amsterdam fashion week: said mahrouf

(images via team peter stigter)

amsterdam fashion week usually tends to be quite brief, and save for a couple of designers whom we can expect to reliably see on the catwalk, i’m sometimes a bit disappointed at all the shifting that goes on in lineup (remember, for example, linda valkeman, who we discussed waaay back when opt was first beginning?  what happened to her, and her bangin’ designs?), to say nothing of the aesthetic changes (one season quite demure, this, for example, mostly full of art student-y stuff).  i guess that’s what happens with the smaller fashion weeks, and though i could warble on that subject for some time, i would like to point out that we were introduced to a couple of spectacular standouts this time, including said mahrouf

the morrocan-born young designer, who came to holland to live at the age of 18, was little-covered in the press, much to my chagrin.  but as a bit of background, according to his bio page, he studied fashion in both amsterdam and at the pratt institute in new york, designing costumes before eventually turning to rtw in 1999, and couture in 2007 (he shows that mostly in casablanca, apparently).  anyway, for the a/w 2012 collection that we’re considering, team peter stigter informs us that mr. mahrouf’s work was part of a joint presentation, sponsored by the flower fashion group, to close out amsterdam fashion week (yes, it’s that time already; i told you it was brief). 

anyway, they continued, the fall show marked the designer’s debut at the event and was “inspired by roses and orchids.”  in a palette of mostly white and ivory, spruced with ethereal pastels (peach, the faintest yellow), subtle metallics (silver and gold), and brighter hues (vibrant sea green, chartreuse), “(s)hort playful dresses were followed by long elegant gowns. They all had fun and feminine details like asymmetry, ribbons, bows and twisted fabrics. The collection breathed summer, especially with the light yellow and green eye make-up.” 

the careful, sculptural drapes were presumably referential of the flowers (i was particularly struck by some of the curves resembling orchids), and there was an almost minimalist quality to the pieces which i appreciated, with the designer letting these folds and the pops of subtle (or more vivid) colour speak for him.  his treatment of materials (it appeared to be mostly silk and satin) rather reminded me of belgian designer haider ackermann’s light hand (especially in his a/w 2011 & s/s 2012 collections), and i’d love to see mr. mahrouf taking on couture.  it was a pleasant addition to the week, and i hope he doesn’t depart from the event particularly soon—it needs some fresh talent, and especially some as promising as mr. mahrouf seems certainly to be. 

berlin fashion week: gregor gonsior

(images via mbfwb)

okay, so apparently poland comes under the definition of the baltic states in germany’s mind (yeah, i don’t know, either), as warsaw-(i think) based designer and graduate of the lodz academy of art, gregor gonsior’s a/w 2012 range was a part of berlin fashion week’s baltic fashion catwalk group show.  there was a lot of adventure to the output, which sometimes payed off and sometimes didn’t, but mostly came under the heading of the kind of experimental stuff some critics will carelessly dismiss as ‘weird’ (unfortunately) without a closer look. 

the blog fashion freax termed it (trans.) “a futuristic collection,” while german site nahtlos! explained that the designer worked with some unconventional materials like wood, feathers, and fur, with the headwear at times evoking the work of philip treacy.  i would actually have liked to come across a true mission statement, as to me mr. gonsior’s work felt like a conversation about sweet, sixties almost girlish clothing (as above) and something rather dream-like and experimental.  the play between textures, the layers, and the bold use of colour was also thoughtful if mostly unexplained in the reviews. 

the german site style ranking mostly dismissed the collection as “pompous,” which i thought was a little funny, and the heel-less shoes, giant feathered headdress-contraption, and layered pantaloons certainly didn’t always make for a wearable display, but there were some truly lovely pieces, including that metallic blue coat (third from above) and the pink apron-ed dress (at bottom).  the conceptual and the conventional perhaps best came together in the french blue colour-blocked frock with the giant leg o’ mutton sleeves (below), and i think this might be where the designer/artist found his best footing.  i’d like to see him explore that more than his closing black feather-thing, which felt entirely amiss outside of a gallery with an artist’s statement plaque beside it. 

(watch the video highlights here)

couture week: elie saab

(images via ny mag)

i think i’ve stated in past reviews (see f/w 2010 hc, f/w 2011 hc, s/s 2012) of elie saab’s work that while i essentially appreciate the pretty things the designer creates from that visceral, six-year-old princess place inside me, on a higher plane, as one schooled in the art of fashion design and spending my life devoted to analysis and critique of collections, it’s difficult to really make a connection.  in other words (and though i’ll likely be burned in effigy and dropped unceremoniously by his passionate fans for this remark), his presentations are, to me, a bit like partaking in cotton candy at the circus.  sure, it’s a delicious treat, but one can’t really compare it to, say, a dinner at el bulli.  the latter might not be as immediately alluring, or tasty—in fact, it might shock or confuse, but one won’t forget it quickly as the former.  instead, that meal will change one’s life. 

but things were much the same chez saab for the s/s 2012 haute couture collection presented in paris: spun sugar in pastel tones that were ever so sweet, but didn’t widely differ from that which we’ve sampled from his atelier in the past.  anyway, as he explained to the afp, he this time “went for slightly acid pastels to create a fairytale effect, for a modern empress.”  oh.  you don’t say.  and as the site itself went on to report, that meant “a roll-call of evanescent gowns fit for an ‘empress’, all in shimmering, semi-sheer layers of white and gentle pastels. A romantic, old-fashioned aesthetic ran through the collection, whose floor-sweeping gowns and babydoll dresses — often with high necklines and long sleeves — were embroidered head to toe with tiny flowers and sparkling sequins.”

meanwhile, he laid out some similar stuff to the telegraph in stating, “I thought about a very modern princess, I though of the fairytales which all girls dream of in order to come up with this collection which I hope you’ll like. Concerning colours, I thought of very soft colours but ones that still retained the dazzle I wanted to achieve in this collection,” while the site noted that “(m)uch of the fabric was sheer above and below the waist, gently revealing models’ torsos and legs underneath. Floral prints on full skirts gave gowns an air of royalty and showed why Saab is one of the undisputed kings of red carpet dressing. Many of the dresses were belted at the waist. Shoulders were emphasised to mark the structure of the dresses, in thick layers of tulle or silk, embroidered with silver.” 

elsewhere, the nyt’s t magazine commented that the collection “was as beaded and lacy as we have come to expect from this house. The effect, for spring, was sweet, not sultry. Pastel dresses were entirely covered in tulle flowers, metallic embroideries and crystal beading. Since Saab is so well known for his red-carpet columns, it was refreshing to think about how his shorter offerings, all indisputably for evening, could fare on a big night,” and they in particular lavished praises on the short, white lacy and be-pearled number worn by sigrid agren (third from top). 

“It must be marvellous to inhabit whichever magical, elysian land Elie Saab lives in,” the ever-clever-if-sardonic showstudio began.  “Look at his latest Spring/Summer 2012 collection – in fact, look at any of Saab’s shows over the past decade or so. Their seasonal variance is little to none. The worries of the real world are relegated to the sidelines – it may be cold and raining outside, but Saab’s clothes inhabit a perpetual summer, necessitating nothing more than a few acres of filmy embroidered gauze in bon-bon shades floating about the body. Even the couture staple of a thick pelt (or twelve) is eschewed on Saab’s golden mile of catwalk, when the sun never seems to set. Maybe that isn’t such a screwball notion: Saab’s customers are predominantly Middle Eastern, and you don’t get much seasonal variance in Abu Dhabi.” 

but, as they continued, “that doesn’t necessarily make for great fashion. As clothing, Saab’s collection was fine – the dresses were always pretty, even beautiful, scattered with three-dimensional iridescent tulle blooms in a rainbow of hothouse shades. Sometimes those blooms were hand-painted across the dresses, other times the beading ran riot, crosshatching trellis behind nosegays on knee-length summer frocks. Those sound like the things little girls’ dreams are made of – but only the terribly well-behaved little girls. That is the main issue with Elie Saab’s fashion: it’s conservative, bordering on conventional. And however beautiful the final result is, the limits to Saab’s creativity means his fashion doesn’t really cut it in Parisian haute couture’s premier league.” 

in a surprisingly upbeat review out of the oft sharp-tongued nyt, jessica michault reported that “(d)resses sparkling with sequins, embellished with embroidery and covered in lace appliqué. But within that framework, the designer did try a few new things with this ‘Chrysalides and Blossoms’ collection. As lovely as all the silk petal-covered dresses were, those that focused on the fragile cocoon state really stood out, like a fractal pattern of sequins on tulle or lace that dribbled like hot wax down a floor-length gown. And here’s hoping the designer’s evocative color palette of mint green, coral and café au lait will revive the reserved options usually seen on Oscar night.”

after a quote from a celeb stylist that i’m choosing to read as implying many actresses are simple magpies drawn in by sparkle and glimmer alone, style went on to point out that we saw “full-skirted party frocks and slim evening gowns in a rainbow of pastel shades, nearly all of them sparkly. What separated one from the next was the vertiginousness of a neckline, the presence or absence of sleeves, the length of a train, and the occasional cape. He included one print, an oversize botanical, but it looked like an afterthought amid all that pink, peach, yellow, mint green, and baby blue.
Our stylist friend neglected to mention one thing in her explanation of Saab’s success: lightness. Despite all the handwork, these dresses—with the exception of an uncharacteristically heavy wedding gown—appeared almost weightless.”

and finally, the washington post summed things up by writing that “(t)he collection was made up almost exclusively of delicate ball gowns, painted with pastels. Some other collections were heavy on greens, but Elie Saab gave the color a full-blown crowning. Sea and pale green full-length gowns danced regally with flower paillettes. One sweeping sea green robe in tulle embroidered with sequins featured a plunging decollete and dramatic double skirts.”  and so: pretty, yes.  fun, yes.  ethereal, yes, that, too.  but if you’re looking for something to stare into and wonder at, you won’t find it here.  but i suppose, after all, we don’t need every meal to be an exquisitely daring culinary experience. 

(watch the complete collection video here)

amsterdam fashion week: sage & ivy

(images via team peter stigter)

opt has, in the past year or so, already gone through a couple of reviews (see a/w 2011 & s/s 2012) of dutch designer alexia van engelen’s sage & ivy label at amsterdam fashion week, and though i think in that time (as well as for her latest effort, for a/w 2012), her aesthetic has fluctuated, as the dutch site i love fashion news points out, homegirl’s love of a good site has remained static.  this time around, the show was held at the prinsengracht canal in amsterdam, in a hall filled with mirrors sourced from the 18th and 19th centuries, with team peter stigter reporting that “with some lit candles and soft piano music [it] made up for a beautiful atmosphere.” 

they went on to remark that things were noticeably darker for the fall than we’ve seen ms. van engelen dabbling before—”(w)ith her dark colored designs Alexia represented an almost spiritual quest through dark and mysterious landscapes—but i personally thought it more of a return to her victoriana of last fall, with the spring’s light and boho-y partial tribute to bianca jagger being something of a departure from that.  titled ‘pilgrimage,’ the dutch site modeblog clarified that (trans.) “(p)ilgrimage refers to an almost spiritual quest for the deeper essence of the woman. In the eyes of the designer is not only the delicate innocence, the cherished bride, the Muse of Light. No, her earthly forces are free; incarnate goddess performs her own quest.” 

The pilgrimage leads her from Scotland to Japan, the treasures they collect way she carries with it. A Scottish tartan, a Japanese landscape print on silk satin, silk jersey and a smooth, rippled by a heavy bow on one shoulder, come together in a dress,” they continued.  meanwhile, vaag magazine, in noting the particularly dark autumn palette, described (trans.) “(b)lack, midnight blue and deep green pine leaves, with here and there a ray of light in various shades of off-white and nude tones.”  to this i’d like to add a few flashes of wine and a stunning dress in textured silver, with patterns included the aforementioned tartan, some marbled-looking print, and a heavy herringbone-style motif (as second from below). 

the thoughtful review on fashion scene remarked on the (trans.) “attention to detail: from pleated panels on the bodice of a dress to knit braids mounted on tulle and high-necked collars,” before getting to the extensive list of materials, which included silk, faux fur, latex, wool, satin, leather, lace, tulle, and crepe.  it made for a dramatic array, particularly as the designer appeared to enjoy mixing textures and details—playing with almost antiquated costume notions, like complex ruffles and pleats, and interspersing them with that which was quite modern by comparison, as the digital prints, asymmetrical cuts, and elaborate peplums (as third from above), which rather spoke of the more contemporary-leaning houses. 

if i was a bit disappointed with ms. van engelen’s collection a season ago (i found it technically competent, but not particularly pushing any artistic boundaries, save for with the conception of the show, as it applied to the fantastical setting), my fears about the label were more comfortably assuaged today.  and yet, i couldn’t help but wonder…where is sage & ivy going exactly?  what are they trying to convey?  with both the name and the mission statement, one would think something of the slightly haute hippie girl, aiming for a step above the racks at anthropologie.  so does it entirely make sense for the designer to go on this rather complicated aside?  from an aesthetic perspective, i’d love to yell a particularly loud ‘yes!’ but i wonder if in the summer ms. van engelen will go back to peasant-style tops. 

but i wouldn’t wish to end on such a negative note.  instead, i’d like to draw your attention to the wealth of detail afforded in today’s range.  as team peter stigter rather nicely reflected in their review, “(t)he show opened with one of the strongest looks of the collection in a deep green shade (the color on which Alexia based her whole color palette). It had a beautiful silhouette and gorgeous details on the front and the back, which resembled a backbone” (seen fourth from top).  we’ve had hints of the designer’s skill before this point, but i think it was for this show she enunciated them most clearly.  so you see?  it would be a shame to go back to simple summer frocks.  she has entirely too much talent and imagination for all that. 

(watch the runway finale video here)

couture week: stéphane rolland

(images via ny mag)

one of my personal favourite aspects of couture week is the way one can indulge in so many visual flights, with aesthetics widely divergent on one another, and all under the reasonable assurance that, if nothing else, these clothes were all made at the top of their game.  sure, one might not prefer a particular dress, or designer’s work, but it’s sort of a pleasure to relax and realize there’s no trickery afoot—at least not of the balmain ‘prestige pricingscandal-type.  instead, we can allow ourselves these moments to question our personal tastes, to understand why something attracts us and not another, or things of that nature.  it’s an exercise i especially enjoy embarking on these two times a year. 

a case in point for me would be the work of couturier stéphane rolland, who has never really risen through the ranks in the way some of his peers—say elie saab—have, but just seems to quietly present his collections, season in and out (see f/w 2010 hc & s/s 2011 hc).  and so, as i perused his latest haute couture collection, for s/s 2012, i wondered over the notions i laid out above.  why is the designer so sadly overlooked?  is it simply that his sort of half-in, half-out pieces fail to move those looking for a pretty and red carpet-friendly but benign gown (and who would visit giorgio armani or valentino instead), while those looking for something utterly outlandish would instead go to franck sorbier or jean paul gaultier? for i found his architectural, strong, and sexy pieces to be among the triumphs of the season. 

a few days before the show, in a short but not-particularly-enlightening interview with vogue, the designer explained that this season, which coincides with his tenth anniversary on the runway, was about “(a) celebration of the Stéphane Rolland identity: an effortless blend of timeless allure, adamant respect for haute couture traditions, classic modernity, serious chic, and a dash of mystery.”  he also added that “(w)hile I tend to keep embellishment minimal as my clients often possess some of the finest jewellery, I enjoy creating ornamentation that appears like installations, to compliment the overall look. This season they are mostly golden: rings girthed at waists, geometrical plastrons, and crescents that cascade down the body – all in reference to Deverne’s sculptures. Lapels are gravity-defying and asymmetrical, and organza leaves gush out from hips and shoulders in torrents.”“ 

and because in particular this season’s couture shows can’t seem to go without their celebrity references, it seems that the designer was only getting some of his reviews thanks to a decision to close the show with supermodel yasmin le bon.  both styleite and the daily mail trilled on that note for a while, with the latter finally easing up on the point and allowing of the rest of the collection that “(c)lean silhouettes – combined with sweeping waist appendages and expert draping – were broken up only by the odd shiny breastplate or waistband in gold metal. Some fashion critics felt that the simplicity of the gowns made the collection repetitive, but going back to basic and showcasing fabrics including silk jersey, gazar and organza in all their natural beauty is something that should be applauded.”

meanwhile, a considerably less-impressed washington post reported that “(i)nspired by the work of kinetic artist Michel Deverne, Rolland’s rich floor-sweeping gowns were kept ultra-simple to show off the movement of the materials. His 10 years of haute couture experience at the helm of Jean-Louis Scherrer was on full display. Clean silhouettes, combined with sweeping waist appendages and expert draping, were broken up only by the odd shiny breastplate or waistband in gold metal. But you couldn’t help but feel that Rolland fell short of the mark. His aim was crystal clear: displaying the natural beauty of fabrics such as silk jersey, gazar and organza that often are embroidered to death in couture. However, the collection suffered from its simplicity and became a bit repetitive.”

and become gorgeous, another of the relative few to review it, wrote “(t)he collection displayed an array of fantastically detailed dresses that simply dazzled on the catwalk. Clean shapes combined with flowing, silky draping fabrics created a certain angelic allure that was quite difficult to resist. Whether simple or featuring gold details, the dresses that caressed the floor as the models flaunted their bodies wearing high heel platform sandals, looked absolutely divine and drew instant smiles from the ‘hungry’ for fashion audience. High slits, fringes, plunging and highly revealing cut out décolletages and amazing 3D details emphasized the powerful craftsmanship skills of the designer…Stephane Rolland introduced color clashing fabrics as well as gold accessories under the form of metallic gold waistbands and ample bust accessories. Among the timeless black and white pieces, Mr. Rolland opted for vibrant hues such as vivacious pistachio green and fierce red, colors that gave a fresh yet powerful allure to the collection.”

finally, elle explained a bit more about the inspiration, noting that mr. rolland actually drew on (trans.) “his meeting with the sculptor Michel Deverne which was born a certain fascination for the perfect line.”  they went on to point out that “(t)he dresses ultra fluid evanescence is controlled by belts made of gold metal circles. The looks are graphic, the flexibility of the drapes causes the sheath dresses that encase the body [to appear as] futuristic shells...Stretch dresses [were an important part of the] line up. Forms worthy of couture sculptures are adorned with inserts...The gold metal inserts and the minimalism of colors (pure black and white) make the collection a solar glare.”

now, ultimately i’m not trying to argue that one has to like mr. rolland’s work.  i’m simply trying to point out that if we assume at the base level, all couture is the product of hard work and stands somewhere at the top of the fashion design art pyramid, we should try to judge it for what it’s worth, not who walks in the parade, nor who wears it, or anything else.  it’s unfortunate that the whole subject of fashion design has devolved to that point, and with couture week lining up almost perfectly with the academy awards announcements, it’s inevitable that writers will try to pull the seo game out with name-dropping whomever has just been nominated in their reviews.  so mr. rolland loses out, because he’s much less likely to snag a big name.  but does that make him less deserving?  i wouldn’t say so, and find his work particularly exciting due to that balance between the architecturally adventurous and wearable. 

(watch the collection video here)