Fashion isn’t a house of cards – where one ill-judged manoeuvre brings the whole thing tumbling down – but rather a game of Kerplunk!. Meaning, if you twiddle the wrong bit, it makes a lot of noise and you lose a few of your marbles, but the whole thing doesn’t crash to the ground.
That’s what occurred to me when news broke today of Christophe Lemaire’s mutual parting of ways with the French luxury juggernaut Hermès.
A little bit of history repeating: something old makes something new, at Raf Simons’ Dior and Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel
The much-vaunted and oft-debated “point” of haute couture is tied up in history. Haute couture is living history, less a retrograde throwback and more a direct link to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The latter was when “haute couture” as a term was officially incorporated by Charles Frederick Worth, couturier to Empress Eugenie and most of her court; the former was when the idea of a fashion dictator was pioneered by the first celebrity dress designer, Marie Antoinette’s “Minister of Fashion” Rose Bertin. Those are some heavy antecedents, but they’re ones couturiers often bank on. Buying haute couture is a bit like buying a stake in a past you can never be part of.
Chinese Whispers at Versace, Frankenstein’s Monster at Schiaparelli. Haute couture autumn/winter 2014
I’m sure I’ve talked about the importance of individuality in haute couture before. It’s the raison d’être for the thing – couture clothes are complete one-offs, made to the specific measurements and requirements of incredibly wealthy and demanding women. Those demanding women come in all shapes and sizes, with different tastes.
They always have. While haute couture once set the trends – there’s an exhibition about to be launched at Paris’ Musée Galliera titled “Les Années 50, La Mode en France 1947-1957″, which lauds that golden age – it still had room for disparate voices. Balenciaga showed his unfitted suits when Dior-influenced cinched waists were at their tightest. Chanel, Schiaparelli and Vionnet had violently opposed views of dressing women, but they co-existed, and thrived.
Miu Miu gets trippy, Mary Katrantzou loves letters, Roland Mouret throws up. A last look at pre-spring 2015
Miuccia Prada enjoys having the final word. Perhaps that’s why she stole the pre-spring thunder, pitching up in Paris to show her Miu Miu collection on the eve of the haute couture collections and close the season. She does the same at the ready-to-wear, after all. On the other hand, maybe it was her acknowledgement of the new power of pre – the first ever, stand-alone Miuccia Prada-manned cruise show. It’s been dribbled into the menswear shows before, but this was a different thing entirely.
If you ascend Paris’ Eiffel tower – say, during a free moment during the spring/summer 2015 menswear shows – you can look out on a vista relatively unchanged from the first day the tower was opened in 1889, of Baron Haussmann’s neoclassical façades and wide avenues. French law ensures that: Second Empire plans are in many cases more or less followed, with “alignement” law still in place to regulates a building’s height according to the width of the streets it borders. It’s fabulous for a sight-seer who gets to step back in time, almost. But many argue it’s choking the development of the city as a whole. Personally, I see a parallel with much of Paris fashion, where tradition can often choke creativity.
The coupling of great clothes and a great show, where neither one outshines the other, is very rare. It’s all the more remarkable, then, that Raf Simons’ formula for his eponymous label seems such a sure-fire hit. I tried to think back to a Simons show that hasn’t worked, gloriously. Then I realised this was his business’ twentieth anniversary. I couldn’t think of a single instance.
Given that shows, by and large, have scaled back from the flashy theatrics and set pieces of past fashion spectaculars, the quarterly reinvention of the Prada show space on Via Foggazarro is hotly anticipated by the fashion world. That’s because everything Miuccia Prada does about, around, before and after a collection is rabidly unpicked, scoured for hidden meaning. This season, Rem Koolhaas’ AMO created a space reminiscent of either a grand ocean liner or a suburban leisure centre, with a suspiciously cobalt-blue pool shimmering bedside thick, chocolate-brown shag carpeting and around the central pillars that are the only constant (they’re supporting, presumably).
Donatella Versace wanted her show to be a celebration of the Versace World. Sounds like a grand statement, but you got it. Versace’s Cuban-tinged collezioni not only felt like a distinct entity from Dolce and Gabbana’s Caprice Espagnole, Neil Barrett’s slick sportswear tinged with Roman classicism, or Stefano Pilati’s serene Ermenegildo Zegna show: it felt a world apart, as did they.
JW Anderson’s pre-collections always bear further examination. That’s because he puts so much into them, these interim collections that have often been confined to pure commerce but which have recently expanded into fully-fledged designer statements. he puts a lot in, and reaps the rewards.
Fashioning freedom and ignoring the hyperbole: Craig Green, Sibling, Burberry Prorsum and Nasir Mazhar menswear, in London
A lot of patriotic conjecture gets thrown around about British fashion. That’s probably because middle England, as a whole, doesn’t really like it, and hence fashion folk seem desperately keen to emphasise just how incredibly important it all is. It is important, of course. Fashion is the second largest employer in the United Kingdom. It’s an industry similar in size to the food and beverages or telecommunications industries, and is bigger than automotives and advertising. Burberry is one of the UK’s most valuable brands, according to the FTSE 100. It rubs shoulders with Barclays and BP.
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