Sunday, June 16, 2019

At Pitti Immagine Uomo, Searching for Emotion and Soulful Fashion

At Pitti Immagine Uomo, the biannual men’s trade fair held in Florence, Italy, now in its 96th edition, the central focus is typically on the guest designers who flock from around the globe vying for the attention of the international press and buyers. In the past, the event has attracted the likes of J.W. Anderson, Raf Simons, Virgil Abloh’s Off-White. 

Three native Italian brands chose Pitti Uomo in lieu of the ongoing Milan Fashion Week, leaving the schedule rather parse. However, a slot at Pitti Uomo maximises brands’ opportunities to receive much-needed attention. But did they move audiences?

The first attempt was Salvatore Ferragamo, set against the palatial backdrop of the Piazza della Signoria. Models circled the Fountain of Neptune, which Ferragamo recently helped restore, ‘as a mark of gratitude to the city of Florence.’ Ferragamo’s mainstay is Milan Fashion Week but the Pitti show was a homecoming. Ferragamo was founded in Florence in 1927, the eponymous founder died there in 1960, and the brand’s headquarters remain there.
Salvatore Ferragamo
British designer Paul Andrew oversees creative direction across the brand’s womenswear and menswear lines. This Florentine outing featured both lines which coexist beautifully in the same universe, a marvellous feat for a luxury house. The clothes fused workwear and formal principles in a varied palette that began with pale blues and earthy tones before progressing into shots of sky blue, lavender, and burgundy. The statue of Napoleon is reworked, appearing on lightweight shirts. Andrew, and his menswear assistant, Guillaume Meilland, played things safe. The edit was sharp, the clothes were nice, but the overall presentation could’ve done with some more emotion.  

Celebrating his tenth anniversary, Massimo Giorgetti’s MSGM benefits from a happy-go-lucky, endearingly quirky sensibility, and hence the show emanated a sort of bubbly charm. His menswear is punchy, fun―he doesn’t shy away from elaborate allover floral prints and explosive tie-dyes but he doesn’t simplify the presentation in terms of streetwear, either. MSGM is predominately rooted in tailoring, not streetwear, the clothes are jovial but he takes his clientele serious. For spring, he proposed brightly-coloured suiting, tie-dye sportswear, and light-wash denim. The finale consisted of scantily-clad models in t-shirts and briefs, a vision of the after-after party along the coast of an Adriatic town, from where Giorgetti hails. In that respect, things felt personal. 
MSGM
In the rarified world of Marco de Vincenzo, tinged with a film-noir aesthetic, explorations of fabrication and silhouette have long been a personal project but, this season, his tenth anniversary and menswear debut, things were distilled to the point of sobriety. Yet his chequered suiting and high-waisted denim had soul.
Marco de Vincenzo
For Claire Waight Keller’s first full menswear collection for Givenchy, she channeled the soul and spirit of France and Seoul, South Korea. ‘We call it Nouveau Glitch, this fusion of Old and New World aesthetics. Baudelaire and then Asian street style now. The Art Nouveau with a post-internet glitch,’ said Clare Waight Keller of her early-00s-inspired outing. An international endeavour, Waight Keller, a British woman at a historic French house, showing in Italy, inspired by Asian cultures, the smorgasbord of cultural touchstones bled into something that was captured the spirit of Givenchy as it is today: distinctly French with an international appeal. 

She melded the formality of tailoring with the urbane reality of streetwear and sportswear. The ensuing collection could’ve used a sharper edit but Waight Keller’s desire to reflect the shifting landscape of masculinity could be deemed fresh. From her takes on oversized tailoring to the contrast of floral-printed vest tops with tracksuit pants, it was imbued with an air of modernity. She counterbalanced the tailoring’s elegance with an Onitsuka Tiger collaboration. In order to modernise Givenchy, and to connect with the style-savvy Asian customer, this collaboration made perfect sense. 

This iteration of Givenchy men’s looked like a polished take on what has come before. What it could’ve used was the same drama that Waight Keller exercised in her Fall 2019 men’s capsule―paying homage to the 1970s sleaze of New York City. Here, that was reduced to a few looks but the most impactful: a black coat with intricate embroidery slung over a sinewy model in white high-waisted trousers, a skinny silk scarf wrapped insouciantly around his neck. That was beautiful, daring. 
Givenchy
Hailed by journalist Suzy Menkes as ‘the best new-person collection I have ever seen,’ American multimedia artist Sterling Ruby issued his namesake stamp on fashion. In the past, Ruby has collaborated with Raf Simons during his stints at Christian Dior and Calvin Klein. Now, Ruby, who has been sewing since adolescence, has launched S.R. Studio. LA. CA. Described as ‘autobiographical, a chart through cloth of Ruby’s life, influences, fantasies and realities: his story,’ the unisex show touched upon Amish and Mennonite dress (see voluminous dresses, knit sweaters), from Ruby’s childhood spent in rural Pennsylvania, to his career as an artist in Los Angeles (paint-splatter and neon acid-wash denim). The personal element struck a chord, rethinking the pretension commonly associated with art and fashion as creative mediums.


Ruby’s entrance into the world of fashion - notwithstanding his previous collaborations - would hopefully serve as a precursor to a wider cultural shift in the fashion industry. As an artist, Ruby understands the concept of making, the artistic process, and the value of creation leading to a valuable outcome, rather than something solely driven by monetary gain. The dynamic collection, charting the familiar ground of Americana, wasn’t revolutionary but the idea is one that could revolutionise fashion: Ruby doesn’t intend to follow the conventional fashion cycle (some pieces are already available online; other items will follow later; there is no plan for the next show)―he’s playing it by ear. Where better to show than at Pitti, where anything is possible. By pushing against the binary fashion system, thinking on a collection-by-collection basis, the quality of the fashion, one would hope, will be stronger, more considered and inspiring. His debut, in that respect, was thrilling. Fashion and the art of making, front and centre. How it should be. 
SR Studio. LA. CA.
All images: Vogue Runway

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Givenchy, Sacai, and Alexander McQueen make convincing arguments about how to dress women in 2019

Givenchy's Clare Waight-Keller, Sacai's Chitose Abe, and Alexander McQueen's Sarah Burton made convincing arguments about how to dress women in 2019 in the final days of Paris Fashion Week. 

Clare Waight Keller has been designing at Givenchy for a year now. She favours demure femininity, a sense of bourgeois maturity that feels like a breath of crisp Parisian air in the streetwear-saturated arena of fashion. Waight-Keller is no simple designer: she embeds undertones of 70s seediness. She renovated the delicate femininity associated with couture in January by injecting things with kinkiness: latex and evening gowns. It was shocking. It questioned the aesthetics of couture. 

She was influenced by the biblical tale of Adam & Eve, endeavouring to reveal "a seductive glimpse of Givenchy's allure." Candy apples were handed out on arrival to invitees, masculine and feminine subtleties converged, and she even showed snakeskin—a humorous touch with richly sophisticated results.
Givenchy
There weren’t as many groundbreaking ideas on her ready-to-wear runway but she did propose some new silhouettes with the shoulder being the focus of her study. Straight-line boxiness; accentuated, balloon-like roundness; sloped. They arrived in suiting and coats mostly belted at the waist. There were many iterations of the new shoulder silhouette, interspersed with a series of Japanese-inspired floral dresses. In the context of the tailoring, where her expertise lies (Waight-Keller initially worked with menswear), they faded to the wayside. The evening gowns, though, they held their own. Waight-Keller exercised restraint, advocating the value of elegance. It’s defined her tenure thus far and it appears she isn’t running out of ways to extend her narrative. Long may it last. 

For Japanese designer Chitose Abe’s label Sacai, the prerogative has always been the discovery of new material compositions. She deftly hybridises fabric combinations. These permutations serve as the backdrop to wider conversations one chooses to have around Abe’s work and the many readings with which her work can be examined. 

This season, more so than others, her message felt direct. She reappropriated masculine tailoring by cinching jackets at the way, adding bustiers to blazers, applying neat folds to blazers. Abe feminised the idea of ‘masculine tailoring’ which held cultural relevance, especially at a time when the politics of fashion are so closely observed. Think of the American situation, where many of the female candidates in the upcoming 2020 Presidential election will present themselves in a way that will either level themselves with their male counterparts or else, distinguish themselves from them. 

Maybe they’ll acquaint themselves with one of Abe’s many variations on the jacket, such as her brilliant feminisation of the deconstructed mackintosh which she turned into a dress. Some of the ribbed wool-meets-quilted-bomber and the fur-accented denim jacket-meets-parka didn’t fare as well on the catwalk as, say, an expert take on an indigo jacket-meets-blazer, because they didn’t flatter—but they did provide a retreat to the outside world. Protection was one of the themes Abe explored, but she was equally fascinated by softness, showing nightgown-esqe dresses with Navajo pattern and military-inspired bustiers. The duality of woman. 
Sacai
Alexander McQueen, steered by the supremely talented Sarah Burton, trod new territory for autumn/winter but to produce something new, first, she had to go back to her roots. “I went home for this collection, back to where I grew up in the North of England, surrounded by mill towns and wild countryside,” said Burton. “I took my team to those mills, to a landscape that I remember from my childhood. The heart of the collection is inspired by the bolts of cloth we saw woven both by man and machine.” With this in mind, the ensuing collection was a celebration of British craftsmanship and heritage.

As Brexit looms large, one could read into Burton’s work as an elegiac, poignant ‘goodbye to all that’-style show. But beauty and sophisticated, the intersection between masculine and feminine influences are far more important to Burton than politics. She delivered some of the best clothes of the month, ones that were in tune with the commercial aims of the house, but also her creative needs. 

Perhaps her most important contribution was to the suiting canon where she fused tailoring with evening-wear. She continued to focus on sharp, boxy shoulders and nipped waists, which has become her signature. Furthermore, she offered an answer to the dress-suit. A dress and trousers in one aren’t exactly a revolutionary concept but the way Burton fused a red lingerie-inspired dress with a leather skirt and slim-fit black trousers, in a palette of blood red and black, was visually arresting. It modernised evening-wear in the best way possible—it looked sleek, modern and tailored with forensic precision. 

The show’s coda featured consisted of silk taffeta dresses evoking the image of a rose blossoming with petals in full bloom, in cerise and crimson. They were simply sublime. 
Alexander McQueen
Photo Credit: Vogue Runway

Monday, March 4, 2019

Powerful fashion at Balenciaga, Valentino, Comme des Garçons and Thom Browne

On Sunday morning, on the outskirts of Paris, in a show space that smelled of tar, and with pulsating strobe lights, Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia did what he does best: he introduced the shapes of the season, the silhouettes which will define the year. 

The fabric on jackets appears as if its pulled up, creating a cocoon-like shape over the body. Is it a shrug? Or is it something to protect yourself from the outside? The latter would be an apt metaphor for the political system and the unrelenting news cycle nowadays if it was the case. But, as is the case with Gvasalia, one must be cautious with their interpretations. One thing is for certain, this shape, in its oddness and freshness, will be copied to the umpteenth degree. 
Balenciaga
Moreover, Gvasalia advocated for wide round neck, hovering around the body like Saturn’s ring. It’s futuristic. Cocoon-like jackets with edges jutting upwards and extravagant, ditto. Blazers with pointed shoulders and Count Dracula-esqe collars on silk and lurex blouses too. It sounds juvenile but it was rather stunning. This could be the future.
Balenciaga
Ultimately, for all his innovations, Gvasalia has to compensate with some easy, commercial propositions.  After all, he designs at Balenciaga, one of Kering’s fastest growing luxury houses, so designing sellable garments is imperative.  He did it with aplomb again with cocoon-like jackets, a deep V-neckline twist on the double-breasted coat, oversized shirts in block colours and check patterns, velour tracksuits, and ankle-length trench coats. There was something for everybody in the audience with the show spanning more than 100 looks. 

Most models were laden down with handbags, some even with shopping backs. The latter, perhaps, an artistic representation of capitalism. A tongue-in-cheek, self-mocking one, of course. 

Thom Browne uses sardonic wit to his advantage. In fashion, save for the late Karl Lagerfeld, few designers can master the art of wry humour in fashion without turning into slapstick. Browne is one of them. This season, his set comprised of a desk-lined office space. The first eleven models emerged in a procession of grey, cropped tailoring and beige coats, accessorising with monocles and briefcases. His women were ready to get down to business. 
Thom Browne
This fed into a portion of the show where his trompe l’ceil mastery was on full display. Every other spin on the tailored suit—with rose-embroideries, fur accents, appliqué details—was accompanied by an identical trompe l’ceil iteration. The subtext was unmistakable. Browne was using facsimile to emphasise the theme of appearance versus reality, a duality which has underpinned the autumn/winter collections from New York to Paris. Nothing is as it seems anymore. US politics is a fraught landscape following Michael Cohen’s congressional hearings and the collapse of the North Korean nuclear negotiation summit. Designers are aware of what’s happening but only some, like Browne, choose to reflect that on their runway—with the most beautiful craftsmanship, it should be noted. 

Rei Kawakubo, a creative genius has produced some of the most thought-provoking fashion in recent memory, has always been in touch with the political climate and its interrelation with fashion. For her Comme des Garçons show, designed by the incomparable Rei Kawakubo, whose. Kawakubo’s fashion, belonging to a world different from conventional clothing, engages with the world. Her husband, and spokesperson, Adrian Joffe conveyed, “she reads the news, she knows what’s happening.” And this season’s title? “A gathering of the shadows.” 
Comme des Garçons
Alongside bulbous forms and protruding shapes, Kawakubo juxtaposed harsh elements with romantic ones. She decorated her models in leather, detachable bodices, harnesses, and hoods (armour?), deconstructed outerwear, as well as loosely-Victorian dresses which were rather pretty. (A lot of it—once you remove the accoutrements—was wearable; maybe she’s getting back into clothes.) It was dramatic, an accentuation of styles and shapes we have yet to acquaint ourselves with, backed up with a pathos that only Kawakubo can imbue her garments with. In the show’s denouement, the models entered seance mode. They gathered in a circle, under a spotlight. From darkness into light, female strength will lead us, Kawakubo is possibly saying.

At Valentino, creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli captured something similar. He was in the mood for love to combat the negativity that consumes the world.

A pamphlet of poetry was placed on every seat featuring words from Greta Bellamacina, Mustafa the Poet, Yrsa Daley-Ward, and Robert Montgomery. “These poems were inspired by Pierpaolo’s creations, which celebrate the daily search for love, the broken light behind each day. The reminder that love has the enduring power to bring hope, like a butterfly in an abandoned heaven,” reads Bellamacina’s introduction in the booklet. 

Piccioli, like a fauvist painter, expresses himself through the medium of colour. This is his poetry and it’s his greatest skill. He uses it to communicate messages about daily life and the ways in which clothes are designed to Although there were glimpses of Valentino from a few years ago in this collection—fluttering tulle princess dresses with the delicacy of an agile ballerina—he has shifted the house’s codes to be in line with a more regal stature, suitable for a mature woman and her younger counterparts. In essence, this is a sign of Piccioli’s respect for the client. In shades ranging from hot pink to forest green, aubergine to canary yellow, he issued a flirtatious stance on the romance of clothing. 
Valentino
There was dancing feather embroideries, layers of sheer tulle, swishy silhouettes billowing like smoke as the model glided down the runway. The show included more graphics than ever: scenes of lovers embracing; a glistening constellation in the shape of a rose, with the line ‘There’s a forever beyond the sky. I think we should go there tonight.’ It gave the collection a contemporary if predictable, verve.

The show might’ve benefited from a sharper edit but Piccioli succeeded in his motive: these were romantic clothes, ones that possibly, in their frenetic nature, captured the rush of falling in love.

The most powerful fashion is emotive. It makes you think about the world around you. Whether it comes in the form of Demna Gvaslia or Thom Browne’s questioning of established norms in terms of cut, silhouette, or surface decoration, Rei Kawakubo or Pierpaolo Piccioli’s musings on the current political climate—fashion’s singular power to make you feel and think is what makes it such an important medium, crucial to our understanding of the world and others. 
Valentino

Photo Credit: Vogue Runway

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Old Celine is back. Hedi Slimane's bourgeois tribute.

Hedi Slimane presented his sophomore women’s collection for Celine on Friday night. Following an outpouring of criticism towards his debut, it appears that Slimane, formerly of Saint Laurent and Dior Homme, has altered the recipe to a more respectful rendition of what Celine should be in 2019.

His first women’s show was punctuated by a chorus of skimpy party dresses which resembled a hangover from his Saint Laurent days. His men’s outing was about sharp tailoring and elevated outerwear—again, boasting a likeness to the work he presented at Saint Laurent. It was diametrically opposed to the approach his predecessor, Phoebe Philo—whose fondness for soft fabrication, clever tailoring, and quiet luxury captured the hearts of many—took. 

It was amusing then, following Slimane’s Saint Laurent rehash, that he should plunge into the depths of the Celine archive, reinventing the house codes for today. The Celine referenced was not the Phoebe Philo heyday—definitely. Not. Slimane is too uncompromising and blunt for ‘quiet luxury.’ His aesthetic is the fashion equivalent of taking the most direct route possible to the final destination, no detours, no stopping to take in some scenery. He’s as decisive as a full stop. The Frenchman is a cultural provocateur, a master marketer. He might focus on merchandise but, ironically, his merchandise is unlike much of the other ‘stuff’ you’re met with on most runways, from New York to Paris. Here, he conjured the spirit of the house in the 1960s and 1970s, when it targeted the French bourgeoise with functional glamour. He made a case for ‘old money’ style, the central focus was an unwavering classicism. 1970s Celine served fresh for today.

Of course, Slimane’s critics were quick to flag comparisons to everything from Saint Laurent to Isabel Marant to Zara to Vanessa Seward, likening it to “basic” fashion. However, what they might’ve missed is Slimane’s response to a) the critics and b) the times. For all of last season’s oppressive party dressing for the eternally youthful, there wasn’t an ounce of exposed flesh on this runway just pragmatic propositions for grown women. From their thigh-high boots to winter car coats, the models were adequately wardrobed for the season ahead.  

Slimane’s fashion is uncompromising in its razor-sharp approach. He nails something which most contemporary fashion designers, save for a few, ignore. Clarity of purpose. Exactitude. This collection can be simplified into categories: sharp blazers, fur coats, capes, culottes, blue jeans, patterned dresses, and check trousers. The knee-high culotte was the primary proposition: they arrived in multiple fabrics and colours. Another key point? Pockets—on everything. Slimane speaks the language of practicality but he also understands the value of image-making: almost every model had their hands buried in their pockets, not offering a singular care in the world. Quintessential laid-back French bourgeois chic, in essence. 

With pinstripe suits with turtlenecks to Princess Di-esqe check skirts and blouses to equestrian-influenced blazers and blue jeans, Slimane’s tribute to the bourgeois style tribe that has faded from high fashion’s view but, as he shows, it’s timelessly chic, a permanent currency that still makes women—of certain style orientations—swoon.
Photo Credit: Vogue Runway

Friday, March 1, 2019

Dressing the embattled at Dries van Noten and Chloé

Dries van Noten’s rose that grew from concrete blossomed into a gorgeous flower. No, the Belgian didn’t list Tupac Shakur’s ‘The Rose That Grew from Concrete’ as an influence for autumn/winter—more Gertrude Stein’s “a rose is a rose is a rose”—but his autumn/winter 2019 show at Paris Fashion Week on Wednesday night did open with a smattering of melancholic grey tailoring. This fed into a beautiful panoply of faded hues in soft silks, luxurious furs, and fabulous floral-print puffer jackets. 

Everything started with photographs of flowers from van Noten’s garden in his native Belgium. Roses, shot salvia, delphiniums, the list goes on. It wasn’t so much the beauty that fascinated the designer but the impurities he found. The world is full of imperfection of all kind—from political tumult to civil unrest, from societal angst about the state of affairs to the uncertainty of what lies ahead. It’s why this collection was pervaded with sombre undertones. Models clasped puffer-style stoles and clasped their jackets shut with a protective intent. His women, so sublimely dressed for impending doom, looked strong in their readiness, responding to gloom with gorgeous layers.

This collection’s strong points: floral-printed puffer jackets which felt particularly unordinary coming from Dries van Noten collection but they made sense. The Belgian is a purveyor of beautiful clothing but he’s not ignorant to the world around him either. Without sacrificing his identity, he offered protective layers that were loaded with his decorative touch as they were the underlying principle of practicality. The comfort-providing roomy silhouettes of knitwear and silk dresses, ditto. To truly ground oneself in a time of unrest. One might favour his line-up of greyscale pinstripe tailoring. Leave it to van Noten to dress the embattled.

Or look to Lemaire’s eponymous Christopher Lemaire and his design partner, Sarah-Linh Tran, who posited on sophisticated tailoring. Similar to van Noten, this was a dependent wardrobe ready for road. At Lemaire, things are empowering without having to spell ‘Feminism.’ Reliable clothes do the talking and such a simple gesture is a balm in troubled times. 

Natacha Ramsay-Levi, now in her second year at Chloé, produced marvellous results with a similar idea in mind. Her women are destined for the real world too. She was one of the many designers to offer condolences to the late Karl Lagerfeld, dedicating the collection to him. Lagerfeld designed at the house for 25 years. Her show notes came with a quote from the German designer, most famous for his time at Chanel, which captures the essence of the Chloé spirit, past and present. “My dresses are for women who go beyond the obvious… They’re made to transform everyday life into a fairly tale, to create an atmosphere at every moment.” 

41 years later, Ramsay-Levi is at the helm. The everyday life she imagines consists of slim-fit trousers, unstructured coats, weightless dresses and beaucoup de pattern and denim. She builds on the language of French style—which she speaks so effortlessly—subtly, adding minor details: funnel-neck blouses with ribbed wool accents; asymmetric skirts with button-up detailing; adding utility pockets to fitted trousers. They’re hardly revolutionary concepts but they’re clever and perfunctory. 


This season, she didn’t raise the stakes but she pushed things along nicely. It’s okay to take things a little slower: we might as well while we still can.

Images: Vogue Runway

At Paris Fashion Week, tales of Revival at Nina Ricci, Mugler, Courrèges, and Lanvin

It’s hard to please everyone. Imagine your favourite chocolate bar. They change the recipe and it’s not the same. 

This happens in fashion, too. Look no further than the multiple adaptations of brands long after their founders or creative directors exit or pass away. Helmut Lang is a prime example of a brand whose legacy is engrained the fashion history canon for his endless contributions to a changing industry. The recent revival at New York Fashion Week drew mixed reactions from pundits but, of course, one shouldn’t expect anything less. Designer transitions are sure to divide. 

This week at Paris Fashion Week, there were a number of attempts—and sophomore efforts—at reviving interest in a number of brands. Paris plays host to many of the worlds historically renowned labels, the ones which transformed the perception of fashion as frocks to fashion as a charging cultural force. 
Mugler
On Wednesday, Casey Cadwallader showed his second outing at Mugler, the storied French house with roots in the avant-garde. Cardi B and Kim Kardashian both wore archival Mugler looks from the 1990s recently, perhaps as a preview for the “Thierry Mugler: Couturissme” exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which positions the brand back in public consciousness. The clothes Cadwallader presented built on the body-con language of his predecessor David Koma, adding ersatz prints to liven tailoring studies up. Ultimately, Cadwallader’s instincts were short of one’s expectations for a house whose design handwriting is linked with drama and theatre. That’s not to say, Cadwallader should go full throttle, guns blazing, with bells and whistles, but perhaps his execution should pack more punch.  

Cadwallader said he wanted to embed the collection with more of his own personal stamp but, only two collections in, he should remind himself that fashion is a marathon, not a sprint. He’s got to reacquaint the world with the house codes before he starts playing with them.

Elsewhere, Yolanda Zobel continued to paint her canvas at Courrèges. Famed for its futurist, Space Age fashion connotations, there was plenty of that on the runway. Zobel honoured the archives but added some print and surface decoration. However, as is always the case with the minimal futurist aesthetic, one risks entering a sanitised territory—Zobel misfired and landed here. That only served to describe the first half of the collection. The latter was defined by a scatterbrained attempt at incorporating surface decoration and print. This needs work. 
Courrèges
The same can be said for Bruno Sialelli’s pleasant, pretty but prosaic, debut at Lanvin. He’s the third designer to land there since Alber Elbaz’s fateful departure. Since then, the house has been stripped of its prestige and meaning. Sialelli’s co-ed show was a little lacklustre, a lot of Loewe (i.e. heavy Spanish influences, patchwork fabrics, and fringe details), not enough Lanvin. It was warm but unromantic, stylised but not precious enough. Lanvin symbolised a romantic worldview—Vanessa Friedman astutely labelled it “empathetic”—but this was a far cry from the beautifully draped cocktail dressing of Elbaz. Yes, this was more realistic, practical, but it needed more souls.
Lanvin
These designers could take cues from Chloé’s Natacha Ramsay-Levi or Paco Rabanne’s Julien Dossena where efforts to modernise houses have been relatively successful. Both brands could serve as lessons in how to maintain a sense of the house’s history while reinventing it for the modern woman and her needs. 

Those who came closest were the new hires at Nina Ricci, Rushemy Botter and Lisa Herrebrugh. They took a look at the archives and threw in some of their own references but maintained an elegant, occasionally humorous, line throughout the collection. 

Botter is originally from Curaçao in the Caribbean and Lisa Herrebrugh hails from the Netherlands, where the design duo met. At the Hyères Festival in 2018, they were awarded the top prize, which launched their label Botter on the international stage. Their signature is menswear with a comedic twist, a playfully artful edge, a nod and a wink to contemporary fashion.
Nina Ricci
Chez Nina Ricci, they practised the art of subtlety, the design duo’s restricted colour palette of blush tones, black and white, with occasional pops of peach and a multi-coloured spray-paint design, was rendered in sharp, boxy tailoring and dainty dresses. They threw in some references to swimwear with a cobalt bathing suit attached to a grey coat being the standout piece. They established notes of flirtation and sophistication, teetering on the lines between the juvenile and the demure. It was simple and effective, a soigné take on daywear with playful twists which reminded this critic of the jovial Ricci Ricci fragrance advertising campaigns.

With thousands of options out there, you have to give women a convincing pitch for your wares. What stops them from going anywhere else for their fashion fix? Creativity and soul. Botter and Herrebrugh delivered an exceptional debut built on these principles. At the end of the day, one must still beg the question, do people care as much about heritage houses anymore? Well, it depends. Different strokes for different folks.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Marine Serre Kickstarts Paris Fashion Week. Plus: Jacquemus, Dior's Corporate Feminism

Paris Fashion Week, the last leg of the monthlong autumn/winter 2019 extravaganza, began on Monday afternoon with the arrival of Rok Hwang, a London-based South Korean designer with a penchant for deconstructed and reconstructed luxury. His label, Rokh, won the Special Prize at last year’s LVMH Prize. 

The show marked Rokh's catwalk debut. He proposed deconstructed trench coats, gloved-turtlenecks, dresses spliced together from multiple fabrics. Perhaps it was the styling but the Rokh vision lacked the clarity it possesses against the backdrop of a white screen.  

Later that evening, Simon Porte Jacquemus signalled new directions. In a space that resembled a quaint square in the South of France—familiar territory for the Marseille-raised Jacquemus—he shifted away from the la bombe-sexuelle aesthetic he’s insisted on in recent seasons, to search for something grounded in reality. Of course, it was those micro-sized bags that were on everyone’s Instagram feeds for hours after. But beyond the bags—big and small; earrings, heels, and boots too— was a collection with answers to everyone’s question: where can Jacquemus go from here? 

He added some knitwear and roomy trousers, big coats to wrap up in, and abbreviated dresses that exuded a sensuality rather than an overtly sexy attitude. It’s important for him to tread this new ground at a juncture when ‘sensuality’ is sexier than ‘sexy.’ Once he refines the new direction—fewer accessories, more consistency with the clothes—he’ll be off to a flying fresh start.

Nothing looked quite as sharp or clever as Marine Serre’s standout Thursday morning rave-inspired presentation in a tunnel—not least at Christian Dior, where artistic director Maria Grazia Chiuri’s latest corporate feminist opus which paid homage to the American second-wave feminist author, Robin Morgan, with ‘Sisterhood is Global’ t-shirts and the 1950s Teddy Girls subculture with nods to Edwardian tailoring. (The commodification of feminism, something which stirred controversy before, is likely to bubble to surface in light of this collection.) The précis noted links to sportswear but they didn’t translate from the page to the runway. There were no hints of athleticism amidst the prim daywear or evening gowns topped with fedoras. Certainly, it was elegant. Revolutionary, it was not. But at Serre’s show, you got the sense that she was onto something genuinely interesting and unmissable. She had, dare one say, new! ideas. Who would’ve thought those exist in the digital age?

It’s precisely why Serre’s apocalyptic mood, with its rebellious and electric energy, looked new. Enter Serre’s dystopia, a climate change-stricken world, and you have to ready yourself with “futurewear” as she’s known to call it. It’s a new direction for fashion, a world where fur accents spurt out of denim and gilet jaune-style jackets, with dresses that looked like dreamcatchers, dripping with various strands of recycled fabrics, and puffer jackets moulded into hourglass silhouettes recalling 1980s couture pieces. 

A 27-year-old French woman with the 2017 LVMH Prize in her pocket, Serre has developed successfully as a designer in the infancy of her career. There’s a level of maturity that comes with every collection—perhaps from the mentorship she receives or else just pure creative genius and the clarity it brings. It goes without saying she’s commercially savvy too—her signature crescent-moon print veritably launched her commercial presence. (For fall 2019 she delivered more denim with the moon print, for men and women!)

Serre’s urban pirates nodded to fetishism too: see gas masks (they came in black, and green or red plaid) and full-body leather suits. Leave it to the young talent to reconstitute this reference, considering them a means of protection in her imagined dystopia.

This show, notwithstanding its existential dread, was a positive note to start Paris Fashion Week on.

Friday, February 22, 2019

MaxMara's politics of glamour


At Thursday morning’s MaxMara show at Milan Fashion Week, three models opened the show together in striking shades of aqua, cobalt, and citrus. Their stomp was marked by conviction, each step a wilful march forward. The sharp tones gave way to beige, biscuit, brown, and black—with a passage of animalia—but it’s those three opening looks that really caught one’s eye. (They did a second lap in faux-fur editions.) 

Ian Griffiths, creative director of MaxMara, was thinking about the politics of glamour. This idea arose from an event in December 2018 when Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, emerged from a meeting where she challenged President Donald J. Trump about the government shutdown, in a crimson funnel-neck coat. It became a defining sartorial moment of American politics in 2018. The new power coat, it was dubbed.  

At the time, Griffiths said in an email sent to The New York Times, “you develop an emotional relationship with a coat like nothing else in your wardrobe. I can imagine why Ms. Pelosi chose to wear it for this important moment, and I’m honoured.” The label announced a 2019 reissue of the style, which was from 2013. 

Now, two months later, there are five women from the Democratic Party seeking to unseat the incumbent. What did Griffiths have in store for Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, or Elizabeth Warren? He gave them what MaxMara does best: the finest Italian outerwear, the kind of pieces that you can cherish forever. He swathed them loose tailoring and warm layering, in luxurious Italian fabrics, to weather the impending political storm. He offered them the option to accessorise with leather gloves, though it’s likely they’ll have to come off during the campaign stages. Politics mightn't be glamourous but that won't stop our politicians from striving for glamour.


MaxMara relies on its signatures to sell but this update, musing on the relationship between the power and glamour, had an unmistakable attitude.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Marc Jacobs closes NYFW, reincarnates beauty

American fashion can’t escape the commercial pragmatism connotations. A sense of urgent practicality pervaded the New York collections, perhaps as a response to a divided time and country. The clothes are ready to rumble, there and then. 

Not many designers delivered a way forwards. Those who came closest were Chromat, Telfar, and Eckhaus Latta, with stories of inclusion. They captured the quotidian of the subcultures they represent but there was still something missing. Something bigger than American fashion in its current guise.

It’s why Marc Jacobs’ couture concept on Wednesday night crowned itself the best show of the week. With the Park Avenue Armory plunged into darkness, the intimate kind, the only light illuminating the models was a spotlight. It was the guiding light of New York Fashion Week. Following was following Jacobs’ reminder that fashion, in its purest form—the art of creation, its commentary on the time in which its presented and how it offers a direction forward—is still the apex of all fashion weeks. Where are the ideas, you ask? Marc Jacobs has them, of course. 

It was utterly gorgeous, a sumptuous visual delight that stripped back theatrics to a haunting degree but still revelled in its own drama. Voluminous silhouettes of historic couturiers: Cristobal Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent! 

And in the bright hues of red, lemon, seafoam green, alongside sombre hues of black, grey, and beige. The constant dialogue between the prismatic extremes explained something about American fashion—there are those whose colour palette reflects the ennui of the times, and those who use colour as method of rebuking the turmoil. 

The glamour! The colours! Jacobs strived for beauty and he delivered it ad infinitum.

The final look, worn by 90s supermodel Christy Turlington Burns, was a black evening dress bursting with glossy plumes. It was unlike anything else on the runway this New York Fashion Week. It underscored the belief that there is room for fashion that will hit you like a sucker punch. Perhaps, as an audience, maybe we should demand more of it.


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Oscar de la Renta & Coach make modern clothes at New York Fashion Week

On the final day of New York Fashion Week, Michael Kors paid homage to the legends of Studio 54, spinning a tale of a Broadway dancer-by-day who spends her evening revelling in the ritzy enclaves of New York’s most famous nightclub. Barry Manilow provided live music, singing ‘Copacabana (At the Copa’ while models—typically stiff and stoic—swayed along in a surprisingly loveable, camp and kitsch affair. 

The models, with their hair fashioned in tight curls, took to the runway in layers of crushed lamé, extravagant fleece coats, and flouncy party dresses dripping in feather trim and crystal embroidery. From lacquered leathers in animal print to fur-trimmed jackets, Kors touched all bases. For the guys, there were tank tops emblazoned with the Studio 54 logo, flared denim, and buttoned-down patterned shirts. However, was lost in a sea of womenswear. 

Kors likes to make his fashion as easy as apple pie. He spared no expense on explicit references to the 1970s.
Michael Kors
It’s why Stuart Vevers take at Coach 1941 was much more nuanced in his approach and, thus, more successful in its execution. His latest offering was influenced by youth culture in the decade that brought the collision of punks with hippies, glam rock and disco, and the evolution of skate and biker cultures. Vevers is skilled at taking American history and making something desirable out of it—if it’s not wholly compelling, it’s modern. 

Alongside plaid tailoring and floral print dresses accented with black ruffles, he presented his strongest menswear to date. His propositions skewered tailoring and streetwear, seamlessly catering to the two markets by bringing them together. Whether it was joggers or tapered trousers, everything was styled with sneakers. His man could have easily stepped out of Gia Coppola’s youth culture odyssey Palo Alto, or quite simply, a Californian suburb. Wait for high street retailers to copy it. It’s with the times, even if he didn’t push it forward. 
Coach 1941
On Tuesday night, Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia, the designers at Oscar de la Renta, went in the opposite direction. For Kim and Garcia, the question is simple: how do you infuse the tasteful proclivities of the uptown elite with a modern, urban sensibility. It’s the guiding light in their collections. Their attempts aren’t always auspicious but they have come quite close for Fall. 

They fused the Islamic and Christian history of the Mosque-Cathedral in Córdoba, Spain. The duo assimilated the disparate worlds of gloriously eclectic pattern and fluid silhouettes—in rich shades of vermilion, ochre, and gold—and the subdued elegance of black, white, and grey. They showed daywear, using fabrics traditionally associated with menswear, for all ages and glamourous evening wear for all occasions. 

The main attempt was to thread a global line through the work—nothing was supposed to feel rooted in one city. Oscar de la Renta, of course, is a global brand, and it showed. The standout was a floral-embroidered lace dress in a sublime shade of crimson. A veritable update on the flamenco dress, it could also be read as an homage to the late Mr. de la Renta’s Spanish roots.  

Furthermore, Kim and Garcia’s modernity was rooted in practicality and femininity. Trousers and asymmetrically-cut blouses, funnel-neck sweaters and oversized tailoring finally clicked with the evening wear portions. A comprehensive vision for their iteration of Oscar de la Renta finally makes the most sense for the time it's being presented in. Kudos to them—and management—for taking the time to work things out. 
Oscar de la Renta

Photo Credit: Andrea Adriani via Vogue Runway

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

New York Fashion Week isn't dead yet: Standout collections from Helmut Lang, Proenza Schouler, Gabriela Hearst

On Monday night, the second iteration of the Helmut Lang revival was unveiled. In 2018, Alix Browne, founding editor of V magazine, was appointed editor-in-residence, replacing Isabella Burley. Under her purview, she tapped Mark Howard Thomas and Thomas Cawson to envision Helmut Lang for 2019. 

Thomas will look after the men’s and women’s collections while Cawson will be responsible for Helmut Lang Jeans. Thomas’ pedigree includes stints at Joseph, Givenchy, and Neil Barrett; Cawson served as global creative director of Calvin Klein Jeans during the Raf Simons era. 

He restored minimalist rigour to the brand, in all its 1990s glory. It was truer to the original than Shayne Oliver’s attempt for Spring 2018, the brand’s first attempt at revitalising the label in the latter half of the 2010s. Focusing on a 1970 Joseph Buey’s sculpture called, Felt Suit, a two-piece suit, Cawson’s narrative was about purity, minimalism, and constructing a new wardrobe. Those were the beliefs synonymous with Mr. Lang himself. For the modern era, Cawson envisioned power dressing—tapered trousers, sharp-shouldered jackets, and the slew of leather looks added an urban sensibility.

He called on the androgynous tropes of the house with men and women in matching tweed boiler suits, leather trousers, and coordinating crimson tailoring. Thomas delivered double denim in bubblegum pink, There was something entirely refreshing about this homage to the 1990s. It’s good to have Helmut Lang back, even if the namesake founder isn’t at its helm. 
Helmut Lang
Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez at Proenza Schouler have borrowed a thing or two from the original Helmut Lang. For one, they have the same inclination to subvert simplicity, attempting to elevate the banal while maintaining a detached yet sensual cool. Moreover, their preferred show venues—anonymous, incomplete spaces—attracted Lang too.

Experimentalists at heart, their creative streak has often made them scatterbrained—especially in recent years when a short-lived jaunt to Paris for two seasons threw a spanner in the works. However, for fall 2019, they built on their musings on workwear staples in oversized, boxy silhouettes, full of asymmetric twists and turns. They carried forward the distressed denim look—applying it a beige trench coat, covetable fabric alchemy. Consistency paid off. Their clothes were convincing, if not a little too reminiscent of some European labels.
Proenza Schouler
Gabriela Hearst is 12 collections in and she’s nicely developing her minimalist aesthetic with warm and romantic tactile touches. At her Tuesday morning presentation, she proposed colourful tweed, quilted jackets and skirts in neutral shades of olive and beige, double-breasted suits in slate grey and charcoal, fringed shawls, and subtle, unstructured dresses suitable for lounging or entertaining. It’s the fashion equivalent of comfort food.

The story of New York Fashion Week has not really been what’s on the runways, rather what’s missing. Firstly, there are those tentpole names that have decamped the schedule for another city or schedule or altogether—Thom Browne, Altuzarra have gone to Paris; Rodarte showed in Los Angeles; Alexander Wang presents in June and December; Shayne Oliver’s Hood by Air is no more. 
Gabriela Hearst
Secondly, many have argued that New York is bereft of serious talent. I wouldn’t fret too much about New York’s voicelessness. Talent is alive: look no further than Telfar Clemens, Becca McCharen-Tran at Chromat, Kerby Raymond’s Pyer Moss (a no-show this season), and the duo at Eckhaus Latta. These guys have big ideas about class, race, and gender—the touchstones of American society—but are still working out how to translate those to the runway.

Enter Thomas and Cawson at Helmut Lang. “We’re tired of meme fashion,” they told British Vogue. It’s about time the crux of fashion went back to the idea of creation. There aren’t many new ideas around anymore but passion still exists and it counts for something. Heck, throw Gabriela Hearst and the Proenza boys into the mix and you’ve got yourself a fashion week with competent designers with a passion for invention and reinvention, All things said and done, even if the schedule could be trimmed by at least five days, New York Fashion Week isn’t dead yet.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Fashion that 'sparks joy' at Sies Marjan, The Row. Plus Carolina Herrera's modern twist

Sander Lak has stuck to his guns for the past couple of years. The Belgian designer, and once an assistant to Dries van Noten, exploded onto the fashion scene in 2017 with colour stories worthy of Tate Modern exhibitions. Lak started out as a relatively-unknown, in an unsold, unfurnished New York real estate property. 

Three years later, he’s one of the most in-demand names at New York Fashion Week, commanding the attention of top editors and important buyers. He’s proved himself as one of New York’s finest, and one of the few designers worth travelling to America’s fashion capital to see. 

Fall 2019, presented yesterday afternoon in a darkened space illuminated only by spotlights and shimmering Swarovski crystals, felt like a true progression for him and the Sies Marjan label. Yes, there was the emotional involvement of colour. This time he was thinking about love. Lak explained that he wanted things to feel “magical.” 

Falling in love meant fluid forms. On paper, it was your typical Sies Marjan show but there was newness abound. Firstly, he segued from softer palettes into extraordinary neon hues. Slightly chaotic styling evoked the near-incapacitating rush of falling headlessly in love, playing on the duality of comfort and discomfort. He introduced lace and asymmetric drapery and fine-tuned his tailoring output.

Lak trod new ground whilst continuing to compel his audience with fantastic fashion that can be adopted into a woman’s everyday wardrobe. It’s the kind of fashion you can fall in love with. 

Established in 2006, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s brand, The Row, prescribes the ease of luxurious basics with the rigour of Saville Row tailoring. A coat could cost you $8,000. You won’t get change out of $5,000 for a suit. A handbag commands a $1,500 price tag. Of course, their clientele won’t have an issue with this. 

Press, buyers, and eventually customers, flock to The Row for a soothing repose, a momentary lapse from the tumultuous political climate, and a balm to the world’s woes. They fashion a narrative driven by neutral shades and supple shapes. From oversized blazers with nipped waists, turtlenecks to retreat into on dark days, and jackets to swaddle oneself in when the temperatures begin to plummet. They do everything with such effortless mastery. They’re the kind of clothes that ‘spark joy’ and it’s a recipe that never gets old. 

Wes Gordon had to update Carolina Herrera, where he started a year ago. Gordon’s gambit is the uptown chic doyennes that his predecessor connected with but Herrera’s legacy will only be honoured if the incumbent catches the eye of younger clientele. His attempt last season faltered in its datedness. He responded to the lukewarm critical response with a collection that was modern in its disposition and colourful in its expression. 

Amidst a sea of twee cocktail dresses and flowing trapeze gowns, Gordon incorporated some neat tailoring, blazers with cut-out details, and oversized jackets. If Gordon wants to have the same grasp on New York Fashion Week that Sander Lak and the Olsen twins have he’ll need to cohere his point of view.  
Photo Credit: Vogue Runway

Sunday, February 10, 2019

America's got talent - Eckhaus Latta and Brandon Maxwell impress with sharp collections

America fashion sorely lacks authoritative voices. Raf Simons exited Calvin Klein following a poor commercial response to his collections. Marc Jacobs is still around but he relies heavily on his own archive to push things in a new direction. Helmut Lang left the fashion industry even though the ghost of his aesthetic presides over most collections. (Editor-in-residence Alix Browne will endeavour to revive the Lang project next week.) But America’s got talent, as we saw on Saturday afternoon at New York Fashion Week at the Eckhaus Latta and Brandon Maxwell presentations.

Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta, the design duo behind Eckhaus Latta, refined their ‘awkward/art school’ aesthetic with a collection that sang to the heart of commerce. Eckhaus Latta has packaged gender and class commentary for men, women, and the gender non-binary person from the outset. Over the years, they’ve garnered a following for their post-Margiela aversion to contemporary fashion, where ‘pretty’ is not part of the vernacular but the words ‘asymmetric’ or ‘deconstruction’ are more likely to be found. 

Nowadays, their focus is much more on designing an impressive product that uplifts their raison d’être as opposed to solely focusing on cultural commentary, which isn’t a bad thing. They have to push things forward if they want to continue to lure audiences to Bushwick on a Saturday afternoon. They were nominated for the ANDAM Fashion Award and the LVMH Prize recently. With two flagship stores and a host of worldwide stockists, the pressure is on to sustain the momentum. And they did just that.

It was still very much an Eckhaus Latta collection. Furs that looked more like roadkill than exotic animals; fleeces that looked positively ordinary in lieu of a glossy, expensive exterior; knitwear patchworked like it had been purloined from a bin of deadstock fabrics; and jeans that looked like weathered the aftermath of an excitable spray-painting session. Moreover, cue a collaboration with UGG. Square-toed backless UGG heels? A savvy collaboration for Eckhaus Latta, enhancing their narrative as the brand that riffs on bad taste. 

What they manage to do to all of the above is making it desirable. Furthermore, they perfected slick tailoring and it produced a polished exterior, a departure from the bric-a-brac mood one has come to expect from the duo. Of course, their ‘rough around the edges’ cool remains, but a grown-up wind prevails.

Brandon Maxwell is the antithesis of Eckhaus Latta in terms of aesthetics, but they are one and the same in the way they generate interest in contemporary American fashion. Maxwell, a Texan, is the lovechild of Ralph Lauren and Carolina Herrera with the spirit of your grandmother. He delivers fashion for the high society like he’s been practicing for decades. This season was no different. 

He could be the next household name. He’s warm and charming, he’s gracious and inviting, he’s got America’s sweethearts supporting him on the red carpets, and stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, and Bergdorf Goodman are lining up to have him in their stores. Not to mention, he produces a plus-size range for retailer 11 Honoré. And at the end of Saturday’s show, he took his bow with his mother and his team of seamstresses. Wholesome. 

For fall, he stripped things back to black and white—albeit with an occasional pop of cerise and lime green. He noted a family illness had put a dampener on things. Yet, he continued on with some familiar silhouettes, strengthening his sharp perspective. There were satins shirts with high collars, slinky tank dresses with pencil skirts, ribbed turtlenecks over duchesse satin skirts, and a slew of functional daywear options punctuated by cigarette trousers. There wasn’t much development but it’s worth sticking with consistency in the early stages of your career. With a restricted colour palette, Maxwell allows the silhouettes to do the talking. His point of view doesn’t falter.