This Is Not About Taste

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Olivier Rousteing’s Balmain has, by and large, been a little difficult to stomach. This season, it doesn’t get that far before we feel something unpleasant coming out of our throat. The problem could be because we’re not a Kardashian, or one of Mr Rousteing’s 4.3 million IG followers. We just don’t have the constitution that’s strong enough.

You’d think that with so many fans, Mr Rousteing would have had fashioned Balmain into an inspirational and aspirational brand. But if you Google “Balmain is ”, the result may surprise you. Google’s recommendation in the completion of that sentence is as follows: “…owned by”, “…tacky”, “…expensive”, and “…overpriced”. He who oversees the branding of Balmain should be quite concerned.

In the October 2015 review of the Balmain spring/summer 2016 collection for The Washington Post, Robin Givhan wrote that “The French fashion house is always ostentatious and sometimes vulgar.” She also rightly noted that “Those aren’t clothes on the runway, they’re a social media moment.” On his love for ’70s silhouette and ’80s hues, she said, “Other designers mine those decades, but Rousteing does so in a manner that capitalizes on the era’s middle-brow, mass culture.”

If that collection—a hint at what he was to do in his collaboration with H&M (that later proved to be wildly successful)—did not win Ms Givhan’s heart and praise, we’re curious to know what she thinks of Mr Rousteing’s latest. Has the “middle” shifted? Or is tacky still pronounced?

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It’s become impossible to talk about Balmain without sounding like we really saw the dregs of Paris Fashion Week. Balmain at the present state reminds us that just because it’s French does not mean it’s fetching. While we maintain that French elegance—indeed, elegance anywhere today—isn’t what it was before (and it shouldn’t be since fashion evolves), Balmain’s brazen and meretricious ways with form and decoration are not pushing French forward the way Jacquemus’s controlled and gentle teasing of proportions is. Balmain’s predecessor Christophe Decarnin may have set in motion the excesses now associated with the house, but it is Mr Rousteing who is driving past the speed limit.

How else does one explain the craziness that went into one outfit? Even the humble T-shirt was given an upgrade, like so many gadgets crucial to our digital lives, with the addition of washing machine-unfriendly chains, beading, sequins and so much more. Mr Rousteing was telling us that piling on is the way forward—the complex and intricate pastiche of animal print and hide, eye-popping jacquards, the never-enough appliqués, the where-to-begin embroideries, the by-now-clichéd metallic studs, and those everywhere fringing. There’s so much fringing (even belts are fringed)—they came in beaded strains, metal chains, leather cords as well—that even curtains in a brothel pale in comparison. Could this be Mr Rousteing showing off what the atelier can really do—his own métiers d’art?

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We really wanted to see the art in all of it. But, with some of the jackets, for example, we saw Lucky Plaza, where budget-conscious mamasans go to be outfitted for an evening at the yezonghui (夜总会) or the nightclub. And there were the colours: variations of browns, including what some members of the media optimistically call caramel—shades many store buyers tell us women just won’t look at. Read: can’t sell. The thing is, collectively, everything looked like they’ve spent too much time in mud and sun. Sure, we understand it has to do with the tribal vibe that Mr Rousteing was communicating and you’re not wrong for thinking of Africa, but this was the Serengeti by way of Calabasas!

That Mr Rousteing is creating Calabasas chic in Paris is understandable: you know where his biggest fans come from. Sometimes we feel bad for Mr Rousteing. He’s put so much effort into the outfits (these are not simple cut and sew) and they still turn out wanting. All that excess and still deficient. What’s missing? Maybe it’s that modern rarity called class.

Photos: indigital.tv

Ain’t No Saint in This Laurent

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Last season, there were at least pasties to cover the nipples. This time, Anthony Vaccarello left the areolae fully exposed, as if there were any woman who would not get themselves on the wrong side of the law by going bare mamilla. It’s not certain if anyone looking at the looks Mr Vaccarello proposed as sexy, or tasteless, but he was on track to cover one of two major trends in fashion: extreme sexiness and over-the-top decorative. Are there really so many women who want to look provocative? Or wanton? Or aggressive?

There’s something menacing about Mr Vaccarello’s Saint Laurent. Maybe it’s all that leather (as in the last season). Or maybe it’s the colour or the lack of. Or maybe it’s just these angry times when a certain toughness in dress is too literal a front to tackle social aggression. Sure, we could be reading too much into it. These clothes have no place in the part of the wardrobe a woman goes to when she needs something for work, to take the children to school or meet the mother-in-law for tea in. These are outfits, if the shine of the leathers is any indication, for a certain setting where strobe lights and proximity to a bar lend the wearer an enhanced cool.

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And that could mean a top with just one sleeve. Mr Vaccarello seems to love the single sleeve, and now, a detachable one too that can be worn on the other otherwise exposed arm. But the two are not quite the same, as if unalike due to some genetic aberration. The removable one works like a hybrid sleeve-glove, where the upper portion opens up like a carnivorous fluted flower, exposing a shearling underside, the deltoid consumed. It’s not certain if these one-sleeves will be sold separately, as they do with handbags, but they sure will send very active IG users into a state of delirium.

Unconsciously, we drifted to Louis Vuitton. For spring/summer 2017, Nicolas Ghesquière, too, had some leather pieces, one-sleeve jackets, and a few very sheer dresses. Only thing visibly missing: totally exposed breasts. We know that cover has become totally unimportant in fashion, but is Mr Vaccarello’s insistence on the breast in full exhibition mode fashion design or cheap trick? Surely the Kardashian clan constitutes a very small clientele?

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And there are those angular extensions, which could be his answer to his predecessor’s pussy bows. Mr Vaccarello is creating his own signature, of course, using ruffles in more superfluous ways than possible. Whether extending past the person next to the wearer, or swirling from bodice to skirt like a candy wrapper, his ruffles have the uncanny ability to be both ornamentation, and unneeded—totally selfie-friendly.

Perpetual fans would be able to point out the YSL references, however subtle, which is, of course, not the point since it is doubtful that anyone who has gravitated to the brand since Hedi Slimane’s tenure would notice, or care. We are not expecting any reiteration of the four-button double-breasted blazer that’s nipped in the waist; not the relaxed, belted safari suit; the ruffled peasant dresses. But must Anthony Vaccarello erase everything that we remember Yves Saint Laurent for? Apparently so.

Photos: indigital.tv

A Polished Way With Patterns And Prints

Should this have been the new Marni?

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Arthur Arbesser is not really new name. Sure, the recent Milan Fashion Week autumn/winter 2017 collection was his 9th, but in the pantheon of Italian designers, he is barely up there. Yet, his four-year-old eponymous label appears to be jostling for space among those constantly redefining sex appeal and teasing what is tasteful: Marni and Prada.

The 35-year-old, we were told by so many fashion watchers, is the man to keep an eye on. His early collections were pretty enough, but they lacked something: that special quality that gripped. Sure, we saw the potential, but it was not, to us, strong enough to arouse serious interest. Until now.

The current collection is one of the most polished in the Milan season. Mr Arbesser, who at the start of his business, was making rather girlish clothes, seemed to have suddenly matured. His designs—the unconventional silhouettes, the propensity to tackle deceptively simple shapes, and a flair for mixing patterns—point to a future as bright as his clothes.

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We are partial to the liquid-metal fabrics (teamed with knits!); the paring of optical patterns; and the use of odd, traditionally unappealing colours. We are drawn to the clean, confident lines and the commitment to clothes making, not sensation stirring. Sure, there are not the 101 ideas of Gucci (and, as a result, the dazzle) or the every product category of Dolce and Gabbana, but, in Arthur Arbesser, there are clothes that are not conduits to the next crazy season; there are pieces you’d want to wear again and again—for sure, to an art gallery opening.

Being the media type that we are, we would love to attend an event in the black and white vest of diagonal stripes and vertical checks paired with checkerboard skirt of black and yellow. And for a dressier affair, we won’t think twice of jumping into the ruched copper skirt and the beribboned stole. What’s making us go over the collection again with delight is this: here are clothes that, in its sum, communicate a lost elegance that seems poised for a comeback as street style and “elevated sportswear” furiously raid the runaways.

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A graduate of Central Saint Martins of Arts and Design, Mr Arbesser came to media attention when he won Vogue Italia’s ‘Who is on Next’ competition in 2013, also the year his label was launched. Even more interest in him was aroused when he became one of the finalists of the LVMH Prize in 2015. Originally from Vienna, but now based in Milan, Mr Arbesser cut his teeth at Giorgio Armani, where he quietly worked for 7 years. Despite this grounding, there is nothing in his own collection that hints at the unique aesthetic that characterised his former employer.

In June 2015, he was appointed women’s wear creative director for the Italian sportswear label Iceberg, where he tempered the brand’s taste for cartoons with his own fondness for patterns. His name again lent creative heft to another when he created his first eyewear collection in collaboration with Silhouette. At the rate he’s going, Mr Arbesser will not only be a name to watch, but to follow. For us, what we did not discover in the new Marni, we found with pleasure in Arthur Arbesser.

Photos: Arthur Arbesser

Finding The Marvelous In Marni

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We once thought that Marni was the new Prada. That was in the mid ’90s, when Sex and the City apparently captured the zeitgeist. In that TV series, Prada was name-checked 14 times, just twice less than Manolo Blahnik (a respectable 16). So desirable was Prada at that time that we had hoped more labels with that familiar-yet-so-different-and-offbeat aesthetic would emerge and we found it in Marni, a brand forever associated with the art gallerist (as if only women ran art galleries, as if those who do mostly have a kooky sense of taste) and the art crowd.

Now, about twenty years later, we think Prada has possessed Marni. Francesco Risso, the guy who succeeded the brand Consuelo Castiglioni founded with her husband in 1994 has re-imagined Marni with the ghost of Prada, where he spent close to ten years, after time with Anna Molinari and Alessandro Dell’Acqua. Or maybe it was just us. Apparitions are difficult to make certain. Sometimes, you just sense it: a coat here, a skirt there, a touch of scarf, bits of fur.

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It was like Prada on a lull season. Not that that is a bad thing. One can never immediately and completely shake off one’s just-past near-decade. So for Mr Risso to bring along the not-quite-ordinary from his last employment to a house known for its alternative take on what constitutes modern elegance is possibly a good start for continuing the Marni brand of creative defiance. This first collection is interesting (even when we are generally reluctant to use that vague term) and will not alienate Marni fans, but we did feel that there was too conscious an effort in respecting the house codes.

Take some of the jackets, for example, specifically the one from the first look, in the colour of butter. Yes, the Marni shape was there, but the sort-of-cocoon back, while appealing, was a wee bit too deliberate. The back design was repeated, and slowly, the Marni boxiness emerged and stayed. We love the typical boxy cut of the Marni jacket, so naturally we were delighted that Mr Risso has opted to retain it. Of course, Prada is known for their sometimes boxy shapes as well. In that respect, it was perhaps synergy at work. Or was it just the apparition?

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By the time the prints and the mix of prints emerged, we found ourselves tugging at being convinced. Or could it be that, by now, odd pairings of patterns no longer fascinate? We can’t say for sure, but there’s something not quite art-crowd about Mr Risso’s prints and there is no surprise in the mix, not even when you run a length of decorative lace meandering down the skirt. Or the textures: what looked like terry with semi-shine leather (or PU, we can’t tell) just did not spell luxe. When look 45 (49 looks in total) appeared, the crazy cocktail of a floral funnel-neck blouse worn under a floral bra and matching outer and paired with a dotted skirt with drawstrings to create ruching, we had to commit the Marni we remember to the deeper recesses of nostalgia.

It’s not really been out in the open why Consuelo Castiglioni chose to step down. Rumours in fashion are always rife, and this one involves the brand’s owner Only The Brave (OTB), an Italian group that also controls Viktor & Rolf and Margiela. Could she have regretted selling it to OTB’s Renzo Rosso, who, according to W Magazine, is a “a flamboyant paterfamilias, who prefers provocation to political correctness”? We hope that Francesco Risso would be able to stand himself in good stead so that Consuelo Castiglioni would not need to make a comeback a la Jil Sander. And then disappear again.

Photos: Imaxtree

So, This Is Donatella’s Swansong

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Since many media reports are close to certain that Riccardo Tisci will take over fellow Italian Donatella Versace after this autumn/winter 2017 season (with Suzy Menkes announcing on IG that she is “hearing all Donatella’s secrets and plans… But shhh! I’m not allowed to tell a soul”), it is in all likelihood that this was Ms Versace’s last collection for the house her brother built. Did anyone cry at the show? We don’t know.

Or, perhaps, there was silent hurrah all round? That may sound cruel, but for some, it’s about time. Ms Versace has led the family’s namesake label since her brother’s murder in July 1997, but it was not with immense success, at least not at the start of her tenure. According to Forbes, “the famed luxury brand was on the edge of bankruptcy in 2009”. That was a period of 12 long years after Gianni Versace died, during which the little sister, also his principessa, tried to augment the Versace image by creating it in her own likeness.

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Too her, some ex-Versace fans cried, and definitely too much of a muse’s take than a farsighted designer’s vision. To be fair, the role of continuing where Gianni Versace left off was not a calculated transition. Reportedly, she had no choice but to take it on. Donatella Versace, although a source of inspiration behind her brother’s gaudy and showy clothes, was not the natural designer many had thought she could be. She had spent a great deal of time, pre-1997, in New York, styling the Versace ads. While members of the media were generally supportive of her in her journey that eventually dropped the Gianni name from the label, the output under her watch wasn’t exactly the stuff that excited, the way her brother’s had transfixed admirers of his designs.

Amid rumours of partying too hard and using too much drugs, and then showing up late (very late) for work the next day (among other problems, domestic and professional), Ms Versace soldiered on. In Deborah Ball’s book House of Versace: The Untold Story of Genius, Murder, and Survival, the writer noted that “while the fashion press treated Donatella’s first runway show gently, department store buyers and Versace shop owners (at that time, the now-defunct Link had distributorship rights in Singapore) were privately unimpressed.”

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To many observers, in fact, it was not her designs that kept the business visible, but the celebrity associations. Like her brother, Ms Versace courted stars. She is known to be close to models Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, actress/Goop head Gwyneth Paltrow, singers Madonna (who has appeared more than once in Versace’s adverting) and Cher (who sang Danny’s Boy at a private, impromptu memorial for Gianni) and Miami nightclub magnate Ingrid Casares, also known as a “lesbian icon”. In return, she is feted. Dressing the right star for the right occasion, too, helped—such as Jennifer Lopez in that green silk chiffon dress for the 42nd Grammy Awards ceremony in 2000, a floor-length number with a strangely well-behaved plunging V-neck that people still consider the most unforgettable award-night gown.

According to The Guardian, Versace is now a £1.05bn business. Somewhere along the way, Ms Versace did something right. Although she kept much of the sex appeal closely associated with the house, she has largely re-designed its DNA to minimise what she considers a problem unique to gay designers. As she told The Times Magazine last year, “When they design for a woman, they design for the woman they want to be”—never mind that, before his death, Gianni Versace was in a long-term relationship with Antonio D’Amico, model-turn-boyfriend-turn-designer who oversaw the now-closed Versace Sports.

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A woman designing for women became the mantra for Ms Versace, but she isn’t the woman many of us socialise with. Donatella has a hyper-heightened sense of womanliness, in particular, sexiness. Her designs amplify and, not infrequently, exaggerate the female form to allow it to ooze in-your-face sex appeal. As with Gianni, minimalism—of the ’90s or later—was all Greek to Donatella. While she did tone down his flashiness and raucous mix of prints, she did not succumb to a quieter aesthetic. Although not as visible as before, the “baroque” prints, the medusa heads, and the frets—they still appear in Versace stores the world over. As with the cushions from the home line, the Versace loudness can’t be completely hushed.

Her supposedly last show in Milan was a veritable showcase of the Versace woman that Donatella has single-handedly fashioned. There is no shortage of power suits, body-hugging dresses, short swingy skirts, leg-baring slits, curvy translucent cut-outs, exposed navels, dilated cleavages; all conceived to prove that powerful, surefooted women can be sexually alluring. Despite  Even as her creative reign comes to an end, Ms Versace did not dial down the clothes’ foxiest-creature-in-the-room potency, which nicely corresponds with the Kardashian/Jenner-ruled world of social media.

We don’t know why, but some of the styling reminds us of D’Squared2. Or, has Ms Versace become just like the gay designers she described: designing for the woman she wants to be? The irony is certainly not lost there. Donatella Versace may be passing the design baton to someone else, but the house of Versace will be as brash as ever. If, indeed, Riccardo Tisci were to be the recipient, it may be more so.

Photos: indigital.tv, except top: Versace

Fashion Is The Thing With Feathers

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Has Prada bought a plumasserie? You would have thought so. Last season’s marabou and this season’s ostrich: Miuccia Prada must have been conducting her own Conference of the Birds. For certain, these are not the feathers favoured by Frederick Lee. Still, there are a lot more feathers in this collection than usual, no?

It’s not just the sway of feathers. There is the shake of leather fringes and the beaded ones too: visual distraction that are more akin to what showgirls wear than what Prada used to propose women don. These attachments are not just ornamentation since they are not static. Clothes have always had a kinesiological aspect to them. Prada thus adds more movement to garments with embellishments that swing and swag: the feathers bordered seams and hems, and trimmed shoes. They’re very much a part of the drag queen’s playbook. Or a coquette’s arsenal of tricks.

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Is this then a statement on the relationship between frou-frou and femininity? Prada started its ready-to-wear line in 1988 with fairly lady-like looks. However, rather than go all ‘femmey’, to borrow an L word, the brand has banked on its penchant for the offbeat—namely fabrics that have come to be known as awful since they seemed to be based on ’70s wallpaper and the colour of puke. Then came ornamentation usually associated with women for whom baubles and bling mean a womanly ideal. Paired with Prada’s gawky silhouette, the look is far from, say, Michael Kor’s lady-like, or glamour.

At the same time, Miuccia Prada has not let up on the ugly-pretty (or pretty ugly, if that’s how you see it) aesthetic that the brand has built itself on. Over-sized jewellery and now double rows of feather and fringes (oh, and furry belts) may seem to be on par with Gucci (ornamentation is always big in Italy), but the near-excess is mostly tempered with Prada’s pairing of prints and shapes. This season, there’s the illustrations of bombshells (isn’t that very Dolce & Gabbana?) by Robert E, McGinnis, who’s known for his cover drawings for the James Bond books of the ’60s and the movie poster of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. We’re not clear who really likes wearing an illustration of a person on her body, but Prada is fond of incorporating icon-like images in their clothes.

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Then there are the deliberately not-sleek shapes. Of the latest collection, to note is the proportion of the lapels of the coats (in corduroy, no less!). The drop notch lapel is large, with the upper half so huge that it falls like a sailor’s collar in the rear. One of the ensembles that we find very appealing is the twin set, a-sweater-and-cardigan pair that is very much associated with early Prada. Here, the return is dotty granny, but with the charm of little sister playing with mom’s clothes. That means the pairing isn’t matchy-matchy, as twin sets are known to be, but as diverse as pulling things from the wardrobes of two different people. We like the a-tad-too-big cardigan—beaded too—that is teamed with cowry-shell necklace. How deliciously gauche is that?

Despite media reports that Prada isn’t doing well on the stocks exchange and on the shop floor, Miuccia Prada isn’t succumbing to market demands. This is not to say that what she does isn’t commercial. In fact, Prada fans will be able to find those items that they have always loved in the collection, and still be able to uncover those pieces they do not own. Although she stays true to her aesthetic convictions, Miuccia Prada knows how to have a bit of fun, too. And, simultaneously, have a tease at well-loved—or frown-upon—feminine frills.

Photos: Prada

The Carousel That Goes Round And Round And Round At Gucci

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Can you tell the difference between last season’s Gucci and the current’s? And can you tell the difference between this season Gucci’s and the just-shown autumn/winter 2017 collection? No? Ah, you see… that is the point! As Alessandro Michele told Sarah Mower, there’s no need to “tell a new fashion story” each season. Repetition is the new black. Continuity is the new norm.

This is what the SBS Transit calls a loop service. From the start of his tenure, Mr Michele has placed us in a circle line—a carousel, if you will. Each look, right up to the current Milan Fashion Week collection, brings us back to where it all started: in the fall of 2015. And just in case you could tell that the trompe-l’œil sequined bows are replicates or the maxi-dresses reiterations, the models this time are placed at a distance from the audience, in a glass (or maybe acrylic) tunnel, a la Charles de Gaulle airport’s see-through tubes-as-escalators. Did the fish-bowl effect change things?

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The staging may be different, but it’s the repetitiveness in the clothes that spells out sameness, so much so that we have run out of things to say about Gucci. Really. We tried. Eclectic came to mind, but that is a lazy description. There’s so much going on in just one look, on one garment that Mr Michelle deserves better. How about cartoonish and freaky? Or overwrought and florid? Or psychedelic and manic? How about xiao ting tong?

Has minimalism had such a long reign that this is payback time for all-out-max? We have nothing against ornamentation and flamboyance (and don’t tell us Gucci isn’t flamboyant!), but must fancy, flowery, and fussy go together in the same way that it was so prominently introduced to us two years ago? After four collections (excluding the pre-seasons), is this much all that Mr Michele can express? Are we still amused, the way so many fashion editors pretend that they are?

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It is already appreciated that Mr Michele has given a fashion voice to red light district workers, their pimps, librarians, perpetual hippies, figure skaters, attention seekers, the Tenebaums, the MacDougals, magpies, tuhaos, geeks, nerdettes, the Carrie Whites of the world. Yet, it seems he’s still talking to this group, unable (or unwilling?) to re-draw borders. How many flouncy maxi-dresses does a woman need in her wardrobe if her life isn’t an all-day, all-night carnival, or Rachel Zoe on the job?

Sure, there’s the craft, embroideries, sequins, appliqués: stuff that involves handwork, all beautifully assembled. They come together in what Mr Michele calls alchemy, which could be euphemism for mad mix. Looking at a Gucci garment is like peering into a kaleidoscope for too long—it induces a headache. The first few pieces may be pretty, but they are ultimately bu nai kan (不耐看), as the Chinese would say, or unable to withstand long and careful appreciation.

Oh, one more thing: didn’t the people at Gucci hear that using umbrellas indoors is bad luck?

Photos: indigital.tv

London Continues To Charm

Brexit looms, but the Brits are showing that creativity has not left the fold

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The just-concluded London Fashion Week isn’t like New York Fashion Week: boring. The city, like New York, is where many designers—not necessarily from London—feel the creative pull. Yet, unlike the Big Apple, London designers aren’t attached to a certain English aesthetic the way US designers are stuck to American sportswear, including those designers in the east coast—if the reported rise of Los Angeles is to be believed. The English are more freewheeling that way, allowing the city’s plurality of culture to inform their design directions. They are not wedded to predictability.

Indeed, London designers are not hung up about adhering to a certain English look. Although Burberry’s Christopher Bailey paid homage to English sculptor Henry Moore, the collection is far from depicting a certain English ideal. Many London designers do not appear shackled by the need to keep the flame of Englishness alive. Indeed what is English today isn’t quite the same as what it was in the Sixties, when London was called “swinging” and positioned as the centre of the “youth quake” of that era. Sure, there’s always the influence of the past—royalty, Victoriana, punk, the New Wave, the Scottish Highlands, the old garbs of fishing folks of the bleak coasts—but English designers tend to look ahead, drawing from urban miscellany to forge a more progressive whole.

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You don’t get British designers revisiting to death Mary Quant or Biba, but you do see American designers returning to Studio 54 time and time again, as if the ’70s can never be left behind, as if the Battle of Versailles was not proof enough that American designers are able to march to a new beat. That the past may influence the present is understandable. Some of Britain’s great designers, such as the late Alexander McQueen, drew heavily from what went way before. The past is, however, a platform to springboard to the future, or, at least, delineate the present.

That was what we sensed at Christopher Kane this season. There’s something vaguely and deliciously old-fashioned about the collection. Mr Kane is not, of course, a trad lad, but his approach to designing seems born of dressmaking of the past. Still, there is none of the British frumpiness, or maybe there is, just cleverly subverted with spiffy cuts and shiny fabrics. We like his flattering, feminine silhouettes too, within which he makes his magic. That’s where his unpredictability lies. Contained in near-conventional forms, Mr Kane incorporates fold, tucks, and slits within. The look isn’t wayward, yet there’s something unusual about it. Appealing, too.

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Similarly, J. W. Anderson, created some rather compelling clothes. While media eyes are mainly on his work for the Spanish house Loewe, fans are keeping a close watch on the developments at his eponymous label. Mr Anderson is not terribly concerned with Britishness, but he is adept at reaching into the mixed bag that is modern-day England and pulling out quite a remarkable jumble. It’s not easy to pin-point the typical J. W. Anderson silhouette, but that’s precisely why his work is so beguiling. His autumn/winter 2017 collection shows draping, asymmetry, and gently puffed-up shapes, and in-between, something plucked from Qing China.

One of the London collections that made us re-focus on the line is Erdem. This is supremely feminine, not something we normally would pay close attention to, but Erdem Moralioglu has created a smashing output based on so many desirable dresses that are, to us, post-Duchess of Cambridge. There is a certain artistic aspect to the way he mixes fabrics and prints, all the while keeping the silhouettes rather controlled—not-too-princess-friendly. We were thinking that if ever (and, really, just if) Pierpaolo Piccioli should ponder leaving Valentino, Erdem Moralioglu should be considered for the job.

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Throughout much of London Fashion Week, under-appreciated English labels are doing more interesting work than over-exposed American names across the Atlantic. One that deserves a bigger audience is Joseph. Although once a fairly conventional brand, Joseph has, under the stewardship of Louise Trotter, steadily evolved into a line that straddles confidently between sophistication and edginess. Ms Trotter does not shy from unconventional shapes, nor quirky details that give her designs character. We appreciate her pairing of prints, placement of pockets, and the push-pull of masculinity and femininity. It’s the creative tension that gently tips her work outside basic. It gives you reason to make space in the wardrobe.

British designers are re-defining femininity without having to underscore it. In fact, it is heartening to see them not succumb to the commercial appeal of the fit-and-flair dress shape that many of today’s women cannot seem to break away from. Constant is their exploration of the spatial relationship between fabric and the body, so that the basis of the silhouettes is not the hourglass shape, or a figure that adhere to the vulgar sexiness consistent with those frequently witnessed on social media. These are not clothes to show off Victoria’s Secret underclothes. For that reason, we’re keeping our eyes on London.

Photos: indigital.tv

Marc’s Own Loud

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Marc Jacobs has always been the star of New York Fashion Week. It is, however, less certain if, of late, he’s the star of New York fashion retail. If the rumour about the brand’s parent company is to be believed (that they are worried about its performance), maybe there is some belt-tightening going on at Marc Jacobs.

That could perhaps explain the show’s eyebrow-raising bare-bones presentation. There was no backdrop or props, no raised runway, and, gasp, no music. Just the cavernous interior of the Park Avenue Armory, a favourite show venue. This could have been a dry-run, a rehearsal, but it wasn’t. This was fashion’s answer to the black box theatre. To make matters more interesting, possibly tense, smartphone photography was not allowed! While the American media quickly suggested that it was “the no-frills NYFW antidote we needed”, we’re inclined to believe that it reflects the current financial reality behind the label.

So take a bad situation and make it a talking point. Why not? After all, Marc Jacobs is about talking points, even if they’re not about the clothes. Just last season, Mr Jacobs had to apologise for the use of dreadlocks on white models after so many people accused him of cultural appropriation (what about stylistic appropriation?). A Marc Jacobs show has always been known to be a huge, hot-ticket affair. To many, it is been mostly akin to a Puccini production. So for a pull-back such as this, it could be either artistic expression or budgetary constraints.

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A quiet staging does not mean quiet clothes. The show was called Respect, and we immediately thought of Aretha Franklin. That she might actually wear some of the pieces in the 42-look collection reflects Mr Jacobs’s flair for plunging the past and coming up swanky. In his show notes, which the media has been quoting, Mr Jacobs stated that he was inspired by a little-known documentary series called Hip Hop Evolution. He also reiterated that he is a “ a born and bred New Yorker” and explained that “this collection is my representation of the well-studied dressing up of casual sportswear.”

And that was where the unsurprising laid. By “sportswear”, Mr Jacobs really meant the sportswear that defines American fashion, as well as the sportswear (or sports clothes) that now dominates streetwear. In this respect, he is doing what so many other fellow designers in New York are doing. As we saw them, the clothes were not inventive and the styling was stock.

And sure, Aretha Franklin’s Respect was a 1967 hit, and hip hop emerged in the ’70s and came to prominence in the ’80s, but Ms Franklin remained very much a pop-music icon through those decades. Let’s look at the ’70s then: if Good Times were to have a present-decade run, Willona Woods would be dressed by Marc Jacobs. Why, Ms Woods could be working in a Marc Jacobs store! That these were and are how black women like to wear their clothes is not lost on a generation weaned on the eye-catching styles of Rihanna and Beyoncé. These are ensembles that draw neighbouring eyes to the wearer. Or as Good Time’s JJ would say “Dy-no-mite!”

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Marc Jacobs excels in creating looks, even before Hedi Slimane did at Saint Laurent. Hippy, geeky, disco, trash-glam, glam-trash, anything pre-1990s, he’s game, and, chances are, he has already got them up his sleeves. We sometimes wonder if he has spent most of his formative years in a thrift store the way some bookish types almost live in a library. Thus, typical of his collections, there were retro shapes, disco glitter, and ghetto fabulousness. Sometimes, it is not an exaggeration to say that Mr Jacobs operates like an illustrious film costume designer.

An old US Harper’s Bazaar article delighted at the fact that “a Marc Jacobs is like a college girl’s great army-surplus-store find—except that it costs $2,900 and is made from incredible sumptuous cashmere.” Does that mean his clothes are derivative? Or, worse, not terribly new? There’s no denying Mr Jacobs is a compelling stylist, adept at capturing cultural moments and putting out campy compositions. Beyond that, we leave it to you to decide.

Photos (top): Getty Images; (catwalk): indigital.tv

Yeezy-Peasy West-Fest

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The Washington Post’s Robin Givhan Tweeted very recently that “Kanye West finally stopped talking and complaining and just showed some clothes. And well, they weren’t bad.” Does that mean it isn’t “boring” (she told New York magazine last year that Yeezy 4 was “worse than bad. It was boring.”) In the latest review for the paper, she wrote, “That doesn’t mean the clothes were eloquent— to say that is not cruel criticism of West.”

It is not hard to get used to the blah. Fashion churns out so much without meaningful content that after a while, we are no longer disappointed with blandness. Ms Givhan was not the only one who took to the 5th Yeezy collection kindly. The New York Time’s Vanessa Friedman also Tweeted somewhat approvingly: “Kanye West’s latest Yeezy show was an exercise in—restraint? Believe it.”

Just five seasons ago, the media was indignant with Kanye West’s Yeezy debut, with most, if not all, keeping to various descriptions of boring. Last season, so many were mad about “the hot mess” they were thrown into that the immediate reaction was, never again. But now, with Season 5 (is it still so serialised?), they are back and seem to have gotten used to Mr West’s A-to-A-and-back-to-A design path. The disapproval of Kanye West cannot be extended indefinitely. Instead, you try to factor his creative output in the present scheme of things. Mr West is so important to American popular culture—so at its forefront, it seems—that you can’t dismiss him for too long without appearing out of touch. In addition, to the media, he is a “news maker”.

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Therefore, to be more positive (and we should in these acrimonious days of the new American era) is one step forward in the understanding of how things came to be the way they are. Kanye West is in a solid partnership with Adidas to be a bona fide fashion designer with global reach. Adidas is, of course, a big player in the clothing and footwear business, with marketing muscle to influence the media to be more supportive, even just a wee bit.

Mr West himself seems to be playing along. He has remained low-key (even not taking the customary bow at the end of this catwalk finale and not granting interviews thereafter) and he staged the presentation in a fashion venue (Pier 59 Studios), not in a stadium or on an island. The show was to show off his clothes, and not, as a side piece, to launch or preview an album. Although he still did things differently (most of the presentation was a video screening), it was, by most account, a semblance of a fashion show. No model limped or fainted. And, as reported by Cathy Horyn for The Cut, they were styled by Carine Roitfeld. There was an attempt at infusing the show with credibility.

Still, were the clothes really that palatable? By now the Kanye West slouchiness and street-wear fierceness do not encourage the lips to part with uttering WTS or WTF. We really wanted to see something refreshing this time, but, admittedly, our prejudice got in the way. To be certain, the clothes do look pulled together even if in a way already established by Vetements, whose designer Demna Gvasalia Mr West considers a genius. Mr West even declared on Twitter last year that he’s “going to steal Demna from Balenciaga.” So there is nothing more to say about Yeezy that won’t sound trite or persistently negative. So let’s concede: Yeezy isn’t going to convince the non-fans and Kanye West won’t be in the running to lead Givenchy, and the brand is here to stay.

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Nevertheless, we are intrigued by the new sub-brand apparently called Adidas Calabasas, now already trumpeted and worn by the Kardashian-Jenner brood. These were not immediately identified in the show or in the images now circulating online, but it seems that, more than the main line, they bear an obvious Adidas branding: the trefoil or the three stripes. From what we could see, Mr West has not covered grounds that Adidas’s other collaborator, the Japanese brand Kolor, has not already tread. Sports clothes tweaked for city pavements and airport departure lounges are as refreshing as another Yeezy Boost release.

Still we should not underestimate Calabasas. We thought nobody was going to buy the Yeezy clothing line, yet, if the reports are to be believed, they have constantly crossed into the sold-out category. This is even more remarkable when the line so far has not really been blessed by the press. So Calabasas could be destined for unimaginable success on the support of fans alone. Pablo definitely knows that.

Calabasas, as we have noted before, is a city in the hills of west San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles. That is why on some of the Yeezy/Calabasas tops, the words “Lost Hills” appear. Calabasas is possibly Mr West’s nod to his wife’s influence or appeal. It is here that the Kardashian sisters initially dabbled in fashion retail when they opened their first shop in 2006 called Dash. Anyone who keeps up with the Kardashian knows that at the start of the series in 2007, the sisters were not exactly the epitome of fashion, even when they captured what may be considered the Calabasas look. It appears to us that this aesthetic fits no other description than the apt ‘lian’. Kanye West, too, isn’t doing his Calabasas differently.

Photos: Yeezy

Two Of A Kind: Saying It (Again) On The Chest

tees-ode-to-feminismLeft, Dior’s urging-on-a-tee for spring/summer 2017 and right, Prabal Gurung’s annoyingly similar version

Fashion loves getting political. We get it. It’s a chance to show that designers and customers are smart, in the swim of things, championing social causes. But how many times can you repeat the same message before it gets stale?

For the finale of Prabal Gurung’s recent New York Fashion Week show, the designer sent models down the runway in T-shirts with messages that seem to be a dig at the current political climate in the US. The use of clothes as a medium to rally support for a designer’s convictions is nothing new. The Brits are especially good at it, with Vivienne Westwood, and before her, Katherine Hamnett, leading the pack.

But with Mr Gurung doing what Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri already did for the current spring/summer collection (out in stores), you really do wonder if the American designers are struggling with originality. Why can’t he do something else? Or is this just Mr Gurung’s not-very-clever rejoinder—another-keep-the-conversation-going spiel? Are we not bored yet?

prabal-gurungPrabal Gurung during his customary catwalk bow

It does not help that there is no attempt at re-designing the way the message is delivered. The text is printed in an all-caps and a sans-serif font, with a centralised layout, as it was with Dior’s (not that the latter’s is exceptional, to begin with). The T-shirt does not look like a designed item, more like something picked from a wholesaler and sent to the digital printer down the road. It is not making the imagination work over time to think that Mr Gurung added this segment as an afterthought, rather than including it as part of the collection from the start.

Prabal Gurung himself appeared on the runway at the end of the show in one of them tees. It was a size picked to show off his body, which also begs the question: who wears fitted T-shirts anymore other than die-hard, or-all-the-effort-goes-unnoticed gym bunnies?

Feminism deserves better than a message on a tee.

Photos: indigital.tv

Raf’s Calvin Looks Like This

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This is not the first time Raf Simons designs for other houses. His debut at Jil Sander in 2005 and then at Christian Dior in 2012 had one thing in common: a breathtaking first showing. We’ve waited with bated breath (again) for this collection since the first discreet announcement last year that Mr Simons would be holding the creative reins at Calvin Klein. Is his first with an American house any good?

Fashion in America is in a strange place. Across categories and price points, American labels seem to be struggling with sales and identity, as much as a consumer base that seems less interested in what dressing the American way means—a la Gap and co. Yes, denim is still popular, so are T-shirts, but less so for chinos (for now, brands such as Save Khaki United is in a tricky position). Or the sportswear that American designers so gladly and proudly base their brand DNA on. When was the last time you rushed out to buy an American label?

Over there (and over here), it’s not just a changing fashion culture, but a shifting visual culture too. America today is a picture of extreme casualness. Its people—born in the land or elsewhere—do not want to look as formal as they once did, when both men and women wore suits to work and for social occasions. There’s also less a need to show the world that you’re moving upward by wearing what is perceived to be expensive clothes, such as a suit. Or even a suit jacket.

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The Calvin Klein that Raf Simons seeks to remake does not seem to reflect these not-necessarily-just-in-America cultural changes. With so many suits on show—and the more difficult-to-wear double-breasted—one wonders if Mr Simons has dreamed up a more romantic, bygone vision of America, or a European’s image of the land of the free. In his show notes, Mr Simons says “It’s the future, the past, Art Deco, the city, the American West… all of these things and none of these things. Not one era, not one thing, not one look. It is the coming together of different characters and different individuals, just like America itself. It is the unique beauty and emotion of America.” Could that be what Cole Porter once wrote, “Anything Goes”?

This debut isn’t quite like his past debuts; it did not inspire gushing admiration. Could there have been too many first presentations? Or have we become a tad too familiar, hence bored, with the by-now-ever-present Raf Simons codes that were once unanticipated at Jill Sander and refreshing at Dior? Did we expect too much?

To be fair, Calvin Klein isn’t a house with a full set of recognizable design ideas that can be mined. Tracing his inspiration to “the city, the American West” is possibly Mr Simons’s way of not depending on what is non-existent. Indeed, how many designer label consumers today can say for certain what the Calvin Klein look is if you took away the denim jeans as well as underwear ads?

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What’s surprising (striking to you?) at Raf Simons’s Calvin Klein is the conventional silhouettes. There isn’t, for example, the oversized proportion of the current collection for his eponymous label. Or, if you go further back, the ethereal yet structured dreaminess that set the mood for his re-awakening of Dior. At that time, his simple yet detailed forms made everyone else’s overwrought output looked somewhat dated.

At New York Fashion Week’s autumn/winter 2017 season, Mr Simons does not tease and simultaneously tempt the way he did in Paris five years ago. Perhaps, geographical difference and the geopolitical contrast between then and now demand a certain aesthetic that negates quirk and edge. There is also the possibility that one needs to keep to Calvin Klein’s entrenched “minimalism”—a post-Euro-minimalism branding of the ’90s that the label is still fixated with.

Don’t get us wrong. This is not a lacklustre collection. It’s got an energy that is not always present in the New York shows. And it is a lot more daring than the offerings of conventional New York labels. But it does not make one hunger and crave even when there are some pieces one does not mind owning.

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We like the woman’s blazer with what looks like engageante sleeves (which also appeared in the Raf Simons collection last month). That’s something rather incongruent with the Calvin Klein aesthetic—a detail more in sync with Mr Simons’s own inclination to deconstruct, and a colour paring (yellow and gray) that recall his bold use of brights.

That’s not the only sleeve that we find interesting. There’s the pullover with thick sleeves (that is reminiscent of varsity sweaters) attached to a sheer, skin-toned bodice. Versions for both men and women appear a few times on the catwalk. Although it’s unclear who might seriously be keen on such sheerness if they are not pop stars with the proclivity for such display, it is consistent with Mr Simons’s tendency to contrast textures and densities.

What’s also more the Belgian than the American founder of the label is the graphic elements: not only in terms of trims, but also in the details. A top with a cutaway at the left shoulder that is allowed to fold down across the upper chest to show its underside is appealing, but it brings to mind somewhat similar treatment seen in the Mr Simons’s Dior resort 2015 collection.

Surprising? Mr Simons has always reprised the woman’s suit silhouette that he dreamed up and perfected at Jil Sander (in particular, the proportion of the jacket to the pants), but he’s been able to tweak it at Dior so that the latter versions were truly sleek, youthful-looking, and, dare we say, sexy. Some quintessentially Raf Simons ideas are, therefore, expected at Calvin Klein—fans would be disappointed otherwise. But could these have been a little too obvious even amid the flourishes that are supposed to be American by genesis?

Whether Raf Simons is running out of steam is not yet a persuasive premise for the lack of wow at Calvin Klein, itself, like so many other brands of its peer, languishing too long in the powerlessness of moving forward. Perhaps Mr Simons is pandering to the long-held belief that American fashion, unlike European, isn’t quite the crucible of innovative, rule-breaking ideas. It is possible he is keeping to the standard that has made fashion in the US mostly looking across the oceans, but rarely leading.

The re-imagining of Calvin Klein by Raf Simon has shifted the focus to New York. Of course all eyes are now already on America—although for the wrong reasons. Calvin Klein was once considered a great American designer name. Whether Mr Simons can make Calvin Klein great again remains to be seen.

Photo: Imaxtree