Couture S/S'12 - Valentino and Elie Saab

Well it seems the Valentino and Elie Saab delivered something marginally worth talking about. Saab was by no means great; this collection looked the same as every season, but at least every season the dresses are gorgeously pretty, dream princess kind of stuff. Nicole Phelps of style.com said it best though that each dress was only separated by the "vertiginousness of a neckline, the presence or absence of sleeves, the length of a train, and an occasional cape." However this repetition worked to great effect because of the sheer number of dresses, and their sheer sameness. I will illustrate the effect via the Saab-Pastel colour wheel:

Saab occasionally veered quite close to signature Valentino territory with delicately embroided, high necked, long-sleeved dresses with pencil thin waist ties (fig 1 &2) - but I'm being gracious and giving him a free pass on this one.

fig 1.

fig 2.

Valentino was a lot more interesting, and while I haven't adored it straight away, I can tell that with a bit of knowledge and time, this collection is going to grow a lot on me. Being an Art History student, I get a lot of pleasure looking into the influences of a collection, and Valentino always offers textbooks worth! So what was listed? There was Paul Delvaux, the Belgian surrealist (I personally hate surrealism but never mind) who often painted his subjects in long white gowns. There was the many incarnations of Marie Antoinette, whose influence could be seen in the occasional toile and a feminine take on 18th century menswear. And then there was the fashion photographer Deborah Turbeville, whose images exude a kind of gothic spiritualism.
I find it a mixture of both strange and entirely appropriate that they choose Turbeville as inspiration. Turbeville's aesthetic already matches Chiuri and Piccioli's Valentino quite perfectly, so perfectly in fact that they already collaborate and are generally associated with each other. So is there much point in looking to her to shape their gowns? It seems somewhat incestuous and the effect is like this weird parallel universe version of Valentino. Am I over analyzing this? Yes, yes I am.

But as for the best looks, Chiuri and Piccioli are known for their knack with lightness, yet the best from this collection were most definitely the stiffer taffeta gowns.

A compelling argument was also provided for matching dress and shoes:

And on a final note, it's worth mentioning that both shows had a grand total of one black model WHY THANK YOU VERY MUCH

Elie Saab runway images from Fashion Gone Rogue
Valentino runway images from vogue.com

Lookin' Good Stone

little dude's kinda annoying though.
Thanks vogue.com!


Couture S/S 2012 Sucks! Let's Look at Something That Doesn't!

I haven't posted in a few days and I figured I would just hold out until the couture shows and do a big post about that. But I've seen most of them now and I was generally very disappointed. So in lieu of some immediate couture reviews, and to cheer myself up, I've got a compilation of bangin' Vogue Nippon covers. There is a lot to be said for sticking to a theme, you can always spot a Vogue Japan from a mile away, and these are the kind of covers you want to keep in sight (unlike the covers of a certain North American counterpart).
It's quite probable that over in Japan, these covers are like everything else and totally boring. But who are the rest of us to know!

But I do wish they would use more Asian models on their covers. Hell, more diverse covers are needed everywhere but you'd think in one's own country you'd get ethnic representation. Vogue China is marginally better but still, come on people.

And whoever they've got over there designing the magazine is a keeper. I even love their editorial title pages!

If you end up looking at the couture collections you might need to come back here afterwards for a much needed pizaz injection.


The Row Pre-Fall 2012

I thought I was done and dusted with Pre-Fall but then Mary-Kate and Ashley went and did a wonderful thing with The Row. This is one of those collections in which you don't just admire the clothes, but want to be the women that these clothes will make you.

Definitely worth mentioning is the commendable colour palette. Varying shades of navy and burgundy is somewhat of a revelation, and to then to go and throw in some salmon pink - how unexpected! How exciting!

I've been thinking about them a lot lately, and I have a theory as to why The Row is just so successful. Ok so obviously the main reason is that the Olsen's are good designers, but I believe that part of their appeal is due to how serious they are. I don't mean that they are serious about their vocation as designers, but that the whole tone of the label is deadly serious, and seriously earnest. Just look at the photos above to start with. Instead of the generic look-book assembly of photos you usually get for pre-fall, here we are presented with "A Portrait of Women in Clothes". It is almost unimaginable that their models will ever jump on the latest trend for smiling and their runway shows are more than - the set design, lighting and styling elevate everything to more of "A Study in Taste".

The Row is sometimes compared to Celine for their elegant, intelligent take on 'clothes for the real woman', but while I can find Celine's pretentiousness irritating, with The Row it is wholly endearing. Maybe it's got something to do with the difference between New York and Paris. East of the Atlantic you have enough big houses pompously prancing around with their hundred years of history and archives and highfalutin' traditions - you don't get more serious than Paris and Celine doesn't help. New York on the other hand has carved out a completely different niche and it's all street savvy labels like Alexander Wang and Rag and Bone (clearly I'm omitting labels like Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta but I'm trying to form an argument here!) who carry with them a good sense of humour and large amounts of irony. There's not much solemn sincerity in NY, so The Row fill that gap nicely. And while it's easy to make fun of earnestness, at the same it can be totally refreshing.

I don't know if you guys know the band Xiu Xiu but they've got the same earnest thing going on. When they released Fabulous Muscles in 2004, Room on Fire had just been released a few months earlier and The Strokes were totally the rage. Back then everyone was digging this cool New York irony and laughing at Xiu Xiu lyrics like "I want you to like me". I was pretty impressionable at that time and assumed that The Strokes had the right idea and that Xiu Xiu were mildly embarrassing. But then a wise friend said something along the lines of "I would rather listen to someone earnest and sincere who commits completely than listen to some smug assholes who consist entirely of sickening levels of irony" . And that changed everything because I realised it was ok to care.

I will repeat this because it is important and everyone should always remember: it's ok to care.

And so bringing this back to The Row - they care, and that is cool. 


Art and Fashion #3

Photographer Alex Prager is a really hot topic on fashion blogs at the moment. I can totally understand the appeal - you've got pretty girls in pretty dresses and pretty make-up posing in California which is so trendy right now, and the vivid colours are incredible and yet the subjects, for all their beauty, seem dark and tormented. All irresistible to a 14-24yr old woman. But what I think makes Prager so interesting is that when she forays into fashion editorials and campaigns, she manages to blend 'art photography' and 'fashion photography' pretty seamlessly. The subject of whether fashion photography can be classified as 'art' is a tricky one, and so I won't go into an in-depth discussion on that (today at least), but I will look at it generally and how Alex Prager fits in.

If you look at other photographers who work both for fashion and for art's sake, they tend to divide their work into two distinct categories. Fashion photography, while being 'artistic' for sure, is commercial while art, on the other hand, is art. I guess this separation is kind of like protection for the photographer, so at least sometimes their work can be taken seriously. Juergen Teller is one fashion photographer who does art projects too. While I personally believe that most of his fashion images can be considered art, his 'art' images and his 'fashion' images are separated, and they have distinct subjects and moods. Occasionally the two categories become blurred, but when it does the photos are generally considered too abstract for a fashion magazine but not serious enough to be considered art.


Not Art:

Prager is unusual because her editorial and campaign work is almost indistinguishable from her artistic endeavors - the only giveaway being the models' weight. I guess her subject matter lends itself to 'fashion' easily - the subjects are in costume rather than just wearing clothes, and they are always role-playing an identity, much like the identity and image transformation of a fashion editorial. And because there is a focus on dressing-up and role playing, there is of course a focus on clothes.

Thankfully Prager herself doesn't seem worried about dipping into the low-brow world of fashion and as a result we get fantastic work like this editorial and accompanying short film made for W Magazine. This was the first work of Prager's I'd seen and boy was I sold! I think I started buying W after this actually - they may have a worrying attachment to celebrities and over-hype everything, but their editorials are routinely extremely excellent.

Prager also seems to have been influenced a fair bit by Cindy Sherman. You've got young women role-playing and constructing identities, cinematic angles, intriguing narratives and an always pervading dark humour. And Prager's Film Stills from Despair with Bryce Dallas Howard, while actually film stills, are a nice nod to Shulman's famous Film Stills series.

And they are of course similar because Sherman, too, forays into fashion from time to time. In the last five years alone Sherman has made work for Balenciaga, and done campaigns for Marc Jacobs and M.A.C. (which is technically beauty, not fashion but whatever). But somewhat curiously, editors and curators always omit Sherman's fashion work from retrospectives about her. Which suggests that those in the art world regard Sherman's fashion photography as something other than 'art' even though, in terms of both subject and style, her fashion photos are very similar to her other work.
Because of this, when I read that MOMA had bought a bunch of Prager's photographs I assumed that that wouldn't include any fashion images - but I was wrong! I'm pretty sure that they bought some of the photographs she did for W. Which makes everything even more complicated and leaves me with no conclusion at all really. Just thoughts, lots and lots of thoughts about what is fashion photography and what is art.

Teller's editorial photographs and Prager's Sunday series from W Magazine


Craig McDean Celebrities

Celebrity portraits I usually associate with lameness and those newspaper Sunday magazines but Craig McDean manages to make the exceptions. I came across these when I was trying to find an editorial for my last post and I liked them all! The Kate Moss one makes me think of how early-to-mid-2000s is already becoming a retro trend, the Kirsten Dunst one makes me think about her time in rehab :(, the Scarlett Johansson one is just very intense and the Kristen Stewart one makes me laugh. In a good way! I hope it makes you laugh too.

Celebrity portraits are pretty strange things I guess. Way back in the day, especially in the 40s and 50s when Hollywood was really in its groove, these photos were simpler, happier, less full of subtext and meaning. My grandmother has a wall full of framed, signed photos of actors like Fred Astair and Greta Garbo and the like, and in every one they are smiling and glamorous and perfect - if they had torrid personal lives and everything was falling a part, who were we to know! We just liked to look at people being pretty. These days, actors channel the torment that those past actors were hiding or channel themselves or generally look mysterious and thoughtful or channel the mysterious and thoughtful lives that their characters lead and it's all very Vanity Fair. But even though it's a bit contrived, if it gets me some nice photos in the end, well I'm cool with that.


Fashion's Got a Good Thing Going With Chairs

The Proenza Schouler campaign came out today (or at least Fashion Gone Rogue posted it which is basically the same thing), and I noticed it has taken part in the latest growing fashion trend - chairs. Chairs, it seems, are the latest major accessory. Less practical than a purse, I am sure, but far handier at a table or say, in a waiting room.
I personally think this trend has something to do with the more general obsession people have at the moment with 'mid-century' (oh god this term mid century, sometime later this week I'll do a post about that), and nothing says mid-century more than a functional, yet gorgeous, chair.

With Proenza Schouler, the choice is obvious, their collection was based on some mid-century principles after all! Although the inspiration was the more trashy side of mid-century, but never mind.

b MAGAZINE (b magazine, anyone? anyone?) are definitely on trend with their chairs, with a vaguely uneasy, pool slider heavy interpretation.

But even earlier than these examples, Craig McDean made a most glorious tribute to chairs in a 2010 Vogue Italia editorial. I'm sure many would agree when I say that in this case the supporting cast almost eclipsed the leading ladies.

Boy do these chairs make for some pretty edgy images. I'm also picking up that these images are communicating that if a woman knows her chairs, she knows her design, and if she knows her design, then she is pretty sophisticated.

While I've got the chance I'm also going to throw in a gratuitous shot of some pretty important men with their pretty important furniture.

L-R George Nelson, Edward Wormley, Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia, Charles Eames, Jens Risom
from Playboy July 1961

I guess the morale of all this is that if you are going to do anything in 2012, do it with a chair.

All editorial images from Fashion Gone Rogue
Playboy image from The Selvedge Yard