(2019) Winter Style 2: The Two-Tone Trench

A classic trench coat that’s not quite

 

Bottega Veneta Trench.jpg

Daniel Lee has done things for Bottega Veneta that women of very specific taste adore, so much so that not only is the maker of the famed intreccio leather now trending madly, its designer is winning more fans after being awarded thrice at this year’s British Fashion Award: Designer of the Year, British Designer of the Year—Womenswear, and Accessories Designer of the Year.

The accolades perhaps explains the “Bottega effect”, accelerating its trickling down to the high street. Mr Lee, former director of ready-to-wear at Céline under Phoebe Philo, has not transformed Bottega Veneta the way Nicolas Ghesquière has for Louis Vuitton, for instance. Yet, the effect is apparent, even palpable. Mr Lee called it by the vague “done-up elegance”, which is, in essence, gently tweaking what is considered classics, such as this single-breasted trench coat.

What is, perhaps, appealing for many women, is that the coat comes in a recognisable form, including details such as epaulettes and cuff straps. Nothing too out there. But the British designer is able to make small adjustments that at one look, one knows this is an outer with a difference. He has simplified the trench by making it single-breasted and by removing the storm flap, even at the back. And instead of knee-length, he has chosen to bring the hem near the calves.

But the most striking feature has to be the bi-coloured, bi-textured effect. The base of the trench coat is in a grayish poly-cotton gabardine, and the top half of the body bonded with black leather (which leaves the underside of the collar untreated, yielding an appreciable two-collar effect). But this is not the horizontal separation of colour (usually split at the waist). Mr Lee, instead, chose a diagonal diversion, which give the trench an appealing duality: part cool-classic, part rebel-tough. In the presence of the abundance of oversized track tops and ever-larger puffers, this is definitely more desirable and spot-on chic.

Bottega Veneta trench coat, SGD6,750, is available to order in stores and online. Photo: Bottega Veneta

 

(2019) Winter Style 1: The Graphic Sweater-Knit Dress

A knit dress not only travels well, it lends a touch of elegance in what would otherwise be too casual a travel wardrobe

 

Uniqlo X Marimekko dress

Packing a dress for a winter holiday is not a thing many women consider wise for the luggage. A store buyer told us that a dress is not preferred when it comes to those that can shield against big drops in temperature: “A dress worn here daily won’t be useful when temperatures go below ten. One that can be worn in Seoul, for example, at this time of the year won’t be suitable here.”

But a dress is always a stylish (not to mention, feminine) addition to any practical winter wardrobe. The one-piece that we are drawn to this season is this almost maxi-length wool sweater-dress from the Uniqlo X Marimekko collaboration. You’ll agree that the simplicity of silhouette will ensure that you could wear it for many more winter holidays to come.

Admittedly, we’re not really a fan of this particular collab. Marimekko’s prints and shapes tend to attract women of a certain age and carriage (as seen in the horde that flocked to Uniqlo’s flagship this morning). Sure, we do think fashion should be inclusive—it’s good that Uniqlo caters to a certain demographic, but certain associations sometimes diminishes the sartorial appeal (or edge) of a brand, no matter how creatively the designs are executed.

Yet, we’re still drawn to some of Marimekko’s item if the visuals used aren’t so self-consciously cheery. Such as this fine-gauge merino wool-blend sweater-dress that would carry you from day to night if that transition is important to you. It scores big with the thick, windy black line that meanders down the body as an S-shape or an F1 track, depending on how you see things.

The dress is cut to swing away from the bust. With the fully-fashioned, slightly wide crew neck, it means you can layer it over a shirt, for example. (Layering is key, Uniqlo will tell you.) Over that, a slightly oversized puffer jacket, we think, will look just swell.

Uniqlo X Marimekko merino-blend long-sleeved dress, SGD79, is available from today at Uniqlo, Orchard Central. Photo: Uniqlo

Dress Watch: The Graffiti-Smeared

By now a ‘signature’, the Balenciaga long-sleeved, high-neck dress has taken a hiatus from hyper-floral prints to take on street-worthy scribbles and scrawls

 

Balenciaga baby doll dress.jpg

Demna Gvasalia has remade the Balenciaga aesthetic so nearly completely that the dramatic volumes and shapes that the brand’s founder established are not even a distant memory anymore unless you’re a collector or a fashion historian. One of the dress silhouettes that Mr Gvasalia popularised—first seen at Vetements—is rather modest: nothing skin-tight or revealing, since they tend to cover both the neck and the arms; it can even be described as ‘sensible’. This oddly appealing primness has influenced fashion across many price points and cities, allowing what has been considered a “rebellious take on femininity” to pervade every level of the retail stratum.

Not to scrap a good thing (such as the the still-strong Triple S), Balenciaga offers another of those dresses that allow cool and KOL to go together as inseparables. This time, the version comes in a hot pink ‘technical’ (euphemism for synthetic) polyester crepe, on which text and the brand’s name are scribbled with the same enthusiasm as a child given a marker to run amok in a bathroom. Graffiti appearing on a denim jacket is understandable (and Balenciaga offers versions for men and women this season), but manic scrawls on a delicate pink one-piece that Balenciaga calls a “baby doll dress” is irony and subversion deliciously rolled up in one frock.

On the neck, which is fashioned characteristically high, some retailers described the elongated front overhang as a “pussy bow”, but, Balenciaga calls it a “neck scarf”, which sounds like a detachable piece, but is, in fact, not. Distinguished as a neck scarf is perhaps important because it isn’t, as the look book offers, worn knotted, but—as in a scarf—gently tied sans bow. Nothing akin to Celine, you understand.

The dress in the front is defined, but almost imperceptibly, with an elasticated waist that sits fairly high (hence the “baby doll” perhaps). At the back, it hangs straight, downwards, and is longer than it is in the front. The above-the-knee length, with the almost-haphazard-looking pleats, adds to that certain cool vibe that will be appreciated by those for whom such brevity immediately equals hip. Faddish graffiti notwithstanding.

Balenciaga pleated baby doll dress, SGD4,300, is available at Balenciaga, Paragon. Photo: Zhao Xiangji 

Dress Watch: A Sweater Top

The Sacai X John Smedley collaboration ticks all the right boxes for easy-to-wear

Sacai X John Smedley sweater

Fine and delicate is this sweater, not the rugged, almost fishermen-styles of those aligned with the trending homespun, craft-centric looks favoured by some designers. Sacai’s take on a classic turtleneck sweater, conceived in partnership with the revered knitwear firm of John Smedley is a study in modesty that’s tilted towards the Gibson Girl than Audrey Hepburn: it can’t get more feminine than this.

And perhaps that is key. Also known as the polo neck (as polo players wear them almost like uniforms), this sweater risks being just a garment Steve Jobs (and his female followers) used to wear (as uniform!) if not for the sheer panel on the bodice and the equally filmy sleeves. Sure, it’s a little restrained for a Sacai garment considering how designer Chitose Abe loves all manner of insets and add-ons afixed to what would otherwise have been fairly basic garments. Case in point: her latest collab with Nike, featuring separates that look like amalgamations of more than two items.

That the sweater is produced by John Smedley may add to its appeal. There is, after all, a predilection for brands to work with heritage knitwear manufacturers. Touted as the “oldest knitwear factory in the world” (into its 235th year!), John Smedley is one of those British labels with a deep sense of the past that especially appeals to hip brands—even those not aesthetically heritage-leaning, such as Ms Abe’s former employer Comme des Garçons and colleague Junya Watanabe. Typical of how Japanese designers approach classic designs, Chitose Abe has allowed the turtleneck sweater’s silhouette to be recognisable, but within that, tweaks that allow for distinction that may stand the test of time. It was once called mileage. Sacai shows us we could use some of that.

Sacai X John Smedley sweater, SGD900, is available at DSMS. Photo: DSM/Sacai

Dress Watch: Colour Blocking Afresh

Loewe shirt AW 2019
Colour-blocking had its day, so did mixed fabrics. The Japanese were (and still are) masters of the pairing of coloured shapes like they are Lego bricks. But in the past years, colour-blocking seemed to have waned in popularity. Until now. Jonathan Anderson has, to us, picked up where the Japanese tailed off.

In fact, when we saw this Loewe shirt, we felt rather nostalgic. We thought of some of those by Comme des Garçons and the T-shirts by the Tokyo-based brand Aloye. But there was something about the construction that has less to do with deconstruction than reconstruction that we found refreshing.

Sure, there is the asymmetry: we like the wing tips, but they’re not meant to shelter a bow tie; we like the bib-front, but they fly in the face of the dress shirt; and we like the extra long shirt tails of the uneven front and back that has more in common with the djellaba. But, there is also the the compositional strictness that respects classic shirt-making: it does not pretend to be something else, not even a blouse.

This is also not a shirt with an androgynous bent. It is clearly part of a woman’s wear collection, made more appealing by the almost sweet colour pairing of the cotton poplin sleeves, back and bib, and the use of folksy cotton broderie anglais for the front. Simple and practical fabrics employed in such an arresting way deserves both purchase and applause.

Loewe Long Asym Shirt Broderie Blue/Pink, SGD1,700, is available at Loewe stores. Photo: Loewe

The Sneaker Replacement

If you can’t bear going back to heels and are a little tired of yet another pair of sneakers, consider Louis Vuitton’s highly fetching platform derby

LV Beaubourg platform derby

By Shu Xie

I’d be the first to admit that there is something appealing about men’s shoes for women. I have been a long-time fan of Dr Martens, for example, and one favourite, a worn out maroon pair issued in collaboration with Comme des Garçons, which I bought in Paris many years ago, have not met a suitable replacement.

There has been, of course, in recent years, the dramatic rise in the popularity of sneakers—a pair or two to replace every other shoe, not initially destined for sports, that you have worn. There are sneakers to go with jeans, with a floral dress, with a bespoke suit to go, well, anywhere. And then there are the shoes that perhaps shouldn’t be mentioned anymore if not for the fact that a certain Balenciaga is still selling the kicks that brought about the craze for the ill-described ‘dad’ shoe: the Triple S.

Unflattering description aside, I think there is a need for our shoe collection to not be dominated by Ultra Boosts and Air Maxes. Sure, heels have been retired for too long to hope for a massive comeback. Women’s relationship with shoes are sometimes like with their exes: they don’t have a tendency to go back to what had caused them pain. Is it not then possible to consider the next best thing to sneakers?

LV Beaubourg platform derby variations.jpgThe uppers in different colours and patterns available for the Beaubourg

One contender for my sneaker replacement that’s not a Mary Jane or ballet pumps or loafers that caught my eye recently is Louis Vuitton’s new shoe silhouette. Called the Beaubourg platform derby, it is, in fact, less related to the actual derby that my father knows well than the moc-toe, which is characterised by a seam, sometimes piped, tracing the top of the shoe. The Beaubourg is, to be expected, nothing like the frumpish moc-toe, a possible relative to the Wallabee. I suspect LV calls it a derby because of the triangular quarter top on which eyelets are affixed (like the derby!), and to distance itself from an otherwise not terribly forward shoe style.

But I am attracted to the slightly geeky, almost off-beat Beaubourg, especially the shape, with its slightly pointy toe box and the contrast stitching of the piping (as well as the corridor of the mid-sole). Furthermore, the squared rubber heel (in fact, the upper does not sit on a true platform—another misnomer) gives the shoe extra height minus the extra weight. Together with its bulk, the Beauborg is not nearly a major departure from the chunky sneakers that you and I have been slavishly wearing.

Footwear is an important category for Louis Vuitton after bags. Despite the new Insta-worthy Rhapsody boots and the reissue of the Archlight sneaker, LV calls the Beaubourg the “standout shoe” of the season. Unusually, they are not exaggerating.

Louis Vuitton Beaubourg platform derby, from SGD1,560, is available at LV stores and online. Photos: Louis Vuitton

Would You Wear Vogue?

The magazine may be a “fashion bible”, but when it comes to the Vogue-branded clothes, it’s a lot more pulp

 

The Kith jacket blessed by Vogue. Photo: Hypebeast

Is Vogue becoming a lifestyle brand? It isn’t certain yet. At the autumn/winter 2019 presentation of the New York sneaker retailer Kith shown two days ago, clothes bearing the Vogue logo in its distinctive font, said to be a “modified Didot”, were presented in a catwalk show for the store’s Kith Air collection. This is the second collaboration between retailer and magazine—whether Kith’s Ronnie Fieg and Vogue’s Anna Wintour met over this, no one could say.

It is possible that this is the work of the marketing arm of the title than the editorial’s since the output is not quite what Vogue might consider fashion, even if many show attendees and, later, influencers, consider them of note. Are these transformative threads that could result in the digital phenomenon known misleadingly as ‘trending’ (easily mistaken as ‘trendy’)? It’d be interesting to see if even one of the title’s editors would pick any of these pieces for the magazine’s fashion pages in the coming months.

Kith X Vogue 2019 G1.jpgUnremarkable clothes despite two storied names. Photos: Vogue/Alessandro Lucioni/Gorunway

It looks like the latest Vogue-branded apparel expands on the last pairing’s two-item offering by, well, another two. Still bearing the titular name, the current pieces include varsity jacket and track pants on top of the expected hoodies (minus the sweatshirt from the last). Formerly, the Vogue logo was placed in a box, a la Supreme. This time, in addition to that, it is emblazon on the front of the varsity jackets with the prominence of mastheads, with as much colour as Burberry’s Patpong hues of the recent representation of the British brand’s name. Even the track pants sport similar logo placement: down the leg of the pants, along the seam.

Mr Fieg is a shoe retail veteran and a much-lauded sneaker designer since the opening of his first store Kith in 2011. Despite having collaborated on many desired kicks in the past decade or so, as well as Kith-branded clothes, he has not enjoyed a consensus that leans on him being a good fashion designer. But that, in New York, is besides the point, especially since Supreme’s James Jebbia won menswear designer of the year at last year’s CFDA awards. In the U.S., business model is more crucial than fashion design, and Kith’s increasing clout proves the point already raised by store-first-than-fashion Supreme.

Kith X Vogue 2017.jpgThe surprisingly lame first offering of Kith X Vogue in 2017. Photo: Kith/Nolan Persons

Still, is it not possible to produce clothes that are not variations of the hoodie? And if, indeed, a hoodie is a must because the customers are telling you to produce more as they have been buying more, is Kith unable to offer those that are not meekly differentiated by a mere name, although a 127-year-old one? For Vogue’s 125th anniversary, the retailer created basically two styles of tops, a hoodie and a sweatshirt, each displaying a boxed logo that could have been Gap re-branded, and marketed via images that would not be out of place in Qoo10 or Shopee. Or, was that the plan and the point—Vogue can come down from its lofty perch?

Magazine mastheads that are fashion labels are not new. Elle has for a long time licensed its name for clothing lines, as well as homeware. Vogue itself was once associated with clothing too, in the form of published patterns (now part of McCall Pattern Company that, for trivia buffs, also owns Butterick), but, like most print media, has gone digital. Better known, perhaps, is Vogue Eyewear, launched in 1973 “under the same name as the famous fashion magazine”, according to Luxottica, who owns the brand. Interestingly, the sunglasses they are known for now sell under a different logotype to the magazine, presumably so that there is no direct linkage.

That Vogue is willing to allow its name to be used on such near-grassroots, very  Calabasas clothing is perhaps less to do with fashion than popularity—the need to remain visible in an era when the relevance of magazines has been called to question. Its pairing with Kith, not, say, Marc Jacobs, is commercially consistent with the much used strategy of employing the reach and cool associations of born-in-the-streets brands to stay prominent in the public’s eye. Vogue.com’s Runway happily noted that “Kith is a New York brand and a testament to New York–style business”. Notice there’s no mention of design. Or, fashion.

LV Ramps It Up, Way Up

LV W AW 2019 P1

We had to watch the show thrice—once, live stream, twice, video posts—before we could attempt to make sense of what Nicolas Ghesquière has done for Louis Vuitton. The first reaction was, what the eff? Has he gone mad? Is he saying to hell with street wear and the apparent return of classics? Is fantasy, not a theme this Paris season, not the way forward?

We always like designers who do not make it easy for us. To that, Demna Gvasalia holds a special place in our hearts even if it took more than a season (was it two?) for us to get his Vetements. Mr Ghesquière, although not quite the provocateur that Mr Gvasalia tends to be, has always mostly intrigued than confound. But with this collection, we begin to wonder if he’s just as good at throwing us a curve ball.

Louis Vuitton, a commercial label for most of its existence in ready-to-wear, is suddenly high concept unadulterated. Or, as Mr Ghesquière tolds the media, the result of watching many fashion tribes. For autumn/winter 2019, Mr Ghesquière has put out so much that it was hard on the eyes. With a busy collection such as Gucci’s, the eyes can get lazy after the first five looks, but with the latest LV, you just can’t keep up. Visually, there was too much to digest. We mentally choke after three minutes.

LV W AW 2019 G1

View 1. When the first model came out, we thought we were watching another show. Could this be John Galliano? The make-up with the exaggerated lips is evocative, and the look, somewhat medieval, has all the requisite warped historicism. After more models came out, we thought Mr Galliano would not lens his collection through Alessandro Michele! Then when the top-heavy silhouette became unmistakable, you know for certain Nicolas Ghesquière is having a go at how far he can push design and, simultaneously, taste.

As with Comme des Garcons perfumes, this must be the hardest collection to describe (to date). Something is afoot if the clothes defy categorisation. Overall, there’s a vaguely ’70s and futuristic vibe in ways only Mr Ghesquière can express: retro yet not quite, ahead of his time, yet not too far ahead they’re from another galaxy. The looks, at first, seem to corral what has been known of late as ‘ugly’. And, are composed of what students of aesthetics of design are told to best avoid—such as inexplicable lines and flaps that obscure otherwise well thought out details and their placements. But Mr Ghesquière, we feel, is not a proponent of the obviously unattractive. His is a proposition of what happens if he doesn’t design obviously attractive.

LV W AW 2019 G2.jpg

View 2. The whole show was a visual assault—by the second time, in a good way. So much to catch before they flash past, so much to unpack and suss, details after details, shapes after shapes. It does beg the question: is it necessary to be so multitudinous and multi-dimensional? Or is this the deliberate opposite of the approach Hedi Slimane has adopted for Celine: just repeat a few ideas?

What caught our eyes were the flounces and ruffles. Not since Alber Elbaz at Lanvin has there been this many, so alluring and gravity-defyingly applied. But these aren’t quite the disco garb Anthony Vaccarello (even his predecessor Mr Slimane) proposed at Saint Laurent. There is something far more alluring about the LV flounces, some frame shoulders, some stretch to the navel, sometimes on only one side. They are beguiling, too, and also because Mr Ghesquière has created so many different versions of them: with top stitching as if to quilt (presumably to stiffen them), different fabric on the underside, and those that could have been part of some fantasy space cadet’s uniform.

We can’t point out everything that filled us with wonderment. Some things simply shouldn’t be but are, and appeal because they have that quality called unexpected, never mind if they sometimes cross into the land of the lurid. Mr Ghesquière—a questing mind—seems to have just let himself loose, the alchemist aware of the advantage of madness.

He pairs fuzzy/glittery florals with military-coloured quilting (the fabric choices do not draw a line between high and low-brow, like how some prefixes easily cross lexical tracks). On bodices, he avails bib-like flaps that appear to have appeared with no plan. Such a way with zips, too, using them as one normally would with piping, as if his haberdasher has run out of the latter. Despite the unconventional mixes, he applies rather old-fashioned techniques: gathering, pleating, draping, etc on resolutely modern shapes. He adds slashes here and there as if crossing out a bad composition, but kept for the collection because, well, they are not bad, slashes included.

LV W AW 2019 G4

View 3. There are high-waisted and carrot-shaped pants, which, for us, recall those jodhpurs he once introduced at Balenciaga. There are dresses, but they are not straightforward frocks, rather compositional feats, with some Carrie White would happily wear. Much of the separates are designed as ensembles, which could mean that they would be difficult to pair if not worn together.

These are not basic, nor are they beyond basics. They are their own breed: clothes that transcends wardrobe staples into a territory we once called fashion. These are not garments for everyone and that, perhaps, is the eventual fascination and appreciation for us. Fashion, in its attempt to be consciously and unnaturally inclusive, has largely become easily and indiscriminately consumable. It is time to return some extraordinary, get-it-or-not shtick to it.

Nicolas Ghesquière must surely be one of the most creative designers of his generation, who not only made us see design possibilities, but also dressmaking possibilities. Cleverness or excess, genius or goof, Mr Ghesquière shows that Louis Vuitton is more than Virgil Abloh.

Photos: (top) Louis Vuitton/(runway) Vogue.com/gorunway.com

Chanel: When Winter Is Not Cold

Chanel AW 2019

This has been applauded as Karl Lagerfeld’s last designs for Chanel, but the house announced that it is “a collection by Karl Lagerfeld and Virginie Viard”. This could be the first official acknowledgement of Ms Viard’s involvement in the design process, not merely to execute what Mr Lagerfeld had sketched. That Ms Viard ‘officially’ shares the honour could indicate that Mr Lagerfeld may have been too ill to finish the collection or that this is the time to get Chanel fans used to the name of the unknown designer taking the place of Mr Lagerfeld.

On the whole, the collection looks typically and joyfully Karl Lagerfeld. He had pushed the house codes to such an extent that even those who had bought Chanel suits before Mr Lagerfeld took over the reigns in 1983 won’t today immediately recognise them. And the old silhouette, too, had so dramatically changed that this really had become Karl Lagerfeld as Gabrielle Chanel than merely a re-imagining of what Coco had dreamed up. But upon closer look at the autumn winter 2019 collection, there is suspicion that Virginie Viard’s hand was at work.

Chanel AW 2019 G1

Sure, Mr Lagerfeld’s sense of glamour and tres coordinated chic are all there, including his jacket shapes—frequently boxy and, just as often, sportif— and their renown lightness, as well as his fondness for a certain way with lapels—cut away and graphic, triangular fold-downs. There are the relaxed pantsuits, pulled together with a certain slouch. There are also the pairing of skirts over pants (now the capri), sheer tops over white shirts, and dresses for getting dolled up. And the details: the double-breasted, the frayed tweed to form a short fringe, and yet more ways to trim the Chanel jacket. Nothing is casual, nothing is effortless, nothing is not calculated.

Yet, despite what social media has called a “very Karl” collection, there are other touches that seem inconsistent with the man who ruled Chanel for 36 years. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. We are surprised to find a jacket with contrast sleeves and a coat with contrast yoke; outers that wrap like a blanket or, one—a twofer with slanted shoulders and a rather cocoon effect; even a boilersuit with a low waist. Could these be the touches or ideas of Virginie Viard? We many never know. But it is likely that the Wertheimer family, owner of Chanel, want an unbroken succession and her expressly stated involvement now will lessen potential disruptions moving forward.

Chanel AW 2019 G2

Chanel AW 2019 G3

The setting may be alpine, but these are not ski wear. Hard, in fact, to imagine them on a ski lift. For sure, they’d be worn up in the mountain, to a winter lodge, but dressing up is more likely for the apres-ski parties known to dominate the winter resorts that the show set—typically not modest— is based on (Chalet Gardenia! Mr Lagerfeld must have had immense fun thinking of such names). These are clothes the one percent (or wives of) will wear to St Moritz. For the rest, there is always the red jumper with the double Cs just below the neck—logo placements undoubtedly Mr Lagerfeld’s forte.

No one can say for sure what path, snow covered or not, Chanel will henceforth take. Karl Lagerfeld is so synonymous with Chanel that it is hard to imagine the latter without the former. But, for certain, those tweeds will live on, so will the countless bags already sold and shall be. The until-now-unknown name Virginie Viard will be very much watched. She has very large shoes to fill, even if they are two-tone pumps.

Photos: Chanel

Sassy At Celine

Celine W AW 2019 P1

You know what is going to be big come July (or whichever month the autumn/winter 2019 collections will drop)? Culottes. Seriously, culottes. Hedi Slimane has revived for Celine a garment that has for decades laid low, cery low. This is not to be confused with skorts. Mr Slimane’s are clearly “split skirts”—bifurcated, if you must get technical, or trousers cut to resemble a skirt, something that would remind those old enough the original Charlie’s Angels. Or, in our mind—imagination, really, Miuccia Bianchi Prada going to a political science class at the University of Milan.

For his second Celine women’s collection, Mr Slimane seems determined to prove to his detractors that he can do more than skinny or body-hugging. As reported in the media, Mr Slimane took a peek into the Celine archive. And this was the output—not a re-imagination, not a re-construct, but a facsimile, as the clothes appear to us. Mr Slimane has never had any use for irony or twist; he won’t either now. This could have leapt out of the pages of How to Dress like a Frenchwoman, if it was published in 1975.

Celine W AW 2019 G1.jpg

To be honest, we don’t know what Celine really looked like in the ’70s (except for some old ads we found online), when it rose in popularity. Founded in 1945 by Céline Vipiana as a made-to-measure children’s shoe store, it became, by the ’60s, a sort of Biba of the time, but more atas. The brand slowly projected the cool it was known for in the mid-’70s. Then, Ms Vipiana was still designing the line and she continued to do so until her death in 1997, aged 84. When LVMH took Céline into its fold and Michael Kors became the first designer to revive the brand, Céline was destined to be Celine, a hugely global French brand towards 2020… and much talked about, but not because of its content. Phoebe Philo was a minor extended distraction. Ironically, Mr Slimane’s approach seems to go back full circle, to where Mr Kors started.

How Mr Slimane changed the direction of the brand when he came on board and how he disappointed many is, until today, still discussed. The aesthetical shift now, we sense, is less about reacting to criticism than to once again reach back, a habit that had affected every fashion house that Mr Slimane steered. It appears to us that when he looked at the old output of Céline, thought to be those of the mid-’70s, he was really casting his mind to the past—as he did at Saint Laurent—to rehash. How else does one explain the obsession with pussy bows?

Celine W AW 2019 G2

Celine W AW 2019 G3

Mr Slimane’s Celine, therefore, seems to be joining the dots to reveal to us a picture that explicitly say FLASHBACK. Again, we can’t be sure this is close to Celine of yore (was Ms Vipiana mad about culottes?), but it does reflect an era. Some dresses looked like what Karl Lagerfeld did for Chloe in the ’70s. Or, perhaps what Alessandro Michele has been doing for Gucci, only Mr Slimane’s are better fitted. Some blouses looked like his take of what YSL muse Loulou de la Falaise might have worn back in the day, and already seen in Saint Laurent, circa 2013. And those below-the-knee schoolteacher skirts—your grandmother would know. Or, Diane Von Furstenburg. Hedi Slimane would be a worthy contestant against Marc Jacobs for the Look Back King of the Year.

Or course, Mr Slimane could not totally abandon skinny—he built a career on them pencil silhouettes. So, some pants are still reed-thin, the denim jeans too. But he did abandon baring skin. This is modest dressing! More? If you look closely, how many silhouettes are there? Three, maybe? Will this be the new merchandising norm? We had to again remind ourselves that Mr Slimane is not a designer like John Galliano, nor Demna Gvasalia, nor JW Anderson. Karl Lagerfeld, maybe. Frankly, we thought the Celine autumn/winter 2019 show was Butterick come alive.

Photos: (top) Celine/(runway) indigital.tv

The Dullness Of Dior

Dior W AW 2019

The one glorious thing about Maria Grazia Chiuri is that she’s not easily bored. After six seasons at Dior, she’s still beating the same drum. And it reverberates with the beat called feminism. Sure, her messages on T-shirts have been influential and copied, but the question is: by now, can’t they be delivered in another form? Is it not better to prove the point by being not only the first female designer to head the house of Dior, but also the best?

Maybe she knows she can’t be the best. Her Dior does not astound as John Galliano’s did or moved the way Raf Simons’s touched hearts. So, she leaves her mark by exploiting the commercial (what can be more so than T-shirts) and the popular, such as those proclamations on social media delivered in coloured quadrilaterals. For the third time now (or maybe more; we’ve stopped counting), she is delivering feminist messages (“Sisterhood is Global”, frankly, has less punch than “Girl Power”!) on unremarkable tees. Her brand of feminism may be politically trendy, but they’re sartorially boring. These are not the “J’adore Dior” of the #MeToo age.

Dior W AW 2019 G1

Ms Chiuri positioned Dior in such a way that there is nothing to look forward to. Asking to be surprised is like expecting to be impressed, which is not what one hankers after at her shows. Hope for a spark of wit, a glimmer of genius, and hope in vain. Pray they do not show up again and they do: the Bar suit, the strapless dress, the sheer skirt under which shorts peek, all in different fabrics, but no different from the season before, and before that. They don’t even try to negate the fact that they’re repetitive and plain dull. As the feminist messages and posturing gain momentum, so do the ultra-feminine shapes and flourishes, styled for the romantic heroine. All the silk tulle in the world, all the lace, however, won’t veil the apparent: high-end middle-of-the-road.

Fashion Week analysts and insiders keep saying that Ms Chiuri’s Dior is designed to attract younger customers. This perhaps explain why her aesthetic sense does not heightened anything on the wearer other than to make them look like catwalk clones or influencer wannabes. Young women these days do not have fully formed ideas of what makes distinctive fashion. They may know what they like, but not what is nice. To them, as long as these clothes are good enough for the catwalk, they must have the requisite for being fashionable or cool. So all the reasons for those swinging pleated skirts, those can-be-from-anywhere shirts and blouses, and certainly those warped-neck T-shirts.

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Journalists. who have nothing to say about Ms Chiuri’s design, write about how well-made the clothes are or how beautiful the 3-D flowers festooned on skirts look. Should we be expecting anything less from the 72-year-old house? But luxury fashion is more that the fine stitching and the application of decorative details. It needs the extra fillip—not taffeta and tulle, something visceral, something that prompted Carmel Snow to exclaim in 1947 in the Dior salon, “What a new look!”

There may not be another such moment in fashion. But there could be others: clothes that show previously unconsidered possibilities, and styles that dare to be different. Christian Dior was all that—and more, materially and metaphorically.

Photos: Dior

Fendi At Its Finest

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Did Karl Lagefeld know that this would be his last collection for Fendi?

For someone who only looks to the future, probably not (“what is important is what I will do, not what I have done in the past”, he tended to say). Yet there is a sense that he gave all he had for this Fendi collection with the view that there might not be another. This is arguably one of the best collections he had conceived for the Roman house, where he had served as its ready-to-wear design head for 54 years—“the longest collaboration in fashion”, he had declared. The tailoring is sharp, the quirkiness unmistakable. This is fashion for those who cares more about stylish clothes that house codes.

Being a Karl Lagerfeld-designed collection, however, some things won’t be absent: the high, conspicuous Edwardian collars; straight but not overly emphatic shoulders; no-nonsense shirts, proper but not uninteresting skirts. Yet, there is not anything what might today be called ‘iconic’. They come together with other elements to form ensembles that are appealingly current—not cloyingly feminine, not unnecessarily street, no extremes. Despite the collection’s youthful vibe,you do not sense it is designed by an octogenarian trying to do young.

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Between the two brands Mr Lagerfeld designed for those many decades, we have always preferred Fendi, the Roman label once run by five sisters (the cheekily wicked say six!) and is now part of the LVMH stable of luxury names. Mr Lagefeld joined Fendi—the other brand after Chanel that offered him a “lifelong” contract—in 1963. In luxury fashion, this is an anomaly: a freelancer working for one brand for over 50 years. During his time there, he not only revolutionise Fendi as furriers, he created their ready-to-wear from scratch.

In Fendi, it is possible that Mr Lagerfeld found the freedom to really express. From the beginning, he had no interest in leaving a legacy or creating what other brands call DNA. In the years designing for other brands, he was happy to create what he thought was au courant. While lightness was always associated with Karl Lagerfeld (even the Fendi furs, at some point, were light, including those designed to be worn in summer), there was not a discernible Karl Lagerfeld look. Aesthetically unshackled, he would create a Fendi not burdened by a past. Fendi could be whatever the trend of the moment is. Perhaps this “flexibility” endeared him to other brands. When Chanel had him on board in 1983, they were probably certain they would not be getting a variation of Fendi. But if Karl Lagerfeld didn’t have a distinct style and Fendi does not have the history that Chanel does, it would appear that Fendi has no look either.

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While Fendi as a brand has succumbed to the street wear craze, it has remained largely true to its Italian elegance, offering stylish clothes with just the right touch of off. They are not Marni, of course, but in the hands of Karl Lagerfeld, they have kept to a femininity that is not frothy, but ethereal (compounded by incredible fabrics they are able to develop), all the while tempered by Mr Lagerfeld’s not exactly soft tailoring. There is none of the intellectual heft of Prada, nor the culturally-derived goofiness of Gucci, but compelling nonetheless.

For us, this collection leaves behind a good memory, a neat end to an era. We like the the surprise of the sash tied at the rear of shirts, coats, even dresses, like a forgotten belt; the mix of sheer or skin-visible with the solid (but not heavy); and, especially, a sense of the sublime without trying to be too clever about it. Fendi, as it appears, has a solid foundation.

Photos: Fendi