Wednesday, February 11, 2004

What Makes The Perfect Fashion Marriage? Tradition and Virtue, with a Mistress on the Side...

Hamish Morrow, former designer at Krizia, found it impossible to fulfill his vision, as reported by WWD, and was replaced by a younger design team under the creative direction of Mariuccia Mandelli. Amidst rumors started at LVMH rival Pinault Printemps, that Marc Jacobs and M. Carcelle are prime to take over the Gucci vacancies, some “friends” of Mr. Jacobs have said that he is growing frustrated with how slow his private label is expanding, (which to the devoted Jacobs’ fanatic may seem an absurd reality) somehow inferring that the time may be ripe for a change?

With the constant swirl of unsatisfactory unions between the young, yet highly talented and newly minted fashion genius with venerable design houses in need of a lift or jolt of vitality, what constitutes a successful lasting fashion relationship?

By example, most recently with Krizia, also at Prada, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan and Gucci among others, the successful creative model is a marketing savvy creative director not necessarily a designer by craft, who may have a generational link, appreciation and affinity for a label, thereby respecting it’s history and preserving it’s voice, while overseeing a talented pool of humble talented designers by craft.

A harem of submissives is not the only answer however. There is a way to marry youth and tradition.

Julien MacDonald made no secret of his anguish at Givenchy, a place where he just could not seem to implement his personal flair with the house’s tradition. John Galliano and Alexander McQueen both faced the same difficulties.

Alexander McQueen also jumped ship at Givenchy, given the opportunity to focus on his own vision of fashion instead of honing in on someone else’s. McQueen’s first collection for Givenchy, was a case study in what not to do as he attempted to reinvent the label in his own image. Looking back even he had to admit it was a bust. McQueen thought, as most creative geniuses do, the original tradition and vision of M. Givenchy was irrelevant in these modern times.

The problem seems to be not with the conservative approach tradition implies, stifling youth’s vitality and creativity at every turm, with ideals of what is proper and important. The problem is with the designers. Design houses, venerable labels and their brands have been around for a reason. They have clients. As with everything in fashion, there is always a flavor of the season. Not everyone can be a favorite with media and public alike, especially in an industry that is constantly looking for something new to satisfy its insatiable demands for excitement and “genius.”

Karl Lagerfeld should serve as model and mentor for many young designers who just can’t wait to make it big or to get their hands on the backing and notoriety that a well-known label can provide. He has successfully made a career revamping labels like Chloe, Fendi and Chanel, preserving and respecting their mission and clients’ sensibilities, while simultaneously giving them the jolt and modern vision they seek. Who would have thought Coco Chanel would be doing frayed denim with the traditional tweed jacket, or combat boots and georgette, signature pearls in tow, albeit a bit longer and bit larger and a bit funkier? It’s reaching for the edge, without going over it.


Mr. Lagerfeld’s artistic vision is sound. The secret to it all is realizing this is a job and not a private canvas. There are people who need to buy and a house that needs to satisfy and sell. Mr. Lagerfeld’s touch kept fashion fun as Coco Chanel would have wanted, stylish and modern...all buzz words for the Chanel vision, but still Chanel nevertheless.

Another secret that makes this marriage work? Find yourself an exciting mistress on the side, one whom you can explore all your fantasies, unconstrained and uninhibited. The perfect wife, I was once told, would be both an uninhibited mistress and virtuous bride.

As with fashion, in his private label Mr. Lagerfeld still found a place to vent his own vision, to voice his own opinions about what is excellent in fashion, what women should look like in his world, while filtering these fresh ideas to evolve existing brands with existing personalities.

Tom Ford’s experience and collections for YSL Rive Gauche, although hailed by international editors and fashionellas around the world, was seen as a sacrilege to the YSL tradition, taste and French name. Was it his personal interpretation and obvious sexual connotations where M. Saint Laurent would have been more subtly stylish ? Or was it the fashion marketing American taking over a French label known for respect and preservation of a seemingly irrelevant craft that caused the problem? Perhaps a little bit of both.

Galliano at Dior works well - but each time a collection is launched, a show is planned, the heads of state cringe not only at the expense, but wonder at the necessity for such showmanship - growing a bit lax with the reigns each season as they see, that Galliano style shows translate into sales all around - from collection, accessories and shoes to beauty and fragrance. Galliano at Givenchy was a different story. M. Givenchy was no wallflower, but then again he was not the creator of a New Look either. He had edge but was not edgy in the futuristic sense. He gave women power with the sculpted qualities of his cuts and stylish details. Galliano was too risque for Givenchy. Does Galliano respect the tradition that is Dior? Only if you think of the redefinition of the female figure and the blatant disregard for what others may view as acceptable, tasteful and sophisticated as M. Dior did with his New Look. For Galliano, EVERY season is the New Look.

Jacobs realizes it’s not that tradition, nostalgia or history in fashion, and repetitive silhouettes or ideas are irrelevant, but that they need to be refreshed, looked at with new eyes. Each season he makes the old look new, the new look even better and always with a hint of a memory, color, cut, or a print from the past. He makes fashion fun, not frightening, and flattering in a youthful way not fussy or too avant garde.

The Marc Jacobs collection was dedicated not to followers of fashion, but indie girls, and art school types who loved clothes that added to their personalities with substance that did not define them, but clothes they defined by the way they wore them, the pieces they chose, it said something about the girl, and it was not Marc making the statement. He was just dressing it.

Jacobs knows it is colloboration and not reinvention that will give an established label the jolt it needs to be modern, preserve its existing clientele and make everything covetable by mother and dauther alike. A tall order.

Great designers realize that the canvas may be their own, but there is someone providing the paints...without the paint, you cannot create and you must respect the patrons even if you don’t agree with them - whether they be buyers, bosses, presidents of fashion conglomerates or the everyday girl with money in her pocket and the desire for a bit of fantasy.

Fashion is not always a revolution, but more an evolution. As with Darwin, it is about survival of the fittest. Like the animals that have morphed over time, changing appendages as the environment changes around them, fashion loses, bits and pieces that are no longer useful or relevant, while still retaining a semblance of its original form. There is always something familiar that brings comfort to the eye at the base of a look, while innovation is in the new treatments, uses, and visions that revolve around those familiarities at times. Even the Space Age is familiar - Star Wars, Star Trek, Paco Rabanne, Thierry Mugler....inevitably there will always be references until someone creates new ones. The evolutionary process of fashion is still based on a familiar vision, even if that vision is not clothing from an archive, but is instead a building or a chair, or in Dior’s case, a Cadillac.

The past is always relevant to the present and the future. You have to start somewhere after all, as this week NY Times article clearly demonstrates, all designers’ mood boards or inspiration journals contain familiar images that morph together to create a new story, a new vision, based on the past and those things that already exist. Youthful energy is recaptured, reenergizing the ideas of the past. The perfect fashion marriage, respects the traditional framework, while redefining and reenergizing the union with innovation, constantly exploring the unknown and adding spice with a seduction of the senses.

-S.M.L.

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