The Youth Quake: Maritime, Magma, and Sorry-Free Sex

What’s in a name? A lot, it appears. Recent studies have suggested that using your middle name can trick people into thinking that you’re more intellectual than you really are. J.W. Anderson is praised for just that: cerebral, considered designs that swathe around the body in glorious defiance of the needle-and-thread specificity of Savile Row—thesis and antithesis. This season, the silhouette appeared to move inward, narrower, to what Suzy Menkes described as “tidy mademoiselle tailoring.” It looked uncharacteristically prim. Then, Anderson’s perverse disregard for proportions was evident in the minutiae, magnified: huge buttons that fell from models’ heads to their hem; angular sleeves, exaggerated lapels and collars, and those deflated leather wraps that weren’t quite belt, weren’t quite bustier.

J.W. Anderson (left) and Mary Katrantzou (right). Images from Style.com.

J.W. Anderson (left) and Mary Katrantzou (right). Images from Style.com.

Some models had floppy fishermen’s hats obscuring their faces. They weren’t entirely necessary, or purposeful. And, of course, lengths of rope pulled through these dresses held together disparate panels of the garment rather haphazardly. If only the editing had been so tight. One gets the feeling that a gust of wind could have pulled apart the whole thing. These nautical references were hit and miss (mostly miss), anchored in something too abstract. Anderson’s name has resounding cool factor, we know that. It tops the list whenever there’s mention of a particular new breed of iconoclasts emerging from London’s underground. But he can’t sail on his reputation forever.

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Sea, Sports and Planet Jacobs

Fashion, they say, is art. Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte are turning it into some kind of sensational science, defying the basic rules of biology and physics that govern the making of matter. Last season the sisters closed their show with a series of draped silk dresses printed with the faces of Star Wars characters; this season, however, they’ve abandoned that distant galaxy and plunged, head first, into the ocean’s unknowable abyss. Aquatic references were abundant: the translucent chiffon that swung from skirts, the heavy embellishment that seized these dresses like violent, uncontrolled colonies of coral. It was a visually arresting show, curious in its inexplicable clutter, like that gripping excitement of sorting through the contents of a hundred-year-old sunken ship. Or a mermaid’s bounty. There has always been, I think, an innocent, juvenile humour in Rodarte.

Rodarte (left) and Proenza Schouler (right). Images from Style.com.

Rodarte (left) and Proenza Schouler (right). Images from Style.com.

To be constantly leaning toward the stars, or the sand, is encoded in human DNA: we are the stuff of collapsed stars, we rose from the water, and there are secrets floating freely in these vast, unexplored oceans. Pseudo-scientific folly, of course, but there’s a certain amount of reaching involved in making sense of Rodarte. The main problem, however, is that their references sit at two extremes—this season’s coral and last season’s cosmos—and there is very little (if at all) regard to what becomes of human nature, and human comfort. People of earth will need to wear these clothes. Mermaid’s language may sound sweet and soothing under the water, where wacky ideas can be incubated without wrinkling, but when they reach human ears it starts to sound like gibberish. The Mulleavy sisters appear to have incredible difficulty articulating what they’re about, so much so that I’m starting to suspect that they simply drop all their references in water, mix it around, and pray that it emerges from shore looking halfway decent.

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Sex, School and Serenity

It’s difficult to imagine any period in time without the costumes that substantiate the cultures. More than a source of shelter, clothing is a symbol of status and mobility: who you are, where you’re going, what you represent. For a designer like Victoria Beckham, who for so long weaved a web of her own celebrity (and really, a moniker like “Posh” carried with it certain expectations and responsibilities—a progression into fashion seems like destiny), taking off that satin robe wasn’t an easy choice to make. She’s exposing herself in front of a tough crowd. These are people who have seen it all, been there and done that. And that very idea of unravelling and revealing was evident throughout her latest collection: low necklines, sleeveless coats, jackets with folds that shrivelled like a cashmere leaf, and other bits of fabric that seemed to recoil and recede as they went down the runway. It did not, however, feel the least bit innovative; perhaps innocuous is a better word. Her design signature—the skirts that skim the thigh and drop just below the knee—appears to be written in another designer’s handwriting. Phoebe Philo’s perhaps? I’m still now sure what this brand stands for. Identity and intention never converged.

Victoria Beckham (left) and Public School (right). Images from Style.com.

Victoria Beckham (left) and Public School (right). Images from Style.com.

The message was conveyed a little clearer at Public School, though, where designers Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne reassured us with a cogent collection. The recent CFDA Fashion Fund winners presented loyally, lovingly, to their name. The clothes were cut to ruler’s exact measure and calculated to decimal-point precision; black and white panels could have been arranged in afternoon graphics class with hip-hop blaring through the sound system; and they dropped, loosened and widened these pants to such sweet extents that we forget, for a moment, that School is governed by two men aged almost a decade apart, one of them hovering 40. To win such a prestigious and generous funding program would have sent the average student into waves of hysteria, days of drinking, and to ultimately forget the core of the business: to pass the final exam. This test is more daunting than most. Ideas either come to fruition, or they never make that final exit to the runway. It demands months of sketching and editing and refining. Chow and Osborne have the clarity and concentration that helps puny brands compete with some of the bigger kids—Kors, Jacobs, and even Proenza Schouler, the Fashion Fund’s first-ever winner—in the struggle for longevity.

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Australian Design Dialect and the Persistent Voice of Youth

We Australians are hardly considered the most articulate people in the world. The broad Australian accent is riddled with confused nouns and verbs, fractured syntax, and streams of syllables that clash to remove any semblance of meaning and reason. Language is often made in physical gestures—the violent wave of a hand, the raising of a single finger—and even our spelling is subject to dubious guidelines: are we following the British, or the Americans? We’re emotional people, not eloquent ones. Some of us invent our own rules of speaking as we go along, and hope the message gets carried across to friends both local and international. Such is the way that our youngest and most ambitious creators have begun to work. They’re forging their own design dialect in New York.

Tome (left) and Dion Lee (right). Images from Style.com.

Tome (left) and Dion Lee (right). Images from Style.com.

Take Tome, for example. The brainchild of Ramon Martin and Ryan Lobo has been part of the New York Fashion Week schedule for a few seasons now, narrowing in on a more solid vision of their ideal woman. “Ideal,” of course, is never completely cemented but a notion constantly moving, morphing, much like language itself—it’s a conception of the cliché. This season, the central word at Tome seemed to be “skirt”: skirts in silk and taffeta, sheer skirts, embellished skirts; skirts that were pleated, skirts that were striped, and even the pants had the free flow that one expects from a skirt. There was, sad to say, too much of it. Ideas that started off with some delicacy and restraint were pulled to their extremes, to what would amount to 38 looks around a very similar silhouette. It became sickeningly sweet. Tome is young, Tome is learning—they can take their time. They don’t need to show off everything they’ve got just yet. The common mark of great articulation, in prose or product, is being able to edit and condense the multiple ideas behind a body of work. There was too much, too soon, this time round.

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5 Thoughts About the Proenza Schouler and LVMH Deal

Last week news broke that LVMH, the luxury conglomerate presided over by French tycoon Bernard Arnault, had its stern, unwavering eyes on New York brand Proenza Schouler, which this year celebrates its fourteenth birthday. Delphine Arnault, his daughter and executive vice president of Louis Vuitton, said last year: “I love what they do. They have an amazing talent—just look at the fabrics. We’ve been following their work for a while.”

Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez. Photo credit: Peter Lindbergh for the CFDA.

Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez. Photo credit: Peter Lindbergh for the CFDA.

That stealth strategy–of waiting by the sidelines for the hype of social media to fatten up these brands like golden geese, plump and ready to be carved–seems to be working. Last September, Kering took a minority stake in Altuzarra, another hip New York label founded by Joseph Altuzarra, whose business has ballooned in the Age of Instagram (I promise I’ll never use this awful phrase again). Months prior, Kering welcomed Christopher Kane, the man responsible for all those gel-filled PVC clutches you may have seen all over cyberspace, to its illustrious dinner table. And, of course, Alexander Wang, who is now creative director of Balenciaga. If these rumours are true, and LVMH does indeed seize the rumoured 40 percent stake in Proenza Schouler, perhaps Bernard Arnault can finally release that grudge we all know he’s been holding onto: The “Gucci Grudge,” as I like to call it.

Proenza Schouler was founded in 2002 by Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, both fresh out of Parsons. Success was written in the stars. They sold their senior thesis at Parsons to Barneys New York, and, in 2004, the duo become the first ever winners of the CFDA Fashion Fund. With a cash injection of $200,000 and mentoring by Rose Marie Bravo, then CEO of Burberry, they quietly built a brand on “seamed corset tops, casual pants and soft jackets with shrunken proportions,” as told by Vogue. Since then, their aesthetic has hardened into sharp sleeves, flared skirts and structured cocoon coats—too reminiscent of Ghesquière-era Balenciaga, the critics say—but their hugely popular PS1 bag, their first ever, is the real motor of their machine. “Brands can go years without achieving that,” said Bravo. “They nailed it the first time.”

So why exactly does this acquisition matter? And why now? Here are five points to consider.

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Book Review: How Luxury Lost Its Lustre

One of the most common questions I receive from my readers is in regard to book and film recommendations, so naturally I have decided to include a new category on this blog to help narrow and refine the search. The most important thing to keep in mind is that there is not an all-encompassing, monolithic text out there that will teach you everything you need to know about fashion. It moves and morphs, continually, and there is a special place in hell for anybody who uses “fashionista” for self-reference. It is impossible for any person to know absolutely everything about fashion, so don’t feel intimidated by people whose knowledge, it seems, is limited to trivial facts and endless name-dropping (the most reliable indication of a person’s overcompensating). If you’re genuinely interested in learning more, however, these posts should help you narrow it down to what’s actually worth your time.

Author Dana Thomas.

Author Dana Thomas.

I won’t bother reading, or reviewing, books and films that bore me. I have to admit that I have a very short attention span, so I won’t willingly suffer through the final chapters of a book, or the last ten minutes of a film, to confirm its mind-numbing suckiness. I won’t waste anybody’s time. When you’re beginning to embrace fashion in earnest, as opposed to something recreational and fun (nothing wrong with that, by the way), it should be considered with the same intention that is afforded to academic theory: start with the foundation, make sure you know the basic players of the industry, and reinforce that knowledge by reading more and more. Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Lustre by Dana Thomas is an excellent starting point.

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The September Issues 2014 Review

Before tonight I had no idea how many fashion magazines actually exist in the world. Many of them don’t even bother to credit photographers on their websites, which is pretty damn annoying. There were some great September covers this year: great cover models, great art direction, great lighting and colouring, etc. Others weren’t so impressive. The biggest disappointment, however, is that Lupita Nyong’o isn’t featured on a single September cover. It’s disgraceful.

I love…

love Vogue Australia September 2014 Freja Beha Erichsen by Inez & Vinoodh

I love that Freja can take several seasons off the runway and come back, give some air kisses, and act like nothing ever happened. She looks gorgeous. Ph: Inez & Vinoodh for Vogue Australia.

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