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

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Haute Couture? Fall 2014

Ralph Rucci

Good question... This most recent round of Couture presentations for Fall 2014 further defined the new as well as begged the same nagging question, "What constitutes Haute Couture?" It should be more than the sticker price. If you read the reviews of the collections on or in the New York Times you might think that there exists a collective brilliance that centers in and around Paris' Grand Palais. Names such as Chanel, Armani Prive', Versace, Givenchy and Valentino represent the 21st Century concept of Haute Couture, or they certainly used to. One must be vetted by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture to be accepted and invited to show. One must have a certain number of models (styles), the models must be made predominantly by hand, a minimum of Premieres d'Ateliers and Petit Mains working under them (the seamstresses and tailors) in order to technically apply. The larger question is a creative one but that's purely subjective though the Chambre Syndicale... is designed as an objective body of what at least used to be of the most stringent and high standards. All of these conditions as it were are neither here nor there when looking at an actual Haute Couture collection. Just for the record, I apprenticed at Givenchy Paris when Monsieur Givenchy was  at the wheel. While there, I sat as an apprentice assistant and watched 2 Haute Couture collections and 2 Pret a Porter collections conceived and created.

The price of fabrics, embroideries and woman/man hours, not to mention the multiple fittings that are included make this the Grand Daddy of dress shopping. The luxury of clothing made specifically to fit, flatter, hide, transform and enhance a woman's body is, I guess, something so astoundingly satisfying that women who can shop the Couture, do and those who can't, dream. None of that is at issue here. What stymies me are the motley crew of collections trotted down the runway that look neither particularly astounding, trans formative, satisfying and least of all "Haute". To read it in the press one might think the price tag was all that mattered. There was no criticism per se, just a droning dialogue on the beauty and sociological implications of clothes almost completely devoid of context or message.

Christian Dior

At Dior, Raf Simons' re imagined Marie Antoinette was yet another trudge down a chic cul de sac. With his Resort collection I started to change my mind about him and the validity of his message. His recipe for modernity left me starving in the beginning and only began to tempt me with little bonbons that started to become cupcakes if not full on cakes with lavish decoration. Fall and Resort gave me a jolt like the best of his last work at Jil Sander. The double dresses that laced and played color contrasting duets in a single piece pointed to a path out of the thicket he's busily created since taking charge of the house. To my dismay, the collection shown a couple of weeks ago was so silly in proportion, detail, and (tired) concept that my eyes glazed over after the 10th exit. His explanation of drawing from the past to create a language that is new and modern was little excuse for these sad sack dresses. Over lunch with a great friend we got down to the nitty gritty of the discrepancies that pass undetected by "knowing" eyes. Poor construction, a paucity of creative curiosity and the fact that ultimately this demi-couture may very well become just good enough for a public no longer even aware of what this highest form of craft used to mean. I was distracted by the shape of the skirts that suggested panniers but without the structure underneath to hold them up and out. Beyond that there was the question of proportion that was exaggerated beyond reason as the shirts shot out in some cases well below the low hip and then stopping at the shin. Very bottom heavy milkmaids in dresses that read more as upholstery than rich fabrics. Still it was passed off as a deliberate manipulation but read to my eyes as just lazy, crazy chop shop drag. There was more said on this and other subjects but that's private.

Chanel                                                  Alexis Mabille

Chanel didn't fair that much better. Lagerfeld's was a collection of tweedy ensembles molded into rounded shapes like a series of ellipses. Coats over dresses and suits were all rounded front, side and back, shoulders, sleeves, you name it it was molded to a round plumpness that made the thinnest of his models look short fat and dumpy. The strangeness of shapes culminating in a series of stark white dresses at the shows end didn't suggest so much the future as it did an undecipherable present. Lagerfeld can do no wrong and the press never came close to taking him to task. Rarely, do they. It seems that everyone is so convinced of his brilliance that they fear questioning his authority, much the same as that of editors at most of the big mags. Think Anna Wintour and extrapolate from there.

Armani Prive'

Armani Prive' was just old. The shapes, the tame jackets that were straight out of his archives from 20-30 years ago and splashy beaded numbers were saying not so much about the future as they sat sleepily in the past. The sound was more the sharp outtake of a yawn. There looked to be no future there, only a past whispering its authority.

Alexis Mabille was just ugly. This young man who looks like a student or some one's kid has consistently delivered stillborn collections for years now. Poorly conceived, wretchedly executed and totally lacking in chic, his clothes leave me annoyed. There is no mystery there. Enough.


Versace is, well, Versace. Think of the girls who service oligarchs or Naomi Campbell and you get the picture. Vulgar displays, the lead foot instead of the soft touch, the obvious over the implied, blood and sweat instead of ease and elegance and you get where I'm going with this...

Giambatista Valli

The exceptions to this curious state of affairs would be someone like Giambatista Valli. His collection that played a symphony of stripes in black and white with his signature shots of yellow were a treat. It looked to me as though it were the collection that should have walked down the Dior runway. Valli is a clever iconoclast with marvelous technique that gets better with time but is it Haute Couture?
Ralph Rucci, the American Couturier based here will never lower his standards which are some of the most staggeringly high in existence. He shames the "competition" just by his mere existence. Valentino is another that shames the competition. The work coming from the team of Pierpaulo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri is exceptional in so many ways, but they are worthy of their own story as they showed us again what the Couture can and should mean for today and the future. Just look closely. You can't miss it.

Ralph Rucci

Monday, July 21, 2014

YSL: A Myopic Biopic.

I don't know about you but I was very excited to see the new film on the life of Yves Saint Laurent by Jalil Lespert. Things got in the way of racing to catch the premiere so it wasn't until last night that I finally sat down to watch. Maybe it didn't help that we'd just ridden bikes in the dark to watch the fireworks display over the harbor here in East Hampton. For a mere 15 minutes the sky was alight with displays of pyrotechnic wonders, all of them more astounding than the explosions that preceeded. I kept thinking that it all looked so new, so abstract and "modern". It was almost an intellectual experience beyond simple entertainment. The grown-ups standing at the water's edge all seemed to be thinking and saying the same thing. We were witnessing something new and it was somehow moving in a hard to describe way.

Pedaling home in the dark praying not to flip over onto the concrete by way of some unforseen pothole or worse, being flattened by an oncoming car careening its way to yet another Saturday night benefit, the thought of a yummy dinner and exoticism that was YSL caused me to pick up the pace. Like so much in life, the journey was more interesting than the destination. From the first minutes something felt off. Pierre Niney, the actor playing Saint Laurent with his requisite heavy black framed glasses, enormous eyes and beak-like nose was a dead ringer for Hamish Bowles. Fragile, melancholic, and fay Saint Laurent goes from wunderkind at the controls of Christian Dior to basket case in a psych ward of a Paris hospital over a letter of conscription. The melodrama from here on in was so thick it became a chore just to get from one dress to the next. Little or no explanations were supplied for who characters were and a timeline so pock marked it was impossible to follow unless one knew the story and the players. Lou Lou, Karl, Pierre and Mama were little more than paper dolls. It seems everyone in the circle functioned purely as enablers. That much is probably fact but the film serves up this dish with all the grace of a short order cook stumbling through the kitchens of Le Cote Basque.

That Pierre Berge sanctioned the film is no surprise as it is more his story, again, than that of the "master". That sanctioning is the only thing that gives a hint of life to this DOA docu-drama. Some actual pieces from seminal periods like the Mondrian dresses, a group of looks from his Russian collection, and sketches give much needed flesh to the otherwise brittle bones of the story. But even they are as lifeless as the narrative. The models and "faces" chosen by the director to recreate YSL's legendary cabine and closest friends, Betty Catroux is one, were incredibly unattractive. The stand-in for his most famous of muse/models, Mounia, was a sad choice. Others were simply grotesque, that would be Betty(Catroux) and Karl(Lagerfeld).

The film's pace and the poaching of scenes from other YSL films, namely L'Amour Fou, added up to less than zero. We basically watch Hamish Bowles complain about how he will die if he can't design and how the world is his enemy. I can think of few designers who had it so incredibly good. The backing of Charles of the Ritz, the brilliance of Berge as business partner and guard dog and the clients who elevated him to the heavens do not add up to a hard luck story. But if you're inhaling cocaine and alcohol like other people do air and water sooner or later things are going to get messy. Watching Hamish, I mean Yves at a sex club with manacles on his wrists and some dark business going on behind his heaving body is somehow too much and not enough information. Better to stick to books like  Alicia Drake's "The Beautiful Fall"  in order to get a clearer picture of the players and how they knew one another and interacted. This film does little more than give you a reason to question why we find these people and this industry, Fashion, so compelling. Perhaps it was the sub-titles that wandered veering maddeningly away from what I assumed was being said. I will need to hear my dear friend Spirou's take as she's the real deal; French and someone steeped in the fashion and players of that period in Paris. Actually, Spirou would have made a much, much better film simply as someone who lived on the frontlines of fashion both in Paris and here.

Unfortunately, this film failed to illuminate a period when a single man changed the way women dress. Unlike the fireworks that not only amused but confounded us this film failed to shed even the tiniest sliver of light on a world that's slipping deeper and deeper into darkness.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mutha's Day!

Jan Crouch, the Mutha of all Mothers
Looking at this woman, I was reminded of the new Charles James exhibit at the Costume Institute at the Met. I should refer to it as the Anna Wintour Institution at the Met but I still am having trouble wrapping my mind around that. Still the grandiose gowns by James that were in his words more about negative space, sculpting the air around the clothes dovetails so nicely when you consider not just the hair on her head but also her eyes, lips and hands. Look closely. She is a marvel of creation. Isn't that what Mothers are? They are not like you or me. They carry us and give birth to us then continue to love, nurture and look out for us until their last breath. They instill in us values and the tools we need to go forth and flourish. And if we don't go forth they're there to welcome us back, the conquered, the fallen, but heroes in their eyes.
 This outlandish creature, the Mutha of all Mothers, is a delicious amalgam that perfectly symbolizes what a Mother means: Her eyes are all seeing, the hair is a metaphor for all knowing, her hands show the endless hours of soothing caresses and battles waged and those full lips speak truths only a mother can know. Nothing means more to her than our happiness and well being. So let's celebrate our Mothers today and everyday. It's the least we can do for the one person in our lives who will do anything for us simply because their love knows no bounds.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Galliano and de la Renta Marriage cancelled!

a birdy told me...

What passes for news? It shows you just how far we've come when almost 2 years ago, the universal smack down of John Galliano from his Olympus perch was the passing of gas heard and smelled round the world. Remember how stricken the good people of Vogue, Harper's, International Conde Nast, and every other rag worth its weight in ads. The lines were so clearly drawn over this "problem" that you'd think the earth had cracked open with the beliebers on one side and the who gives a shits on the other, which would include all of the offended faith based shoppers and the shoppers who couldn't afford the high cost of faith or his clothes. The shock of his precipitous fall, the court appearances, the suave hats and soberly colored suits, the downcast gaze, the drooping mini-stache, his look of befuddlement, the constant airplay/YouTube play of the rants in question at La Perle, the offended patrons who baited him, laughed and kept their phone's video app rolling, the loss of his job at Dior, the loss of stewardship of his eponymous collection, the search for a suitably glamorous Centre de Rehab, the rallying of his friends using their pull at the same said Centre de Rehab where they've all taken the waters, as it were, all of that.... Remember? Barely.

No to the nuptials...
My Mom is the ultimate disseminator of news. If it's not on CNN, then sorry, it ain't news. Mommie doesn't let a moment pass on any given day that CNN is in her direct sight lines or loudly playing in the background. I asked if she'd heard about Oscar and Galliano's negotiations to take the wheel of La Finca de la Renta. "No, Baby", she said. "There's that terrible funeral for the firemen in Boston, the plane to nowhere is still, well, nowhere to be found and I heard from Aunt Willie. Her pneumonia is much better." End of news flash. It wasn't til I was at the gym, pumping iron, kicking ass and watching Maury Povich on the monitors with some Baby Daddy and his accusing ex he'd never to that moment met, let alone, lay with, in the biblical sense (straight out of Johnny Weir's lips re. his divorce proceedings against his Russian husband, make up sex was NOT happening after a fist fight. Some people just don't know when to kiss and lay) that my trainer JOE LAZO of LAZO FITNESS and a budding reality star of a pilot in the works for Bravo, "Fit and Frisky", that Galliano's demands for a studio of the quality he's used to employing was just too, trou, cher, (means expensive). I had to get the news from my fitness Guru who also happens to be my life coach and personal savior. I've learned more about women from him than in the 30 years I designed clothes for them, but that is another story, too long, too steamy and too damn fascinating to take the time here. He'd read it in WWD and though it was a Thursday, NYTimes Style section day, not a word was printed, not even on their blog. ZILCH. None of the important newspapers bothered to mention it at all.

I ran to the showers where Paul Wilmot, the uber-P.R. guy through the ages and yes, a member of my gym, was showering after his grueling routine. I whipped back the curtain just as the soap fell to the floor and asked him what the skinny was. He didn't answer, just kept reaching  for the soap. Dismayed, I ran from the gym, no towel, no clothes, NO HAIR and made a bee-line for 7th Ave to get to the bottom of the story. The cops grabbed me. They were unmoved by my plight and also unable to shed any light of the issue. With hand-cuffs and leg chains and a tranquilizer dart still dangling from my haunch, I wasn't moving either.

Joe Lazo/Lazo Fitness/my trainer and Guru
 Eventually I was released thanks to Cathy Horyn and Eric Wilson who vouched for me. As both are no longer at the Times they were as clueless as yours truly. Suzy Menkes was gonna come too but was still tied up at Conde Nasty hammering out her new deal with Madame le Ambassadresse de Wintour. But that's ok, Suzy never would have made it through security with that hairy nob on her head. It wasn't til I got home and turned on my computer that I dug it up under layers and layers of the 3rd rate news feeds online. Crap like London's Telegraph, Daily Beast, Daily News, The Cut and Fashionista, the blog that banned me and my comments in my infancy. What an afterthought it all was. The de la Renta's and their brilliant stewards, the hapless son-in-law and his spoiled, unpleasant wife whose mom is Mommy de la Renta. Between the two they could barely tie a bow or tell a sequin from a paillette. With so much money (maybe there isn't as much as there was) you'd think they'd do all they could to land such a big fish, guaranteeing buzz, the retreading of their listing brand and even make some great clothes in the process. well, um, no. Not happening. Hence, not newsy.

So back to ambulance chasing, searching for the next fashion star, continuing the search for missing fashion stars and waiting for the next episode of Game of Thrones. Now that's news.