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

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 fairy 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. 
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. 
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.
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.