paris fashion week: balmain

(images via ny mag)

i’ve had a long and complicated history with the house of balmain (see f/w 2010, s/s 2011, f/w 2011, resort 2012), not the least because, in spite of my aversion to the ‘prestige pricing’ and, ahem, ‘artful’ knockoffs of poor street youth culture (jazzed up for the very rich and the likes of beyonce), with the desperate, grasping, and unrequited love most fashionies heap upon the house, i’ve tried to understand those feelings.  and okay, it hasn’t really been a success, but perhaps you know why.  and since the last show back in march, the s/s 2012 range was the first runway (though the resort collection was the first designed) presented by the new cd, 26-year-old (yeah, you read that right) olivier rousteing. 

but before we go into full-blown analysis mode, a bit of background might be necessary.  like the resort range put out this past summer, mr. rousteing kept with the las vegas theme-ology.  however, unlike that show, with elvis looming large in the background, the designer opted for a mexican undertone.  as suzy menkes of the iht writes, “‘I wanted Las Vegas and Mexican bullfighting,’ Mr. Rousteing said, ‘but I also looked at the embroideries of Pierre Balmain and Oscar de la Renta,’ who previously designed for the house. He meant he wanted to be a picador with the house’s heritage rather than just aiming for the heart of the nouveau riche.” 

what that meant for us was a lot less of the bedraggled, eighties punker girl the house’s former designer, christophe decarnin both reinvigorated it with and set as its recognizable signature.  but all the same, it didn’t mean that mr. rousteing had suddenly reinvented the aesthetic mr. decarnin honed so well—only that he glammed it up quite a bit more than in seasons past (and resort was a good indication of where he’s likely to go).  that, and homeboy loves his metallics every bit as much as the former creative director did. 

and the raves, of course, poured in.  “Close up, even the pale denim turned out to be printed with faded baroque curliques, while the white jeans were a construct of embossed cotton and white snakeskin. As for the geometric, chevroned gold beading smothering bejeweled fringed jackets and tiny dresses? It was not just executed with a knowledgeable hand, but also perfectly in sync with this summer’s feeling for Deco. In all? It was continuity, but with a fresh energy and sense of ambition. Watching it, you felt that, for the first time in many years, a new, young Parisian point of view could be on the rise here, one with a dedicated, precocious skill acquired by working behind the scenes,” enthused vogue

meanwhile, ms. menkes sappily declared that “Mr. Rousteing proved his weight in the gold he scattered so liberally on the collection,” and the wsj cheered that “(t)oreador jackets, tight leather pants and beaded tunics were pure ‘Balmain,’ which is to say, sexy, wildly embellished with metallic details, and impossibly expensive…The well-done jackets and suits are smart enough to appeal to the sort of women who can afford them. The rest of us will be seeing this collection in magazines.”  (okay, at least they infused their short write-up with a dose of reality.)

wwd, swimming just the same, wrote that “Rousteing also suggested a wider fashion vocabulary for his Balmain, parading some sweeping button-front skirts in pale denim, and loose leather pants he playfully called “joggings.” The designer didn’t travel to Nevada for inspiration, instead researching Nudie Cohn, who created stage costumes for country-and-western performers in the Sixties. Besides channeling the obvious glitz of casinos, Rousteing also referenced less glamorous Vegas surfaces: motel wallpaper patterns worked into in white cloqué jeans and blazers; tattered floral bedspreads worked into sexy minidresses, the flowers sprouting gold chains at their stamens.”

many reviews, though, with style’s among them, rather surprisingly took the route of describing the label’s history over the past year, in lieu of forming too many strong opinions about the clothes themselves.  “there was a new softness to a wallpaper-floral motif rendered in pastel silk embroidery on an hourglass dress, one that was echoed in the baby blue and white print of the opening trousers,” the former remarked quickly at one point, before getting back into the politics of the matter. they seemed rather cautiously optimistic, as though dismissing the house wasn’t an option, but they’d rather avoid passing too much judgement until the profits for the season were in. 

and i guess that’s what really leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth.  as much as anything else, fashion has become all about the money a brand makes, leaving even the critics to respect it when the sales come rollin’ in—whether they’d formerly dismissed it or no (frida giannini at gucci being a prime example).  in terms of actual contribution to the high fashion world, i’m not sure balmain has really produced anything of value since mr. decarnin’s first moves in this direction, but for many seasons after, both he, and now his protege, mr. rousteing, have tread water over the successful formula developed. worthy of our business-savvy respect? yeah, okay.  but for its contribution to the art-fashion world.  i’m holding out with a ‘not so much’.  i’d love to see what everyone sees in balmain, to learn to appreciate it.  but first, i think, these designers need to put in the work to show me it’s warranted. 

(see the complete, edited show video here)


london fashion week: basso & brooke

(images via style)

it’s rather interesting to see where those houses existing largely for their take on colour and prints (like new york’s suno) fit into a season that has become, by and large, defined by the very same.  they can, of course, bring it all out (as the rest are, thereby fading into the electric candyland blur of clothes), or, like the aforementioned and london’s basso & brooke, opt for a more refined s/s 2012. 

that isn’t to say the duo—consisting of bruno basso (the textile designer) and christopher brooke (the silhouette designer)—didn’t have a certain pop of their own, just that it was more refined, practiced perhaps, than the rest.  for spring, as vogue explains, the range was inspired by mr. basso’s drive earlier this year from london to siberia: “we were given strong structures and sharp contrasts to reflect the bleak landscapes he came across, mixed with bright tropical prints – an homage to Basso’s sunnier, native country [brazil].”  

“It was an incredible trip and I had so many feelings; I saw so much.  In Siberia, the landscapes were so bleak and dramatic, the colours were so grey – so I dreamt up these fantastical creations and prints – maybe I was missing Brazil, but I wanted colour,” mr. basso explained to vogue backstage, while wwd wrote that “[basso & brooke] gave their signature digital prints a Constructivist spin in this highly polished collection. Purple, green and orange tropical leaves were layered over a graphic, black and white dandelion-like print, while more brutal, Siberia-inspired patterns came in gray.” 

“It has this fantasy element, but you don’t want to make it too removed from reality,” mr. brooke told the wsj.  and, as grazia wrote, “For [spring] they decided, not to pare down exactly, but to loosen up the positioning of their motifs. Very large images, both of flowers and of abstract, oil-on-water swirls in hyper vivid colours, were spread more haphazardly, and more organically over the garments. Patterns too had been loosened up, with ultra light chiffon, silk and sheer textures on flowing maxis, bias cut T shirt dresses and tailored short suits. The palette really sang, with clear aqua and turquoises, soft dove greys, tropical yellows, tangerines and limes and rich violets. The stand-out garment for us was the maxi dress with a huge pink V down the front and smaller prints smattered to either side [below].”

only style was more cautiously optimistic, stating that “(t)he show could have used some editing: Your brain can process only so many draped dresses in jolting digital patterns. That said, the dresses were uniformly good, with Brooke’s draping nicely complementing Brooke’s [sic; basso’s] print placement. The knee-length day dresses were a particularly strong group: Simple yet diaphanous, they had a ton of punch but looked easy to wear. And the show resumed focus every time the designers pulled back on color—a black, white, and gray long-sleeved top and long skirt snapped the mind to attention, thanks to the furnace of bright yellow and green by the hemline.” 

in the end, though, i’d say it was a cohesive whole.  with designers heaping so many outlandish patterns on us like a slideshow of vacation pictures to tropical islands put on fast forward, it can be a real pleasure to see those who know the correct path laying it out before us.  after all, taken individually, most of basso & brooke’s clothes were sweet and elegant unto themselves, less a vessel for their pictures than a whole, telling a story with the cut and line just as much as anything else.  that said, it would still be interesting to see what might happen if the duo really restricted themselves sometime. 

(see a brief collection video here)

nyfw: oscar de la renta

(images via ny mag)

i realize that, with the paris shows in full swing and opt still scrambling to desperately cover things that happened during the now-all-but-forgotten new york fashion week, i could be viewed as a bad person.  all the information is here and i barely even have to look for it.  what’s the problem?  it’s frankly easier with such oft-good constants as oscar de la renta (see f/w 2010, resort 2011, pre-fall 2011, resort 2012), his pretty clothes the kind of inoffensive offerings that leave some wishing for more sensational bang and others wishing for cash to accrue the pieces with, but most simply appreciating the art of his craft. 

opening the s/s 2012 range to the tune-age of led zeppelin, mr. de la renta’s work felt much like an exercise in greatest hits; indeed, uk vogue wrote that “de la Renta was indulging in some decadent showmanship by presenting a variety of styles from far-flung eras with no major underlying theme except that they were all made with an industrious eye for lavish details. Day, night, work, and play were all covered with almost reckless abandon,” while wwd concurred that we took a tour through many ideas, writing that “(t)he wildly frizzed hair that flew back as the models walked suggested Seventies; the three billowing ballgowns under lace tops that opened the show, Eighties (the good part).” 

most critics seemed pleased with the range, whatever its wandering inspirations, from the designer’s opening with frilly ballgowns (topped with lace t-shirts, no less), to its flurry of bright, almost teasing creations, such as a lime feathered crop top (paired with coordinating harem pants that might have been appropriate circa 1974) or scarlet crushed velvet renaissance woman frock coat.  “the designer seemed out to prove that his couture techniques could seem young and fresh.  The show opened in a flurry of swishing, bright, long skirts with lace tops. They were followed by a riff on white lace that gave the dresses different surfaces, like  ethereal Chantilly and crunchy guipure.  It is the confidence of a master couturier that gave the collection its easy elegance, so prints with a tropical vibe were controlled, with stripes resembling pineapple spikes,” wrote suzy menkes of the iht

several critics seemed firmly convinced that—like the designer’s most recent two resort shows—the spring range was mainly about beckoning the younger clientele.  “de la Renta also showed a desire to introduce himself to a new crowd, one that would appreciate the unfinished office space he used as a venue, one that would like the Led Zeppelin-infused soundtrack — one that might seriously consider wearing the flower headband in her hair the way the model wearing a hippie-ish, white faille-yellow chiffon embroidered gown,” opined the washington post, with the la times chirping that “it felt like a wave of cool washed over Oscar de la Renta’s collection this season.” 

style agreed with the kiddie-parade assessment, but pointing out that mr. de la renta has never been one to utterly abandon his long-time customers either, and pointed out that the designer’s key offerings—“the tweedy skirtsuits, the sleeveless sheaths, the entrance-making evening dresses”—were still shown in full regalia.  us vogue chimed in on that note, writing that “Like the consummate couture-centric designer that he is, Oscar thinks above all about his client, and from this heady smorgasbord that runs the gamut from a silvered lamé Fortuny-pleat evening sheath to a Sissi of Austria ball dress in white faille wrapped in black tulle, there will be something for each of his [quite different clients].”   

“The wealth of embellishments were lavish: airy organza appliqués to sassy allover tassels and major sequin encrustations. These ebbed and flowed by day and into the night, when de la Renta sent out an array of stunners, from serene to sizzling. Nevertheless, after the show, all de la Renta wanted to talk about was the hair. ‘Every single girl who came to see me had hair that was plastered to their heads,’ he explained. ‘It was so lacquered it was like cement. I said to them, “If you have a boyfriend, he wouldn’t want to touch your head with hair like that.”’ Spoken like a true ladies man,” closed wwd

(watch the full collection video here)

milan fashion week: emilio pucci

(images via ny mag)

in the wake of so many girls—and critics—screaming about the sexpot bohemian peter dundas has reinvented emilio pucci to be since his arrival at the house in 2008, i’ve made it no secret (see f/w 2010, resort 2011, s/s 2011, pre-fall 2011) i’m not convinced.  sure, mr. dundas deserves his credit for invigorating a label long-known for their archival pieces more than their contemporary clothes and—at least from a financial perspective—being a blessing for getting celebrities like kate hudson and gwyneth paltrow (who wore toni garrn’s look, seventh from bottom, in advance of its runway debut, to the recent emmys) to trot out his looks, but neither am i convinced he’s not turning the house into just another one-trick pony, updated for the twenty-first century. 

anyway, a bit of the background.  once again, mr. dundas channeled the seventies, this time through the lens of brigitte bardot during the decade (wwd adds that there were strong strains of christian lacroix, as well).  “I think it’s a question of being respectfully disrespectful,” the designer told uk vogue of his creative movement with the brand.  “You have to break a little bit from the mould and from previous times but do it in a way that somehow balances it. I love the house and that’s why I want to take it forward.”  of his specific inspiration, he added that “I found a picture of her wearing these gypsy clothes and that became the starting point. It’s ultra-feminine and then also very masculine with the tailoring, there’s lots of lingerie and lots of technique.” 

at least, i suppose, too, there was some acknowledgment that he’s got a comfortable niche.  “I always design for the same vibe of woman – she’s bohemian and she likes to hang out on the beach,” he noted to uk vogue.  but i was rather surprised to see the accolades come rolling in.  instead of expressing hesitation—to say nothing of resentment—at the fact that the house has once again come to stand for a sole cause, namely sultry boho, for the most part i was rather startled to see the reviewers eating it up.  “The result,” wrote wwd,  “a band of beautiful ‘summer gypsies,’ their hair arranged in just-so messiness, crosses at their necks, their frocks of preference worked in sagely manipulated house graphics.” 

“The designer’s luxe offering saw a reworking of Pucci’s archive prints, intermingled with eyelet embroideries, delicate guêpière and crochet,” trilled vogue australia.  “Onlookers were so lulled into a sun-filled reverie by the fluidity of the exquisitely crafted garments that the tailored pieces interspersed throughout felt almost jarring – surely this freewheeling individual had no need for such structure? Although the buttoned up, scarf-print silk shirts, which had been paired with incongruous Bermuda shorts, were surely noted on every editor’s personal shopping list.” 

style continued the exclamatory yammering, writing that “For Spring, he worked a gypsy-sexpot theme—all midriff-baring peasant tops, visible dentelle knit panties, and suggestively placed black lace insets on silk slipdresses. Over-the-top? At times. But his girls looked so smokin’ hot, you’d need a heart of stone to avoid being seduced by the likes of Natasha Poly [above] advancing brazenly toward you in a flood tide of Pucci print.  For the record, the workmanship is couture-grade: an organza infanta skirt appliquéd with patchworks of archive print; a black caftan crocheted from top to fringed bottom; a long-sleeve tulle T-shirt embroidered with caviar beads in skull and heart motifs.” 

us vogue, meanwhile, was complimentary to the point of over-saturation, opining at once point that “(t)he body-heat from the models—working the spirit of Bardot in her hippie phase with their smoky eyes, crucifix necklaces, and wanton ponytails tied with scarves—would have been enough to cause a male meltdown even if the air conditioner hadn’t already surrendered.”  yeah, i know.  they also argued that “(t)he point about Dundas is the way he can carry a theme like this—one of the most well-trodden paths in fashion history—without seeming cheap.” 

well.  it depends on whom you ask.  a microscopic (and somewhat sheer) metallic negligee-esque slipdress on josephine skriver (third from above) might have its allure on the runway—or in the bedroom—but i’d have a hard time seeing a lady work that number at a restaurant without feeling at least a little squeamish.  and that’s to say nothing of the non-fashion-respecting public that feels the need to critique every red carpet as if they’re versed as cathy horyn in the subject.  yeah, good luck with that one. to be sure, even the wsj, in the sole example of real hesitation about the range, wrote that “Mr. Dundas unfortunately veered into call-girl territory with one crimson-and-black number.” 

in the end, i suppose it satisfies all the requisites that the label—and the contemporary critics—are looking for.  an applicable ‘new look’ title?  got that.  celebrities bringing attention to the house by wearing the clothes (and thus, to the columns with their seo-driven names)?  yes, that as well.  and a little verging on ‘shocking’?  that also, a little less through high-fashion drama than through the overt sexualization, but most don’t like to split hairs.  so they’ll call it a win, while some of us, looking for mr. dundas to truly do something new will twiddle our thumbs, wondering how long it will take before, once again, there is a great hue & cry for the reinvention, once more, of emilio pucci. 

(watch the complete collection video here)

london fashion week: paul smith

(images via style)

a bonus point that the paul smith s/s 2012 show was presented to the tune-age of the velvet underground’s ‘all tomorrow’s parties’, because there really isn’t much more homeboy can do to be cool.  he’s invented his own brand of easy britishness that he refines each season in a slightly different way, without perhaps, a greatly earth-shattering design mission, but nevertheless showing the kind of breezy charm that leaves us all wanting to be that girl (or boy). 

and though style protested the soundtrack didn’t have much to do with it, there was a certain air that wwd, for one, picked up on: “It was as if the Paul Smith woman took fashion cues from her rocker boyfriend: a colorful, jaunty fedora on her head; feet shod in leopard-print loafers or glossy Chelsea boots.”  otherwise, they called the collection “part dandy, part pajama party,” noting that the variations on the menswear shirt was a stronghold for spring. 

suzy menkes, too, writing for the nyt noticed the masculine edge, though she paid more mind to the smarter aspects than those quirky flashes of scarlet and lemon, sleepytime pants, and sock-less loafers: “Striding out in blazer jackets, another useful wardrobe piece purloined from the male closet, the models, wearing flat shoes, caught the post-feminist spirit. Although there were dresses — perhaps loose fitting with big pockets — the stand-out pieces were pants or easy, pleated skirts. The clothes had a masculine, linear feel. And with the tailored pieces made in vivid colors, with mixes of turquoise pants meeting a russet top and blue jacket, this collection was lively and never fussy.”

us vogue was the lone dissenting voice in the admiring chorus, lamenting that the ideas weren’t so new and that “the jaunty hats could have been culled from cool girls in any corner of the globe.”  oh pish, says i.  sir paul’s collections, again, because apparently we need to hear it, are less about reworking the notion of clothing entirely and more about figuring out to pull pieces together into the height of fashion, as one of my favourite characters likes to say, which in these days are masculine-meets-feminine with some flavour of colour and a little ethnic spiced tossed into the mix. 

but i think perhaps british vogue nicely summed it up best: “The message was that simple is beautiful: if you have a Paul Smith jacket in your life (OK, in several colours), then you don’t want for much more – maybe an oversized white cotton blouse, and a spectrum of brilliantly tailored trousers. The Paul Smith boys-for-girls look can sometimes come across as overly earnest on the catwalk, but tonight it looked just right.” 

(watch a bit of collection video, complete with the designer speaking about the show, here)