Friday, December 22, 2017

5 Questions with... Sarah Harris

First published 3/29/16
'5 Questions with…' is a series I invented for this blog, late last year. I’ve wanted to do something like this for some time now and what better time to start that 2016. I’m always intrigued by the street style figures we see on Vogue.com or le21eme.com, or the ones whose articles we read online and in the pages of international magazines.. I want to interview these revered industry insiders with illustrious careers. Especially, I want to feature the ones that aren’t interviewed as often.

To kickstart this series, I posed five questions to Sarah Harris. Sarah is the Fashion Features Director at British Vogue. You may be familiar with her articles if you’re a regular reader of the magazine. Her dissection of ’the return of show off fashion’ was featured in the September 2015 issue, a well-written look at the showy nature of the fall collections; or maybe you’ve read about her week as a Cavalli girl - a hit among reader, Sarah tells me. Her street-style is coveted by women globally, and street-style photographers clamour to photograph her. Equipped with impeccable style and an affinity for denim (95% of her time is spent in jeans, with over 90 pairs in her wardrobe); another underlying fact is her eye-catching grey hair. 

I hope you enjoy 5 Questions with… Sarah Harris.
You’ve worked at Tatler, WWD and W, and currently you’re at Vogue. What were your roles at each publication?

I worked as a fashion assistant at Tatler, editorial coordinator at WWD/W (working in the London bureau) and now fashion features director at Vogue (where i started as fashion features writer)

How does working at Vogue compare to the other publications?

I’ve been lucky that I have always worked for great publications. I started at Conde Nast as an intern while at London College of Fashion and then worked for Tatler as soon as I graduated. Vogue is a great place to work, and it has changed a lot since I joined because now the job involves more than just putting a monthly magazine together, there is online, social media, the Vogue Festival, Fashion’s Night Out. It’s become a much bigger world.

From trend reports to designer-specific pieces, what type of fashion feature does the reader respond best to?

It always surprises me the stories that people remember. The ones I wrote that are most commented on are when I spent a week wearing couture, and also when I spent 5 days as a Cavalli girl, onboard the Cavalli boat in Cannes. First person pieces always tend to resonate with our readers. 

How do you feel about your street-style stardom?

Well, it has become an odd part of the job! But I’m not under any illusions - I realise that people only take my picture because of where I work.

Your hair is quite the talking point. Ironically, I’m going to ask you: do you ever get tired of people asking about it?

It’s always lovely when someone complements it, and I’m always surprised when they do. I started going grey in my late teens and so it’s normal to me now, but lots of people find it quite unusual, I suppose because most grey-haired women dye their hair. The people who comment on my hair always ask me where I get it coloured, and i don’t think they fully believe me when I say it’s natural. 
Photo Credit: My own, le21eme.com, jaiperdumaveste.com, Phil Oh for vogue.com, my own

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Fashion East // Spring 2018 //

The Fashion East incubator programme at London Fashion Week, founded by Lulu Kennedy, has arguably become a fashion social experiment. Which designers will last? That is often the question when one exits the show space from a buzz-worthy spectacular from London's newest talents, itching to making their mark in the minds of the fashion press and buyers, hoping to use the mentorship to their advantage and build viable businesses. However, it's not always the case as the industry becomes increasingly overcrowded and funding is sparse. At this season's Fashion East there were five designers spotlighted, three of them were featured at a catwalk presentation on the Charing Cross Road, in a bleak, industrial milieu, and two in a static happening in two houses off Brick Lane. Supriya Lele, A Sai Ta returned for second seasons, Matty Bovan concluded his journey with the initiative with his third show before he branches out into a solo outing in February. Harry Evans and Charlotte Knowles were the two designers debuting on the schedule. 

Supriya Lele fuses her British identity with her family's heritage (she is the daughter of Indian immigrants) and the boundaries between masculinity and femininity. Spring 2018 marked her first runway show, which enlivened her work. Last season, it was annexed beside the main affair. She explored the drapery present in saris, representing in modern ways. Hers is a romantic touch, differing from the atonality of her contemporaries. Ms. Lele's use of a rich colour palette of inky colours and her choice of plasticised fabrics add a three-dimensionality to work that could be mistaken as banal on first glance. There is a glamourised underbelly to her work, as if a trash bag left on the side of the street had been magically fashioned into a mini dress at the flick of a wand. It makes her work dynamic and she is quickly mastering  the technique of rejecting banality, finding something new. 
There was also a sense of refinement in Yeezy and The Row alumni A Sai Ta's work. Affectionately known as Asai's Takeaway on social media, this brand channels 'rags' into 'glad rags' in a eccentrically artful manner. One appreciated his dissection of Asian stereotypes. For example, the Burberry tartan skirt, deconstructed and frayed and a pinstripe tartan coat, alluding to the counterfeit culture to which billions of euro are lost to annually. However, the overall appeal of his work didn't strike a chord in the same way as Ms. Lele's.
Matty Bovan is an interesting designer to this critic. He is the one who has received laudatory praise, the most support from industry insiders. However, his work doesn't appear to translate to much. His disco dystopia isn't particularly enrapturing, nor does it equate to much other than loud fodder. It's fashion with heart but fashion without brain. It almost blends into Asai, whose work is virtually indistinguishable from Bovan's. To worsen matters, it is clear from the arrangement of photos on online publications, which don't include a picture of the designer taking their bow, that without a caption in the finer text, these two, even to a trained eye, represent too similar an aesthetic for them to work alongside each other. It is indicative of a wider issue in the industry which is that a lot of the work produced and promoted bears striking similarities to the works of its contemporaries. Perhaps it's the times we live in and the cross pollination of ideas, but it is rather inconvenient for both of these fledgling careers. 

Secondly, both Bovan and Ta have an issue with commercialising their work and developing a business, something which is in direct contrast to the slickness of Supriya Lele. It's all well and good to witness the frisson of their designs on the catwalk but in the nascency of their careers, there has to be an inkling that this could become much more. They don't have the financial luxury of crafting two—or thirteen—collections like Comme des Garçons which has a dramatic, otherworldly presence on the runway in Paris biannually and drip feeds the meat and potatoes of a wardrobe into stores throughout the year. And how awful it would be for the designers to become nothing more than those selling printed t-shirts. The night is still young where these designers are concerned, they must learn to make the most with it.
The two that caught my eye were the ones who presented an intimate presentation. A world-building exercise for a first show is a brilliant move. It enlightens the audience, giving them a glimpse inside the world and aspires to draw them. Not only did their work reflect the purpose of the Fashion East mantle, to showcase young, emerging talent but it represented unique subcultures in this juncture in society. 

Take Ms. Knowles for example, deconstructing the representation of femininity and female sexuality in the context of swimwear in her debut. In a male-dominated industry, Knowles alluded to dismantling patriarchal ideals of what sexiness is and what is considered 'appropriate' for the beach. She teetered the fine line between strength and fragility through her fabric choice and styling, encouraging the audience to examine the boundaries between the two. Her work was loosely inspired by her internship with Shayne Oliver, at Helmut Lang. His bold attitude toward the presentation of sex and sexuality on the catwalk contrasts which much of the formality seen nowadays. Ms. Knowles flies a similar flag. 

Considering the challenges faced by young designers, from balancing books and attempting to sustain a business despite the circumstances being stacked against them, she managed to craft a nuanced output. She spoke of the misrepresentation of locations by travel websites and the bleak reality faced by tourists when they arrive, unsuspectingly, in undesirable destinations. It evoked the feeling of the theme of appearance versus reality, an undercurrent of modern society with the advent of social media. It also channelled a grit, a rawness that was at the crux of Shayne Oliver's Hood by Air. 
The gender non-conforming models of Evans' production wore clothing that reminded one of a heightened, Gothic rendition of Gianni Versace's work in the 1980s. When better than now to channel this in his work, with the 20th anniversary of Mr. Versace's unexpected murder in 1998 looming, on the eve of Ryan Murphy's American Crime Story: Gianni Versace and the spectacular moment at Milan Fashion Week when Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Helena Christensen and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy strut to 'Freedom' by George Michael in the final moments of the Versace show. It is Evans' generation, with an interest piqued by nostalgia, no doubt to the cultural upbringing by Instagram, that will tap into these moments, and strive to relive the 'glory days of fashion', so to speak. It exemplified a savvy approach to a first collection. 

It was the official dress code of the Roman centurion, the arthouse film chronicling the erotic fantasises of a gay prostitute,  Pink Narcissus, Federico Fellini's Satyricon and the gaudiness and gumption of his grandmother's garments that pridefully assumed position on his mood board. It was wide-reaching and the accumulation of it all built a decadent veneer around clothing that is actually quite adaptable and rather beautiful.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Mary Katrantzou // Spring 2018 //

Mary Katrantzou wanted to prolong fashion’s reversion to childhood-centric fashion at her Spring 2018 show at London Fashion Week in September. In a stripped back venue on the Charing Cross Road—doubling as the Topshop Show Space—the Greek-born designer’s “idealised infancy” enlivened the bleak warehouse space it was presented it, with its restless colour, bulbous silhouettes and an homage to the “signifiers and symbols of youth.” The return to a childlike state has been permeating the fashion industry at large for over a year. It arrived in the final stages of the US presidential election campaign and lasted through President Donald J Trump’s first year in office. As demonstrated by Ms. Katrantzou’s insistence of innocence, the world has yet to adjust to the new world order. With rising tensions between the US and North Korea, the finalisation of Brexit negotiations, impeachments and corruption scandals, the turbulent political climate has led to this. 

Ms. Katrantzou channelled infancy differently to other designers. Many have focused on memories, of their mothers, aunts and grandmothers, or on the women of the time. In contrast to this, Ms. Katrantzou explored the world of childhood. Childhood art forms such as Hama beads transmogrified into gingham skirts, or playthings such as Lego being used to fabricate skirts—in the case of the Lego, it creates a beautiful patchwork design. Furthermore, the use of paint-by-number flowers further extrapolates the childhood reference pool. 
One noticed a coffee-bean brown cropped jacket and hobble skirt with a vinyl hemline featured yellow polka dots; it resembled the work of Yayoi Kusama—a look which conveniently preceded the concurrent retrospectives of the Japanese artist, ‘Infinity Nets’ and ‘Festival of Life’, at the Chelsea and Upper East Side outposts of the David Zwirner Gallery in New York. Kusama has reportedly been fascinated by polka dots since she was ten-years-old. 

There were many things at play here, as is often the case in one of Ms. Katrantzou’s multifaceted shows. One picked up on self-referencing—the boldly bright bucolic pursuits of her 2011 collections and the revisiting of the structural elements of Fall 2014 (the season in which she refocused, pinpointing tone and surface decoration as leitmotifs). Then she was a purveyor of a structure party dress. Here silhouettes were loose, reminiscent of a child’s drawing of clothing, with swollen shapes and flouncy fabrics. Moreover, Some of the collection were redolent of Miuccia Prada’s unmistakable work. Ms. Katrantzou has long been a fan of the Italian and often is the case where there is noticeable whiffs of her work at either Prada or Miu Miu. Similarly, the proportions were evocative of Cristobal Balenciaga’s extravagant ballgowns in the 1950s, a decade which Ms. Katrantzou, and Mrs. Prada, has extreme fondness for. 

Although the colours took some adjusting to—especially at the 9am show time—and the silhouettes were a distinctive departure from seasons past, one got the impression that reverting to the childlike state signalled Ms. Katrantzou’s yearning for something more fun. Fashion can be frivolous, and in this instance, she exploited that in the same way film studios commercialise their outputs. These clothes, these accessories, will be desired in the same way the latest Lego release. Child’s play. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Phoebe English // Spring 2018 // Menswear

Phoebe English is a remarkable young woman with an exceptional aptitude for design. Her womenswear and menswear outputs are consistent, evocative and ever-evolving with the times. If one is to collate her work over the past two years what one sees is a chronicle of Brexit, of uncertain times in the global political climate and the human response to them. Brexit and the 2017 general election in Great Britain have been the cornerstones to English’s oeuvre; speaking to the LA Times at her menswear—Phoebe English Man—show in June at London Fashion Week Men's, she said “The youth turnout was awesome. We have hope, we are engaging in politics, and voting for a 68-year-old man, a great guy.” She believes in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s working class ideologies, his approach to the youth of today and his ability to connect with them, galvanising them into political action.

The Phoebe English man, presumably, subscribes to the same thinking as the designer. Although the sample hasn’t been proved to be large enough to derive a specific statistic, English’s friends are staunch supporters of her menswear line. Her boyfriend—his style is reflected in the clothing. (English started her menswear division by designing clothes for her boyfriend which spawned into a business venture worthing taking on, alongside her full-fledged womenswear line. Limiting herself to eight or ten looks a season, the clothes speak louder than most of the other over-styled rubbish often seen at menswear fashion weeks.) Based on that, the aesthetic is rather minimal with an emphasis on practical outerwear. 
The simplicity of her offering may be confusing, and one might beg the question: where is the so-called politics in her clothing? Is fashion’s politicisation of her work needless? The answer is no. The Spring 2018 show took a narrative approach. The first three looks were in varying shades of blue. Blue is symbolic of the Tories, the political party English and her comrades oppose, the party who launched the EU membership referendum in 2016 and the ones who claimed a marginal victory in the general election in June. It also signifies the melancholy of those who believed strongly in Corbyn and his campaign. From here things segued into black—a necessary, perfunctory feature of a wardrobe, and a response to the uncertain times

The latter half of the collection was an expression of hope, which the gleeful English spoke about at her presentation at the BFC Presentation Space. White, traditionally, portrays new beginnings, clean slates, blank canvases. The possibilities are endless. This was coupled with a shade of dark green—rendered in trousers and shorts. Green, Pantone’s 2017 Colour of the Year, is a propagation of hope, boasting restorative properties, allowing one to revive and renew. Pantone selected the colour as a means of reassuring people “amid a tumultuous social and political environment.” It concluded the collection with the intention of looking forward with hope rather than despair.

The most common question received by a fashion critic is “what colour is in for the next season?”. Rephrase this: “why are we wearing [insert colour] next season?”… in the case of Phoebe English, colour functions as a tool to tell a story, from beginning to end, eighteen months in eight looks. The four colours are applied to clothing which is quietly political and equally poetic. In eight looks she has managed to express succinctly what others have struggled to portray in forty. To reiterate, she is one of the most outstanding designers around.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Xiao Li // Spring 2018 //

Xiao Li believes there is a “relentless pressure to churn out collection after collection despite the limited time and resources”, a sentiment echoed by many of her contemporaries, specifically those brands in their nascency, who struggle to rouse a combative spirit against the demands of the fashion industry. What can be done to challenge the increasing pace of fashion? There are a number of possibilities; Li endeavoured to source the options in her Spring 2018 show at London Fashion Week, ensconced in the glamorous but sparse Royal Horseguards buildings in Whitehall. 

Li’s fabrication directly opposed the excruciating demand of the fashion calendar. Weaves used in the collection were developed by hand, in-house, to appreciate slow fashion, the antithesis to the H&Ms, Zaras and Bershkas of the world. This brings ethics and sustainability into the mix. The overall ethical background of the collection wasn’t supplied in the press release but the use of handcrafted fabrics, the in-studio development promotes this act of creation. It also incentivises the purchase of these clothes as the going rate for handcrafted design increases. 
Diaphanous layers of mesh and organza add a dreamy quality to proceedings. Li’s intention was to feel more “invisible.” One connects with the metaphor—disappearing from the ballpark in which immediacy and trends are forced upon the customer—but it fails to translate to the clothing, as intended. The sheer fabrics creating a soft structure and movement were beautiful, however the declaration as proposed by the press release is unnecessary—the lightness of the clothing speak for themselves, signalling a shift to subtlety from showmanship.

The propagation of a timeless silhouette was a starting point for Li whose inspiration derived from the 1950s, when full skirts and cinched waists proliferated in fashion. It was about dressing to flatter the body, a personalised exclamation of ones femininity. Designers are in two minds about how to dress women nowadays, but pursuing flattering silhouettes makes for rich content for the customer. The finest one on show was the soigné scarlet shift with an emphasised sweetheart neckline and asymmetrical, tuxedo-inspired buttoning, and puffy sleeves. The fusion of a timeless silhouette with modern touches, the transmutative bond of ballgown and tuxedo equates to a newfound timelessness, one which brilliant contextualises the taste of yore in a contemporary setting.
Continuing with the notion of looking back, Li reflected upon her MA womenswear graduate collection from the Royal College of Art which she presented in 2013. An integral part of her debut was the use of volume and colour. She continues to prioritise these in her shows. In terms of volume, there were full skirts, the addition of oversized bows and puffy sleeves. It added a touch of playfulness, distilling the reserved nature of the prom dresses. Colour was fine-tuned, with the palette extending to pale blue, pink and a vibrant red. Simplicity of colour is a valuable asset when working with elaborate volumes. 

When a designer references their graduate collection—as many have often do—one considers how far they have come from them. In four short years, the acquisitive nature of global retailers has seen her join the ranks at Dover Street Market in all four of their outposts, and in IT and Lane Crawford in Hong Kong. The fashion press have yet to catch up with the impressive list of stockists, but perhaps it is enough. An intimate presentation, where the clothes speak for themselves—maybe the invisibility Li spoke of could refer to her own status, as an off-schedule designer rejecting the intensity of the current fashion climate.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Chanel // Pre-Fall 2018 //

In yesterday’s analysis of the latest Oscar de la Renta show one considered the importance of remixing things in a progressive manner. What comes before undoubtedly informs the present. Artist Giotto di Condone improved upon the two-dimensional Byzantine art style in the 14th century, Renaissance artists took that one step further with the discovery of anatomical knowledge; the intellectualised parlance of Anton Chekhov was reworked in a more down-to-earth, humanistic but bitingly witty fashion by Irish playwright Sean O’Casey; the “adrenalised insurgency” of Detroit bands inspired punk rock band Kraftwerk which led to the development of OMD’s electronica and, in turn, Depeche Mode’s synth pop of the 1980s. Equally, a fashion designer like Elsa Schiaparelli continually informs the contemporary output of Miuccia Prada, or Alessandro Michele at Gucci. 

Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel has mastered the art of remixing, suffusing his own aesthetic indelibly into the soul of the brand. The common misconception with a Chanel collection is to presume it is all manufactured with her in mind. This is not the case. In thirty-five years, Mr. Lagerfeld has amassed the accreditation to supplant much of the old fashioned, replaceable fodder of the original Chanel with more modern iterations that have unmistakably engrained themselves in the house’s framework.
The annual Metiers d’Art presentation—shown in December, and in locations ranging from a barnyard set in Dallas, Texas to a castle in Linlithgow, Scotland—arrived at the Herzog & de Meuren-designed Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, Germany on December 6. The function of the Metiers d’Art show is to transport the audience to a new location, one which Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel had a connection to. This season it was loosely referencing her heritage—a shipping port well-supplied with sailors and fishermen, Chanel borrowed inspiration from their uniform in her womenswear collections. However, linking back to the idea of Mr. Lagerfeld’s signature permeating the house, this season was very much about him. The creative director was born in the city and his memories of it in the 1960s were strongly redolent in a mostly monochromatic palette. 

There were the distinct, swishy trousers of the sailors, seen on both men (who carried pipes) and women; the abbreviated hemlines and quirky patterns of the epoch catching ones eye as the models concentrically travelled from the top of the Elbphilharmonie to the orchestra pit on the bottom floor. There weren’t many curveballs—besides some of those buttery leather coats—but the addition of the Maison Michel sailor caps added a heightened degree of joviality, symbolic of Mr. Lagerfeld’s playful streak.

Chanel is a prime example of unethical excess—with eighty looks in every collection, six collections a year, hundreds of commercial points around the globe, extravagantly high air miles amassed from flying its guests in from far-flung destinations—dominating fashion today. However, it is an irreplaceable luxury brand, captained by Mr. Lagerfeld and it serves a function required by thousands of women, and is an aspiration for millions. It may be frustratingly repetitive at times but Mr. Lagerfeld is a practitioner of the fine art of subtly shifting things with the aid of the winsome styling of Lady Amanda Harlech. Every now and then it strikes gold with its confident styling. The lustrous surface decoration of this one glistened from the get-go—absorbed by the clothing, everything else begins to blur, like our fond, faded childhood memories. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Oscar de la Renta // Spring 2018 //

At legacy brands there is nothing worse than it not looking like itself. Often is the case where the founder, or previous creative director, leaves due to a wide variety of circumstances. Oscar de la Renta, the Spanish-born American-based, fashion designer sadly passed in late 2014 and was subsequently replaced by Englishman Peter Copping. Copping’s tenure was brilliant but short-lived. His aesthetic melded well with the brand of high society chic required by the upper class women who shop from de la Renta, a proprietor of a reliable evening dress, cut and draped sumptuously. He was soon replaced by Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia, two former hands of the atelier, who launched their own brand, Monse, to critical and commercial acclaim in 2015. Despite their experience previously at Oscar de la Renta’s studio, they failed to translate this awareness in their Spring 2018 show at New York Fashion Week in September.

Showing in Manhattan’s Sotheby’s branch, the venue was blanched—a fresh slate, this was the designer’s second outing but it could be seen as a starting point given the legal complications of Ms. Kim’s arrival at the house. It opened with a paint-splattered shirt dress. It bore Ms. Kim and Mr. Garcia’s personal stamp; shirting is a distinctive feature of their work, reworking it in unconventional ways at their brand. What ensued was a mixture of bright, block colours in primary hues, swimwear, denim and branded evening wear.

Incontrovertibly, the focus of brands like Oscar de la Renta is on adapting to the modern age—the main question is ‘how to appeal to millennials?’; too broad and challenging a group it is pin down. However, one is left scratching ones head, wondering if this is what this type of fashion house should become? High society galas, charity luncheons—the kind of women who are regularly found at Sotheby’s auctions, purchasing incomprehensibly priced artworks—are the events which the late Mr. de la Renta, his successor Mr. Copping dressed. The new blood? It is unclear who they are trying to dress. An crippling identity crisis aweigh.

Work that is redolent of instantly recognisable looks from recent fashion history, mere seasons or year after it is presented proves the research side of things featured little thought. Yes, the purpose of fashion is to remix and what comes before informs what comes next, but there was no evidence of progression or a yearning for the future here. The Japonisme of Prada’s Spring 2013 collection appeared in bathing suits appeared; there was bastardised Helmut Lang paint-splatter denim; Lena Dunham’s Emmy dress by Giambattista Valli was optioned; there were nods to Raf Simon’s Dior Couture, and Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel. Although one might think the specificity of those pieces are reserved for the observant eye of fashion critics, it is important to consider that even the reader of a women’s weekly magazine could pick up on them. 

Ms. Kim and Mr. Garcia are, as displayed by their effort at their own label, talented. They skilfully intertwine men’s tailoring into a feminine, modern wardrobe there. The balancing act of holding two houses proves difficult, seemingly, for they have yet to discern a clear and precise vision for a house they have a personal history with.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Arrival of Yeezy Season 6

The democratisation of fashion has proliferated over the last number of years, due to the inflating amount of fashion designers presenting worldwide, compounded by the rise of social media. First influencers rose from the depths of Instagram before they dominated Explore pages and cultivated viable career paths for themselves in the industry—albeit the ethics behind it are questionable. Designers, too, are now able to present their works without leaving their bedroom. In fact, they can be anywhere from a nightclub to a cinema, allowing their work to stratospherically rise by just clicking a few buttons.

In New York, designer Wes Gordon forewent an expensive fashion show or static presentation in favour of posting the lookbook of his Fall 2016 show to Instagram. It signalled the changing face of fashion presentation. Things were taken to new heights recently by the marketing genius of the Kardashian-West clan of Calabasas who simultaneously touched on the exclusivity of yore and the democratisation of today with the release of impresario Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 6. 

Yeezy Season 6 was expected to be shown at New York Fashion Week but a PR representative announced it wouldn’t be ready in time and insiders revealed it would be likely Mr. West would present at Paris Fashion Week, the pinnacle of high fashion, a city with a troubled past for the Kardashian family. In Paris, industry folk began receiving a pair of socks emblazoned with ‘Season 6’. It was a red herring—a Season 6 event never materialised.
To her 105 million followers on Instagram, Ms. Kardashian West, Mr. West’s wife and entrepreneur, began posting paparazzi photos of herself dressed in subdued, muted neutral tones—yoga pants and hoodies: Calabasas chic—over a week ago. Again at a petrol station a few days later, as Ms. Kardashian West stepped into her Bentley, she wore a duck egg blue stretch-fit top and tracksuit pants. More images followed of the reality-TV star at dinner, shopping, stepping out of a Back to the Future-inspired car or on television show recordings. (They didn’t advance the aesthetic in anyway, at this stage Mr. West has carved a minimal passage for himself in the industry, perfecting his fabrication as he goes and catering to the hypebeasts and luxury sportswear customers around the globe.) Ms. Kardashian West eventually announced to the masses that she was wearing “All Yeezy Season 6”. On December 5, via her Snapchat, the 37-year-old directed followers to a website which has Season 6 available for pre-order.  

A new advertising method is born. Photographic expense is covered, the seedy paparazzi pack did all the work—just an average day for them; earning upwards of ten thousand dollars for a photograph of the reality-TV personality, as she goes about her day in the affluent neighbourhood of Calabasas, California. Simply purchasing the stock photographs for a minimal price, the marketing team behind the release of Yeezy Season 6 simply allowed Ms. Kardashian West to wear the clothes as she pleased. (The paparazzi pictures add an element of voyeurism to proceedings. Mr. West famously dabbled with voyeurism in the music video for his controversial song ‘Famous’, in which life-size wax figures of Bill Cosby, President Donald J. Trump, Taylor Swift, Mr. and Mrs. West lay nude on a California king bed. It’s signifies the cultural shift, one obsessed with the cult of celebrity.)

In a way, it’s child’s play, an ingenious feat and PR coup. Posting the images to her personal Instagram for millions to behold, not only does she advertise herself, but the all-important clothing, which Mr. West wants so desperately to be taken seriously. In posting the images to her personal account, Mr. and Mrs. West take the control from the magazines and online publications who formerly shared advertising campaigns with the world.

One also must consider how the images of new clothing were published over the space of a month, as the designer’s wife promoted her new beauty line KKW Beauty. The slow-release of this imagery, in a way, challenged the immediacy of fashion. In a bygone era, clothes were presented and the public didn’t see them for six months. This is that on a very small scale, with a quick switchover, however their is sufficient time for the clothes to pervade the minds of many, some 105 million and counting.

As for Mr. West? He’s labouring over the fashion, staying out of the spotlight, and continually aspiring to achieve a glossy status in the fashion industry.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Edda // Spring 2018 //

Norwegian designer Edda Gimnes was awarded the Merit Award by Fashion Scout, a £20,000 grant to be spread across three seasons. Her label, the self-titled Edda, presented its Spring 2018 show at Freemasons Hall at London Fashion Week in September. Not only this but among her patrons is Alber Elbaz, the former creative director of Lanvin, who extolled her in a recent article in the New York Times, before last season’s fashion week. Readily apparent is his affect: Gimnes is heavily influenced by illustration, this season rendered by her non-dominant hand, a technique she mastered while studying at the London College of Fashion. Elbaz, similarly, deployed similar techniques—famously, his sketches bear a childlike sensibility that also permeates Gimnes’ oeuvre.

Contending with the scrutinising eye of the fashion press, Gimnes worked restoratively, imbuing fun into fashion, while also paying homage to the women who “embraced their femininity without compromising their independence.” They included the actress, recluse Greta Garbo; the English photographer Yevonde Middleton, whose contribution to portrait photography consisted of the seminal use of colour; and Edwina, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, a socialite and relief worker who raised money for the British Red Cross and St John Ambulance Brigade. Often is the case with shows that the feminist meaning printed in the supplementary script doesn’t appear in the clothing. Scanning Gimnes’ show, during the quirky static presentation, and after, examining my photographs—having researched the women, the conclusion this critic drew was Ms. Middleton’s photographic exploits were the most influential in the development of this season’s output. There were minimal responses to the understated glamour of Ms. Garbo or Countess Mountbatten.
‘High society’, more broadly, a milieu common to Gimnes’ inspirations, would’ve been a safer line to run with. The clothing, borrowing the silhouette of the 50s, sought inspiration from the bygone era and Gimnes’ filtered her response through her amusement park of an aesthetic, with graphic illustrations adding amusing two-dimensional patterns to the fabric (which, one must admit, needed improving.) The most extravagant of them all was a bathing suit and an oversized sun hat. Conveniently, a wind machine provided the dramatic effect of a billowing cape, floating in the model’s wake, giving her an otherworldly air of opulence. 

This isn’t Gimnes’ debut, nor will it be remembered as her best collection. However, it establishes her in the minds of a wider audience. It also exposes her strengths and weaknesses as a designer. Strengths: her command of illustration, she is a fabulous technician of the pen; the 50s silhouette, for now, could be a possible route that could prove bountiful. Weaknesses: fabrication, some of the ones used looked rather cheap, it contrasted with the intended elegance of the show, like gold against silver; colouration—the discord between the sophisticated hues of mustard and grey with Pepto Bismol pink. It’s too soon to offer a finite comment but, one hopes she eschews from the sanitised setting of a nondescript show space. Towards the end, models floated amongst guests, they looked at one with the glamorous Art Deco enclaves of the Freemasons’ Hall.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Vetements // Spring 2018 //

You might be wondering, where did Vetements go? Yes, Balenciaga creative director Demna Gvasalia’s other brand, the one that amassed a cult following and attracted Kanye West and Jared Leto to a seedy sex club at Paris Fashion Week a few years ago, and counted every fashion editor under the sun as a fan. Simply, they’ve absconded to Switzerland. “Paris kills creativity,” Guram Gvasalia shared with Swiss newspaper TA earlier in the year. However, the decampment goes beyond the torment associated with designing in Paris. Switzerland’s favourable tax regimes has attracted many multinational companies. The environment just so happens to suit the narrative. Perhaps that’s the cynics answer to the news, but isn’t Vetements the prodigy of cynicism, seemingly questioning the establishment when it is in fact a business-savvy corporation raking in millions from disgruntled shoppers and scions of wealthy families.

For Spring 2018, away from the circus, they deployed a photographer and the in-house team to the streets of Zurich, asking citizens if they’d like to feature in the lookbook as they went. The cast of characters were, in true Vetements fashion, unconventional. They weren’t the Kendall Jenners of the world, rather the forgettable faces of the everyman. This season there were Tommy Hilfiger sweaters and luminous Umbro exercise tops, red leather trousers and disembowelled fur coats. Many models had their bodies inverted with their hands on their hips, mimicking high fashion of yore. The resounding atmosphere was that of ‘normal people’ partaking in high fashion, generally reserved for the .1%.

One got the impression that Gvasalia was settling in with the clothing lacking the usual intrigue, sardonicism. Undoubtedly it’ll be rectified in seasons to come as Zurich becomes the creative hub for the brand and familiarity sets in. For now, it was subtle advancement of a successful, tried and tested formula. 

If there was one important take away from this it was the decentralisation of the fashion industry. New York, London, Milan and Paris face competition from emerging markets in Copenhagen, Sydney, Tbilisi, Seoul. Designer Matty Bovan, showing at London Fashion Week, works in his parents house in York; similarly, Rottingdean Bazaar on the menswear schedule operates in Brighton. Although their false radicalism is meretricious to the max, something to learn from this is the possibility in forging a career in fashion in far-flung destinations. Vetements challenged fashion with its unorthodox veil, what’s to say an upstart can’t from Jaipur or Jakarta, Helsinki or Houston. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Halpern & Richard Quinn // Spring 2018 //

In 2016, two promising and buzzed-about labels blossomed at London Fashion Week’s annual Central Saint Martins MA Fashion show case. Michael Halpern and Richard Quinn burst onto the scene in startling fashion, with a dazzling array of colour and embellishment. Their work posed a dichotomy: on one hand it was avant-garde, their approach to fabrication and presentation differed wildly from the demure, modest creations of the day; but it featured the interplay of the disco and debutant balls, something spectacularly colourful and incredibly glamorous—glamour petered out of fashion in the early-2010s but Gucci’s new creation direction, led by Alessandro Michele, restored the unabashed glamour and maximalist streak to fashion proceedings.

“A return to glamour—that’s my whole ethos,” Michael Halpern said in an interview with CSM’s 1 Granary website. To serve unadulterated glamour, a frisson of excitement, is one thing—it’s something done by many—but where it diverges from the pack is in its Studio 54 sensibility, and the way he alchemises low-quality fabrics, fashioning them into a more sophisticated entity. His exploration of fabulosity to be found in grittiness continued in his sophomore season at fashion week. At the London Palladium, in the heart of the city, he displayed the latest extension of his otherworldly glamour, in which rich jewel tones triumphed in a tantalising throwback to the Bob Mackie-era of fashion design. In a way, it was like a more abstract and effective version of what Peter Dundas is trying to do. With swishy trousers and trains collecting behind the models, it was a delightful affair, awash with a newfound energy and a rendition of tropes from the past.

Halpern is undoubtedly one of the most popular designers on the London schedule at the moment. His designs are a hit with Bergdorf Goodman’s Linda Fargo who continues to place orders, her customers are demanding more and more from the American-born, London-based designer. Not only did he build upon his brilliant offering of trousers and skin-tight party dresses, he let his architectural prowess run wild, with accordion shapes navigating the body. Extravagance is a prerequisite: it opened with Aymeline Valade in a black and white dress with a thigh-high split and a Balenciaga-inspired cocoon jacket in snakeskin. His work is the bisector between the grotesquely glamorous and the glamorously grotesque.
“I wanted the excitement of fashion. Like back in the early days, with cut and colour and texture and presenting an actual thing,” Richard Quinn said after his graduate collection in 2016. His Spring 2018 show, his debut on the London Fashion Week schedule, titled a One to Watch by the governing British Fashion Council: fancy fetishism on a Saturday morning, 8:30 sharp, ahead of a long day of shows! Quinn’s spectacle took place in the new womenswear hall at Liberty, the department store just off Oxford Street. His collection picked up where his graduate show left off eighteen months previous. Tablecloth florals were compounded, a bucolic fantasy fit for a fantastical realm. The gimp suits added an air of mystery, a visual metaphor for the possibility associated with dressing: who is the woman? In these clothes she could be anyone.

The drama reminded one of early Alexander McQueen shows, when the spectacle of fashion shows hadn’t been tarnished—or enhanced, depending on your viewpoint—by Instagram and Twitter. The subterfuge of the crowded styling makes it appear much more complicated than it is. It didn’t have a political agenda, nor did it serve to question ones belief systems. Its complicated colouration, combining garden florals with velvet block colours and metallic sheens—the amalgamation of these things was imaginative and energising. It was bold and visually confrontational. It was almost arresting enough to urge one to put down ones phone and pay close attention. Fashion needs more moments like that.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Ryan Lo // Spring 2018 //

Ryan Lo gained British citizenship recently. The designer was born in Hong Kong and to celebrate he paid homage to the Royal Family in his Spring 2018 show at London Fashion Week. It was a show that preceded Monday’s announcement that Prince Harry is engaged to be married to American actress Meghan Markle in summer 2018.

The world commemorated the 20th anniversary of Diana, Princess of Wales’ untimely death on August 31, a mere fortnight before Lo’s presentation. The unforgettable name reentered public discourse this summer when new items surfaced about her life. Her wardrobe was a valuable asset, connecting her with the public. How could one forget the famous ‘Revenge Dress’, or her jogging through Central London on Christmas Day dressed in a Harvard University hoodie? Lo was thinking of Victoriana lace, pussy bow blouses and her trusty trench coats, rendering them subtly in his distinctive kawaii aesthetic. The fanciful frocks featured frills, tulle dresses were accented with floral embroidery. It didn’t subscribe to the traditional saccharine princess role, as those Docs would suggest, but it was about becoming her own “white knight.” Diana, similarly, wasn’t a conventional princess.
The prim purses carried by Queen Elizabeth II at her public engagements were present here, created in special collaboration with Launer. Launer is the brand which makes the Queen’s handbags. Lo’s were far from the shapeless shift dresses the Queen wears. They were whimsical, decorated with delicate embroideries. Gentle daubs of pale pink and lilac were applied to outfits to inject them with a feminine joie de vivre. The connection with royalty came in the form of those reliable little black dresses which Lo astutely noted are a scarce commodity these days. 

The fascination with the monarchy—a questionable form of government, some might say—is as fascinating as the monarchy itself. Zadie Smith’s sardonic wit dissected the public interest in Her Royal Majesty in Edward Enninful’s debut editorial effort for British Vogue. She notes the “distinctly lower-middle class” mental picture many have of her, for her pragmatism and fondness of Antiques Roadshow. It’s an image which starkly contrasts with the news item that het “private estate invested millions in offshore funds”, according to the Paradise Papers. It was a celebration but is celebrating ideal when the slowing British economy continually borrows from the public purse to pad the Royal Family?

Moreover, with questions around citizenship in the United Kingdom constantly under scrutiny post-Brexit it is a statement unto itself for Lo to be a headliner at London Fashion Week. Secondly, the focus and direction signal displayed here show his desire to prove himself to the fashion industry but also to the customer. He’s not a one trick pony. Perhaps Her Royal Majesty would be interested in one of his frocks for the Royal Wedding in May.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

'Fashion Together' Exhibition at the Fashion Space Gallery

“Interdependence” is defined as the dependence of two or more people or things on each other. It isn’t exclusive to one particular thing—be it ecological or governance interdependencies. Fashion is one of the participating industries that relies on interdependency. In fashion it is referred to as collaboration. It’s all around us—see the recent success of Erdem’s H&M partnership—or behind-the-scenes—stylists, public relations, make up artists working symbiotically. Lou Stoppard’s debut tome, Fashion Together: Fashion’s Most Extraordinary Duos on the Art of Collaboration, out now, chronicles the working relationship of creatives in the fashion industry who have perfected the art of collaboration. “It’s the collaborators, rather than the individuals, who really push the industry forward and inspire this collection.”

An art it is—for these figures to find one another and build a lasting working relationship. Featured are seventeen conversations between pairs, and two reflection (jewellery designer Shaun Leane on Alexander McQueen, who passed away tragically in 2011; the milliner Phillip Treacy on the late Isabella Blow.) A supplementary exhibition, featuring seven of the eighteen pairs, was launched at the Fashion Space Gallery at the London College of Fashion in September, and during London Fashion Week I had a chance to visit the show between shows. 

An immersive experience, there are conversations providing a fascinating and demanding aural landscape. The teal flooring is littered with quotations and each collaboration is illuminated with the use of paraphernalia—notebooks, sketches, collaborative productions between creatives. The Fashion Space Gallery is a challenging space to work with. Unlike other galleries, the space is incredibly small and each of the featured blends into the next. If anything, it makes viewing the exhibition run smoothly.

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Rick Owens & Michèle Lamy
Michèle Lamy gave Rick Owens his first break in fashion. She ran her eponymous label and a bistro called Café des Artistes in Los Angeles in the 1990s. It was where the duo, who now collaborate on ‘fur and furniture’, met. The centrepiece for their section is The Alchemy chair, crafted from bronze and leather, marrying brutalist concepts with warmth. The furniture collaboration was built out of necessity—the couple needed to furnish their house. Collaboration, similarly, is a necessity. It goes without saying that neither member of the duo would be where the are today without the other.
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Inez van Lamsweerde & Vindooh Matadin
Study any newsstand across the world and you’ll be sure to find the photography of Inez van Lamsweerde and Vindooh Matadin who met at Amsterdam’s Akademie Vogue. Their glossy portraiture is regularly featured in the pages of international Vogue editions. One might ask: how do two photographers work together? Your answer is here. Interestingly, they work alongside one another with two cameras, both capturing the subject from their own perspective. A portrait of director Clint Eastwood fronts their section, indicative of their work’s experimentalist heart. Also provided is digital images of their leather-bound notebooks which store polaroids.
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Nick Knight & Daphne Guinness
Nick Knight, a self-defined ‘image-maker’, founded SHOWstudio, an unparalleled, seminal platform used to showcase fashion film and live media in 2000. Daphne Guinness is a British aristocrat, art collector and champion of unorthodox thinking in fashion. Both have supported Gareth Pugh and the late McQueen. They work frequently together exploring the technological boundaries and pushing them, interplaying that with the realm of fashion. Works featured include films they’ve made together and a 3D-scan of Guinness. For visitors, including this one, the exposure to 3D-scanning was a fascinating, new experience.
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Viktor Horsting & Rolf Snoeren
Viktor & Rolf are exclusively couturiers nowadays. Horsting and Snoeren’s working relationship began when they graduated the ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in Arnhem in 1992. Famously they court the realm of “fashion art”. How could one forget the bubblegum pink tulle flamingoes they created for Spring 2009? Their Fall 2015 couture collection saw them hang framed paintings on their models. Spring 2016 focused on sustainability in couture and it was a visual jog down memory lane, as they alchemised past collections into new outfits, giving the clothing a renewed sense of purpose.

“We love fashion but it’s going so fast. We wanted to say No this season,” the duo said in March 2008. They communicated this message with brilliantly curt manifestations of their frustration with the fashion industry. 3D lettering brought to life a grey coat, with No boldly confronting the viewer. 
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Gareth Pugh & Ruth Hogben
Never one to uphold convention, Gareth Pugh prefers to deconstruct it, manipulate it, perhaps some might put it lightly and say ‘interpret it’… His Fall 2009 collection at Paris Fashion Week broke protocol as he presented a fashion film instead of a formal fashion show. He continued to eschew from the formal fashion presentation format for his Spring 2011 and Spring 2018 shows. The films are always evocative, inspiring fear and terror in the audience more often than not. The reception is always positive. The woman directing these films? Pugh’s frequent collaborator Ruth Hogben. Hogben was formerly Nick Knight’s photographic assistant and Knight introduced the pair. Pugh is one of the few designers working with fashion film in innovative ways and Hogben takes her craft seriously, transporting the audience to otherworldly realms.
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Thom Browne & Stephen Jones
One of the finest tailors in fashion, Thom Browne never fails to enrapture audience with his theatrical brand of suiting. His partnership with milliner Stephen Jones has seen elaborate concoctions, including headwear renderings of elephants, bears, rabbits (from the Fall 2014 menswear show) and miniature jackets, shirts and ties (from the Spring 2015 womenswear show). This aspect to the exhibition is by far the most engaging and accessible for the average viewer. Undoubtedly, the headwear is fantastic and the element of spectacle grips the viewer’s attention. In tandem with the fine artistry of his Browne’s clothing, this pairing makes for striking viewing material. 
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Shaun Leane on Alexander McQueen
If one is to follow the exhibition from right to left, one will conclude their visit with jewellery designer Shaun Leane’s musings on Alexander McQueen, the late fashion designer, someone whose creative streak was unrelenting and he steered the fashion industry into uncharted territory with dramatic and innovative designs that take pride of place in fashion history. Leane lent his sculptural prowess to McQueen’s theatrical flair. Leane’s relationship with McQueen spanned seventeen years and according to Stoppard’s investigation, “the pair were as much confidants as they were work collaborators.” Included in the exhibition are photographs from Leane’s archive, including one of him and Lee, as McQueen was known amongst friends, smiling. A heartwarming note to end the show on.
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Fashion Together: Fashion’s Most Extraordinary Duos on the Art of Collaboration, published by Rizzoli, is on sale now and available at clairederouenbooks.com.

Fashion Together runs at the Fashion Space Gallery at the London College of Fashion, UAL until 13 January 2018.