Archive for the ‘Haute Couture’ Category

The reasons for starting a blog aren’t very lofty.  Let’s face it.  This isn’t the “Great American Novel.”

When I started my blog, I wrote down a few ideas that I wanted to mine to be about.  Besides strictly “fashion.”  The ideas I wrote down were: discovery, learning, trying things out, process, contradictions, complexity, and (obvi), daydreaming.

I have a strong grasp of production and the technical side of the industry but the one thing that brought me to fashion was daydreaming.  It allowed me to think freely, abstractly, and naturally.  And for me and a friend, that was the two of us in her basement at 3 am, dressed as male talk show hosts from the seventies, belting out the soundtrack from A Chorus Line (while recording every last minute of it for posterity).  Not quite the same level as haute couture design, but I like to think it starts in the same place.  Speaking of dressed up men from the seventies, I give you John Galliano:

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Albino YMCA

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I shall return with violets.

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Don’t forget your espadrilles!

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Major Tom

These are just a few ways he used to “take a bow” at the end of his legendary runway shows.  They were as anticipated almost as much as the show itself.  Ever the prolific, genius-dreamer!

These exits are no more.  Why?  Hmmm… I don’t really want to go in to detail about it.  I’ll leave the real examination to Cathryn Horyn.  Let’s just say, for the sake of my blog that, aside from the pressure, subsequent addiction, and clandestine handheld recording devices, he “lost his daydreams.”  Ooooh.  That’s good.  From now on, whenever I see a fashion “don’t” or get a parking ticket or bite into a mushy apple, I’m going to use that.  “I just lost my daydreams.”

And there’s nothing like commerce, shareholders, and reality to suck the daydream right out of you and set you up for world of fashion trouble.

Yves St. Laurent: “God, when I first started I could work day and night, without stopping for food or rest.  It was pure excitement.  Now there is this incredible anguish and emptiness before every collection.  Something new, something new, always something new.  I work because I have to–not to make money but for the people who depend on me.  If I don’t create the next collection and the collection after that, they will end up in the street.”

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YSL sketches and swatches

Do I need to even mention McQueen?

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“Fashion should be a form of escapism, and not a form of imprisonment.” AM

Galliano was producing up to 32 collections a year between House of Galliano and Dior.  “As long as I could produce, it was fine.”

Ack!  HOW ON EARTH DID HE DO THAT?  Well, we know how he did it but still, HOW ON EARTH DID HE DO THAT?!  And while we’re on the topic, what is the heck is in The Kaiser‘s water?

Galliano said in the Charlie Rose interview, “I couldn’t say ‘no’.”

That’s why I admire Isabel Toledo so much.  We can learn a lot from her restraint/boundaries.  She’s a designer’s designer who, for over twenty years has been able to create clothes that people want to wear.  People like Michelle Obama on Inauguration Day in 2009.  She’s maintained not only an artistic vision, but one that requires an understanding of technical design.  Despite being a top designer, she’s an outspoken opponent of the Design Piracy Prohibition Act, feeling that her designs are no more important than any other designer’s out there.  In fact, she’s designed a shoe line for Payless.  She’s also quite the showman herself, often landing on Vanity Fair’s Best Dressed list with her husband and collaborator, the artist, Ruben Toledo.  Did I talk about the FIT show and corresponding book about her or one she recently wrote?

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You know, designin’!

Perhaps the smartest and most measured choice she’s made is to only show collections when she can.  This, of course, is hard when Bernard Arnault is breathing down your neck but it’s testament to knowing herself and what you’re capable of and what makes you happy.  You don’t need to be a rock star to make clothes.

In the July Vanity Fair article about Galliano, Anna Wintour said, “We need the dreamers. We need those designers who create a magic moment, a world that changes the way you look at clothes.”  Cherish your daydreaming because this is when you play.  Develop techniques to cultivate your dreams so that you can do it effortlessly.  I know of a blog that can help.

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I often compare the fashion industry to the music industry to help students understand how designers and brands evolve from season to season and, in many cases, from decade to decade.  I had a conversation about the Rolling Stones with someone yesterday and later, when I went to teach, I used their story and the key to their longevity as a way to describe how collections work in fashion.

I'm not a Kennedy.

I’m definitely not a Kennedy.

The Rolling Stones have been strutting around since 1962, for the love of god.  That’s about the same time that JFK was assassinated and Jackie wore her “Pink Chanel Suit.”  (Which wasn’t really Chanel btw, but was Chanel fabric that the NY dress salon Chez Ninon cut and made into a suit, “line for line,” so that she would appear more patriotic.) That smart, sweet, pink suit was just one in a long line of suits that Chanel had and would develop over the years.  Even after Coco died and even later, when Karl took over in 1983, the boxy little suit, with the gold buttons and embroidery, bouclé fabric, and a chain sewn into the hem to make it fall right, has been the cornerstone of every collection.

Told you there'd be a suit.

Told you there’d be a suit. Spring 2013

There ain’t ever going to be a Chanel collection without a one.  (I’ll bet you, um, a Chanel suit for it.) They know how to make them real good by now and they’re not letting go of it:

The Rolling Stones adopted the rhythm and blues ethos and made it the heartbeat of not just every song on every album, but more importantly, their lives.

Oh gosh.  I want to BE there.

Oh, and what a life it was.

They immersed themselves into the music and, with the timing that only the sixties could offer, Jagger’s marketing prowess, a *smattering* of drug addiction, and an intense commitment that included Richards’ sleeping with his guitar (“If there’s no babe around, you sleep with it. She’s just the right shape.”), they developed into the band that never quits.  I mean, NEVER.  There are like, 14 documentaries about them.  They’re not even a band anymore.  They’re a hydra of music, model-wives and children, houses in St. Tropez, high colonic cleanses, ironclad licensing contracts for their team of lawyers to sort out, and really, really, really, skinny hipped men.

And what they have in common is that they both have been able to make something, the same, but different, every time.

To quote someone I NEVER thought I’d quote and I shudder at doing so, Gene Simmons said, “Instead of being in a rock and roll band, I want to be in a rock and roll brand.”  Brand is about consistency, which the Stones and Chanel (and fine, KISS) have in spades.  It’s also about a rthythm, about knowing what to change, how much to change, what works, what doesn’t, and working with what you have – even if it’s with a mean French woman or a strung out lead guitarist.  Your foundation is your currency and that’s what you base your collection on season after season.

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What’s a Stones reference without Anita Pallenberg?

It’s hard to tell students that design is about systems and taking baby steps while simultaneously pushing them to experiment and indulge their creativity and imagination.  All the experimenting will pay off because all those discoveries are what you use to diffuse a single thing, like a garment or a genre, over time.  It’s a real time-saver.  We’ve all seen designers pull out all the stops but they burn out so quickly because they don’t have a foundation.  Better to find your root, your chord progressions, your silhouette so you don’t become a one hit wonder.

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In case you didn’t get the email blast from Karl, the Haute Couture Spring 2013 Collections were just shown in Paris.  What?  YOU DIDN’T KNOW THAT?  How could you not KNOW that?  What kind of fashion person ARE you?  What are you going to talk to Karl about when you have your meeting with him about the $40,000 dress you’re going to buy?  You’re VERY unprepared.  I guess you’re going to have to shop at H & M or something.  I’m very disappointed.  Well, I don’t know what YOU’RE going to do but I’m thinking about purchasing this one from Maison Martin Margiela:

SHUT UP! WHAT?  You have a problem with this?  You’d never wear it?  It looks weird?  You think that it’s a joke the fashion world is playing on me?  Well,  you’re probably not going to like it, but I’m going to defend these shenanigans.  I’m here to tell you why I’m buying this and why it I’m not cray-cray. I’m also here to listen to you snort a lot.

  • Question: If you had the most talented, experienced people, and technical virtuosity at your disposal, what would you do?  If there was someone on your staff who developed a special technique,  wouldn’t you let them shine? If your craft was supported by the government and people were watching you season after season, would you dare send a pair of pants down the runway that has been made before?  I don’t imagine you would.  I know the garments are weird and ridiculously expensive and wouldn’t look good on anybody really but but I like to be inspired and see people push the envelope.  These people are as serious about lace and embroidery, color and fit as you are about summary judgements and syllabi and spreadsheets.
  • In haute couture, they also have a responsibility to honor the brand and history of the house.  Margiela is known for avant-garde, high fashion.  While, the house’s namesake is no longer with the house, this team of designers are the fresh, yet anonymous, force in fashion today.  They also, gratefully, look to the future in terms of textiles and processes.  They even have a cool website.
  • There’a reason why Banana Reblah-blah-blah doesn’t have a fashion show.  It would be boring.  Basically, these folks are showing off.  It’s a fashion show for crying out loud.  They’d be disappointed if they didn’t ruffle a few, hand-dyed, organically raised ostrich feathers.
  • Maybe they ARE f***ing with you.  It’s possible.  Believe it or not, haute couture can have a sense of humor.  They need impart some humor after the stress of doing this brings. You haven’t seen anything if you haven’t seen Valentino and Giancarlo Giammetti fighting over hemlines in Valentino: The Last Emperor.
  • It’s a composition.  It’s important to remember that the look is part of a whole collection.  It’s a rhythm and there’s a purpose if you see the collection as a whole.
  • The inspiration and theme is a huge part that dictates what you see.  In this case, the collection had an eco-trend to it which is very unique for couture.  They repurposed beaded dresses and used denim which was also probably a first.  And you can bet they still had exquisite craftsmanship.
  • Finally, the parts are bought.  Not necessarily the whole thing.  And you’re probably not the one buying them.  Only about 100 women in the world have the luxury to set an appointment with the atelier, rummage amongst the actual garments they saw in the show, pick what garments they fancy, and have a discussion with Karl and the Directoire about how to make it a little more wearable and get it made especially for them.  They aren’t looking for practicality like we are.  They’re dressing for events, personal interest, for fun, for each other. They’re the designers’ muses.  They don’t shop like you and me:

If you’re hankering for another fashion documentary, there’s a great one from the BBC called “The Secret World of Haute Couture.”  If you can find it, (you can watch youtube clips or I found it through a good old interlibrary loan) you’ll get to see who the club members are and hear their filthy rich stories.  It’s likely still leave it snorting but it might do a better job at putting the pieces together than I did.

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