The Magic Christian
December 3, 2009

So I’m sitting here this morning with a bit of delicious melancholy from Glee last night, which closed with a heartrending version of Smile (“though your heart is breaking…”) that seems to go hand in hand with the news that, for all intents and purposes, the House Of Christian Lacroix is over. Promised salvation to the bankrupt designer in the form of Ajman sheikh failed to materialize and so French Courts approved a plan to allow the owners, the Florida-based Falic Group of duty-free renown, to covert Lacroix to a licensing operation with only a skeletal 11 employees.

Lacroix made a heroic last stand at his ultimately final couture show in July with a somber but elegantly minimal (for him) collection pieced together with donated (mostly black) fabrics and the labor of volunteer workers – and provoked a lot of “why didn’t he do this before?” comments afterwards from fashion critics but I don’t think his heart was really in it. Lacroix was always a provocateur as well as a technician, starting with his audaciously outsize “pouf” dresses of the ’80s that made his name, and through the intervening years with an improbable arsenal of his own – a jumble of lush roses, polka-dots, improbable colors and mad prints. Somehow the forced juxtaposition of black and midnight blue couldn’t hold a candle to that.

No, it’s the previous couture for Spring 2009 (seen in the larger pictures), that confirms that Lacroix’s design derring-do was just as astonishing, even after roughly 25 years. It’s not that he couldn’t do minimal, in his way – I treasure a letter I received from Mr. Lacroix complimenting me after I styled an actress in one of his gowns, a black strapless, gilded with a jeweled brooch and oversize acid-green velvet bow. That was his idea of minimalism. Now, the postmortems have already started, suggesting an unwillingness to change with the times, an unhealthy reliance on couture profits, the lack of a blockbuster fragrance. All valid points, I’m sure, but I think Lacroix also suffered from  lack of a “story” in this hyper-media age – he didn’t run around with movie stars like Armani, he didn’t maintain a string of fancy homes like Valentino and he didn’t make himself over each season to play a runway role like Galliano. Without an illuminating narrative, it’s pretty hard to see those magical Lacroix colors in the dark.

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Leather and Repeat
October 19, 2009

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“Six thousand dollars? And it’s not even leath-uh,” exclaims Joan Cusack’s bridge-and-tunnel Cyn to Melanie Griffith’s Tess in the ’80s classic Working Girl. Well, working girls as well as ladies who play all day will have a generous bonus of leather options come spring, since plush plongé and couture calfskin were all over the recent runway shows.

I’ve talked about the Celine collection from Phoebe Philo before but her luxe minimalism was a game-changer in fashion – in nearly every exit she worked leather into a series of stark shapes – effortless T-shirts, cropped pullover “shrugs” and gently shaped dresses like the one above. On this side of the Atlantic, Michael Kors’ tastes were decidedly more vanilla as he put a ’80s spin on a white leather shift.

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Donatella Versace reaches back one decade more for her ’70s-centric yet thoroughly modern spring coat, intricately worked with pretty pastel trim, in a standout collection that also included candy-colored leather minis, sweet even with their studded spirals.

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If you just want a little something-something to ward off an early spring chill, Londoner Giles Deacon offered a zipper vest in (with apologies to Tom Wolfe) kandy-kolored tangerine flake. Baby!

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You’d expect the house of Hermès to have the last word, and its “Tennis, Anyone?” collection did not disappoint. Leather master Jean Paul Gaultier’s ingenious pleated skirts of strips of leather and chiffon made for adorable little tennis dresses that will probably see plenty of action – just not on any court. Game, Set, Match!

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3 (Designing) Women
October 12, 2009

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Little-known today, Robert Altman’s 1977 meandering masterpiece 3 Women came up the other day at a shoot when I remarked that our model reminded me of the young Shelley Duvall (“That’s a name you don’t hear everyday,” the photographer said drily.) Based on an actual dream of Altman’s, the story traces the lives of the trio (played by Duvall, Janice Rule and Sissy Spacek) as their identities begin to shift and then merge with each other until the boundaries disappear and, as movie critic Roger Ebert says, “the dream is perhaps shared by all three women, each one imagining the other two, each one lacking what the others possess.”

Oddly, he could have been describing the Spring 2010 collections of three other women in Paris last week, who I’ll call “The Chloé Sisters” – because they all came to prominence at the fabled French house.  Stella McCartney, her former assistant Phoebe Philo and her former assistant Hannah MacGibbon were all on the Paris schedule, the first time all three have had individual shows in the same season.  And all three are British imports, educated at  Central St. Martin’s, and all in their late ’30s.

McCartney, whose namesake line is part of Gucci Group, famously took the design reigns at Chloé in the mid-nineties, replacing none other than Karl Lagerfeld, survived the subsequent tempest in a toile, and revived the house with her blend of tailored jackets (owing partly to her time working on Saville Row) and floaty feminine pieces.

In 2001 she began her namesake collection and Philo was named head designer and took the line in a trendier direction with high-waisted trousers and baby-doll dresses 91ad4194b6d1eeb2and a series of iconic handbags, notably the padlocked Paddington, the pandemonium-causing “it ” bag of the decade. When she left in 2006, saying she wanted more time for her family in London, MacGibbon was next in line but surprisingly she opted out, also citing family as the reason. Chloé then bounced through two other designers, and it’s crazy-cool and counterfeiter-clamoring formula took a big hit.  Last year, MacGibbon was talked into coming back full-time to Chloé where she had been consulting, while Philo was named head designer at the also-shaky Celine across town.

Well, as they say, with no further ado – to the runways. Looks like it’s going to be a sexy and self-assured spring for Stella (friend Gwynie Paltrow must be drooling), her signature jackets sporting a rollicking ruffle, her man-trousers topped off with light and lacy no-frills halters and her party flounces slip-sliding away. All the way to the bank.

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Over at Celine, Philo “wears the pants” with a starkly luxurious leather T-shirt, befitting the investment pricetags and her own intention to clear the decks design-wise this season. So it’s all neutral nuances, the only softness coming from soft white cotton pieces paired with severe dark leather. And her night-time is the right time for a tall-drink-of -water slinky cooler.

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MacGibbon’s collection (her second) for Chloé puts her tomboy spin on these same design codes. Personally, if I never hear the term “boyfriend jacket” again, it will be too soon. But that’s her opening gambit, followed by L.L. Beanery: couture workshirts, hunting-worthy stirrup pants, foul-weather Macs and, in an Nottingwood Forest detour, wool capes.  For spring. It all seemed pretty dark and stormy until, at last, the sun broke blazingly through, in delicate white flounced dresses (that could easily go toe-to-toe with anything Karl ever did for Chloé). With kitten heels no less.

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LA: Week No More
October 8, 2009

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Well they’ve rolled up the runways at Fashion Week in New York, London and Paris. So it must be time for the latest dysfunctional slot on the global fashion calendar – Fashion Week(s) Los Angeles, which this year is ridiculously almost a whole month long. That’s our Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, above at right, with LA garment titan Max Azria at the Spring 2010 kick-off press conference earlier this week.

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The appearance of Mr. Azria by the mayor’s well-dressed side (dig the pink tie!) only underscores the Emperor’s-New-Clothes conundrum of attempting a Fashion Week in LA. You see, for each of his three LA-based lines – BCBG, Hérve Léger by Max Azria and Max Azria (seen above), Maven Max produces a separate fashion show – in New York.  And any other Los Angeles designer, from the young social to the avant garde, from Monique Lhiullier to Jenni Kayne, from Juan Carlos Obando to Elise Øverland, who wants their clothes to be seen by the outside world likewise follows suit (and dress) forthwith to Manhattan to show their collection.

But nature, and fashion – however dubious – abhor a vacuum and that’s where Los Angeles comes in. Up until a year ago, New York Fashion Week powerhouse IMG produced LA Fashion Week as well, in tandem with the local Smashbox-Studio-owning brothers Factor, Dean and Davis. It was a tortured alliance – originally IMG rolled into town and centered its effort downtown, with a tent and showings at the Standard Hotel.  The Factor boys, however, bristled against the slick NYC “carpetbaggers” and set up a competing venue … way out yonder at their inconveniently located Culver City HQ. After an especially rancorous season, (it was impossible to get back and forth between the two show sites) both sides called a truce and entered into a marriage of supposed fashion convenience by walking down the aisle back to Smashbox.

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It wasn’t pretty. The shows went off OK for several seasons, such as they were, but often attracted more partiers for the free booze than professionals parsing the hemlines. The show spaces were roomy but the common area in between was a crowded free-for-all, especially when they crammed in the bars, the D-list celebs and the de rigueur Mercedes from the show’s sponsor. And Smashbox, in a desolate industrial area, had no surrounding amenities like downtown had; instead there was a parking nightmare of pricey valet fees and interminable waits.  IMG, which produces Fashion Week in NYC, Miami, Moscow and even Mumbai, finally admitted defeat after five years in LA and pulled the hell out. Somewhat surprisingly, so did the once-scrappy Factors, who said they’d be back when the economy brightens up.

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Into the abyss this season comes first, from October 13-15, Downtown LA Fashion Week, headquartered at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, which debuted last year with a single show – of vintage fashions from Decades (above). Running three nights this season, it will include an emerging designers show (the winners of something called the Angel awards from the city, who were already announced at the press conference…we love our awards in LA!). Also on tap, a group show of designers from Israel, a return to the runway from hometown hero Louis Verdad and yet another vintage benefit show, this time from Paper Bag Princess, honoring Valentino, The Last Emperor, which since it came out six months ago seems a bit of a vintage idea as well.

Following that, and new this season are two other venues -from October 17-18, LA Fashion Weekend in Hollywood at Sunset Gower studios from local producer Mikey Kaufmann; and from October 29-31, Rock Fashion Week from NYC-based Rock Media, which recently absorbed Gen-Art, and taking place at Paramount Studios. In between there are single shows, pop-up openings, store launches and, yes, Halloween! It’s a dizzying mash-up and really what’s the purpose?  Aside from the loyal local press, there’s no real coverage or attendance by anyone outside the LA fashion bubble. The city touts a $50 million benefit to LA, but that comes from buyers in town for market week and trade shows, not the endless succession of these runway shows, many of which are for “designers” we may never hear of again. But then again, why confine LA Fashion Week to a mere month?  We could be patting ourselves on our bronzed backs all year long.

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.