My Favorite Looks from Paris Fashion Week

October 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

Comme des Garcons

Strip away the costume boning and you’re left with a delicate white dress fit for a lady. I love the roundedness of the lace top and the way the underlayer fades away like a distant memory. The tiered skirt recalls an upside down wedding cake and the irreverence of the wellies comes across as refreshingly unfeminine. This look’s commentary on the perils of marriage takes it beyond the mere pleasantries of luxury fashion toward thought-provoking art.

Kenzo

Kenzo’s new Creative Directors Humberto Leon and Carol Lim revamped the fading French label with a youthful essence and accessibility. For this look, they took classic couture shapes and technique (like the pleated peplum) and infused it with a sportive edge, adding a club collar at the neck and styling the model with a kiddish baseball cap. They also got on board the bird-print trend we’ve seen since last season with a sand skirt covered in images of sparrows. The disparate elements of the look would clash in most collections, but somehow, they all came together in Leon and Lim’s eclectic, totally fun universe.

Lanvin

The Lanvin woman took on a new attitude this season, one that’s darker and a bit more mysterious than usual. This newfound attitude was apparent in a head-to-toe look covered in images of coiled snakes. The silhouette was soft and feminine, but the print had an aggression that imbued the look with an unmistakable power. I also loved the beading at the shoulders that recalled an intricate plate of armor.

Maison Martin Margiela

What makes Maison Martin Margiela’s collections so alluring is their ability to make big design impact with just simple shapes and modest fabrics. Here, the MMM design team made a shapely hourglass silhouette from just a black ribbed cardigan and floor-length skirt. The hem at the waist of the sweater creates a feminine proportion and transforms the portion of the sweater underneath it into shadows of a peplum. The sheen of the skirt adds a nice contrast to the matte quality of the top.

Junya Watanabe

I love the whimsy in this look – textured lace, ruffled shoulders, a cascading stream of bird feathers. It’s Junya at his best. The swirls worked into the lace of the dress have a dynamism that brings to mind Roy Lichenstein’s “Drowning Girl” (1963), and this sense of movement is echoed in the soft waves in the jacket. I also love the simple plane of leather at the bodice; it’s like the calm in the middle of a storm.

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The Best Trends from Paris Fashion Week

October 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Ruffles

Looks from Dries Van Noten, Alexander McQueen, and Givenchy

The ruffles trend continued into Paris this week; although designers ditched the fiesta flair from the Milan shows and replaced it with a quieter elegance. Alexander McQueen ruffled the hems of a floral jacket and paired it with wavy peplums, while Dries Van Noten and Givenchy took a more minimal approach, adding sinuous flaps of fabric to monochrome looks in black and creme.

Minimal

Looks from Lanvin, Givenchy, and Giambattista Valli

A number of heavy hitters stripped away the excess of previous collections and presented pared-down looks that dazzled in their simplicity and innovation in form and proportion. Givenchy and Giambattista Valli showed a number of looks in silk and stretch cotton whose layering and subtle color contrast recalled the minimal, deconstructionist paintings of Kazimir Malevich. Lanvin’s take on the trend was 80s-inspired and reintroduced the 80s power silhouette through protuding shoulder pads and nipped waists.

Lace

Looks from Junya Watanabe, Miu Miu, and Louis Vuitton

Lace is a perennial spring/summer trend, but this time designers refreshed it with new shapes and color palettes. Junya Watanabe showed us an entire collection of dresses done in floral-shaped lace and worn over little black dresses; At Louis Vuitton we saw club collars and pencil skirts with magnified lace made from 60s-inspired daisies; and at Miu Miu, would-be cheery lace dresses took on a slightly sinister quality in their dark color palette of magenta and slate.

Textured Florals

Looks from Comme des Garcons Alexander McQueen, and Chanel

The textured floral trend carried over from the Milan shows, imbuing the Paris collections with a girlish levity. For its bride-as-prisoner collection, Commes des Garcons accented its restrictive white coats and dresses with soft white roses. Chanel showed us a floral top in shades of seashell pink, while Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen imagined a poppy trapeze dress covered in what looked like fiery carnations.

Sleeveless Blazer

Looks from Lanvin, Givenchy, and Chloé

The sleeveless blazer emerged as this season’s must have item, showing up everywhere from Lanvin, to Givenchy, to Chloé. A number of them were styled over shirts buttoned to the top, and they varied in length, lapel style (club collars were a popular option), and number of buttons (often zero or just one).

Paris Fashion Week Review: Dead Ends and Body Bags

October 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Looks from Kanye West

The surprising must-have item from the Paris shows was the body bag, or some wearable form of it. More than a few appeared at Rick Owens as high neck, floor length dresses made from single cuts of leather, and a handful spiced up the runway at Martin Margiela in clear plastic.

It seemed appropriate that all the body-bag looks preceded Sunday, as if they were preparing us for the dead-end debut collection by rapper-turned-designer Kanye West. It’s a bit unclear how his collection came together, exactly, considering he probably doesn’t know how to sew a button on a shirt. But during the show, the mystery of his ghost design team became irrelevant as ill-fitting, hoochie club wear came down the runway and we realized that the show was his singular vision. Necklines plunged below the belly button, pants bunched at the ankles like scrunchies, and dresses made of 2-inch strips of fabric wrapped around the models like bandage tape. They looked like post-clubbing hospital victims.

Despite the consensual critical panning, though, I think Kanye’s collection might have some commercial life come springtime. There’s always a market for short, tight dresses as well as the general Kanye West brand. You might not find the clothes at Barneys or Bloomies, but you’re bound to bump into them somewhere, even if it’s on Gilt.

Looks from Comme des Garcons

Like the criticism following West’s show, Rei Kawakubo’s latest collection for Commes des Garcons spoke volumes about limitations. She showed a macabre parade of white-out brides with sleeves either tied together with a bow or magnified to the point of resembling pant legs. Kawakubo was commenting on the burdens and restrictions brought upon by marriage, and how this process is veiled in pretty dresses and fanciful ceremony. Her message was clear and artfully conveyed, and the clothes were really lovely too. Hems were lined with lush flowers, skirts billowed like expanding cumulous clouds, and dainty white lace peeked out from under creme silk jackets. Some of the most awe-inspiring looks came toward the end of the show as diaphanous skirts constructed from tumor-like panels with cage-inspired ribbing.

Looks from Junya Watanabe

Kawakubo’s underling Junya Watanabe put out an equally stand-out collection, with numerous looks done in colorful floral lace. They had a nice transparency, which worked well over simple black dresses and under ruffled leather jackets. It was simply a joy to look at. I also enjoyed the headpieces in the collection, which called to mind mangled chickens contorted in every which way.

Looks from Givenchy

The big story from Givenchy wasn’t about the clothes, although they were still a boon; rather, it was about the runway-shy Gisele closing the show, as well as appearances from modeling veterans Frankie Rayder and Natalia Vodianova. Perhaps Tisci’s model casting indicated that the Givenchy woman has grown up and moved beyond the girlish waif. You could feel this in the overall sinister attitude of the show, as conveyed by ebony tops covered in black scale-like paillettes and jackets accented with leopard sea wolf skin. Gigantic shark teeth swung from necks like weighty pendulums and metal chains replaced cloth straps. The show had a dually soft side, though, as seen in the gentle ruffles on skirts and the calming shapes of peplums on tailored tops.

Looks from Lanvin

Like Givenchy, Lanvin had a darker tone than usual this season. Designer Alber Elbaz bathed the runway in dark blue and soft lighting, making it seem as if the models were walking on the bottom of an aquarium. The clothes – pared-down black and navy dresses and suits – echoed this effect and gave the show a sharp, clean aesthetic. It looked like what a moody Raf Simons might design. The prints of coiled and slithering snakes were alluringly menacing and some aggressively beaded looks added nice visual texture.

There was definitely some angst in Paris this season, in the bleachers as well as in the clothes. But maybe it’s the angst that drove designers to put out a round of interesting, emotive collections.

The Best Trends from Milan Fashion Week

September 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Get Me Bodied

Looks from Prada, Moschino, and Bottega Veneta

The bodysuit was an unexpected must-have item from Milan this past week. Prada showed a yellow and grey version with streamlined seams emphasizing an hourglass silhouette; Bottega Veneta gave his bodysuit a sportive flair, pairing it with a patterned gym bag; and Moschino took a sexier approach, imagining it in white lace and leaving a circular cutout just above the belly button.

Spanish Dancers

Looks from Emilio Pucci, Moschino, and Missoni

Some designers looked to Spain for their latest collections, introducing looks recalling sultry flamenco dancers swaying to the beat of a drum. They did these looks in bright primary colors – red, blue, golden yellow – and decked them out in wild ruffles and diagonal hems. I loved Emilio Pucci’s interpretation of the look, particularly a blood red crop top with billowing sleeves paired with layered, silken pants. Missoni’s transparent bodice was nice, as was Moschino’s straight-forward approach.

Feeling Floral

Looks from Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, and Marni

To jazz up the perennial floral trend, Milanese designers gave it some texture, appliquéing flower-shaped cutouts on matching floral fabric. Dolce & Gabbana and Marni pursued the trend full throttle, putting out head-to toe looks with 3-dimensional floral effects. Prada showed us a more subtle, sweeter interpretation on a pink pencil skirt with lemonade flowers. Off the runway, there’s a danger of this trend skewing toward granny-land, but done right, it could add a freshness to many a spring wardrobe.

Goat Hair

Looks from Etro, DSquared, and Missoni

This season, a number of designers used goat hair to up the luxe factor. The boys at DSquared used long, ebony locks on a mini party dress, adding equal doses of rock n’ roll and Cousin Itt to the collection. An exercise in contrast, Etro used hair in angelic white to embellish an otherwise simple sweater worn over a flowy evening gown. Missoni dyed her goat hair Yves Klein blue, giving a handful of her Spanish-influenced looks a colorful sashay.

Elegant Mesh

Looks from Iceberg, Marni, and Jil Sander

The ubiquitous mesh trend we saw at the New York shows carried over to Milan, but instead of imbuing the shows with roughed-up athleticism like at Alexander Wang and Altuzarra, here, it gave the collections a distinct softness. I loved the mesh two-piece dress at Jil Sander. The enlarged pores felt new and recalled a giant, elegant sponge. Marni’s mesh offerings were also of note, done with pores of varying sizes and overlaid with floral appliqué. Iceberg’s mesh tops were the most conventional of the week, used to make simple tanks and shirts.

My Favorite Looks from Milan Fashion Week

September 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

Dolce & Gabbana

This is a precarious look for the average woman. Not only is it a crop top, its body-conscious fit puts mere mortals in danger of displaying a whole feast of unflattering bodily delights: muffin tops, donuts, a gut. But real-world concerns aside, this look is gorgeous. I love the hearty print of blooming yellow flowers and ripening zucchini; it’s an image of bounty. The panel of midriff adds interest to what could have been a stale sundress, and the angular neckline gives the top a structured, yet freeing quality.

Versace

Versace’s “Little Mermaid” theme has grown on me. I initially thought it was too sweet, too safe, but I’ve come to appreciate how Donatella toughened up her theme with truckloads of gold studs and allusions to classic rock n’ roll garb. I particularly enjoyed a duo of plump seahorses on what looks like a white leather top. It had a plain girlishness to it, and all the swirls recalled an updated paisley. The skirt it was paired with was also nice, featuring constellations of studs that looked like the shell of a sea urchin.

Jil Sander

Raf Simons got the “sports-girl” memo from New York, sandwiching a two-piece, ultra white mesh number in between more conventionally feminine looks. The enlarged pores of the mesh felt new and avoided the athletic cliches we saw at other shows; it also gave a new dimension to Simons’ constantly evolving interpretation of minimalism. The styling of the collection was also in good taste. Putting a thin white dress under the mesh imbued the look with a modest elegance, and the smooth up-dos kept the overall look impeccably clean.

Emilio Pucci

Emilio Pucci puts forth the best prints in Milan. For this look, he took the ubiquitous pastel palette from the rest of Fashion Week and infused it with jolts of cobalt blue. The way the colors melt into each other has an ethereal quality and recalls strokes of watercolor paint bleeding into each other on a canvas. I also love the fluidity of the train. It trails behind the model like a mere memory.

Marni

Marni collections generally pass fairy quietly, but this season designer Consuelo Castiglioni put out a booming collection of textured floral dresses that we just couldn’t ignore. For this look, Castiglioni put her own spin on the mesh trend, laser-cutting squares and tear-drops onto a black, burgundy, and marigold frock. The mix of textures is nice, and the overall blockiness channels a modicum of Lego-esque inspiration. The transparent slip underneath the dress offers a soft touch, and the nude sock/heel combination is at once edgy and childishly adorable.

Milan Fashion Week Review: Food for Thought

September 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Looks from Jil Sander

After the sportive looks from New York and the scattered themes from London, the runways in Milan have served up some food for thought in both runway concept and casting. We’ve also seen heftier daywear offerings, a welcome relief from the steady parade of Oscar-centric collections in the past couple of weeks.

At the Jil Sander show, designer Raf Simons widened armholes, lengthened sleeves, and cut hems at mid-calf to create some fresh and sophisticated silhouettes. He introduced a new neckline on a duo of tailored jackets, too, cutting the lapels straight down until they reached a horizontal plane of fabric, resulting in a rectangular cutout exposing the sternum and some seductive side cleavage. In a way, I felt like I was peering into the soul of the model, and more extensively the Simons’ design philosophy. I also enjoyed the crop tops layered over thin dresses and paired with long skirts. They had the sportive nature of a women’s football jersey, but the ultra white palette and smooth surfaces disabled any overt allusions to the NFL and guided the look to the calmer shores of high fashion. The paisley prints were also a boon, done in faint pastels evocative of an Easter egg hunt. They were clean and pared down – purified.

Looks from Prada

As I take it, Miuccia Prada is a feminist of sorts. She put men in skirts and braziers for fall 2008, and this season she dolled up her women in garb covered in racer flames and toy cars – a comment on objectification. She also loosened her silhouette on a series of cowboy-meets-dandy jackets decked out in retro florals. I think Prada might have been thinking of “freeing the woman” with these looks, putting her girls in wide, roomy outerwear, but I think the effect was a bit too pronounced; the models looked like South Western line backers. The sunburst pleating on some of the skirts was nice. They contrasted well with the tougher, more structured pieces and gave the collection a dose of old-school femininity. Sticking to her concept, though, Prada printed these with streamlined figures reminiscent of 50s race cars, imbuing the looks with an aggressive intellect that might have looked stronger had they been tempered.

Prada has a social conscience – I get it – but her collection could have benefited from a more relaxed attitude and abstracted interpretation of her politics. I do applaud her audacity, though, and the articulation of her somewhat controversial standpoint in an often socially deaf industry. She’s lucky she has the influence and financial stability to design with such bravado.

Looks from Dolce & Gabbana

Dolce and Gabbana served up a delicious collection of sundresses and bloomers printed with ripening vegetables: red peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, red onions. It actually made me salivate. The collection took me back to 1950s Italy, on some scantly populated island with lush gardens, sumptuous food, and a very tan Sofia Loren. There was such a strong sense of history and cinema that I couldn’t help but fall in love with the fluidity of the pleated skirts and the airy, transparent fabrics. I’m also mad for the lace items in ecru and baby blue with big, ebullient flowers scattered about. They were a nice update to their daintier, more run-of-the-mill lace from S/S 11 and gave the looks a nice, soft texture.

I could have done without the rainbow beading that closed the show; it was a bit too Claire’s for me. But at least they ended the presentation on a festive note with their joyous colors and shapes that resembled fireworks. It was definitely a show to celebrate.

Looks from Fendi

I know it’s sacrilege to criticize czar Lagerfeld, but honestly, I wasn’t too hot about his latest collection for Fendi. The color palette could have used a boost, namely the faint peaches and blues that conjured dirty dish water. There were also a number of looks in black-white combinations, like a black shift dress with white collar, that brought to mind a French maid uniform. I’m also not sure how the styling of the collection worked with the clothes. The glittery eyeshadow looked like shimmering face masks and the tousled up-dos channeled “Bride of Frankenstein.” Perhaps these were just deflectors for the clothes.

The strongest items from the collection were two sheer sweaters with thick, imposing cable knits running down the front and back like pillars. They had a strength in their visual weight, yet the transparency gave the look an overall soft, cozy quality.

Looks from Gucci

Next to some of the more cerebral designers at Milan Fashion Week, namely Prada and Raf Simons of Jil Sander, Frida Giannini doesn’t give the sense that she’s thinking too hard about deep concepts or pushing the limits of fashion. But I think that’s ok. After all, her latest show let us know that she knows how put out a collection that is glamorous, aesthetically sophisticated, and commercially appealing – and that alone is a lot to ask. I loved the deco effects on a series of gold, black, and white cocktail dresses, especially one paired with a giant feathery stole. They had a ’20s, throwback quality that made me think of Old Hollywood parties on the top floor of the Chrysler Building. The hard lines also gave a structured, architectural form to the overall easy silhouette of the dresses.

The styling was also notable. The thick eyeliner and slick hair referenced the back up girls from Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” video. All they needed were some guitars and a cold sway.

Looks from Bottega Veneta

I initially didn’t notice the first six looks from Bottega Veneta’s show; I was too focused on the black models wearing them. They later closed the show, which added even more confusion. What did it all mean? Perhaps designer Tomas Maier was making a statement on the dearth of black models on the runway these days, or perhaps he was just clawing for some headlines. Whatever the case, I was just happy to see models of color – and some new ones at that.

Once my attention switched to the clothes themselves, I realized that the model casting might be the most interesting part of the show. There were some new textures, particularly slick leather in rich aquamarine and hunter green. We also saw tie-dyed trousers in red and purple, as well as jeans with bleached-out patches at the front. The mixed-media looks recalled the Commes des Garcons F/W 11 collection, which featured a series of dresses made of vintage scarves. The effect here had the same crafty quality, but the way the textures came together (or didn’t) came across as a bit confused.

Milan has a reputation for being tough to break into, especially as a young designer. I think this season has proved as much, with the experienced fashion houses like Prada and Dolce & Gabbana putting out collections that are immense in size, intellectually complex, and fun to watch.

London Fashion Week Fashion Review: A Fine Intermission

September 22, 2011 § 1 Comment

In my years following fashion, London Fashion Week has always come across as an intermission between Milan and New York. Sure, there are a few designers anchoring the week’s shows, forcing editors to pay it some attention, but overall the fashion world seems to gloss over it, resting their eyes and keyboards until they see something spicier elsewhere.

The latest London shows, at least the ones that released images to the public (Tom Ford did not), did nothing to change this scenario. There were a lot of pleasant collections with nice clothes, but nothing really stood out as revolutionary or even particularly trend-setting. We saw a wash of ethereal pastels at Jonathan Saunders, Meadham Kirchhoff, and House of Holland, and some wicked 60s-inspired hair at Mulberry that transformed the models into Femme Bots. But for me, there were a few other collections that I think deserve more attention.

Looks from Matthew Williamson

I was expecting to see a parade of short, tight party dresses on Matthew Williamson’s runway. (To be honest, he had only existed in my mind as Lindsay Lohan’s pal from an episode of “The Rachel Zoe Project.”) I was pleasantly surprised, then, to see that Williamson had a lot more to offer than high-end club wear. He didn’t reinvent the wheel with his latest collection – it was a pretty standard offering – but he nonetheless produced a lot of pretty looks that would look great on a lot of women. His floral dresses were nice, particularly the opening number in fiery orange that had a slit sliced right up the front. Some delicate cherry blossom prints came later, most notably on a charming shirt-shorts combo.

Despite the hits, there were a number of misses, including just about everything decorated with thick, shaggy fringe. On one gown, the fringe was placed at the hips to reference the now-ubiquitous peplum, but somehow it managed to transform the model into some sort of deep sea creature, calling to mind dead coral or achromatic seaweed swaying in the water. It didn’t help that the dress was completely shapeless. I mean, I know models are supposed to be skinny, but Zac Posen showed us last week that the right construction can give curves to even the most angular body.

Pringle of Scotland

Ex-Balenciaga designer Alistair Carr put out an impressive debut collection for Pringle of Scotland, showing us a controlled, understated show that played with geometric print and draping. The first few looks featured multicolored layers of thick, interlocking lines that brought to mind enlarged threads of a shirt or the covers of 80s math textbooks. It had a retro air to it, but the way the shirt was sewn together as a series of carefully placed panels brought it an undoubtedly contemporary feel. The cable knit prints also stood out, especially a black and white ombre version on a 3/4 length cardigan. It was tongue-in-cheek, referencing the brand’s sometimes stale, conservative reputation but turning it on its head by introducing a digital flair.

My favorite piece from the show was Carr’s take on the little black dress. From the front it looked like three trapezoidal panels floating in space, the edges delineated by thick white lines. The dress sung in its minimalism, and it somehow managed to layer fabric while maintaining a distinct lightness.

Looks from Burberry

For the latest Burberry show, designer Christopher Bailey continued his African artisan theme from the menswear shows last June, decking out his girls in raffia golf hats, anoraks with crocheted collars, and below-the-knee skirts in vivid prints reminiscent of cartoon candy. The prolongation of the same theme from months ago seemed a bit lackluster in our hyper-speed fashion world. There was no suspense once the show started; the anticipation of discovering Bailey’s vision quickly deflating after the first couple of looks.

That said, there were a number of interesting, hip items in this show that I’m sure will strike editorial and commercial gold as spring rolls around next year. We saw more skirts with gathered fabric at the front that I first raved about from Marc Jacobs last weekend. While the skirts recalled crumpled paper bags at Jacobs, here they brought to mind the animated paintings of Roy Lichenstein or artistic renderings of rope. I also loved all of the tight, high-waisted skirts done in various iterations of stripes: two-toned, textured, earthy. They gave the models a nice, sexy shape, but their sober prints maintained an artisanal personality.

London Fashion Week is in dire need of a kick. Perhaps Alexander McQueen should show it some love too; designer Sarah Burton’s vision would be an undoubted boon to the Fashion Week scene and offer it some much needed-buzz. Kudos to Burberry and Tom Ford for holding down the fort and at least forcing editors to stop by and say “hello.”

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