August 11, 2011 § 2 Comments
“L’Amour Fou” is the latest film to feed the trend of fashion designer documentaries, joining Valentino’s acclaimed “The Last Emperor (2008),” the elusive “Lagerfeld Confidential (2007),” and the soon-to-be-released “The Guts of Duckie Brown (2011). It traces the life of the late Algerian-born designer, Yves Saint Laurent, as framed by his widower Pierre Bergé’s narration and the epic Christie’s sale of his expansive art collection at the Grand Palais in Paris in 2009. Overall, you get the sense that Bergé, who had a heavy hand in shaping the story, used the project as a cathartic release. Instead of celebrating the life of his partner, he and the director, Pierre Thoretton, focus instead on Saint Laurent’s intense bouts of depression, excessive drug use, and occasional philandering. It was sad, really. But despite the film’s unexpectedly dour angle on narrating Saint Laurent’s life and work, it joyously celebrates, perhaps unknowingly, Saint Laurent’s pivotal role in placing models of color in the world of high fashion.
The movie never explicitly discusses Saint Laurent’s penchant for models of color; however, its streams of archival footage from Saint Laurent shows in the 60s, 70s, and 80s show a range of black models that often stepped on his runway and posed for his ad campaigns. The YouTube clip below gives offers a taste of this, featuring a montage of black models he often used in the 80s specifically: Naomi Campbell, Iman, Sonia Cole, Dalma Callado, Maureen Gallagher, his muse Katoucha Niane, and others.
Although Saint Laurent’s avid support for black models eluded the general public, fashion insiders readily acknowledge it. In an article from NowPublic published shortly after Saint Laurent’s death to a prolonged disease, writer Adrienne Anderson thoroughly discusses the designer’s role in breaking down barriers for women of color, offering a quote from an interview with Naomi Campbell that illustrates how Saint Laurent generously launched her career: “My first Vogue cover ever was because of this man, because when I said to him ‘Yves, they won’t give me a French Vogue cover, they won’t put a black girl on the cover’ and he was like ‘I’ll take care of that,’ and he did.” In August 1988, Naomi Campbell became the first black model to land the cover of French Vogue, which consequently opened the doors for jobs at Ralph Lauren, Versace, and Francois Nars soon thereafter.
Saint Laurent aggressively featured his designs in black magazines, a practice considered a precarious marketing risk at the time. In particular, he showcased his designs in the pages of Ebony Magazine as well as in the related Ebony Traveling Fashion Show. He was also known to cavort with Eunice Johnson, the producer of the Traveling Fashion Show and the reputed “black matriarch” of publishing.
Yves Saint Laurent once described his appreciation for black models in an interview with the French press, saying, “It’s extraordinary to work with black models.” His explanation takes an exotifying turn, however, as he continues, “because the body, the way they hold their head, the legs… is really very, very provocative.” His sexualization of black female bodies puts his motives into question. But perhaps he was merely using language that the fashion world often used at that time to describe models, a time when women like Cindy Crawford, Tyra Banks, Linda Evangelista, and Christy Turlington ruled the runways with their curvaceous forms. In other words, Saint Laurent’s view of black models as “provocative” might merely reflect a mantra or standard way of thinking about models of various races at the time. (I know this is a pretty generous analysis, and I encourage you to comment).
Despite the pleasure in learning about Saint Laurent’s use of models of color, it’s disheartening to realize that YSL’s current designer, Stefano Pilati, has broken away from that tradition. The most recent YSL womenswear show, Resort 2012, cast only one model of color. The collection before that, Fall/Winter 2011, featured only 2 out of a cast of 37. Unlike Saint Laurent, who set the standard for model casting in his day, Pilati merely follows it.
As fashion writer Guy Trebay wrote in The New York Times in response to a particularly racially-homogenous fashion season in 2007, the current runways are “fading to white.” The substantial number of black models seen on Saint Laurent’s runway shows are nowhere to be seen, and Asians and Latinas struggle to get booked. Although the days of Yves Saint Laurent-staged runways shows took place lightyears from now (speaking in the hyperspeed world of fashion), perhaps they were actually a glimpse into the future.
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
June 24, 2011 § Leave a comment
Most people wait until the end of the Paris shows to analyze trends, but there were so many that emerged in Milan that I figured I’d just start now. So without further ado, here are my 5 favorite trends from the Milan S/S 12 shows.
5. Head-to-Toe Striped Looks
Just when I was getting bored of stripes, designers in Milan served them in a new way – with even more stripes. Head-to-toe stripe looks were seen at Roberto Cavalli and Band of Outsiders (BoO), but they dominated the runway at Moncler Gamme Bleu, where almost half of the looks followed this trend. The stripes at BoO and Moncler were horizontal black and white, nodding to the perennial nautical trend and perhaps the Hamburglar as well. The hoodies weren’t anything special – you’ll probably find them at Uniqlo next summer in 8 colors– but the tailored items looked dazzling, bringing to mind images of sailboats in Saint Tropez. Roberto Cavalli sent railroad stripes down the runway in conventional navy as well as it’s signature cranberry. The overall effect was somewhat 70s, but with a gritty edge.
4. Space Dying
Space dyed knits can sometimes look dowdy, like you stole it from your grandpa’s closet, but for S/S 12, designers offered space dyed items infused with youth and contemporary appeal. Jil Sander, for example, showed a number of short-sleeved sweaters in mandarin, crimson, and forest green. They looked perfect for a tennis match in the Hamptons, but don’t tell Jil Sander’s goth-inspired designer Raf Simons – he wouldn’t be pleased. Missoni offered a wide range of space dyed items per usual – sweaters, cardigans, and shirts – but this season she used a tighter knit, giving them a weightless visual quality. Gucci’s space dyed sweaters in charcoal were the biggest and chunkiest of the season. Perhaps you should save them for winter, though. They might cause heat stroke.
For those of you who don’t know, scrollwork is the twisty, plant-like pattern often printed on silk. I had no idea what it was called until I Googled it last night – it originally sat in my notes under the label “gold thing.” I had once thought scrollwork was tacky, associating it with church ladies and rich men from Miami who unbuttoned their shirts to their belly buttons. But for some reason the print looks fresh and youthful this season. Its vine-like forms crawled around blazers at Etro. At Versace, it mixed with psychedelic zebra stripes for an explosion of contrasting shapes. But D&G embraced scrollwork the most, printing it on silk shirts, jackets, and shorts worn all at once.
2. Child-like Prints
Some of the prints from Milan got me thinking of how I might want to wallpaper my future child’s bedroom. Would a candy theme make them fat when they grow up? Would cartoon wrenches make them too masculine? At Prada, Z Zegna, and Burberry, the child-like prints of cartoon cars, tools, and what looked like abstracted candy wrappers tickled the imagination and brought a sense of playful nostalgia to the fashion season. “Lighten up,” they seemed to say, “It’s just fashion.”
Last night I was debating whether or not to buy an red, Engineered Garments floral shirt online. It was on sale, afterall. But then my boyfriend spoke: “You’d probably want to cover it with a sweater.” Enough said – it would make me look like Rose Parade float. It’s a shame, though, because the floral trend will be in full bloom next Spring. At Moschino, the flowers were red and blue Hibiscus and recalled a 60s vacation to Hawaii. Prada printed hot pink and neon green buds on everything from trousers to puffy jackets. At McQueen, the highlight piece was a dark, dense floral print blazer cut short at the waist and sleeves. The look was new for menswear, but it had clear influence from Balenciaga’s iconic F/W 08 show where he put floral print on a range of futuristic dresses.
June 22, 2011 § Leave a comment
For almost a decade, the Swedish mega-retailer H&M has collaborated with some of fashion’s biggest designers to offer their customers high fashion at commercial prices. The first line came out in 2002 with a collection by Karl Lagerfeld. Since then, the list has grown to include Commes des Garcon, Stella McCartney, Viktor & Rolf, and Lanvin, amongst others. Italian label Versace, known for its flamboyantly sexy aesthetic, is the latest designer to be tapped for collaboration. But this most recent choice is surprising, considering just a few years ago Versace’s queen bee Donatella explicitly rejected any possibility of doing a line with H&M in an interview with New York Magazine: “I work very hard to put Versace in the luxury section. I think to put the Versace line in H&M would confuse the brand.”
Donatella was expressing the sentiment – once common in high fashion – that luxury and commercial don’t mix. That doing a line for H&M, a store made famous by offering cheap yet trendy clothes, would devalue the brand in the eyes of its rich clientele.
But clearly Donatella has since changed her point of view. Yes, luxury can mix with commercial! And there are already a number of designers who have come to this conclusion. Chanel, for example, shocked the fashion world last year by choosing Blake Lively as its new spokeswoman. In the ’90s, fashion houses used supermodels like Claudia Schiffer or Linda Evangelista as their public face, not teen idols who play superhero love interests. Choosing Lively made it clear that Chanel was going mainstream.
As Chanel demonstrated with Lively, the most popular and probably most effective way for a luxury brand to put itself into the mainstream is by aligning themselves with celebrities. In 2009, Louis Vuitton took this method to another level when it released a line of shoes co-designed by Kanye West. This wasn’t a complete surprise, as Louis Vuitton had collaborated before with artists such as Stephen Sprouse and Takashi Murakami. But no previous collaborator had nearly as much commercial appeal as Kanye, who had already had several number 1 singles and Grammys by that time. Also, Vuitton’s previous collaborators had been visual artists who used their craft to add artistic dimension to existing Vuitton goods. Kanye, on the other hand, was a rapper designing shoes in the dark.
Later that year, in what many consider a moment of delusion, French fashion house Ungaro used a similar tactic by tapping Lindsay Lohan as artistic advisor for their S/S 10 line. Technically, the head designer of the line was Estrella Archs, but the runway show made it clear that Archs was merely serving as Lindsay’s puppet. That season, the Ungaro runway was lined in hot pink, and the models strutted down the catwalk in dresses that looked like chewed-up sticks of bubblegum wrapped around their bodies. To some, they simply read as glorified hooker clothes.
But it seems that the products celebrities create for fashion labels often don’t matter – in truth, it’s only the association that labels care about. For example, although Ungaro’s Lohan collaboration resulted in a critically panned fashion show, the gesture put Ungaro’s name in the headlines in a way that even a stellar collection would not have. As a fashion house that had lost relevance over the years, this was an especially important jump start for the label.
Of all the ways a fashion brand can go mainstream, teaming up with H&M is one of the best. Both H&M and the brand benefit from increased media coverage and revenue, while fashion consumers gain access to the luxury brands they previously could only dream of. In doing a line with H&M, Donatella is just helping Versace stay in the game. We’re just happy she’s playing.