Friday, February 15, 2008

A Rare Interview with Maison Martin Margiela

Dear phantom readers. I wanted to share this interview with you, because Margiela is as elusive as he is genuis (and maybe elusiveness is part of the genius?). I was glad to see that his reasons for anonymity parallel the views I expressed in my Masters thesis. I also like his preoccupation with the passing moment - how Baudelearian of him (see quote #2).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Some Like It Haute

Ok, so I for once I could not refuse the cheesy/cute title that makes the likes of Wallpaper famous. Sorry. What I want to tell you about is a niche brand by the name of Haute. I have followed the brand and its designer Vincenzo de Cotiis for a while now - the guy is good. De Cotiis is an architect and an interior designer before he is a fashion designer, and his love for tinkering with raw materials can be seen in both his architectural work (as in hotel Straf - I stayed there, highly recommended) and in his designs. De Cotiis pays a lot of attention to fabrics, and they are of highest quality. His garments are produced in small quantities with emphasis on workmanship and finishing. Unlike most designers these days, he cuts no corners. At first sight many of his designs are quite conventional, but the devil is in the details, or the proof is in the pudding - you have to sell your soul and taste it for yourself. And now, without further ado, the best (IMHO) Milan menswear collection of FW08/09.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Here is an interesting concept - an exclusive discount store! WWW.GILT.COM is a members-only shopping website that offers heavily discounted merchandise (50-75%) in an atmosphere that is far from discounted. The website looks well made (besides the ghastly fur-clad image of a kept woman), and is members only. They have direct deals with a handful of designers and offer their goods directly. As one of the co-founders put it, “We are analogous to a sample sale without the headaches.” It's womenswear only, with menswear and childrenswear in the works. Now, who has an invite?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Notes on Camp

I was rereading the famous Susan Sontag essay, and my thoughts wondered towards Camp in fashion. I was thinking how framing certain designers as Campy gives their clothes a new meaning, particularly in allowing me to separate their work from kitsch. I am not crazy about Camp myself. My style is by and large monochromatic, and Camp tends to be more colorful, although it does not have to be. Rick Owens can be campy - those 5" heels of his certainly are.

According to Sontag, Camp allows one to be serious about the frivolous, and frivolous about the serious. I think that is exactly what attracts me to work of Jean-Paul Gaultier. He is whimsical in his creations, yet there is a certain seriousness in his work. That seriousness lays in subverting traditional bourgeois images - a sailor becomes a gay boy, a grand dame becomes a hooker, and Gaultier hysterically laughs at the bourgeois propriety that he repeatedly violates. But this laughter is not mean - the way Vivienne Westwood's punk rock laugh was in the 70's - it's hearty. It is not an apolitical laughter (contrary to Sontag's view of all Camp as apolitical) but it is light-hearted all the same. Gaultier is the guy that the sophisticated Camp traffickers like Galliano silently pay homage to. Gaultier's last trick was sending Ms. Velvet d'Amour down the runway as a commentary on the media hoopla surrounding the malnourished models. Before you get all self-righteous, let me repeat - it was commentary not on the underweight girls that are treated like props, but on the media hoopla surrounding the issue. Gaultier rightfully picked up on the insincerity of the bourgeois media - where was the same media the next season lamenting the waifs? Nowhere, because all they care for is a hot story, not the girls.

In my view, what separates Camp from kitsch (something that Sontag only lightly touches upon) are two things - lack of seriousness and quality of execution. Lack of seriousness is what separates Gaultier from Lagerfeld - the King (the Queen?) of kitsch. Lagerfeld, while producing plenty of things that could be seen as campy (little Catholic school girl uniforms, for example), fails to be frivolous. He is dead serious about his role in fashion, and about the things he produces. Barbara Vinken rightfully calls him out in her book Fashion Zeitgeist for violating everything Coco's legacy by putting the Chanel logo on display. That's kitsch. It could've been Camp, but it's not.

Quality of execution is the second aspect, and that's where I think the Camp men are separated from the kitsch boys. After all, I fully subscribe to the idea that art has to be well executed and manifest the artist's prowess. This is where Gaultier, McQueen (sometimes), Comme des Garcons (strange company for Rei, but don't blame me), Galliano (for the most part) stand apart from the likes of Bernard Willhelm, Jeremy Scott, and Heatherette. While someone could make the case for Willhelm in the past - his Bavarian peasant references done in quality fabrics and gorgeous colors certainly made one look twice - his present work lacks the same quality of execution. Jeremy Scott and Heatherette are nothing to take about - their "work" is kitsch, although it borders on Camp.

What is pure kitsch in fashion, then? There is no lack of it. D&G is pure kitsch. Loud and ugly, it says nothing. DSquared is pure kitsch, although it tries to be campy. Camp is superficial, but it's not shallow enough to simply yawn at it - D2 is. Camp, while being loud, is also sophisticated - D2 is way too crude to be Camp. The Milan would-be Dandy who wears the huge double-G buckled Gucci belt is kitsch - he takes himself seriously. By now the division should make sense.

Camp can be found in strange places. Comme des Garcons is one of them. Rei Kawakubo used to be dead serious about her work, or so it seemed judging by what she sent down the catwalk. Her innovative cuts were matched by her innovative fabrics - I cannot describe her work by any other word than "Avant-Garde." But, it seems as Ms. Kawakubo got older, she had some kind of an internal World War III, and her Modernist ideals became Postmodernist. The Avant-Garde turned into Camp. Somber colors and distressed fabrics gave way to Pink Panther and the Rolling Stones. I am not sure what happened (I'd like to know), but I can tell you one thing - much of Camp (not all) is thematic, and it's easy to be thematic.

For all that, Camp can be fun. Although not my cup of tea, I can enjoy looking at it. And why not? After all, as Sontag says, "The man who insists on high and serious pleasures is depriving himself of pleasure; he continually restricts what he can enjoy; in the constant exercise of his good taste he will eventually price himself out of the market, so to speak."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What Is It About Rick?

When you have a clearly defined aesthetic, you tend to discover certain designers first. When I came across Rick Owens' clothes at Atelier in New York, I was immediately intrigued by his deceptively simple leather jackets and heavenly tees. I liked the silhouette - extra long and skinny sleeves that could be bunched up, the hug-my-body snugness that also did not aim to cut off your circulation, the way Dior Homme's offerings do, the soft ribbed inserts on sleeves that carefully relaxed the rugged look of the leather.

In these clothes I could see a designer who grew up in a certain environment without growing out of it. Yes, the words goth, rock, punk sprung up to my head, but without the word "stylized." "This is not a designer who is cashing in on an image," I thought, "this is someone who had a chance to manifest his experience, and take it to a more mature and elegant dimension." The garments were distinctly his, and therefore not stereotypical like stylized clothes are.

So, I sat back and enjoyed Rick's clothes season after season, without seeing a single mention in the American press. I was used to this - neither Raf Simons, nor Ann Demeulemeester, nor Dirk Schonberger have ever gotten much attention here. Why would Rick? He's on the fringes, and I'm on the fringes - a flaneur that observes with a mix of amusement and slight irritation the huffing-and-puffing "It" rat-race of the fashion world.

And then THEY noticed. Hmm. Maybe they ran out of stuff to write about? Or maybe they are just late, as so often they are (it took Cathy Horyn what - 10 years? - to "discover" Raf Simons?). But the articles kept rolling in. First, the reverent Ms. Horyn started mentioning Rick on her blog, here and there. It is still disorienting to see "Galliano" and "Owens" in the same sentence. Then comes the article from Guy Trebay.

So, what makes Rick special, I wonder?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Sophia Kokosalaki - Still Talented, Still Under the Radar.

What is it about some designers that have enough talent, but whose name does not roll off the trendy tongues? Do they have bad PR? Do they not have a strong following? Sophia Kokosalaki is one of these designers. She produces good to great collections from season to season. Yet, ask how many people know her name? And how many stocklists are there in New York? The answer to the former is "close to zero," the answer to the latter is "zero." Ms. Kokosalaki showed in Paris yesterday, and she shone again. The silhouette she presented is fresh and fluid; neither hipster skinny, nor matronly tight. She showed careful balance in the bunching, of her tops and dresses, in the widths of her trousers and shorts. The few layered sweeping dresses she sent out at the end effortlessly flowed in the air. Elegance is the word that comes to mind. Will the buyers notice?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Naoki Takizawa Shines in New York

We live in unabashed world where sexuality has lost any kind of mystery. Sexual has become sexy, sexy has become raunchy, and sex itself has become pornography. Needless to say, fashion has had its part (special thanks goes to Tom Ford who glorified pornography on the Gucci runway). From Karl Lagerfeld's Catholic school plaid mini-skirts to Dolce & Gabbana's suggestive gang-rape and orgy ads, pornographic imagery in fashion never skips a beat, ranging from tasteless to downright offensive.

In this light, the Spring-Summer 08 collection by Naoki Takizawa, who has long stayed in the shadow as the head designer for Issey Miyake, is a breath of fresh air. Nay, it's a long overdue hurricane that blows lewdness away. This ethereal collection gives back sublimity to sexuality. It makes sexuality intriguing once again. Moreover and most importantly, it gives it respect. Mr. Takizawa presents a perfect balance of translucence and secretiveness in his semi sheer garments layered together, in the black and white, in the lengths and lightness of his garments.The stockings (leather?!) provide a bit of an armor that otherwise may have made his models look vulnerable.

The video of the collection further reveals the mastery of Mr. Takizawa. The confident and relaxed walk of the models and the light and airy movement of the clothes provides a perfect balance between a fairy tale and a real world. This balance is romance that has not been lost, but made contemporary.

This is an absolutely stunning collection, and I am thankful to Mr. Takizawa for showing it in New York, because it would make any Paris catwalk proud.

Free Hit Counters
Hit Counter