Sunday, September 30, 2018

Fashion That Makes You Feel at Comme des Garçons, Junya Watanabe, Noir Kei Ninomiya

Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons seemingly revels in the other. She doesn’t have time for fashion as we have come to know it. In her world, trends don’t exist. 

Unpacking a Comme des Garçons doesn’t require a master’s degree in fashion journalism but an acute awareness of what’s going on in the world and a vague insight into the mind of one of fashion’s most unpredictable designers. But this season things weren’t as loaded with abstract forms and obscure inspirations, it was a deeply personal exploration.

She failed on her search to find what is new, she said. Her exploration, her self-proposed challenge resulted in a show that skewered motherhood, birth, rebirth, (enslavement?), themes which provided for yet another visceral experience. 

What first appeared to be the revival of clothing—there were signs of coats, jackets, trousers, and dresses—was turned on its head when one caught a glimpse of the pregnant silhouettes, lacerated at the waist, revealing CDG logos and newspaper prints. Lumps and bumps erupted from hither and thither in, what looked like, a comment on female physicality and a reconciliation with imperfection which felt like a self-reflection, back to Spring 1997 when she presented her ‘Lumps and Bumps’ collection which also abstracted the female form. 

The quiet soundtrack permitted the sound of chains, dangling from one model’s dress, and others’ Nike trainers, to fill the space with a sense of unease. The obvious connotations are enslavement. But as the model dragged them with every glacially-paced step it looked like redemption was on the mind, not imprisonment. It could symbolise where the women’s rights movement is: slowly but surely unshackling themselves from years of engendered inequality, reclaiming agency in the face of adversity but still facing the reality of slow progress. 

Maybe it wasn’t that at all. Maybe it was about Kawakubo’s own creativity, her difficulties with presenting something that enthrals, stuns, and excites the fashion press, and inevitably, the end customer. But as she meditated on the female form with conceptual silhouettes and chain accents, one couldn’t help but consider a wider cultural relevance following a week of sexual assault survivors speaking out and a complex hearing surrounding a Supreme Court nominee and alleged sexual misconduct. 

Junya Watanabe and Kei Ninomiya are two other Japanese designers under the Comme des Garçons umbrella. The Japanese company has stakes in both businesses. Unlike Kawakubo, they struck happier notes in their work but they were nevertheless emotional.

Watanabe’s ebullient, Queen-soundtracked homage to the 1980s was a modern retelling of the epoch with upcycled denim and tulle. The patchwork of denim dresses and upcycled gowns straddled youth culture and couture sensibilities. One of Watanabe’s greatest passions is street culture, it’s a reference he frequently calls on and it emanates in his work. Everything was put with platform sneakers. There was something mesmerising about the way he contrasted the durability of denim with the dreaminess of couture and the rebellious neon wigs and accompanying tattoo sleeves. 

Noir, Kei Ninomiya’s label, was utterly compelling in its approach to finding beauty in structure and silhouette. Clouds of cotton adorned the models’ heads, dispersing tufts like a dandelion in the springtime breeze. 

Through the use of his invariable palette of black, he addressed the interplay of masculinity and femininity with ethereal dresses in tulle and jersey with leather biker jackets and men’s tailoring. One stood out in particular, a pleated dress was layered over a white shirt with a black skinny tie and black trousers. Despite the omnipotence of black, he rarely missteps when it comes to finding new ways to express himself.

Kei Ninomiya’s beginnings were at Comme des Garçons as a patternmaker. It explains his penchant for the colour black—something Kawakubo is also drawn to in her work—and his masterful ability to invent new structural bodies (see the plastic, feather-accented cages) and perfect existing ones (refer to his immaculate tailoring).

Ninomiya’s brand of romantic punk and historicism lends itself to the kind of fashion that doesn’t have to bear a deeper meaning to have a profound impact. Sometimes, with few words, designers can achieve much more than those who stuff their runways with context. It works and sublimity doesn’t need justification. 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Hedi Slimane's Céline is 100% Hedi Slimane

When LVMH announced Hedi Slimane as the artistic, creative and image director of Celine in January 2018, there was a collective gasp from the fashion industry.

Firstly, they were surprised to hear fashion’s dark prince, one of the most polarising figures in decades, would be returning to the industry following a two-year hiatus following his exit from Saint Laurent. Secondly, they were shocked that LVMH would appoint Slimane, whose rock-chic, skinny tailoring aesthetic is the antithesis of his predecessor’s, the British designer Phoebe Philo. What would become of the house that, in its modern iteration, lobbied for women on all fronts—she brought them sublime clothing which made them feel like acknowledged as self-assured adults. It was fashion sorbet: palatable, subtle, and delightful.

The answer to the all-important question—what will it look like?—was revealed last night in a purpose-built black box facing Les Invalides.

(The first glimpses of his house were unveiled earlier this month when he removed the accent over the ‘e’ in Céline, making it Celine. He did the same the same at Saint Laurent when he dropped the Yves for the ready-to-wear. If anything, that’s a testament to his influence as a designer. The following promotional campaign of white teenage girls 

Slimane modelled the house in his own likeness, of course. Members of the industry flocked to Twitter to vent their frustration at his casting (almost all white and under-20), and the distinct resemblance to his Saint Laurent. It earned titles such as “narcissistic,” “belligerent,” “offensive,” and “ignorant.” 

But, when confronted with a collection like this, we must ask: are we surprised?  

The answer should be ‘no.’ Slimane is a self-aware designer. He understands he holds power, enough of it to shift the meaning of fashion and the meaning of a fashion house. At Dior Homme in the early 2000s, he championed skinny-tailoring which has since pervaded contemporary culture dress codes. At Saint Laurent, he reignited that flame and sent high street retailers into a 1970s-tinged rabbit hole. The designer who replaced him there, Anthony Vaccarello, is still pushing similar shtick, albeit with more sex appeal. 

Now, at Celine, it appears he’s still targeting that same market and the same image. Youthful, skinny, white. The ‘idealised’ vision of fashion that looks awfully dated in the context of now.

The Parisian reflected on nights spent in Les Bains-Douches and Le Palace, two Paris nightclubs. The clothes were an homage to “young modern people.” It echoed the same narratives he explored a mere four years ago. But the world has tilted on its axis since then. And so has fashion.

The fashion world is interested in point-of-view. Critics readily bemoan the absence of a discernible perspective in collections. There is no denying Slimane possesses a singular vision. When things become self-absorbed, unwavering, and unshakable, then there is a problem. Not only does it situate the fashion in a particular era but it places the designer in the same context. Baby-doll dresses styled with cropped blazers, bold-shouldered 80s silhouettes, sequinned mini dresses, and biker jackets, have had their moment and it has at long last passed.

It is objectifying to replace the female gaze with the male gaze, sumptuous tailoring with micro-minis, comfort-first fashion with uncomfortably revealing fashion. Quite simply, it’s out of touch. 

There was menswear too, the first of its kind for Celine. (His first couture presentation will follow in January.) Like the womenswear, it also bore the same image as his Dior and Saint Laurent days: a fetishisation of skinny, (mostly) white men in tailoring and biker jackets. They didn’t look like visions of how men want to dress, rather visions of how Hedi Slimane wants men to dress. They were victims of idealised fashion clad in ankle-grazing trousers, leather jackets, skinny ties, and buttoned-up shirts. Given its accessibility, forensic attention-to-detail, and excellent tailoring, it’s the kind of stuff you could still see men queueing around the street for. 

Slimane is a merchandiser at heart, he knows how to push product. He tripled revenues at Saint Laurent and LVMH’s Sidney Toledano, chairman of LVMH’s fashion division, expects him to pull off the same feat at Celine. It will take a year or two before that information materialises.  

Slimane, who faced immediate backlash, is known for banning the critics who have offered scathing comments on his work from the show. Judging by the deluge of bad press he’s receiving in the aftermath of his debut, maybe he can’t ban everyone. Or maybe he can. After all, he’ll probably need to make room for the legions of buyers that will be knocking on his door. If they don't, then we'll know his moment has passed.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Power Plays in Paris During the Supreme Court Hearings

As Christine Blasey Ford testified against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in Washington D.C., recounting the details of her alleged sexual assault, the fourth day of the spring collections were taking place in Paris. It never fails to feel out of touch to perch oneself in the front row and watch models swan past bedecked in next season’s stuff in times of socio-political tension. But the show must go on as inappropriate as it seems.
Dries van Noten Photo Credit: Vogue Runway
On Tuesday, it was Belgian designer Dries van Noten’s turn. Van Noten, whose label was recently acquired by fashion and fragrance business Puig for an undisclosed sum, exhibited the freeing results of unbridled creativity in the wake of joining a luxury conglomerate. I interviewed Patrick Scallon for the other day, he was emphatic about defining the acquisition as a “strategic alliance.” The Puig acquisition is more of a collaboration, Scallon explained. It produced optimistic, coherent results for Van Noten who conflated athletic, workwear, and couture styles for the season ahead. 

This wasn’t couture, these were clothes. These weren’t just any clothes, though. They were soulfully bright, effervescent, and optimistic. Few compare and when you consider what’s going on right now in the realm of socio-politics, it takes someone like Van Noten to honour women with his tactile poetry and devotion to exploring fashion. 
Chloé Photo Credit: Vogue Runway
At Chloé, Natacha Ramsay-Levi played it safe with an escapist attitude. She was thinking about Ibiza and Mykonos, Capri or the Balearics. Wheresoever the Chloé girl winds up she’ll be equipped with a myriad of summery options ranging from sunset-hued t-shirts with a feminist sign, fringed skirts, and paisley trousers. She threw some denim and light knitwear into the mix which was utterly gorgeous. Ramsay-Levi’s off to a good start at Chloé. She’s a talented woman with a flair for designing for their lives, but also according to the house codes: a bohemian spirit with a dash of sophistication. 

It’s collections like Chloé, despite their aesthetic value, that makes you scratch your head or release a sigh of relief. They bring to question the frivolity of fashion at a time when a woman is sitting in a hearing, recounting her side of the story, as the world watches on and judges. 

It’s collections like these that point to the subjectivity of fashion: you either value the escapism or you cast it aside, wishing someone would bother to reflect the times, offer their two cents on the world and how the women of tomorrow will respond. 
Rick Owens Photo Credit: Vogue Runway
Leave it to Rick Owens to spell a statement so potent it resembles witchcraft, the kind of legal torture inflicted upon the victims rather than the accused, closely resembling the judicial strife taking place in America presently. Owens, an American, had a citadel erected at the Palais de Tokyo which was then torched, burning throughout the dramatic procession.

He was thinking about nihilism, joy, resistance, anger, instinct, words achingly pertinent to the current state of American politics. 

The collection borrowed the same inspiration from the men’s show in June, Tatlin’s Tower, a symbol of modernity but, ultimately, aspirational futurism. The building was planned to commence following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 but it was never realised. 

The clothes, if you want to call them that, were elaborate entities that could be described as ‘warrior insects.’ Much of it recalled the same Russian Constructivist notes that fed into the men’s show in June—harsh lines juxtaposed with curvilinear principles. 

He pieced together segments of leather into mini dresses resembling armour, denim was deconstructed and draped across the body echoing survivalist instincts, and geodesic monuments adorned models’ arms and heads like crowns. It was simply outstanding, the sheer unpredictability of it. Some of it was even wearable. Other parts were totally impractical. But Owens’ women have never been ones to waver to convention and it’s all the better for it.

A torch-bearing woman blazed her own trail, attired in clothing whose aesthetic language belongs entirely to the designer who created it. It was poignant moment thinking about where the path might lead us but you need an authoritative figure, like Owens, and said model bearing a burning branch, to usher us out of a dark period and into brighter days. One hopes it’s a good omen. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Two Different Ideas of Women at YSL and Marine Serre

Are you caught up on the latest news? Michael Kors acquires Versace for 2 billion euros! LVMH is resurrecting Jean Patou, a 20th-century couture house! Hedi Slimane did his first interview at Céline! The fashion industry is a string of appointments, firings, acquisitions, and divestments. It may look creatively-inclined but it’s always got its finger on the pulse of the business. Makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, fashion is about the bottom line.

That’s a cynical way of looking at things. Fashion and its cultural relevance shouldn’t be lost because it holds as much value to the world as the numbers do to the executives at the head of luxury conglomerates. Designers can communicate messages through clothing and on day two of Paris Fashion Week, the shows mostly struck a balance between creativity and commerce. 

Anthony Vaccarello’s Saint Laurent is one of the parent company Kering’s most prized possessions. With over $1 billion in revenue, it’s important to them to sustain the growth Hedi Slimane built during his tenure as the previous artistic director. 

For the third time, Vaccarello spared no expense in summoning guests to the Eiffel Tower for a blockbuster event, a veritable fashion spectacular. Set designers brought Los Angeles to Paris. (He’s really clinging onto Slimane’s legacy.) They erected white palm trees, models walked on water. 

Vaccarello is quite good at reworking pieces from the archive. This time, the strongest notes came from Slimane’s period at the house. Models strut with their hands pocketed in their tapered trousers; slinky mini dresses recalled some of Slimane’s final collections. Of course, he intertwined nods to the house’s founder, taking cues from the 1970s and 1980s. It’s a playful ode to the house’s origins and it makes for a potent fashion statement, a self-assured awareness of the YSL legacy. The Slimane stuff? Also a self-assured awareness of the modern YSL legacy.

On the other hand, Vaccarello’s statement about femininity isn’t as reassuring. He was going for a sort of 1970s sexual liberation narrative but somewhere he got dropped it all and just went for sex. It was scantily-clad, mostly abbreviated hemlines suitable for the leisure class as opposed to corporate professionals, sheer fabrics and leopard print exuding sex appeal. Are pelvis-exposing bodysuits necessary in 2018? A leopard print sarong. Really? 

Integrating women’s basic wardrobe needs-- good trousers, a nice jacket--into a collection isn’t such a foreign concept. There was some superb tailoring, all 1970s-inspired. It evoked a quintessentially French sensibility in terms of styling. All the models were missing was a cigarette dangling from their red-stained pouts and a highball with whiskey. As I said, it’s one for the leisure class.

Vaccarello, with the aid of a twinkling Eiffel Tower and a huge set, encapsulated the wealth and means of the Saint Laurent brand. What he could’ve done with is some intimacy. Money talks but it doesn’t always have to. 

On the contrary, Marine Serre’s ‘Futurewear’ was clever, vibrant, and dynamic. The recipient of the 2017 LVMH Prize elaborated on many of her ruminations, chiefly, elevated utility. There were many military-style pockets on pantsuits! There were more creative splicings of second-hand scarves, this time into couture-like gowns! A fabulous keychain-embroidered overcoat on Helmut Lang-favourite, the 90s model Cordula Reyer! Women of all ages! Families! Different ethnic backgrounds!

Serre is the new kid on the block but she’s done, in two seasons. She reflexively responds to the ever-changing needs of women and she attempts to make their daily lives that bit easier, whether it is in utilitarian tailoring or scarf pattern, Grecian-inspired evening gowns. Her ‘Futurewear’ proclamations were very much rooted in combining utility with couture ideals. Her signature, the crescent moon, which can be read for its religious, spiritual, or aesthetic connotations was emblazoned on denim. A knockout. A meaningful one.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Maria Grazia Chiuri Comes Close at Christian Dior, Jacquemus and Gucci Fall

Maria Grazia Chiuri’s latest outing for Christian Dior took place at Longchamp Racecourse, a hippodrome thirty minutes west of central Paris. It wasn’t a continuation of the pre-season collection she delivered in May at a grand stable in Chantilly, this was an entirely new canon about dance.

(A quote from German dancer Pina Bausch was scribbled on the white tent which held the show. Israeli choreographer Sharon Eyal created a spectacular ballet performance to accompany the show. It was poetic but, ultimately, distracting from the clothes.)

The clothes didn’t quite get there. They were largely uninteresting, replete with obvious balletic influences. They lacked a desirable, discernible bite. She rendered everything in drab neutral tones. The paler the palette got it felt like a cloudy day when the sun was trying to break through. She nearly got there.  The success stories were the Bar jackets updates. Shown in a variety of fabrics, they were styled down, giving Dior that air of accessibility she’s desperately trying to achieve. It was modern, especially styled with that sublime printed denim. Those even looked effortlessly youthful, a far cry from that matronly dourness at the haute couture presentation in July.

Chiuri’s Dior has been marked by inconsistency and a forced desire to spotlight veritable feminist iconoclasts. The references to women in history--notwithstanding their incredible accomplishments and history’s tendency to shadow them in favour of male canons--feel too obvious. She’s slowly fine-tuning the art of subtlety with the clothes. Now it’s time to bring the whole thing together.
Christian Dior Photo Credit: Vogue Runway
Simon Porte Jacquemus, the fashion industry’s darling-of-the-moment, should consider cultivating new territory for himself. Under the afternoon sun, his procession of Riviera-ready chic strut to traditional music in shades of white, navy, cerise and melon. Since childhood, he’s “fantasised about Italy, the Cote d’Azur, the Riviera.” He offered more bike shorts, extra skimpy, perfect for bronzing on a yacht; bikinis and shirt dresses, and ample décolletage.

Jacquemus, who brought you this summer’s oversized sun hat trend, succumbed to the temptation of an Instagram moment with the latest addition to his accessories range: an oversized straw hat beach bag. Expect to see your Instagram feed bombarded with images of it once vacation season commences. 

It read Kardashian Summer Vacation more than the unique blend of sophisticated sexuality he struck gold with back in September 2017. It was a narrow-minded portrayal of women's bodies, forcing them into exclusively impossibly thin categories. 

He's done it before, one has faith he can make us swoon again.

Alessandro Michele’s Gucci is almost comical at this point. What gobbledygook will he come up with this time around? What ‘radical,’ Bowie-esque proposition will he come up with? Will he bedeck men in feathers and sequins or diamonds and fringe? Will women be enshrouded in sheaths of tulle or layers of silk? Are they Cher die-hards or Thatcherites? Is this how you adapt the grandiosity of the 18th century for a contemporary audience? You could ask yourself any of those questions if you quickly scan the Spring 2019 imagery. 

Michele chose Le Palace, a theatre and storied former nightclub in the 9th arrondissement. 

Jane Birkin crooned while Faye Dunaway and other Gucci-clad Micheleites, such as South Korean pop star Kai Jong-in (who attracted hordes of teenage followers outside, waiting impatiently the venue), watched on with feverish anticipation to see the next foppish man, dressed in either 70s-influenced suiting, snakeskin or sparkly pink trousers, and denim corsets, or fay women attired in a selection of Crayola brights, feather embroidery, and emerald silks. 

If this was the 1970s--which it isn’t, I might interject--surely these characters would be partaking in illicit activities, smoking an unholy amount of cigarettes, and ‘boogieing’ to their heart’s content. It’s fitting the show took place in a theatre because the end product is veering too far from practicality and, right now, that's becoming the biggest flaw in his grand plan. 

Monday, September 24, 2018

In Milan, Some Designers Get Stuck in the Past While Others Look to the Future

For Spring 2019, Gucci will show in France during Paris Fashion Week. As a result, it left what felt like a gaping hole in the Milan Fashion Week schedule. The 5 days were protracted, a constant state of hoping for something to push fashion forward and to contradict our preconceived notions of what fashion can be in 2018.

It came and went. 
Simone Rocha for Moncler Photo Credit: Design Scene
The week opened as it did last season, with Moncler’s Genius collaboration unveiling. The Italian luxury brand partnered with Hiroshi Fujiwara, Noir Kei Ninomiya, Simone Rocha, Craig Green, and their own 1952 diffusion, for the second season. There was a fashion film, a moving installation, purpose-built Instagram bait. It wasn’t as exciting as last season—we’ve already seen these names interpret Moncler’s codes—but it diverted proceedings from the norm. 

Designer-on-designer collaborations have become somewhat of a new phenomenon, one which pushes away from the partnerships between H&M and Topshop with high fashion. Colmar, the 95-year-old Italian outerwear brand, called upon New York fashion renegade Shayne Oliver to ignite interest in their brand with a unisex capsule collection. It consisted of the 80s- and 90s-inspired brights with a razor-sharp focus on utility. Smart move.
Bella Hadid closes Roberto Cavalli Photo Credit: WWD
In recent years, Milan was punctuated by debuts at major houses. Luke and Lucie Meier’s Jil Sander continues to epitomise slow luxury, a blend of roomy tailoring and intellectual inclinations; Paul Andrew and Guillaume Meilland at Salvatore Ferragamo reinforced what they started last season. As many have noted, Ferragamo’s transformation from a product brand to a fashion brand has been quick. How they develop and sustain growth will be pivotal to acquiring a renewed sense of purpose for the Italian house. 

You can tell the British creative director, Paul Surridge is becoming more comfortable with the house codes at Roberto Cavalli. He compounded his minimalist streak with Cavalli animalia and athleticism, most notably, embellished cycling shorts. It looks like a happy marriage between the two.
Versace Photo Credit: Vogue Runway
The Versace codes belong to Donatella Versace as much as they do to the house’s founder, her brother, the late Gianni Versace. Her Spring 2019 was another stance on empowered womanhood, a fitting exhibition of form and function with a splash of neon. Versace championed the return of Shalom Harlow, the 90s supermodel extraordinaire. It symbolised an appreciation for the house’s past but also its inclusive future.

Jeremy Scott’s homage to the heyday of 1980s couture at Moschino was a spectacular display of someone’s love for fashion. It could be said he betrayed the meaningfulness when, everyone’s ‘favourite’ arbiters of copycat culture, Diet Prada flagged a similarity between Scott’s loose Crayola motifs and the LVMH Prize-nominated Norwegian designer Edda Gimnes. Gimnes later revealed she had a meeting with a Moschino official, sharing her sketchbooks. You make up your mind. 

Some other misfires: Etro evaded the controversy of the recent lawsuit, which accused the brand of discrimination, by offering a California-inspired surfer’s paradise with scuba references and breezy silhouettes; Philipp Plein hired Chris Brown and 6ix9ine to perform at his show, two men who have been arrested in the past for their mistreatment of women. His clothes were the same as always: Eurotrash delight. Emporio Armani relied on 90s styles and a Robbie Williams performance to leverage some social media mileage, Mr. Armani should consider a more thoughtful approach. 
Prada Photo Credit: Fashionista
There’s always Prada to soothe our souls with its (typically) objective position in fashion: Miuccia Prada regained momentum last season with a confident strike at the heart of fashion. A Prada jolt is fashion’s equivalent to an earthquake—it’s a powerful shock to the system, a directive stance, and it has become increasingly rare. For Spring, Prada lobbied for pedal pushers, studded headbands, and more tie-dye. It recalled the early-aughts, the Carrie Bradshaw days of fashion. It was an age which made women dream. It’s about time someone signaled for a return to that kind of fashion—even if it is partly kitschy, but a soupçon of humour will take you a long way. The chaotic styling and various touchstones were Picasso-esque but wholly delectable. 

Francisco Risso’s Marni emerged as a key player in the Milan landscape in the past 12 months. His Sunday morning show took place in a warehouse… or could it have been a bedding store? Guests were invited to sit on beds, a soothing start to a show which heavily relied on Risso’s intuition. He manipulated classicism with scarf prints and deconstructed tailoring. The show notes likened the design process to a recipe and Risso its chef, sampling different permutations. 

The collection was a panoply of colour, texture, and pattern, with an inherent childlike sensibility and the associated urge for discovery. It feels instinctive but intuitive, haphazard but considered. The clothes can be as playful and lively as your average 2-year-old but designed for adult women. It’s taken Risso a couple seasons to get into the swing of things and this may have veered a little too into his Prada days but he’s starting to balance his signatures with Marni's. 

The issue underscoring Milan Fashion Week is in the designers' preoccupation with the past. Whether it’s anachronisms like passé styles or Robbie Williams, some of the Italian-based brands struggle to push things forward. Seeking solace in the 1990s or the 2000s is fine, so long as you can contribute something to the narrative. Otherwise, what’s the point? Few names—Prada, Versace, Marni, the Meier’s at Jil Sander—articulated the future of fashion through the lens of the past. Even sportswear brand Colmar knew how to revive brand intrigue. 

To step forward, one must look backwards, not move backwards. Milan’s designers should take note.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Ahead of His LFW Debut, Irish Designer Colin Horgan Chats About Music, His Spring 2019 Collection, and Lady Gaga

Colin Horgan is from County Kerry in Ireland. But his reach is global. 

The Royal College of Art graduate will debut his Spring 2019 collection at London Fashion Week, as part of the On/Off showcase, tonight. The event will bring down the curtain on the five-day event. (On/Off is an emerging talent showcase and, typically, the participants are of eccentric inclinations.)

Horgan is one for performance pieces—imposing in structure and sturdy in fabrication. He’s attracted the singer and Academy Award-contender Lady Gaga. She wore a piece from his graduate collection to the Gaga: Five Foot Two premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. “To have these artists behind you is a great stamp of approval,” said Horgan Moreover, Horgan counts musician Arca as a fan.

However, that’s not to cast aspersions at his work. It’s rather artful. It calls to mind the work of John Chamberlain, the American contemporary artist who created a series of ‘car crash’ sculptures. In essence, they’re provocative, eliciting a shocked response to the violent connotations. 

Judging on his architectural sculpturing, there’s a master tailor within Horgan. For now, he’s capturing the hearts of entertainers with his elaborate costume-style work. It’ll be intriguing to watch as he fleshes out his ideas in forthcoming shows. What will become of a doyen of extravagant performance-wear? 

Ahead of his show, I chatted to Horgan about his collection, Lady Gaga, and being an Irish person making it in a big city.

I hope you enjoy 5 Questions with… Colin Horgan
— — — 
Colin Horgan, pictured above
Congratulations on joining LFW. How does it feel to be joining the schedule? 

It’s definitely crept up on me very fast. I remember being offered it in early March thinking that I had lots of time to do work but actually by the time you research and do a lot of fabrication tests four months later I only started to actually develop the collection. It’s an amazing, exciting, nerve-wracking feeling. I’m both ecstatic and anxious as this is really the first time I’m introducing myself to London after the Royal College of Art graduate fashion show in 2017. I’ve been very lucky to have received incredible support both from Lee Lapthorne, his team at ON/OFF and also Maja Mehle at Royal College Of Art. Without all the fashion staff at RCA I wouldn’t have had all a studio during the lead up to the show so I’m extremely grateful to have this opportunity and have definitely maximised this important moment in the lead up to September.

Horgan and his machinist, Ann
What is the SS19 collection about?

This season is a small bit of a continuation of the same woman as last season. The basic concept is about a woman on her way home from the night before, taking you through personal intimate wardrobe changes to go back out again. I guess when you see the collection the whole point was that actually what she arrived home with was perfect enough to go back out in – she herself knew this but taking a viewer into her personal space is quite an attractive thing for a dangerous woman to do. The clothing is a little bit lighter in weight but I’ve been experimenting a lot this season with refining the technique I was working on while at RCA. To a degree, I have in some aspect commercialised it for people to access it but to be honest I think there will always be two lines within my brand running together.

A photo from Horgan's graduate collection
You’re an avid music fan. Does music influence the design process? 

Absolutely. Music acts as a vessel for me to engage with everything that surrounds the garment. You can’t see it but you can get in instant feeling which with a garment can support an elevation of some sort. I’ve also been hugely into music that takes you away, and I guess I would love that to happen to someone in my clothes. Having this sense of transportation not just literally but taking you away from what you felt before to beyond is my ultimate goal.

Lady Gaga wearing Colin Horgan Photo Credit: The Sun
Lady Gaga and Arca are known fans of your designs. What has their support meant for your business?

It has been incredible. To have these artists behind you is a great stamp of approval. I’ve been following these artists for years and to have them actually being transported through their performances was definitely something I’ll never forget. I do love working with musicians and I think the ‘Drivethru’ concept has been a great way for upcoming and establishing artists to each be able to access some of my more elaborate work.

Fittings of Horgan's SS18 collection
What’s next for you?

I guess it’s the start of my journey but I have some very exciting collaborations happening. No doubt after SS19 production it will be straight into AW19! I can’t wait. This has been my dream and without the incredible support from my family and friends who pushed me in every way I wouldn’t be where I am now.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Vaquera and Raf Simons Calvin Klein 205W39NYC's Coincidentally Christen an Unlikely Trend // Spring 2019

The kids are not alright. 

12 fatal school shootings have been recorded in America since January 2018. However, there have been 35 shootings in total, according to Wikipedia. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida in February 2018 was one of the deadliest mass shootings in America since 1949. President Trump’s response is to possibly arm teachers. 

Schools are supposed to be ‘safe spaces.’ They are intended to be environments which foster learning, creativity, and development. At Vaquera, designers Patric DiCaprio, Claire Sully, and Bryn Taubensee, staged their show at a children’s school in the Lower East Side. They reflected the idea that schools, both a learning environment and a breeding ground for interpersonal growth, is the birthplace of character, the emergence of one’s sense of self. 

There was a sense of teenage angst, the brooding, petulant strut of the models. The defiant styling. 
Vaquera Photo Credit: voguerunway

“Power Money Fame,” read one t-shirt. With the Kardashians’ prevalence on social media, teenagers are increasingly striving for their slice of the influencer pie with an eye on follower counts, leveraging their following and capitalising on their personal lives. Of course, not all teenagers behave with such narcissistic tendencies but the t-shirt captured the essence of the modern adolescent affliction: the desire to be liked.)

The school paraphernalia was a prominent emblem. Shirts were printed with a Vaquera High School diploma; one model shook pompoms; a bodice was comprised of whistles, and a skirt fashioned entirely from ties. Hemlines cut to there and eyes encased with black shadow, you could imagine the kid’s parents having a conniption at the sight of the obnoxiously inappropriate attire. Other parts were dominated by gender-agnostic clothes which were relevant to contemporary styles and shifting attitudes—although many American schools have yet to embrace policies which cater to non-binary needs.

It closed with a mortarboard and royal blue graduation gown equipped with a voluptuous hoop skirt.   

It was coincidental that Raf Simons, a couple hours later, would also show mortar boards and graduation gowns for Calvin Klein 205W39NYC. (It was presented downstairs in the company’s headquarters on West 39th Street, where the ready-to-wear offering derives its name.) It was a nod to Mike Nicholls’ 1967 film The Graduate, starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, a tale of post-adolescent frustration and seduction.

It took decidedly more grown-up cues than Vaquera when it came to tailoring—there were plenty of options, for prom, the graduation ball, or the boardroom. They came in bright hues with contrasting lapels, an ode to the decade in which the film belonged. 
Calvin Klein 205W39NYC Photo Credit:

Simons always has one eye on commerce and the other on the macabre. Typically, he’s drawn to things like the dark, mysterious fantasies of David Lynch or horror films like Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street. A cinephile, he channels his interests into something sinister. This time it was Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, the 1975 thriller. The soundtrack borrowed partly from John Williams’ two-note alternation from the film’s score; it’s the universal signifier of danger, of looming threat. 

The execution left little to be desired. The Jaws poster was screen-printed on different garments. (H&M are selling similar ones at present. These ones will no doubt add an extra zero to the price tag, and the cK logo.) Knife pleated skirts looked as though they had been bitten by a shark; (vaguely fetishistic) neoprene wetsuits and scuba-gear, with the insides featuring painted patterns, was a recurring motif. 

Perhaps Simons was musing on the way American’s consume nowadays, although he insisted backstage it was a personal collection. In the post-truth era, especially in Trump’s America, subtlety has fallen by the wayside. An image, a snappy description, or a Tweet, is the whole story. There isn’t the need—or desire—for an accompanying 300-word article detailing events anymore. We rely on 240 characters or less to express the toughest of topics, the mightiest of subjects. People favour simplicity over an elaborate argument. It’s a sobering thought but, unlike Jaws, a contemporary reality. 

In the end, one was left wondering, is it always the best option to give the people what they want? 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Made in America: American Brands Play with Their Identity // Spring 2019

Despite the looming threat of rain on Wednesday morning, Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia took the Oscar de la Renta show outdoors, to the rooftop of Spring Studios. Consequently, it was amusingly ironic that their Spring 2019 effort was comprised of summer-appropriate attire. It was light, effervescent, brightly-coloured. They updated the house codes with some interesting kaftan-inspired garment hybrids.

As with many of their previous outings, Kim and Garcia got too caught up in enforcing youthful practice in lieu of considering the multiplicity of directions the house, which they know so well, can take and has taken. 

The late, eponymous Oscar de la Renta—Kim and Garcia’s teacher—balanced the demands of his younger clientele with the more mature audience. They should glean more from the archives because it worked for them in parts: take the gold column gown Bella Hadid wore in the show’s denouement, or the black, one-shouldered gown Gigi Hadid closed proceedings in; they had sex appeal but the uptown sophistication intrinsic to an Oscar de la Renta ensemble. They’re getting there.

Wes Gordon’s Carolina Herrera debuted the morning before. Gordon arrived a year ago but Spring 2019 marks his first official outing as sole creative director. The eponymous Herrera was front row watching her successor’s vision unfurl. Largely, it was much the same. “Happy clothes” is how he explained the vibrant colours, bold patterns, and abbreviated hemlines. It was decidedly youthful but not awkwardly so. He didn’t alienate the existing clientele. As he ushers in the next generation of Carolina Herrera clients, he should consider modernising his efforts, adding a contemporary verve. It was dated.

In the canon of American fashion, Stuart Vevers, a British designer, got lucky with Coach 1941. He was allowed to cultivate the identity of the ready-to-wear at the brand. Until he arrived four years ago, in 2014, the ready-to-wear didn’t have an impact on the fashion industry. Nowadays it’s one of the hottest tickets of New York Fashion Week.

Vevers understands Americana. As an outsider, he brings an unbiased perspective to the narrative that Americans can’t. 

This show’s influence was veritably post-apocalyptic. The scene could’ve been borrowed from Mad Max. He transplanted the prairie narrative that has underscored his recent collections to a desolate, industrial-looking desert. His version of the American Southwest was battered by desert winds and besieged by bitter temperatures. 

It is Coach, after all, so things were softened in part with cartoon screen prints on hoodies and decorative patchwork displays on sweatshirts, but the overall frame of mind was rooted somewhere sinister. The models didn’t look vulnerable. They didn’t look daunted by threat. They were adequately equipped for the danger that awaits.

It felt culturally pertinent. 
Proenza Schouler Photo Credit: voguerunway

The same could be said for Proenza Schouler, who marked their return to the New York Fashion Week schedule on Monday evening. Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, co-creative directors, unveiled a new chapter in the brand’s history with an austere palette of slate grey and charcoal. 

(The design duo spent two seasons in Paris. “New York will always be home,” they said in a statement released on Instagram, in June. “Paris was an amazing opportunity to show what we do to a completely different audience that had never been able to attend a Proenza Schouler show and on that level, as well as on a creative level, it felt really right.”)

There was a loftiness about the models’ brisk pace, charging past like a lightning bolt before you could survey the entire outfit. It captured the post-industrial mood that skewered their oeuvre pre-2017. They eschewed from the couture heights they aspired to in France—gone are the frills, froth, and fancies. They were replaced with bleached denim and metallic, shock-blanket-style shirts and waistcoats. The clothes, like futurist Americana attire, meant business, as purposeful as the models’ stomp, and prepared for anything life might thrust towards them. 

The brand’s update includes a lower price range; things are cheaper now which is an effort to make the brand more appealing to potential customers. The clothes are a fraction of the former prices. Not only this, they’re now made in America. I’m sure President Trump would be satisfied if he knew this.
Proenza Schouler Photo Credit: voguerunway

Finding Purpose at NYFW // Spring 2019

“Californian spirit and an audacious sense of Parisian elegance,” read the show notes at Longchamp, high up in at Three World Trade Centre. The French brand famous for its handbags is attempting to claim a stake in the high fashion relevancy conversation by appointing Kendall Jenner as a brand ambassador and making more pointed efforts with its ready-to-wear, which were mediocre at best—too much fringe, too many Navajo prints, not enough consideration or clarity.
Escada Photo Credit:
German house Escada staged a comeback on Sunday afternoon at the Park Avenue Armory, piloted by newly-appointed global design director, Niall Sloan. It felt like ‘technicolour Desperate Housewives’ but that issue was mainly with the setting. It lacked a certain richness, the quality of looking expensive. 

Sloan, a Northern Irishman with a penchant for inclusivity and eye-popping colour, studied Fashion Design with Marketing at Central Saint Martins before pursuing a master’s in womenswear at the Royal College of Art. Sloan will serve Escada well. He’s got a marketing executive’s eye, ten years of experience at Burberry and four years at Hunter. His pedigree points to an understanding of placing the bottom line first. He has learned how to sell.

Sloan was thinking about Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, covering grounds such as abstract sportswear, prim and proper, and 90s-inspired oversized suiting. Sloan should refine his work, less garish hues, and gimmicky accessories—those sneaker boots were dire. He should focus more on tailoring. The looks that did resemble Julia Roberts in an oversized blazer or the final look, sported by supermodel Lara Stone, a double-breasted blazer with bunched-up sleeves, deserved a greater presence.

At Boss, which is currently without a creative director, the in-house team, led by Chief Brand Offiier, Ingo Witts, still put on a show to generate a social media buzz around the brand. They channeled the Boss signatures: sportswear and tailoring. They were thinking about a Californian sensibility, that unmistakable ease that is suitable kismet for a fashion collection. But, maybe, they should’ve considered taking a season out, finding a new designer, and rethink what they want Boss to stand for in 2018. 

A fashion show should have a purpose and in it purposeful clothes. Brands like Longchamp, Escada, and Boss, are best kept on the shelves where they look best: pristine and aspirational. On the runway, they tend to lean into gimmicks and forget their identity. 
Telfar Photo Credit: Fashionista
Telfar Clemens showed no signs of an identity crisis at his show-cum-concert at the East 34th Street Heliport where guests were treated to some of the best clothes of the week and a downpour of biblical proportions. 

That didn’t detract from his line-up. Clemens is renowned for his interpretive stance on mundanity, taking classic tropes and elevating them, breathing life into consumerist classics—t-shirts and jeans. This season he refracted them through the 1970s with flared bottoms, double denim, buttoned-down shirts, and nipped waists. This wasn’t a trend handbook, rather a visceral response to Americana and a celebration of blackness.

Things were also personal at Sies Marjan where, for his third year in business, Sander Lak offered some introspective ideas about his prismatic creations. To editors, he flagged it as “emotionally intense.” 

There’s something Lynchian about Sies Marjan. There’s a slight feeling of unease, an air of mystery, something begging to be uncovered. What lies beneath those sheaths of olive, midnight blue, and ruby. It’s dreamy, there’s something inherently film-like about it. Backstage, he referred to the models as a ‘cast.’ “I keep saying ‘cast,’ it’s almost like a movie.” 

This season, Lak added stripes and more textures, and his approach to drapery was more playful. The results were mixed but his desire to break new ground is important. He might be the youthful lifeblood New York Fashion Week needs right now but that doesn’t mean complacency should set in. Next time, let’s hope he calibrates the additions and creates a second act we’ll desperately follow. 
Rodarte Photo Credit: voguerunway
Rodarte, later that day, could’ve been plucked straight from Hollywood. It took place at the New York Marble Cemetery in the pouring rain to a soundtrack of Chet Baker. Models braved the elements, bedecked in swaths of candy-coloured tulle and decorated in delicate couture-worthy embellishments. 

Laura and Kate Mulleavy brought Rodarte back to New York after a failed stint in Paris during couture week in the summer of 2017. In New York, you could tell they were at home. They weren’t competing with Chanel, Dior, Margiela, the only thing they were competing with was their own creativity… and the rain. (Valiant PR girls wiped rainwater off the wooden chairs where guests, who huddled together under umbrellas, sat.)

One couldn’t help but think of George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo as each model emerged. The clothes capitalised on anachronisms, belonging to multiple periods at ones. The 1980s and the 1880s were melded into the opening look, a big-shouldered leather dress with tiered ruffles. Another, in a shade of scarlet, was attired in a ruffled, red romper. Her face was shrouded in a red veil. It was like a sepulchral temptress floating around the graveyard. Who was each individual woman? What was her story? It meant something.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

New York Fashion Week is Big on Community Spirit This Season // Spring 2019

Brandon Maxwell wrung whoops, cheers, and tears from his audience at his New York Fashion Week show. 

At Classic Car Club Manhattan, a private club with a fleet of impressive automobiles, guests were seated on Yeti ice chests or in the back of a pick-up truck. The invite was a pair of cowboy boots. This was about Maxwell’s home state, Texas. 

“The collection is dedicated to Texas and my family for making me who I am,” Maxwell said. “I designed this collection with my team in Marfa, Texas—a place I chose for its seemingly limitless space. In seeking space, I found expansion.”

“During the residency, I met with artists, gallerists and the like to understand how the town has influenced their own creative practice,” he said. “After the first few conversations, I quickly understood a common polarity that resonated with me: time, reflection and peace are imperative to any creative practice as is the importance of garnering community through authentic and true support.”
Brandon Maxwell Photo Credit:
The opening looks, for their jewel tones, recalled Alber Elbaz’s Lanvin in the ‘00s, a period of romantic classicism in fashion, before the zenith of Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. It fed into a collection complete with shades of crimson and cerise, seafoam and marigold, taupe and emerald. It was joyously elegant, suitable for gala dinners and charity events.

Maxwell is a descendant of Carolina Herrera, Michael Kors, and Ralph Lauren—he’s fine-tuned his output to skewer ladylike properness with a strong emphasis on elegance function and a helping of sexiness wherever necessary. What he brings to American fashion is something timeless but modern, a knowledge of when to buy into the familiar tropes and when to eschew from them. Clearly, taking time to refine this process served him well because the editing in this collection was his best yet, no messy diversions or muddled executions, it was cogent and consistent.  

In the end, the audience erupted in rapturous applause. Maxwell ushered his design team onto the runway and took a bow with his grandmother. Editors took to Instagram and Twitter to share the heartfelt moment, adding that they were moved to tears. Maxwell is on to something, bringing back emotion to fashion at a time when it desperately needs it.

Christopher John Rogers’ Thursday evening static presentation was an evocative display which garnered rave reviews from a wide variety of media outlets. Rogers, who holds a position as an associate designer at Diane von Furstenberg, delivered whimsical glamour with 1950s couture and vintage Cosmopolitan covers in mind. A feast for the eyes, his palette was a positive panoply of every hue under the sun. He did it with a small budget and you wanted to congratulate him on the jubilant colours, the positive casting, the soulful voluminous shapes.
Pyer Moss Photo Credit:
Pyer Moss, where a 40-person gospel choir performed, was befallen by a downpour. Still, the fashion pack flocked to Weeksville, a neighbourhood in Brooklyn because they believe in the designer, Kerby Jean-Raymond’s message. There’s a reason Jean-Raymond took the show to the Weeksville Heritage Centre, a veritable trek from Manhattan where the previous shows took place. The neighbourhood was established by African American freedmen in the mid-1800s. This was a reflection on contemporary blackness.

It began with The Negro Motorist Green Book, an annual guidebook for African-American road trippers. Jean-Raymond commissioned ten paintings by Derrick Adams that were also inspired by the book. This was a tale of black culture at a time when racial tensions heighten in America. (A yellow waistcoat read, ‘See Us Now?,’ a reference to the fight for black visibility. ’Stop calling 911 on the culture,’ a nod to America’s intolerance towards black culture.) Despite the ongoing unease, Jean-Raymond posed a graceful response to the times, with serene silhouettes, optimistic colours, and an inspiring diversity. 

It conjured up that community spirit, the sense of belonging to something bigger than just a fashion show. It’s rare for a fashion show to generate feelings such as unity and togetherness. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Will America Ever See Another Ralph Lauren? // Spring 2019

Ralph. Donna. Calvin. Tommy. The Mount Rushmore of Fashion, Fern Mallis, creator of New York Fashion Week, called them. 

What Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, and Tommy Hilfiger have in common is their success in transcending trends, surviving a fickle luxury market, and putting modern American fashion on the map. They communicate what it means to be American, musing on the upper-class sophisticate, the working woman, the clean line-favouring minimalist, and the red, white and blue-sporting patriot, respectively.

Ralph Lauren celebrated the 50th anniversary of his business with a fashion show and dinner party at the Bethesda Terrace in Central Park. Everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Martha Stewart, Anna Wintour to Hillary Clinton, and every possible A-lister imaginable was in attendance, perched front row alongside Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, and Tommy Hilfiger. 

You had to wonder, will America ever see another legacy brand? 

The chances are, the answer to that question is No. It’s not that the upcoming American designers are untalented, in fact, some of them are exceptionally gifted, but they don’t have what it takes to transform a brand into a household name. One contender is the Texan Brandon Maxwell who will show later this week. He’s got the charm and optimism required. It remains to be seen if any of them can pull off such a feat.
Ralph Lauren takes a bow. Photo Credit: Ralph Lauren

The Mount Rushmore of Fashion came at a time when the American customer desired something new, chiefly, direction. Ralph Lauren gave them dinner jackets with blue denim, evening gowns with cowboys boots, an instantly recognisable Polo insignia which has become a symbol of class. 

His Spring 2019 show was a study in the familiar. To begin with, the show consolidated the women’s ready-to-wear, the men’s Purple Label, Polo and the reworked archive pieces of Double RL.

The models trod on the patterned carpets in wintery clothes, rich in embroidery and tactility, which were an ode to the 1940s. They looked as though they’d stepped out of a time capsule, or, more realistically, a pristine black Escalade straight from their second home in upstate New York. They sported patchwork skirts, suiting which was rooted in the rugged American West.  

The show was spectacular, for all its A-list power and amazing setting, but the clothes were not. They were laden down with the same overwrought, over-styled guise that has dogged his work for some time. However, they didn’t try to be something they were not. They were loose interpretations, and oftentimes exact copies, of everything that has come before. This is a man so confident in his own design footprint he can give you the same thing over and over and you convince you it’s worth repeating. It mightn’t look revolutionary but that’s a revolutionary concept: the comfortable self-assurance of sticking to one’s guns. 

Tory Burch and Kate Spade are undoubtedly important names in the American legacy brand canon. Burch’s show, first thing on Friday morning, was about vacation-dressing, replete with effortless and elegant Mediterranean-ready options. It was a little muddled in parts, veering into an urban territory which was a disservice to the ease she cultivated with peasant skirts and floaty dresses.
A model walks at the Tory Burch show Photo Credit: Imaxtree

Kate Spade sadly took her life, aged 55, on June 5, 2018. She left her namesake brand in 2007 and, this season, the ship was steered by new creative director Nicola Glass. It took place at the New York Public Library, it was a bittersweet but optimistic, tinged with nostalgia but hopeful for the future. The ready-to-wear won’t be as sought after as those handbags, shown in every possible variation: clutch, cross-body, and bucket. It didn’t shift the brand’s handwriting significantly, it did what Spade set out to do in the 1990s, democratise luxury fashion for young American women.

The new wave of American designers, the ones with the ‘ideas’ are much more interested in niche ideas.  

LRS, founded by Proenza Schouler alum Raul Solis, should consider exploring some new ideas. In an industry awash with streetwear and belligerent aversions to quiet luxury, things were trite. Hopefully, new frontiers are ahead.

The same could be said for Monse, Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia’s brand. They launched menswear this season and that was about as buzzy as things got. The nautical reference is a tired trope, it should be retired, along with unoriginal spins on beachwear.  

What Ralph Lauren, along with Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, and Tommy Hilfiger, understood that contemporary designers don’t is the belief that the longevity of an aspirational lifestyle trumps the short-term satisfaction of Instagram likes and temporal trends. As a result, they’ve influenced global shopping trends, what it means to join a ‘fashion tribe,’ but, most importantly, they’ve established a connection with their customer. There’s no austere detachment preferred by the likes of Vetements.  

You don’t know Ralph Lauren but you’d welcome him for a cup of tea and invite him to stay for dinner. Fashion doesn’t create characters like that anymore. Maybe it’s gone out of fashion because it’s not perceived as ‘cool’ to be likeable. However, if you’re likeable, people might be more inclined to believe in you, and if they believe in you, you can create a multi-billion-dollar business. Sure, it involves becoming a personality but if you don’t have a personality, what are you? Just another name.