Sunday, 29 June 2014

film review: Versailles '73

In November 1973, a cadre of handpicked American fashion designers and their entourage descend upon Paris to take their French counterparts on at their own game. According to the film Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution, it was a watershed moment in fashion history, ushering in a new era of ready to wear clothing and introducing a new, contemporary form of fashion show.

Whether this point of view is true is ultimately unimportant, although fashion had certainly been moving towards a less formal mode for some time. In London for instance, designers such as Mary Quant and Ossie Clark had already developed a long history of energetic fashion shows, and Chloe in Paris was a developing brand of serious ready-to-wear fashion. Perhaps it takes the juxtaposition of the contemporary beside the traditional, such as happened at Versailles, to underscore the extent of the changes that were then occurring, not just in fashion, but in society as a whole. 

The event had initially been organised as an elaborate fundraiser for the restoration of Versailles Palace but the story told is actually one of personalities and the clashing of cultures. With John Gallanos and Geoffery Beene having both turned down invitations to participate, the Americans opted for  Halston, Oscar de la Renta, Anne Klein, Bill Blass and the virtually unknown, young black designer, Stephen Burrows, to take on the couture might of St Laurent, Givenchy, Dior, Ungaro and Cardin, with modern, accessible designs that resisted the formula of elitist made-to-measure gowns.

Partying and bitching ensue on the trans-Atlantic flight to Paris as narrated by a host of models, many of whom had been enjoying their first foray abroad. The film is dominated by this kind of talking-head reminiscence which has some fun moments. Once on the ground and rehearsals have begun, the back-biting continues, firstly between the Americans and their hosts who refuse to acknowledge their existence, denying them first food and water then even loo paper. Then follows the infighting as the diva antics of Halston frustrate his colleagues as they via for rehearsal time through the night.

Miraculously, it is from the fiasco that comes the fabulous. Miscommunication over choreography and staging leads to stripped down moves and striped down sets. While the French presentation of Wagnerian proportions runs to 2 ½ hours, (including giant pumpkins and er… reindeer), the Americans seize the day with a 35 minute blitzkrieg. Fresh from her Academy Award win for Cabaret, Liza Minnelli opens a performance that electrifies the audience- Princess Grace of Monaco herself leads proceedings in flinging her program in the air at its conclusion.

Given the social upheavals the French had endured in 1968, it seems remarkable how bound by tradition their fashion system remained. Even though St Laurent had pushed that system into new territory by becoming the first couturier to launch a ready-to-wear line (pret-a-porter), he and all his compatriots were blown away by the fresh spirit of the Americans. This reflects perhaps some fundamental differences that had emerged between Europe and America since the second world war; France continued in its hierarchal notions of taste and culture, America had encouraged an egalitarian and democratic model of consumer culture. Near the end of his career St Laurent proclaimed the blue jean the one design he wished to had have pioneered, and consistent with his love of popular culture he apparently proclaimed Stephen Burrows the stand out collection of the occasion, full of youth, flamboyance and colour that it was.

It really is a very American tale however, the film presenting their own pioneering attributes over the perceived fustiness of the French model. Almost the entire content draws upon American accounts, whether designer (Burrows is the only designer who presented that is actually in the film), assistant or model. The main disappointment however is in the dearth of actual footage from the Versailles show itself, probably five minutes of colour ‘runway’ footage and a few black and white stills are all that is shown.

The more interesting story however, is the emergence of a new wave of models, and indeed, way of modelling. Unusually, (for both that period and now), black models dominated the American show and they contribute to much of the film’s narration with humour and élan. Recollections of sashaying down the runway, breasts covered with nothing but a fan, point to the new, provocative space fashion was then heading in. With such little time on the clothes however, many may find this film disappointing. Halston, Burrows and de la Renta dominant the discussions and yet while ready to wear was apparently trampling over the toes of the traditions of couture, it’s premier proponent of contemporary daywear, Anne Klein, is given scant attention or screen time.

Versailles ’73 reflects the spirit of the age rather than convincing that this particular fashion show was ground zero for contemporary fashion. What we see instead is the breakdown of social barriers in many forms, the beginnings of a globalised fashion system and perhaps most relevant, early signs of the spectacle that fashion would become in the following decades.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Christian Dior: Couture Fall 2013

the good...
The belts were great.

What else to make of Raf Simons’ most recent couture collection for Dior? Well it’s hard to sum up in words, so diverse were the styles and techniques on display that, viewing through a computer screen, it really is quite hard to follow what the designer’s intention is here.

the promising...
We have learnt by now, any collection from Raf will not be ‘couture’ in the traditional sense, and here we see again a swerve away from traditional parameters of fabrication for instance, in an attempt to make couture modern. Amongst the more traditional suiting’s were fabrics offering a  sportswear feel and sometimes the colour played up this vibe. But the pieces themselves were all over the show, sometimes feeling like mere sketches, flourishes of fabric that weren't perused further. A draped orange and magenta dress looked like the promising start of something to evolve, yet it was quite alone in its fluidity. The more structured shapes are where Raf’s at his surest and again these seemed the most coherent, displaying his modernist virtuosity to the fullest.

Strapless gowns continue to feature as shapeless columns for Hollywood waifs alone but Raf’s suits in treated fabrics looked fresh and contemporary. Mesh tops with embellishments over the naughty bits however seemed pointless in combination with the majesty of the tiered pleated skirt.
and the bewildering.

The collection as a whole cannot be easily surmised, only to say it was disparate. There are some great pieces in amongst it here, but as a vision, it’s hard to know if Raf’s going forward, back, or round in circles

Sunday, 30 June 2013


shinny happy people:  St Laurent spring 2014
tough enough: St Laurent spring 2014
Here we go again. Hedi Slimane delivers another collection dripping in sub-cultural references that will be sure to elicit both vindictive scorn and  gushing praise in equal measure. Of course here Slimane is on firmer territory, delivering menswear for his latest YSL collection. If there is one thing you can say for Hedi it is this; no one's gonna tell him how to play the game. If there is anyone more resolute in their vision and in their ability to communicate it in a highly effective, unambiguous way, it's Hedi Slimane.

This time round rockabilly was the go to source for youth/ music inspired influences. Animal print; check, winkle-pickers: check, Perfecto leather jackets: check, and stove pipes of course- it wouldn't be a Hedi Slimane menswear show without them, as usual so skinny it relies on the kind of dedication to fashion few men over the age of 30 can pull off. this is by now such a moot point in Slimane's collections that is not even worth comment; Slimane's silhouette  for men is singular and resolute, and if you don't fit it: tough luck. the truth is that the pieces themselves are most likely suited to the under 30's anyhow- it's hard to imagine turning up to the office in a sequined drape tuxedo jacket. which is a shame actually, because the tailoring, as previously when at Dior, is fantastic; anyone who thinks it's easy to tailor jackets and coats so close to the body doesn't understand the technicalities involved.

As with previous collections however, such as his debut womenswear for Dior, criticism may come in suggesting Slimane doesn't so much suggest new directions so much as draw attention to trends that are already amongst us, albeit in the clubs and streets inhabited by more underground fashion savvy youths. there is certainly no shortage of rockabilly kids roaming the streets as a more edgy alternative to current 90's inspired trends that seem to be dominating and Slimane doesn't offer much  of a re-conceptualization of this emerging phenomenon. this is by no means a criticism, merely an observation that demonstrates Slimane's general design process and one he established long ago.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

the Iconics

The end of every season we all reflect on what’s gone by, what were the hits and what were the misses of the hundreds of shows on view. Everyone no doubt has favourites they follow and maybe discover new designers to follow in the future. Times are crazy just now, with  doors revolving at many major houses over the last year, and lots of strong opinions on the achievements of new designers at the helm.

Always comparing current collections with previous seasons, I’ve also been thinking what have been the best collections of the century? What have been the most iconic, inspirational and/or influential collections and designers that continue to stick in the mind?

Here's a few from my list- what would be on yours?

 Lanvin Fall 07. ‘Simple’and clean, classic but fresh. Fantastic colour. Sophisticated and strong but so feminine. The cutting is amazing. An utterly modern vision of high fashion that reflects the knowledge of a century of design, but is not beholden to it. YSL’s loss was definitely Lanvin’s gain when they allowed Alber Albaz the opportunity to develop his vision incrementally. This is possibly my favourite collection of all time and is the foundation stone for all the other wonderful work done at Lanvin since

Marc Jacobs Fall 12. Like an urban Galliano, Jacobs is a global citizen, infusing high and low influences from around the world, from throughout history. Lots of ‘grunginess’ in the colour palette and styling; lots of layers stacked upon each other and fabulous hats. Individual pieces are fantastic, but the way it comes together reflects the way people wear fashion today, a mix ‘n’ match blend of influences and styles in the quest for true originality.

YSL Fall 08 - so many of Stefano Pilati’s collections for YSL are memorable, but the first for me was this one. Ultra-modern, even futuristic, but not overtly so. Before any others had started paring back their aesthetic in the wake of the Great Recession, Pilati offered this vision of oversized silhouette that was so much more. Interesting shapes and proportions that have proven to be very directional, even if those that followed homogenised it to a sea of total beige. Will miss your collection Stefano, but rest assured, your work for YSL will become part of the archive that inspires countless generations in the future. A true visionary who added a distinct and modern take on the YSL label that never fell into cliché.

Alexander McQueen Spring 10. Not my favourite McQ collection of recent times (I prefer the previous Black, White hounds tooth collection for Fall), but Plato’s Atlantis ushered in the world of Digital print in a major way. He wasn’t the first to use print in this way, the sheer proliferation of this style of print since demonstrates McQueen’s direct influence. Another fantastic multimedia show (check it out online!) and the shoes of the century made famous by Lady Gaga. The Last great performance directed by the Last master of the twentieth century.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Louis V + Marc Jacobs: the master brings it all back home

tickle ya fancy?

How long has it been since Marc Jacobs was notoriously fired from his designer role at Perry Ellis after a much maligned ‘Grunge’ collection? Ever since however, the spirit has remained, but today, after many years of rearticulation and distillation, Jacobs turned up and presented the many pretenders with what a thorough understanding of downtown urban looks like when combined with the money uptown of high fashion.

On cue, after a week (a month?) of grunge references that have produced so many column inches, Jacobs brought a true insiders knowledge of the grunge spirit incarnate, and yet polished enough to likely be appreciated by women the world over. 

Sexy, powerful, confident.

 It was a collection that could be only produced by a figure so closely connected to the rhythms of the street, but with the experience of the atelier. Jacob’s collaboration with Stephen Sprouse (R.I.P) a decade ago provides a lineage directly to the Warhol factory, and if this isn’t entirely consistent in the aesthetic of the clothes displayed,  it entirely embodies it’s spirit.

A little distance goes’ a long way.

St Laurent fall 2013: what's new
Prada fall 2013: irreverant cool
Givenchy fall 2013: ecclectic and chic

Following Hedi Slimane’s pastiche of a collection for St Laurent the other day, and the pasting I gave it (along with sooo many others) I thought a comparison was due to illustrate just how different it could have been, if he wasn’t simply mining his own backyard for inspiration.
As I had suggested, it wasn’t the influence that was the problem; there were definite Grunge references in Dries van Noten’s collection the season before and used to great effect. It was not a Grunge collection however, and interestingly, I would suggest, neither was Slimane’s; this was simply a simulacrum.

Second time round the block fashion revivals are nothing new, and neither are the forms they seem to take, dependent as the are on some shared understanding of visual troupes. Clichés abound; ‘Punk’ becomes studded leather jackets, ‘Doc’ Martins and a Mohican haircut, tartan and safety pins. In much the same way Hedi recycled a completely generic Grunge ‘code’ while completely missing any of the subtleties (and realities?) of the grunge proper. Grunge may linger in the popular imagination  with reference to baby-doll dresses, plaid, oversized cardis and big boots, but really, this is only part of the story that neglects so much. Hedi- you have been inspired with what Grunge has become- not it’s reality. “California-grunge?”- an oxymoron that could only exist in the 21st century.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Hedi reckons the kids are (still) all right at St Laurent

High Fashion (

There were some great jackets and coats. In leather and wool suiting they were great classic cuts ranging from motorcycle jackets to tailored pinstripe double breasted. It took me a while to see these clearly however; initially I scanned through this collection, picked my jaw off the floor, and closed my browser. Mortified.

Going back, the above mentioned outerwear presented itself more clearly. The clothes that made up the remainder of the collection however, retriggered the gut wrenching feeling that resulted from my initial overview.

In relocating the Saint Laurent atelier from Paris to Los Angeles, much muttering eschewed, but many no doubt suggested you could take St Laurent out of Paris, but you couldn’t take Paris out of St Laurent. Today Hedi Slimane proved resolutely that you could. In a collection that reconfirmed (again) his predilection for urban youth street culture, Slimane presented a St Laurent collection that channelled 90’s grunge so thoroughly, so derivatively, that there wasn’t a hint of St Laurent the man to be seen.

Maybe in certain collared high neck dresses you could discern the influence of the 1960’s but it was really more about the unkempt, devil-may-care appearance of rebellious youth that Slimane was so evidently keen to capture. Kinder-whore baby-doll dresses- check. Oversize cardigans- check. Plaid- check. If Kurt Cobain had been alive, I’m sure he would have been front row centre.

There is certainly nothing wrong with these influences- it is of course how (and when) you use them. The 90’s vibe has been running through fashion for seasons now, particularly on the high street. Teens and urban hipsters the world over have been wearing this look for ages and ages. So what did Hedi bring? What was his high fashion spin on the most popular and visible trend existing in contemporary youth fashion? Well, there wasn’t one really. Sure the fabrics were undoubtedly expensive, but they didn’t look it.

I just don’t see how the St Laurent client is going to feel catered for y this totally unsophisticated look. Who would want to look like they’re dressed in the daughter’s wardrobe, AND have to pay through the nose for the privilege? No doubt the response is the intention to appeal to a younger demographic, but really I don’t know why. If you do want to put a younger spin on your collection, you have to do so with a certain sense of control- take Givenchy’s offering, both today and in previous collections; a great mix of heritage and youth to produce a unique blend of urban, edgy, sophistication.

As for the Grunge element. Too literal with no finesse. Done exponentially better by Dries van Noten last season. Sorry Hedi- I don’t know just how long this stubborn indulgence can last.

Dries van Noten, Spring 2013. all class.