July 20, 2011 § Leave a comment
On Day 2 of the Paris Couture shows last week, photographers snapped away at a silver, metallic Gareth Pugh dress worn by journalist/performance artist/fashion enthusiast Daphne Guinness. She paired it with a hunter green alligator purse and sculptural silver shoes that resembled a robot’s feet on tippy toes. The conservative silhouette contrasting with the sleek, high tech fabric recalled Driving Miss Daisy circa 3000.
Korea’s bad-ass yet wholly lovable girl group 2NE1 wore a slew of looks from the same S/S 11 Gareth Pugh collection for their latest video modestly titled “I’m the Best.” They were going for a minimalist, space-age, bad girl look.
Although these looks may lead their wearers to look like baked potatoes, cupcake tins, or Star Trek extras, I appreciate their directionality and their spirit of tough femininity.
July 8, 2011 § Leave a comment
One of the biggest statements of the couture season went unheard. It came from Maison Martin Margiela, who made a clear comment on our gaze of the female body through a collection of transparent looks juxtaposed with black face coverings. It wasn’t your average couture show – there are no Oscar gowns or Royal Wedding numbers here – and it wasn’t a show that appealed to editors or critics. Style.com, the go-to site for runway pictures, neglected to post images from the collection (these are from NYMag), and Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn didn’t even bother to mention it in her reviews of the couture season. I get it – these clothes weren’t made to dazzle in magazine editorials, nor do they carry the grandiosity most people equate with “couture.” They are, however, an incisive comment on the female body and our perception of it.
The Margiela design team introduced the idea of transparency, quite literally, by opening the show with three transparent head-to-toe looks. While these pieces – blazers, pants, long skirts – create a classically conservative silhouette, the transparent fabric reveals the most intimate parts of a woman – her belly, legs, panties – and infuses the looks with a sexual edge. Another look, a transparent trench coat, turned a familiar figure – the flasher – into an object of voyeurism. A draped khaki dress exposing the model’s shoulders, midriff, and legs followed directly after. The look appeared constructed from one large swath of fabric and drew to mind a woman frantically covering herself with a blanket the morning after a one-night stand.
The stockings covering the models’ faces are, at first, jarring. One could read the collection as misogynistic because it reduces women to faceless pieces of flesh. After some thought, however, I realized that the collection transformed the viewers into voyeurs in a raw and uncomfortable way. As fashion admirers, we often play the role of voyeur, turning our gaze towards models in editorials and on runways; we see them, but they can’t see us. The Margiela collection highlighted this practice by preventing us from seeing the models’ faces and even forcing us to look past the clothes and directly at their bodies. The heightened sexuality of this gesture made us more aware of our gaze.
The face coverings reminded me of Junya Watanabe’s F/W 08 RTW show, when he sent models down the runway in knits of various shapes and tones of gray. This collection could have invited a similar accusation of misogyny; however, the opaque stockings, filled with random geometric shapes, emphasized the collection’s focus on draping, cut, and silhouette. Furthermore, for the last 10 looks of his collection, Watanabe sent out models with their faces exposed, wearing the same grey knits, only this time covered in bright, lush floral patterns. The collection sprinted towards a spirit of liberation.
Both the Margiela and Watanabe collections worked with a “shock and awe” tactic. Viewers are initially surprised by the absence of personhood in the faceless looks, but eventually, other questions begin to emerge around silhouette, draping, the female body, and our own gaze.
It’s disappointing that such remarkable works of art and thought like the Margiela collection can pass by so quietly. For me, it’s often not glamour that speaks the loudest in a collection.
July 7, 2011 § 1 Comment
I think Karl Lagerfeld is in a bad mood. For the Chanel Couture show last Wednesday, he transformed the elegant Grand Palais into a dystopic replica of the historic Place Vendome, replacing the iconic stone sculpture of Neopoleon with a robotic statue of Coco Chanel and minimizing the rich texture of the plaza into a smooth, mechanized landscape. The black set was lined with rod-shaped bulbs and the runway was speckled with reflective shards, creating what looked like a glistening lazer tag pen. Prepare for battle!
Karl worked the moodiness of the set into the collection itself, constructing most looks in shades of black, grey, or midnight blue. There were a couple of looks in fuchsia, but those seemed as if they had lost their way from the 80s bash at Dior. The overall silhouette was less feminine than usual – lots of square shoulders and undefined waists – and some of the fabrics, particularly the tweeds, had the visual weight of shag carpet. Some added heft makes sense for a winter collection, but some of the clothes were so bulky that the models looked like they were trying to hide a paunch. Overall, the collection seemed a bit out of touch, but it definitely had its share of highlights. The strongest look for me was a stiff, shiny pullover in pistachio with a floor-length, transparent skirt adorned with speckles trickling down like raindrops. I loved the rough, protective look of the top against the airiness of the skirt – it created a nice tension.
The word “tension” was also present with me while looking at Dior’s collection, but it was for a different set of reasons. This season, Galliano’s absence led the design team, overseen by Galliano’s ex studio assistant Bill Gaytten, to send down a hodge podge of looks recalling the Easter Bunny and Saved by the Bell. The color palette was an explosion of pastels – light pinks, mint, sky blue – and patterns referenced graphics of the 80s – squiggles, shrunken zebra patterns, confetti. The silhouette and proportions were unflattering as well, shrinking the models to look like children at a birthday party. Karlie Kloss, one of the most leggy, statuesque models working today, managed to look like a Polly Pocket in the finale look – a voluminous ball gown constructed from numerous square pieces of violet fabric and accessorized with a ruffly ring around her neck as well as a hat that strangely looked to big and too small at the same time. It was a circus of a show, but at least it got Dior through a Galliano-less couture season.
There was a circus-like feeling at Jean Paul Gaultier too, although this one, with its more aggressive styling, was for the grown ups. Gaultier didn’t skimp on the luxe this season, striping gowns in fur and accenting coat collars and sweater openings with thick tufts of black feathers. The strongest looks channeled a quieter luxury, however, like a grey speckled sweater worn with an ankle-length skirt constructed with an under layer of tulle and what looks like curled balls of misty mauve fabric. It had a simplicity and subtle elegance lacking in the rest of the collection – a moment of calm in the mist of a storm. Although Gaultier offered a wide range of looks and showed mastery of technical abilities, there lacked a clarity to his vision. Too many refrences and too many themes. I think it would have benefitted from a little restraint.
The opposite was true at Givenchy, who produced a streamlined, coherent vision and the most sensational clothes of the season. There were only 10 looks total, a breath of fresh air among the visual clutter of other shows. Collectively, they had a grandness to them (it’s couture afterall), but they also possessed a poetry and purity that recall the flapping of a dove’s wings or a fresh mound of snow. I loved the first look in particular – a diaphanous, white, floor-length dress accented with caviar beading toward the hem and clusters of 3-D flowers swirling around the sleeves, neck, and chest. It was worn over a one-piece, white body suit. The look evoked a softness through its sheerness and creamy color, but it it also had a strong power – the floral patterns transformed the part of the dress covering the upper body into beautifully ornate armor. The model looked like an ethereal angel ready for battle. The closing look possessed a similar feminine strength – a floor-length dress with a sheer bodice, long pale gold fringe covering the legs, and gold bird of paradise motifs covering the groin. There was a vulnerability in the sheerness exposing so much of the body – the neck and breasts in particular – but the shiny gold fringe covering the legs had a protective heft.
I had mixed feelings about the Valentino show, even though it was the best couture I’ve seen from designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Peter Paolo Piccioli to date. Their recent collections tried too hard to gain a “hip” factor and the result look silly and overworked. (If this gives you a better image, they put Freja in a white bird cage for their Twilight-inspired collection.) This season they worked around a 15th century fairy tale theme to create clothes fit for a modern-day princess. A handful of the dresses in red and black velvet looked heavy and stuck too closely to the theme – some of the models looked like they sold turkey legs at the State Fair. But as the theme and fabrics lightened up, the looks began to shine, particularly, a floor-length, long-sleeved, transparent white dress with opaque white chevron pattern rising up from a sea of tulle at the hem. It looked like she was floating down the runway on a cloud. Another stand-out piece was a dress with a transparent bodice covered with gold leaf details and soft, autumnal paillettes meeting a bed of ostrich feathers at the hem. It was a complicated dress, but the subtlety of the colors and lightness of the fabric gave it an overall ease.
As I wrote in a post yesterday, the Armani show was designed around a Japan theme, resulting in a stream of black looks accented with traditional Japanese motifs like cherry blossoms in shades of salmon. The clothes seemed to have a strong structure to them, perhaps as a nod to oragami or the sometimes geometric quality of traditional Japanese robes. Overall, the collection was fine, though the mincing of the models’s steps was too much and the general cultural performance aspect kept me thinking of Epcot. The finale look was quite spectacular, however – a form fitting, long, strapless dress constructed in a slick mandarin-colored fabric with a band of silk at the hem covered in a delicate floral pattern. The model looked like a giant, luxurious gold fish, in a good way.
There was a feeling of gloom that seemed to cast over the shows this couture season. It was in the clothes – muted color palettes, bulky silhouettes, heavy fabrics – but it was also in the dismal spirit of the sets and the conspicuously sad showing at Dior’s first couture show sans Galliano. Hopefully, the fashion world will get a bit brighter for New York Fashion Week in September. It’ll be the end of summer – not too late for some sunshine.
July 6, 2011 § 4 Comments
Although Japan was on Armani’s mind in the process of designing his latest couture collection, it certainly wasn’t when he was casting models. Out of the 44 looks that came down Armani’s mirrored runway yesterday, none of them were modeled by a Japanese person, or even a person of color. This white-out casting isn’t out of the ordinary in fashion shows, but it’s surprising in the context of the Armani’s Japanese theme, which produced dresses and pant suits adorned with cherry blossom prints and accessorized with oragami-inspired headpieces and obi-like belts. You would think Armani would have at least cast Japanese model Tao Okamoto, who was at Chanel yesterday.
Armani should have taken advice from Ralph Lauren, who for his China-inspired F/W 11 collection cast new and old Chinese models throughout the show: Sui He, Lela Rose, Jing Ma, Ming Xi, Liu Wen, and Lily Zhi. While the show celebrated various aspects of Chinese culture, it also propelled a sizable group of Chinese models forward, giving them a modeling opportunity most often reserved for the standard ring of European and white American models, which includes Karlie Kloss, Freja Beha Erichsen, Abbey Lee, etc.
Although creating collections inspired by non-Western cultures makes me uncomfortable, I would prefer that when it happens that casting for the runway show reflects a wider appreciation of beauty from the cultures they are referencing. The Armani show clearly showed appreciation for the beauty of Japan’s art, flora, and history, but it would have been nice to see an appreciation for the beauty of Japanese people as well.
July 6, 2011 § Leave a comment
What I remember most about Giambattista Valli’s debut couture collection last monday was look #26 – a minidress constructed with layered ruffles of leopard print fabric and a wide band of spotted pheasant feathers around the collar. I’m sure it wasn’t a show stopper for most people, but it caught my attention on Sudanese model Ajak Deng, whose obvious African heritage transformed the dress into African tribal costume. It was as if Valli was saying “Voilá – look how pretty I made the African!”
Two looks after this, we saw a similar effect with Zimbabwe-born model Nyasha Matonhodze donning a tight, long-sleeve leopard dress accented again with pheasant feathers around the hem and what looks like a crescent metal work necklace.
Previous posts on this blog have commented on the ways in which fashion exotifies African models – clustering them at the end of shows, dressing them in head wraps and faux-tribal wear, and booking them exclusively for African-themed spreads. Here, Valli consciously dresses his two African models in animal prints and feathers, creating an exotic mystique around them. They’re visually separate from the other, non-African models who wore conservative, classic European looks referencing the blouse de cabine, a white poplin shirtdress commonly worn by atelier workers.
Valli sent down two other leopard-print looks down the runway that weren’t worn by African models. One of these looks directly followed Deng in the show – a voluminous leopard-print gown with a dramatic wrap of fabric around the waist and a long, airy, leopard-print cape trailing behind. It was modeled by Shu Pei Qin who is Chinese. The other leopard-print look was modeled by Dutch model Melissa Tammerjin and resembled that worn by Qin. The main difference between the two looks was that this one had more white in the print and had a gold leaf accessorizing the front of the gown.
Although these two looks are both leopard print, they evoke very different feelings than those worn by Deng and Matonhodze. The volume of their skirts and the presence of the cape make them more elegant and refined, recalling an exotic ball. By contrast, the more casual attitude and the pheasant feathers on the looks of Deng and Matonhodze make them look more primal and animalistic. It paints a picture of these African models as more primitive than their more upper-crust counterparts.
I appreciate that designers are hiring more African models, but I hope that they begin to treat them as equals. Perhaps this way, fashion, and eventually the public, will start seeing their real beauty.
July 5, 2011 § 2 Comments
It’s couture season in Paris, and the big story of Day 1 was that the circus came to town at Dior. Pastel confetti prints decorated pleated skirts, Zuba-like squiggles covered jackets, and random shapes – cones, spheres, pyramids – nested in the models’ hair like Easter eggs. The collection was like a Project Runway challenge: make a couture dress out of party materials! Except in this episode, nobody won.
The disappointment of this collection has left critics wondering if Dior can succeed without its recently fired star designer John Galliano. Cathy Horyn of the New York Times has speculated that this show was part of a test run for Galliano’s long-time studio assistant Bill Gaytten, who designed this collection and has served as the interim designer for both the Galliano and Dior labels since Galliano’s departure. If this is true, I think it’s safe to say that at least for Dior Couture, Gaytten has failed.
So the question still remains regarding who is talented and marketable enough to maintain Dior’s status as a luxury and design powerhouse. Whoever it is, I hope it’s someone that can handle the pressures of heading such a mammoth label. They can leave their party hat at the door.
June 28, 2011 § Leave a comment
The Milan and Paris shows took a different spin on the primary colors, turning reds into coral and berry, yellow into mustard, and blue into an icy cerulean. Designers mixed these with deeper neutral hues of browns and whites, creating a warmer and slightly more somber color palette. This was a shift from a spring/summer 2011 season that was heavy on saturated brights.
My favorite palettes of the spring/summer 2012 season were the corals at Commes des Garcons and Versace, and the dark blues at Armani and Gucci. Mustard, one of the new colors of the season, looked fresh and gave the collections a retro kick. Look below for some colors to look forward to next spring.
Shades of Grey