Sunday, 28 February 2010

London vs Milan

Computer troubles have made me fall behind on London and now Milan is almost over….

I will say a little more about LFW now that I have read what other journalists have said but, before I do, I expect that you, like me, have been following the Italian shows. And I wonder if your views are the same as mine?

I have always believed that planet fashion is truly international, and that no area of it is deserving of special treatment or extra kindness just because we happen to live in the same country as the designers. In Britain, we are always told that Milan fashion is good because designers have a great deal of money to help them get the effects they want. In contrast, of course, poor little London …

It is rubbish, of course. Creativity never relies on money. All money can do is make things happen quicker, not better. We are in a global market and if our designers can't cut it, then we ultimately do them and London as a design centre a great disservice. Reading some of the London reports and blogs by people who are very familiar with the quality of Milan and Paris takes my breath away at the double standards they use. They praise designers in London who they wouldn't even mention in Milan if they were showing there. They seem to think they are helping London in having such a blatant double standard, but the fashion world is tough and can only be fooled for a very short time. By writing hyping copy about designers who have nothing to offer apart from the fact that they are based in London, such 'experts' do nothing but harm.

The level of creativity in Milan is higher than in London, just as creativity in Paris is higher than it is in Milan. These are facts that cannot be denied, although with less Anglo-Saxon hubris, they could perhaps some day be changed.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

London Fashion Week: Erdem, Marios Schwab, Christopher Kane

Back to back events, well-organised sites and shows reasonably on time. What wasn't to like about London Fashion Week?

Well, there was the little matter of the shows and their quality.

For example, we saw a show in which the shoes were virtually unwearable and made most of the models walk like cripples with their knees bent like Mediterranean water carriers in the nineteenth century. How soignee is that? Actually, the show was worrying for other reasons too. I don't know the rules of design plagiarism if colours are changed, but there were at least three straight copies of another designer's work in it. Surely we can expect more from a designer showing under the aegis of the BFC?

There was quite a lot of dross on show every day, which is to be expected with a schedule so crowded with young, relatively inexperienced talent. But, apart from Richard Nicoll, there were only three shows that held the interest for a while. In order of success, they were Erdem, Marios Schwab and Christopher Kane. None was perfect, but then again none was a total disaster. Erdem did what he does best and showed some beautiful colours, including a gracious golden-yellow and brown combination that I would think has not been seen for many, many years. Marios Schwab's message was rather confused – some hints of traditional Austrian dress fighting some seventies' Manhattan sculpted effects and a serious crystal overload for evening – and Christopher Kane revisited old Dolce & Gabbana territory with leather embroidered with gaudy Alpine flowers and a lot of lace. His mini kilts were chic and sexy and his leather with crystal and silver embroidery made basic shapes both interesting and sophisticated. Both looks, I am sure, will be best sellers.

And that is fine: even young designers have to eat. But I do think that London fashion is so banal at the moment because the favoured ones are thinking more of sales than pushing forward with some new ideas. There seems little point in producing Oxford Street clothes and calling them designer. We need more rigour than that if we are to survive the hubris that seems to be swallowing London yet again.

But there were genuine fashion moments. At one especially dire show, as the first Gothic horror came down the runway a small child began to wail in distress. It required all one's discipline not to join in.

Erdem: photos © Jason Lloyd-Evans

Christopher Kane: photos © Jason Lloyd-Evans

Richard Nicoll: Photo © Jason Lloyd-Evans

Marios Schwab: photos © Jason Lloyd-Evans

Sunday, 21 February 2010

London Fashion Week - Day 2: Margaret Howell, Betty Jackson, Richard Nicholl, Matthew Williams

A day when some designers did what they usually do whilst others gave us something new.

In every designer's career, there is a horizontal line, honed over the years, and it is the lifeline of his label's style. As it becomes trusted by customers, they buy into a vision and aesthetic that they wish to be part of. They expect consistency – that is what the horizontal line is about – but they also expect originality. A mature designer understands this and develops a handwriting that is instantly recognisable as his or her own, while avoiding the sterility of boring repetition. It sounds easy but it is fraught with dangers, especially for young designers eager to test their sensibilities on various levels. But even for designers of experience, there are seasonal variations: a collection shoots up above the line and sometimes it drops below. Occasionally, a designer tries to redraw the line completely, which is the most dangerous thing of all.

Yesterday, we saw examples of the line continuing in the work of Margaret Howell who, in the colours of a February morning in the country, presented a collection so on target that every item was classic Howell. Topcoats – some three-quarter length – and raincoats fit for Garbo and her country equivalent today; 'shrug on and forget' traditional knitwear and high-waisted skirts were all spot on line.

Betty Jackson was also on line and, like Howell, gave women a real wardrobe instead of the endless flimsy little dresses that less experienced designers seem to think is a fashion collection. She solved the country–town conundrum by answering the question 'What does a city-slicker fashion woman wear when she goes to the country?' Answer: virtually anything in this strong line-up, except the gold satin evening wear that somehow looked both dour and dowdy.

Richard Nicoll soared triumphantly above his consistently strong horizontal line honed into a line of beauty over the last few seasons. Understated, confident and so chic (not a word one can use that often when describing London fashion), this was a collection of perfectly realised silhouettes, colours and detail - all of them minimal. Relaxed and young, but highly sophisticated, its draped and tied insouciance - which almost looked impromptu - proved that Nicoll has the ability and refinement to become a major player in the international fashion field. This was the show of the day, without a doubt.

By contrast, Matthew Williamson decided on the risky path of changing the horizontal line that his customers have loved for the last 10 years. And he almost brought it off. Although this collection dipped a little below his line at times, it showed enough strength to suggest that, if he continues his new way of thinking, he will achieve his goal of moving forward while taking his customer with him. Tweed coats (yes, tweeds!); peachy pink suede, capes in large layers, a definite commitment to fur; studs and shine: it was in essence Matthew, but with a new eye, one that should produce some interesting things in the future and attract new customers once it has settled down and re-established the essential line once more.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

London Fashion Week - Day 2: Carine Roitfeld, an Elegant Visitor

Is there anything more restorative on a Saturday morning after a rather too hard night of partying than a bacon and egg sarnie? And I don't mean in a Smallbone or Philippe Starck kitchen. No good at all. I mean a greasy spoon. There's a great one just round the corner from where I live in London. I use it rarely as I am normally out of town at weekends but this morning, being here for London Fashion week, I popped in. What I love about London was all there: overwhelming smell of bacon and sausage cooking, all the red tops and a great mixture of people. The two scaffolders reading the back page of The Sun are standard, so is the guy checking out the form on the racing page but what makes Soho so great is the unexpected. This morning, two very thin and earnest guys discussing the influence of Ezra Pound on T S Eliot's verse. Love it all.

Carine Roitfeld,the charismatic editor of French Vogue, is in London to attend a few very carefully selected shows. I am a great fan. Neither pretty nor beautiful, instead – and much more interestingly – she is a classic French jolie laide with immense personal style. And that is worth much more than beauty every time, in my opinion. Androgynously thin, eyes like smudges of cigarette ash, dead-straight hair and always a-teeter on vertigenously high heels, she is an original - and one who, unlike any other Vogue editor, inspires not only designers but a multitude of copies - in her own country.

Because another thing I love about this uber stylish lady is that she is entirely French … no, full-throttle Parisienne. As elegantly removed from the confusion of a fashion week as a borzoi in the Bois De Boulogne photogrpahed by Lartigue. And, of course, she smokes. Ticks all the boxes. She is a modern Marchesa Casati, a legendary fashion figure from the beginning of the last century, who enslaved men wherever she went.

I love both of these women for their unique style that comes perfectly naturally from a mind-set that is the result of a philosophy of life. They tower above all others. Carine Roitfeld should, by rights, not be allowed in London during LFW: she makes all our fashion journalists look as if they are just about to bring the cows into the milking parlour! But I am thrilled she is here.

Photo from Evolvestyle

London Fashion Week – Day 1: Aminaka Wilmont, Jena-Theo, Braganza, Hakan

London Fashion Week, in Somerset House, its resplendent new home … Sun shining, self satisfaction floating like a miasma over all. How lovely to be us! A minute's silence in remembrance of Alexander McQueen, called for by BFC chair, Sir Harold Tilman. Wall of condolence set up in the main entry to the shows, awash with maudlin comments that would have made McQueen's lip curl with disdain. He was, after all, a man who had turned his back on LFW and refused all blandishments to get him to return and show here. Unless he latterly changed his mind, he had a deep and frequently expressed contempt for the BFC and was an unredeemed refusenik.

, the famous New-York-based English blogger whose identity was revealed this week in Grazia was busy trying to find something to say but, as it was only the first day, found not very much. However, I'm sure this intrepid lady will find plenty with which to regale us all as the week progresses.

An international set of designers to start the week off and show how marvellously eclectic London fashion now is. Aminaka Wilmont is a Scandinavian partnership - he is Danish, she is half-Swedish, half-Japanese - and their seafaring heritage came to the fore in colours and prints inspired by the sea as well as details of great subtlety, translating the flotsam and jetsam of the seashore into draped and wrapped effects and strong knits and leather. It needs to be seen close-up to reveal all the thought that is in it.

Jena-Theo (she's a Brit and he is Greek) moved forward the concepts that won them the FF@CG prize last September. Voluminous proportions moved dramatically with the model's body and the prints and knits were good.

Jean-Piere Braganza (brought up in Canada) was all sharp geometric edges and Bauhaus-inspired cutting and layering. The result was chic but rather mannered. Angular cuts layered across the body look strong on the catwalk but I did wonder how they would look after being worn for a three-hour dinner. But this was a sleek, confident collection that would appeal to a ditto woman.

Hakan, from Turkey, was all about cut. Think Roland Mouret and Victoria Beckham and you get the idea. Commercial. Commercial. Commercial. Very expensively made, it was about statement clothes for women who could live up to the money of what they had on their backs. A much more international than British aesthetic, and ultimately probably too smooth for native British women. Whoever makes his clothes is worth his weight in gold, however.

Quote of the day: a stout supporter of the chairman, commenting on the weather: 'Oh, Harold always makes the sun shine!' Nobody laughed.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

London Fashion Week – Celebrating Joan Burstein

London Fashion Week starts today, a good time to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Browns, a long-term destination for fashion followers who can't wait to get to South Molton Street at the beginning of each season to see who and what it is stocking. For years, this small elegant shop has been accepted as that reliable a barometer to what is currently good in fashion. And it all emanates from Joan Burstein, who co-founded the store with her husband Sydney all those years ago and has never looked back. More importantly, she has never made a mistake. That is why, when I worked with foreign buyers in Italy back in the late seventies the first thing they asked - no matter where in the world they were from, was, 'Has Mrs Burstein been in? Is she buying?' and their response to the collection on display was an exact replica of my answers. That is power. Forget all the cliches about Joan Burstein being fashion royalty – what an insult to compare a woman who has worked hard and consistently at perfecting her trade to someone whose position is an accident of birth, bestowed for who, not what you are. And just remember that there has never been such a powerful figure in British fashion as Joan Burstein.

So, another tough bitch fashion maven? Hardly. Just an impeccable nose for talent, be it to employ (Manolo Blahnik sold jeans for her; Richard James had a Saturday job at Browns and Paul Smith sold menswear there) or to promote. Mrs B, as she is affectionately known, brought Georgio Armani, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Sonia Rykiel to London. She spotted Hussein Chalayan's quality before anybody else and became a fashion legend when she not only bought John Galliano's graduate collection but also had the courage to give it the full window treatment even though he was entirely unknown. Kenzo, Jean Muir, Missoni, Dries van Noten - the list is long and continues to grow today.

But the most marvellous thing about this all-powerful lady is that she is so un-fashion. Softly spoken, glamorous, and beyond gracious, you would expect to find her dispensing tea surrounded by King Charles spaniels in a perfectly proportioned Georgian gem in one of the elegant shires, surrounded by beautiful impeccably mannered grandchildren. Instead, at 83, she is up with the lark like an eager little bird, foraging (discretely) for the latest thing, carrying on her trade quietly and with the greatest aplomb, as she always has. The Missus, as her devoted staff used to call he, is never flustered, doesn't shout, has the punctuality of kings and would never ever say something to damage a career, even if she disliked the aesthetic of a designer. In short, one of a dying breed: a lady.

That is why Joan Burstein is as loved as she is respected. If ever a woman deserved to be made a Dame it is Joan Burstein, not for being a hugely successful shopkeeper, not even for wearing her fashion knowledge so lightly but for being a positive force for good that has enabled London to hold high its head as a fashion retail centre for over forty years.

New York Fashion Week - Why Bother?

New York fashion week was clearly not a vintage one, with banality being the order of the day. No great surprise there, I must say. It has been a long time since we looked to New York designers for originality, wit or even very much involvement with the concepts of good design. Certainly not for at least five years. As the great names have changed or grown old, New York has stopped being a place where new ideas are generated. There is no current equivalent of Perry Ellis, Calvin Klein (the designer, not the label) or the young Donna Karan. There is Marc Jacobs, of course, but he is so volatile that we get no coherent statement, each season being a new and often desperate-seeming attempt to catch the mood for quick sales. He is a sort of paradigm for a nation with the shortest attention span in world fashion, coupled with an almost pathological longing for the look already known - and only (slightly) different. Current US fashion is as sterile as the fashion magazines that I saw on the news-stands in New York two weeks ago - not nearly as juicy with ads as they were, of course, and about as engaging of the imagination as a handout from a pizza parlour.

Why has this happened to a fashion country that was once so exciting?

In a word, greed. This is a vast and lucrative market - why do you think London fashion is destroying itself trying to break into it? - and it devours fashion in huge quantities. But, because of the sheer numbers involved in its retail structure, it can afford to take very few risks, so, more than any other market in the world, it must dumb down, just as all American mass culture must. And, as we all know, mass means crass. If you set out to be all things to all men (or women) you end up with a sort of porridge that appeals to no discerning palette.

That is why 7th Avenue is a sinful place. The home of the US rag trade is dominated by the dream of the quick buck at any cost and its aesthetic has insidiously permeated designer level clothing over the last ten years. The result is that designers there are hailed not for being good but for no other reason than being the new kids on the block, no matter how banal and boring they may be. Old designers plod on, weakening their message with each season in the race to keep up with the second rate. It is a corrosive situation which could well spread and I find it alarming that such infantile attitudes have such sway across the fashion world.

All of which makes me ask why, in these financially strapped days, journalists keep New York on the schedule of international venues. Frankly, on current performance it really doesn't deserve any attention at all.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Designers' Nest, Copenhagen Fashion Week– winners and runners-up

Jan Busch Carlsen is a visionary entrepreneur who has set up a competition specifically to provide a showcase for young Scandinavian fashion students, enabling them to show in Copenhagen as part of its fashion week. And as long ago as 2001. Each season, around thirty of them from art schools in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland come together to show on the runway three garments each from a selection of their work - and wait to be judged (and see if they win the 50,000 kroner prize).

For the second time, I was a member of a panel of international judges and I found the experience refreshing. After seeing the work of twenty eight candidates, we finally chose as the winner a menswear collection by Mille Marie Jensen of Designskolen Kolding, Denmark, for its sublety and attention to detail, and two runners up: a children's wear collection by Kaia Folkvord Rugsveen, from Esmod, Oslo, for its exciting shapes and brilliant colours; and one womenswear collection by Anne Birkjaer Bitsch, a student from TEKO Centre, Denmark, who showed a strong sense of volume, shape and texture. You can see the pictures of their clothes here and decide what you think.

Anne Birkjaer Bitsch,TEKO Centre, Denmark

Kaia Folkvold Rugsveen, Esmod, Oslo

Mille Marie Jensen, Designskolen Kolding, Denmark

All photos © Copenhagen Fashion Week

Monday, 15 February 2010

Alexander McQueen's Death: Some Further Thoughts

I was out of the country when the news of Alexander McQueen's death was made public so I had not read any press coverage of it (read my original response here). Arriving at Heathrow yesterday, I bought The Sunday Times and The Observer, both of which I had been told would carry a background story.

And so they did. The Observer, a newspaper that once employed writers of the calibre of AJP Taylor and commentators like Malcolm Muggeridge, had managed to drag up somebody who had once interviewed McQueen and had become a 'friend', and The Sunday Times had cobbled together a series of quotes from the same kind of 'friends', several of whom wished to preserve their anonymity. Neither piece said anything, really.

All of Alexander McQueen's real friends are so devastated by the shock that they are unable to talk to any newspaper, I am sure. How could it be otherwise? A suicide is a devastating thing because it makes those close to the person concerned feel complicit in the death, at least by default; the suicide of a young person is even more devastating because of the waste of a life, and the suicide of a talented creator with years of creativity ahead of him, in the natural order of things, is almost unbearably devastating for what we all lose – friends, acquaintances and strangers alike.

The facts of Alexander McQueen's life are simple. He was almost universally recognised as one of the great fashion creators of the last decade of the twentieth century, admired, if not always understood, by his peers of all ages and levels of fame. And yet, I feel a great disservice is being done to his memory by the sort of articles I have read. Alexander McQueen – or Lee, as it has quickly become obligatory to call him as a badge identifying how close one was to him (it was in fact only his real friends who ever called him that without self-consciousness) – was shy and even reclusive. He was never at ease in the limelight - one of the major contributing factors to his frequent gaucheries, which meant he said things in interviews that seemed harsher and cruder than he actually meant. Naively, perhaps,for somebody who was a world figure - and a revered one, at that - he wanted to remain anonymous and to enjoy a private life. 'Friends' commenting on him, his demons and his talent smell to me of doing nothing more than exploiting a tragic moment that has robbed us of a complex but boldly mold-breaking talent of extreme and unequivocal originality. Their vapid comments can be safely discounted.

Alexander McQueen was theatrical to the end and I have often felt that, had he come through a different educational system that would have provided the cultural basis he seemed to me to be desperately needing, he would surely have done something more creatively sustainable – and challenging – than designing clothes. Inside, there was a Diaghilev or even a Nijinsky trying to shock us into understanding his world – a world remarkably complete and entirely free of references to any other dress designer's work. Many said that, in order to fulfil his potential, he should be given a couture house and an unlimited budget. But for me he was too much of a Titan for that: working with clothes alone could never bring complete artistic fulfilment. I would certainly have given him the budget, but I would have added a theatre, a ballet troupe, an opera company and a team of athletes and then watched him soar to true greatness. I mourn the fact that, like Queen after Freddie Mercury's death, the Alexander McQueen label, whether or not it continues, can never be the same. The fire has gone, taking with it the excellence and leaving only the embers of the creative fireball that was Alexander McQueen.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Copenhagen Fashion Week shows: Ole Yde, Minimarket, Margit Brandt

Ole Yde; photos: Copenhagen Fashion Week

My time at Copenhagen Fashion Week became a little confused towards the end and things unravelled enough for me to miss a few shows. The situation was not helped by the fact that some of the shows were scheduled for very late. Anyone ready to look at frocks after 11pm, folks? You know the answer. Unless it is a sure-fire winner on the level of Galliano, Prada or Ralph Lauren, who in his or her right mind wants to be leaving a show after midnight? And I gather that things were even later at least once in Copenhagen.

It isn't just that even the keenest fashionista suffers from frock fatigue at that sort of hour. It is also the fact that the show stops being a professional presentation for a professional audience and becomes a hyped-up party for friends, liggers and people there to enjoy the experience. And I can tell you, professionals are there for one reason only – to assess and enjoy the clothes. Thank God, we are rarely so sad as to make looking at a fashion show at a time of day when others are enjoying a civilised dinner part of our social life. And we always know that the organisation of a late-night show, with hundreds of gatecrashers, is a logistical nightmare that always overwhelms the organisers as seats are stolen, professional guests ignored and the total confusion of mixing party-goers with workers reigns. It always makes me think, 'These people are not ready yet for a grown-up commitment, so why give it?'

In contrast Ole Yde presented his collection in the ordered calm of the Georg Jensen flagship store at Amagertorv. It was the right setting for the luxurious clothes that were sent down the runway, featuring the 'Daisy' collection of Jensen jewellery based on Denmark's national flower and apparently a great favourite of HM Queen Margrethe. This was, like the show of the long-established company, Margit Brandt, very grown-up clothing. From the two poles of the fashion spectrum, they represented the extremes of Danish fashion: at one end, demi-couture, at the other clothes for every woman.

Lastly, in a week of so much unrelieved black I was delighted with Minimarket, a label not afraid to penetrate the gloom with strong flashes of colour. Reminiscent at times of Pierre Cardin and even Benetton in their heyday, the show was full of fun, although I was not convinced by the airhostess hats (postmodern wit, or merely a bad memory trip?) and found the African mask make up added nothing to the story. Just the opposite, in fact.

Minimarket; photos: Copenhagen Fashion Week

Margit Brandt; Photos: Copenhagen Fashion Week

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Copenhagen Fashion Week shows: Noir, Munthe Plus Simonsen, Designers Remix Collection

Noir: Photos Copenhagen Fashion Week

A beautiful blonde walking towards you in a blizzard. Every happy heterosexual male’s fantasy, surely. And certainly one that was amply fulfilled at the Munthe Plus Simonsen show on Thursday night at Copenhagen Fashion Week. It was a slick and highly professional presentation of wearable, sexy clothes in a subdued palette of grey, black and sand, with strong knits and sheepskins – not surprisingly, with the city deep in snow. It will have wide commercial appeal.

More complex in its references, Designers Remix Collection by Charlotte Eskildsen looked to the recent collections of Chanel, Valentino and Balmain – which makes the label’s name very appropriate. The mood was dark, even gothic. Feathers, frills, twisted ribbons – we had seen everything many times. But there is a talent here that could flourish and flower if only it can break away from the footsteps of Paris and walk boldly to its own creative rhythm.

There was the same sense of déjà vu at the most interesting of the evening’s shows, by Noir. Picking up on John Galliano’s obsession with underwear as outerwear that has been a recent feature of Dior couture, Noir went a stage further. He had the models appear in bra and pants and then proceed to dress each other, at a languorously erotic pace which, aided by a soundtrack of Nina Simone, had overtones of lesbianism, bordellos and even S&M. There was simmering sexuality in the air but the clothes were bound to be secondary in such a strong presentational statement. Appropriate to the name of the label, black was the colour du jour – or should I say nuit, as the collection consisted entirely of evening wear. A broader approach and a lot less referencing would help the clothes live up to the presentation possibly.

Designers Remix Collection: Photos Copenhagen Fashion Week

Munthe Plus Simonsen: Photos Copenhagen Fashion Week

Friday, 12 February 2010

Vulnerable Creativity: Alexander McQueen obituary and evaluation

Just when the international fashion world is getting ready to present the autumn/winter 2010 shows (kicking off this weekend in New York), a dark shadow makes them a time of sadness rather than celebration.

Alexander McQueen’s suicide is a tragic reminder of the vulnerability and insecurity felt by all creative people and, over the last few years, hugely exaggerated for designers expected to produce more and more ideas, more and more collections, more and more public statements and appearances … They may appear to be gilded peacocks in a crystal world of privilege but, in fact, most designers are little more than desperate battery hens.

Lee McQueen was a highly talented man with a distinctive – and instinctive – creative approach. But he was as complex as he was clever. He glamorised women but he also victimised them. Few who saw them will forget the extraordinary shows he presented in London with the patronage of American Express in the nineties. He raised the bar for a dark theatricality that, if anything, became darker and more threatening to women when, under the aegis of Gucci, he continued to explore and exploit his demons – demons that seemed to intensify after the suicide in 2007 of his one-time muse, Isabella Blow. His was a strangely ambivalent creative sensibility: he seemed so often to hate the thing he so clearly loved. His romanticism (which produced some of the most beautiful clothes of the last 20 years) was always symbolically charred at its edges by an approach to beauty and women offensively brutal at times, as he presented them as predators and victims, hard and soft, human and insect.

Alexander McQueen cared passionately about his creativity. He banned me once for criticising a show and, although he allowed me back, I’m sure he never forgave. I think he always felt that my well-known championship of John Galliano made me put him in second place, and maybe it was so. They were similar in many ways. They shared a strong theatricality; they loved to shock (and delight); they both grew in stature once they were finally taken under the wing of, respectively, Gucci and LVMH. They were rivals for the hearts of fashionistas but I think future historians will bracket them closely together as fashion’s Michelangelo and Leonardo or Goya and Velazquez – but who will be which only time will tell.

Until then the fashion business, insanely predatory in its greed on all levels, should view the suicide of this sad young man as a cry for help from all designers as they burn themselves out in over-production and begin to hate and fear the thing they once so loved. There is a price that is too high to pay for even the most beautiful of creations and the healthiest of sales figures, as Lee McQueen’s shockingly untimely death has made clear to even the most bone-headed members of the fashion world.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Lee McQueen's Death – A Tragedy for Fashion

I am en route to Copenhagen for their fashion week but I have just heard the tragic news about Lee McQueen and wanted to record a first reaction. It is a great personal tragedy, of course, and also a terrible blow for the whole fashion world, particularly in Britain. Lee McQueen was one of the few designers of true stature London has produced in the past few decades. I'll remember him more fully when I have a chance later …

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Donatella, the Versace Family and an Unnecessary Book

Photo courtesy

A cold and dull Milan morning yesterday was enlivened by interviewing Donatella Versace in the beautiful apartment in via Gesu where Gianni used to live and entertain. She was on great form and everything went without a hitch. Being an absolutely useless linguist, I am always amazed at how competent others are. Donatella was totally relaxed, even though she is in the last throes of preparing her new collection, due to be shown during Milan Fashion Week in two weeks' time. She is a rare thing in fashion – super high-glam yet totally down to earth and practical. She has just come to the end of her role as chair of Fashion Fringe @ Covent Garden to which she brought a sympathetic and understanding approach for all our finalists, even inviting them over to Milan to see her menswear show and then tour the ateliers – an experience they will never forget.

A new 'tell-all' book about the Versace family and the problems they have faced and overcome since Gianni's death has just been published. One has to ask, what on earth for? Despite the claim that it reveals 'the untold story', the facts are already common knowledge and this book adds nothing to them. The author is employed by The Wall Street Journal, although not as a fashion specialist, and I assume that is what persuaded the Versace organisation, which has refused many other overtures by publishers, to co-operate. I imagine they did so on the assumption that the esteem in which the newspaper is held would ensure a fair and even-handed account.

That's not what this book provides. Instead, it is slick, shallow journalism. Like most of the writing in The Wall Street Journal, it is dull; but, unlike the newspaper, it is also slipshod: contradictory statements appear even on the same page. This is hack work, I'm afraid, and as such I hope it will die very quickly, just as similar books on Calvin Klein and Yves Saint Laurent did.

All of which makes me a little sad and – not for the first time – more than a little ashamed of the more opportunistic members of my profession. I can't imagine anyone for whom fashion is important sticking with this book for more than 20 minutes.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Fashion Weeks: Christopher Bailey at Burberry Takes a Lead

Further to what I wrote yesterday (read it here) about the way fashion weeks are changing, it was interesting to receive this press announcement from Burberry on exactly the same theme. Surely this is the way forward … The question is, will it change how we perceive and consume fashion?

"We are very excited to announce that we are hosting the first ever truly global fashion show. We will be simultaneously live streaming our show using 3D technology directly to New York, Paris, Dubai, Tokyo and LA. This unprecedented event will enable people to experience the energy and atmosphere of this show from around the world. 3D technology will bring our global audience into the London show space allowing them to see the colours and fabrics, to hear the music and to be a part of that moment when it all finally comes together."
Christopher Bailey, Chief Creative Officer

Burberry to live stream womenswear show globally in 3D

Burberry is to live stream its upcoming Autumn Winter 2010/11 womenswear show in 3D to events in New York, Paris, Dubai, Tokyo and Los Angeles

The Autumn Winter 2010/11 womenswear show will take place at The Chelsea College of Art in London at 4PM on 23 February 2010, during London Fashion Week

The private 3D events will receive live stream from London to custom screening spaces designed by Burberry Chief Creative Officer, Christopher Bailey

Burberry will be partnering with broadcaster Sky television on production using its innovative 3D technology

Pre-show entertainment hosted from behind the scenes, backstage and red carpet in London

NEW YORK 3D live streaming event at Skylight studios

PARIS 3D live streaming event hosted with concept store, colette

DUBAI 3D live streaming event at The Address

TOKYO 3D live streaming to La Fabrique for ''Burberry Night''

LOS ANGELES* 3D streaming event hosted by Tina Brown, editor of The Daily Beast

Burberry is the first brand to broadcast live simultaneous events in 3D worldwide

Burberry will also live stream its show in 2D at where viewers can watch and comment on the show in real time using their Facebook and Twitter accounts

Burberry, which is headquartered in London and a member of the FTSE100, was founded in 1856

* All events will be taking place simultaneously in real time, with the exception of the Los Angeles event which will have a delay due to time zone.

Fashion Weeks: The Balance Between Quality and Quantity

Last week when I was in New York I read an interesting piece in The New York Times about Zac Posen (read it here). What struck me, particularly given Fashion Fringe's purpose 'to find, nurture and mentor new young designers', was the observation that, before the financial downturn, New York 'was a breeding ground for young designers, overrun with labels that became overnight sensations merely because the industry willed them to be so…' Not, you'll notice, because the public was clamouring for new labels (most of them have enough difficulty keeping up with the present ones). Because, rather, the industry itself has been subconsciously – or even in a conscious but inexpressible way – finding the multi-collections produced by designers and high-street labels repetitive and cannibalistic as fashion on the streets becomes increasingly homogenised and predictable.

Nothing is more boring than excess. Even Casanova realised that in the end. The fashion weeks are about to start. Anxious organisers, for whom these events are a great money-spinner, will go for quantity rather than quality – an approach already established in London – in the hope of keeping our interest. Instead, it really is time that the attitude change back to the old fashion mantra 'less is more'. Then there would be no more fights for calendar space on the international schedule as each so-called week shrinks to, maybe, two days for New York; two for London; four for Milan; and a week for Paris – all of which will be shown to foreign journalists and buyers via Web links and videos while they sit in their offices. Think of the money and time saved - and think how that money could be used to stop the global slave labour that the fashion world currently accepts as the murky but necessary underpinning of its glamour.

As The New York Times says, what happens in the fashion world is what the fashion world wills to happen. As an industry, we should be spending less time hysterically looking for new 'stars' and more looking at the appalling human rights record fashion has. Just because frivolity and vacuity have become the current benchmarks of fashion does not mean that they need remain so. During the fashion shows to come in the next few weeks, might we all spend a little more time in thinking rather than dreaming?

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Fashion Fringe in New York

Four exciting days in New York, on a promotional trip with the winners of last year's Fashion Fringe chosen by Donatella Versace and a team of industry experts at our finalists' fashion show during London Fashion Week. We are here at the invitation of Bloomingdales Soho, the young and trendy outpost of the famous American store. We were thrilled to see that Jena Theo, the winning label of Jenny Holmes and Dimitris Theocharidis, had been given the two windows on each side of the store entrance, along with a description of Fashion Fringe and its history.

We gave a presentation to the sales staff and then watched the customer reaction, which seemed very positive. While the designers schmoozed with the clients, the rest of the team were busy with Fashion Fringe appointments which I'm confident will lead to great things in the future. It's time to look beyond London. But New York is never entirely about work - or rather New Yorkers know how to blend work and pleasure. One of the best-known movers and shakers in U.S. fashion retail (discretion requires anonymity, I'm afraid) gave us a great 'meet and greet' drinks party in his apartment to which he had invited an A-list which included friends of mine and some of the top people in US retail and PR.

The evening ended with a late supper at the New York branch of Le Caprice, one of my favourite London restaurants, which opened on Fifth Avenue in October to instant success. Black and white, elegant, the Manhattan Caprice is clearly related to the Mayfair one but the clientelle are very different. Much more ebullient, very chic and expensively dressed, they were out to have fun. A man in white tie and tails with a very thin but beautiful woman caught my attention at the bar and made me realise how boringly men dress in London these days.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Paris Haute Couture: Blogger Tavi – Fashion's Shame

A last thought on Paris couture.
Have I been mean in calling Tavi sad? Certainly, that was not the intention. But no-one who saw her at Paris couture could avoid thinking of the sacrifice of the innocents, I would have thought – a sacrifice by the business itself and, I'm afraid, by her parents. (I even found her outfit eerily reminiscent of the ceremonial clothing in which the Inca dressed their daughters before they led them up mountains, drugged them and left them in the snow as offerings to the gods.)

Pushing young and inexperienced people into a highly sophisticated and complex world such as Paris high fashion is a decision for mum and dad, of course, but to outsiders it is almost bound to smack of exploitation, no matter what the original intention. It is fine to talk about fresh young bloggers bringing a new perspective – and they certainly can. But this isn't an argument about the validity of blogging. Anybody with even a lick of sense knows that a fresh voice has to be a knowledgeable one if it is to have any significance apart from pure novelty. Little Tavi was stage-managed and styled for Paris – what a cute idea to give her an outsize bow in her hair to ensure that she didn't just blend in with the crowds – and that is getting dangerously close to exploitation, surely? (Not to mention something of a contradiction of the unaffected, unpackaged, uncontaminated view that most bloggers set out to offer.)

I can't help wondering about Tavi when she is in her thirties … then I think of Judy Garland and I just feel that, although she is probably enjoying the exposure to an exciting world (what little girl wouldn't?), it isn't something with which professionals in the fashion world should be co-operating.

Suffer the little children was not meant to include this.

"She's ready for her close-up": Tavi (and father) face the press.
Photo © Larry Ewing

Paris Haute Couture: Overview and Images

So, Paris couture survived another season of doom and gloom - and did so rather well. Sure, it may not be healthy as it used to be when it was the fountainhead of fashion. Certainly, the rise and rise of designer ready-to-wear has not made things easy for couturiers but that doesn't mean it is time for the coffins. There's big trouble on the way for ready-to-wear so, as long as couture hangs on in there and loses no more big names, it won't just survive, it will also prosper.

You must have noticed how The Crash has made rather a lot of people very much richer than before and very much more blatant about showing it (£15 million a year for the new M&S boss and barely a murmur). The mood is right – and right across the globe, wherever there is a stock market.

Meanwhile, I hope a few more pictures from Paris couture make it clear why I love it so much … and think it still matters.

Top – Chanel: pictures © Larry Ewing
Centre – Chanel (left); Gaultier: pictures © Larry Ewing
Bottom – Valentino: picture © Larry Ewing