Nearly five days and three separate half hour conversations with different editors later and I’m still sort of pondering the Opening Ceremony one act play, 100% Lost Cott, which took place last Sunday evening in a brilliantly conceived reverse set in the Metropolitan Opera House. The play, directed by Spike Jonze and co-written with Jonah Hill, runs in tandem with the other “happenings” that occurred in NYFW. Gareth Pugh’s immersive experience courtesy of Lexus. Ralph Lauren Polo’s holographic projection on the lake in Central Park. Then the usual slew of performances, parties and goings-ons that are the bloodline of NYFW’s existence.
It all begged the question of whether seeing the clothes in a simple setting is enough to satisfy an audience? Or do we need the extra bells and whistles now to grab attention, secure that news story and of course add to the social media chatter (I totted it up… over 70% of shows I saw in New York came with a handy hashtag). Let’s talk OC seeing as I’ve already analysed it to death with peers. If only I had recorded those conversations. You might have already read the premise of the play. Elle Fanning plays a doe-eyed wannabe model new to New York City. She meets Bella, a self-proclaimed IT girl, played by Dree Hemingway at a fitting for Opening Ceremony. Humberto Leon and Carol Lim’s characters are given ludicrous alter egos played wonderfully by John Cameron Mitchell and Catherine Keener and Bobby Cannavale plays the tortured stylist. I’ll give you a few choice lines just to illustrate the gist of the satire
Bella talking about errr… the arbitrary role of a muse…
“I also do musing – you know, it’s when designers look at you to get inspired.”
Humbeto screaming at Brian, the stylist as they work out final looks…
“Look at this hem – it looks very normal, it looks very safe, it reeks of fear!”
Bella talking about Karlie Kloss’ age…
“She’s in her late early twenties – she’s an old pro!”
… Humberto greets Karlie with…
“Karlie fucking Kloss – tower over me bitch!”
Humberto describing the latest Opening Ceremony collection to Lisa Love, played by Rashida Jones…
“We’re using new technologies to push the boundary of print… and therefore rem… completely different. Using new technologies is actually… ironic. It’s very pre-internet and post-nostalgia… errr… post-punk, pre-grunge and totally … pre-Twit-ter.”
Bella breaking down to Julie about the realities of the industry…
“People say you don’t judge a a book by its cover… but when you first meet someone, you totally judge a book by its cover.”
“I’m going to all the parties that I used to look at on my computer. I’m on the Tumblrs that I used to look at. It’s so great…but I still feel like shit – it’s just a whole new set of things that make you feel shitty.”
Vanessa Friedmann took it down with one properly harsh review. She resented the cliches and the exaggerated silliness of it all. Another editor I spoke to didn’t appreciate being told off about the fashion industry. Whilst Hill and Jonze may have amped up the f-bombs and OTT lines to get the laughs but by and large, what they portrayed on stage isn’t too far from the truth. That people in the industry can be false and disingenuous? That models feel rubbish at castings when they’re judged for their looks in 30 seconds? That designers spew made-up drivel when describing their collections? That when you’re bogged down in the industry, what made you love it in the first place can quickly sour and you can become jaded? Tick, tick, tick and another tick. Cliches are cliches for a reason and having witnessed all the aforementioned behaviour, albeit maybe in less dramatic fashion, there were surely a few people squirming in their seats.
The most telling set of lines in the play belonged to ditz-slash-sage young Julie. She had this set of options for the suffering Bella…
“One you quit.
Two, you change the way the whole fashion world thinks, behaves and acts.
Three, you stay and just enjoy the moments that you love. Maybe just ignore all the bad parts.”
One suspects that option three is what we all do as we trundle along. The system is too big and too set in its ways to change in its entirety and you can only do your part to contribute positively. It wasn’t a telling off. It was merely a reminder that we all need to check ourselves from time to time and that yes, laughing at ourselves can only be a good thing.
But the clothes? What of the clothes? Well, does Opening Ceremony, a brand that had only recently began to show really need to spell out the clothes in minute detail? The gist was clear enough. Pre-internet graphics and bygone faded pastel colours placed on easy-to-wear silhouettes. They definitely spell themselves out when they’re on the rails. What they excel at is the happening, the vibes, the associations, the people, the connections and well… the coolness of it all. I’d whine if I felt like I was being told “I am way cooler than thou” which is all too easy, when you have that much cool clout in your arsenal, but I just emerged out of the play thinking “I really enjoyed that.” And days later, it’s still on my mind. How many shows at NYFW can say they achieved the same thing?
From a play that deliberately did all it can to showcase a collection to a performance that purposely had no clothes at all and you get another piece of food for thought that is entirely refreshing during fashion week. Olivier Saillard’s performance pieces are extraordinary. They celebrate an essence of fashion that perhaps more and more people forget about. Remember the incredible Impossible Wardrobe performance featuring Tilda Swinton? Saillard came to New York and categorically floored the editors, who took a break from usual show routine to sit at Milk Studios for this forty minute performance
As with the Opening Ceremony play, I wondered what fashion “happening” can actually sustain a jaded fashion industry’s attention span for more than half an hour. Saillard certainly had his audience spellbound as he had former French supermodels – Anne Rohart, Charlotte Flossaut, Axelle Doué, Christine Bergstrom, Claudia Huidobro, Amalia Vairelli, and Violeta Sanchez – all inhabit garments that they modelled for the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Paul Gaultier, Azzedine Alaia and Comme des Garcons.
Dressed in black tights and black polo necks, we were invited to imagine as they described and made gestures to suggest every item of clothing. For instance Vairelli’s hands would hold the collar of her YSL Le Smoking suit down with an assured strut. Huidobro kicked off her heels in a dramatic motion when reenacting an early Comme des Garcons show – “No heels!” she declared. Axelle Doué recounts what Madame Grès said about her in 1980: “Too tall, too curvy, too much bottom!” whilst moving her way down the seams of a draped dress which instantly gave her this elegant gait.
These women really knew those clothes. They also recalled the designers well and had real lasting relationships with them. They weren’t anonymous faces walking in and out of a conveyor belt of casting calls. Their presence was powerful and the fact that Saillard chose the specific designers and garments that he did only serves to emphasise that model slash muse was an intensive and immersive experience back then. In every interview I’ve done with Saillard, he always has on-point comments about today’s overstuffed fashion week calendars that lack conviction and he has a similar viewpoint about today’s indistinguishable faces on the runway. You could tell that these models weren’t faking it. They really made us feel physically entranced by the clothes they were embodying, present in spirit and in our heads. There was even one instance when just as Rohart began to move, I had already guessed what designer she was talking about… it had to be Dior by John Galliano. It was something in the fantastical sensuality conveyed in her hands and the expression on her face.
To form a conclusion to this performance, this power bevy of former models walked up and down in unison, smirking at each other. Was it the competition and rat race nature of modelling today that inspired this? Then each model lay an image of themselves in their younger model glory years on the floor and looked at it longingly. They remembered those moments with crystal clear vision and together with Saillard, who orchestrated the whole thing, they gave themselves a voice.
It felt like an indulgence to take up two opportunities arising during New York Fashion Week, to think about fashion, not in terms of silhouettes, colour and trends but its ethics, practises and schools of thought. There are mountains of clothes everywhere but a chance to really think about the industry that we proclaim to love is a luxury indeed.