Friday, March 13, 2015

Finding the Center

On the penultimate day of Paris Fashion Week, I sat clutching my phone with the screen brightness turned all the way up and the sound turned all the way down. The bus is not the best place to watch a fashion show, but my move has stretched the time difference between myself and Europe so I do what is needed. The waiting was hard. I’ve settled into a certain routine on my early morning bus rides to work. My fingers ached to close the browser page and play with one of the apps that I often used to wake my mind up. But instead I stared at a darkened room full of people and tried to stop my eyes from drooping.

I eventually succumbed to the urge to check in on things, as if there were anything else going on at that hour. When I returned to the browser page to find the show had started, I began to think that I had landed at the wrong site somehow. The clothes looked different. Not bad. Far from bad. Just different.

The Valentino of Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli has never had the flash bang of the brand in its first iteration. But a shift in message isn’t unexpected after a change in creative leadership. The Dior of Dior wasn’t the Dior of Saint Laurent wasn’t the Dior of Galliano isn’t the Dior of Simon. After the early bumps that such changes often bring (I was, and still am, a fan of Alessandra Facchinetti’s work at the brand and loved her one and only couture collection), things have settled into a rhythm. I'd gotten used to a degree of change, a little to the left or a little to the right, that didn't lead one all that far from their now well-established center, a center filled with romance. And so in its groggy state, my mind expected to see something that instantly clicked as current Valentino.

Instead there was geometry, trigonometry, in stark white and black.

Although the Paris collections' obsession with those two non-colors was not new, I hadn’t expected to see quite so much of it here. The clouds and and rainbows and hearts and galaxies of recent collections still floated around my head muddying the waters.

But I liked it. Liked the hard edge that triangles and stripes can bring that paisleys and flowers cannot. The geometry eventually gave way to multiple threads. Dresses made of strips of lace, not wholly unexpected, in colors suggesting something murky and a bit sinister.

The flowers and galaxies and butterflies eventually found their way into the proceedings but with a darker mood to them.

And finally there were pieces so austere that they seemed to reference the church. But that wasn't what I saw, or maybe it wasn't what I wanted to see. I saw a kind of armor that played

The romance-filled center was still there. It had merely been tempered with a far darker element.

The shows of the last day of Paris Fashion Week all happened long before my morning bus ride, so it was still images that informed my opinion of the Louis Vuitton collection. I'd always enjoyed the drama of Marc Jacobs' tenure at the brand. Each season proving a 180 degree shift from the last. But Nicolas Ghèsquiere has taken a different tack. There is a through line, a growing vision of what he wants the brand to be and the type of woman who wears those clothes.

It's all cool sophistication that references a Parisian style without shouting it from the rooftop.

It has been different work from that which he produced during his tenure at Balenciaga where he sometimes followed a tack similar to that of Jacobs, rockers one season, women from a future not yet imagined in another. However, near the end the themes seemed to be converging.

But in his short time at Louis Vuitton, dramatic swings have been nowhere sight.

Fall 2014

Resort 2015

Spring 2015

Pre-Fall 2015

A center.

Photos via

Friday, March 6, 2015

Learning Curves

At the end of my first Los Angeles summer, I traveled out to Westwood to see Sunset Boulevard for the first time. The Billy Wilder Theater, housed inside UCLA’s Hammer Museum, was in the midst of presenting an Edith Head retrospective.

I did my usual once over of the room and noted that I was one of the youngest people there by a longshot. Unsurprising. I’m not sure many 30-somethings spend their Friday nights watching old movies in a quest to feed their obsession with a particular costume designer. Most of the seats were filled with people who appeared to be regulars of the theater’s programming. Snippets of their greetings to each other floated about the space before we all settled in for the introduction.

From the moment I first saw Ingrid Bergman appear in Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious a handful of years earlier, I realized that I would need to make it a point to become well-acquainted with the work of Head. But I spent most of that summer making friends and learning this new city, so it should come as no surprise that I failed rather gloriously at my original plan to see all of the films being shown. But I didn’t want to miss Sunset Boulevard. It felt necessary, a way to understand the industry that runs this town.

After the movie ended, I stood waiting for the bus that would take me to Beverly Hills so that I could wait for the bus that would take me back to Silver Lake and home. I replayed pieces of the film in my mind and felt like I was finally in on a joke, my cultural competency on the rise. Oh that's why people say that phrase. And as it was after every instance of my first viewing a classic film, another thought flew into my head. Oh that's why people design those clothes.

Film and fashion live side by side, and sometimes intertwined, in my mind. Scribbled among the notes from that long gestating and still unfinished Prada project are the names of films that I need to watch. Grease and Bonnie & Clyde and La Dolce Vita. When searching for a way to explain the looks worn by many of my neighbors, I looked to those early 90s films that sought to dissect and define Generation X. I am a lover of stories in all their forms and these two forms of storytelling are among my favorite. It was these two, along with the books that have always played a dominant role in my life, which kept me afloat in the midst of the darkness that encompassed my long employment woes. I abandoned both for a time in the haze of adolescence, and because I came back to them at similar times, in similar distress, my understanding of them goes hand in hand.

There are gaps in my knowledge, gaps that leave me grasping to decipher what I’m seeing and feeling and touching, and because I hate not knowing I've spent the better part of the past decade trying to fill them. During those post-collegiate years lived at home, I waited for DVDs carrying films from a range of decades to arrive in the mail. I hid in the corner of bookstores reading heavy histories of Yves Saint Laurent and high heels. I visited museums and stood as close as I could to the couture gowns on display for special exhibitions. And when all else failed, I leaned on one to aide my comprehension of the other.

A couple of months ago my Swarm app clued me into the fact that I had checked into a movie theater at least once a week for four straight months. I inhaled deeply. It didn't feel like I had spent that much of my fall and winter in darkened rooms watching images flash across the screen while feeding my addiction to fountain Cherry Coke and dropping popcorn down various sweaters. But then there had been all those films seen for free at AFI fest. And that sleet-filled trek to one of my favorite theaters in the Boston area for a viewing of Force Majeure during my trip back east for Thanksgiving. And two showings of Gone Girl while it was camped out at the Vista. I finally ended the streak, I'd say fittingly, in week 20 with Jupiter Ascending.

It is a ridiculous, bombastic movie and I enjoyed every bit of it. I didn't let myself examine it too deeply. From time to time I allow myself that simple joy, the joy of loving something without tearing it apart and examining its guts. But I can't turn off my mind completely. It is always buzzing. So as we hopped from realm to realm, I felt something nagging at me. Near the end of the movie, I realized what it was. In the costumes of each world was embodied the work of a few of the designers I've spent so much of the last decade exploring.

Gareth Pugh, Fall 2010

Alexander McQueen, Spring 2012

Elie Saab Couture, Spring 2010

Elie Saab Couture, Fall 2014

And so as we floated from Saab to McQueen before reaching the climax of the film in the dark and sometimes twisted world of Pugh, I felt that I knew what to expect before the characters even opened their mouths to speak. And in that way, a dizzying, silly swirl of a movie felt grounded.

When all else fails, I lean on one to aide my comprehension of the other.

Runway Photos via