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.

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Skorting the Issue
September 17, 2009

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It’s spring again for 2010, at least on the runway this week, and a young man’s fancy turns to…halter tops. At least that’s the view from designer Thom Browne, he of the signature shrunken jackets and shin-baring trousers.  But with his runway boys sporting oversize polka-dots, lipstick rosebuds and those halters (along with mini-skorts and cuffed gaucho pants), Browne hit a nerve that seems awfully close to the surface. Women’s Wear Daily couldn’t wait to pounce: “The clothes were ridiculous…add the lipstick and its officially a drag show…to make unwearable art that takes no account of the wearer’s dignity is only dodging the challenge.”

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I don’t know for sure but I think WWD might be feeling their masculinity’s a little threatened. Ya think? But have they stepped outside lately?  When every twenty-something man around seems to have waxed his eyebrows, how far away is lipstick, really?  And the neoprene mini-skort?  I picked up a Barneys fall catalogue recently only to find on the cover a swell Raf Simon’s double-breasted suit, topped not with a smart topcoat or trench but instead with a “neoprene shrug, $375.”

And then there’s the skort, which actually might be the garment of the future, combining shorts in back and a skirt panel in front – intersex styling that’s functional, non- patriarchal and anatomically neuter.  And people used to think we were all gonna run around in spacesuits in the 21st Century! One early-adopter has already made the skort his uniform and he’s pretty influential – top-o-the-heap designer Marc Jacobs lives in his, day in and day out, only changing his shirt from black to white, accessorized in summer with a sandal and winter with a combat boot.

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Sometimes when he’s out and about, he adds a smart black leather envelope bag – a clutch really.  I’m sure it’s all about utility to Jacobs  but there’s probably a Women’s Wear editor somewhere breaking out in a sweat just at the thought. It’s all right, because this week’s fashion issue of the New Yorker has just the answer:

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