Wednesday, October 31, 2018

First Look at Kris van Assche's Berluti // Spring 2019

The lookbook for Kris van Assche’s debut for Berluti has arrived. It comprises of the kind of slightly detached, darkly romantic tailoring one can expect from the Belgian designer.

In April, van Assche was appointed the artistic director. He succeeds a fellow Belgian, Haider Ackermann, who, in his brief stint from 2016 to 2018, ushered in a reign of sumptuous, A promotional campaign photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth released in August was our first glimpse at his vision for the French house and the new logo. His full vision will be unveiled at Paris Fashion Week in January 2019. 

The promotional campaign featured shirtless doe-eyed teenage boys with shoes hanging from their shoulders or draped around their necks. The focus is squarely on the accessories. As it is for spring 2019 when he updated the house’s styles. 

Perhaps most interestingly, he introduces leather trainers which are, undoubtedly, an attempt at connecting with a younger consumer. They’re decidedly retro and in shades of scarlet and cobalt. But they made one think about Vanessa Friedman’s recent article in the New York Times about the zenith of sneakers in fashion: “When designers are making a sneaker just because they think they have to make a sneaker — because they are trying to carve off whatever slice of the sneaker market is possible — as opposed to because it makes sense for their brand, or their shopper, it’s time to stop.” Do sneakers make sense for the Berluti customer? Is there any real need for them other than maintaining an air of contemporary necessity?

Van Assche, a Belgian designer, served 11 years at the helm of Dior Homme. It was there he developed the aesthetic language of his predecessor Hedi Slimane. It was darkly romantic and consisted of rigorous tailoring. He furthered that image here, a cold departure from the warmth of Haider Ackermann’s preferred palette. For spring, he opted for a palette-cleansing melange of black, white, navy and red. The relative simplicity allowed one to focus on the fine tailoring. Even the tracksuit he had to offer was impeccably rendered by the house’s tailors.

Van Assche’s debut had fetishistic undercurrents. Leather trousers and baker boy caps recalled the homoerotic portraiture of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The nods were discreet and subtle which are possibly definable as the house’s codes.

Berluti’s identity as a fashion house is, as of now, relatively malleable. Ackermann spent only three seasons at the house. Before him, there was Alessandro Sartori but if you were to ask this critic to recall his work, he would be stunted. Berluti is arguably a blank slate. Van Assche has the luxury of shaping the brand’s contemporary image.

Photo Credit: Vogue Runway

Monday, October 29, 2018

David Koma Stands the Test of Time

“The cinematic universe of Pedro Almodóvar creates the frame for spring 2019,” were the words that introduced David Koma’s latest effort at London Fashion Week in September. Inspired by the “atmospheric moods” of the director’s films, Koma embarked on a Spanish narrative that began with Almodóvar and brought him to flamenco. Evoking the “grace and drama” of dancers such as Carmen Amaya, Koma conjured shapes and forms which created a kinetic movement as the models whizzed past. The emphasis was placed on physicality, as it always is in a David Koma show, and this season, it underscored the athletic influences which underpin much of his work.

Koma spent four years designing at Mugler. The Georgian designer exited the brand in late 2017 to focus on his eponymous label. He exhibited a prowess for managing the expectations of the storied house’s modern iteration. It was a collaboration that lent itself to his own design handwriting which has since evolved into a balance between sophistication and sensuality, elegance and sexiness. A blazer dress in neon green and a white mini dress, embellished with plexi-discs, stood out as prime examples.

Koma distinguished himself from his London peers in his approach to fashion. Roksanda and Erdem sought the patronage of the soigné dames, Christopher Kane and Mary Katrantzou purveyed artful territories. Koma was unabashed in his desire to acquaint himself with the fabulous, partying proclivities of the super-rich.

In a London fashion scene which primarily rewards the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed youth and the eccentric, his longevity is a testament to shrewd business decisions and an ability to connect with the celebrity set and his customers. The introduction of evening gowns, shimmering chainmail columns, or his updated polished tailoring is sure to go down a treat with his fans. 

Friday, October 26, 2018

Introducing Castanea, the Irish Luxury Knitwear Brand

One of the key aspects of Irish design is knitwear. Increasingly, there is a surge of knitwear designers cropping up across the country including Paula Marron’s Castanea. Now in its fourth season, Castanea's gambit is cashmere sweaters manufactured in Kathmandu, Nepal.

I met Marron at Samui, an independent luxury fashion retailer on Cork’s Drawbridge Street. She was in Cork to sell her spring 2019 collection. Marron was sporting a handmade marigold cashmere sweater from the collection replete with flamenco-influenced ruffled sleeves and fine-finishing.

Castanea’s retail presence is limited to three Irish stores: Samui in Cork, Havana in Dublin, and Emporium Kalu in Naas, Co. Kildare. There is also a direct-to-consumer channel on Castanea's website. 

"Paula is Irish and it is hugely important to support Irish design where possible,” said Mary-Claire O’Sullivan, store manager at Samui in Cork. “We find Paula to be a designer of great integrity who chooses the finest cashmere to create a luxurious, contemporary edit every season.”

“She is not afraid to work with colour and we find that our customers react really well to this. For example, for fall 2018 she used rich berry tones and vibrant red while also showing subtle hazy blues and blush pinks,” said O’Sullivan.

“We are delighted to be one of only a few stockists in Ireland. We are confident that Castanea is one of the best cashmere labels. It does not pill, which is essential for any cashmere brand we stock. The knits are super stylish and cosy. We have built up a great repeat business with it,” said Nikki Creedon, the owner at Havana in Donnybrook, Co. Dublin. 

The limited retail presence is a strategic move. “I’m hoping to sell to two more Irish stores and that will be all for Irish retail. I want to maintain a level of exclusivity,” Marron explained. Ultimately, this means smaller sales but modern day designers are willing to place a price on brand image.

Marron graduated from the National College of Art & Design, Dublin, in 2004. She spent the summer interning at Ralph Lauren in London, across multiple departments, including PR. She declined an offer to join the London PR team, reasoning, “if I went down that route I would’ve never returned to design.” From there, she worked closely with the late Rachel Mackay in Dublin before joining knitwear brand Sphere One, where she remained for ten years. “I learned a lot. I wouldn’t be where I am today without that experience.” 

She founded Castanea during Fall 2017, almost two years ago, following her departure from Sphere One. Castanea is Latin for chestnut. “I always wanted to launch my own line. I had enough experience in fashion design to finally do my own thing. I think [the Castanea] woman is young at heart, even though the prices aren’t,” she said. Prices range from €395 to €725. "I can imagine a cool, stylish 60-year-old woman wearing it but also someone in their thirties. It’s broad." 

“I always knew I wanted to work with the manufacturer in Nepal. He is a great person and he treats his workers fairly. The quality of the craftsmanship from knitting to washing to finish is excellent." She motioned to her sweater, remarking, “it’s hard to come across this level of craftsmanship anywhere else.”

Would she consider manufacturing in Ireland? “I haven’t really thought about it but it’s incredibly expensive, now more than ever, to manufacture in Ireland.”

The rail she presented to O’Sullivan at Samui consisted of a sun-kissed pastel colour palette informed by her time spent in Spain. “I got engaged last year in Spain and I visit there quite a lot so there were a lot of Spanish influences in the collection,” Marron said. “I was inspired by the movement of flamenco dancers which influenced the ruffles on sleeves.” 

“I’m always inspired by architecture,” she said. She took cues from the Jürgen Mayer-designed Metropol Parasol at La Encarnación square in Seville. “It’s this brilliant modern, mushroom-shaped structure in the centre of Seville which has spectacular views of the city. I recreated the honeycomb shapes of the building in the designs.” 

Castanea is a work in progress. At present, Marron is the only employee. She works with a financial advisor but the responsibilities of day-to-day business rest on her shoulders. The next step could be international expansion. “I’m hoping to launch in America soon, I’m currently looking for an agent over there.” The Irish fashion industry’s presence in America has proliferated due to Margaret Molloy’s continuous effort with the Wearing Irish initiative which showcased Irish designers to the American market.

“I do everything myself. I would love to take on an intern but I’m too busy to even dedicate time to explaining what would need to be done. You have to work on it every day. It becomes your life,” Marron said.

In a March 2018 interview with the Irish Times’ The Gloss supplement, Marron described cashmere as “the Rolls Royce of yarn.” For spring 2019 she introduced silk-cashmere blends. She doesn’t envision expanding greatly beyond cashmere, at least for now. “You don’t really want to go back from the Rolls Royce.” 

Photo Credit: Paula Marron

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Gayeon Lee's Homage to Egon Schiele Scratches the Surface

Gayeon Lee’s spring 2019 show at London Fashion Week was influenced by Egon Schiele’s figurative illustrations. Perhaps she had seen the ‘Life in Motion: Egon Schiele/Francesca Woodman’ exhibition at the Tate Liverpool this summer. Lee kept things subtle—there were no overt references to Schiele’s inclination for the nude form or surrealist intimacy. Rather, she set out to construct a collection surrounding “twisted shapes and movement.”

Glen Snowden, a ballet tutor at Central Saint Martins, choreographed a dance which featured professional ballet dancers and models. (Read: the models weren’t as awkward as they usually are when shows offer something more than the formulaic procession. A victory for performance in fashion.)

With a staid interpretation of 50s fashion silhouettes, in parts, she failed to capture frisson of effervescence the balletic procession promised—chiefly, a pleated beige skirt and petunia-print blouse with striped sleeves. The tailoring fared much better but there weren’t enough examples of it here.

Lee should consider intimately acquainting us with her interests next time. Her homage to Schiele barely scratched the surface.
Photo Credit: Gayeon Lee

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The 221-Year-Old Brand Showing at London Fashion Week

With the exception of Burberry, legacy brands aren’t commonplace in London. London Fashion Week glorifies the aforementioned emerging talents who dominate headlines with their creative outbursts and undiluted expression. But, in between the Matty Bovan and Xiao Li shows in September, two veritable newcomers, the Johnstons of Elgin presentation was thronged with guests sipping champagne and indulging in a serene summer scene at the luxe Waldorf Hilton, Aldwych. 

Johnstons of Elgin turned 221-years-old in 2018. The Scottish cashmere clothing brand outpaces the collective years of hordes of emerging talent dotted around London during fashion week.

“It is an honour to return to London Fashion Week for a second season,” said creative director Alan Scott. “This unique collection, lovingly made in Scotland, retains our signatures of textile expertise, craft, and tailoring.”
Photo Credit: The Upcoming

In terms of ideas or creative responses to the state of global affairs, the fashion pack won’t flock to Johnstons. But that’s not the point—they’ve outlasted a myriad of designers: the show serves to communicate the brand’s message to the social media. 

Scott designed twenty looks for the presentation inspired by Ischia, the Italian island. It convincingly belonged to the leisure class and their yachting proclivities. It contributed to the escapism trend which swept the spring collections but it didn’t break new ground. He kept things light and airy in a seasonless effort which strived for mass-appealability. There were fishnet knits, draped gowns, and elegant swimwear. For the men, there were citrus-coloured polo shirts in cashmere silk and bomber jackets.

The brand manufactures its cashmere at their mill in Elgin, Scotland, on the banks of the River Lossie. The knitwear is created in Hawick, Scotland. Of course, like many other brands, there was the sustainability proviso. They collaborated with the Sustainable Fibre Alliance, a non-profit organisation working with the cashmere supply chain.

Perhaps they could lend their expertise to the upcoming labels at London Fashion Week. Engaging with emerging designers and assisting them with production could bolster their credibility amongst the younger generation but also boost brand profile in the digital age. 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Fashionable Optimism at Minki

Minki Cheng is from Hong Kong but research for his Spring 2019 presentation, shown at London Fashion Week in September, brought him to Lagos, Nigeria. He sought inspiration from Lorenzo Vitturi book Money Must Be Made, in which photographer Vitturi documented the panoply of colour in the Balogun Market on Lagos Island.  

Thomas Bird’s set design at the show consisted of baskets, exercise balls, chairs, kites and balloons, rendered in every imaginable colour on the spectrum. It posed a childlike counterpoint to the clothes which were for the most part, despite the bold colouration, rather elegant and considered. 
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Agency Eleven

The show notes emphasised “the market is eclectic; selling an absurd amount of variegated goods with a constant flow of people, voices, styles, and gestures. The ‘randomness’ creates an exciting and edgy visual.” This rhetoric corresponded to patchwork jackets, nylon dresses, and raincoats, jelly sandals, and oversized bow-accented headbands. 

Randomness often inspires chaos and this collection had that. However, because this was a presentation, where models stood sentinel, you could inspect the details, find the calm. ‘Ascalea’- and ‘cyathea’-emblazoned sweaters—references to fauna— were random and didn’t make much sense. They could’ve taken the more predictable root, opting for ‘Minki,’ something which would’ve increased brand awareness. After all, this is a fledgling label.

If this was a runway, it wouldn’t have worked. If it was a catwalk show, you would’ve missed the inventive reverse indigo denim jackets with visible interior panels or the saleable, multi-coloured, striped collarless shirts with roomy trousers in a shade of ivory. Those were the selling points but they were examples of how to pump joie de vivre into a sophisticated summer wardrobe. 

Michael Kors spoke about ‘fashion Xanax,’ at his New York show, denoting fashion that assuages the fears and furies of contemporary culture—Cheng’s work landed on that same school of thought: optimism and jubilance prevail. There was a diverse cast to solidify his message.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Paul Costelloe's Song for Another Era

One could hazard a guess that Paul Costelloe went to see Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again this summer. At his Spring 2019 presentation during London Fashion Week in September, the show opened with the songs ‘Andante Andante’ and closed with ‘When I Kissed the Teacher,’ both of which appeared in the summer blockbuster. 

The clothes had nothing to do with Mamma Mia, though. It was a “self-indulgent” passion project, as he told the Irish Times’ Deirdre McQuillan after the show. Fun. Just fun. Notwithstanding the slightly confusing musical accoutrements, this wasn’t a pantomime.

Costelloe melded the lives of the party girl, the businesswoman, and the ladies-who-lunch. The clothes he imagined for them will be made-to-order in his London studio. It’s all for the show. The main source of income for brand Costelloe is the licensing deal he has with the retailer, Dunnes Stores. It’s in Dunnes where consumers can shop his accessible clothing range and housewares. Paul Costelloe’s presence in the Irish retailer’s 136 nationwide stores that have woven him into the Irish fashion canon. The catwalks are just for show. 

In parts of the collection, it felt as though he had thrown all three aforementioned ideas into one look. In others, he exercised caution, checking off the requirements to be something to each one without diminishing clarity. His evening wear was in fine form with some floor-sweeping gowns on show. They were new and they fit nicely amongst the tweed blazers and daywear. PVC jumpsuits, barely visible under blazers, and strikingly sixties baby doll dresses, on the contrary, felt impractical in the mix. 

But Costelloe introduced oversized shoulder bags which could accommodate anything imaginable—a slight exaggeration but they were bigger than your average tote. The accessory was a worthy addition. 
Photo Credit: Paul Costelloe
The Dublin-born designer’s eye for colour hasn’t faltered over the years. This time around, he fashioned a palette of azure blue, emerald green, and a deep pink. They delighted the eyes. They were optimistic in a time when spirits are low. 

Something about the clothes—and those white ankle boots—belonged to a different era, one of riches and excess, champagne and frolics. (2018, according to popular culture, is about brisk business, practicality, and clothing as a form of protection.) For this critic, it called to mind the Celtic Tiger, Ireland’s era of economic prosperity and unadulterated decadence. It made one question: are these clothes outdated or are they renascent? Perhaps the day will come again when the leisure class bedecks themselves in custom Paul Costelloe, wearing their Irish pride and their social status once more. 

In that sense, it was the most potent Paul Costelloe show in years.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Hermès is One of the Places the Philophiles Will Be Going

Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski is the woman behind Hermès’ women’s ready-to-wear line. She’s a French designer with a resume that includes The Row and Céline. She understands quiet luxury. No frills. No fuss. Classicism comes first. However, the 181-year-old brand is primarily known for its leather goods and silk scarves. The ready-to-wear, thanks to Vanhee-Cybulski’s point of view, is beginning to gain traction. 

She took the Spring 2019 show to the Longchamp Racecourse but eschewed from the obvious equestrian references. It was an elegant display of vacation-ready ease, brightly-hued separates, and elevated athleisure.

One thing is for sure: Vanhee-Cybulski solved some of the problems faced by the Philophiles—the group of women loyal to Phoebe Philo, the former artistic director at Céline—and their penchant for the clothing that understands them while serving its purpose as cloth. For the clothing that transcends fickle trends and endures fashion. 

When Phoebe Philo left Céline, the French house she redefined in her own image  with clothes that put women’s lives first with compassion and style, shoppers were left asking ‘who?’ Who would they turn to for quiet luxury? Journalist Kate Finnegan investigated some accessible—Céline is very expensive—alternatives in the Financial Times last weekend.

Leather was a key component to the show. Vanhee-Cybulski breathed life into the fabric, giving it a much-needed lightness for the summer season. The art of subtlety played to her advantage, as did some modern silhouettes. She could’ve used some more experimentation with the fabrics and a more forceful stance on particular styles—that cropped taupe jacket was a veritable winner. 

Overall, it was uncomplicated, sophisticated, and adaptable. Those are the increasingly-sought after qualities by shoppers and these are the kind of clothes women—read: very rich women—might buy come January. 

Photo Credit: Vogue Runway

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Chanel, Thom Browne Take Paris Fashion Week to the Beach

Chanel constructed a beach to serve as the backdrop for the Spring 2019 show. With sand borrowed from a local quarry, pistons gently pushing waves, lifeguard outposts and a boardwalk, it was the grandest set of fashion week. Hey, what better way than to impose the fact that it's a $10 billion company? 

Escapism has been a recurring motif during fashion week. In fact, it dates back a number of seasons, to the time of the manic 2016 US presidential election. Since then, designers have imbued their work with a sense of charming ease, summer-ready vivacity, and a frisson of joie de vivre. 

Karl Lagerfeld is at his best when he simplifies things, visualising his inspirations in their purest form. His references to the beach were obvious but they didn’t look trite. 

He reissued the signature bouclé in sorbet shades, encased the double-Cs on necklaces with golden life buoys. He applied parasol prints to dresses, paired swimsuits with jeans, cycling shorts with tweed jackets, and topped it all off with straw hats. It was the zesty, predictable fun you’d expect from a Chanel show but it was carefree and elegant, youthful and composed. It was refreshing like lemon sorbet. 

Thom Browne, the American designer who recently sold the majority stake in his business to Zegna for $500 million, was also drawn to the seaside. His weren’t as outwardly exotic, he transported audiences to what could’ve been Cape Cod. 

Lagerfeld and Browne painted the same landscape but produced two vastly different paintings. 

Browne’s penchant for satire is brilliant. He creates runway fantasies which mock preppy WASP culture but this time around it felt too self-indulgent. The workmanship was tremendous, incomparable even. But the narrative he wove—recognisable as the true meaning might’ve been—belied the ice-cream colours.  Watering can masks, lobsters and mermaids, and watermelon fascinators, on paper, read cartoonish fun. But the result was much bleaker. It could easily be the subject of the next season of FX’s American Horror Story.

With models trussed-up, bound and subjected to impossibly high stilettos, it was another questionable portrayal of women we’ve seen over the past 28 days. (Hedi Slimane, at Céline, is another offender.) There was no relief in the denouement, no bird set free moment, no hearty laughter. The girls were fastened tightly, emancipation across the water. 

It was at Valentino where Pier Paolo Piccioli objected to the idea that the beach is the ideal milieu for freedom. He believes women should be free wherever they may be. The use of colour was gorgeous as always—black and white, red and persimmon. It evolved into an explosion of patterns. For its glossy exuberance, Piccioli’s work—with some exceptions—stayed within a sophisticated bracket. A pink dress with a reverse print of flamingos, edged with pink feathers? Fabulosity defined. 

Piccioli’s producing exemplary, desirable work at Valentino. He’s tapping into pleasure centres with joyous, passionate fashion. Few, nowadays, can rise to the challenge of solving problems while also having fun. Beach, boardroom, or big city—Piccioli is your man.
Photo Credit: All Vogue Runway