Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Coach 1941 // Spring 2018 // Menswear

Stuart Vevers has been at Coach for a number of years now and he’s ushered the brand into a period of commercial success. When he first arrived, sales were floundering but now they’re on the up and with Selena Gomez fronting the advertising campaigns, they are attracting a younger customer. His aesthetic has been one that has fetishised the different corners of Americana—skate culture, the landscape of collegiate sporting, the northwest and the wild west, the midwest and hip-hop-influenced Harlem. 1970s New York has stuck with Vevers, whose Spring 2018 collection was inspired by the “glitz and grit.”

The 1970s in New York were a difficult period for the city, the state. There was an economic recession crippling industrialism, unemployment was rife, crime was prevalent.  However, artistry was its finest during the decade. Musician Lou Reed was pioneering glam rock, writer William S. Burroughs was a primary figure of the Beat Generation, Andy Warhol was continually exploring Pop-art. Vevers wanted to channel the above three men into the menswear portion of the collection, which consolidated both menswear and womenswear. Discussing the menswear is perhaps more worthwhile, simply just to spotlight it—menswear is often an afterthought in dual-gender shows. One finds the menswear at Coach prioritises clarity much more than the oft-desultory womenswear. (The womenswear on this occasion was fine; Vevers rebuked the idea of ‘evening wear’ but acknowledged the notion of ‘dressing up’.)
The artist Keith Haring was the primary reference for the whole show. His squiggly lines, cartoon-esqe creations are currently on display in ‘Keith Haring Posters’, running until 5 November 2017 at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg. He was one of the more prominent artists at the time, esteemed for his social commentary—his work was heavily influenced by the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the time, musing on birth, death, sexuality. His prints were used expectedly, as centrepieces to the meat and potatoes of Coach collections—t-shirts, jackets, accessories. They certainly made those pieces appealing, adding a certain, necessary energy to them.

Lou Reed, one of the only American artists to succeed in the nation’s take on glam rock. These clothes, with their obvious glam rock references paid homage to him. It was an exercise not in handpicking and carefully curating references but in picking the most famous ones and presenting them in conventional fashion.

There was a fascinating article by James Ledbetter on The New Yorker recently, entitled ‘When British Authors Write American Dialogue, Or Try To’. It examines the conflict between the writers’ characters’ dialogue and the authors’ origins. “Readers don’t want to be distracted, either by egregious errors or impeccable research.” This wasn’t impeccably researched. Nor were there many egregious errors. It roughly outlined the epoch without offering too much of a comment. It glamourised the glitz and grit. It was one of Vevers’ finer attempts but one longs for him to really sink his teeth into American history—ostensible design isn’t thoroughly engaging.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Pringle of Scotland // Spring 2018 //

Fran Stringer, creative director of Pringle of Scotland, knows how to design for historic British houses. Her credentials include stints at Aquascutum, Mulberry and now she’s at the 200-year-old Pringle. One might ask: how is Pringle of Scotland relevant now? For Stringer, the impelling force to continue operations is to fuse tradition with innovation. Her Spring 2018 show, presented at One Marylebone, was a powerful example in this. Knitwear: It connotes to cold weather, thick fabrics, warmth, the act of staying warm in the face of chilliness. Knitwear for Spring? Questionable, understandably This is one of those brands tasked with addressing the adaptability of knitwear, imparting it with trans-seasonal qualities.

Yarn, viscose, nylon and, of course, the prerequisite wool were woven in deconstructionist silhouettes which added a 1990s flair to proceedings. The 1990s were when Martin Margiela introduced deconstruction as a method of exploring the parameters of design but when a commercial brand puts a spin on it, it’s about the surface: for the stylistic effect rather than any countercultural stance. It transpired that her featherlight fabrics enhanced the stylish deconstruction.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect to the collection was the conversation between the scenography used in the collection. Photographer-of-the-moment Harley Weir recently lensed the label’s advertising campaign in the Shetland Isles. Imagery from the campaign was digitally printed on sheer dresses, nylon jackets. It contrasted with the old world methodology of some knitted pieces, which rendered the same landscape in soft wools, its edges frayed. It partakes in the constant debate surrounding practice in the fashion industry, whether it’s more skilful to put a digital print on a dress, employing technology to innovate, or knit a scene, to highlight the importance of craft. In this critic’s opinion, craft is supreme: it adds a warmer, human, more authentic touch to the clothing. Authenticity is, after all, what brands strive for these days. 

It also commented on the quality of being exposed to the elements, being at one with surroundings. It’s a concept that will come across as wildly pretentious and convoluted but the way Stringer employed softer, lighter, sheer textures and used prints implied as much. The success of the recent advertising campaign positions Pringle as a brand that, when road-tested, produces sublime results.

Pringle may not be a mind-blowing, industry-redefining brand. It doesn’t have to be. It exists to satisfy women who need reliable knitwear for work or pleasure. There are appreciable attempts at covering new ground with technical innovation which transports the brand into the cultural context in which it finds itself in. Stringer is responsible—not only for the commercial success of her clothing—for placing Pringle within the fashion conversation. Paying attention to her quiet contribution will be worth it for those scouring the overcrowded retail market for strong knitwear. 

Photo Credit: voguerunway

Friday, October 27, 2017

Margaret Howell // Spring 2018 //

There are different types of practitioner in fashion. You have those who constantly push boundaries and explore the unexplored, in the case of designers like Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons. You have the ones who are happily trend-led—too many of them there are to single out just one or two. And there is another breed, in a class of their own, those who stick to their guns and don’t intend on changing their ways, come hell or high water. One of those is the inimitable Margaret Howell, who consolidated her menswear and womenswear at London Fashion Week in September for the Spring 2018 season.

If the purpose of fashion is to reflect the times but also seek ways in which to initiate a progressive dialogue, doesn’t Margaret Howell negate that? She designs—and with aplomb—neatly tailored, subtly effective, practical clothes. Is her work simply clothing? Or is it ‘luxury’, the inescapable mot du jour? Luxury is both an inescapable but overused word. These clothes apply to the definition of the word, which according to Google is “a state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense.” But words are just words, to spur them into action, in this case, you have to create good clothing and that is what Howell does. 

Certainly, the collections are modest, unpretentious and adequately adaptable to anyone’s wardrobe. Spring 2018 comprised of summery checks with white shirts and black trousers. (There was an insistence on biscuity-hued chinos for men and skirts for women; the rest was rendered in unobtrusive earthy tones, all of it understated but wholly and unquestionably desirable.) Inserted into the context of the fashion conversation there are plenty of opportunities to view her work in a different light. Not only do they symbolise a segment of the luxury market that is often ignored by the fashion press, but they are positively radical. Yes: Margaret Howell, purveyor of tailoring and modest silhouettes, a radical. Cast a glance at any of the other shows for all their showmanship, sparkle and standoffishness—whether it is down to over-styled collections, gimmicky clothing and celebrity stunts—and return to Margaret Howell. Undoubtedly, her oeuvre is wildly different to  It epitomises luxury and doesn’t buy into the ephemerality of trends, favouring high quality fabrication and timelessness in lieu of that. 

There may not be any deeper meaning in her clothes. Her menswear is distinguishable as traditional menswear; her womenswear the same. There are no efforts to redefine or represent the changing face of gender in fashion. Menswear is menswear, womenswear is womenswear. (That isn’t to say a woman couldn’t buy into the men’s clothing or vice versa.) This serves to reflect the quotidian, the requirements of those who prioritise functional tailoring over glittering embellishment. One needn’t look any further than here for an olive-green sweater vest, a lightweight denim jacket, or cotton twill shirts. 

An incisive vision, an undying respect and awareness of the consumers’ wants and needs, what Margaret Howell has going—aesthetics aside—is what every other label strives to achieve, many of them unsuccessful in their attempts. At a glance, it may come off as forgettable but surely, those who buy from this collection will have reliable pieces they can return to time and time again. Perhaps that is what makes a successful fashion designer? 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Molly Goddard // Spring 2018 //

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan was front row at wunderkind Molly Goddard’s Spring 2018 show at London Fashion Week in September. Perhaps a publicity stunt to bolster his image or an effort to strengthen the mayor’s office sponsorship of fashion week—Khan’s presence was symbolic of many things. Firstly, the terrorist attack on the London underground at Parson’s Green station the previous morning spotlighted the Londoner resilience. Secondly, his fervent support for emerging designers in his city.

Notwithstanding the terrorist attack of the previous morning, Molly emanated an eccentric ebullience that has carried her brand from its initial off-off-schedule presentation three years ago, when she dropped out of Central Saint Martins in the wake of Professor Louise Wilson’s untimely death. Enduring is her aesthetic: a boozy celebration of the party women that don’t resemble Kendall Jenner or someone of that ilk. They can be slightly awkward or highly sophisticated, their clothes can have an odd fit. Simply, they’re your everywoman. They are imperfect, their clothing isn’t skintight nor does it clamour for the attention—quite confidently it just claims it.
Edie Campbell opened the show in a white dress, black boots; her hair slicked back with a black headband and a glass of prosecco or cava in hand. She took a puff from her e-cigarette and a sip from her glass as she reached the photographers’ pit, a juvenile grin plastered across her face the whole time. She got the party stared, kickstarting proceedings with an amusing escape from the rigour and seriousness of other presentations on the day. (It contrasted with the quasi-intellectualism of Jonathan Anderson or the feminine fancies of Simone Rocha, the two shows she was sandwiched between on the schedule.) The procession continued with models striking elaborate poses in mismatched colours with boots—other were barefoot. She is no longer restricting herself to tulle dresses; she’s added flirty frocks and a broader outerwear selection, which have become the more exciting portion of the collection. 

For the final walk the models skipped out to a chorus of applause and dance music, Erin O’Connor in lilac sequins and black tulle, battered boots, among them. It was a celebratory lap of victory for emerging designers everywhere, and a celebration of women of all ages. It was reported Sadiq Khan’s daughter is a keen Molly Goddard fan, which might’ve explained his presence at this one show. It’s clear to see she can attract teenagers to those upwards of sixty. One should also consider Goddard’s status as the leader of the new generation. Under the watchful eye of the often scathing fashion press, her business has blossomed. Her recent Fashion in Motion show at the Victoria & Albert Museum doubled as both a creative display and an opportunity to present a pre-collection. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Irene SJ Yu // Spring 2018 //

Irene SJ Yu presented her London Fashion Week at Ice Tank, an anonymous event space in Covent Garden, in September. A stone’s throw away from official proceedings at the British Fashion Council’s hub 180 The Strand, Yu’s diverse tableau was an energetic afternoon pick-me-up. 

A note on the designer: the Taiwanese designer studied at Central Saint Martins and launched her eponymous line after having graduated in 2015. Her background is in fine art before she made the leap to fashion. Her work isn’t so much about questioning is fashion art as it is about evaluating occasion dresses, easy assimilation and navigating the urban jungle. 

‘Urban’ is an integral word. If one had to predict the intended customer for these clothes it would be twenty-something city slickers with a penchant for partying, served with a slathering of self-confidence. There are many brands operating in this sphere. The upcoming British Fashion Awards intends to celebrate this with an Urban Luxe Brand Award. As it stands, the current nominees are Supreme, Gosha Rubchinskiy, Off-White, Vetements and Fenty x Puma. Irene SJ Yu may be positioning herself accordingly, to an aim for a similar trajectory. 

For Spring 2018 she stuck to her guns. Her modus operandi is “to contest the traditional notions of elegancy and beauty by creating an aesthetic of her own.” Contesting the thundering dance music emanating from the space, one thought of Rihanna—as often one does at fashion shows these days. Configured as Bad Girl Riri, these designs belong to that aesthetic, one which does tow the line between good taste and bad taste, womanliness and girlishness. It’s an age-old exploration in fashion—notably perfected by the inimitable Miuccia Prada—but the punchiness and saccharinity of recent design movements, with their affinity for girlhood in the Instagram generation, present it in an entirely new way. At this stage it has become trite, and Yu’s contribution to the conversation isn’t as valuable, in terms of propelling design movements, but its occasional garish spirit adds something. 

One observes her garments bely her artistic background which is a tad disheartening. Truthfully, there wasn’t much evidence of her fine art beginnings in the show. If one looks at the aforementioned Urban Luxe Brand nominees one sees Virgil Abloh’s Off-White imprint staking a place on the list—Abloh’s practice is indebted to his training in civil engineering and architecture. One would like to see Yu suffuse her designs with an artful flair.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Fendi // Spring 2018 // Menswear

The second act of Sue Tiley, model and muse for renowned portraitist Lucien Freud. saw her become an artist, following in the footsteps of her famous friend. She went from Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995) to Fendi collaborator (Spring 2018), enlisted by creative director Silvia Venturini Fendi . It may seem like an unlikely collaboration but steeped in history, Tilley’s contribution to culture—be it as the subject of a Freud portrait, a biographer of performer Leigh Bowery or as an artist in her own right—is irresistible to the Italian luxury goods house. Venturini Fendi was introduced to Tilley’s work but the head stylist of menswear at the brand. The works chosen to appear in this collection? A corkscrew she had for years, illustrated, appeared on a leather jacket; a painting of a lamp on a hoodie; a peeled banana on a knit sweater. 

Venturini Fendi was fascinated with normality. She chose the above items to feature not only for their artistic appeal but for their commonplace nature. Normality, and oftentimes heightened normality, have become a recurring motif in the fashion vernacular in response to the fickle luxury market. Demna Gvasalia, Martine Rose, Glenn Martens at Y/Project have all been exploring the subject, simplifying garments, commenting on corporate culture. Venturini Fendi wanted a slice of that cake too. She wanted to adapt the corporate wardrobe to the current cultural climate. There was her iteration of the digitalised boardroom: she deployed outfits that convincingly conveyed the put-togetherness of the business wardrobe—an immaculate exterior   but the bottoms—loose trousers and shorts—would beg to differ. 

The 80s undoubtedly played a huge role in the materialisation of this show. She reintroduced the heavy logo-mania that make Fendi products sell like hotcakes. She had check bombers and baseball caps, campy sleeveless sweaters, short sleeves and skimpy shorts. Pastel-hued windbreakers turned up also. On paper, it’s just another menswear collection. It ticks all the boxes for the standard menswear show. Where it had character was with the Fendi signatures—the unmistakable tactility, the boxy shapes. Where the epochal influence hindered proceedings was that it rang like a campy caricature of 80s masculinity, and it contrasted with the more sophisticated aspects. 

Fendi’s adaptability can often prove to be its most difficult hurdle to overcome. It tasks itself with answering a complex question: how does one appeal to the modern man without alienating the existing fanbase and amassing a new, younger following… in the digital age… without losing sight of house values? Sometimes it masters the balancing act but other times it falls flat on its face. This 80s-lensed relaxed corporate daydream, for its misses, had some resounding hits. Amidst the polished styling there were imperfections that couldn’t be masked.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Céline // Spring 2018 //

“We categorically deny any imminent departure of Phoebe Philo from Céline,” an anonymous spokesman for LVMH said. This is a tried and tested statement; the house practiced using it in February 2016 when it was falsely reported the British designer had left the French house. On Tuesday the rumour mill churned again, signalling the latest possible departure of a creative director from a luxury conglomerate. Was the Spring 2018 outing her last? Was it any good? It's worth analysing for a number of reasons—firstly, it's Céline, one of the most sought after luxury brands with an intuitive response to women's needs and how they want to dress; secondly, Phoebe Philo likes to keep her audience guessing, what will it look like this season? She's moved away from the more rigorous shapes that dominated her collections in the early 2010s, favouring a more gestural, fluid approach to clothing. Thirdly, if it is one of the most sought after brands, is it any good?

There's an intellectual veneer surrounding brands like Prada and Céline. If you don't get it, you feel like that is because you haven't fully understood the deeper meaning—something needlessly applied to many things nowadays—and not simply because it could be slapdash or, to put it bluntly, dull. Philo doesn't work in the same way as other designers when it comes to inspirations. Generally, she opts to channel feelings into her garments which is where the intellectual veneer derives from, the clothes become a vessel for emotion. If there's a misfire, and there are some in this show, many would rather rest on their laurels than investigating whether the clothes were just subpar. 

The mood Philo was aiming for here was joy! Optimism! Freedom! Those were prevalent motifs during the Spring 2018 shows as designers wanted to move away from the political turmoil and towards the personal world, filling it with hope and positivity, rather than cementing it in its stupor. She was thinking about he 1980s, a loose background to the show, when fashion hadn't yet been transformed by globalisation and it was a famously fun fairground for industry personnel. She resurrected the wide-shoulder for the Céline woman, oversized polo-shorts and a sophisticated take on Working Girl with the occasional candy-coloured explosion. The strongest pieces were the ivory drop-waist dress with intricate laser cut lacing, a boxy off-white leather coat and a burgundy-hued dress with a photographic collage print that hit the narrow runway in the show's denouement. 

Most interestingly, this show was presented directly after Demna Gvaslia's third womenswear outing at Balenciaga. It was rather disconcerting to see the same silhouettes and glamorous insouciance permeate these clothes as they did only two hours prior. There were some distinctly Céline looks such as the beautiful, sumptuous tailoring which remains as effortless as always. The way the fabric drapes on the body is also identifiable as a Céline signature. However, the needless layering of garments, the ugly-chic trainers, the odd take on bad taste for the luxury consumer who doesn't associate with such influences rang true to be Balenciaga-isms... or, at least, they felt like ones given the show's proximity to it. On the day, it felt like the garments could've bled into the previous show, where checks and pinstripes and cheap-looking wallpaper prints also appeared. It was an unfortunate scheduling conflict, highlighted when viewing the collection online, months later, removed from the context of fashion week, and it looking fresher than before. If anything, it shows despite stylistic similarities the clothes here transcend the time they are presented in. 

Industry sources have said former Stella McCartney design director and current Ports1961 creative director, Natasa Cagalji is a possible front runner to replace Philo. There is also Céline's head of ready-to-wear, Michael Rider and their former design director Ilaria Icardi are also names being mentioned, according to the Business of Fashion. Philo's direction of the brand has seen it grow exponentially, with an increase in annual revenue of €500 million over 10 years. The brand, which has been slow to adapt to the digital age, is expected to boost its online profile with an e-commerce outlet down the line. It's times like this when one has to ask, will passing the torch make much of a difference? Anthony Vaccarello's aesthetic isn't much different to his predecessor, Hedi Slimane's at Saint Laurent. Mimicking what Phoebe Philo has going will be an uphill battle, perhaps even for insiders. Her Céline tenure has been marked by an understanding of the female psyche, her clothes are imbued with emotionality: it'll be hard to replicate. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Off-White // Spring 2018 //

The world commemorated the 20th anniversary of Diana, Princess of Wales’ untimely death on 31 August. Throughout the summer stories, headlines, magazines covers, lost interviews and new footage were being plastered across newspapers and the internet. Affectionately known as the “the people’s princess” for her magnificent charitable contribution and incredible humanitarian efforts, Diana’s has been present in the public eye since the late 1970s, when she first met Charles, Prince of Wales. In the ensuing years she redefined the royal dress codes and subverted expectations. Perhaps this is where Virgil Abloh’s journey began. The designer’s Off-White imprint’s Spring 2018 collection, shown at Paris Fashion Week earlier in the month, was influenced by the late royal.

He didn’t want it to be an homage but an imagining of his hypothesis—what would she wear in 2017? The answer is what you’d expect. Abloh picked some relatively recognisable Diana looks and either cropped the jacket, swapped skirts for bicycle shorts and added a layer of tulle to almost everything, to achieve the princessy effect. Mayowa Nicholas emerged in a baby-blue collarless two-piece consisting of a jacket and mini-skirt; it was paired with white tennis shoes and striped socks, and completing the look was a pair of heels which she carried, favouring the functionality of trainers to the dressiness of heels. 
There was ebullience in the creative output but one felt the designer was desperately clamouring to compound his aesthetic with the regality of Princess Diana. In parts it worked: those brilliant tulle-cloaked denim pieces for example were innovative, and the bicycle shorts with suiting and trainers was a trip down memory lane. Ultimately, it lacked the incisive Off-White touch—it’s a shame, his womenswear is more inventive.

Had this story been told ten years ago the model line-up would’ve been a depressing affair. Undoubtedly, it would’ve been an army of rail-thin, all-white models. But the polymathic Abloh opened his show with model-of-the-moment Hiandra Martinez, featured Yoon Young Bae and Naki Depass, and closed with the inimitable Naomi Campbell—a rare outing for the 90s supermodel; royalty in her own right. The diversity of Abloh’s casting earmarks him as one of the few making a difference where the issue of representation is concerned. In support of the NFL players in America, Abloh knelt in lieu of a formal bow at the end of his show; Colin Kaepernick, an American football player, famously knelt during the national anthem in 2016 as he was “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour.” 

Furthermore, alongside the main event, Abloh released two t-shirts to commemorate Diana’s anniversary. Proceeds from its sales will be donated to the American Red Cross and the British Lung Foundation, two causes dear to her heart. This wasn’t just an opportunity to imagine what one of the most stylish women in the previous century would wear today, but a chance to make a difference. One thinks Princess Diana would give her seal of approve.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Simone Rocha // Spring 2018 //

Simone Rocha opened her second store, on Wooster Street, in New York earlier in the year and at London Fashion Week she continues to prove her pedigree status, as one of the finest designers in the city. For her Spring 2018 show at Middle Temple Hall, the epicentre of English law, she scaled back from the militaristic influences that tinged her feminine sensibilities in her last outing and focused more on delicacy, vulnerability. Inspired by the work of Belgian artist Michaël Borremans and porcelain dolls, her work felt lighter, less rigid. 

It opened with a white satin dress: on paper it may sound dull, but it had all the Simone Rocha signifiers. Firstly, the silhouette and proportion were subverted. The body of the dress was loose, billowy; there were ballooned sleeves; interestingly, at the knees the dress was cinched, creating a fishtail. It was oddly feminine and decidedly in line with her aesthetic. The neutral colour palette referring to the naturalistic work of Borremans. 

One felt the satin reflecting the the shiny surface of porcelain dolls. She furthered the childhood reference pool by adding simplistically drawn stickmen to dresses and cartoon-like renderings of flower petals (a recurring motif) to dresses. It’s true to say her output ponders on childhood, the act of a child playing dress up. But it’s much richer than that. One must factor in the undercurrent of sex running throughout her work. Secondly, the generation-less nature of her garments has seen her come on leaps and bounds, achieving a wider customer base in her wake. It adds to the exciting contrasts found in her work. Childlike innocence vs sex, playful femininity vs modesty.

Femininity in the world of Rocha has long been characterised by a saccharine undertone, pervasive from her beginnings at the Central Saint Martins MA show six years ago. Her unique brand of hyper-femininity is never alienating—it should be noted she favours gothic touches which add a certain perversity to the sweetness of her work. It appears in the way Chantilly lace accents garments and sheer fabrics dominate her collections, but in black and deep red hue. Victoriana is an integral part of her world also. Her most recognisable pieces stem from the epochal influence, and her design handwriting is very much informed by the 1800s. Some of the best looks were the ones that simplified the inspiration: Cara Taylor’s white, double-breasted trench had lace accents on the collar and sleeves; a patterned dress with a cinched waist and full skirt, with black flower appliqués. 

When one witnesses top editors and buyers arriving to the show it is a testament to her strength and draw as a designer. It isn’t brouhaha—like many other London designers whose insane press attention doesn’t match their minimal retail presence. She receives laudatory praise—rightfully—season on season; her clothes are stocked in Dover Street Market, Bergdorf Goodman and 10 Corso Como. Futile it would be to question her storming success. Evident in her work is a deep understanding of the female psyche—this show may have swapped strength for vulnerability, but a shift like this only adds more nuance to her already layered work.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Prada // Spring 2018 //

Miuccia Prada never strays too far from a veiled political agenda. Never explicitly stating her opinions on the politics, her two cents are implicit in her work, with various undertones suggesting alignment with certain belief systems. Her Spring 2018 show at Milan Fashion Week was pointedly feminist; she acknowledged the global oppression of women and how there is still a long way to go before the women's rights movement achieves its goals. If anything, her collection served to dress the women who participated in the Women's Marches that dominated discourse in the beginning of the year—undoubtedly a reaction to the inauguration of President Trump, a notable misogynist and anti-feminist—or many of the 30,000 activists who stormed Dublin, Ireland recently to urge the people and the government to repeal the 8th amendment which bans abortion and disallows the right to choice. Galvanisation is the word of the day. Is it possible for fashion to galvanise the people? If the clothes speak loudly, clearly, the answer is yes. 

Beginning her reference journey in the 1930s and working her way through to the 1970s, Mrs Prada handpicked silhouettes throughout the ages and avoided anachronisms. She revived her interest in high and low culture: a blue striped shirt and black trousers were enriched with the addition of a bejewelled, pastel pink corset and bow. There were slimming pencil skirts, men's tailoring and bike shorts. It felt simultaneously random and deliberate, here nor there. The complexity of the mix was rather visually appealing. 
The effect of layering dresses with trousers, dresses with shirts reaches further than the stylishness of the layering trend in contemporary fashion. Black trousers underneath 50s-inspired house-dresses simply states: women wear both dresses and trousers nowadays, it is a lifestyle, a reality. Ditto the functionality of pairing sleeveless shirts and knitted sweaters with 70s-inspired prom dresses. The boardroom, the ballroom: the Prada woman is fit for either. Sleeves were rolled up on coats, it's time to strike while the iron is hot. Often it is the case the styling at Prada is overwrought, a commercialistic endeavour with little purpose other than to stuff looks with as much product as possible. For Spring 2018, it told a story effectively and powerfully. 

The comic-book strip setting, produced by Rem Koolhaas' OMA, may seem familiar. At the menswear show in June, Mrs Prada introduced the motif. Here, without it becoming banal or, worse still, 'done', she shifted the tone: all the artwork was designed female artists. Brigid Elva, Giuliana Maldini, Joëlle Jones, Trina Robbins, Emma Ríos, Tarpé Mills, Natsume Ono and Fiona Staples were amongst those featured. (Robbins, for example, was the first woman to draw Wonder Woman in the 1960s. The world of Joëlle Jones is perfect for Prada—she is the creator of Lady Killer, a "Betty Draper meets Hannibal"-inspired anti-heroine, a homemaker with a murderous streak; it complements the perverse domesticity that has become a cornerstone of Mrs Prada's work. One black pencil skirt had red splatters, perhaps the aftermath of a massacre. It wouldn't be a Prada show without the macabre.) These artists were pioneers in their fields, be it the comic book or manga milieus. It added credibility to the setting more than anything. 

The set was still reminiscent of the previous outing; the clothes were also familiar. This time around things were rendered in a more thoughtful fashion, she breathed a new life into both the set and the clothing. However, it doesn't detract from the statement: the clothes were familiar. This show would've held more impact for the viewer had one not felt like they'd seen it before. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Alistair James // Spring 2018 //

Nicholas Alistair Walsh and David James Wise are the virtuosic duo fronting Alistair James, the latest success story from London Fashion Week. The two presented their Spring 2018 show at the beautiful Fitzrovia Chapel in September. After minor delays before the show’s commencement, proceedings kicked off and one was welcomed into the wonderful world of Sleeping Beauty. (Modernising classicism has long been at the centre of their operation—in the past they’ve taken Peter Pan; the iconography of the Brontë sisters and injected it with the inimitable spirit of musician Kate Bush.) This season Briar Rose, Princess Aurora—whichever title you’re familiar with—was channelled into ethereal garments with the sole purpose of escapism. Walsh and Wise believe now is the time to propagate hope, to forget the troubles of the world and uplift people.

Political apathy aside, this was a strong collection with an emphasis on craftsmanship. (They met at Alexander McQueen: Walsh’s background is in textile design, James trained with special clients in the made-to-measure department.) In lieu of politics, one must harness another design cornerstone in order for their collection to be somewhat impactful. In this case, craftsmanship elevated their inspirations, ranging from Disney princesses to Ossie Clark and 19th-century portraiture. The simplicity of their static presentation allowed the audience to get within close proximity to the garments and to be spellbound by their fanciful creativity. 
Entering the show space, models stood enshrined in verdant display cases, with white rose motifs. These encasements lined the aisle and at the foot of the altar stood the most elaborate. An asymmetric, crystal-encrusted bodice with a loose ruff and cascading ruffle made in partnership with Swarovski was the centrepiece. It may not have been steeped in practicality but in a London season tempered with subtlety and simplicity, it was a deserved departure, a dreamy ode to a Disney tale—to whisk one away from the wariness of the world, if only for a moment.  

With a catwalk presentation envisaged down the line, one can only imagine the theatricality these two could conjure in the future; it may be the kind of whimsical hyper-femininity from a bygone era, but it’ll be a surefire presentation of glamour. Heretofore, the brand has been restricted to lookbooks and small stands within the BFC Designer Showrooms at 180 The Strand. This presentation marks their first venture into exploring narrative pieces. A gesture undoubtedly accumulated during time at Alexander McQueen, a house continually striving to impart a narrative within the design process. Clothing is clothing, fashion has the ability to tell a story. This was a fairytale, through and through.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Creatures of the Wind // Spring 2018 //

Shane Gabier and Christopher Peters are shaking things up. Their Spring 2018 show at New York Fashion Week was the turn of the tide—no longer will they occupy the luxury fashion world, in lieu of that is the contemporary level market, with lower price points. However, that’s not to say things have entirely declined creatively. Certainly, they have simplified things in order to meet this new selling point. Fundamentally, it’s the same brand with the same core values. Tinged with seventies sensibilities, the approach to dressing here is a crossover between uptown and downtown. 

This season the duo infused the work of Dutch Masters. Disparate worlds: one didn’t expect to see the 70s contend with the grandeur of 17th century painting. Vermeer, Steen, Hals and Rembrandt, some examples of the Dutch Masters, could’ve been on their minds. (Abraham Mignon’s work turned up at Comme des Garçons, in fashion month’s denouement.) There was a beautiful shirtdress, printed with a decorative oil painting, towards the ends, shown with cowboy boots and tinted glasses. What it borrowed from the Dutch Golden Age was the painters’ detailed realism—these were clothes one could effortlessly sashay in, from catwalk to the street; the new contemporary level price point must’ve incited this tilt towards wearable clothing. What it lacked was the gripping sense of emotionality—there was a distinct dearth of splendour, something I’ve always found subtly pervasive in their work. 

Invaluable, however, is their contribution to the American fashion industry. They are one of the few brands actually producing work in the country—New York’s Garment District houses production operations. There is the double-edged sword of protectionism, but it is better that their clothing is manufactured locally as opposed to a sweatshop in Asia where employs are paid feebly. Secondly, there is the subject of sustainability. Noticeably, more people are buying vintage clothing, rebuking fashion’s consumerist tendencies. In this collection they repurposed vintage leather jackets with aplomb. Aged, battered, distressed, they were given a new lease of life here. 

They sublimated sustainability into garments more in line with their aesthetic. They had charm and sophisticated but were rooted in the earthy realism of the New York streets, in the 1970s and the 2010s. Rethinking strategy is one thing but they need to rethink presentation also. The clothes, adroit crafted for the most part, were lost against the clinical nature of the show space. Perhaps a cleverly conceived mise-en-scène, less costly and more effective, would do the trick.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Reassertion of French Identity at Paris Fashion Week // Spring 2018 //

President Macron is in power. He has plans to revive the French economy. He wants to reduce unemployment and make it easier for companies to create jobs. From the outset, the French economy envisages to restore itself. The country resiliently responded to terrorist attacks that threatened to shatter the foundations of the country. The landscape of French fashion has changed considerably in the past two years. Following the November 2015 attacks in Paris, the July 2016 vehicle-ramming attack in Nice, the French fashion industry has responded in two ways: the work has either been bequeathed with a sense of sombreness, understandably, or an electrifyingly endearing expression of earnestness, filling it with hope and optimism. 

The Spring 2018 season has seen Paris Fashion Week’s designers collectively galvanised into reasserting French identity, what it means to be a French fashion brand. It kickstarted on day one, with Simon Porte Jacquemus’ excitingly sophisticated and sexy turn at his eponymous label. Inspired by images of his mother—the late Valérie Jacquemus who sadly passed at the untimely age of 42—in love, on the beach during the summer months in their native Marseille as well as the balmy influence of the Caribbean, it was Marseille to Martinique, a cross-cultural study in the sensuality of summer. Jacquemus sought to repopularise the sarong, the sunhat; he did it expertly, materialising a modernist version of the former. 
There’s something about the French and the idea of insatiable, unabashed sexiness. One doesn’t see it as a preconceived notion or veneer, crafted by outsiders, rather something tangible and true. Although Italian-Belgian himself, Anthony Vaccarello is designing for arguably one of the most famous fashion houses of all time: Saint Laurent. By definition, his work epitomises “sexiness”. Having paused operations at his namesake label, he charges Saint Laurent with a similar notion of empowering sexiness for the modern woman. Pierre Bergé, Yves Saint Laurent’s sidekick and driving force in the business at the time, passed away recently. His death brought about this archival trawl for Vaccarello who, in his third season now, finally gave the audience something to truly be enraptured by. 

From the 1960s to 2010s, the house’s history unfolded before the eyes of the industry. In a comprehensive roundup, Dazed unpicked Vaccarello’s reference points. There was the black and pink colour combination; angular white tape jackets; le pouf, a rather splendid ballooning of fabric reappeared, having started in the 1950s; extravagant ostrich feathers; evening gowns were hiked up, creating voluminous proportions at the upper body. What made the show so thoroughly enjoyable was its homage to the founder and using proportion as a means to convey the breadth of his power. 

Most important to note: the setting. At Trocadero, with a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower, its lights flickering in collaboration with the show, one felt immersed in French culture—the most famous French fashion house in front of the most famous French landmark. Merveilleuse.

Elsewhere in Paris, in the Saint-Germain district, a football club is situated. PSG, as it is affectionately known at by stalwarts, is one of the richest football clubs in the world. Christelle Kocher at Koché borrowed the club’s Fly Emirates-sponsored kit and repurposed it. She deconstructed it, fashioning it into frocks and added appliqués to bring it to a hitherto unimaginable level of chic. It commented on the accessibility of football, it being something for everyone, the heightened sense of team spirit, and paired it with the escapist world of fashion, accessible to the world’s 1%. Football and fashion aren’t suspecting bedfellows but they are undoubtedly embedded in the French cultural sphere.

Lacoste, founded in 1933, celebrates its 85th anniversary and its return to Paris Fashion Week for a show en pleine air at the Jardin du Tuileries proved it still bears relevancy in the fashion conversation. Linked with sports also—tennis, in this case—the label’s creative director Felipe Oliviera Baptista deconstructed the crocodile-emblazoned polo shirt. Deconstructed sportswear in the right hands here and it made for something fresh, exciting.
One of the few Frenchwomen designing at Paris Fashion Week, Natacha Ramsay-Levi kickstarted proceedings at Chloé with an ode to the 70s bohemia that has been at the house’s core since the decade. Founded by Gaby Aghion in 1952, creative directed by Martine Sitbon for four years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ramsay-Levi’s voice as a Frenchwoman fronting one of the most iconic French labels is a symbol of patriotism—that isn’t harmful to anyone. It’s putting a woman back in the centre of French fashion. (One might recall the trifecta of Jeanne Lanvin, Gabrielle Chanel and Madeleine Vionnet—each woman brought something new to the table.) Ramsay-Levi is finding her stride. 

The same can be said for Frenchman Julian Dossena, at Paco Rabanne. Critically acclaimed for the use of chainmail in the 1980s, the brand was redefined by Dossena, who added sportswear elements to the collection. This season he challenged himself, he thought about what women would wear to the discotheque. He forwardly addressed the terrorist attacks of November 2015 and how they affected his life, his friends’ lives. They stopped going to nightclubs but in true French style—with bold alacrity, readiness and resilience, they started going out again. It was about club culture and the braveness of dressing in a lurex mini dress reflected the braveness of going out in these turbulent times, when terrorists are targeting places such as nightclubs. 

Dossena, like Ramsay-Levi at Chloé, is one of Nicolas Ghesquière’s design disciples punctuating the Paris Fashion Week schedule. He is an esteemed figure in French fashion: his legacy has undoubtedly and endlessly inspired designers around the world and his followers appears around fashion week. Antonin Tron, founder of Atlein, is another one of these, expressing himself with his own design handwriting. His personable initiative, sees him innovate jersey but he does not wish to be pigeonholed as a “jersey designer”. He expanded his operation this season with a razor-sharp focus on tailoring, to meet the demands of the challenging French design scene. His work successfully balanced sportswear and glamour without dumbing it down, or it being just sportswear and glamour poorly spliced together. Sportswear and glamour, the recurring motif of Paris Fashion Week. Atlein was one of many to glamourise bike shorts—they turned up at Y/Project, Yves Saint Laurent also.
Central to the scheduling are the brand’s who act as lynchpins throughout the week, all vying for a chance to appeal to the upcoming generation. Christian Dior, captained by Maria Grazia Chiuri, cheaply commodified feminism once again. It shouldn’t be long before the designer realises slapping a slogan on a t-shirt doesn’t progress the women’s rights movement—it only serves to minimise the topic’s gravity. Lanvin’s new creative director Olivier Lapidus serves only to eviscerate the house’s integrity with a bad clothing. Comparatively, the christening of Clare Waight Keller’s tenure at Givenchy was more successful, albeit tame. A reference pool like no other, Waight Keller endeavours to bring seduction back to the fore at the house. Furthermore, Olivier Rousteing’s Balmain iteration goes from strength to the strength and his Spring 2018 was more refined, more sophisticated, a welcome departure. Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld and Louis Vuitton’s Nicolas Ghesquière show no signs of tiring. Their respective outputs were more of the same—Chanel was peaceful and poised; Vuitton showed decorative designs and modernist sportswear. 

Ultimately, what all of the designers featured have in common is an understanding that French identity isn’t something that can be definitively universal—it is what one makes of it. It may be raw sexuality to Simon Porte Jacquemus and Anthony Vaccarello, the mergence of football culture and high fashion to Christelle Kocher, brand history and house codes. Paris Fashion Week’s status doesn’t usurp the other fashion weeks’ credibility; it is singlehandedly the most important one. It blends historicism with a connection to the street, it values boldness and storytelling, it is centred around the principle of high skill—to search for France’s national identity, one needn’t look any further than Paris Fashion Week.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Balenciaga // Spring 2018 //

Demna Gvasalia's been at Balenciaga for a year and a half now and it feels like much longer, given he shows two womenswear, two menswear and two pre- collections throughout the year. We're on the third instalment of his womenswear ready-to-wear shows and this one was possibly the most informed by his own personal aesthetic. Presented in a blacked-out show space, with a spotlight the only illumination, following the models as they trickled out from backstage.

The alchemy of his high-fashion-meets-streetwear knowledge, ascertained from his brand Vetements, with the codes of Balenciaga allowed him to fabricate something that would redefine luxury. Although the brand plays everything by the book—with the exception of producing cocaine vile necklaces—Vetements was considered a radical proposal by the fashion press in the early days, when it was idolised to the umpteenth degree and rather undeservingly. However, his arrival at Balenciaga is truer radicalism for this was a house founded by a man whose pioneering oeuvre defined fashion generations to come. The blockbuster exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum documented that journey, from Cristobal to Nicolas Ghesquière to Demna Gvasalia, steering three of the most memorable iterations of the Spanish brand, presenting in Paris. It started out as sophisticated dresses for the high society and Ghesquière ushered it into futuristic sportswear territory, exploring luxury's parameters. Comparatively, what Gvasalia brings is streetwise grit. It's the direction Balenciaga has benefited from and it perverts normality. 

His silhouettes are transmutative, with classic fit blazers adopting odd juts which reshape the body in intriguing ways; his coats hang asymmetrically on the body; puffer jackets recline, exposing the shoulders; this season coats are worn like bigs, the perfectly tailored sleeves vacated—this hath already been executed at Comme des Garçons, not that he professes to care about innovation. 
Whereupon the euro and dollar prints emerged. Money! Money! Money! A vulgar statement, placing bank notes on a dress that will cost as much as the amount of euros or dollars on the dress. It's these bold, identifiably perverse approaches to luxury fashion that keeps audiences talking. Is it right for Gvasalia to do something like that? Is he talking about the global economic crisis or vulgarly portraying wealth and the wealth required to purchase from Balenciaga? Provocation is imperative, in his mind, clearly. At least his work is evocative enough to pose such questions, conjure thought processes unexplored. (Duly noted: Givenchy's Ricardo Tisci used the dollar print in his Spring 2017 menswear show.)

Spring 2018 remixed the now-cult 'pantashoes'. The brilliant point-toe pants-cum-shoe were rendered in latex, and with screensaver prints plastered on them. The latex ones pointed to Gvasalia's fondness for fetish in fashion. The unlikely collaboration with Crocs saw platform sandals with souvenir shop appliqués take to the runway. (This is the second collaboration in recent seasons with the ugly-but-comfortable shoe brand; Christopher Kane in London partnered with them on a controversial lineup of shoes.) It was Gvasalia musing on mundanity, once again. Moreover, the show advanced his handbag output. There were cross-body fanny packs and clutch chains snaked around the models' wrists and keys dangled from each golden ringlet—practicality, normality heightened. 

Gvasalia's career wasn't built on hype, his mainstream success was. He cut his teeth at Maison Martin Margiela (he's keen on noting that his stint was when "Martin" was still in the title) and at Louis Vuitton under Nicolas Ghesquière. Vetements marketed itself as a counter-cultural movement in an effort to sell clothing and it worked with aplomb. A difficult sell would be imitating that a Balenciaga—so he doesn't. He takes glamour, one of the house's prized possessions and he investigates what glamour means and what it can be. In essence, it's as if he grabs glamour by the hair and skull-drags it through the city streets. He spoke about striving for something "vicious", backstage. Those spiked heels said it all. But the aesthetic would also tell you as much: from day one there's been a violence, a displeasure within the design and it makes for oddly fascinating fashion.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Givenchy // Spring 2018 //

Albeit many clothes weren’t featured, when promotional imagery shot by Steven Meisel was released to announce Clare Waight Keller’s debut at Givenchy, there were strong indications as to what it would look like. Sensuality resorted, a defined femininity. Interestingly, for the first time in her career she would be tackling haute couture (to be presented in January and July) and menswear (presented alongside the Spring 2018 womenswear, yesterday morning at the Palais de Justice de Paris). Waight Keller is a revered figure in the industry and her appointment at Givenchy marks the first time a woman is at the helm of the brand in its existence. It opens up a realm of opportunity and excitingly, a keen interest in returning to the brand’s roots and presenting the consumer with a vision of brand identity.

One of the first dresses out referenced a Givenchy couture dress from 1961. Many designers who have mined archives this season keep returning to the 1960s: Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior, Anthony Vaccarello at Saint Laurent, Donatella Versace at Versace. A pertinent time in fashion, it is when the greats were operating and now more than ever fashion feels the need to recall that era, perhaps to reinvigorate itself. Waight Keller added her personal stamp to the look: it bore her signature swishy, feminine touch. There was an homage to the little black dress (a much finer example of one than at Lanvin) worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and a blouse from 1952.

A womenswear designer by trade, one was slightly taken aback by the flatness of her designs. Expecting something mesmeric, one was met with clothing that valued practicality more than imagination. They will perform splendidly, but one would like to see Waight Keller sink her teeth into the archive and, as she did with the aforementioned looks, reinvent them for the modern age and also find new signatures to add to the house codes—which is what Tisci did with basketball t-shirts and the instantly recognisable Rottweiler print.  

Her menswear output was more cohesive than the womenswear, which was rather surprising. She offered sharp blazers and trousers, an exceptional coat or three. Generally, it progressed the aesthetic in an interesting direction. She deconstructed the polish of her predecessor and infused the collection with the same insouciant spirit that defined her days at Pringle of Scotland and Chloé. One observed Tisci’s menswear as a push and pull between formalwear and sportswear, but Waight Keller brought it to the street and it benefited from that. 

Undoubtedly, however, she doesn’t have the same proficiency for sportswear as Ricardo Tisci did. His understanding of American sportswear traits synthesises with the requisite romantic couture sensibilities of Givenchy. What she does bring to the table—something Tisci didn’t possess—is a clearer understanding of the female psyche. It wasn’t the debut to end all debuts—it was inoffensive, a lesson in subtle seduction, a reminder of the past and, one reckons, one of the better matches in the latest round of fashion musical chairs.