Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Because Even Alexander McQueen Gets Sick of Fashion

“You know, it’s hard enough doing this job — I don’t have to live it as well. I’d rather sit at home watching ‘Coronation Street.’ ”
Alexander McQueen

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Luxury Executives Preach Sustainability

Luxury goods and sustainable development are not mutually exclusive, according to luxury and retail titan François-Henri Pinault.

Speaking at an International Herald Tribune luxury conference here Wednesday, Pinault asserted that “more than ever, people want to return to genuine values such as timelessness, sincerity and exemplary standards.”

Pinault, who is chairman and chief executive officer of PPR, parent of Gucci Group, said in a keynote address that his version of sustainable luxury — the conference’s theme — encompasses ethics, collectivity and conservation. Conservation of the world’s natural resources is desirable, but also the continuation of knowledge and respect for craft and materials, he said.

Luxury is not superfluous, as it protects trades and skills, the sustainability of which is a necessity for human endeavor, he argued.

“The duty of luxury is not only to act, but also to mobilize,” he said. “I believe luxury is not just sustainable, but responsible.”

Pinault also took the occasion to trumpet PPR’s new foundation for women and the PPR-produced documentary “Home,” slated for worldwide release on the Internet, television and in theaters on June 5, World Environment Day.

How luxury brands can sustain their growth of the last 15 years is a hot topic at the two-day conference, hosted by IHT fashion editor Suzy Menkes.

Sustainability has become the most important ingredient of fashion now, said Nicolas Ghesquière, creative director of Balenciaga. He said he chose to make his new Los Angeles store eco-friendly and energy efficient, and it will serve as the model for all his future boutiques.

Dries Van Noten, who has been getting his clothes and accessories embellished in Indian ateliers for 20 years, said he has invested in improving the working conditions and income of his embroidery workers in Calcutta. Earlier, it was not possible to produce white garments, as the workshops were too dirty. Recently, the Belgian designer used white in his collection and had the clothes produced in India.

“Time is required to achieve deep luxury,” said Christian Blanckaert, executive vice president of Hermès International. He asserted that in times of economic recession, people prefer to spend money on quality, durability and timelessness rather than fast fashion.

-Mahlia S. Lone

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

CNN's Revealed: Carine Roitfeld

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Fashion master or mentor? An agonizing choice for young talents

PARIS: Stretching, floating, spreading like ectoplasm or retreating into an oval shape -Gareth Pugh's collection was a screen full of inspiration. The clothes were unmistakably his dramatic and graphic vision; but the diamond patterns, sun-ray pleats, inserts of studs and even the model's floating ponytail slowly spread and then evaporated.

After a dramatic menswear runway show a month ago, the 27-year-old British designer took his collection to video, offering an intuitive expression of his world. And on the first day of the Paris autumn/winter 2009 season, he chose a different, off-the-runway approach.

"I wanted to express what we wanted to do with the collection," Pugh says. "Even if it did look more like a long perfume ad!"

When - and surely it is not "if" - this hyper-talented designer builds his brand, he will produce fragrance, handbags, makeup or even home furnishings. But for that he will need big money. And like all start-up designers in their 20s, he is faced with an agonizing choice: master or mentor?

Since he graduated from Central Saint Martin's fashion school in London in 2003, Pugh has been taken under the wing of the designer Rick Owens and his partner, Michele Lamy. Although Pugh's first collections were more show biz than business - making it as costumes for Kylie Minogue's tour - his extreme club clothes, with their inflated shapes and checkerboard patterns, have been turned into a buck.

"We sell the clothes - we really do," Julie Gilhart, design director of Barneys New York, said after congratulating the designer and making a showroom appointment to see the clothes.

But it is no secret that Bernard Arnault, chief executive of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, sponsored Pugh's menswear show in Paris in January and that his people have their eyes on this designer. Asking for anonymity, a person familiar with the situation said that, after Karl Lagerfeld advised Arnault to scoop up Pugh as a major creative talent, the LVMH team approached Pugh and Lamy.

"LVMH is a very big company with lots of people, and they saw something in me that they wanted to bring out," Pugh says, adding that he is extremely happy with the Rick Owens collaboration and wants to "tread water" in these difficult times, having the confidence in himself "that I am going to get to a certain level." Asked if he would ever join the corporate club, Pugh replied: "If someone came along and it was right - never say never."

It has been 25 years since Lagerfeld joined Chanel, setting in motion the idea that, to reinvent themselves, famous old houses had to tap fresh designers. Since then, high fashion has swallowed dozens of burgeoning talents - most famously John Galliano, firstly at Givenchy and ultimately at Dior. But also Alexander McQueen, also first at Givenchy (owned by LVMH) and then at the corporate rival PPR, where the designer has his own line.

Any fashionista could chant a litany of these two-prong careers, those who are working for a big house and also for themselves, kicking off with the famous collaboration between Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs and embracing the more recent fashion hookups, as when Riccardo Tisci gave up his own Italian label to design for Givenchy.

Now that the economic climate is rougher than ever for fledgling fashion companies, it is a brave designer who would turn down the corporate blandishments.Kris Van Asscheis a case in point. On Wednesday, the Belgian-born designer sent out a poetic collection of masculine/feminine clothes, illuminated with metallic torques and bangles. Mannish tailoring, like wrap coats or a four-pocket jacket, layered over soft gaucho pants (slightly too many of them) made for a good and wearable collection.

This latest play on the man/woman theme expressed - not least in the program notes that quoted the French poetBaudelaire's "Les Fleurs du mal" - an elegiac romance. And it could not be more different from Van Assche's other day job at Dior Homme, which gives him the finances to keep alive his own men's and women's lines.

Delphine Arnault, daughter of the founder and an executive at LVMH, was sitting front row. "I've always liked young designers - I find it super interesting, and, anyway, Kris works for us," Arnault said.

As the first generation of the "two-prong" designers reaches maturity, it is easy to see what has happened. Although Jacobs has recently (after an open clash with LVMH) grown his own brand, it is still light years short of the Louis Vuitton sales numbers. The Galliano brand is puny compared with Dior, and the collapse of Ittierre, Galliano's Italian manufacturer, will put thebrakes on any hope of rapid expansion.

The story continues at The International Tribune Online

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Year of the Newcomer

The past few weeks have been filled with bad news for the fashion industry; cancelled shows, declining sales and company layoffs, have cast a dark shadow on days normally filled with back-to-back shows, fabulous parties and star-studded front rows. But the news is not all doom and gloom, as one group stands to profit from the collective misfortune: cue the up-and-comer.
Cost-conscious buyers are taking a new look at more moderately priced new brands and are keen to be the first to find the next Alexander Wang. Take for example the great turn-out for an indie fashion show in New York's artsy Long Island City neighborhoodowd that during New York Fashion Week. The same has been true for the increased interest in fashion school graduate show's, such as the Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo. Let's hope some fresh talent will be enough to revive the industry's dampened spirit-

Subdivision Fashion Week NYC 2009 from stephen on Vimeo.

"Starting now is difficult ... there is less demand now because of the economic circumstances, but the fashion industry is always looking for new ideas, new talent, fresh things ... It's important to stand out." Alessia De Pasquale, designer

"It's going to be a lot more about relying on personality and experience, instead of cash." Andrew Buckler, designer

Bunka Fashion College Graduate Fashion Show 2009

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Staying Gorgeous in Ugly Times

“I think a new ‘make do and mend’ subculture will evolve, where we’ll be hunting for bargains, mixing vintage with new clothing — and recycling. These times will bring out experimentation and the eccentric in all of us.” Julien Macdonald

Well it might be time to get creative if you would like to maintain your fashionista lifestyle on a recessionista budget, but luckily, three great sites, Swap Style, Dress Vault and The Closet Bureau, allow anyone to look fabulous without spending very much, and in some cases you might end up with a little bit of coin in your changepurse.

Dress Vault

The Basics:

A fashion network for dress borrowing, that also doubles as a social network, connecting style soulmates. Dress Vault allows members to lend, borrow and buy/sell dresses.

How It Works:

Both lenders and borrowers create profiles in order to participate. If you are looking for a dress, simply browse the photographs and contact the owner if you're interested. The only downside is that you'll only have the dress for one week (including shipping back and forth). The good news is that lenders are protected against damages and late shipments.

Why It's Great:

Because you'll never be photographed twice in the same dress

The Basics:

Big on style, but short on cash? Swapstyle allows you to use your unwanted clothing, accessories, cosmetics and shoes as currency to buy what you really want.

How It Works:

To get started swapping, create a free profile with photos of all the items that you would like to swap. You can also make a wish list of the things you would like to have. Shop other members profiles and contact them if you're interested in swapping. Likewise, other members will contact you if they would like to swap for one of your items.

Be sure to check the "Swaplifter" list to avoid dealing with less than savory swappers.

Why It's Great

Because you don't have to spend a dime to get your shopping fix

The Closet Bureau
The Basics:

If you've discovered that your love of designer clothing is taking up too much space and money, The Closet Bureau is ready to hep you clean out your closet and replenish your shopping fund.

How It Works:

Arrange for The Closet Bureau to pick-up your old designers duds, and they will take a care of the rest. You'll receive a payment for the proceeds once your items are sold.

Why It's Great:

Because it's all the benefits of selling on Ebay without any of the hassle

Because Karl Never Disappoints

Monday, March 9, 2009

On the runway: The Man/Woman Meld

Dries van Noten A/W 2009

PARIS: The emotion of womanhood married to a casual masculine confidence - that is the message from an exceptionally powerful Paris season.

It has been spelled out in specifics over fashion's long weekend of shows. Liquid drapes for womanly shapes have taken over from girly dressing - most often shown with tailoring as the distaff side.

Beauty is the goal, for this autumn 2009 season has drawn a definitive line under the "ugly" aesthetic. You could say that fashion has reached a certain maturity, but that sounds stodgy - the clothes are not heavy, even if solid fabrics have often taken over from the ethereal.

The overall impression is that, in a time of world economic crisis, designers have emphatically staked out their own territory, giving each woman, in the free spirit of liberty and equality, the right to choose.

Feminism is not really a fashion issue, but at Comme des Garçons, Rei Kawakubo makes it so. Her collection trembled with emotion, as her models, flesh-colored veils marked with a kiss of sparkly, scarlet sequins, worn over shocking pink sausage-curl hairdos, created a whimsical wardrobe. It was based on solid coats, often in khaki with images of windows sketched as pockets. The childlike drawings complemented shoes with toes drawn on the outside.

Commes des Garçons A/W 2009

"Wonderland," Kawakubo said backstage after an ovation greeted this mystical meld of sturdy checked blankets folded into the tailoring, khaki, denim and knitwear - all embraced by a collection that ended where globules of pearls lay under an ethereal coating of tulle layers. The designer also called it her "secret garden," and it was a wondrous display of clothes embellished not with mundane accessories, but with the unfathomable dreams of a great designer.

Yohji Yamamoto's vision was more immediately accessible: outerwear, streamlined but with subtle challenges to the design status quo. One side of a long coat displaying the shorter hem of a peacoat or a graceful jacket and long skirt with twin zippers slicing the back.

The show's focus was red shoes - soft as slippers and bright as the lipstick that was a slash of color between head and feet. The color came later as patches of scarlet, as if the material had been dip-dyed.

Yamamoto's new collaboration with Ferragamo, melding two companies that both have iconic status in Japan, brought out the best in Yamamoto, whose clothes have always been dedicated to a serene beauty. That was expressed this season through a quiet exploration of intriguing fabrics, some slightly transparent, others with a raw edge and with little, but strong, color bleeding into black.

Yohji Yamamoto A/W 2009

Backstage, Yamamoto described the Ferragamo collaboration as an inspiration, with the shoemaker's technique that created soft boots without a seam. The designer's description of "so much quality - something to last" defined the shoes, his own approach to fashion and the spirit of current times.

"Feathers," said Junya Watanabe backstage to describe the inspiration of a collection of such beauty and grace that it had cynical photographers roaring "bravo." The proposal was the down coat - not so new in itself. But with "Tosca" soaring on the soundtrack and the elegant, shapely long coats and dresses, the show was in striking contrast to Watanabe in his more aggressive, rock 'n' roll mood.

It was perhaps a show on one note. But the designer turned that into an aria, as his noble women, with upswept hair, paced slowly, unfurling a short jacket into an ankle-length coat. The central idea of lightness - even when metallic chains were inserted in the puffy down - was underscored by pleated skirts and draped dresses. And if there was a hint of the Yohji Yamamoto look in the long coats, this was not a fashion echo chamber, but something Watanabe evolved in his own spirit.

The Maison Martin Margiela is certainly in need of help, after its founder has gone on "extended leave," as corporatespeak has it. The mix of intellect and instinct that made the Belgian designer's collections a fashion pacemaker have now become a parody - or even a travesty - of Margiela's vision. Based on a flesh-colored bodysuit and shown in a stadium filled with floating balloons of light, some acceptable, pieces, like trench coats with cutouts, were interspersed with dresses that turned to show a back naked except for a visible bra. Of Margiela's rigorous exploration of a personal vision, there is no sign and Renzo Rosso, chief executive of the "Only the Brave" company that owns his Diesel empire, needs to do something fast.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sensual Sobriety at Lanvin

by Suzy Menkes

Marching purposefully down the wet road of a runway, the women - mostly black clad but one in a scarlet suit - waved at the Lanvin audience.

It was a defining moment in the autumn 2009 season, when bias-cut tailoring, fur stoles circling the shoulders and boldly studded dresses with just a soupçon of the 1980s spelt out the new fashion message: sensual sobriety.

The clothes that the designer Alber Elbaz sent out were an ode to women - not that romantic, ethereal creature of male dreams but a modern woman who can take a curve-heel shoe in her long stride; one who needs a suit, with jacket belted above a slim skirt; and whose idea of exposure is a soft cowl swooping below a bared upper back.

Lanvin has become a byword for modern glamour that responds to the female body, rather than controlling, or even torturing it.

Elbaz was on top form, with his nonchalant way of cutting a plain coat so that it covers but never smothers; or using stretch fabrics, on the bias, with never a hint of vulgarity. He seems to get inside the skin of a 21st century femininity, which is about a flurry of feathers crowning a scooped-back pony tail and the way a bodice is tamed into a big flat bow.

Two factors stood out: First, the technical skill that, as with traditional couture, made complex cuts seem oh-so-simple that the actress Kristin Scott Thomas sighed over a silver gray satin dress and imagined herself inside the scarlet suit.

The program even baptized the outfits with names from Arlette to Violette. You almost expected to hear them called out over the soundtrack.

The choice of fabrics also was exceptional, with the introduction of burnt-out dévorée velvet to give substance to surface, while the dresses remained so light.

Above all, this was a wardrobe of clothes from a designer who understands a woman in her different moods - gentle, aggressive, power worker, mother, lover - and makes fashion to embrace all of that.

Berlin Welcomes Eastern European Style

By Cathrin Schaer

BERLIN: White and red fluorescent tubes dangled from the ceiling, and art depicting male genitalia rested against the wall. Strange videos flashed across spray-painted computer monitors, and weird gold fabric caught the eye amid the racks of one-off fashions, mainly black, by young designers you have never heard of.

Gundega Lasmane-Gecs, the boutique's owner, stood in the middle of it all, surveying her domain. "Sometimes I wake up in the morning, and I wonder what the hell I'm doing here," she said in her perfect but accented English. "But then I think, well, it just feels right."

Four months ago Lasmane-Gecs and her husband, Agris Gecs, opened a trendy little boutique called Talka in the fast-becoming-fashionable Friedrichshain district of Berlin. Such places are far from unusual in wildly inventive, uber-creative Berlin.

What is different about Talka's owners and its stock is where they come from: Latvia.

The Gecs and the designers they work with are part of a small but growing movement of fashion designers from Eastern Europe coming to the West.

And, for many, the first logical stop is Berlin.

"Milan does not have an avant-garde scene, Paris is very expensive, and New York and London are so much further away," explains Ulrike Möslinger, who directs marketing for the French department store Galleries Lafayette in Berlin and is on the board of Create Berlin, an advocacy group for local design. "Düsseldorf has more industry, but the infrastructure for young designers is better here in Berlin. The rents are not expensive, and it's very easy to open a store."

Retail rents in central Berlin are around €2,600 per square meter a year, or $310 a square foot, while similar space in Paris could be as much as €8,000 per square meter - and it is likely that startup stores or young designers would seek even less expensive property, further out from the center into what was formerly East Berlin.

"Berlin sees itself as the middle-European capital, a bridge between East and West and, although I don't know if all Eastern European designers see it that way yet, I think it has that potential for them," said Silvia Kadolsky, director and owner of the Berlin branch of Esmod, the private international fashion school founded in Paris in 1841.

At least one Eastern European designer agrees. "I think there are more possibilities for me here," says Agné Kuzmickaité, a young Lithuanian with three collections to her name, who won a year's accommodation and use of an atelier here in a competition last year. "I think in France it would be very hard for someone like me. To me it feels like Paris is yesterday - and Berlin has the potential to be tomorrow."

And while the streets of Berlin are not lined with stores stocking the latest from Lithuania or the Russian Federation quite yet, there is plenty of evidence of the trend.

Labels like Penelope's Sphere, whose designer, Tamari Nikoleishvili, is from Georgia, and Mareunrols, created by Marite Mastina and Rolands Peterkops of Latvia, hang next to the work of designers from Germany, Sweden, Japan and England on racks around the city. And new boutiques like Talka, Access and Redspective specialize in Eastern European design.

"For me, starting a store here was a really easy decision," says Cynthia Carson, co-owner of Redspective - where alongside fanzines from the Czech Republic and music compilations from St. Petersburg nightclubs, they stock what they describe as "urban clothing" designed in collaboration with street, graffiti and other artists from Eastern Europe. "There is no other city in Europe that draws such a line between East and West."

But, as with any fashion label in any big city, it's not all easy going in Berlin.

"It's a good place to live and work, in fact, it's a great place. But not such a good place to sell," says Nikoleishvili of Penelope's Sphere, who worked for Vivienne Westwood and Marjan Pejoski in London before coming to Berlin.

"I have people who love my stuff, but the most expensive things are always bought by tourists," Nikoleishvili says. Her top-end designs sell for several hundred euros, an extravagance for many in a city with slow economic growth and high unemployment.

Mastina and Peterkops, who design Mareunrols, understand the problem. "On one hand Berlin is possibly the best city in Europe for young fashion labels to be based as it has a thriving arts scene and relatively cheap rent," they said in an e-mail interview. "On the other hand Berlin poses many challenges to a label like ours, which is catering for the top end of the market."

Friday, March 6, 2009

Olivier Theyskens Goes Out With a Bang

Is Olivier Theyskens about to leave Nina Ricci? Fashion’s worst-kept secret was for all to see as the Belgian designer glumly waved farewell after his ready-to-wear show tonight.

Backstage the press people kept mum over the months-long swirling rumors that Mr. Theyskens is poised to leave the fashion house. The company has declined to comment for months.

Yet when the designer was asked whether this was an emotional evening for him, the long-haired designer stared at the ground, simply replying, “Yes it is.”

The show wasn’t exactly a cheery affair either. Hard piercing music played as models with scraped back hair trundled down the runway wearing huge platform shoes. Big shoulder pads abounded as did black trouser suits with loose pants. Equally popular were double-breasted coats with high collars.

The occasional splash of color was provided with the odd gold flowing dress and purple evening gown. But on the whole the collection stuck closely to Mr. Theyskens’ nighttime theme. “It’s about that nocturnal feeling,” said Mr Theyskens. “It’s not about going out to party…It’s more about nocturnal moonlight” he added.

Actress Milla Jovovich was somewhat more straightforward. “Those girls were like something from a space age dream world,” she said. “It’s like what I would wear on stage.”

This was a far cry from the romance and classicism that made Nina Ricci a hit in the past. Gone was the glamorous show in Paris’s Tuileries Gardens. Instead, the fashion crowd was welcomed into a dark warehouse in the 13th Arrondissement.

Since Mr. Theyskens arrived at Nina Ricci in 2006, he has been hailed as a genius by critics. But perhaps in these tough economic times, genius isn’t enough.

Max Colchester Heard on the Runway, Wall Street Journal blog

Thursday, March 5, 2009

"High Tech is Over" Balencianga A/W 2009

Photo by Giovanni Giannoni
“High tech is over,” Nicolas Ghesquière declared before showing his Balenciaga collection. “And the clubbing.” True and true. But not the way Ghesquière puts forth a bold manifesto to spectacular effect.

He said he wanted to keep the collection very French; hence his change of venue from an in-house showroom all slick and tricked out with edgy lighting to a series of salons at one of Paris’ most storied hotels, the Crillon, with its glorious views of the Place de la Concorde. The setting, it turned out, was only part of the ultrachic Frenchness of a show with shades of both Yves Saint Laurent and Emanuel Ungaro. Ghesquière took what became the bourgeois standards of both — Saint Laurent’s impeccable tailoring and color play; Ungaro’s draping — pushing, manipulating and, in the case of the latter, exaggerating it big-time. And despite his protestations to the contrary, he infused the results with an element of the futuristic audacity that has become his hallmark. It made for a collection both powerful and plenty savvy, as the newly relaxed constructions should have broader commercial appeal. (Which is not to say they’re for chubbettes.)

Photo by Giovanni Giannoni
As always, Ghesquière honed his message for crystal clarity. He showed only a few silhouettes, almost all centered on the voluptuous, hip-focused draping. Skirts came in black-based or luminous, icy color mixes, the fabric gathered lavishly from the center or one side. One beauty, in tones of silver and black, was paired with a faux tweed top crafted entirely from caviar embroidery. Others got loose, sensual blouses worn over lace bandeaux. Ghesquière also showed gorgeous jackets, strong and clean through the shoulders with abundant hip festoons, over sari pants — an innovative evening proposal inspired by a piece in the house archives — or classic trousers. One stunner: a smoking in a discreet mix of black with deepest navy. When Ghesquière opted for less draping, he went for printed punch in a group of dresses, a number of which, it turned out, weren’t prints at all, but intricate embroideries. And if some of these were dizzying to excess, a fab tuxedo jacket over mannish striped trousers offered spare relief.

- WWD staff

Gareth Pugh Fall 2009

Suno, a cool new label with roots in Africa


NEW collection called Suno landed on the selling floor at Opening Ceremony this week, not from the runways in Bryant Park but from a factory in Nairobi, Kenya, where the apparel industry was all but decimated decades ago.

The clothes — cotton skirts, tops and shift dresses in vibrant prints — were made by Max Osterweis, a new designer who has already been flagged by Women’s Wear Daily and Style.com without even having had a show, largely because his designs are so captivating. Mr. Osterweis, a 34-year-old screenwriter and film director from San Francisco, began collecting traditional East African kangas more than a decade ago after his mother built a house on Lamu Island in Kenya.

On vacation there last year and concerned about the country’s turmoil, he decided to start Suno (named after his mother) to bring work to local factories. He commissioned about 1,000 pieces, chopping up fabrics from his textile collection so that each piece would be original, made from one or two kangas, which are similar in shape to a sarong. The factories specialized in hotel uniforms, so it took some coaxing to make the styles more contemporary.

“I felt like I wanted to do something in Kenya to help,” Mr. Osterweis said. “Ultimately I’d like to have a full collection, if we can give people jobs and raise the skill level there.”

At Opening Ceremony, his designs cost from $95 for a bikini to about $595 for a tailored jacket or dress. The prices are partly determined by the originality or rarity of the print. Some are quite traditional, with naturalistic leaf prints or paisley patterns; others more modern, like one, made into a shirtdress, that shows a blue and yellow print of cellphones and feathers.

Many of the prints are also printed with Swahili aphorisms that were originally worn to send messages to fellow villagers, like one that loosely translates as: “Watch your roosters, there’s a new hen in town.” Others are a little harder to understand, usually, Mr. Osterweis said, because they come from more modern kangas, which were made in China, where something is perhaps lost in translation.

Just imagine walking around in a skirt that says, “The day a monkey is destined to die, all trees get slippery.”

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Fashion Week 2.0: The Brighter Side of an Economic Downturn

The most obvious sign that the New York fashion industry was stumbling appeared long before fashion week had even begun. Looking at the many empty storefronts in prime retail areas along Madison and Fifth Avenues, it was already clear that designers were quite literally packing up shop. Next came the bad news that notable fashion favorites like Betsey Johnson, Vera Wang and Monique L'huillier would not be showing at the tents, and for those that could still afford to, the invite lists would be noticeably shorter. It was against this gloomy backdrop that New York Fashion Week Fall 2009 began, and after several seasons of uninspiring collections, the choice for designers was clear: evolve or die.

"For Rent" signs, like this one at 753 Madison Ave. in New York, are becoming a
familiar sight along the avenue's "Gold Coast." (Andrea Mohin/The New York Times)

The recession could very well be New York fashion's salvation; pushing designers to be as creative with their business models as they are with their collections. In Imran Amed's article about creative entrepreneurship for The Business of Fashion, he reminds us that economically challenging times are also ones of great innovation. One sign of hope is the fashion houses' that have been branching out and using the internet for more than ecommerce and blogging. Halston produced an online seasonal presentation in lieu of a runway show as a cost-cutting measure, and the resulting music video-esque sequence of a model running down a street of women wearing Halston is visually interesting and probably conveys more about the feel of the collection than a traditional runway show ever could. Also taking advantage of electronic media was Michael Kors, who simultaneously broadcast his show at the tents live on his website. Maybe not as innovative an idea as Halston's, but it certainly provides hope for the future of fashion: that designers might confront the challenges of an economic downturn and use the opportunity to redefine the fashion industry.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Rebuilding fashion: Call in the architects

Chris Moore/Karl Prouse Salvatore Ferragamo

MILAN: Geometric lines, a firm silhouette and buttresses in swoops in cloth - there is a sense that fashion is being rebuilt for a new era.

This is the moment to call in the architects, rather than the decorators. The powerful Milan collections for winter 2009 are from designers who can keep everything clean and clear.

And that has helped Salvatore Ferragamo, where the designer Cristina Ortiz has always liked large, architectural gestures to create a clothing image for this house built on a foundation of shoes.

This collection of tailored coats and short jackets with cropped pants - the better to view the footwear - was calmed down from bold to beautiful. The clothes looked classy and right for now, always with thoughtful design details to illuminate classics, as in cape shoulders, swelling sleeves and even elbow-length gloves to give a feeling of class.

The only decoration was a rose, built into a glove or a neckline, except for the shoes themselves, where intricate fretted work produced leather lace that, in its decorative effect, offset the clean lines of the clothes.

You have to wonder why this elegant outing of desirable fashion, from tailoring to knits, had to end with evening gowns - especially when Ortiz went back to her passion for displaying the body, using sheer fabrics that seem so over. But from the purple color worked into neutrals to the well-chosen proportions, this was collection that put Ferragamo fashion in just the right place.

Etro Fall 2009, Davide Maestri
Veronica Etro was faced with a challenge: How can a house known for intensely decorated fabrics and ethnic wanderings along a hippie trail seem relevant for now? The designer rose to the challenge by literally caging in the excess. Taking a Byzantine theme, which embraced the shiny, gilded fabrics that are the new season's hit, Etro created a lattice of metallic beading that gave a strict, linear structure to the embellished dresses. And where once there were floating hippie de luxe dresses, this show opened with tailoring and with tops and skirts for ordinary daywear.

Trained at Central Saint Martin's in London, Etro produced exemplary work on the theme, which never overwhelmed and was deftly blended with the house's more familiar paisley patterns. It was a fine example of moving a line forward without losing its identity.

As a designer of romantic fashion school, Antonio Marras made an intelligent turn toward the classic, founding his art-inspired collection on a strict grid. The designer listed his inspiration as "Picasso and the Masters," the subject of a recent Paris exhibition, but it was the Cubist floor pattern and the wooden closets as the backdrop that instilled the instant message.

So instead of the rich vein of velvet Victoriana that Marras has mined previously, here was a postwar scenario - the Spanish Civil War perhaps - where the models wore pinstripe and khaki tailoring but tinged with embellishment. It seemed almost as if these women had brightened up their drab outfits with their own imagination: embroidery and appliqué. The result was a fine collection, showing Marras as strong and individual as ever but not oblivious to a changing world.

It is a mystery how Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Raimondi were able to stage their own carefully crafted show for the Aquilano.Raimondi label, as well as Gianfranco Ferré, where the brand is in financial turmoil.

The two must have worked extremely hard to get both collections together. But maybe they need to draw back at this point and decide what is their USP, or unique selling point. Is it the fact that they make rich clothes that are at the same time young and fresh? Or could it be that they have a spirited way with the back view, so that almost every exit has a drape or an origami fold?

In a nutshell, these talented designers need to decide if they want to be decorators or architects of a fresh, upscale Italian look.

Running in Heels

A new reality show on the Style Channel, which follows three interns at Marie Claire, as they try to get their big break in the fashion magazine industry

Dolce & Gabbana's "Hello, Dali!"

Then there was the heavy duty for Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana of dressing the front-row stars: Kate Hudson, Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes, the "Slumdog" star Freida Pinto and Naomi Watts; and the three supermodel blondes, Nadia Auermann, Eva Herzigova and Claudia Schiffer. Not to forget the ghost of Marilyn Monroe, who appeared as a print in a show that was almost all in black and white, with explosions of Schiaparelli's shocking pink.

This celebrity-packed show just did not work as presented - although out of the "Hello Dali!" context, suits with elongated skirts and the graphic black and white polka dots and squares might have looked larky.

Mauricio Miranda

Instead, weighed down with the circle sleeves and obvious accessories: a glove hat and lipstick cases on black suede shoes (but also spirited double-layer sunglasses) the clothes looked less than joyous. They evoked just that prewar period when the lights went out all over Europe and Schiaparelli's wacky style became instantly outmoded.

Anything from Dolce & Gabbana is always beautifully realized: the animal patterns as flocked velvet surfaces, the screen prints and the chubby furs that had style and class. But so many designers, not least Yves Saint Laurent, have been in this territory. And to bring out this show at this particular crisis moment seemed - well - surreal.

Suzy Menkes is fashion editor at the International Herald Tribune.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Links à la Mode: IFB Weekly Roundup


Links à la Mode : February 26th

Marni: A Chic, Strange, but Intellectual Club

Marni Fall 2009, Giovanni Giannoni
The Marni woman is so confident and cavalier that she walks into a store, sees a $1,000 dress shaped like a burlap sack, and shreiks “I must have that!”

It is this sort of attitude that sets the Milanese brand, known for its use of unconventional materials like polyvinyl chloride, apart from others. The Marni woman is a woman who dresses for herself, not for men, which has the effect of making her even more alluring.

So, at 9:00 am on Sunday, the bleary-eyed fashion crowd made its way to Via Sismondi to see creative director Consuelo Castiglioni’s new collection of laser cut jackets, fur vests and dresses festooned with large plastic gewgaws. The styling is always creative at Marni shows—models this season wore embellished metallic brocade frocks with sunglasses, fur mittens or giant leather garden gloves, and patterned knee-socks with strappy heels. The point, beyond showing that the Marni gal has a sense of humor, is to illustrate that each piece can stand heartily on its own, and actually look quite normal, albeit unconventional.

Fashion editors, art-gallery owners and museum curators have become fierce Marni loyalists, a reality that helped the company’s retail network weather the recession so far. “In our own stores, we haven’t seen a drop in sales,” said Gianni Castiglioni, Marni’s chief executive—and husband of its creative director—backstage after the show. Mr. Castiglioni, who was deeply upset when U.S. department stores reduced prices on Marni products over the holiday season, said that he’s not adjusting the brand’s pricing strategy going forward.

“We do not change our vision,” he said. “We think our positioning is fine. We think our pricing is fine.” He did acknowledge, however, that production will “of course” be ratcheted down to accommodate reduced demand for luxury products.

Marni Fall 2009, Giovanni Giannoni
Inspired by the fashion show, Heard on the Runway headed straight to Via Tajani, where, in the middle of a working-class residential neighborhood Marni has a gigantic outlet store. We tried on dozens of dresses, which lack what retailers call “hanger appeal.” This led to a lengthy and admittedly demoralizing trial-and-error process of determining what looks good (fitted dresses with exposed zippers) and what looks plain weird (voluminous lab coats and most other things). A resin plated knit dress with laser-sharp edges was nearly lethal, and I imagine, a dry-cleaner’s worst nightmare.

Two hours later, we walked out of the store with a polyester dress, a belt, comfortable shoes and a jacket—and felt as though we had joined a chic, strange but intellectual club. We’ll still pass on the gardening gloves, though.

– Rachel Dodes for The Wall Street Journal

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Emporio Armani

Prada's garden of earthy delight

Chris Moore/Karl Prouse
By Suzy Menkes
Published: March 1, 2009

MILAN:With rubber waders rising thigh high and scarlet riding coats split at the side, Miuccia Prada's wickedly witty show on Sunday confirmed her place in Italian fashion's counterculture.

Prada's garden of earthy delight included the best coats and suits of this Milan season - precisely cut out of felt or leather and spreading from a small waist. They were topped with hairstyles that looked like the models had been up to something in the hay - even if the rings of sparkling red around the eyes suggested pure glamour.

"The collection was a take on the country," said Prada, as if we would believe that the scarlet tailoring or a slim dress with carwash strips of fabric would not be snapped up as city cool.

The way that Prada distanced herself from the punk-style power woman of this Milan season showed her absolute independence. In the enclosed space, with layers of seating around a small arena, which Rem Koolhaas, the set's architect, called "a retreat," the collection had a powerful sexual charge. That came not least from shoes that looked like a cockscomb had been hit by a scattershot of studs; or from the rubber boots climbing bare thighs to reach hefty shorts.

The show swayed subtly from garden to salon, as the autumnal russet of a sculpted coat switched to a plush brocade velvet while keeping the same silhouette: voluminous, with a bared portrait neckline, deep sleeves and a belted waist.

There was plenty of black to set off the bright colors and taken individually, the dresses and suits were spot on for a wintry financial climate.

"You need to uplift yourself, because it is difficult trying to be positive," said Prada. "But I am in a good mood."

Suzy Menkes is fashion editor at the International Herald Tribune.