched as models stormed corners and charged towards them. David Bowie’s narration of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s recording of Serge Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf was the opening soundtrack for the show. An engaging start.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s children’s novel The Little Prince was the chief inspiration for the show. Artist Richard X. Zawitz crafted broken crowns seated atop the model’s heads. In dark times we live; the childlike inspiration is a timely, fitting response to the world around us—Anderson has always offered an escape from normality, this collection was no exception. Models wore misshapen crowns, dresses, futuristic boxing boots (a run-on idea from last season), dresses with overlong sleeves (fashion’s current obsession), abstract prints—together it was an odd melange, but it’s unexciting any other way. 

Anderson was one of the first purveyors of gender-bending fashion. His Fall 2013 featured dresses, boob tubes and ruffled skirts for men. Daring, it was. It drew ire from critics and non-fashion press alike. But as Jo-Ann Furniss wrote when that collection was presented, “it is intended to reconfigure both menswear and womenswear, and to give a kick up the arse to the stale state of much of men’s fashion at the moment.” Once a provocateur, always a provocateur: Jonathan Anderson continues to do this today. Frankly, we’ve come to expect it of him. He is unashamedly reconfiguring the modern man in ways unseen heretofore. He is undoubtedly inspiring thousands of others to follow in the same footsteps—“a man in a dress”, J.W. did it three years ago. 

Some may criticise Anderson for following childlike inspirations in this collection; chastising him for disregard of current cultural and political climates. There are are two worthy counter-arguments to this. Firstly, Anderson’s response to gender-norms and redefining those is wholly important. Secondly, fashion draws on sadness often, happiness deserves a chance on the runway. This collection, presented prior to Brexit, was one of the last opportunities to spread positivity and happiness—even if there was a smothering of ideas. 

Assimilation is difficult when you’re in a cramped space and models zoom past at light speed. There are no chances for iPhone photography, or the checking of emails and text messages. You watch the show or you miss it, simple as. That’s why he’s so exceptional and still has the most highly anticipated show of fashion week—men’s and women’s. You have to focus intensely or else you’ll miss his collagist methodology that never ceases to polarise, enthral, frustrate, tantalise.
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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Barbara Casasola // Fall 2016 //

Back in my red carpet fashion blogging days I often offered scathing comments on Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge’s fashion choices. I’m sure you’ll agree with me, she’s dresses in a dreadfully bland manner—even if the everywomen does praise her sartorial selections. Recently, however, I found myself enamoured with one of her picks. Presenting the Art Fund’s Museum of the Year Award to the V&A at the Natural History Museum, the Duchess donned Barbara Casasola, a Brazilian designer occupying a slot on the London schedule. Barbara’s work notably blends the sensual and the sexual; for the Duchess to choose (or her stylist) this I was particularly shocked, but also delighted. Barbara Casasola is one of those designers who buyers are besotted by. She lists Net-a-Porter, Harvey Nichols and Matches as stockists, but her press attention isn’t as weighty.

This conundrum is commonplace nowadays; especially with young designers. Fashion design graduates are increasingly discouraged from establishing their own label due to a saturated market; emerging labels bemoan the lack of buyers when they have a wealth of press. Barbara Casasola arrived on the schedule at an opportune moment; the industry was still savouring the minimal aesthetic that pervaded fashion in lieu of Victoria Beckham’s redefinition of minimalism. However, that attention has dissipated. Fashion press favour exciting, young names like A.V. Robertson (who had Marc Jacobs front row at her Fashion East outing, an hour previous) or established names like J.W. Anderson and Simone Rocha (who presented a few hours later). That doesn’t mean her Fall 2016 collection isn’t worth talking about.

The concept was “dressing and undressing”. Opening the collection was a Max Mara-esqe camel coat, hanging effortlessly across the model’s body revealing a sheer bra underneath. There were more looks where coats revealed sheer camisoles with ruffled necklines, opaque slip dresses. The colour palette was simple: black, white, camel and a peppering of pea green. 

Even examining the pictures conjures up the image of a sweltering summer’s day. Silk-cellophane mix dresses and crepe shifts looked like they wilted in the severe heat. A thin parka fell slightly off-the-shoulder, the summer sun’s incessant glare too much. The Brazilian sun that Barbara grew up with must’ve borrowed informed this collection. Three years later and her endless repertoire of Brazilian references haven’t tired.

Back in September 2015, Vogue’s Scarlett Conlon noted the Casasola is a “future tastemaker.” Believe it or not, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge may have just awarded the title of “tastemaker”, less than a year later. Congratulations.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Peter Pilotto // Fall 2016 //

The current breed of designers that are dominating London schedule are usually the ones found on the Sunday or Monday of the fashion week schedule. Christopher Kane, Erdem, Peter Pilotto, Mary Katrantzou are all in the same boat—they are the prospering young that helped reignite British fashion. Many of them have been pigeonholed, namely the Peter Pilotto boys and Mary Katrantzou. Both print masters—that very title worked against their personal mindsets in the design of their collections. Mary didn’t want to be known for her vibrant prints; one season she threw a spanner in the works with a collection comprised of tonal pieces and surface decoration. Likewise, the Peter Pilotto boys have been simply branded “print designers”. Eager to break away from that, their fall collection pioneered new beginnings for them, where print wasn’t the whole show.
Offering examples of their textural prowess, Peter Pilotto and his partner Christopher de Vos presented jacquards, velvets, wools as well as slinky laces and satins. The opening look consisted of a long, mohair jacquard coat patterned with the embossed details that resembled a starry night. Interesting, the boys opted against the clickbait-worthy Aurora Borealis; the print could’ve easily emblazoned a gorgeous gown but instead they focused on 70s colourisation and tactility. Seen in a few looks were skiing motifs, which punctuated a number of other collections during the season. 

I pictured a Swedish folk band crowded around a campfire, yarning and singing songs well into the night. I’m sure they intended for a well-heeled, well-travelled businesswoman who buys into a dream and holidays in five star resorts in Nordic sites, with views of the Aurora Borealis. It’s always been about the dream with these too. By imbuing travel inspirations in their work, Pilotto and de Vos inevitably enrich the viewer experience. 

Fantasy is a great element to fashion shows. That’s why I still believe in fashion shows and presentations. There’s no other engaging way forward that I’ve come across. In the case of this design duo, the show offers the chance to witness beautifully crafted clothing in a bright environment against a suitable soundscape that builds the dreamworld that is high fashion. These clothes were punchy but not standoffish—the Neiman Marcus or Ikram shopper in America, I think, will be particularly chuffed with what’s on offer here.

Many other critics alluded to better things on the horizons in their reviews, insinuating a slump in recent times. I for one find it difficult to pick a collection that hasn’t imparted a feeling other than warmth or positivity. But for me it’s like looking at a starry night’s sky—it never tires.
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Monday, July 25, 2016

Céline // Fall 2016 //

In February it was falsely reported that Phoebe Philo would be exiting Céline after months of speculation around her position. LVMH quickly quashed the report with an internal memo which scathed “poor journalism” and “dubious sources”, asserting that Philo is “committed” to the house. In March at Paris Fashion Week, Philo charged onwards with an exceptional collection. Presenting the show at the Tennis Club de Paris, models walked across the court to a chorus of soft-rock. 

There were a few oddities. This wasn’t so much about newness, it was about perfecting the previous work, adding a few things here and there. Philo spoke about “finding stillness” backstage, which was a perfect antidote to the rest of the fashion industry, which is currently in flux. We’ve seen Philo dance with relaxation in her work before—the memorable spring 2011 collection, a decent example—and this season she was back to that, after last season’s brief (hideous, in my personal opinion) detour to a music festival. Out came the first model, swathed in an encrusted orb-like knit sweater, swishy palazzo trousers and a roll-neck top. More of those palazzo pants proceeded down the makeshift runway, slashed in most cases.
Although presented as fall, the clothes were imbued with a languorous summer mindset. Foregoing seasonal collections? It sure seems the way the fashion industry is moving. The airy fabrics used, from the feather-light shirting to the crushed silk dresses and the stretch-fabric dresses, this collection was more June than December. However, it’s always summer somewhere, winter elsewhere. There wasn’t a hefty offering of wintery garb, but Philo made sure to pepper a few statements throughout: a boiled wool coat in a subtle cream; a camel-coloured fur coat with a mismatched nylon and croc panels. Light leathers were presented in a dark cornflour blue—inoffensive, suitable for the superrich. Crossbody satchels and sandals will be sure to drive sales through the proverbial roof. 

Commerciality is the end goal with fashion—whether you like it or not. Clothes are designed to sell; these ones were destined to sell. Phoebe Philo’s feminine mastery has redefined womenswear luxury over the past ten years. She creates lifelong pieces. But like every designer, some collections are more questionable than others. This season was a muted offering, compared to the past. It moved quietly, it didn’t sweep you off your feet.

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Friday, July 22, 2016

ROBERTS|WOOD // Fall 2016 //

What’s the fascination with young designers all about? This is a question that’s oft posed. The answer is simple: these young ingenues will be the ones to inherit the industry when the time comes. London, New York and Paris are the three cities with the most talent. New York has seen 19-year-old Vejas Kruszewski, Patric DiCaprio of Vaquera celebrated ideas of otherness, the art of being different. London too many designers, so I’ll name only but a few: shapeshifting genius Richard Malone, rising star Paula Knorr (who’ll enter the official scheduling in September), and the Japanese-influenced Katie Roberts Wood.

The Japanese influence many designers these days. Rei Kawakubo, Junya Watanabe and Yohji Yamamoto are still the most sought after designers for avant-garde fashion thirty years after starting out. Everyone from Jonathan Anderson to Simone Rocha has been inspired by them. Particularly in London, they have inspired the fashion designers bred here, as their approach to anti-fashion and the avant-garde appeals to many anarchic designers or those who believe in creating a dream world. Katie Roberts Wood has become one of those designers; she creates a dream world, and approaches her design in an artistic fashion.

She founded ROBERTS|WOOD a number of years ago, following her graduation from the Royal College of Art. Since then she’s won the Fashion Scout Merit Award, a prestigious title with past recipients including Phoebe English and David Koma. Her stockists include Dover Street Market and the Comme des Garçons Trading Museum. Rei Kawakubo and Adrian Joffe see her potential.

Potential is undeniable with Katie. For her Fall 2016 show she staged an elaborate performance art show. Lasting an hour, Katie battled the ephemeral to reflect the process of making her designs. “The slowness was a very deliberate and important part of the presentation. The pieces themselves are created using very intensive, hand-constructed methods that take a really long time to make, so slowness felt like a very important element that needed to be translated right through to the presentation.” Fashion shows last ten minutes max, and you could zoom through a presentation in five minutes. One hour is stark contrast, deliberately disrupting the schedule. Due to scheduling conflicts, I wasn’t able to make it to the show, but my fear of missing out amplified as I watched pictures of the fabulously deconstructed pieces fill my Instagram feed. There was a beautiful apron dress, with tulle exploding from behind, origami details and bows accenting the front; a pristine white shirt was more than ‘just a shirt’ in another look.

The way Katie works with avant-garde tailoring is akin to master tailor Yohji Yamamoto’s work. Working with geometrics is where Junya Watanabe’s influence can be felt. Rei Kawakubo’s affinity for odd body-repellent shapes were evoked in a few pieces, the few challenging pieces in the collection. Although she borrows techniques and ideas from the Japanese it isn’t derivative of their work. Similarly, while she pours over the detail it isn’t overwrought. There are fine lines that shouldn’t and won’t be crossed, Katie, I’m sure, is aware of that. To this critics delight: she’s paving an intriguing path for her brand, adding a British sensibility to her work. Excellent.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

J JS Lee // Fall 2016 //

With the privilege of opening London Fashion Week comes the overwhelming task of getting the ball rolling. That task has fallen on Jackie Lee for years. The J JS Lee designer has opened fashion week in Somerset House and in Brewer Street Car Park. Her Spring 2016 collection was looser than normal, she introduced a wider colour palette and new silhouettes; her Fall 2016 was back to what she knows best: the clean cut line, masculine tailoring. It is nice for a designer like Lee, who is pigeonholed as a minimalist designer, to take an excursion. But is the excursion just an optical illusion?

If Chanel was to show a tweed bikini, for example, the fashion world would do a number of things. 1) People would lose their minds. 2) People would laugh. The next season, if Karl Lagerfeld was to return to showing ninety bouclé suits with the slightest injection of inspiration, the critics would wax rhapsodical. Jackie Lee’s past two collections could be applied to this formula to attain laudatory reviews. This probably wasn’t the case, but it is a completely plausible theory.

The effect of the above theory was had on this critic. Presented after fall 2015, this would be just another J JS Lee collection. But it wasn’t; this was beautiful. Opening the show was a livid red coat with black, fringed lapels and red trousers. Another curveball to open a J JS Lee collection: fascinating. It continued with a punchy yellow and then exploded into multicoloured knits. The suiting was impeccable; it was enriched with frayed, “raw” edges—something I find particularly interesting: the roughening of sharp tailoring. 

Presenting in the nondescript location of Brewer Street Car Park means that the clothes have to speak volumes. A few grey outfits were at risk of disadvantaging this collection, but Lee conveniently reintroduced red silk and then multicolour. Inspired by Victorian architecture, the tailoring in this collection, strangely, was enough to capture my attention for ten minutes. Only talented designers have the ability to hold you with just tailoring—factoring in colour as Jackie did just enhanced it further.

In this transitional period fashion designers are deciding which business models work best for them, which presentation methods work for them. Do runway shows trump presentations? Models or mannequins? Models or non-models? There are so many questions surrounding the show system, and as Sarah Mower questioned, is a runway show relevant to the J JS Lee brand? According to next season’s provisional schedule for LFW, J JS Lee will be hosting a presentation on Sunday afternoon. Six years after he graduation collection, this will be Lee’s first collection in presentation format. I’m excited to see how it works—I hope she gets more press for showing on a Sunday, and is given the space to steadily rise. 
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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Le Kilt // Fall 2016 //

Samantha McCoach’s Le Kilt first showed on schedule at London Fashion Week in February 2015, for fall 2015. For her fashion week debut guests were ensconced in the enclaves of L’Escargot on Greek Street. Her second show was an ode to her Scottish heroine Shirley Manson, but embodied Soho, which fashion week had just adopted as it’s home for the foreseeable future. Her third collection, displayed this past February was perhaps the most interesting. The two reasons for that being the attention to craft and heritage, and also the subtext that could be picked apart.

After returning from Shanghai, where she taught English for a few months, McCoach re-immersed herself in Scottish culture. She paid a visit to fabric mills Hainsworth and Lochcarron. Both renowned for their craft, McCoach enlisted their help for her fall 2016 collection which was an homage to the craft of the kilt. Her work is made in Scotland; the local approach making her pieces all the more special. Sanquhar knitters helped create a capsule knitwear collection for the brand. 

The “made in the UK” approach that McCoach spoke about was put into perspective post-Brexit. As I wrote in my Topshop Unique review, it’s a weird time to be singling out Britishness as an inspiration. At the time, it might’ve seemed perfect, but in reflection it’s slightly unsettling. McCoach spoke specifically about Scotland, her homeland. Following the Brexit result there was talk of a second Scottish referendum. (The majority of the Scottish population had voted to stay in the EU). Militaristic flairs could be found in this collection. Towards the end of the lookbook, black looks had a rebellious edge. Scottish rebellion is an age old trope, but it’s especially important now.

Subtext and focus on Scottish craft are the two takeaways from this collection. Heritage isn’t something you expect from a young designer. Preserving important cultural fixtures such as tartan weavers in Scotland is important, it’s apart of the country’s identity. To see a young women like McCoach embark on that journey to ensure it’s preservation is heartwarming. But you can only do so much with a kilt, right? McCoach has continually proves that the kilt is a multi-faceted article that has the ability to tell a variety of stories. 
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Monday, July 18, 2016

Jil Sander // Fall 2016 //

Jil Sander has an odd brand history. It was sold in 1999 and has since had three owners other than the eponymous Jil Sander. The namesake designer left in 1999 when the brand was sold before returning for a short stint in 2003. Then Raf Simons exemplified his womenswear prowess from 2005 to 2012. Jil Sander returned for a year before handing the job to the current creative director, Rodolfo Paglialunga. The designers the have had the chance to design at Jil Sander have all honoured the minimalist codes of the house. Simons did it effortlessly, enhancing the minimalist aesthetic in exciting ways; Paglialunga hasn’t had the same impact but he’s undeniably garnered great press for his work. 

For Fall 2016, Paglialunga explored precision tailoring, although he didn’t want things to become “too precise.” Comparing this Jil Sander collection to anything else from the week would be startling. Milan was bursting from the seams with blinding colour, embellishment and embroidery; Jil Sander was austere, lofty by comparison. The show opened with a boxy, double-breasted white coat with thick black buttons. In the context of Milan Fashion Week it was a defiant opener that evoked the German rigour of the house. Black and white German expressionist film was touched on in the collection. It informed the strict colour palette, limited to variants of black and white.

There was power to this collection. It was a withering look that knocked the viewer down, the models stomping down the catwalk with a fierce conviction. Boxy tuxedos or coats offered the image of an esteemed businesswoman with a ‘no bullshit’ attitude that is stereotypically associated with Germany. 

Although this collection was punctuated with strong workwear, sensuality and party-wear bubbled beneath the surface. Frederikke Sofie was clad in a black double-breasted blazer and a silver lurex shirt dress. Hedvig Palm’s coat exposed the neck and the centre split revealed the knee. Necklines fell off the shoulder; sheer slips contributed an element of surprise. 

This collection was surprising. I don’t expect to like Jil Sander collections. Though I appreciate the minimalist aesthetics—especially nowadays, when the chintzy nature of fashion design can be overbearing—I find it hard to get on board with the collections. It’s when Paglialunga is willing to truly honour the codes in a rigorous manner, that makes the design feel relevant in 2016, I can’t help but submit to it’s grasp.
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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Eckhaus Latta // Fall 2016 //

In June, Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta, the two geniuses that make up Eckhaus Latta, opened the doors to their first store in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is where Mike and Zoe are based, though they present their collections biannually during New York Fashion Week. The retail vicinity is in a former cannabis dispensary near the 101 Freeway, in Little Armenia. No other shops like this exist in the area. A brash move for a developing brand, hey?

“If you wear Eckhaus Latta, you can be yourself and just feel good - it shouldn’t be a defining thing, you should be defining things… this should just help you define yourself.” There’s an interesting proclamation, that Eckhaus issued post-show at New York Fashion in February. Artists India Salvor Menuez and Juliana Huxtable, model Barbara Ferreira, activist and actor Alexandra Marzella were just a few names enlisted to walk in the diversely-cast show. All ages, races, sexualities and genders intersect at Eckhaus Latta which echoes the Mike Eckhaus’ above statement, which in essence is about the power of individuality. From day one, they’ve spotlighted that. They want to help you celebrate your individuality with their clothing.
Eckhaus and Latta operate differently to most designers. They don’t have “elevator pitch” ways of presenting their inspirations to journalists. Frankly, they aren’t inspired in the same way as others. They bounce ideas off each other, allowing them to progressively germinate over season; their influences are rooted in their environment—what they’re experiencing right now. It contributes to the realism present in their work. It also displays their artistic side. Keen on blending art and fashion (controversial, I know), their methodology is more akin to art than it is to fashion. It’s reactionary, but in a more personal way, on a smaller scale. Other designers reference the big, daunting issues. At Eckhaus Latta the light is shone on the everyday of the designers. It’s something that makes the clothes that bit more special. They’re a keyhole to the designer’s lives.

The MoMA PS1 in Queens was the venue for the late night production. At the time, the designers had work displayed in the museum. Greater New York featured the work of emerging talents living and working in New York (at the time, Latta was still living in New York). With an eye for deconstruction, the duo’s true skills—texture and sculpture—were largely at play. Deconstruction and fabrication were main points of interest. Ribbed knit sweaters were draped unusually on the body, sleeves extending beyond the knees; fleeces and gold velvet clashed against opposing fabrics. The models didn’t pose traditionally, but Eckhaus Latta appear to forming their own traditions: a more familial approach, kinder to the wearer, less imposing. There was a severeness to the collection that mingled well with the luxury elements of the collection. Ultimately, that result derived from the main components: textural focus and deconstruction.

A fact that I learned recently was that the designers claimed a coveted spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. A retail store, and a spot on Forbes famous list. For a brand that doesn’t input a particular focus on the commerce side of things, their commercial viability is undoubted. We need to see more of this.
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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Givenchy // Spring 2017 // Menswear

Ricardo Tisci’s been “celebrating love and life”, his Instagram bio reveals. The Italian designer, artistic director of Givenchy, joined the august house in 2005. In the past eleven years, Tisci has portrayed a different side to the house than founder Hubert de Givenchy. His has been many things: aggressive, confusing, ornate, beautiful, sporty. That’s an interesting melange of descriptions for one’s oeuvre, but there’re aren’t simpler ways of elucidating. For his Spring 2017 menswear collection, Tisci added another word to the list, one that captures his current mood: serenity.

A serene menswear show from Ricardo Tisci sounds impossible. You have your aggressively masculine macho-men modelling; the bubbling aggression that’s inevitably to be found in his work; but he defied the odds and did create something special, calm. The strictness that punctuates the Givenchy menswear show vanished. The suiting was lighter, looser: blazers were silk, trousers were slouchy. The footwear was simply trainers that doubled as formal shoes.
There was more to the collection than looseness—Tisci offered an intriguing commentary, on money. (Hussein Chalayan has done the same thing in womenswear; Mary Katrantzou also). Tisci’s commentary was presented literally—dollar bill print detachable accents to jackets, the Eye of Providence emblazoned on tank tops; imaginary currencies dreamed up and branded on articles—although a deeper meaning could easily be found. Fluctuating markets and uncertainty are two things that fashion fears the most, and the world for that matter. Let’s take fashion: the menswear show currently hangs in the balance. A huge question mark is poised above the menswear show system, and the womenswear show system. As I’ve written previously, they’re insolvable conundrums, especially when posed to a polarising, indecisive industry. At the end of the day, the systematic ‘failures’ are one thing—money is more important. Clothes have to sell and be worn on people’s backs. It’s the only reason they’re made. 

The underlying principle of practicality is never eschewed at Givenchy. There wasn’t a piece that had taken to the runway that couldn’t easily be worn—either styled up with nicely cut trousers, or paired with jeans for a more casual look. More importantly, Tisci injects beauty into the pieces. 

Beauty was at its extreme when the collection closed with a slew of haute couture garments modelled by Givenchy favourites Natalia Vodianova, Bella Hadid, Joan Smalls, Mariacarla Boscono, Kendall Jenner and Lea T. Hubert de Givenchy’s archive informed many of the creations. The dresses and suits were decorated with tiny sequins, grommets, beads. Each look—serenely effervescent—showcased Ricardo’s talent, and affinity for the couture craft. Brilliant, a celebratory clap is well-deserved.. 

It’s great to see Tisci celebrating love and life. He’ll be celebrating the release of this collection to shop floors too when it sells like hot cakes.
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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Proenza Schouler // Fall 2016 //

In February 2015, the Proenza Schouler boys were the last fashion show in the Madison Avenue Whitney Museum of American Art, and in February 2016, they became held the first fashion show in the new, improved downtown Whitney. Presenting in a museum that houses American art is quite fitting to host a Proenza Schouler fashion show. Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez have very much engrained their label in American art references, name-checking Ellsworth Kelly, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Morris, Jackson Pollock and more. For Fall 2016, they looked at a talented triumvirate consisting of Robert Ryman, Robert Smithson and Richard Serra. That trio features a minimalist painter, sculptor, and a land artist. The boys interpreted it through the use of the line, the way it was sinuously draped across the body.

The collection sought out to reflect last season’s, and the one before. There was something feral about fall 2015; instinctual about spring 2016. This season was soft by comparison. Bandaging back together the layers they peeled off last season, where ruffles made an appearance and shoulders were exposed. Grommets were accented with grosgrain straps, tied together in crisscross formation. Blazers were fastened together; ribbed knit wool dresses featured crisscross detailing; similar knotting accented twill jackets that evoked the classic denim jacket that rose to extreme popularity in the sixties and seventies.

The above two decades was when the likes of Serra, Smithson and Ryman were working. They focused on the process of creation, rather than visualising the end result. McCollough and Hernandez tried to capture that in this collection. (Speaking from personal experience, not visualising the end result is frustratingly difficult; though, I’m no artist). The beauty of the collection lay there:  the focus on the process informed the end result. It felt instinctual, but simultaneously careful and intellectual. 

Intellectual fashion is as debated as the polemic against fashion as an art form. Both questions were raised here. While they were inspired by great American artists (Smithson’s Spiral Jetty directly informing one jacket), the boys managed to make an entirely new entity. Fashion is obsessed with newness, but it’s not every day that you actually get new ideas. These were new ideas, they way they toyed with proportion and sizing, “control and release” methods; it was refreshingly new, and intellectual. 

Laboratory is an interesting word that couturiers are using more often. While they’re not couturiers, the word could easily apply to Proenza Schouler. There’s a remarkable level of experimentalism in their artistic expression; there was the season when they handcrafted the fabrics they used and the intuition visible last season. It unmistakably amplifies the power of their work, and the viability of New York Fashion as a worthy event. 
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Monday, July 11, 2016

Topshop Unique // Fall 2016 //

“The highs and lows of British style.” Geoffrey Finch, Topshop Unique’s creative design, said backstage at the fall 2016 show in February. It was a celebration of Britishness if anything. The front row was the first reminder: a bevy of celebrities, largely populated by British It girls, interspersed with international guest made welcome in the country with Topshop partnership—e.g. Karlie Kloss, Lucky Blue Smith. There was also the Shakespearean motifs that underscored the collection. The world celebrated 400 years of the great bard’s death this year. Mary Katrantzou, Mulberry and Valentino have all acknowledge the playwright in collections this year. A Winter’s Tale was loosely interpreted in a few looks in this collection; slinky dresses with prints resembling the play.

In this celebration of Britishness, nightlife was spotlighted. High-waisted leather skirts, houndstooth minis, floaty winter dresses, and a handful of demure evening wear was presented. American model Taylor Hill closed the show wearing a black dress in smooth velvet with a chiffon inset and lace collar. Before that, Adrienne Jüglier donned a faux-fur coat. What was underneath? Only she knows. It wasn’t just dresses and skirts with skimpy tops; there were trouser options also. Calf-length trousers were paired nonchalantly with a black shirt and a houndstooth print coat. A black biker jacket with a fur collar was styled with khaki wide-leg trousers. 

The hair and makeup teams stressed the importance of the individual, as did Kate Phelan backstage. Each model had a personalised hairdo, a pleasant contrast to the uniformity at other shows. ‘Last night’s hair and makeup’ was the gritty counterpoint to the glossiness in the collection. There aren’t many with makeup artists and hairstylists on payroll. I felt this aspect to the collection was the strongest—the narrative they pursued was closely tied to reality, something that Topshop is required to achieve.

The average Topshop customer doesn’t buy Unique. They mainly shop jeans, tees, dresses and everything in between. Unique is the higher end division that is only found in select stores. What distinguished this collection from the others was the accessibility that the Unique design team failed to reach previously. Blazers, coats, dresses, skirts and trousers—a wide selection. They truly celebrated individuality and offered something for everyone. A dress with A Winter’s Tale reference; I’m sure many would love to wear their cultural identity.  

It’s a weird time for them to celebrating Britishness. Reflecting on the show is an odd one; especially after the European Union membership referendum result crushed half the British population two weeks ago. Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom are competing for Tory leadership. The pound has plummeted; creative industries, a key contributor to the British economy, which encompasses the fashion industry, is at risk. This has a knock on effect for the rest of the world too. Topshop has the responsibility to carry on, and continue to be one of the fashion industry’s most successful companies. 
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Friday, July 8, 2016

Dior Carries On, Post-Raf

When Raf Simons announced his departure from Christian Dior last November I think everyone was in shock. Nobody saw it coming that quick. Three years and he left quietly; there was no big goodbye, like Alex Wang at Balenciaga, just a quiet, respectful exit. This morning, we have learned that Dior have finally appointed Maria Grazia Chiuri, of Valentino success. (The Italian house confirmed yesterday her exit) In the interim, the design team was led by Serge Ruffieux and Lucie Meier. They presented their second collection for the house in January, haute couture.

“Couture’s new realism”, was what they looked at. They captured the quotidian in a couture collection without it being heightened ready-to-wear. The collection was embroidered with thousands of beads and sequins, it explored new volumes. Iterations of the famous ‘Bar’ jacket oozed modernity—saleability to the max. Expert tailoring underlined the collection, and a foray into print was an interesting facet to the show. There were some new shapes too, the design team experimenting slightly, without the clothes becoming to detached from the label. Raf Simons ghost was noted. In fact, when I first saw this collection I said “this is more Raf than Raf.” Where Raf was quiet and honoured the house codes, Ruffieux and Meier have the willingness to experiment, to leave 

The whole collection featured some lovely pieces, but almost every fashion editor focused on the soullessness of the house, the headless creativity at play. As evidenced by the quotes below (many of which are borrowed from Dhani Mau’s Fashionista post), the impatient fashion pack are more focused on the successor’s appointment than the collection at hand. 

“There is talent in the ranks of Dior, and it may be that, long-term, this baptism of fire will produce stars. Shorter term, the fashion world waits to find out who will become Dior’s next visionary leader.” - Sarah Mower, Vogue Runway

“After today’s outing they could do far worse than hire these two talents. If the swirling rumour mill is to be believed, an announcement will be made imminently.” - Sarah Harris, Vogue UK

“With so much festering gossip, a little crisp, clear, clean Swiss air could be just what haute couture needs.” - Suzy Menkes, Vogue

“Let’s just say we’re starting to get excited about those Sarah Burton rumours.” - Dhani Mau, Fashionista

“The team has also been conscripted to realise the fall 2016 ready-to-wear show in March, awaiting the arrival of Dior’s seventh couturier, fashion’s latest $64,000 question.” - Miles Socha, WWD
In March at Paris Fashion Week, the fashion industry continued to lament the loss of Raf Simons. Ruffieux and Meier’s debut ready-to-wear collection was as critically divisive as before—som even dismissed it, omitting it from their coverage. The collection was held in the Louvre’s Cour Carrée, as recent Dior collections have been. 

There was a lot to like in the collection. Beautifully embellished jackets, off-the-shoulder construction, a bygone era vignette that has underscored the Swiss duo’s Dior. Again, there was a vague sense of Raf’s spirit. There were reinterpretations of his work for Dior: more riffs on the ‘Bar’ jacket, a blazer transformed into a dress, excellent tailoring.

Where the collection faltered was in its blatant execution. Models toted new season bags (some had more than one); there feet was cased in obvious lace-up footwear; sunglasses adorned their small faces and rings lined each finger. Stuff. That’s all it was. To be cynical about things, the overuse of accessories in this collection was an opportunity for the brand to share with its customers the main items it wants to be purchased in the fall. The expensive ones, the moneymakers. It was a cheap but effective marketing plan, which is something we don’t see from Dior, ever. Similarly, the plum lip that punctuated each look felt like a blatant advertisement for Dior Beauty. Lest we forget, model and social media juggernaut Kendall Jenner strode the runway—her first Dior show. Theorising is all that seems to happen in the absence of a creative director. But for some, there’s nothing else to latch onto. The clothes lacked emotion and meaning that only an official creative director can bring to a house like Dior. 
The resort 2017 extravaganza in June was the Swiss duo’s chance to woo their audience. England was chosen as the venue. Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire was the pretty backdrop for the event. Editors, local and international, and customers were carted from Victoria Station to London on the Dior Express (a specially branded train for the journey). 

Blenheim Palace and Dior have a special history. In 1954, Christian Dior was invited by the Duchess of Marlborough to present his fall haute couture collection. The event was initiated to raise important funds for the Red Cross. Then in 1958, Christian Dior’s successor Yves Saint Laurent presented a collection in the 300-year-old palace. More than 60 years since the last visit, it was an odd time for Dior to be bringing guests back to Blenheim. No creative director, negative press, meaningless clothes being presented. Although resort, or cruise, is a meaningless excuse for a brand saturation, this Dior collection was something stronger, more potent than previous. There was an homage to Dior past and the company they were in: the English. English eccentricity was a major grounding for the collection. There was a further exploration with nutty prints, layering and overt accessorising. 

What this collection did, that the others couldn’t, was breathe clear Swiss air that Suzy Menkes wrote about. It was kept light and airy, perfect for the cruise season. There was Englishness that wasn’t too cartoonish; it was grounded in reality. It’s only weakness was that it was too referential of Jonathan Anderson and Phoebe Philo’s work. See: ruching, sleeves resembling leg-of-mutton re-popularised by JW recently, Philo’s trouser cut. 
The “crisp, clean, clear” air that Suzy Menkes wrote about in January sprung immediately to mind at this week’s couture show.

30 Avenue Montaigne, the building that Christian Dior selected 70 years ago to house his haute couture operations was the venue—a switch from the usual Musée Rodin location. Dior’s Instagram posted an image from 1947 when guests were clamouring to get a seat at the show. They clogged the staircase in attempts to witness the beauty that would take to the runway. I hate to use the old expression, “they don’t make them like that anymore,” but it feels apt, and not just for the current state of Dior. Fashion isn’t shrouded in the same excitement as it used to be. The creative side of things are becoming compromised and the industry is moving at an unsustainable pace. But talk of all that during the haute couture shows is ineffectual. It’s relaxed, and the last sure thing about fashion.

Relaxed is the perfect word to attribute to this Dior collection, presumably the last under the direction of Ruffieux and Meier. To reiterate my earlier point, this was the most “crisp, clean, clear” outing from the designers. Everything was refined, elegant. They reworked the classic New Look, which celebrates its 70th anniversary with the Spring 2017 show. It was breezier, delicate almost. There was tenderness imbued in this collection. It was a subtle, quiet affair but it was undeniably beautiful and impactful in its own way. After five collections, things are left malleable for the successor.

Dior was the show everyone anticipated. When Galliano was the creative director, it was a joyous occasion. What he’d present was going to be fantastic, there were no doubts. The same goes for Raf—the fanfare surrounding his work, the legion of pledged followers in awe. Ruffieux and Meier haven’t had time to establish a footing. 

I began to lament the loss of a creative director. It wasn’t because Ruffieux and Meier weren’t doing the brand any justice, they just lacked confidence. To carry a brand like Christian Dior back to its successful perch requires someone with confidence, self-assuredness, emotion. I’m sure Ruffieux and Meier could do great things—but this comment is a reflection on the business side at Dior: they want a creative mastermind that the fashion industry will respond to well. It’s not surprising that Maria Grazia Chiuri has been appointed. She’s a magnificent designer for one, and she was one of the geniuses behind Valentino’s transformation, ushering the company to billion dollar status. She is Dior’s first official female creative director. That’s one for the history books; as for the interim between Raf and the next creative director? The clothes will probably be forgotten about, but the story will forever be there.
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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Thoughts from Couture: Day 4

Les incroyables and les merveilleuses were “members of a fashionable aristocratic subculture in Paris in the late 1700s.” They celebrated luxury, dressed extravagantly—the images you might associate with that period are probably correct: floaty, tendril-light dresses, wide trousers, sharp jackets. They were reacting to the end of the French Revolution, latching onto newfound luxuries and decadence in a self-indulgent effort to combat the hardships of revolutionary times. 

John Galliano’s earliest collections referenced the French Revolution. At Maison Margiela, the designer had yet to feature the epochal event. Revolt was an apt description for the collection: this wasn’t the prim, prissy couture portrayal that we’ve seen from the other designers this week. Galliano’s collection was a celebration of eccentricity, a delightful counterpoint. Revolt, as Tim Blanks highlighted in his review, is a sign of the times. The xenophobic, racist, homophobic Donald Trump rising in America; post-Brexit marches filling the streets of London; angry citizens of Baton Rouge taking to the streets to show solidarity and resilience in light of Alton Sterling’s horrific murder, yesterday evening. Revolution is intrinsic to the Margiela brand. Margiela’s always been about going against the grain, anti-fashion some might say. No wonder Galliano draws on dadaism in his collections, the anti-art movement aligns itself with the core values of the brand. 

Galliano launched heroic statements down the runway: sleeves reaching below the knees; a bias-cut dress with a tulip print worn with a chainmail bralet; a billowing silk georgette skirt; a yellow coat with a black and white train draped across the back. There was a lot to assimilate, and sometimes you didn’t know how. But it wasn’t eccentricity for eccentricity’s sake. It was about showing the power of the Artisanal collection—to craft the unthinkable and make it look worthy. Obviously, there were a few simply saleable examples in the collection, but overall this was about being the opposite to everyone else, reacting to the normcore-filled world. Bravo, Galliano! 
     Eccentricity at Margiela 

Going from Galliano’s bravado to Elie Saab must be a shock to the system. From the weirdly wonderful to perfectly prepackaged glamour. Saab’s ode to New York wasn’t exactly the state of mind you expected. It allowed for a gimmicky dress with the Chrysler Building fashioned out of blue velvet and gold glitter, or a Lady Liberty dress. It was always going to be about the glitz and the glam with Elie Saab, which I’m sure his customer will appreciate. Similarly, Saab’s couture compadre, fellow purveyor of the sparkly dress, Zuhair Murad presented yesterday. His collection was loosely inspired by bohemia—basically an excuse to place cowboy hats atop the model’s crowns. You got what you expected, glittering gowns in shades of lime green, cyan, honeysuckle, imperial purple and more. I’d like to pose a challenge to you: differentiate between Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad, it’s a difficult task.

The Jean Paul Gaultier show was once an exuberant one, and for many it still is. Nowadays, its charm is lost on me. It’s artistic flair has long been overshadowed by the over-reliance on spectacle. Like revolution to Margiela, yes, theatre is intrinsic to Gaultier, but it’s not fun anymore. It’s a broken record. Today’s presentation of “nature” inspired couture was perhaps the safest he’s done in a long time—safe in terms of Gaultier. The most exciting part was watching Coca Rocha open the show in a catsuit with a furry hood. 
       Finale at Jean Paul Gaultier

Viktor & Rolf, since shuttering ready-to-wear (a recurring trend for new couturiers) have established a firm footing on the schedule. They wipe the slate clean to make way for a new inspiration the next season, like Prada usually is. They don’t rely on spectacle but effortlessly create a spectacular moment that’s knowingly theatrical, but it’s never blatant, always carefully considered. For Fall 2016, they labelled their collection “Vagabond”. It was for those who don’t belong, with their “thrown together” outfits, “seemingly mismatched looks.” But that wasn’t where the brilliance stemmed from. This collection was a greatest hits of sorts—the pieces in this collection were made from old Viktor & Rolf collections that had been recycled. Tulle on sweaters; buttons patched onto jeans; fabric excellent woven together giving the appearance of tweed. Layered organza resembled 3-D clouds, or a delectable dessert dish filled in the centre with colourful buttons reminiscent of candies. There was a dandyish flair to the collection, many of the models styled gender ambiguously. This was an afternoon pick-me-up, after three depressingly dull collections. 
       Viktor & Rolf's dandy couture

To close out the day, the week (if you exclude Fendi’s haute fourrure excursion to Rome), Valentino presented their collection at the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild. Inspired by “the Shakespearean world transformed into an emotional alchemy,” the duo, Pier Paolo and Maria Grazia, delved deep into what they know best: irresistibly beautiful garments that have made Valentino a billion dollar company. 17th century stiffness was given a soft, romantic twirl by the two; ruffled necklines were loosened, shoulders less harsh. Suiting was at an all time best, with the pieces’ printing and hand-painting consuming ten or more hours. Beauty can’t escape your vocabulary with a Valentino collection, under the creative direction of these two, but drama isn’t exactly synonymous with their reign. To close proceedings, a livid red cape designed for the La Traviata opera hit the runway. 

Pier Paolo and Maria Grazia took their final bow at the end of the show. They graced the audience with their beaming smiles, impeccably clad in black and ivory. Many audience members rose to show their admiration. Also, it might be a parting gift: Maria Grazia is rumoured to be leaving Valentino for Dior—we await the imminent announcement. Her feminine sensibilities will be owed to Dior in the same way it was with Valentino. As with everything in fashion these days, time will tell.

Couture week has been an interesting one this year. The heavyweights have done nothing but proved they’re the best of the best, the only ones worth paying attention to. Although, labels like Schiaparelli and Viktor & Rolf are quickly rising to the top tiers. Chanel, Dior, Margiela, Valentino, the collections of the week. The landscape of couture will alter by next January. Will Karl Lagerfeld make way for a successor? Hopefully not. Is Maria Grazia Chiuri on her way to Dior? What becomes of Valentino? More looming, unanswerable questions at the end of fashion month. One thing is for sure: fashion’s asserts its position as a confusing, thrilling, dazzling assemblage. 
       Shakespearean drama at Valentino

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Thoughts From Couture: Day 3

Couture is the product of tireless craftsmanship from a group of petite mains. They are the men and women who work behind the scenes to handcraft the articles of clothing that miraculously make it down the runway after hundreds of hours of work. It’s quite remarkable to witness the couture shows. Sunday and Monday’s offerings inspired cynicism and apathy in me, but the Chanel show yesterday morning reignited my love and appreciation for the craft. Primarily this was because Karl Lagerfeld invited the petite mains to be the set. No extravagant lion consuming the Grand Palais, no feminist march, no shopping mall; just a few rows of tiered seating, the petite mains at work, and gracefully dressed models.

The setting at Chanel is to contextualise the clothing. We’ve seen a controversially cartoonish turn in Cuba (although most Cubans can’t meet Chanel’s outrageously high price points), athleisure to wear to the supermarket (a commentary on mass-consumerism), clothes for a post-apocalyptic meltdown (the end of the world could be nigh, Karl wanted his say). This season was all about the craft, though that’s not to say there wasn’t a connection to the zeitgeist. In recent years, films like Valentino: The Last Empire and Dior and I have risen in popularity. People want to know what happens behind the scenes. Here, Karl presents just that—the clothes originated from the women seated behind sewing machines, fitting models, hand-sewing.

On show yesterday morning: boxy boucle jackets and trousers, floral embroidered dresses—classic Chanel pieces, with an added focus on print and surface decoration. Couture allows the collection to go places the ready-to-wear can’t. Lemarié, responsible for the feathers and flowers, poured hundreds of hours into specially designing each petal to be adorned on tweed outfits. Lésage produce the intricate embroideries for the collection. Both companies are subsidiaries of Chanel—there are twelve in total, with roles varying from glove-making, shoemaking, to pleating, amongst others. Chanel purchased those “to preserve and promote the heritage, craft and manufacturing skills of fashion artisan workshops.”

The artist at work. Still one of the most fascinating aspects to artistic fields. The ability to watch something being made is so valuable and interesting. Like with last season’s front row only experience, Lagerfeld’s decision to pare back the setting enhanced the show. Regardless of spectacle or no spectacle, the Chanel show is still the show people will never stop talking about. 
     Finale procession at Chanel

Similar to Karl Lagerfeld’s lifelong passion for his craft, Giorgio Armani is also showing no signs of slowing down. The 81-year-old has a career that spans fifty years, an impressive feat. His ready-to-wear line focuses specifically - occasionally, frustratingly - on impeccable tailoring. There wasn’t a shortage of that at his show yesterday evening. 

His work, which features ubiquitous reference to Oriental dressing as seen through an Italian’s eyes, was as refined as it usually is. There was a splendid selection of outrageously expensive jackets and blazers that stole the collection. Another standout was a velvet evening gown, embellishment lining the front, bold shoulders and a deep plunging neckline. This is the Armani I love seeing. An evening dress emperor who can make any woman feel like an empress. Credit where credit is due: Mr Armani knows a thing or two about making a woman feel great. On the contrary, the velvet, baggy trousers on display, were slightly garish. They were MC Hammer Couture, not Armani Privé. 
Two guest designers joined the schedule this season. Both of them presented yesterday. Giles Deacon from London, J.Mendel from New York. Giles forewent a London Fashion Week show last year, shuttering his ready-to-wear line. The designer opted to solely focus on couture, an announcement that shocked and upset many. What he displayed at couture week was largely forgettable but there are a few red carpet moments in the making. Anna Cleveland stars in the lookbook, conveying supposed drama to the viewer. The 20s-inspired collection would’ve benefitted from a show, if you ask me. The theatrical element that imbued his last two outings propelled the collections to be fan favourites. Lest we forget Anna Cleveland pirouetting down the runway more twelve months ago: an iconic runway moment. 
J.Mendel’s show was quite interesting. He’s a designer who doesn’t bear the same drama as Giles, nor has he had a career-defining runway moment. But his couture effort was something special. Gilles Mendel inherited the family business, which already specialised in private orders of fur and evening wear. That’s what he presented, but on an amplified scale to his meagre ready-to-wear. The furs will undoubtedly provoke ire from animal rights activists, but they were the most expensive looking furs I’ve seen in a long time—some brands make them look cheap. There was no cheapness to this collection. It was a confident outing. 

I wrote yesterday about couture being fashion’s last stronghold. As evinced by the day, the couture schedule will live on forever. It’s a craft that’s being preserved and rightly so. For the unlucky ones who can’t afford it, it’s an opportunity to appreciate in a way that you can’t at ready-to-wear. 
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