West Side Story

This is going to look like a botched up scatty post with Vimeo, GIFS and stills all over the joint.  It makes it slightly worse that the subject of the post Scott Sternberg's Band of Outsiders, a label deeply passionate about for clean, precise and to the point classics.  Still, with reasons such as my shonky camera work, video function not co-operating and the inherently cinematic way that Band of Outsiders chose to present their collections as this season's special guest at Pitti Immagine's Pitti Uomo event in Florence, this had to be to be an in-yer-face media-varied post.  

I've come to expect 'BIG' when designers are invited to Pitti to have carte blanche for their events, presenting either their resort or mainline collecitons or in the case of Band of Outsiders, both.  We were taken to an old manifattura tabacchi (that's tabacco factory for those that wish to romanticise the word tobacco…) that was not like any other 'factory' I'd ever been to, but provided the imposing space for Sternberg to play out his fantasy show.  It can't be overemphasised that scale of this sort is something of a luxury and really only reserved for the fashion house biggies as opposed to an independent company of Band of Outsiders' level and even then imagination doesn't often run as wild as this.  Sternberg had the conundrum of presenting all of the following and yes, bullet points are needed…

– Band line – that's the main menswear line.  For the event the main S/S 12 collection was presented.

– Boy line – that's the main womenswear line and for the event, the resort S/S 12 collection was presented.  It took a while for a few of the Italian journalists to get their head around the fact that the womenswear line was called Boy.

– This is Not a Polo Shirt line – that is in fact, err… a polo shirt line!  Some of the staff have been running around wearing this specially designed shirt as modelled by Sternberg here, and I kinda want to say "Are you a just a little bit too hot?  Why don't you strip off and give it to me?"  Anything with a Magritte reference is good in my books…

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– The Denim Line, which is in fact…denim.

– Girl line – this is the new diffusion line for Band of Outsiders which is in fact for girls and is a looser, less tailored line.  All subsidiary lines outside of Band and Boy were S/S 12 collections. 

Phew… confused?  Who cares because it was a heck of a show that Sternberg put on last night where all the lines harmonised with each other.  I say 'heck of a show' in the way that an American dad in the 50s-60s might because of the cinematic era that we were plunged into as various spotlights began to illuminate the tabacco factory in a dramatic fashion.   Sternberg's background as a former Hollywood agent as well as a film buff was made abundantly clear with this show set-up…

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I should have guessed from the pre-ambling press conference where Sternberg cited West Side Story as one of his favourite musicals that the show would begin with that familiar brass section and some very annunciated finger clicking.  It made total sense bringing an astutely American designer to Italy with this well-known America-Italy story. (**EDIT** I wrongly assumed the Jets were American-Italian…and ignore the Puerto Rican aspect of the story here in my text as pointed out by a commenter)  This is an abridged video of the actual show but gives you a good idea of the choreography, the lighting and the interplay between models and dancers.  I especially love the very literal bits of flirting the dancers are doing and their puppy dog faces as the models stalk past them – all icy and cold – which was a comment on a cliche on Sternberg's part I suppose. 

With the esteemed choreographer Fatima Robinson onboard and a talented group of dancers, the Jets vs. Sharks opening scene was set.  Then a model trooped out in a what I thought was a sexier incarnation of a typical Boy outfit and a bit of play-acting from the dancers contributed to the way that Sternberg would separate out all his lines. The rowdy 'gangs' wearing the denim and polo shirt lines played off against the ensuing aloof models in the main Band and Boy collection…

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Quite often as you'd expect, Band and Boy complemented each other and paired up with each other with the beginning portion really honing in on ideas of resort.  Sternberg spoke of looking at quite corny 50s musical references – Gene Kelly and George Chakris – distilling essences of some of those silhouettes into his own updated versions.  Then Sternberg mentioned that the posh preppy looks of Whit Stillman's Metropolitan were also an influence and I was immediately there.  Damn him for scooping two of my favourite film genres/subjects – musicals and poking fun at the upper class. 

Much of Band of Outsiders' design remit is to look at classics and update in the best and appropriate way possible.  This is considerably hard to appreciate when looking at my shonky images or a video and Sternberg quite often spoke of Japanese fabrics, in-house developed patterns and a lot of carbon footprinting when it comes to making up the final garment because of his desire for a high quality make, which is probably why the pricepoints are what they are.  The clothes never played second fiddle to the show and the tailoring in particular needs to be commended as he is one of the few designers to be working with Brooklyn great Martin Greenfield on their suits.  Martin Greenfield is something of an American tailoring legend with numerous lengthy posts hailing him as part of a dying breed of tailors to be cherished and Band of Outsiders actively uses Greenfield for all their suit needs. 

The beginning portion of the show began with a white-out that played off smart attire against sporty windbreakers with proportions of Band pieces adjusted and rejigged for the Boy line…

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A double breasted jacket in khaki cotton poplin along with a matching shirt dress or in the case of the guy, a pair of trousers suddenly looks refreshed under the hand of Band of Outsiders. 

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There's a preppy-luxury sportswear strand that runs through both collections with pieces such as the Breton Henley shirt, a hooded windbreakers and waxed trench coats…

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For me, Boy really came into its own as the shades of 80s Metropolitan-luxness and Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl was also something that popped up (dang… another scorcher of a reference…) especially in this gingham cropped blazer with slick leather pencil skirt…

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Even an all-over denim outfit in the form of this blazer and box pleated skirt was somehow made plausible.  I think the sneaker heels made in collaboration with Manolo Blahnik helped a great deal…

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Boy's tailored proportions really were a good deal sexier with this collection, with tighter fits, and a broader use of materials.  Even the seemingly preppy seersucker becomes a fitted ruched shirt dress that is the perfect Boy accompaniment to the Band seersucker suit…

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I particularly loved all the stripey suspender bands worked into body suits, skirts and the bodice of a strapless dress.  The signature straight forward suspender bands of that Boy have done in the past have now been twisted and criss-crossed over each other for yet another design update.  You get the feeling that Band of Outsiders take pleasure in honing and refining without ever veering too far off their classics course…

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This is where I have to blame my video function for only being able to record a teensy tiny excerpt of 'America'.  I apologise for not being able to provide a full-on sing-along version.  Here, a group of female dancers joined the Jets and the Sharks for a fleeting introduction to the new Girl line which is distinctly more casual, and thus the complete roster of Band of Outsiders was able to be presented all in one razz-ma-tazz spectacle.  Having seen a few of Band of Outsiders' storied presentations, it would be hard to top this Pitti show in terms of scale and theatrics but then again, Sternberg seems to have an imaginative grasp for showmanship even when confined to a New York gallery space, so I'll just take this for what it is – an isolated dream episode where my love of fashion and musicals came together for one night only. 

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20 Replies to “West Side Story”

  1. This show looks like it was spectacular and I’m really gutted that I wasn’t there! I’m not quite at the point where Sternberg would even consider inviting me to a show, yet the songs and the images look and sound fantastic- as a whole? a really great post! – Daniel Dunt

  2. Sounds like a completely amazing experience. I think the two videos you’ve posted are beautiful although I particularly like the first one. The colours in that are stunning and the creativity involved is apparent.
    Nemo

  3. dear susie,
    As a new yorker, i’ve got to comment. In the play, West Side story, the Sharks are Puerto Rican, and the Jets are “white” of indeterminate origin. During the time period portrayed in the film, European “ethnics,” like Jews, Italians and Irish were battling for acceptance into the intensely stratified (black-white) American racial system. The streets of New York City, were a historic battle ground in this struggle for full American (read: white) citizenship.
    During the post-WWII era in which the play was set, a lot of new social programs made it possible for Italians, Jews and Irish to enter into full (“white”) American classification, while Puerto Ricans began to fall more firmly and irrevocably into the “black” category. When the Jets taunt the Sharks with racist remarks, what can be heard is one group which has “become American” taunting another group which is excluded from full citizenship. It is the sadness, futility, and resulting violence of this struggle that frames West Side Story.
    So when you write that West Side Story is an “America-Italy” tale, I must take issue. It is a New York story, a Puerto Rican story, a story of the American class and racial system.
    I hope that this more historical interpretation brings another light to the Band of Outsiders color story.

  4. archivingthecity: I always assumed the Jets were Italian-American- my mistake… not sure why I just assumed that….
    Thanks for adding the further ‘race classification’ – of course I’m a little familiar with New York’s early 20th century immigration…
    I’ll correct my text though…

  5. amazing! I love Band of Outsiders. When we did menswear at uni we were each assigned a designer to pretend we worked for, and I got Band of Outsiders. this looks like such a good show!

  6. Susie: Great post, and I really enjoyed the way they executed the concept for this show. Thanks for sharing!
    @archivingthecity: Thanks for the historical background, there! I had no idea, and it definitely informs how I’ll see West Side Story from now on.

  7. I discovered so many beneficial thing in your blog site especially it’s discussion. On the a lot of feedback on your articles, I guess I am not the only one getting the satisfaction right here! keep up a good work.

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