Paree Prairie
October 6, 2009

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Seeing pics of the Chanel spring show Tuesday in Paris, I guess now they can change the lyric to, “How you gonna keep em off of the farm after they’ve seen Paree?” Even after penning my ode to the cool chic(k) the other day, little did I guess that Kountry Karl would take it to the hay-strewn limit, as the song says, one more time.

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But there is was – the cute floral frocks, delicate prairie palette and country-couture covetables like calico-flower bags and burlap wood-heeled clogs sporting the trademark Double C “brand”. Chanel tweeds even got the hayseed treatment and, at the end, Karl’s new favorite runway “rooster” Baptiste Giabiconi romped barefoot in the barnyard with the babes.

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Chanel’s take was masterful by all accounts but acres of ecru and bales of beige across all the runways might get a little played out in stores this spring, as Style.com noted in its review of Chloe’s more conventional collection, filled with workaday button-downs, roomy trousers and, yes, boyfriend jackets. Retailers are going to work hard “if their selling floors aren’t going to stretch like an executive dust bowl as far as the eye can see.” Sounds like some good ole’ country horse sense to us.

01050mSHORT TAKE: During New York Fashion Week, I first ran this photo and wrote about how panties were the top choice for the bottom of this season, running rampant on every runway. A week later, I was reading the New York Times, where Eric Wilson labeled the inner-wear initiative, “the Spanx trend”, accompanied by the same shot. The stylist in me wants to point out that the retro shapes being revived this season – granny panties and tighty whiteys – were around long before the advent of what is euphemistically termed “shapewear.” (And no disrespect intended, as come award season, loves me some Spanx!) But hey, or hay as you might rightly say, Couturealist was more than happy to get there first.

Cut and Pastie
October 5, 2009

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No it’s not the Paris Las Vegas casino you’re looking at but actual Paris, France, where newly-named “artistic director” Lindsay Lohan, along with heretofore-unknown-and-maybe-she-should-have-kept-it-that-way designer Estrella Archs, debuted their first collection Sunday for the formerly fabled but slowly expiring house of Emmanuel Ungaro. Leggings Linds, hired for her purported cool-girl factor (and, let’s face it, her ability to bring exploding cameras in her wake) made her big design statement by reviving the pastie, in heart-shaped glitter no less. Maybe she heard the show was at the Carrousel de Lido rather than its actual setting at the Carrousel de Louvre (which WWD dubbed “the geezer venue.”)

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In addition to the pasties, which, call me crazy, do sort of seem relevant 00020mgiven this underwear-as-daywear runway season, the designing duo also offered skirts so short that one apparently exposed the rump of one of the models, crayola-bright silk harem pants and Lego-heeled footwear, topped off here and there with white fur stoles slung over the shoulder. Classy. Fuchsia minis at the top of the show were about the only vague reference to Ungaro of old, although who could remember what that even looked like, given the revolving runway of four previous designers who have tried and failed to revive the house in recent years.

Mean-girl editors silently fled after the show but the press pile-on was brutal, with the New York Times noting that Lohan’s task was “something akin to a McDonald’s fry cook taking the reins of a three-star Michelin restaurant.” But Ungaro’s head, Mounir Moufarrage (once notorious in fashion but ultimately vindicated when he abruptly replaced Karl Lagerfeld at Chloe with then-untested Stella McCartney in 1997), stubbornly insisted that controversy, not couture, was the name of the glam game in the face of a recession.

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Depressingly, that’s only the half of it. Ungaro has lost so much ground at this point – when was the last time you saw a piece in the stores? – that it’s hard to remember, as former WWD publisher John Fairchild wrote in his cranky but tenderhearted ’80s memoir Chic Savages, “whatever purity there is, in look and concept, it is the creation of Yves St. Laurent, Giorgio Armani and Emanuel Ungaro.” From that dizzying height, the designer, who first apprenticed with Balenciaga and Courreges and went on to dress all the society boldface names through the ’90s, faded out, quietly giving up his couture collection in 2002 after he had designated Giambattista Valli as his successor. Valli was later ousted, as the company was sold and then resold and haplessly cycled through several designers.

The fashion landscape is littered with doomed attempts to replace a house’s original designer (Blass closed; Ferre and Valentino are teetering); somehow it’s especially challenging if the designer is of recent vintage – it seems to work better when the work is only a dim memory – so, say, the luxurious simplicity of a Lanvin can be embraced and updated or else the sumptuous dressmaking of a Balmain can be junked completely for an avant-garde new image as in the case of Paris’s towering men of the hour, Alber Ebaz and Christophe Decarnin, respectively.

harpers-bazaar-2008-dec-lindsay-lohanUpdating the clothes of yesterday’s maestros to appeal to today’s customers is a thankless task, unless you’re Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel, effortlessly creating clothes both mothers and daughters would kill for. But the money men like Moufarrage keep thinking they can strike gold too, betting the bank on a celebrity and her pasties.  They’re not the only ones to hitch their star to the famous; magazines led the way. In the Times piece Harper’s Bazaar editor Glenda Bailey won’t comment on the collection, she’s “running for the door.” But she didn’t run so fast when it came to putting Linds on her cover.

Coco
September 15, 2009

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Doesn’t that picture make your heart stop a little? Last week brought a real treat – I was invited to a premiere screening of Coco Before Chanel, the story of her life before she found her fame and fortune as a designer (the still, above, is from the end of the film). From the opening sequence at a orphanage where she and her sister are abandoned – and where the nuns’ severe black habits and starchy white wimples foreshadow Chanel’s own eventual aesthetic – through her years at a dance hall and later as the scheming but ultimately irreplaceable guest of her country-squire patron, director Anne Fontaine provides one gorgeous scene after another. And if that’s not enough for fashion fans, Coco’s Parisian triumph at the end of the film is staged with rare pieces from the Chanel conservatory.

0002791f10drBut the movie is much more than a fever dream – Audrey Tatou perfectly embodies Coco’s rebellious nature and particularly French prickly personality but charms you all the while. Introducing the film, Fontaine said she would “be a little sad” if the audience didn’t like the film. No chance of that when the movie opens later this month.

Don’t Mess With the Zoe-han
August 28, 2009

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We can’t let the week go by without mentioning the second-season premiere of The Rachel Zoe Project, can we? In this episode, our heroine has to style all five of her top clients for one event, the Golden Globes of last January. Naughty-children assistants Brad and Taylor (formerly at odds but now besties, apparently) stage an insurrection by moving their desks down from the attic (er, “loft”). A lost Dior Haute Couture gown refuses to be found.  A shortage of dresses threatens – because of the recent economic unpleasantness, designers are not sending out things willy-nilly if there’s no guaranteed red-carpet payoff.  There might not be enough one-of-a-kind vintage baubles fit for all the ladies. Rachel’s hubby/biz partner pouts because Rachel won’t be able to have dinner until 10 p.m. at the earliest.  And somewhere, paint is drying.

I kid, I kid … and for fashion insiders, the cliffhanger of  whether  Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld will let Rachel detach the sleeve from a couture gown for Cameron Diaz to wear, possibly altering it forever, must qualify as some sort of drama (in the end Karl assents, Cameron glows, and Rachel gets a treasured mash note from the designer). But the problem, as in many so-called reality shows, is that once again the real dramatics are happening offstage.  She has five major clients, yet the show blithely frames her task as presenting one perfect dress to each of them – as though things were really that simple in Tinseltown. (which, by the way, my dictionary defines as “Hollywood or the superficially glamorous world it represents” – ha!)

As any stylist out here knows deep in their overworked bones, an actress (and often their publicist, spouse, best friend and/or kids) will need to see an array of gowns and usually has lots of dithering and second thoughts – and they often go back and forth right up until they get in the limo. There’s a cliffhanger for ya. Obviously Rachel’s big-name clients – Hathaway, Diaz, Moore, Mendes and Messing – weren’t gonna let the cameras in on their dress fittings, where everything is really hashed out. But there wasn’t even a hint of any worry about whether the actresses would embrace Rachel’s favorites. Not that the women didn’t end up looking great – I especially liked Eva Mendes who rocked in the once-MIA white Dior and bold jewels (always a Zoe hallmark.)

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It made me wonder if Bravo filmed the prep scenes after the Globes, backtracking when everyone knew what choices the actresses made. Or maybe there was other equally riveting footage that revolved around discarded dresses.  Only your editing room knows for sure.