>> On the last Business of Fashion Breakfast Club (can I just assert here that I DID actually scoff down my eggs and avocado on toast and that the food wasn’t just for show…), together with Colin McDowell, Mimma Viglezio and Imran Amed, we discussed the season that was. When it came to the subject of New York Fashion Week, the broad conclusion was that nothing really excited but I did speak up for the few young designers that are worth seeking out. Imran did say with the relentless schedule, this can be difficult to do. And with the severe weather in New York, even I had to minimise appointments. Wrists duly slapped as I missed out on seeing up and coming duo Area’s new A/W 15-6 collection.
Area are Piotrek Panzczyk and Beckett Fogg, both Parsons MA graduates who have garnered experience working at Calvin Klein, and Chloe but as their MA courses overlapped by a year, they decided to team up in 2013 to start their label.They happen on to a special embossing technique, which caught my eye last season as they very kindly gave me a t-shirt, shrink wrapped in dimpled plastic with hand-pressed nubbly dots impressed all over that are supposed to change over time.Regular washing would dull the texture and even create perforations that creates a unique punched pattern.It’s a t-shirt that is truly in flux as I’ve worn it to a holey death.
They have a special way of synthesising their references to that even for A/W 15-6 where they looked at members of sororities and an abstracted idea of sisterhood, what manifests are body conscious wool and lame pieces, punctuated with Area’s embossed dots and other methods of distressing fabrics.This sorority girl has gone wild and she’s hitting da club in tight arm warmers, elongated flares and for the purpose of lounging about at the afterparty, washed velvet overcoats and satin blousons.It’s a millennial walk of shame that showcases the duo’s predilection for tactile textures that immediately draw the eye in.
Their current S/S 15 collection, exclusive to Opening Ceremony at the moment also put the duo’s love of innovative textiles to good use as they used Leonardo DiCaprio’s youthful visage from The Basketball Diaries and had it carved into terry cloth bodysuits and cotton tops – a humorous take on sportswear. Even as they mined that familiar language of sports-derived oversized silhouettes and Kate Moss-inspired slip dresses, with their embossed language and interesting touchy-feely denims and cottons make their obvious referencing, not so obvious. Area are exploring the sort of hidden depths that in today’s Insta-culture can be a bit lost. As I’ve been repeatedly calling for, perhaps a thorough edit on the NYFW schedule wouldn’t go amiss so that we don’t miss the gems actually worth seeing.
“It’s too Galliano.It’s not Margiela enough!” were the murmurings that could be heard immediately after the Maison Margiela ready to wear show, despite the raucous applause and cries for John Galliano to emerge (he did not – apparently he had even disappeared through the backdoor before journalists could even get to him).It’s the latest round of Goldi-maison conversation where we’re quick to judge a collection based on preconceived (and often rigid) notions of what a house stands for.As Alexander Fury pointed out in this article on BOF though, does the end customer actually care about the fit of a designer to house?Are they even aware of the in-and-out motions of creative directors so long as a bricks and mortar presence of their brand with clothes on the racks and bags on the shelves exists.
That’s not to say I don’t care about fit or the past.But for me it’s a positive thing that maisons have become mouldable, changeable and evolving entities.Did people say that Balenciaga wasn’t Balenciaga enough, when Nicolas Ghesquiere was sending out 80s Star Wars-inspired sweaters?When Raf Simons presented Kansai Yamamoto-esque psychedelic catsuits at his last haute couture Dior show there was unanimous praise but no query as to whether Monsieur Dior would have approved of these creations.Maisons have in effect provided the corporate-backed means for some of fashion’s most innovative and forward thinking designers to show their prowess and do so on a massive stage.Attempting to link every new collection’s connection with a maison’s past feels increasingly futile.The question we should be asking is do we want our creative directors to replicate and tweak house codes like dutiful house-keepers or do we want them to push fashion forward on the whole, like their maison createurs did in the first place?
So then we come to John-not-Margiela-enough-Galliano’s debut at Maison Marginal.The name Martin has already been lopped off.One could say Margiela stopped being the Margiela that it was when the creator left the house and it came under the ownership of Renzo Rosso’s Only the Brave group.And yet the narrative that has dogged Galliano’s return to fashion is, does he fit the house?It has something to do with our collective attachment to the label with its relatively recently departed founding designer (even though Martin has reportedly gien his blessing to the hiring of Galliano) But as the is-it-Galliano-slash-Margiela chit-chat murmured on after the show, I preferred to draw conclusions about the clothes, which is why I wanted to go and see it again in the showroom.
For me they stood out and in the showroom, revealed embedded features that were hard to read into on the runway.The talking point of the show were Galliano’s madcap characters, hunch-backed and stalking down the runway like deranged bag ladies (some even clutched suede paper bags) that might give you a fright on the streets.Their neon-ringed eyes and lips were siren signals of their eccentricity – which happened to be a key word of the season.I’ve forgotten how many times I had written “eclectic” and “anything-goes” into show write-ups this season, especially when Paris really kicked in.One of the key shows that really cemented this ‘trend’ was this Margiela collection with its “ephemeral muse” (re-affirmed by the press notes) where through “calculated imperfection, the individual emerges.”
The judgement that the collection was “Too Galliano!” seemed to stem primarily from these zany off-beat women, led by their clown-like demeanours rather than what they were actually wearing.No talk of the fitted jackets with their curved exaggerated cuffs and excellent tailleur-meets-flou outerwear with extended coat linings that converted into slip dresses (you can wear them both as coats or as dresses with coats hanging off the back on the straps – and yes they’ll be sold like that).Or the detachable sleeves that came off vinyl peacoats.Or the visible strands of silk on the back of floral film coupe embroidery on the faintly Ossie Clark-esque dresses and blouses, sometimes trimmed with a whimsical bit of marabou.Or the velvet suits that looked ever-alluring and keyed into the interiors-derived fabric that has decorated so many A/W 15-6 collections.Then there were the shoes, which in the showroom looked ripe for picking – rounded ‘Tabi’ boots reshaped and adapted for Margiela 2.0, mary janes with enlarged straps and double heels and loafers with elongated tongues.
We’ll keep talking about the fit of the designer to the house but the fit of the clothes ultimately matter – and even as Galliano’s spirit raged on through those hunched shoulders and misfit swagger – it’s interesting to note that he’s already moulded his aesthetic substantially to fit Margiela.These clothes were abound with transformation, deconstruction and hidden secrets, created through conscientious research.Nonetheless, do we want Galliano back to tick off Margiela-isms at a house that has already undergone extreme change, or do we want him to be given a blank canvas (which Margiela arguably is anyway with its anti-code approach) to create freely? Food for thought…
I didn’t get to see the Raf Simons haute couture debut for Dior in person. It’s the ONE show that I’ve not seen in his tenure for the house. My initial thoughts that I would say in hindsight was reactive rather than well-judged was that I wanted “more”. Looking back though, that collection was that first brave step that Simons had taken a) into a new world of haute couture, which he that never ventured in before and b) to reconcile the heavy heavy weight of Dior’s past and his own vision. Simons has since successfully ricocheted from past to present to some kind of superfuture in numerous Dior collections that have definitely clicked, clicked, clicked.
But the tale behind that first hatute couture debut collection for Dior now has a voice of its own, told by director Frédéric Tcheng in the documentary Dior and I, due to be released next week in the UK on the 27th March (it’s on release as previews in London at the moment). It’s the documentary that tracks the creation of that haute couture debut, filming eight weeks before the show right up to the show itself.
Tcheng has had experience of following fashion auteurs despite coming from a background of engineering with co-directing and producing credits on Valentino: The Last Emperor and Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel. Dior and I represents Tcheng’s first solo directed masterpiece and it was a story that he wanted to tell even before Simons had been appointed at Dior. “They had a new creative director coming in and Raf was at the top of many people’s list to get that job,” explained Tcheng. “I’m not a fashion expert but to me Raf Simons is a very a unique designer in the landscape He doesn’t talk very often but when he does you can sense he’s a very thoughtful designer. He doesn’t get inspired by the same things that everyone else gets inspired by. That story of coming to this French house with all its history and tradition, which In many ways, is at odds with Raf’s forward-thinking aesthetic – the past meeting the future by creating something in the present. That’s a ninety minute film for sure.”
Lest you think that this film is going to be 90 minutes of pandering to the brand, you’re wrong. What this film is ultimately about is the process of creation and the human hands and hearts that are invested in this process. Yes, the creative process being filmed, happens to be at Dior, one of two houses in the world that operates haute couture ateliers in this way with a history rooted in a man that created the monumental “New Look”, but Tcheng dials the story back to the people that work for the house and why they matter. “Dior is a very powerful brand and I was very conscious from the beginning that I had to watch out for my own POV. I did that through meetings explaining what I wanted to do. I told them right away, that people aren’t interested in a 90 minute Dior commercial. I wanted to touch on the human issues and that’s what I wanted to have access to have. Fortunately the rights of a director are very protected in France so I made sure I was able to make a very personal film.”
Convincing Simons to co-operate was half the battle. “Initially he said no! I explained my intentions in writing to him that I wanted to film the human side of the ateliers and his relationship with them. That got us through the first hurdle. After the letter, he said we could have one week with him. The rest happened through a lot of discussion as he explained why he didn’t want to be in the film. He didn’t want to be put on a pedestal. Once we established that I was not going to treat him that way, he opened up. He made me talk a lot about myself. At the end of the process, he got a sense of who I was. For him, it’s a two-way thing. ’”
Often filming alone or with one single soundman, Tcheng set about documenting the work process of the collection quietly, from the moment when Simons stepped in to be introduced by Sidney Toledano to the atelier staff integrating with Simons’ new way of working and of course, the actual making of the collection. The petite mains of the atelier become vital components of the film. There’s Monique, head of tailleur, with an amusingly anxious disposition who soothes her nerves with Haribo sweets. There’s Florence, head of flou, who creates drama when she has to leave the collection to fly to New York to attend to a client (justifiably so as she does spunk EUR350,000 a season on Dior haute couture).
I found this significant less because of Simons’ visible frustration but more that Dior haute couture as an entity is clearly profitable and that this atelier works not just as a labour of love but because they’re actively working for clients. Business aside, it’s clear they visibly invest much of themselves in what they create, taking pride in their work. There’s one scene when they’re re-embroidering a dress an eight of the workers are huddled over this two meter piece of fabric. There’s no questioning of why they need to get this right. They just do it because the perfection in every seam of every silhouette matters.
The atelier aspect of the film was incredibly important to Tcheng for several reasons. He had already experienced characters of an atelier through working on the Valentino documentary and knew there would be compelling stories to tell here. “Fashion is an image driven culture which sometimes obliterate a certain amount of reality in order to prop up someone or something. It tends to simplify a lot of things. I was interested in paying homage to the people who work in the shadows. It comes from my experience of working on other people’s films. The creative process is very intense and personal. Even if you’re not the main attraction or the creative director, it’s a team effort. In a film at least you have credits at the end. In fashion, there are no credits. It’s just the one designer coming out at the end of the runway.”
One other significant person in the shadows was Pieter Mulier, Simons’ trusted right hand man, who emerged as something of a Grace Coddington-esque character a la September Issue. His ability to speak French aided the communication between atelier and Simons and so he became something of a charismatic mediator. Florence has a particular soft spot for him. Significantly at the recent ready to wear show, Simons took his bow with Mulier by his side. It felt like an acknowledgement as a result of the film. “I think they’re very complimentary,” said Tcheng on the partnership. “Raf is very focused and sometimes,he comes across as withdrawn because he’s in this extreme concentration space. That allows Pieter to be more external. You have to have both of these roles.”
Another important character in the film was Monsieur Dior himself. Excerpts from his biography, narrated by Omar Berrada are woven into the narrative along with archive footage of Dior. His presence is a ghostly parallel set up to mirror Simons’ beginnings at the house. This reflective thread lingers until the day of show when we’re fully immersed into the present, into what Simons has done. “I was interested in the communication between the past and the present. Raf was interested in the same theme too by nature of working at Dior and being asked to transform the legacy into something modern. When I read Dior’s autobiography, there was something very simple and raw about the way Dior was expressing himself. It seemed like the past was mirroring the present. I saw parallels between Raf and Dior and in the processes of haute couture. When I was filming, I’d pick up the book at night and sometimes I was reading was exactly what had happened that day. You had that cycle of repetition. It’s a beautiful thing but it’s a scary thing for Raf to create something modern. He has to be respectful of the past but also break that pattern and assert his voice. I was interested in creating this atmosphere in the film – something that was haunting.”
The behind the scenes tidbits even for a non-fashion enthusiast are interesting enough because jeopardy in any industry is an interesting thing to watch, especially when the problem is subsequently solved. How a fabric printed with Ruby Sterling’s paintings caused the team a headache because only four engravers were in the country at the time, but were pronounced as “Sublime” when they came back from Bucol. How the bar jacket became black for those opening looks in the show, because Mulier took to the toile of the jacket with a spray can. Those images of those walls of orchids, roses and lilies created by Belgian florist Mark Colle are seared into our brains they weren’t an easy feat to pull off. Not least the cost of them which even Anna Wintour noted when she greeted Simons before the show: “Guess budget wasn’t an issue.”
But the emotion of it all will turn on waterworks for most. There’s a moment when Simons steps outside on the rooftop of the venue right before the show is about to commence. He needed a breather. He’s crying from the weight of expectation. That’s not a moment that many brands wish to convey. It’s the human in the machine that reminds us that inspirational creation can’t be done on auto pilot. Similarly the workers of the ateliers were letting their dresses go out on to the runway as though they were their children growing up in the big wide world. The show day was an emotional one for Tcheng too. “It was the biggest challenge of my career. I had a bigger crew. Everyone was running around and I had to direct everyone. My process paralleled Raf and the atelier’s process. This was a big day for me too and I had to step it up. I was lucky to be at the right moment at the right time. I lost Raf many times on the day. I had to look for Pieter or Olivier (Bialobos – head of communications at Dior) to find him. That’s how I got the moment on the rooftop.”
For the fashion fan, this insight into Simons’ way of working only makes you appreciate his output even more. You can’t fake the way he looks at every silhouette with such serious intent, analysing everything meticulously with his prepared dossiers that contain reference images for every single look. When he’s in the car and he asserts that he’s not a minimalist as everyone initially pronounced, you can more than feel the anguish of a designer that has been pigeon-holed. “I want it to become dynamic because women are dynamic,” said Simons at the beginning of the film. That dynamism has thus far defined his oeuvre at Dior and even though Tcheng showed the ups and downs of a collection that came together in just eight weeks, as the slow-mo camera honed in on the models walking through those floral rooms, the final conclusion was that it was a triumph. It was an achievement not possible without the people around him and a heck of a lot of work. “I wanted to show real human beings,” said Tcheng. “I was allowed to do that by the very nature of Raf, Pieter and the seamstresses – they’re very grounded people. They’re about the work. It felt very important for the film to be about the work.”
I did an audible yelp when Nike first told me way back last summer that they would be collaborating with sacai.I could already imagine the coming together of these two entities, both similarly obsessed with fabrication and innovation , albeit operating on vastly different scales.Now that the eight-piece capsule NikeLab collection has been unveiled, I can finally bleat on and on about it.I know the word “synergy” is a rubbish ad-land word that can sound like a media cliche but it fully applies in this instance to the way Chitose Abe from sacai has gone through Nike’s archives to find icons to twist in the way that she has been doing so successfully for sixteen years with sacai.
“It couldn’t be too much Nike ortoo much sacai,” said Abe.“With every collaboration I do, it has to be 50/50.Once we started working together more closely, it was great to see that Nike could give me the space to make this happen.”This 50/50 partnership began with Abe going to Nike HQ in Portland and arriving back at the icons that she personally knew and loved – the Windrunner jacket, with its chevron point design – and the Nike Air Max 90.They’re both instantly recognisable as Nike icons giving Abe fertile ground to play with, twist and ultimately renew.“Nike is classic, and Sacai has always played with the idea of taking classic pieces and then creating playful and unexpected hybrids from them,” said Abe, when I met her just before the NikeLab x Sacai launch in London yesterday.“Everybody knows a cardigan and a military jacket, which I’ve converted into something different.The same with Nike – everybody knows Nike, but I wanted to take it to a different place.”
The fundamental thing about every sacai garment is the way they have deceptive depths and hidden details, embedded by surprising use of volumes of pleats, folds and drapes.Wearing a sacai piece makes you look at your reflection from 360 degrees which is why front-on catwalk images can be misleading. Abe attributes this approach to her view that clothes need to exist in real life, where “we’re looked at from all angles.”Lofty inspirations and abstract references don’t play into Abe’s modus operandi.Instead she thinks about what she’d personally like to wear.And yet what Abe likes to wear is actually technically and aesthetically advanced in terms of fabrications and pattern making, which is what makes sacai so compelling.
That same ethos guided this collaboration. The classic WindRunner jacket is dissected and amplified with plisse pleats and also converted into a panelled skirt.Nike’s Tech Fleece fabric is utilised and made up into a sweatshirt, a dress and tracksuit bottoms with billowing gatherings of ripstop fabric at the back – Nike from the front on, Sacai from the back is the simple way of summing up these hybrid garments.For the first time, Nike created a special mesh lace especially for the collection as a nod to Abe’s use of lace in her own take on femininity and in return Nike lent its technical expertise by adding bonded zippers attached without stitching.The Air Max also has a physical duality to them representative of that 50/50 partnership, with their two-tone colour ways, slip-on shape and built in tromp l’oeil wedge detailing.
The collaboration follows a NikeLab trail of exciting and non-obvious choices of designers that offer not necessarily the biggest but the most interesting of aesthetics – Jun Takahashi in his ongoing Gyakasou line, Pedro Lourenco and his balletic work-out gear and Johanna Schneider’s modular gear.This NikeLab capsule collection by sacai is ostensibly the most ‘fashion’ of them all – which isn’t to say you can’t move, run and be physically active in them.
Witness a troupe of dancers trapezing, spinning and running around a cavernous space at the NikeLab x sacai launch event last night.The point was to emphasise that these clothes are meant to move and live.This is where the common ground between Nike and sacai is really found – both want wearers of their apparel to be moving and active.“I love looking at girls walking past, and then seeing all the movement in the fabric,” said Abe.“For me, that’s kind of exciting.”
Of course there’s a real difference between walking about on a day-to-day basis and REALLY working out.“It’s great that girls can wear the collection in their own comfortable way but I did initially think that they would be difficult to wear whilst doing actual exercise or fitness because of all the fabric,” said Abe. “But when I saw the rehearsal of the London show, it was so great to see the collection being used in that way. At the same time, you can wear it in a non-active environment too as ‘fashion’ items.”The message is as with all sacai collections is versatility and functionality without any loss of aesthetic interest.If you’ve got mad skills like these dancers and gymnasts – the girl doing her hola hoop spinning was particularly mesmerising – the collection amplifies that graceful movement.
However if you’re merely walking down the street and going about your day, these sacai x NikeLab pieces will also serve you well.I was excited to try out the pieces on the last day of Paris and back in London, I also took them out for a spin – literally.In Slo-Mo, you can really see the amount of fabric injected into the back of the crew sweatshirts as well as the way the skirts are structured and that even with my distinctly non-athletic movements, the pieces have a life of their own.It’s not “cool” to label clothes as comfortable.That implies something safe or boring. This sacai collaboration, in line with both brands’ creative output, manages to straddle this idea of being at ease with yourself with clothes that allow you to move freely. And the best thing is there’s more to come as there will also be a summer collection released in June. May the synergy keep on rolling.
NikeLab x sacai skirt worn with Louis Vuitton jacket, waistcoat and boots