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.