Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Finding the Future at PFW // Fall 2018 //

Roughly around the same time the fashion descended upon Paris for the last leg of the monthlong fashion circus, the snow did too. With plummeting temperatures stifling the thought of a European spring it must’ve been a pleasant excursion to hear traditional Moroccan music at the Petit Palais, for Simon Porte Jacquemus’ Fall 2018 show—which, rather in tune with the current industry climate, didn’t bear any resemblance to the season at hand. Having visited Marrakech recently, for the new cultural attraction of the Musée Yves Saint Laurent, Jacquemus intended on bringing summer back with him.

After a breakthrough spring show last September, this show picked up where that left off, albeit on a different continent with the same principles: effortless vacation style. It’s quite remarkably what he does, really. The simplicity of his aesthetic, which predates the advent of social media, is both archaic and familiar yet his sensual seduction manages to breathe new life into it. Whereas last season oozed sexuality, this was insistent on sensuality, which felt in line with the time. It was less daring, there were more trousers and longer hemlines, more t-shirts and less sarongs, in a gorgeous palette of terracotta, burgundy, flax, olive and Majorelle. There were, of course, sightings of skin—it’s Jacquemus after all, and the times can’t seismically shift his aesthetic, that would be dishonest. After all, there is an interwoven level of emotionality that defines his work.

There was only one pitfall here: a lack of progression. With a business still in the early stages of development, perhaps Jacquemus is seeking a signature, but even at that there needs to be signs of a way forward rather than situating himself, albeit comfortably, in a creative impasse. (Notwithstanding this criticism, kudos to him for a show of diversity.)
Marine Serre debuted on the schedule yesterday. The Frenchwoman graduated last year, winning the prestigious LVMH Prize of €300,000, her graduate collection from La Cambre (also where Saint Laurent’s Anthony Vaccarello studied) serving as the proof that she was a business worth investing in. It’s clear Ms. Serre is responsive to the world around her, and it’s likely what caught the eye of the judging panel which included Karl Lagerfeld. The aforementioned graduate collection was punctuated with crescent moon symbols, commonly associated with Islam. It was produced in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels and the effect it had on her life as a Brussels-educated, Paris-based creative.

For Fall she continued to take a personal approach. Much of today’s fashion is concerned with mass-appealability to youngsters—or ‘millennials’ as we’re odiously labelled—and she considered how does she want to dress as a 26-year-old woman. She is concerned with functionality and hybridity and designs “future-wear”, which is a post-sportswear answer to how dress might look in the years to come. It’s centred on the notion of protectionism, the idea of clothing as a means of shielding the wearer from the anxieties of the world, which has been prevalent on runways since the 2016 US presidential election campaigns kicked off. There was one jacket on the runway with holders for a highlighter, torch, pen, lipstick and a pocket for your water bottle. It was real utilitarianism, not press release fodder.

There were sportswear tropes, infused with formalised outfits. White runners were styled with lilac lycra and black leather, denim with upcycled silk scarves. (Ms. Serre told T Magazine: The New York Times Style that she has collected 1,500 vintage scarves thus far and wishes to source more before the production process begins after orders are placed. She is one of the few designers in Paris placing an emphasis on sustainability, something which she rightfully prides herself on.) Velour tracksuits made an appearance, and alongside plastic overcoats. The end of the show was underscored by handkerchief-hem scarf dresses. There were some pieces that bore resemblances to the house where she received training and also Céline but then again this is her sophomore show out of college. Overall this was evident of Ms. Serre’s pedigree as a designer and her commitment to making sustainability more than a fashion statement. It will be exciting to see her grow as a designer. 
Marine Serre starkly contrasted with Maria Grazia Chiuri’s latest feminist folly at the historic house of Christian Dior. The Musée Rodin was decorated with visually striking graphics from the 1968 Civil Rights protests and women’s liberation marches. I am not questioning Ms. Chiuri’s feminist credentials nor am I saying her work is inherently anti-feminist, I find her work to be at odds with the feminist movement. Undoubtedly, since her freshman outing she has commodified the movement in anyway possible, making $700 t-shirts that read ‘We Should All Be Feminists’. Maybe her work is reflective of the times—it does nothing but spotlight the capitalist establishment’s gain from the proliferation of the feminist movement. 

This season’s proposition expanded on the empty sloganeering with Ruth Bell’s opening look reading “C’est non non non et non!”… She succeeds in capturing the zeitgeist but she crashes and burns in communicating with women by creating uninspired clothing that shallowly riffs on punk, 60s graphism and patchwork in the only way she knows how: commercial, headache-inducing separates that are closer to the high street than they are to a storied couture house. That's what Dior is meant to be, isn't it?

This isn’t to mention the rail-thin, mostly white cast of models wearing the clothes. So much for a quest for authenticity. Not to mention Johnny Depp being the face of the 'Sauvage' fragrance. Or the upcoming advertising campaign which might continue to use retouched photographs, which is in direct opposition to the house’s presumed beliefs. (In the past, the house worked with photographer Patrick Demarchelier and stylist Karl Templer, both of whom were accused of alleged sexual misconduct in the recent Boston Globe article which detailed models’ experiences with the men, which must leave a bad taste in the business' heads’ mouths.)

Feminism is not to be taken lightly as 2017 finally—or at least it seems to have—knocked into the heads of contemporary culture. Kate Bush on the soundtrack and meaningless outerwear? How is this in anyway revolutionary? Where is the “Dio(r)evolution”? International Women’s Day is hot on the heels of the Dior show, falling two days after the Paris shows; it’s an awful shame Ms. Chiuri couldn’t cohesively cater to women’s needs instead of trivialising them with juvenile and tokenist interpretations of feminism. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Moschino // Fall 2018 //

The portrayal of women in the #MeToo era has become a contentious and carefully-tackled challenge at fashion week. Milan Fashion Week raised many points about the role of women in society last week: Miuccia Prada reclaimed nylon and the night for women, in a brave but sartorially confused collection; Donatella Versace curated an 80s-inspired bold-shouldered response to the time with fierce stomps from confident models; Alberta Ferretti was perhaps too outdated, with a chest-bearing looks reflected a vulnerable context in which women were formally subjugated in, culturally. Jeremy Scott’s understanding of women is much-disputed with him often veering into cartoonish territory which is an antiquated and anti-feminist look at women and their role.

He explained to T Magazine: The New York Times Style that his relationship with his models is akin to a director selecting actresses to inhabit characters. Familiar faces such as Bella and Gigi Hadid, Kaia Gerber took the runway as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Marilyn Monroe. (His Hitchcockian approach is similar to the ‘collective’ mentality of Vetements and Tisci’s Givenchy, propagators of gang culture in fashion.) His casting and continual support of women is a sign of his appreciation for women, but it doesn’t always reflect in his clothing.

Perhaps his caricature of womanhood does reflect a cultural context in which men’s outlook of women is as outdated as the 60s-inspired pencil skirt and pillbox hats that dominate his runways, especially the deep-seated attitudes of elderly politicians in power. After all, Mr. Scott’s sardonic social criticism is what makes him the kind of designer who—despite what people think of his exploration of women’s fashion—is continually followed by the fashion press and buyers. This season’s womenswear first considered the Trumpian times in which we live, one where scepticism and conspiracy is currency, before reverting to the 1960s when President John F Kennedy was in office. It considered the original conspiracy theories—the moon landing, specifically. 

The pageantry of Jackie O’s skirt suits and Marilyn’s dresses were rendered in saccharine candy colours, matching the polished wigs in chestnut brown and honeycomb blonde. It wasn’t so much about the divide between two women, both controversially bedfellows of the former president, but the divide between two style tribes—the lady who lunches and the bombshell. Some models were daubed in colourful body paint for an extraterrestrial twist, infusing proceedings with Mr. Scott’s typical brand of literal interpretation. The bluntness of his time suits the proliferation of social media, with instantly recognisable imagery demanding attention. It also nods to the simple-mindedness of contemporary culture and the dearth of subtlety and nuance. 

By the end of it there was a slew of ballgowns, including one in a splendid shade of seafoam on Gigi, assuming the role of Marilyn. But the most special look in this portion was Joan Smalls in a black trouser-suit with a silk bustier, knotted at the waist. Mr. Scott has a knack for covertly injecting his show with a sense of modernity. It’s a show that professes an ideal of women that is questionable, for the most part, but upon further inspection, and as aforementioned, maybe that’s the point. 

Moschino collections are great at highlighting the unabashed frivolity of fashion. It’s comedic approach is a cornerstone to the house’s activities and it often acts as a deterrent, given fashion’s usual stern countenance. This isn’t that. He is a storyteller at heart. Fashion is sorely missing more of them.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Richard Malone // Fall 2018 //

Having spoke to a number of editors afterwards, the general consensus following Richard Malone’s 9am show, officially opening London Fashion Week, was that it was his finest outing to date. (Due to a delayed flight from, I tragically missed the show by twenty minutes.)  The Wexford-born, London-based designer has been on the schedule since February 2015 when he debuted his conceptual approach to workwear off-schedule, at Old Street Station. This was before his official schedule beginnings at Fashion East where he dissected working class culture, hewing on his mother’s Argos uniform. For Fall 2018 he continues his exploration of these codes, this season condemning the narrow-minded ideology of ‘good taste, bad taste.’ Rather, Mr. Malone is fascinated by the in-between, examining the cross-section of the two ideals, which is inherent in Irish culture.

He’s never been one to seek Kardashian-patronage or social media clicks, his honesty in part could be from his background. In the past he’s considered the alcohol-fuelled caravan park summers listening to bombastic rap music or the flamboyance of his aunt at his Holy Communion, with a skinhead, tattoos and zebra print dress, his mother’s uniform. This season it was aprons and heavy-duty workwear jackets. They were reminiscent of a builder’s preferred outerwear selection, both in their heavyweight practicality and their cocoon shape. The aprons reflected a utilitarian principle that underpins his work. Despite the estranging price points, Mr. Malone is insistent that his work isn’t about the fetishisation or appropriation of working class codes. It’s very much a reality for him. Everything is machine-washable and equipped with pockets for busy lives—it is perfunctory but visually astounding. And his artful approach to it is far more interesting than the aestheticisation of it, as seen at Burberry, Gosha Rubchinskiy or Vetements, where it is problematic. 

According to Sarah Mower’s Vogue report, Mr. Malone is an ardent supporter of sustainable fashion. He continues to work with the same set of Indian weavers he discovered at the time of his BA womenswear graduate collection at Central Saint Martins in 2014. They provide him with handcrafted tweeds in bold hues that enrich his work—this season everything was rendered in shades of plum, Bic biro blue, shamrock, sky and scarlet. Silhouettes were more fluid than in previous seasons, perhaps lending more commercial potential to his glamorously sculptural edge. 

In a characteristic blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, the designer hopped on the runway for a quick wave to the photographers pit and the laudatory audience wearing a HunReal Issues t-shirt, supporting the Repeal the 8th campaign—spotlighting the necessity of liberalising abortion rights in his native country. This is a politically engaged young man and it pervades his work too, with an eye for sustainability and sociopolitical structures. Bravo, Richard! 

Friday, February 23, 2018

Gucci // Fall 2018 //

Alessandro Michele’s meteoric rise as Milan Fashion Week’s kingpin has transformed the fashion landscape in Italy—his influence has circumnavigated the globe, in all honesty. The precious ostentation of his work is a maximalist catnip and a rebellion against the ‘stealth wealth’ movement that emerged towards the end of the last decade, heralded by Phoebe Philo’s successful tenure at Céline. Mr. Michele’s arrival not only shocked the system with its cheerful colouration and decadent design but for its enthronement of a relatively unheard name that made waves in January 2015, when he took his first bow at the menswear show.

Three years on, sales have surged and the brand is perhaps the most sought-after brand; it has developed a strong, recognisable visual vocabulary and its collaboration with Dapper Dan and links with A$AP Rocky, Jared Leto and Florence Welch present it in a new light to contemporary culture, positioning it as more relevant, more attractive. However, the visual language with which Mr. Michele expresses himself through—and oh my, is it fluent!—is about consistency, repetition and steady growth. Nobody attends a Gucci show to be shocked anymore. His maximalist inflections aren’t particularly surprising and the main draws of recent collections have been plunging the audience into a purple haze—a subterfuge for those unchanging clothes-which was particularly frustrating for fashion critics.
For Fall 2018 the turquoise show space was brightly lit and bathed in a blinding surgery light. The centrepiece was a doctor’s office light fixture and bed. Undoubtedly, it stands for a metaphor for Mr. Michele’s overhaul of the house, his renovation of outdated codes and total reinvention of the brand into something worth paying attention to again. It also acted as a precursor to the show that was to be presented. It concerned itself with the notion of mutability, the act of changing oneself physically. Models emerged carrying severed heads, baby dragons, snakes; some had three eyes, others featured eyes on their hands. It was all terrifically strange and weirdly wonderful—it was bold and one found it difficult to simply label these as ‘Instagram moments’, it rejected cynicism. There was a joy and intrigue in the peculiar.

It was rendered in surgically precise manner, with regards to silhouette and cut. Beyond that it was difficult to narrow down the references and discern a specific mood. It appeared Mr. Michele had amalgamated every subculture under the sun in this show. It captured the zeitgeist. It was a comprehensive portrayal of our society, as a whole, acting as a Gucci-lensed microcosmic display of what the world looks like. There were skinheads, debutantes, glam rock doyennes, puritan practitioners, sports nuts (accompanied by a licensing deal with Yankees, using their logo on Letterman jackets and backpacks), counterfeit culture, preparatory uniforms, granny chic and dadcore, Game of Thrones nods, ugly footwear, skate culture, queer culture by way of historical dress. No stone was left unturned. It disembowelled every trend known to the human psyche and commercialised it, fabricating a treasure chest of merchandise that will succeed as it has down for the past three years.

We live in a trend-driven culture and considering that, Mr. Michele exposes the framework of society and spotlight the variety of characters. Variety is the spice of life but also the impetus of his work. And from a business perspective, it’s an ingenious move to deploy such a broad range of characters with the saleability of such a proposition. There is no denying that Gucci leads the trends. The rest of us merely follow. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

Mary Katrantzou // Fall 2018 //

Mary Katrantzou’s Sunday night show was befell by the fur protestors who disrupted London Fashion Week last season. There was a heavy police presence at Granary Square—where the show took place at Central Saint Martins (where Ms. Katrantzou attained her MA degree in womenswear)—but that didn’t stop one woman from storming the runway, bellowing “shame on London Fashion Week,” as the first model emerged. One isn’t quite sure whether the protestors were aware that Mary Katrantzou uses faux fur throughout their collections, or whether they were just targeting the fashion industry in general… However, for this critic, nothing can take away from the clothes.

Ms. Katrantzou’s creation of spectacle differs to her contemporaries. There were extravagant set pieces at LFW—swinging lights, a kitchen, an autumnal haven amongst them—but here there is a preference for surface decoration, prints, embellishment, sculptural silhouettes. 
“A fusion of the Bauhaus and the ostentation of high Victoriana” was her starting point: she studied the connections between modernism and its roots in the Victorian age. Her references stretched from the Weimar Republic to William Morris. Floral graphics, geometric prints and poster lithographs appeared on asymmetrical dresses and finely-tailored, polished suiting. The entire collection based itself on the contrasting principles of Bauhaus and Victoriana: “ornamentation is crime, versus ornamentation is everything.” Consequently, the ensuing collection marked the line between the decorative proclivities of the Victorians and the geometric prints of the modernists. 

Also modern: the lack of floor-sweeping gowns. Despite the BAFTAs taking place at the Royal Albert Hall, Ms. Katrantzou eschewed from her tradition inclination to present evening gowns. Trousers aplenty, asymmetric dresses and ankle-grazing hemlines were perhaps her greatest representation of women to date. It provided them with sequin-embroidered shimmering options but also pared back prints in parkas and structured jackets replete with a frisson of excitement. 
There was a brilliant flashback to one of her first collections, Spring 2011, when she presented the memorable lampshade dresses and skirts. They reappeared here, with crinoline hips and cinched waists. There was confidence in this self-reflection; it displayed her architectural prowess, after all, she is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design in the subject. There were other pieces which reminded one of her cosmic exploration of Spring 2016 and the surface decoration explosion of the season previous. It was where the clothes were most successful, with Ms. Katrantzou expressing herself in familiar terms. She also conjured a faux-leather bomber jacket which resembled a tufted sofa.

The show closed with The Cranberries ‘Just My Imagination’, an honourable homage to the late Dolores O’Riordan.

Mary Katrantzou’s imagination is boundless, and she continues to prove it.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Marc Jacobs // Fall 2018 //

The beleaguered fashion press had to suffer through a week of pointless fashion shows (with a few exceptions to the statement) in New York before they got to the bread and butter of their visit to the American city. Calvin Klein and Marc Jacobs were undoubtedly the best of New York Fashion Week, not that it took much for them to claim such titles. 

Plunged into darkness at the Park Avenue Armory, the week ended the way it began: with 80s excess. Tom Ford’s outing at the beginning of the week was marked by the vulgarity of the epoch, through his usual sexed up, bejewelled lens. For Mr. Jacobs it was tapping into his love of dramatic, the spectacle of fashion.
There was bit of Comme des Garçons but mainly Emanuel Ungaro, Claude Montana, Thierry Mugler, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Lacroix. What fashion loves most about references like these is they represent a period when fashion was about fashion, not just commerce and social media. Creativity was valued more then and hearing stories about times like that is a harbinger of doubt—will fashion ever be like that again? Few are honest in their homages anyway but Marc Jacobs loves fashion, so these names come as no surprise. (Something similar happened at Vaquera, where fashion fanaticism was presented in shirts with illustrations of Miguel Adrover, Andre Walker, Vivienne Westwood and Martin Margiela.)
Rosettes were enlarged; coat proportions were wildly disproportionate to bodies and it reminded one of the mordant commentary Thom Browne ran on the fascination with extreme proportions. Of course, at Marc Jacobs it’s more about normcore rather than a theatrical takedown of thoughtlessness in the industry. It has to be in this time, based on the fact his business isn’t performing as well as it once was, as a reliable cash cow for LVMH. Despite all the noise surrounding the business side of things hasn’t inhibited him from flexing his creative muscle. Case in point: this season. Broad shoulders, cinched waists, big hips, skin-tight, skin-repelling, explosions of fabrics. Magenta, sapphire, citrus, emerald, teal, charcoal. It was excessive and it was delicious.

There’s something about the theme of excess can inspire disgust, as it did at the perversely glamorous Tom Ford. But at Marc Jacobs he makes it so recognisably glamorous and unavoidably fabulous, you can’t help but relish in the extravagance of everything. It also expressly reflects the times, the Trumpian turmoil plaguing the sociopolitical realm, which is rather depressing. But ultimately what New York Fashion Week has tried to convey, Marc Jacobs among them, that it’s okay to look pretty when you cry. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

On Creating Experiences at NFYFW // Fall 2018 //

Three seasons in at Calvin Klein and Raf Simons has already crowned himself the King of New York. Along with his menswear show last week, his enduring legacy and savvy merchandising skills make him one of the best designers on-schedule, in a season when most have decamped to Paris and there are more to follow. His invitation was a bag of popcorn, emblazoned with a series of Andy Warhol prints and the words “More and More and More.” The set at the American Stock Exchange was filled with popcorn, the place smelled like salt, but it inconveniently clung to guests’ shoes.

Was he talking about people in the digital age and overexposing our lives on social media? Was he talking about mass-consumption and needless production of stuff? There’s always a sense of irony when designers tackle consumerism. Ultimately, a conglomerate like Calvin Klein is a offender in producing an excess of product. They are part of the problem. However, to offer a worthwhile stance on the subject a designer must create something worth keeping and a proposition for that is to critique the times, create a time capsule which can become as timeless as modern art. 

Once again there were Andy Warhol references. The barn from the Spring 2018 was reconstructed alongside scaffolding and Sterling Ruby sculpture and printed on the wall was a mural of one of his prints, of former European editor of Vanity Fair, Sandra Brant. The Andy Warhol Foundation’s partnership with the Calvin Klein brand (which extends through 2020, according to WWD) is a testament to Mr. Simons’ desire to load his collections with references to Americana that are unmissable but maybe not the ones you’d expect. Last season it plumbed from the Deaths and Disaster series. It wasn’t Marilyn, the way Versace did it. Or Emperor Mao. The familiarity yet obscurity of his references are what continue to draw audiences. The lesser-known works also continue the Belgian designer’s interest in the beauty and horror of America and its relevance now.

There were contrasts between the urban and pastoral territories in the show. Hazmat suits you’d expect to see on city garbage truck workers became fashionable, diluting their industrial nature into something surprisingly wearable. It fed into the bucolic leanings with a prairie-inspired lien up. There were light gown which conveyed both his dressmaking prowess but also the idea of prairie madness, the solitary lifestyles women would have led. The Western-inspired portions were softened—the colours were lighter than in the past and it continued to tow the line between masculinity and femininity.

It was a cinematic experience, in its approach to product development too not just the elaborate mise-en-scènes, and the the final instalment in what he’s calling a trilogy. Navigating the slalom of repetitious design, Mr. Simons enthralled his audience and had them wanting More and More and More.
Stuart Vevers continues to mine Americana references for his Coach 1941 collections. There was something darkly wonderful about this as he wished to bestow upon his models a sepulchral look, and witchy undertones ran through the looks. It was informed by American gothic. Americana contains such a diverse pool of potential… ultimately, it is what you make of it. For Vevers, it’s about romanticising the tropes in order to make them feel relevant for the Coach 1941 customer—it was a brand which was previously known for its omnipresence at outlet malls but Vevers, with the endorsement of Selena Gomez, has managed to revive the it, skilfully translating it to the present day, even if his romance is strikingly outdated.

One saw a comment on The Fashion Spot forums which described him as “the Alessandro Michele of New York—he doesn't need to to pull any stunts to sell clothes.” It’s true: Vevers narration, his woodland scene is about forwarding the aesthetic, while partly creating a social media moment. However, it’s not the focus. His faux furs and leathers are. The way he subtly changes them season upon season, shifting them to fit the theme—the midwest prairie, the the glitz and grit of 1970s New York, skate and surf culture—is pleasant to watch. It may not be exciting, but neither is Gucci anymore; it’s a lifestyle, but at least there’s the backdrop in which its situated. However, the full-scale immersion of Raf’s Calvin is what people after. Something to write home about.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

New York: Five Days Down, Two More to Go // Fall 2018 //

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have never been ones for obscenely large presentations for their brand The Row, a repository for fuss-free, minimalist-based fashion for the professional woman who is ready to fork out thousands for luxurious basics. In fact, they’re quite a reticent duo. After exposure to the spotlight as child actors, they have successfully stepped away from it, allowing their fashion endeavours to assume importance. Their Fall 2018 show on Monday morning was about serenity and movement. Their clothing, polished and elegant as always, with a few monastic twists here and there, was juxtaposed with the biomorphist sculpture of Japanese artist Isamu Noguchi, whose work dotted the runway.

There’s something brilliantly casual about The Row’s presentations. Sometimes they take place in the brand’s New York store on the Upper East Side, they’ve done breakfast at The Carlyle, there was the season they sat on the floor and watched the show amongst guests. The level of intimacy perfectly matches their work—it’s beautiful, simply. It’s not trying too hard. It doesn’t chase social media impressions. It doesn’t want to engage with the fashion circus. Those who love it—and can afford it—love it and that’s that. Something like that has the ability to transcend the ephemerality of fashion and it’s why, without resorting to soberingly dull minimalist design, they are some of the best designers out there.

It contrasted with the cringe cartoon that was Ralph Lauren, a couple hours later. Transforming the set into a cruise ship, presumably destined for the French Riviera, the brand delivered a broad range of looks for the jet set who decamp the subzero temperatures of North America for the Mediterranean, bathed in the winter sun and comfortable climate. Most of it was familiar, trite. He put a spin on his signature double-denim look, favouring an acid wash look. His menswear was less rigid, a positive change from the formality of his Purple Label which presents in Milan during men’s fashion week. There was a nice flapper dress in an ice blue, modelled by Bella Hadid. The evening gowns weren’t up to scratch but Yasmin Wijnaldum bestowed upon the audience with a gorgeous pleated gown in a variety of colours. It was a simple-minded affair that could’ve used more streamlining.
Derek Lam honours the codes of American fashion and perhaps occupies the same place Ralph Lauren did. His outing was marked by pure lines, familiar fabrics and a sporty spirit. It doesn’t get more classic than ink blue jeans with an striped navy turtleneck, a big handbag thrown over the shoulder and black boots, one of the first looks out

The ensuing collection featured trousers with side stripes that were on-trend, but not revolutionary—they’ve been done to death by high-street retailers as a jaunt to Zara will tell you. However, the exposed seams running down the front of the pant felt more innovative and aesthetically pleasing. Likewise, the square shoulders of his coats hewed close to Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga collections but his quilted jackets and skirts held much more interest. He didn’t strike gold with those ghastly yellow trousers which resembled MC Hammer in the 1990s, but he hit the mark sharply-tailored houndstooth suiting and pinstriped overcoats. 

The latter half of the collection became decidedly muddled. T-shirts and skirts were featured horse insets and some of them had a sheer overlay; the silhouettes became more supple but serenity was supplanted by sloppiness. There was a weird Native American-inspired segment that lasted two looks and at the very end there was a slew of ill-fitting gowns. His message was uncharacteristically unclear. 
Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia finally found a way to express themselves through the house codes at Oscar de la Renta. How so? They adhered to them. After butchering Spring 2018, their Fall 2018 was far more accomplished, polished and relevant. Having spent countless years in the studio there it appeared the duo had finally made use of their time spent with the late Mr. de la Renta and made a fine attempt at modernising his oeuvre without tarnishing it or making it oppressively young and jettisoning the woman—a luncheon-bound upper class woman with charity fundraisers and boardroom meetings on her schedule.

Infusing their shirting prowess, from their own label Monse, with Oscar isn’t a worthwhile move. Trousers: yes, they’re functional and appropriate. Men’s shirting: no, it’s at odds with the brand’s core values. These things can’t be bluffed. There were parts when the trousers didn’t fit the description either. Sure, they add variety but they look seriously out of step with the identity of Oscar de la Renta. As for those cocktail dresses, with embossed floral patterns, shimmering sequins on swirling designs, or those embroidered wool sweaters and jackets, those were examples of a house’s codes interpreted and reworked contemporarily, with exceptional craftsmanship. 

Towards the end there were ball gowns. The late Mr. de la Renta was a purveyor of those. The best one here was the most modern, it had a voluminous train, the fabrication was so light that it almost caught flight with the model’s every step. It had drama to be suited to the brand but enough lightness to be considered modern. 

New York: five days down, two more to go.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The World is Doomed, We Might as Well Look Great // Fall 2018 //

“One could not help but think: This is it. The ice caps have melted. Winter is finished. We are doomed. But at least we will go down looking lovely,” wrote Robin Givhan in yesterday’s Washington Post. It captures the season astutely, doesn’t it? The politically disengaged are presenting pretty clothes at New York Fashion. A lot of it doesn’t mean much but at least it’s got a glamorous veneer. 

Victoria Beckham was first up on Sunday morning at the James Burden Mansion with an intimate presentation that conjured up memories of her first presentations, ten years ago. (She will show at London Fashion Week for Spring 2019 to celebrate.) Ms. Beckham’s work has always been heavily inspired by what Phoebe Philo was doing at Céline; there were striking similarities, with the brand being the New York equivalent, presenting clothes that were virtually the same in different fabrics. Until now, this has just been an aspect to her collections that is acknowledged—it’s never been detrimental. However, in the post-Philo world, Victoria Beckham could perhaps divert the Céline customer, draw her with her range of intuitive womenswear, responsive to the needs of the working woman—perfunctory clothing that isn’t led by solely by aesthetics. It’s a possibility, what with Hedi Slimane’s imminence, after all he is fashion’s favourite disrupter.

For an audience of 70, she presented a tightly-edited modern collection which bore militaristic flairs,  and a tactile practicality; it was evident she is sensitive to the role of women in society, their busy lives. There were dresses and day coats (one came in an exquisite leopard print, in chenille jacquard), trousers and even hoodies, all rendered in rich wintery hues. Albeit awfully referential in parts, Victoria Beckham’s best decision was separating from the socialite set and designing for working women. It gives the clothes credibility, while also looking good.
Sies Marjan’s Sander Lak took over a disused floor at the Hotel Pennsylvania on Sunday afternoon. The industry has met the ex-Dries van Noten studio designer’s arrival with fervour, a rarity nowadays. He stylishly narrates with colour and proportion, the process of creating his collections beginning with the former. It’s never quite conventional though—they’re always shades like saffron, the dusty rose of your grandmother’s coveted lipstick, a faded ink blue. His proportions similarly aren’t typical. The way he works with drapery is fascinating: adding folds and knots hither and tither but ultimately arriving at something complexly fashionable and beautiful.

He isn’t one for po-faced, lofty and esoteric inspirations, rather he prefers exploring the emotional response colours can elicit. These were evocative clothes which touched on his own personal anguish of late, channelling his intense dreams—not nightmares—into ombré gowns, where colours bleed into one another. In parts the colours were washed out, colourful yet clinical (case in point: the PVC coat in an iridescent washed-out rose) or violent (the blending of navy and a mauve, scarlet and charcoal). Like John Galliano did at Maison Margiela recently at haute couture, certain outfits were brought to life with a flash camera—Mr. Lak spoke backstage about couture sensibilities and bringing that to his design.

Where both designers succeeded yesterday was in their aversion to explicit politics. They each reflected the times in different ways, both using the clothes as a vessel for self-expression. For Victoria Beckham it was about the life of the working woman, the necessities of pockets and big handbags, kitten heels and trousers, transferrable outfits; for Sies Marjan, Sander Lak conveyed self-reflection through his use of colour and his generous silhouettes, which had an insouciant slouchiness. Common to both of them is their European status and, generally, a greater perception of romanticised commercialism, rather than lifeless product.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

In New York, the Imitation Game // Fall 2018 //

One of the most fashionable trends right now, it seems, is imitation. Copying, pastiching, bastardising—choose your words wisely. In the digital age, Instagram accounts like @DietPrada reprimands designers who sample others’ work, getting away with imitating others work is increasingly difficult. Nothing could be more shameful or damning than having ones plagiaristic tendencies displayed on the omnipotent social media.

As New York Fashion Week kicked off Tom Ford’s lime leopard print suits was compared to Bottega Veneta from 2001, Cinq-À-Sept was flagged for its Tom Ford for Gucci and Alessandro Michele for Gucci resemblances. Clothes at R13 on Saturday morning were redolent of Demna Gvasalia’s recent Balenciaga outing, which subscribes to the school of thought that the last season’s Paris Fashion Week inspires next season’s New York.

Eckhaus Latta operates in the post-Margiela sphere, it is an artful response to the shifting landscape of gender identity and it has risen to become one of the most sought after show at New York Fashion Week. With decampments from Proenza Schouler, Rodarte and more to Paris, Eckhaus Latta’s time has come to prove themselves as a life-force on New York’s less-crowded schedule. For Fall 2018, yesterday afternoon in Brooklyn. They filled their industrial warehouse show space with colourful, deconstructed knitwear which proposed it creatively. 

Having opened a store in Los Angeles last summer, integral to the brand’s growth is producing clothing that can sell. They’ve always been good at that, with unfamiliar sharps that weirdly work. A double-breasted dove grey blazer was worn as a dress, diaphanous layers of organza were pleasantly ethereal; the softness of the opening of the collection fed into warmly-coloured procession. Their boiled wool coats with dramatic lapels or turquoise accents were brilliant. Their vision of femininity and masculinity isn’t defined by the same preconceived notions that dominate runways—it isn’t clear cut and their homage to the fringes of society, despite their size, will always be honest with its uncontrived peculiarities. By the end of it you released a fulfilled sigh, the clothes were good, they had feeling and they looked refreshingly new. 
Alexander Wang took over the former Conde Nast offices at 4 Times Square, where the guests were situated in an AWG (Alexander Wang Gang) office setting, in and amongst cubicles. Xander Zhou did the same thing at London Fashion Week Men’s last summer. (This marks Wang’s last outing in New York for some time as he opts to switch to the June/December model, which is a more “consumer-focused” venture according to the CFDA. Time will tell how successful that is.)

The idea of the setting undoubtedly derives from the Vetements-instigated post-ironic realism, filtering the clothes through a heightened normality lens. He sexualised corporate with nods to sci-fi mysticism and Anthony Vaccarello, who also purveys similar territory—abbreviated dresses with zipper accents. Thematically, he was striving to conceptualise the modern working woman negotiating the concrete jungle and corporate ladder but empowerment and strength was sullied by those disempowering heels which models struggled to walk in. 

In 2009, Wang presented a boho-rock for the Erin Wasson generation. Nowadays he’s far more interested in the Insta-set than he is the original It-girls. With that shift to a social media driven experience, levels of authenticity have diminished greatly. Chicness is no longer a priority, it’s an afterthought—now the focus is on shaping an impenetrable femininity consisting of party dresses and pointed shoulders. It’s not appealing anymore. Worse still, it’s boring and predictable. 
After Wang, guests made their way to Pyer Moss. Generally one of the more authentically political fashion brands on the official schedule, founder Kerby Jean-Raymond centred his collection on repositioning “the story of the American cowboy, which was rewritten and whitewashed. But the original cowboy was a black man.” These clothes are a New York goldmine for subversively subtle, politically-charged garments and one of the few person-of-colour perspectives going. 

There was strong deconstructed outerwear which paid homage to the tropes of Western styles in fashion. One may point out similarities between this and Raf Simons’ recent rendition of the American West at Calvin Klein. Both took a similar angle—reflecting the marginalised subcultures of the vast nation, but Jean-Raymond’s outing took a more vocal political stance, challenging the perception of the American West’s interactions with both race and identity, as opposed to just identity at Calvin. Undoubtedly there were streetwear riffs with the 90s-inspired pooling denim, but an inherent glamour was embedded in those silky Grecian gowns in marigold and merlot. It teetered along the lines between nostalgic and forward-thinking.

It’s sobering, really, the idea that being oneself isn’t as fashionable as it used to be.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

An Introduction to NYFW // Fall 2018 //

New York Fashion Week is upon us and the fashion landscape has officially faced a seismic shift. Alleged perpetrators of sexual misconduct have been banished by publications (finally!); the tolerance of transphobia, homophobia, despite a person’s pedigree, has diminished to the verge of nonexistence (finally!); laws surrounding model welfare are now clearly defined (finally!). As always, the industry has taken a long time to come around to these changes, however given the sheer size of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements last year, it was clear the sentiment had finally hit home with the industry kingpins. 

The industry could also possibly be undergoing structural change in the future: The Council of Fashion Designers America, fronted by Steven Kolb, organised a report which revealed “a small group of designers came together at the CFDA to discuss shifting their shows to June and December and combining their main collections with pre-collections” in a profit-maximising effort that would benefit both the consumers and designers. Alexander Wang is expected to be amongst those partaking, as the designer will officially pull out of New York Fashion Week after his show on Saturday night. 
Meanwhile, the womenswear shows began on Wednesday evening. The recently christened New York Fashion Week Men’s was clipped onto the week this season, given its neither-here-nor-there placement between the European men’s shows and the womenswear schedule. Raf Simons was one of the few worth talking about. His show was about the cultural fetishisation of narcotics with proceeds of the collection going to drug addiction recovery centres. Inspired by Christiane F, Cookie Mueller and Glenn O’Brien’s play, his show was rave-tinged and evidenced a keen eye for merchandising as always; it disseminated subcultural ideas and steered clear of glorifying drugs. (Elsewhere, there were stilts at Laur; an attendee indulging in a joint at Death to Tennis; a model shaving their head at Landlord—none of these antics are even worth blabbing on about: they’re passé, one barely cares enough to give them the time of day.)

What better way to reflect these times of mass-consumption, narcissism and decadence than with 80s excess. Who better to opine on the subject than two of vaunted American contemporary fashion designers, Tom Ford and Jeremy Scott. Mr. Ford’s angle was all about 80s exuberance, a bedazzled  paean to the elite of Beverly Hills with ample sex appeal. Leopard print was encrusted, in shades of crimson, lime and chartreuse. Shoulders were pointed, trousers were skinny; sleeves were inflated and handbags were emblazoned with embellished ‘Pussy Power’ slogans. His show evidenced the power of defaulting, playing to ones strengths, creating familiarly fabulous clothes for fabulous Rodeo-destined women. Whereas Jeremy Scott took a more kitsch angle, delivering his club culture-inspired outfits with cropped candy-coloured bobs. Velour tracksuits, trompe l’œil two-pieces and sequin dresses stood out in his campy défile. Both shows also examined the power of punchy, unabashed femininity, something that felt especially pertinent in the #TimesUp era.
Tomas Maier brought Bottega Veneta from Milan to New York this season for a one-off decampment to acknowledge the opening of their flagship store on Madison Avenue—the brand transformed three 19th-century townhouses, ensconcing their luxurious dealings in a 15,000-square-foot outpost. Bottega Veneta is the pinnacle of old-world luxury and the theme of excess reappeared again—although it is a prerequisite at Bottega Veneta. With all those silk pyjamas, animal print coats and velvet evening gowns, one wondered would First Lady Melania Trump select something, to extend her dissemination of decadence, an insight into her life as a member of the upper class.

WASPy chic is what many New York designers specialise in. The old guard—Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta, Ralph Lauren—are all welcoming new creative directors, and also among the new guard are the entrepreneurial upstarts which have become mainstays and marquee names of the week. Jason Wu has been in business for over ten years and his business now includes eyewear, fragrance, accessories and a diffusion line. He is favoured by Michelle Obama and Hollywood actresses. However his collections no longer pack the same punch they did years ago, they’re confused and lack a discernible point of view. One thing that became strikingly clear is his vacillation between a mature set and the millennial—who is he trying to appeal to? His indecision of late has been his detriment. Furthermore, there is the husband-wife duo at Brock Collection carving a place for cinematic romanticism. Their work was darker, sexier than usual but it undoubtedly referenced Erdem, Alexander McQueen and Oscar de la Renta too much.

Concluding the day was Becca McCharen-Tran’s Chromat. Fashion’s view of women isn’t progressive at times—it objectifies them, it reduces them to a hanger on which clothing is presented, or worse still, forces them to conform to strict perceptions of beauty. However, at Chromat women of every size, colour and gender identity walk. Specialising, but not limiting herself, to swimwear has allowed McCharen-Tran to become the face of a new generation of no-bullshit female empowerment. It isn’t contrived—it’s honest and meaningful, and in a time of revolt, a body positive explosion of colour and energy can achieve more in ten minutes than a flowery press release and mediocre clothing could ever imagine.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Hillier Bartley // Spring 2018 //

On a newsstand near you, you’ll likely be confronted with the arresting profile of Edie Campbell, photographed by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott on the cover of the biannual magazine Love, her celestial blue eyes and dirty blonde hair complemented by a lilac blazer and manila-hued shirt. 

Her outfit is courtesy of Hillier Bartley, the London design house—the brainchild of Luella Bartley and Katie Hillier—that is oft-overlooked for its refusal to present on the traditional fashion schedule. Generally, they photograph a lookbook, take showroom appointments with press and buyers during Paris Fashion Week.

Luella Bartley brings the design kudos. She ran the successful brand Luella, which showed at London Fashion Week until 2009 when it shuttered due to the closure of its Italian production house. Katie Hillier is a akin to a covert accessories operative, consulting with leading brands such as Asprey, Mulberry, Victoria Beckham. Their collective forces reenergised the Marc by Marc Jacobs where Ms. Bartley and Ms. Hillier were electrifying the staid commerciality of American fashion with confident, convincing clothing geared towards millennials, who could actually fathom the relatively accessible price points. They subsequently forced to resign from their positions when Mr. Jacobs consolidated the diffusion line with his mainline in an effort to remedy ailing profits.

Both women are vaunted members of the fashion industry, therefore there method of presentation isn’t all that surprising. Press and buyers are already familiar with them and their decades-long careers, their stints at luxury conglomerates and their contribution to the industry as a whole.

Their vision of women is inherently British, with their clothing infused with lashings of subcultural movements—New Romanticism, glam rock, Northern soul—and also the fashion culture of England, its diversity—aristocracy contrasting with streetwear. Furthermore, the interplay between masculinity and femininity injects a further degree of intrigue into the multi-faceted label. (There Instagram reflects their mix of inspirations: you’ll find Queen Elizabeth II, Dame Vivienne Westwood, Phoebe Philo, Sarah Lucas—they are all arguably feminist icons in their own right.)

Fall 2018 brought generous, supple cuts which lighten the stiff Saville Row tailoring present in previous seasons. Production has now been shifted to Italy to achieve a softer, more feminine touch to the clothes. Much of it is refined, sophisticated, and soigné—then comes the glam rock: magenta trousers! and the New Romanticism: a pussy-bow blouse, printed trousers and a contrasting crimson tassel around the waist! 

Some of the finest pieces were the simplest, the understated ones which boast a longevity, an effect contemporary fashion often fails to achieve. A sandy, ribbed-knit turtleneck sweater was sumptuously cut, bearing the flag for the minimalist movement. Similarly, a statement scarlet suit jacket with pointed lapels portrayed a polished, powerful vision of a woman. It balanced modernity and timelessness with aplomb. 

On a street near you, sometime soon, you’ll see women wear the same lilac blazer that Ms. Campbell wears on the cover of Love. Or perhaps it’ll be another of their quirky concoctions. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Berluti // Fall 2018 //

Haider Ackermann’s arrival at Berluti truly renewed the brand’s relevance in the twenty-first century. His predecessor—Alessandro Sartori is now at Ermenegildo Zegna—failed to generate the same traction among the press. However, Mr. Ackermann’s command for colouration and silhouette has thrilled and delighted for all its subtleties and its honest, unabashed minimalism, its aversion to using social media moments to win followers and its refusal to pander to millennials in the same way other brands have. It is conscious most young people can’t afford $2,000 leather jackets and the like. 

The show space at the Galerie sud-est at the Grand Palais was entirely pink velvet, a subtle shade of cherry blossom no less, conveying an erotic sensuality but also a softness—similar contrasts are present in Mr. Ackermann’s tactile work.

His work, even at his eponymous label, isn’t so much about these worldly inspirations from the art world or music rather it is about how the personality of the wear embeds itself in the clothing, how clothing can be imparted with emotion which, of course, distinguishes it from being mere fodder. But it doesn’t require farfetched design to portray these ideas.
Serenity is what Mr. Ackermann is here to disseminate. His output for Fall 2018, like before, heavily insisted upon catering to the man who doesn’t need fuss in his life, he isn’t interested in the noise surrounding fashion but his wish is to present himself in a fashionable manner. The first look out was a butterscotch leather coat and matching trousers. Simplicity in shades that slightly differ from the norm is the meat and potatoes of his iteration of Berluti. There was a shade of blue which reminded one of a frosty morning, when chilliness is almost implied by the sky’s appearance, and a purple which was somewhere between a mauve and a violet. These block colours appear on weather-appropriate jackets, cashmere turtlenecks and tapered trousers. One can tell a story with colour. Rich emeralds and deep amethyst hues were deployed, once again, emanating a delectable richness. Dusty pinks were utterly sensuous—the foundation of Mr. Ackermann’s oeuvre.  

Minimalism is never quite as evocative as it is in the hands of Mr. Ackermann who is unquestionably imbuing a level of emotion that has been removed from minimalist design in recent years. There are many designers—Margaret Howell namely amongst them—who are brilliant designers of quiet, respectable clothing. Few—Margaret Howell chiefly amongst them—have the ability to present different visions of the theme. For Fall, Mr. Ackermann is exploring romanticism, strength and independence. It is truly fascinating to watch unfold. Coupled with his powerful, potent prismatic poetry, Berluti is arguably one of the finest examples of modern menswear on the fashion calendar today.