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  • The New Givenchy

    When it comes to the legendary Parisian couture house of Givenchy, Clare Waight Keller is in and Riccardo Tisci is out after 12 years in charge of the brand. Though the change has added fuel to the rumors surrounding the possibility of Tisci taking over at Versace, Waight Keller’s ascension has been less discussed yet no less important. So what might we expect from this talent who is largely known only to those within fashion? It has the potential to be a more exciting shakeup than anyone has anticipated.

    While Clare's time at Chloé was critically and commercially successful with her designs in-demand at the world’s most rarefied luxury retailers, she did not enjoy the kind of blockbuster success her predecessors like Karl Lagerfeld and Phoebe Philo experienced. Hers was a time of quiet consistency that drew heavily upon the French label’s heritage of hippie-tinged glamour in the form of louche fur coats, breathy peach chiffon and slouchy leather bags. One gets the sense that this new appointment may bring with it the opportunity for her to shine brighter than ever before.

    The British designer worked as Chloé’s creative director for six years following her time with the famed knitwear label Pringle of Scotland, but her experience working with revered names predates even that. She, along with Christopher Bailey (of Burberry) and Francisco Costa (most recently of Calvin Klein Collection), was part of a talent triumvirate culled together by Tom Ford to work on womenswear in 2000 during his tenure at Gucci. That was after stints working for both Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren immediately after graduating with her master’s degree. All this is to say that Waight Keller is a designer with an exceptional resume and the sales figures to back it up.

    Givenchy’s new head signals an important shift as the brand’s aesthetic growth seems to have faltered over the past few years. It remained a fixture on red carpets and received countless social media impressions thanks to Tisci’s signature blend of Catholic icons and Rottweiler-emblazoned sweaters, but the surprises had ceased with a stale formula taking their place.  Clare knows how to design for a wide breadth of women well-heeled enough to afford her clothes and has ample working experiences  at labels large enough to prepare her for the multifaceted challenges of bearing so much responsibility. But this position also makes her the first female creative director in the house’s history and one of only two women now leading legendary couture houses founded by men--a rare reversal of roles that has never before happened.

    Waight Keller's success will be dependent on many factors--the level of control she’s given over store designs, her influence on branding/advertising and the support received from executives--but if she can revitalize the kind of femininity the great Hubert de Givenchy, who is still alive and well at 90 years of age, built his name upon for a contemporary world, there may be no stopping her.

    Written by: Martin Lerma

  • Irreplaceable Alaïa

    Genius. Legend. Master. Even the most extreme superlatives are all but inadequate to describe Azzedine Alaïa. He has toiled away for decades in his Parisian atelier creating clothes that women absolutely adore. Alaïa receives criminally little press, but that is of no consequence--just check with the sales associates at any of the world’s greatest luxury retailers to see if they have trouble unloading his seasonal inventory. When it comes to the Tunisian-born couturier, $4,000 day dresses fly off the racks in a flash. The numbers simply do not lie.

    So what is it about Azzadine that makes his clothes turn into collector’s items the moment they are available for purchase? Why are his prices so high yet act as no impediment to the health of his business? Why is he so universally adored and admired by both clients and professionals in the fashion world? To answer those questions an insider’s eye is needed. Luckily, internationally revered stylist Joe McKenna has put together a 25-minute black-and-white film that blends new interviews of Alaïa’s respected colleagues with beautifully grainy archival footage to give some insight into his rarefied world.

    “There are very few people who have this capacity for innovation and this is something I truly admire in his work,” said Louis Vuitton women’s artistic director Nicolas Ghesquière. “In painting, in music, in art in general, you reach that point where you become a master. Azzedine is a master so it’s timeless and it’s the most fashionable clothes at the same time. It is something that every woman wants to wear and seems so exclusive at the same time,” he further states. What Ghesquière astutely points out is that every woman who knows about Alaïa wants to wear his clothes, not just because of a specific look or feel, but rather because he has established an oeuvre unmistakably his own, which miraculously includes nearly every kind of woman. There are the body conscious dresses with slashes of revealed flesh for the toned and youthful, the crisp shirting and razor sharp tailoring for those who prefer something other than the traditional trappings of femininity, the dresses that hit just below the knee and sport two full-length sleeves for older women who prefer not to show their upper arms, and so much more.

    Fashion critic Suzy Menkes echoed Ghesquière’s points and said, “Azzedine, contrary to what people might imagine, is one of those people who has really given confidence to women through their clothes. Confidence and strength and the ability to express your sexuality, your body, but never, never in a vulgar way.” His love for women and the female body is palpable, but it is never fetishistic.

    If there’s one thing you can’t escape in this short but moving documentary, it’s Alaïa’s ever-present hands--nimble, experienced, always searching, forever busy. Such a perfectionist is he that he hasn’t shown during the regular fashion schedule for years preferring to show only when things feel exactly right.  “It does take huge discipline, and the ability to say, ‘I’m not having a show this season ‘cause it’s not there yet.’ You can’t say that if you’re at a big house,” said Vanessa Friedman, the fashion director and chief fashion critic at The New York Times who was filmed wearing one of her many Alaïa dresses. In reference to the immaculate construction of each and every piece, she said, “It all comes from inside the garment and that’s what I always find so mind boggling. You know, nothing is added on afterwards. It all comes from the beginning. And I don’t think anyone else does that.”

    New York Magazine’s critic-at-large Cathy Horyn participated in the short and recounted the events surrounding a story she wrote on Alaïa a few years prior. “I didn’t know that he had designed garments for the girls at the Crazy Horse.  And I thought, God if you have to get in there and really measure those women, you’re really not worried about women. You’re not intimidated by them. You don’t have any fantasies about them. And that, we all know, is a problem with many designers, male or female. They have a fantasy about women that doesn’t jive with reality.” Horyn’s statements sums up Alaïa’s most potent design quality: He knows women and loves them, but for how they are, not how he’d like them to be.

    The film closes with the 77-year-old Alaïa joyfully dancing to music accompanied by his comically large St. Bernard Didine. May it always remain so.

    Written by: Martin Lerma

  • More Life

    What can I say? Drake has yet again smashed it with his new album More Life. Unlike Drizzy's previous sonic offerings, this one is heavily influenced by his trips across the pond with features from English Grime artists, such as the highly regarded Skepta and the Godfather of the genre himself Giggs.

    Looking at the project's title, the '6 God' could be declaring his love for the UK. Even on his Boy Meets World Tour he still is able to produce an album of this calibre, which really is a credit to how hard he works and how important it is for him to keep the fans happy.

    This album proves that Aubrey's career is far from ending and truly shows he is ready to set the benchmark for any rapper who wants to challenge him. Additionally, the project clearly served as his platform to showcase noteworthy talent from England.

    More Life is an all-round incredible album and definitely worth keeping on repeat, as you will immensely appreciate the quality of the chunes after each listen.

    Written by: Joshua King

  • Balenciaga: The Master

    In fashion, there have only ever been a handful of greats. Countless labels have come and gone from the fashion week calendar, but there are some names with an undying influence that continues to ripple through the industry. Cristóbal Balenciaga was most definitely one of them, and this May the storied Victoria & Albert Museum in London will open a blockbuster exhibit entitled Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, that examines his work and legacy.

    If French fashion designer Madeleine Vionnet was about revealing the body in its truest form, Balenciaga was focused on honoring its foundations while reshaping it in his own vision. He was a true architect of the body who developed fabrics, like the silk gazar created for him by the illustrious Swiss textile firm Abraham, that could complement the volumes and sculptural shapes he desired while celebrating the woman beneath.

    Cristóbal's drive was legendary with no detail too small to escape his eagle-eyed attention. For just one example, he spent the better part of his life trying to make the perfect sleeve, developing countless iterations to achieve his desired effect. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Balenciaga was a true craftsman who could make every garment from the ground up himself, going so far as to make one sublime black dress entirely on his own for every show--without ever divulging which one it was.

    Phenomenal technical feats never ceased coming out of his atelier (coats with only one seam made from one piece of cloth, gravity-defying infanta gowns inspired by his Spanish heritage) and were, astonishingly, the norm. In 1968 when Balenciaga felt he no longer connected with the people of the day, he quietly shuttered his house at the age of 74 and died only a few years later.

    The house of Balenciaga, once considered the greatest in Paris, languished for years with a headquarters that fell into such disrepair; a flooded basement ruined dozens of priceless couture pieces. It was eventually revived to great enthusiasm, but Cristóbal’s singular mystique never diminished and even after numerous entities designing under his name have moved on, his religious devotion to excellence remains a true, unblemished beacon in fashion.

    Written by: Martin Lerma

  • Sneaker Design or Technology?

    Well, a little bit of both. But I’d opt for design because even if I did want to “optimize my performance” (which is pretty much limited to the gym and annual Races For the Cure), my kicks must remain visually appealing.

    Adidas AG ’s new chief executive Kasper Rorsted is opting for technology. He has promised to increase the company’s profits with their partner BASF to make more Boost material.  For those not into shoe design or even running, Boost is the white, Styrofoam-like, lightweight, cushioning soles, which has been pretty much behind Adidas’ growth the last few years. Preferred shoe design, colors, silhouettes and price (of course) for the moment has been the brands’ differentiator. Until now.

    Nike recently unveiled what appears to be their answer to Boost with the ZoomX sole.  The new technology will be debuted in the Zoom Vaporfly Elite running shoe targeted specifically to marathon runners.  Furthermore, the kicks include a carbon fiber plate that can be personalized/customized for stride of the runner.  According to researchers,  It will make you four percent (4%) faster. Well, not you or me probably, but really, really, really, serious runners.  Unfortunately, these sneakers may never be available to the general public!

    Instead, the company plans to unleash the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% on June 8th.  They will have the Nike ZoomX sole and a fiber carbon plate, but it won't be customizable like they are for marathon runners.

    Written by: Lauren F. Indvik

  • Karl Lagerfeld's Chanel

    Karl Lagerfeld launched his Fall 2017 collection for Chanel into space with the help of an elaborate set complete with a Coco-stamped rocket ship. The French house's signatures of tweed, camellias and quilting were all there, which baffles the mind to consider how Lagerfeld has managed to reinterpret the same handful of codes for more than thirty years.  With the focus clearly on unknowable frontiers, I also couldn’t help but ponder about the future of Chanel without him. Karl is uncompromisingly unique; the kind of fantastic idiosyncratic fashion animal that used to seem far more common.

    Lagerfeld, along with contemporaries like Azzedine Alaïa and Rei Kawakubo, represents a generational cohort of excellence that spent decades fixated, obsessed even, on learning the craft of making clothes. All are or will soon be octogenarians, yet they remain the most innovative and exciting designers working today who perpetually spellbind us with the power of their creations. Their breed is simply irreplaceable.

    Alaïa and Lagerfeld in particular have a couture pedigree learning every fabric, stitch, embroidery, cutting technique, shape and fit imaginable under the auspices of impossibly demanding teachers, whose lessons were enhanced by autodidactic tendencies. The lengthy tunic silhouettes that so often show up in Lagerfeld’s collections for Chanel and Fendi are references to the elongated lines of the Vienna Secession.  Furthermore, his famous tweed suits are actually not tweed at all, but rather fine silks that are densely embroidered to maintain the tweed look minus the bulk and weight. There are only a handful of people alive today with these extraordinary capabilities.

    What will happen to fashion when these people die? Who will the standard bearers be? How can this tradition, this habit of greatness be maintained when true apprenticeships are so few? In the documentary Valentino: The Last Emperor, widely-respected fashion critic Cathy Horyn lamented that Valentino and his ilk were so great because they learned couture in the 1950s.  Without proper education, the métier could never genuinely evolve to represent a new era.

    Couture is both a process and a state of mind, a perpetual search for something transformative. I don't know who will be the next great designer, but my hope is that, somewhere, a young person is toiling in an atelier under a lovingly firm hand, bent on bringing forth the best of their talents.

    Written by: Martin Lerma

  • The Brilliance of Rei Kawakubo

    At 74 years of age, Rei Kawakubo is an untouchable powerhouse, an inarguable legend in her own time. She is, along with Azzedine Alaïa, the most respected designer in fashion with a wide-reaching circle of influence that has affected every other player in the game. Her work is singularly marked by an exploration of shapes and textile properties that were once the provenance of the greatest couturiers.

    Rei's latest Comme des Garçons show, entitled “The Future of Silhouette,” was very much in keeping with her radical vision. For Fall/Winter 2017, she sent forms down the runway that recalled everything from the security of a womb to violent storm clouds ready to expel unpredictable fury, making us question the parallel along the way. Kawakubo doesn’t really make clothes so much as suggestions of what is possible when the rulebook is abandoned, and I couldn’t be more grateful for her dedicated subversion.

    When the celebrated designer first showed Comme des Garçons in Paris in 1981, people quite literally didn’t know what to do with it. Kawakubo started her career as a stylist in her native Japan only crafting her own designs when she was unable to find clothes for shoots that suited her taste. That fateful beginning resulted in the launch of a line in 1969 that quickly grew in stature. The 80s were financial boon years for a certain segment of society that reveled in opulence from the start. Ballgowns, broad pinstriped power suits and Technicolor hues were the new standard after the touchable sensuality of the 70s. Paris had no idea what was about to hit it.

    Her oversized, tattered, body-morphing designs were slammed and simultaneously dubbed “Hiroshima chic,” supposedly in reference to the radiation-ravaged bodies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by members of the fashion press oblivious to how such a flippant reference to the horrors of nuclear war would resonate with a woman who was born and raised during that time of desperation. But such dismissals were to their own detriment as she persevered and took Europe by storm, forever changing what could be considered great.

    Viewing a Comme des Garçons collection is a tricky thing. You can never be sure if you’re over or under intellectualizing Rei's seasonal propositions, and I’m sure she likes it precisely that way. After the Fall 2005 “Bride” collection, Kawakubo lamented that she felt people had understood it too readily, which she found displeasing. Her collections have meaning, but I doubt she’s concerned with whether or not her audience ever discerns exactly what. She enjoys being something of an enigma.

    On rare occasions Kawakubo grants interviews, she is surrounded by interpreters who allow her a certain level of remove even from those in her immediate surroundings--but, as with her garments, all is not as it seems. In the 1980s, internationally revered fashion photographer Nick Knight visited Kawakubo in Japan and recounted decades later that she spoke perfect English, a tale similar to those of other select industry veterans.

    A few years ago, fashion journalist Tim Blanks conducted an interview nervously asking questions via those infamous interpreters as Rei seemed deeply unamused. For his final inquiry, he asked, “What makes you laugh?” She  looked him directly in the eye and said plainly, “You.”

    Written by: Martin Lerma

  • Olivier Theyskens' Individual Path

    Olivier Theyskens recently showcased his second runway collection in Paris since re-launching his eponymous label and it was truly a sight for sore eyes. Though the previous collection was stronger, there was something profoundly refreshing about seeing someone of enormous talent pursue his own design ends, without feeling the need to latch on to the latest trends kicking around. It lacked some of the sharp editing of his prior outing, with silhouettes that seemed a bit disjointed from one look to the next and was perhaps poorly sequenced, but it did little to ruin the pleasure of the whole exercise.

    Theyskens is only 40 years old but has already enjoyed a meteoric career. He dropped out of design school in his native Belgium in 1997 to start a label that quickly garnered massive attention and the approval of many of fashion’s most powerful, namely Anna Wintour. The label operated for a few years before shuttering around the same time Theyskens began designing for the Parisian house Rochas.  There he further cemented his aesthetic codes of strict leather and wispy feathers that bordered on the sculptural.

    Olivier is perhaps best remembered for his years at Nina Ricci, which he revived through acclaimed shows and partnering with Reese Witherspoon for many red carpet appearances. A short tenure with Theory in New York followed before he disappeared only to eventually self-finance his return.

    A great designer has trademarks that go beyond the surface and Theyskens has them in abundance. Olivier's sense of fit is uniquely his with a softly draped bust and slim, elongated waist that never looks tight or restrictive, as exemplified by superb high-neck jackets in inky hues and flowy satin dresses. He also has a unique way of combining hard and soft elements, like the black patent python jacket over a bouncy white silk skirt in last season’s show. There is always a dark sense of romance with Victorian touches that read as mysterious and sensual in a manner that never feels overly reverential.

    I don’t advocate for every design student to launch her own label straight out of school, but it is wonderful to witness a revival that isn’t trying to conform to the heritage of a house whose founder is long dead. Was it Theyskens’ best work ever? Perhaps not, but it was exemplary nonetheless and remained above the fray for its ability to look within.

    Written by: Martin Lerma

  • Versace's New Era

    The murder of Gianni Versace has loomed large over the house that bears his name and, especially, Donatella, his sister and lifelong right-hand woman, for decades. Versace became known for a specific kind of Italian glamour--colorful, sexy and unabashedly luxurious. The use of modern chainmail to make gowns and reinterpretations of Warhol’s silkscreened portraits became symbols of the brand’s whip-smart vision. But Donatella has struggled to honor her brother without being trapped by his legacy, not to mention the parameters of the iconic look he created. That struggle often showed in the clothes with presentations that had flashes of brilliance but weren’t always consistent, something her personal battle with addiction made even more difficult. Once she rehabilitated herself, it took her time to find her footing, but now she’s finding a voice that’s translating her family’s heritage of sex appeal for a new age.

    For someone who grew up with JLo’s plunging necklines being synonymous with Versace, it took some time for my eyes to adjust to the new direction that began in earnest a couple of years ago. Where once there were slinky champagne-colored silk satin gowns with crystal embroidery, there are sporty tailored coats in black with smoky chiffon peeking out from beneath the hem, as was the case during Versace's Fall 2017 runway show.

    As incredible as Gianni’s interpretation of femininity was, I often wonder how it would be received were it to be shown for the first time today. With fashion’s move toward sensuality rather than overt sexiness and sportswear’s takeover of even the most vaunted high fashion labels, it would seem out of place (although his emphasis on actual design and not mere styling would do that on its own). A shift was called for, but how well suited that shift is to the Versace ethos is hotly debated. Effortlessness, or, more accurately, the appearance of it, reigns supreme in fashion at the moment. But is that really at the heart of Versace?

    The mystique of Versace is not entirely gone though it is different. Like always, the clothes and accessories themselves are beautifully made with impeccable fit and finish. Donatella’s recent shows have become more coherent, however, they lack the spark of collections past and the ability to generate the same kind of captivating images they once did.

    Riccardo Tisci, the famed designer who recently resigned from his post at Givenchy, is heavily rumored to be Donatella’s pick for a successor to steer the label going forward. The Versace canon is so rich that if the rumor proves true, Tisci should have no problem reenergizing the establishment even though his tenure at Givenchy had grown tired. What’s worrisome is that Versace will become too bogged down in the everyday with its overcoats, fitted dresses and chunky knits--things better left to other brands. In order to retain its core identity, Versace should not ignore its roots in the search for progress. The fashion world needs its allure now more than ever.

    Written by: Martin Lerma

  • Prada's Eternal Conflict

    There’s a tension absolutely critical to the work of Miuccia Prada. Though her name has become synonymous with the pinnacle of intellectual luxury, the business empire she’s built along with her husband, Patrizio Bertelli, is far from where she started. Her latest show in Milan revealed that no matter how drastically the sets change, Prada’s (the woman) work is singular and decades into her career.  

    Founded in 1913 as a small Milanese leather goods store, the Prada we know set a new course when Miuccia, the founder’s granddaughter, took the helm of the family company in 1978. She earned a PhD in political science, was an ardent member of Italy’s Communist and women’s rights movements, and even performed as a mime for a few years in her youth. I can’t help but imagine what someone so deeply radical must have felt assuming the head role in a business so heavily associated with stereotypical ideas of femininity and wealth.

    Miuccia seems both utterly in charge and reactive to this day. Her desire to challenge our perception of ugliness and good taste has never ceased. She once based a collection (Fall/Winter 2008) entirely on lace because, as a raised Catholic, it remained linked to the kind of prissy Communion veils she despised.  It is her exploration of the things she deeply dislikes that creates so many rich layers in her work.

    For fall 2017, Prada sent out a lineup of heavily pilled cardigan sweaters that were straight out of a dusty trunk in your grandma’s attic, 70s-inspired trouser suits in her signature earth tones and dresses that exploded in layers of wool or feathers near the hem. It looked completely wrong in exactly the right way, a way that can never quite be pinned down.

    Though it would help enormously if the women on her runways weren’t nearly always so lily white, this was a complete portrait of a particular kind of woman and a particular kind of journey. It was messy and it was loud and it was too much, too plain, too revealing and too layered, too eccentric and too serious. It was a woman dressing for herself. That’s the genius.

    Written by: Martin Lerma