Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Designers reconnect with a dying world at Sacai, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen

The planet is dying and the map of the world, the one printed on Chitose Abe’s Sacai runway on Monday morning at Paris Fashion Week, might soon become outdated. Less than a week after Greta Thunberg delivered a damning speech addressed at world leaders, declaring ‘if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you’, comes a UN report warning about accelerated rising sea levels. Coastal regions may soon be underwater.

But there she was, Mother Earth, in all her colourful glory printed on flowy kaftans, pyjama-style separates, and a deconstructed trench, and in black and white, on shirts and dresses enriched with bursts of cascading tassels.

Abe’s message is perfect right now. From the beginning she’s had a utilitarian spirit, how she splices together disparate fabrics, different garments, into one functional body of work is marvellous, resourceful, and when it’s most unexpected, thrilling. Here, she incorporated our world, in its most literal sense, as a catchy print, intercut with her magical sense for fabrication.

Alongside her cartography, it was a mostly sombre affair consisting of tweed suiting, pinstripe tailoring, and deconstructed shirting. Nonetheless, it was pretty. Beauty while we can still appreciate those things.

‘The world is crying out for change and it is our responsibility to act now,’ said Stella McCartney.

This marks McCartney's first collection under the LVMH umbrella. She was also appointed as the conglomerate’s special advisor on sustainability. In a recent press conference, LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault called Greta Thunberg’s speech ‘demoralising’ but that didn’t bother the designer. Her imprint was on the ethos of this collection. ‘The younger generation are standing up and telling us that our house is on fire and that we need to respond like we are in a crisis, because in fact it is a crisis,’ she said.

McCartney concedes, ‘we aren’t perfect, and we recognise that, like all businesses, we are part of the problem, but we are pushing boundaries every day to find solutions that do exist in an industry desperately in need of change.’

She was one of the first to include recycled fabrics, vegan leather, and other environmentally-conscious measures in the design studio before it was fashionable to do so. According to Vogue Runway, her press release notes revealed that spring/summer 2020 used 75% eco-friendly materials.

They were used to produce McCartney’s typical assortment of insouciant tailoring, generously proportioned bohemian dresses (this time in exotic shades of tangerine and aqua), amidst scalloped details, the most interesting of which appeared at the end in black lace and on a geometric floral patterned poncho. Altruistic sustainable gestures to one side, this was a fashion show with some worthy contenders for spring wardrobes.

(Menswear was relegated to a mere few looks but, interestingly, the simplicity of it -- yes, a full-floral look felt refreshingly unfussy when grounded with white trainers -- was one of the show’s strongest points.)

‘We can build a better future together,’ she said. Wishful thinking? Probably not, judging by the hundreds of thousands that have been galvanised by the threat of climate change. With our futures at stake, it’s only fair designers reflect this in their process even if, at the end of the day, they are contributing to the problem by creating new clothes.

At Alexander McQueen, Sarah Burton wanted to try something different. An introspective journey has led her to pastures new with recent shows.

‘I was interested in clarity and paring things down, in the essence of garments,’ she said, adding ‘each look tells its own story,’ said Sarah Burton

It opened with an ivory puff-sleeve dress with contrast feather-stitch detailing and a black leather belt. Beetling is a process that dates back to the early 1700s that involves covering fabric in potato starch before it is pounded on a wood machine for hours, giving the dress its flat but shiny effect. Another technique: the linen is moon-bleached rather than sun-bleached, a traditional Irish method of reaching a silver-white polish.

Burton arrived at these techniques after a team visit to Ireland where they learned about flax farming (how linen is produced), beetling, and damask linen weaving, working with the last remaining weavers the country. This was a celebration of craftsmanship and the human touch.

One example was worn by Stella Tennant. Its pattern, various sketches from a life drawing class, was produced by a cohort of Central Saint Martins MA fashion students. The embroidery, Burton said, could be attributed to the entirety of the McQueen headquarters where every employee took a turn.

‘I love the idea of people having the time to make things together, the time to meet and talk together, the time to reconnect with the world,’ Burton said.

An endearing prospect but perhaps overly quixotic. Until the industrial system deconstructs, people have to save the joy of making for knitting, sewing, or pottery clubs, rendering her viewpoint of humankind is wholly idealistic. But that’s okay for her customers. They’ll appreciate the effort she made to recreate a sense of oneness between the maker and the garment.

The most powerful aspect of her work is the way she straddles the line between the feminine and the masculine. In one collection, Kaia Gerber decorated in a pink feather mini-dress like an angel incarnated, and a black leather tuxedo can believably coexist in the same universe. In ours, they might bewilder the beholder, or beguile them. Chances are its the latter, Burton’s visual poetry is sublime.

And when the forty-second look made its exit, the models did a final lap, and Burton took her bow accompanied by members of the design studio, you got the sense for that moment at least, beauty was enough. In the long-term, however, such luxuries cannot be afforded. As McCartney said, ‘this is the future of fashion, not just a trend.’

Monday, September 30, 2019

What to wear to work in 2020. Reviewing Balenciaga, Givenchy.

People have to go to work and fashion often ignores this fact. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. In one sense, it allows designers to push the boundaries, to germinate creative energy that can’t survive elsewhere, but on the other... people have to go to work.

On the third-last day of Paris Fashion Week, in a cobalt room designed to resemble the European Parliament, Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia was thinking about the world of work.
‘Models of various career tracks interpret and play on beauty standards of today, the past, the future,’ read the notes.
Balenciaga Vogue Runway

There was Neda Brady, an architect, in an unstructured uniform with embroidered business logos and removable whalebones at the shoulders, accessories with a VIP pass necklace. (This continued for four or five looks, on a law student, an entrepreneur, and private equity associate.) There was Tatiana Katysheva, an artist, in a matching floral print twisted top and skirt. There was Moritz Ley, CFO, in a stonewashed coat over a black viscose turtleneck and baggy blue jeans.

In the blink of an eye, the banal was elevated to a pedestal. Mundanity, front and centre at one of the most-watched shows at Paris Fashion Week, looked more desirable than ever.

Gvasalia is smart. He didn’t build his collection solely around these commercially-astute decisions -- though there were plenty of those: t-shirts printed with ‘X-rated’, ‘Balenciaga’s Top Model’, and the ‘Tyrex’, the brand’s new shoe which is part-trainer, part-office shoe -- he’s more talented than just that.

He pushed the boundaries of the silhouette. He exaggerated shoulders to the umpteenth degree, creating a jarring sense of boxiness, a ‘democratic’ gesture, he said. He heightened the drama of puffer jackets as they formed protective cocoon shapes around the human body. He architected crinoline ball gowns with a Futurist spin. ‘How to make quite eccentric eveningwear wearable,’ he told FT How to Spend It editor Jo Ellison. Look at that lurex gown as it bounced along the runway, accented with a large bow—exquisite. And the crinolines were removable. The removable aspect is a good start but he has yet to reach his conclusion, this eveningwear was as extravagant as it comes. However, he’s one of the few designers searching for answers. Perhaps a ball gown to the boardroom will be possible in the next five years. Ultimately, Gvasalia will be the one to tell you if it is.
Givenchy Vogue Runway
Equally important in Paris is Clare Waight Keller, a match made in heaven for Givenchy executives. As she approaches two years with the house, she continues to renovate the house codes, oozing modernity, taking the challenges associated reinventions in her stride. She isn’t laden down with the burden of the past, she’s a forward-thinker, one of the few with maturity left in fashion. She doesn't always hit the nail on the head but she labours more than 90% of other fashion designers, it would appear.

She combed through images of Paris and New York in the mid-nineties before envisioning what the two would look like in a conversation. Imparting the 90s working woman sensibility with an air of Parisian sophisticate in the collection, she translated her dual inspirations into an affair of relaxed tailoring (a new avenue for suiting: a slim, long jacket and narrow shorts, a departure from the rigour of formal tailoring), upcycled denim (in questionable Bermuda short form), and scarf necklines and poplin sun-dresses printed with bucolic fantasies.

This season’s Givenchy vision is familiar. It has the harsh lines and architectural prowess of New York’s urban simplicity -- after all, Waight Keller joined Calvin Klein in 1993, at the height of its minimalist proclivities -- counterbalanced by the romantic warmth of Paris. Alongside floor-sweeping gowns blossoming with bold floral patterns, cloche-shaped skirts and bold balloon shoulders, blazers with denim short shorts and blouses with ripped jeans looked convincing. It modernised the Givenchy mission -- melding the urbane with the elegant.

Waight Keller’s strength is also in her ability to create a seamless dialogue between day and night, and here, also, New York and Paris, where the street and the ballroom and fractured by a day’s work in the office.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The quest for beauty is never easy. At PFW, some designers make it look that way.

In Paris, the quest for beauty is front and centre for spring/summer 2020. For the city’s designers, finding answers, and a way forward is central to their practice. As the season comes to a close, it became clear that the quest for beauty is never easy but some designers manage to make it look that way. 

Junya Watanabe curbed his punkish affinities for something lighter. In neutral tones with bursts of neon and the occasional tonal black, the Japanese designer expressed himself through the art of deconstruction. Trenches became pinafore dresses, full-length skirts, and blazers. Blazers and white shirts became shirt dresses. Denim jackets became bustiers atop white shirts. This was a masterclass in how to make do with little, how to muster creativity with limited resources. Adding, ‘there is no theme for the spring/summer 2020 Junya Watanabe show,’ it looked all the more effortless. One doesn’t need a theme if their technical whiz can speak for itself. 

Ditto, Haider Ackermann’s darkly romantic proclivities. The pale grey tuxedo sported by wonder-boy Timothée Chalamet at the Venice Film Festival appeared, in multiple variations, followed by the Belgian designer’s singular elegant vision with rockabilly twists. He balanced sharp tailoring with street-ready leather. Less easy, and less convincing, were the bandeau elements. Melded with the glamour of eveningwear polish, Ackermann’s attempt at making plissé-detailed gowns look chic was merely out of place amidst the otherwise polished suiting and sensual undertones.  

(Joseph Altuzarra negotiated the quest for beauty in straightforward terms too with a lovely line-up of pretty scarf dresses, 70s tailoring, and shimmering embellishment. Pretty and inoffensive. Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski’s latest Hermès collection was delightful as ever, demonstrating the beauty of luxury fashion—timeless perfection has currency over trends at this house. With smatterings of sexy, open backs, sheer panels, full leather looks, and abbreviated shorts. More interesting.) 

Nothing was simple about Noir Kei Ninomiya but that’s what was so brilliant about the whole thing. The Comme des Garçons-backed Japanese designer is a master craftsman, one of the few designers, save for the likes of Rei Kawakubo or Rick Owens, who can imbue feeling into abstract forms. The ones that make the fashion agnostic scratch their heads in confusion as they try to comprehend the deeper meaning of globules of smocked tulle bouncing against the body, framed by a black leather harness. 

Throughout there were clouds of tulle, patchworked stars, layer-cakes of white fluff (also tulle), tiers of gossamer etched with intricate floral illustrations. It evolved into a more angular section which captured Ninomiya’s Gothic sensibilities consisting of leather moto-jackets elaborated as feminine dresses, and gowns with fetishistic belt fastenings binding tulle. It culminated in what can only be likened to human foliage, bursts of green in every shade imaginable, bouncing with a spring in their step. You say shrub, Ninomiya says a manifestation of new beginnings. 

‘It was a beginning. Actually, I wanted to focus on creation… back to the basic mind of creation... I want to make something new and start something new,’ he told Vogue. Spring has sprung on this runway, in all its glory. Few could convey the crisp, dewy mornings of early March through fashion. But here it was in the underpass of Pont Alexandre III, floating down a strip of the catwalk in a state of poetic ecstasy.

Yet, the designs were given earthly bearings with leather harnesses but carrying the otherworldly grace of Azuma Makoto-designed topiary headpieces. Sparing no expense for beauty, 

It was at Comme des Garçons that Rei Kawakubo posited on the mood of the next season. How will she play her cards this season? After all, she’s been playing fashion at its own game since anti-fashion’s nascence in the 1980s—carving a niche corner which allows her to deliver unfettered creativity while maintaining a sensible business operation. 

What did she have to say? This womenswear show was Act II of III. Kawakubo designed the costumes for Olga Neuwirth’s opera adaptation of Orlando at the Vienna State Opera in Austria, in December. (It was preceded by the men’s show in June, Act I.) Orlando by Virginia Woolf is a satirical exploration of gender through history, with elements of exaggeration, grotesque and the absurd. It would appear there is no better match than Kawakubo, someone versed in the sum total of the above. Few can do what she did, melding disparate aspects of Elizabethan Court dress with glam rock, camp, and a wink to modern branding with Comme des Garçons-logos interspersed hither and thither. 

In a press release about her adaptation, Neuwirth said, it’s ‘about refusing to be patronised and treated in a condescending manner – something that continually happens to women, with no end in sight.’ On Kawakubo’s runway, there were sugary pinks, vampy reds, glam rock shades, and extravagant florals, colours and patterns often predisposed to the female sex. As far as gender relations are concerned, Kawakubo rebuked conventional notions—a glimpse of a dress? A flash of a blazer? Is that supposed to be…? What exactly is this shape? Your guess is as good as mine.

It’s unbelievable but you want to believe in it. Such is the appeal of a beautiful Comme collection. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

#PlanningForTheFuture and Futurewear at Paris Fashion Week. Reviewing Dior, Marine Serre, YSL, Rokh

The final stint of the spring/summer 2020 shows is underway in Paris and the storytelling around sustainability and fashion’s negative impact on the environment is coming full circle, ahead of the next decade’s arrival.

Kering SA, the parent company of Gucci, Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen and more, said it is going carbon neutral, paying to offset its emissions. In the weeks previous, Gucci announced it would spend $8.4 million to offset its emissions. According to The Business of Fashion, LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault will reveal the conglomerate’s updated plans to address fashion’s negative impact on the climate.

The Dior show at the Hippodrome Paris Longchamp operated on a zero-waste policy. The Bureau de Betak-designed set is recyclable and plastic-free. Featuring 164 trees, each one comes with a #PlantingForTheFuture tag with a scannable QR code revealing the individual tree’s origin and future life. 

(At New York Fashion Week, Gabriela Hearst hosted the first carbon-neutral fashion show. Gucci followed suit at Milan Fashion Week. Meanwhile, in London, Extinction Rebellion called for an end to London Fashion Week with protests across the city.)
‘Flowers and plants don’t just serve an ornamental purpose, they are our environment,’ said Maria Grazia Chiuri, artistic director at Christian Dior. ‘We have a commitment to care for them, today more than ever.’

It transpired that the show was inspired by Catherine Dior, Christian Dior’s sister, a lifelong gardener. There was a romantic utilitarianism to the checked suiting, off-the-shoulder Bar jackets, and overalls, while a summerlike effervescence permeated embroidered tulle gowns and ombre outerwear in the middle section. While she could’ve done away with the meagre attempt at swimwear, Chiuri’s rumination on denim could’ve been expanded. Note her buttoned-up shirting with ultra-feminine mini dresses - elegantly practical for the workplace. In all, Chiuri eschewed from an anachronistic reading of Catherine Dior’s history, offering some mostly modern propositions.

Ever the expert merchandiser, her flotilla of models were topped with straw hats by milliner Stephen Jones and grounded with boots or sandals. They’re sure to whet the appetite of the brand’s eager fanbase.

Dior ranks as one of LVMH’s most significant cash cows with revenues expected to reach €3.2 billion for 2019, a 26% increase from 2018. How sustainable is a fashion show with 90 looks that will, by and large, be mass-produced and rolled out in stores across the globe? How sustainable is having 241 outlets worldwide? Yet, some effort is a step in the right direction. 
Marine Serre
Marine Serre accounts for the damaging cost of production. At present, 50% of her clothes are made from recycled materials. The rest is produced locally, sourcing materials from French mills.

Her fashion, however, is time-stamped with a date somewhere in the not-so-distant future. Futurewear, she calls it. Certainly, she is one of the only designers sending models down the runway in branded anti-pollution masks featuring R-PUR filtration technology. Similarly, she is one of the only designers envisioning the Paris of tomorrow rather than the one of today or yesteryear. 

Her world is post-apocalyptic, emanating a (stylish) existential dread over the possibly impending climate wars and mass extinction. Her clothes are fit for that society but look enviable in ours. There’s no time like the present. Strike before the iron -- or in this case, the planet -- gets too hot.

A passage of all-black looks, each with a utilitarian flair, practical pockets, and full-body coverings, segued into a series of scarlet and brown, which was mostly nipped-waist suiting, her monogrammed second-skin bodysuits, and signature scuba designs, and also included smatterings of streetwear-influenced camo print. The blue and white portion was mostly branded denim and eyelet ponchos, floral print and cocktail dress, with the show culminating in a section of patterned dresses.

Each segment reflected something about the structure of post-apocalyptic society: if black demarcated of the survivalists, the reds were the overlords, the white and blue a sort of futuristic bourgeoisie, and the pattern bedecked finale the artistic free spirits. It was recognisable, perhaps attainable, but destined for the survival of the fittest. 
It made one nostalgic for days gone by. Ask Rok Hwang, whose label Rokh won the Special Prize at the 2018 LVMH Prize. His vision for spring/summer 2020 began with a memory of a three-month-long family road trip across the United States, from New York to Yosemite, in 1994. From the working women of New York to his father’s blue hiking vest, ‘[moments are] embedded, like impressions, into the fabric of the clothes.’

His splicing and dicing methodology of asymmetrically fusing fabrics, offering ‘flashes’ of familiar items -- the trench, the blazer, the shirt, the dress -- unfolded on this runway was kind of chaotic. It belongs in this world, for sure, but somewhere along the way, his working-woman-meets-urban-traveller aesthetic lost its sense of direction. It’s an interesting way of working, as if delving deep into one’s memory for long lost visuals of outfits past, translating it into clothes which, to the spectator, are familiar yet new. Here, however, nostalgia was a bit muddy.

Saint Laurent’s Anthony Vaccarello is much sharper when it comes to nostalgia. Continuing to stratify his vision for the house, he reinterprets house codes for the season ahead with one part glamour, one part questions about hyper-sexualisation, and a dash of Naomi Campbell closing the show in a shimmering Le Smoking under the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower in the pouring rain. His quintessentially French understanding of the bourgeoisie aesthetic, despite its archaic understanding of fashion, looked wholly delectable, doctored by clear, convincing, and logical styling. It’s one way you can dress for the future but it’s not futurewear.

‘Those who are lost in nostalgia, always searching for something to distract from the present,’ read the notes at Rokh. If this decade has taught us anything about fashion, looking back is not the way forward. One must dress for today with an eye on tomorrow. Not yesterday.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The dawn of a new New York Fashion Week

New York fashion is ailing but it’s worth the journey for fashion week.

For Telfar Clemens, it’s worth coming to New York. In lieu of his typical show, which will now be presented in Paris later this month, he presented a fashion film previewing what he has to say for spring/summer 2020. For Kerby Jean Raymond’s Pyer Moss, it’s worth coming to New York. He’s showing tonight. There are a host of other brands that make New York special and they’ll roll out shows throughout the week.

The biggest question will be, can Tom Ford, newly appointed chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America give New York Fashion Week the kick up the backside it needed? The answer will unfold over the next couple of seasons but, for now, it’s evident he’s got the ball rolling. To begin with he’s shortened proceedings to 5 days and partnered with brands to provide flights, hotels, and cars for international editors.

Off the runway, Barneys New York filed for bankruptcy in August calling the longevity of department stores into question. What becomes of New York’s retail landscape when one of the prime brokers is no longer? How does this impact the wider dialogue?

What’s happened so far? A lot but not a lot. The shows are full of spectacle.

There were painters at Christian Siriano, performers at Rag & Bone and Deveaux, and Janelle Monae serenaded the crowd at Ralph Lauren. Last season’s breakout star Tomo Koizumi returned for another flamboyant tulle explosion with the aid of a dramatic performance piece by Ariel Nicholson, where she was dressed and undressed in each of his eight bundles of fun. Susan Alexandra threw a Bat Mitzvah to debut her ready-to-wear line. Her larger-than-life models in exuberant display schmoozed with guests making it somewhat difficult to discern between the two. Note the religious slant on her work: that felt fresh. But to get to the crux of the freshness, you had to sift through the noise.

Spectacle. It was the trend of day one and two. But the clothes!

Kate Spade threw a garden party, designing clothes for an ‘urban jungle.’ Longchamp, too, looked to the outdoors with a backdrop of some Henry Moore sculptures and flexing a feminine, subtly equestrian muscle.

That evening Brandon Maxwell and Ralph Lauren showed in succession in different parts of the city. Maxwell’s crowd whooped, cheered, and hollered as models, dressed in blue jeans and jumpers, blazers and silk shirts, dazzling cocktail dresses and evening gowns made their runway exits. Meanwhile, at Ralph Lauren, in a purpose-built Art Deco cafe, he served old-world glamour heavily influenced by masculine tailoring with an accoutrement of 90s-inspired sex appeal, alongside a three-course meal and a Janelle Monae performance. It didn’t reinvent the wheel, neither did Maxwell, but the attention-to-detail and the stylised polish never disappoint. The customer continually inspired by all-American preppiness will be thrilled. Neither needed a spectacle to sell the dream. That’s the biggest takeaway.

Monday, July 8, 2019

In Dublin, Irish design on full display

DUBLIN - As you ascend the escalator to the first floor in Brown Thomas’ Dublin store, you’re confronted with the work of Heather Gilroy. A recent graduate of the National College of Art & Design, Gilroy’s sombre palette and swishy shapes reveal the promise of Irish design in 2019.

Gilroy is one of 33 designers in Brown Thomas’ annual CREATE event, a showcase of Irish design.

‘I just graduated from college a month ago so it’s surreal to walk into Brown Thomas and see my garments displayed in the same store as the biggest fashion houses in the world,’ said Gilroy. ‘It’s such a great platform to be able to connect with other people in the fashion industry and sell to a high-end customer.’ 

‘It was lovely to have young, up-and-coming fashion edit in the mix,’ said Shelly Corkery, Brown Thomas’ Fashion Director.

Entitled ‘Among the Flat Pink Roses,’ Gilroy explains her collection was a response to the Repeal the 8th movement, which saw Ireland recognise the equal right of life of the pregnant woman and the unborn child. Gilroy studied Sylvia Plath’s poetic oeuvre, referencing the oft-overlooked darker side to motherhood. The imagery of roses and Victorian nightwear permeate her work. Additionally, she incorporated masculine elements to depict the structure, authority, physical and economic mobility of men at the same time―pragmatic tailoring and pocket details. 

This year’s CREATE encompasses ready-to-wear, jewellery, accessories, millinery, handbags, homewares and food artisans. Shelly Corkery and retail consultant Eddie Shanahan endured a 3-day-long interview process with 72 designers before selecting the participants. 

‘We do go to search, it’s not just what comes to us. We have our doors open and we’re searching for new, upcoming talents,’ said Corkery. ‘It’s a chance to embrace Irish design and show that Ireland is producing international talent. These designers are the future of Irish fashion and we are proud to support by offering a retail platform to showcase their beautiful collections.’

The centrepiece of 2019’s showcase is Katie Ann McGuigan who showed her sophomore presentation at London Fashion Week in February. McGuigan, from Newry, has been spotlighted in Vogue Italia, British Vogue, and The Irish Times. I chatted to McGuigan for the Irish Examiner a few months ago. She said, ‘to be honest, it’s the first year I’ve felt a real connection with Irish design,’ referencing to features in Image magazine and the CREATE project. ‘Being able to be part of it is great, it’s really exciting as an Irish designer. I think it’s going to be a good year.’

Corkery said, ‘when Katie showed me her collection I thought it was superior, it could sit on an international level. I love designers that think outside the box, ones that aren’t afraid to explore.’ 

McGuigan’s work was inspired by the Bosozoku biker, founded in Japan in the 1950s. A riotous panoply of print, colour, and texture, she fused masculine and feminine aesthetics to marvellous effect ― from colourful biker jackets to layered knits and floaty tulle dresses, McGuigan told me, ‘it’s a real departure for me.’ In effect, her section lights up the space. 

McGuigan’s clothes, like Corkery said, are superior because they can stand on an international level. This is an Irish designer not bound by the narrative of their heritage. This international focus electrified CREATE in a year when many approach design through the lens of Irishness. Of course, design is a personal process but in an increasingly globalised world, 

The designers who stood out were Alison Conneely and Colin Burke.
Alison Conneely’s capsule collection of handcrafted garments of silk and woven wool were inspired by a recent trip to the Skelligs, a former monastic settlement off the coast of County Kerry. The way her knitwear responded to the rugged landscapes of the west of Ireland felt new. 

In the same way that the tribe of monks, in their sanctuary for a spiritual elemental existence of devotion, honey making, fishing, meditation, and survival, led peaceful lives, Conneely translated this 

Meanwhile, Burke revisited the Aran sweater, a heritage knit passed down through generations. The Galway-born recent-graduate expanded on his exploration of the Aran sweater, issuing modern takes with asymmetric finishes. This was Irish heritage rebuilt for the contemporary consumer. Refreshing. 

(Notably, activist Sinead Burke wore a custom flaming red Aran sweater when she was appointed by President Michael D. Higgins to his Council of State.) 

Sustainable practice was on full display. Faye Dinsmore and Anna Guerin’s The Dualist, sat side by side, source and produce their knitwear and tweed tailoring, respectively, in Donegal. The Tweed Project, the brainchild of Aoibheann MacNamara and Triona Lillis, is ‘committed to the west of Ireland for inspiration and production as they work solely with indigenous fabrics.’ Four Threads by Alanagh Clegg builds a sustainable narrative across her brand’s four pillars: inspiration, handmade design, high quality, and ethical production.

What are the necessary qualities for the next big Irish designer? ‘First of all, I think newness, they have to have the ideas,’ said Corkery. ‘Production is really hard to get right but once you have that figured out, it becomes easier for the designer.’

‘Designers are very artistic so to understand the business side of things is a challenge. I think designers can learn a lot [at CREATE] by showcasing and learning from what the team on the shop floor tells them about how customers respond to their work.’ 

While the next great Irish designer has yet to come into their own, there were promising signs here.

The 9th edition of CREATE runs in Brown Thomas Dublin until the middle of August.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

In Paris, Bode & Phipps show more than sustainable fashion. Plus: Heron Preston

In recent years, Paris Fashion Week has become less about the might of advertising titans and more about the glittering emerging talents that are springing up hither and thither. On day one of the Spring/Summer 2020 men’s season in the City of Light, the schedule was dominated by a cohort of young designers representing a host of international destinations. What many had in common was a focus on sustainability, the principle―not trend―that underlies much of contemporary fashion practice. 

Opening the week, there was Emily Adams Bode, a 29-year-old New York-based fabric whiz, who recently received the CFDA Fashion Award for Emerging Designer, and a place on the long list for the 2019 LVMH Prize. 

Her starting point was the Bode Wagon Company, a wagon building workshop based in Cincinnati, Ohio from 1824 to 1940. In the show notes, she said, ‘I envision how my family and their wagon fabrication studios were colourfully transformed by the great American circus.’ 

She sourced vintage textiles to form the basis for hued crochets, novelty knits, rich striped workwear, hand-painted silk shirts and canvas jackets, nylons, and linens with familial imagery. One pair of trousers were made from ribbons used at horse shows. Circus act prints added a delicacy and sense of humour to the recycled fabrics. 

Bode strikes gold with the way she breathes new life into existing fabrics without losing sight of the season’s narrative. This more personal project allowed her to plumb the depths of her family history. Sustainability isn’t a trend, it’s engrained in the brand’s ethos―fashion comes first. Where better for her to show than in Paris, where her slow process and dedication to materiality are prized qualities. 

The same can be said for Spencer Phipps who designs Phipps, another 2019 LVMH Prize shortlisted label. His show was about the ‘contemporary metamorphosis of geological and anthropological concerns investigating man’s relationship with planet earth since the dawn of time’ (whatever that means exactly). Phipps defines his practice as ‘applied garment-making’ with a focus on transparency and traceability. 

His outdoor pursuits-inspired work is sharp and ironic―there’s something slightly perverse, a smattering of bad taste, about his Western-influenced designs, inflected with camp counsellor spirit. (One sensed ‘Brokeback Mountain’ vibes halfway through.) On his runway, which took place outdoors at the Cité internationale des arts, models sported high fashion takes on high-performance outerwear printed with satirical graphic designs, inspirational climbing slogans and chronological calendar of Earth’s tectonic movements. Elsewhere there was a naturally-dyed, glue-free biodegradable suiting in British wool - double-breasted jacket styled with brown shorts, a bowling shirt, and hiking boots. Pragmatic chic.

The collection featured a capsule collection of high-performance outerwear with alpine brand Millet. Phipps’ team upcycled existing Millet fabrics from within the archives, fully equipped for rock climbing and extreme weather conditions. 

Heron Preston also expanded his mission to include a full-fledged women’s line. Model Gigi Hadid debuted a look from the front row. The streetwear practitioner, close with Virgil Abloh and Alyx's Matthew Williams, called his show, ‘Urban Jungle’. It opened with oversized tailoring, in an attempt to broaden his horizons and push the limits of streetwear. 

Preston imbued his work with a sense of environmental responsibility. He incorporated renewable materials such as pineapple leather, recycled nylon, and recycled tweed. Dattner Architects were appointed to create a set of recycled materials. Designer and influenced Sami Miró upcycled Heron Preston denim from previous seasons. 

In essence, Preston is one of the more prominent names pushing a more conscious approach to streetwear and, who knows, there could be a wider shift amongst his peers. But, what remains, is that fashion is more important to the concept. He should revise his spins on workers uniforms, reworked denim, and oversized tailoring for men and women next season. 

In 2019, sustainability and fashion are intertwined. It should be a given with emerging names that sustainability is interwoven in the very fabric of the brand’s existence. If not, how can they call themselves contemporary designers? Emily Adams Bode and Spencer Phipps exceed expectations in placing their identities as fashion designers on a pedestal: the focal point is in their design and the narrative of the season. Heron Preston could’ve benefited from a greater exploration of thematic influence because it felt as though his sustainable efforts were the most interesting thing in this collection―fashion is more than that. 

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. 
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. 
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.
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. 
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. 
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.
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. 
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. 

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