Pass that Dutch

I’m blaming the heat in both Paris and Rome for my two day blog absence.  A sun-induced brain fug is not conducive to analysing the haute couture collections in any meaningful way.  But waiting a bit has its rewards.  Getting to the end of Paris haute couture fashion week meant I could talk about not one but two collections that revolved around art – specifically the Flemish masters.  One went beneath the surface of those 16th-18th century paintings, delving deep to make you think, wonder and be excited.  The other simply mined the surface for effect and as a result came off looking facile even though the initial reaction did yield rhapsodic cries of “It’s like art” on social media.  That’s a comment doesn’t always have a positive spin, especially when we’re talking about clothes that are meant to serve a sartorial purpose – and here at haute couture, they’re purpose and custom made for real moving and paying clients.

At Dior, Raf Simons presented a Garden of Earthly Delights that dissected the meaning behind the forbidden fruit of Hieronymous Bosch’s famous triptych.  This garden had purple astroturf with random globular shapes placed haphazardly and was housed inside a “Modernist, Pointillist church” with Georges Seurat-esque dots on acid shimmering all over us.  That’s both Flemish and French art masters ticked off then.  But there was a point to Simons’ multi-epoch, multi-genre referencing.  He’s no stranger to traversing back in time to fine-tune the past into something new.  This time round though, he was cherry picking through art epochs and the way they evolved from one to another (Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque).  That dreaded comment “It’s like art” here isn’t just concentrated into the surface – instead it’s about the ideology and the way styles and eras can be taken out of context and be stratified into something else.  A Hans Holbein-esque status-portraying sleeve can be transplanted onto a sweeping Dior manteau.  17th century criss-crossing chainmail motifs from regal portraiture can be paired with 1970s peasant dresses.  Or going back to Bosch’s painting, Simons played with the theme of the loss of innocence by pitting raging sensuality and virtuous innocence See the virginal sheer high-necked gowns that flowed and fluttered.  On the other hand, expanses of flesh would slyly appear out of nowhere when flower encrusted gowns were turned to the side, held with golden clasps.

There was a lot to digest, take in and think about here.  But isn’t that what “art” – well at least the best sort of art – makes you do?  Simons doesn’t do pure surface.  Even a pretty frock covered in Pointillist dabs of paint (and stunning hand cut feathers ! ) or Monet-esque florals fall under Simons’ grandiose  idea that art, like fashion, is there to be appropriated and decontextualised.  That in itself might not be anything new but once again, Simons’ ideas make you think and rethink about what haute couture can be today.  If anything, he might be ahead of the curve somewhat when you look at the way couture clients are currently trussed up (ballgowns, tulle, lace, embroidery and perhaps too much of it all).  If I had the means, I’d be investigating those immensely majestic coats with their draped pleats that the girls were clutching (a vulnerable gesture that was also about concealing their modesty) or those column-like dresses with their painterly embroideries.  Art in this case hasn’t been regurgitated and thrown out there with shallow intentions.  And that’s why you need a few more days to mull it over.    

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On Wednesday, Viktor & Rolf tried their hand at performance art, which came off try hard.  I loved their last collection, which announced their intentions to use haute couture as a forum for experiment and high octane vision.  This one however was a head-scratcher.  Collapsible gold frames with stretched bonded linen to mimic canvas engulfed every body.  As the show progressed, so did peeks of Dutch still lifes or The Threatened Swan by Jan Asselijn.  They were printed on the fabrics like cheap posters and then Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren proceeded to lift them off the body and arrange them like car crashed-paintings on the wall.  It was all so… simplistic.  It wasn’t “like” art; it was just the physical representation of art without any of the feeling.  Not surprisingly, images of this show resonated on Instagram.  How could it not?  There was quickfire visual and kitsch appeal aplenty.  Nothing to decipher or think about here.  Just an instantaneous “Wow, that’s cool!”.  This is what the audience en masse want out of fashion.  A piece of cheap ploy theatre that doesn’t have any nuance to it.  The title of the show?  “Wearable art” – if the duo were making fun of the exaggerated way people use this phrase, you couldn’t detect it.  I suppose they get the last laugh.  The pieces have already been bought by art collector Han Nefkens for the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam.

And so the dual nature of haute couture today in Paris continues to be at play.  A designer’s vision, executed at the highest level thanks to the skills of the many petites mains and craftsmen.  It’s either a real and alive working industry with real and alive clients.  Or it’s a pointless vanity project – a decoy used to sell handbags and perfumes.  I know which I prefer.

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A Quiet Moment

>> If you follow my Instagram, you’ll know I’m haute couture-ing and that it’s thus far been an onslaught on the body.  Legs aching – from running to the Versace show plonking my bum on the seat to see slashed gowns stomp on 25,000 orchids.  Body Sweat – from sitting in Dior’s stained glass pointillist church and melting under 30 degree heat.  Brain freeze – from trying to decipher the different stylistic and history epochs that Raf Simons was referencing and piecing it all together in my head.  Heart palpitations – from trying to ID capture all the Insta moments at Chanel.  The celebrities!  The casino!  The sharp shouldered clothes!  Those tinted cheekbones!  Headaches – from drinking in the excess seen at Giambattista Valli and MAC’s party held at the Opéra last night, which was magnificently projected with roses.  More of that tonight when another beauty giant Lancôme throws their big bash.  

A quiet moment therefore feels almost like a luxury – which is also what haute couture is all about.  And yet despite my eyes, ears and brains buzzing with ways of dissecting the ins and outs of those aforementioned shows, today inside the courtyard of the Lycee Henri IV, I got to take in Bouchra Jarrar and reflect upon it quietly.  Without an outrageous set.  Without celebrities.  Without pap fanfare.

And the clothes?  Well they weren’t simple but compared to Hans Holbein sleeves and gold leaf flutter gowns paired with severe bobs and intense rouge, they certainly were minimised.  This 21st century couturier has been doing her thing on the haute couture schedule for an established amount of time now and she hasn’t wavered from her fixation on day-to-day clothes that hold luxuries for the wearer (in fabric, cut and fit).  But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t get to do her own flights of fancy.  Today, they came in the form of what Jarrar called “aurora borealis” embroidery done by Maison Lesage with plumes of feathers in hues of peach, lilac and powder blue creating raised shoulders and curvaceous backs.  They were contained in Jarrar’s signature holsters and harness pieces that provocatively draw lines on the body, highlighting the smalls of the back and the shoulders.  My eyes could see those nuances clearly here.  And they could adjust quickly.

I’m still ploughing through the SD card and my thoughts to articulate Dior (and then came the think piece canyon that was Chanel this morning) but for now, Jarrar doing less to say more feels like something of a respite.

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In Da Miu Miu Club

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Miu Miu has permanently ensconced their shows at the Palais D’Iena in Paris since… I don’t remember when, so travelling to some far-out location for their resort (or croisière as the folks at Miu Miu like to call it) show was never going to be on the cards.  Entering the space last night, and beneath the seedy clear plastic stripping, industrial rave scaffolding and neon lights was the Miu Miu Club, a starkly different affair from the Miu Miu London club from a few years back.  In fact from start to finish, it was a very different affair from most Miu Miu events, where plush carpet, a few quiet drinks and unabashed girliness normally dominate.  There was a bit of plush carpeting in one of the adjoining rooms where the debut of their first perfume was played out with a muse, a kitten and the prettiest of powder blue bottles (Quickfire verdict on the fragrance?  Fresh, sweet but not overly so).

Beyond though and Miuccia was setting us up for a rager with Prada sound meister Frederic Sanchez, tech house DJ Craig Richards and American producer Seth Troxler on the decks.  RuPaul’s Drag Race and Club Sandwich divas and queens mingled amongst the guests.  Despite the faux “reserved” seating signs, the best view in the house wasn’t from those VIP suede couches.  Instead, we all gawked up at the raised scaffolding platform where the most banging of Miu Miu remixes strutted out – both on the soundtrack and on the clothes.  You could spy a bit of S/S 10 swallow and nudie prints, a rehash of the S/S 12 cowboy boots, the Western-style inlaid jackets, the metallic leathers, the crystal embroderies – all recognisable Miu Miu-isms.  But it was all slashed, cut and pasted in a way that felt more energetically menacing than the Miu Miu of late.  The DIY fronds of fabric hanging off the ears.  The Miu Miu club flyer plastered over skirts.  The prints depicting dancing legs.  No simpering pretty-in-pink Miu Miu girlie girl here.  This was a cheeky wild child raver ready to rip up the past and mash it up differently.

Perhaps that was down to that injected whiff of London Blitz Kids or Malcolm McLaren and Dame Viv’s early 80s collections.  It was a remix that might even have surpassed the original, and it was one that fell right in line with how Miuccia summarised her last Miu Miu collection.  “It’s about fun and fashion!” was what she uttered back in March.  This resort collection, and the subsequent afterparty WAS wholly about fun.  But there was nothing throwaway about it all.  The post party headache lingered on today and the clothes will endure some rambunctious times when they hit the rails a few months down the line.

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Up Where the Air is Clear

>> I couldn’t conceivably title yet another post with “The Hills are Alive…” but it’s just about ok to shove another Julie Andrews-related lyric in there just to illustrate how happy I was to venture up into the hills by Wattens, where Swarovski’s headquarters are, back in April when they held their 120th anniversary event.  Just before I left Austria, I went up there armed with pieces from Swarovski’s archives and a selection of their Atelier pieces – including collaborations with the likes of Masha Ma, Maison Margiela and Viktor & Rolf – to catch the meadow dew, mountain mist and the alpine spring bloom.  If it looks like I’m about to break into Sound of Music song in every shot, that’s because I really did belt it out up there.  In lieu of summer’s rays pelting London, Paris, New York… well, most places really, I thought I’d celebrate with this sparkle-filled, smiley happy fest.

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IMG_0645 Worn with COS jumpsuit throughout, Vans x & Other Stories slip-ons and Marques Almeida x Retrosuperfuture sunglasses