Saturday, August 22, 2009

This Man Is A Class Act

"It's the Middle Ground That's Fashion Nowhere"; Christopher Kane for Topshop

Looking at Christopher Kane's capsule collection for high street vendor Topshop, images of which have been kept secret for the most part to build up anticipation for its store debut, I was reminded of something Karl Lagerfeld said about "fashion nowhere". It sounded typical of his high-minded rhetoric delivered in an off-the-cuff-obviously-what-I-say-is-true manner but rang true to a similar sentiment preached around the internet by blog writers or 'style-oriented' type journalism; that inexpensive, cast-off treasures of the vintage, thrifted, or otherwise used realm of clothing and adornment are a sartorial goldmine. Either the very cheap, or the very expensive are where fashion and style can be constructed, with the very expensive plunging one into the world of multi-digit prices, but with the fashion world's assurance that you are buying quality (in cut, shape, construction, fabric), supporting fine craftsmanship, and allying yourself with artistry. Hence the truism that it is better to buy better, for the long-term haul of building a wardrobe and establishing a visual identity for yourself. The fashion or style-conscious individual buys clothes for reasons other than utility, practicality, or function; they buy to construct themselves, the decision to purchase is one that is a reaffirmation of a faith in the importance of the form of ourselves, that our form, our body and how we present it is integral to who we think we are, which might be more important to us than who we really are anyway. To create an image of ourselves, to make ourselves in our own image, an image that is chosen and premeditated, has undeniable parallels with the concept of creation itself, which is a religious concept in the first place. The notion of department stores being the new churches is only too true, because it is where we can worship ourselves.
But to get back to Chrissy Kane's new digs for TopShop, they are that middle-ground that Lagerfeld dismissed as the true black hole of fashion. It's where nothing interesting happens, and trends are reinforced and repeated because they are safely established as marketable and cool (which doesn't necessarily bring along with it the quality of relevance), without innovation or exploration of why a popular current look or visual identity is desirable.

Look at this ensemble, grommet (they call it eyelet, psssh) pattern on the dress and the dreary little noose-satchel bag with an anachronistic tassel-thing hanging out like a leech; firstly the grommet patterning bugs the shit out of me because it's not done in any way resembling interesting. It comes off as a really cheap-looking watering down of Alexander Wang's metallic embellished aesthetic, like just having something close to a hard metal kind of material on a soft, feminine dress automatically implies toughness or some punk bullshit. It doesn't, it reads as grommets stuck on a dress. Which leads my mind to associations of a craft-project or some shitty DIY (omgz! like, DIY guyz!) studding that goes on all over style/fashion blogs. Kane graduated from Central Saint Martin's MA Fashion course; nothing he designs (I kind of doubt he did though, nevertheless his name is going to be on everything in the collection, so I'm going to treat it as if he was responsible for it) should be reminding me of a 13-year old gone wild with a glue gun and some moldy leather and jersey found at the way back of mum's closet, the place where she keeps stuff she got backpacking through the fucking Maldives.

I think the "eyelet" patterning exists purely to distract your eye from the fact that nothing interesting is going on with the shape or look of this dress. I can also see the model's underwear, so it's also semi-sheer...which is completely useless. Now you have to wear leggings or something with it, it may as well be a tunic then. Nothing's happening with that blue dress there...there's just nothing to say about it except that it has some awkward...beading...? To emphasize...your breasts? Basically it looks like those awfully sparkly ice-skater outfits, it's just selectively sparkly. The other dresses that aren't grommeted-up like this blue one are just similarly sort of floaty and vaguely ruffly in some places with cutesy colors. Not even worth posting.
This just baffles me. Again the grommet-y (gross word even!) surface embellishment on the shoes but this time combined with what can only pass in my mind as some kind of beach cover-up type garment procured at Venice Beach from a toothless hippie for $5. The concentric circle studding is mostly offensively dull and boring. Big circles that sometimes meet and intersect each other is not really interesting, it's got a bedazzled-vibe going on....and since I wasn't interested in that when I was 10, I have to say I'm still not impressed or intrigued at 20.

Mesh leggings with studdings. There's nothing to even say besides that. Just picture that phrase in your mind and swish it around on the palette of your tongue.

Grommets! And the only rationale I can see for the hole near the underarm is that Kane is trying to swing the pendulum of erogenous zoning to the patch of skin between your breastplate and your underarm. Hot.

This is the only element in the collection I've seen so far that even makes sense with what Kane's done in his RTW collections, and that's because it's a direct carried-over item from his Spring 09 collection with the ape and baboon print dresses that had full, pleated skirts starting at the waistline. This is a slightly watered-down version as it's a pretty simple sleeveless, short, summer type dress with a different animal print of the crocodile. The success of the piece is only based on the original success of the strong graphic image of a howling animal emblazoned on a pretty dress, which was related to other experiments in shape and silhouette that existed in the Spring collection. This dress doesn't belong to that collection, and it also doesn't relate to anything else I've seen in the TopShop collection. It's really more of a separate, commercial piece to get solely F21 and H&M type customers acquainted with the fashion world's collective losing-their-shit over his screaming-animal print garments that's been going on for months and months now. That said, I'm into this croc dress. But probably not if it retails for over $100.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Alexander McQueen's Woman; Spectacle & Identity

This dress, and the whole collection it was a part of, is mind-meltingly beautiful. I adored the idea of a traditional pattern like the houndstooth morphing across the fabric into those macabre magpies, and the way it steals forms from the past like the New Look and makes it hysterical, histrionic. The whole garment has this real sense of weight to it, watching it move with the model, there's a feeling that it guides and dictates the movement possible in it, which is restricting on one hand but also demands of the wearer that they align themselves with the dress. It's such an exceptional piece that it requires the wearer to take on a role, and perform it. The dress demands a personal conviction from the wearer; it is such a force of personality, and an extremely aggressive one. The sheer aggressiveness is the most compelling quality in all of McQueen's collections. Aggression, theater, and power are the the three lynchpins of his work with clothes as well as with creating the spectacle that showcases them.
The styling of this ensemble in particular literally adorns the model in trash as the crowning note of the ensemble, with spray-painted, plastic wrapped aluminum cans arranged as headpieces. That element of using something degraded or junk-like in the styling of the ensembles enhances the overall power and grace of the image. The fact that they are stomping down the stretch of runway in honkin high heels and otherworldly ensembles makes the women powerful, unquestionably not to be fucked with. In his shows the models are often walking in an engineered atmosphere of trauma or tension (sexual, narrative), which his shows often invoke either in the stage sets that they have to navigate or in the subject matter spelled out by the names of the shows; "Highland Rape", his fifth collection in 1995, being one of the most infamous.

The major criticism of his work is that it displays a malevolent, misogynistic bent in his conception of women, in that his collections, though moreso his earlier ones, often have women appearing traumatized or deathly by the effects of the makeup, made severe by the cut and tailoring of the clothes, and somehow battered by the overall styling of their appearance, as if they were emerging on the runway having been previously destroyed but now pieced back together as the spectacle of the fashion show. The particular theatricality of McQueen's shows has even been referred to as 'McQueen's Theatre of Cruelty' in The Independent's review of his second collection: "McQueen...has a view that speaks of battered women, of violent lives, of grinding daily existences offset by wild, drug-enhanced nocturnal dives into clubs". But the violence of the styling has evolved over a decade into a highly regal and triumphant parade of women as something to be feared more than afraid themselves.

The clothes seem to serve as protection, as a barrier between the woman and a world that threatens her. The service of making clothes for women has an aspect of determining what a woman will be in the world she inhabits, and McQueen allying his craft to dressing women cannot be misogynistic, because he wants women to be strong: "I design clothes because I don't want women to look all innocent and naive, because I know what can happen to them. I want women to look stronger". The desire to create a look, in the hope that appearance will affect being, to situate the body in a way that will affect action and character, is rooted in how fashion relates to the development of identity. The identities of McQueen's characters are strong and independent, there is no implication in his images that these women need a man for instance. In fact, he's interested in women as separate from men: "I like men to keep their distance from women", "I've seen a woman nearly beaten to death by her husband. I know what misogyny is...I want people to be afraid of the women I dress".

All quotes taken from Caroline Evan's Fashion at the edge: spectacle, modernity & deathliness.

Comme des Garcons Fall/Winter 2009