Monday, September 8, 2014

Cushnie and Ochs Spring 2015: The Good, the Bad and the Commercial



This pair has interested and confused me for several seasons now. Just when I think I have a fix on them they do something really great or the opposite. I'm constantly off balance and unsure how to call it. 



Last year this time I was in the middle of a very interesting offer from a school of higher education. To be honest, it seemed so far out of my experience that I approached it more as an experiment/experience than something I might actually be chosen to do. In the midst of the 4 day obstacle course of meetings, lunches, interviews, demonstrations (on my part) I was given a book, The Little Black Dress, the catalogue of Andre Leon Talley's hugely successful museum show, and thumbed through it after yet another day of "vetting". That book was jammed with amazing images of black dresses by a mix of likely and unlikely designers. Cushnie and Ochs were included with a couple of the most astounding dresses in the mix. Andre has an incredible eye to isolate really great design in a sea of mediocrity. As I looked again and again at their work in that book I was struck by their obvious talent and unique point of view. Then today I took a look expecting to see more and found so much less. Confusing.



What moves me about their work is a natural bent towards abstraction. They take familiar shapes and upend them in a way that suggests a real sophistication and understanding of cut and proportion. The clothes for the most part swung from the banal to the obvious. Grommets on evening dresses without the Versace stamp too often tend towards the obvious.  Pair that with a dress with 'cold shoulders' and car wash fringe and you have a perfect recipe for drive thru fast food. The long evening looks that make ample if uninspired use of silk crepe, charmeuse and chiffon and you get old fashioned lady like looks perfect for the New York Social Diary. Its the raped one shoulder dresses with one fabric and one sliver of a strap holding it all together and you have a look that will stop traffic. There were too little of those and way too many of the other. Knowing the marketplace and all it's contradictions this should be a commercial success (?).



A few looks in black and white stripes starting with a bikini that looked oddly out of place were interesting plays on graphics. Other dresses that were draped twisted and draped some more felt stale when one considers the freshness of say Donna Karan's nimble fingers. On a very critical note the styling was off putting. The makeup, hair and jewelry was distracting. The models looked like they came from the imagination of a novice. One can only hold out hope that they will some day settle on a language that is all their own. In the meantime I take more more pleasure in the 2 looks in an old (now) book. In closing I was offered the job...




Dion Lee Spring 2015: Fresh Air







Wouldn't you know it would take a relative unknown to step up and and get this party started. Lee has done just that with an assured and original collection taking the language of active sport and translatin it into unique and wearable clothes that remind one of no one other than their author. Straps with buckles and zippers opening and closing areas of a given look are skillfully employed producing a feel of both utility and glamor. 




A subdued palette keeps the focus on his technique. Clever cuts that fit are what stops the eye and keeps it focused. Whether separates or dresses the pieces fit and appear to mix effortlessly. Fit, that elusive quality that is increasingly a thing of the past, is firmly in his grasp. The knits and printed looks are well executed even if they are visually less arresting. Nevertheless, he uses them with deliberation cutting them to their best advantage. There is little sense that Lee is pandering to his audience. His commitment to his vision is clear. Inventiveness is his m.o. Dion Lee is a breath of fresh air and someone to watch.


Jason Wu Spring 2015: Into the Koi pond



The big news at Wu is his new partner, or I should say boss, InterLuxe Investments. They recently bought a majority stake in the company giving Wu more financial Terra firma on which to do his modest dance. So the flagship, the accessories, the makeup, what have you, is soon to be out of the microwave and onto a plastic plate. 



I'm sure the fans of Jason Wu will be ecstatic that their boy is soon to become a man among the big men. Think Michael Kors, Reed Krackoff and Christopher Burch. All in all, it's been a banner year for the designer with his overwhelming success with the rebirth of Boss Women and, well, other stuff I'm sure.



Boss women, briefly, a collection of sportswear, suits and dresses have failed to find any meaningful traction in the US market. Visiting the store, (factory store) and headquarters in Metzingen, Germany there's little sign it had much traction there too. Racks and racks of sterile looking numbers with bits of lace, skinny silhouettes, skinny belts and complicated seaming (too little or no effect) heralded this new aesthetic. Considering the factories of Boss with their German HIGH TECH facilities, one would think that some brilliance or just a touch of magic was one shazamm away. But all I saw was a spotted rabbit being pulled from a knit cap looking none too pleased.



This collection has a bit more life with some shapes that were new for Wu and even interesting. The white coat over a sheer knit (multi-seamed) top over a white skirt. The fabric looked rich as did the ovoid shape of the coat, all cut on the round (CHoryn-ism) and looking citified and sharp. 



The same goes for a long sleeved white dress that followed with a dropped shoulder and requisite skinny belt. So much of the rest of day consists of Wu digging deep in his trove of go-to patterns and re cutting things like t-shirts, straight skirts and jackets and dull wrap dresses in suede and leather giving them the same look only in suede and leather. The little zip front knit tops are cute but do little to keep this stew all neatly in its bowl. The slouchy low-slung pants and corresponding big shirts suggest a languor and hipness that looks clearly foreign to Wu. His idea of sex is a dress or skirt slit up to the top of the thigh. Never other zones of suggestion. Necklines stay firmly set at the throat or demurely V'd or wrapped across the chest. He seems at odds with his subject. As though a woman, his chosen muse Charlotte Rampling this time, though there was little sense she came to mind in the collection's creation other than being a clever image/name to toss out to the hungry journalists, is as much a mystery as the numbers he whipped up for Michelle Obama.




The same goes for his cocktail and evening dresses with their self conscious 'sexuality'. The wrap, drape and tuck method is in strong evidence with the result of vague references to Halston and Elie Saab and even Michael Kors. He has consistently with his artistry de-sexified the likes of Karlie Kloss and Caroline Murphy which, let's face it, takes some REAL effort. The last 2 evening gowns were a case in point. The first in rust was all awkward peek-a-boo with an annoying strap grabbing the ribcage  and buckling the bodice as it plunges to the waist sporting a deep to the navel V. Sexy? No. An attempt to warm up the fusty front row? YES... The navy one with the same idea was more successful largely due to his stepping out of the way. So into the Koi pond he goes. That place where little fish become big fish even when they have just one fin.


Prabal Gurung Spring 2015: Misappropriation and missed opportunities...



It all started so well. Like his debut collection just a few short years back, Prabal Gurung showed more promise than most in the field of new, young talent. There was a purity of vision and purpose that was exciting to see. The opening to his spring 2015 collection had a similar feel. But from look 5 or 6 all the long, long way to 33-37 of 38 exits, there was nothing short of a drought. 

Too many details and looks reminds one of others work: Dior, LVuitton and bits and pieces of Ralph Rucci. The trailing ties and tails were all too familiar from RRucci's last spring collection. The odd-ball patchwork of prints and solids in successive looks with asymmetric ruffles and feathers tacked on for good measure did little to strengthen his message. They brought to mind the retread of LVuitton. Ghesquierre sent out  a group of dresses late in what was another endless show of banalities that also played the patchwork game to equally dull effect. Though Gurung has more drape in his arsenal the result was too similar. The question that dogged my mind was how many dresses can one dress be?



The references to tough chic moto cross trousers in silk complete with stripes across the leg, cargo zippers and all in multi-colors look forced and not particularly cool, though the accompanying blazers did have an interesting edge. That's the irony in all of this. COOL seems to be the very thing he's trying to express. Like in the beginning with a fellow contemporary Altuzzara, they both worked overtime to appear edgy and ahead of the curve. Altuzzara has moved on. Gurung is still attempting to draw water from a parched well. The small group of knits he showed over trousers was one bright spot an an area that could be further elaborated on.



Deconstruction is an interesting way to find the essence of an idea. Gurung appears to be committed to this idea but with mixed results. Not until look 33 appeared did it seem that he's found his groove. Still, the mix of shapes, eroticism and technique came together in an exciting way. Great gowns worth seeing on a great looking woman. Maybe less would go a long way towards more. His star shines bright nevertheless. It goes to show that clothes are not the most important currency of a designer.....




Friday, August 29, 2014

Hermes: What's in a name?



Everything and nothing. If my memory serves me, Yves Saint Laurent had a series of French bulldogs during his lifetime. Each was named Moujik. When one died, he'd replace it with a new puppy and name him the same, Moujik. I think the Duke and Duchess of Windsor did the same at least with some of their dogs. This certainly is no crime but it begs the question, What's more important; the name or the dog that's branded with it? I'm sure the first Moujik was a perfectly nice little man but who knows the character of the characters who followed. Some I know were not so nice, even willful little creatures who thought nothing of biting and relieving themselves wherever they liked. Still the name remained despite an ever changing cast.


I, personally, have never named a pet the same as a previous one. Really, how do you name a horse Fluff? One was a tiny poof of grey fur that I could carry in my pocket and the other was anything but tiny and did all the carrying. Bailiwick and Gomer (Fandango) would no more answer to Fluff than I would, well, until I did but that's another tale...


Of course, companies and products have names that don't change no matter who sits at the front desk. What does change is the integrity of the product or services offered. Sometimes for the worse, hopefully for the better. It's the perception that matters most. If for instance a company like Hermes rests comfortably on a history of supplying the world with luxury products like silk scarves, beautiful timepieces and jewelry, exceptionally crafted leather goods from bags to belts to saddles, if Hermes' reputation is built on that and they then put that name on more transitory products like fashion for men and women one expects the same level of quality, craftsmanship and creativity. One does not expect a series of designers with such disparate views that none relate to the other. That isn't to say that they should or could be of one mind. But the company should be of a mind to create a continuity no matter what.


Margiela ran things early in 2002 or so for several years. Honestly, Hermes at that time was off my radar. The accessories were what I craved and none were in my reach until they were. My eyes were caught on the watches and belts and beautifully made notebooks. My eyes are still stuck on the same things. Not the big obvious, gauche "H" buckled belts but the ones that were so perfect and logo-less. The clothes just didn't resonate. Maybe they were too "mature" though I'm in my fifties. They were square in that Faubourg St.Honore' way that Japanese and Russian tourists and dim witted Americans love. The obvious.

Then Gaultier appeared and the women's ready-to-wear took off. He gave people a reason to go beyond the mere scarf or de rigeur Birkin, creating a hyper-luxe sporty collection that made me drool season after season. Then suddenly, FINIS. Gaultier made a strong argument for Hermes as fashion and not just as a bastion of the ultimate in accessories.

Christophe Lemaire


Along comes Christophe Lemaire from Lacoste and showed the saddest clothes to come out of those workrooms. Still the Dumas family gave it their stamp of approval. Why, when it took the perception of this storied house into a world of the mundane? Yes, in time it got better especially in the last 2 seasons, but never to the level that is synonymous with the grandeur of the Hermes legacy.

Now we have a new Chief Executive Axel Dumas with ideas to "capture" the market and imagination of a luxury clientele. In Lemaire's place they have installed Nadege Vanhee-Cybulski who most recently was the design director of the American brand The Row after stints with Maison Martin Margiela and along side Phoebe Philo. Certainly, Ms. Vanhee-Cybulski will up her game. Having come from Celine and the Row, one imagines monastic minimalist luxe fabrics and shapes. At the risk of passing judgement before the fact, I can't help wondering how this is an improvement. Looks more like "same name different dog".


Perhaps some houses are better off doing what they do best and what they are known for. Unless, it's an ego driven decision on the part of the Dumas family to compete with the likes of LVMH and their stable of luxury fashion brands, I see little point and lots of wasted Euros to carve a niche that is already glutted. I'm content to buy another notebook in another irresistible color, say taupe to go along with my black and brown ones. They never disappoint and only get better with age. Musical chairs is much more fun when you race against others who are racing as well. Stepping over dead bodies to grab a chair with 3 legs doesn't have the same excitement.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Flip Flops and other heinous gear: Just Say No

The collections are just around the corner and I, for one, am curious what will waddle, slither and galumph its way down the runways. It's been  slow summer with little to get excited over let alone talk about. Spotlighting every new trend just isn't that interesting when the street has more to offer than the design studio and that's not saying much for the street. Long, limp and lank dresses are dragging their frayed hems up and down every major avenue in this city, which means that all over the country women have decided that the beach "cover-up" is now just as de rigeur as their filthy, slap-smacking flip-flops you see on the feet of just about every person moving. Dirty feet with colored toe-nails are still just that: DIRTY. Whether that flip-flop is rubber, gold toned rubber, leather-look or even leather, it's a shoe meant for the beach, for weekend wear, but not something to get around the city in. Between dodging mounds of dog drop and sidewalks being hosed down to rid them of dog drops, this shouldn't be the shoe of choice for anyone: man, woman or dog. Still they are everywhere. Even on the flight to Germany/Holland a week ago they were in every class of the flight. Coach was a given but First class? There, too. Why did I bother to get dressed up? (Relax, I used miles)

The "cover-up" is the big winner. Is it because it's sold everywhere at every price point making it an accessible look for every wallet. It's always in some form of jersey, but most often the cheapest saggiest grade available. It takes a nasty print like a mismatched stripe, digitally printed florals or some combination of the 2 with an animal print wash just for good measure. What rankles is that the customer has this idea that whether strapless or halter-top, this tube is a default must-have. Most often the look is sloppy due to an ill fit (too tight) and horrible quality. Those offenses are so standard that a good one (designer/expensive) is as hard to discern as her poorer relation. When they come with built-in elastic waistbands things go from worse to awful. Yesterday I saw an older woman with a "real" body and she too sported one with one difference; it was mid-calf and cut like an oval skimming her body, narrowing at the hem. It looked great and so did she. I couldn't help wondering why I was the only one who seemed to notice?

Yoga gear is another culprit that's snared and skewered armies of women on the street. It's like too much information that none of us wants or needs. Call me a prude but I don't want to see the outlines of every inch of a person unless it's someone I'm in love with or at least in bed with, male or otherwise. So all this "information" traipsing up and down the street is nothing short of a lapse in decency.

there's other stuff, too: Yoga mats, water bottles, cell phones, men carrying totes hanging from their arms, flash dance off-the-shoulder tops, leggings, floor length chiffon skirts with short underskirt linings, hi-lo dresses and skirts for day OR night, short shorts esp jean cut-offs, sports bras worn off the court, Michael Kors totes and bags of any sort (see GLUT), LVuitton, too, oh and Tory Burch, as well, ALL BIRKINS, etc. Last but not least... "STEP AWAY FROM THE TATTOO PARLOR PEOPLE". ENOUGH. enough. Let's clean up the mess and make room for new No-No's.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Haute Couture Fall2014: The Valentino Method !!!


All this talk about the past vs. the present, the old world vs. the new, Couture that addresses the now is what many espouse and precious few deliver. One could argue that new is the new old, but honestly it isn't. There's old and new but the bulk of what constitutes the new is only a gaping grey area, a mountain of scraps of this and that in a dull mix filling slop buckets to overflowing. The same slop bucket is what feeds most of our authorities on the subject.


At a discussion the other night after a screening of the Diana Vreeland film, "The Eye has to travel" by Lisa Imordino Vreeland, China Machado a famous model who worked with Balenciaga and then Givenchy was asked by a person in the audience if there exists an editor in chief of any major fashion magazine who has a vision that approaches that of Mrs.Vreeland. Unequivocally, China all but shouted, "NO". There's no room now for that when all that matters is the bottom line. "MONEY has killed what once was", she lamented to an audience that sat silently.



So what does it take to cut through the fetid cloud of mediocrity? As much as vision is of the utmost importance, it's a commitment to a path that moves ever forward that is the soul of the new. I'll go a step further and say that the designer who looks inward has a gravitas that the others who play to the crowd don't. Code fixated designers choking on a house's DNA have little room to move. Exceptions exist and that would be Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaulo Piccioli of Valentino.



From almost the beginning, there's has been a contribution that is at once true to the grandeur of Valentino but goes steadily forward. The glamour associated with Valentino Garavanni's lexicon of exquisite luxury is the backbone that informs the new team. The techniques of the atelier at the fabled house remain in practice but turned to address a new aesthetic, one that is based in the now. Evening dresses and cocktail dresses are possessed of the same integrity and impeccable workmanship but distilled in a way that applies to women today, the working, the pampered and the young and old.



Whether its tailored jackets, suits, coats or draped dresses in chiffon, jersey, etc. the skill is apparent. Even in the sportswear looks, they too are imbued with couture technique of the highest order. The breadth of the collection is another difference from many other Haute Couture collections.



Whether bold graphics, completely new ways of handling lace, embroideries that suggest an odd romanticism vs. conventional sap add evermore mystery. Color is another element in the mix that arrests the eye. Combinations of color, often muted creates a mood, a feeling that touches the wearer and viewer in much the same way. It's an effect that draws one in, making one hungry to see more. Shapes are so varied that most women are included with a symphony of ideas, not 1 or 2 notes only. This is not Chopsticks but a Rachmaninoff piano concerto with full orchestra.



What speaks loudest is the fearlessness with which they work. Perhaps there's strength in numbers but I would hazard that their partnership is based on mutual respect and admiration. Even better, Valentino and Giancarlo Giametti applaud louder than the audience embracing the duo at each shows end. Where do you see that? At YSL? No. Rather than break it down exit by exit I wanted to speak more to the heartbeat of the house. The collection speaks for itself.




Now is no time to look back, whether longingly or literally. The world is reminding us of that ugly fact minute by minute. The mission we all face in all aspects of life is to move ahead. Mrs. Vreeland said, "Don't give them what they want (or what they abhor) but what they didn't even know they wanted"! There's only one way to do that. IMAGINATION. INTEGRITY. HONESTY... and WORK.
graphics courtesy of Garnet Spagrud