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International Fashion For Women


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All Rise MBMJ Army


Our Future.  Solidarity.  Unity.  Suffragette.  Choice.  These words punctuated Katie Hillier and Luella Bartley’s latest collection for Marc by Marc Jaocbs and despite the fact that they were tapping into the youthful energy of protest rather than any specific political oeuvre, it was hard not to think about the way this dynamic duo has set about clothing a new generation of MBMJ customers and imbuing them with the idea that it’s ok to be into fashion and to think of other things.  You can’t help but think back to Chanel’s faux protest last season where feminism felt like it was being mocked rather than amplified .  Difference being that Hillier and Bartley’s slogans (once again designed by Fergus “Fergadelic” Purcell) feel heartfelt.  Perhaps it’s also down to Hillier and Bartley being women, who have more than had their say about the subject of girl power through their collective output.  And in the context of Marc by Marc Jacobs’ youth-centric vibe, those aforementioned words rendered over the military-infused 1960s youthquake slash 1980s new wave silhouettes are more than likely to positively engage with a generation of girls (and young-at-heart women) who are thinking about feminism, our shaky political and economical climate and a future plagued by rising student debts, unaffordable rent and inequality between the rich and poor.

Bartley and Hillier insisted that they were thinking about an upbeat optimism amongst the youth they know; that they can incite change if they want to.  They called their girls “charming vigilantes” as New York Guardian Angels’ citizen patroller berets and studded stomping shoes were contrasted with a swirl of William Morris prints.  Namely his famous Strawberry Fields and Acanthus prints in army-derived shades of green and blue and comrade red – from a distance, they almost looked like camouflage.  Bartley and Hillier chose to use the prints, not just as a traditional contrasting foil, but because Morris himself was a social activist.  The duo were making a fervent point that you can be interested in all things related to aesthetics and be engaged with what’s going on in the world around us.  Politicising fashion has never been an easy ride but in this instance, Hillier and Bartley’s intentions come off as genuine and better yet, positive.  Those words that ring around the collection aren’t pithily employed.  For the lucky ones that can afford it (although I’m pleased to say that despite MBMJ’s renewed and revived status, the prices haven’t rocketed since Hillier and Bartley’s arrival) they can wear these clothes and be children of their own revolution in the making – whatever that may be.

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Dream Away


>> Marc Chagall.  His journey from St Petersburg to Paris.  The Birthday.  The Promenade.  The Marriage.  Love.  Valentino’s latest S/S 15 haute couture collection is about as indulgently themed as you can get.  It’s quite a feat to dedicate a collection to something as monumental and universal as LOVE and neither Maria Grazia Chiuri nor Pierpaolo Piccioli shy away from what could potentially be overbearing schmaltz territory.  In a nude satin draped room, they embraced their theme head-on by saturating their silhouettes with craft – hour and hours of it according to the press notes as they listed out dresses that had had up to 3,500 hours of embroidery lavished upon them.  This craftwork is seen in abundance in the Russian-flecked folkloric sequence of “peasant” dresses, smocked blouses and sheepskin gilets.   This was the most substantial part of the show as the red and black embroidery became increasingly dense and the patterns ever more complicated.  It’s seen in the lyrics and words from the likes of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Dante, liberally embroidered all over layered tulle skirts along with floral motifs and references to specific Chagall paintings.  It’s seen in the clouds, rainbows and stars sparkling from what are the modern day equivalent of 21st century dressing-up box frocks.  Wait shouldn’t this feel… dare I say it… a bit cheesy?  So why is it that cynical me is sat here wanting to be trussed up as a cloud of tulle with extra sparkles on top?  

You come away from every Valentino show (and specifically the haute couture ones) wondering how Chiuri and Piccioli get away with it.  It is afterall a vision of beauty that is about as straightforward and traditional as it comes.  No pretence at trying to be “subversive” or “edgy”.  No wayward styling tricks to detract from the clothes at hand.  And an earnestness and honesty about everything so much so they spell it out in words just to hone in their point – “Amor Vincit Omnia” (Love Conquers All) reads the final bustier in this collection.  Maybe that’s why it’s a winning formula, if admittedly a touch repetitive.   Beautiful is beautiful no matter how many times you’ve seen it before.

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Florals? For Spring? Groundbreaking.


florals

>> My garden like most people’s garden in the Northern hemisphere is barren at the moment.  I’ve got hydrangeas with brown petals, withered wisteria branches and mulchy grass.  Chez Chanel, a hot house nurtured by Karl Lagerfeld and watered by Jean Baptiste Giabiconi can miraculously bloom and blossom in mere seconds.  I was of course pleasantly surprised that Chanel hadn’t in fact shunned me for life and I was welcomed into this horticultural wonder for the latest S/S 15 haute couture show.  In lieu of the collection arriving in London for an event in late February, where I can get up close and personal with it, I thought I’d save my indepth thoughts and detailed write-up until then but suffice to say, whilst florals for spring may not necessarily be groundbreaking, it’s certainly a welcome and refreshing respite, post feminist-gate.  Let’s pause and be floored by the set first and foremost.  Pale green foliage hides secret mechanics below the ground that spur paper cut flowers to appear magically.  Up close, each bloom is painted beautifully with watercolours.  Their graphic 3-D pop-up structure mirrors the painstakingly intricate embroidery that also seems to spring out from the clothes themselves.  Who needs groundbreaking when you have unadulterated prettiness?

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Ambushed


After all the lush haute-ness of couture shows, my last stop in Paris was in Ambush’s showroom where unexpected bling meets the grounds of Palais Royal.  As streetwear’s convergence with high fashion shows no signs of abating, this Japanese jewellery label, created by rapper Verbal and his wife Yoon, finds itself in a niche of its own.  Garnering celebrity fans, prestigious stockists like Dover Street Market and colette and scoring collaborations with fellow Japanese giants Sacai and Undercover as well as Kim Jones for Louis Vuitton, Ambush has made a success out of exporting what they call a “Tokyo aesthetic.”

It’s easy though to look at the surface of Ambush’s jewellery and label it as mere surface-driven pop-bling.  Especially when you’re viewing their stuff through the prism of blogs and social media.  Verbal and Yoon pride themselves on creating a quality product and so for the first time, they decided to show their wares in Paris, debuting their A/W 15-6 “Dreamcatchers” collection.  Stockists have put faith in them by buying in their pieces based on digital linesheets alone but they were able to come and take a peek and feel the heft and weight of their signature gold and silver coated chains, fit for anyone – guy or girl – with the mettle to don Ambush.  The trick me thinks is to be fearless about loading it up in multiple quantities.

Their seasonal collection for A/W 15-6 takes a turn for the desert and the Native American insignia, which they have re-appropriated in such a way so as to avoid any cliches.  A beaded breastplate comes coated in silver or gold.  Turquoise stones are replaced with vivid red and blue stones, dyed intensely to achieve Ambush’s signature colour palette.  Iridescent powder coating also adds a steeliness to words like Love and Peace rendered on pendants and chunky rings.  Their foundation of clothes that compliment the jewellery grows in range with patchwork denim jumpsuits and military parka jackets with exaggerated pockets.  Tommy Ton, Youngjun Koo and I found ourselves slightly obsessed with trying everything on.

Verbal and Yoon are keen to stress the quality and source of manufacture of their pieces.  Everything is made in Japan and no shortcuts are taken.  The denim pieces for example are made in Kojima, Okayama – dubbed the denim city of Japan.  Their burgeoning range of skull bags, vaguely similar to Aitor Throup’s own skull creations, were created in collaboration with Kyoto-based shoe and leather craftsman Kushino Masayo.

Just as Made in Japan is once again making ears perk up – see leather label Blackmeans’ recent installation at Selfridges and the recent success of labels like Kolor and Sacai – Ambush fits into this narrative as they seek to prove that quality and eyeball-grabbing designs don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

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Flower Bombing


In the S/S 12 issue of Bon Magazine, writer Anja Aronowsky Cronberg investigated the origins of what appear to be “African” textiles.  Specifically the brightly coloured wax prints that can be found everywhere from markets in Ghana to Dalston in London and even my local shop in Seven Sisters, where they’re made up into the most awesome Church going ensembles you’ll ever see.  Cronberg discussed our collective vision of Africana and the fact that we think represents an “African” aesthetic actually comes from Holland.  In the town of Helmond, since 1846, the Dutch textiles company Vlisco has been exporting Real Dutch Wax fabrics.  It’s a tale of a strange cultural assimilation, caused by colonial occupation and trade routes.  The batik technique came from Indonesia, formerly known as the Dutch East Indies, when was then industrialised back in Holland.  The fabric was then exported to the Gold Coast in West Africa (present-day Ghana) and was made popular there.  From then on end, Vlisco began to cater to the West African market, incorporating local tastes like incorporated leaders’ faces into designs.  With cheap Chinese copies flooding the market, you’re likely to see any number of kitsch motifs like mobile phones or pop culture icons worked into the cloth.

This was the first thing that came to mind when I went to visit Viktor & Rolf preparing their haute couture collection in Paris in a temporary atelier, before their show on Thursday.  Giant babydoll dresses literally exploded with that familiar “African” wax print (I did point out, like a number of other reviewers, the “Flowerbomb” reference but the duo were unaware of the irony).  All the fabrics were specially created by Vlisco using one singular flower motif which then build up in colour as the silhouettes progress.  Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren said they wanted an upbeat and cheerful collection.  That seems like a facile explanation, especially when you delve into the origins of the fabric and consider the eerie use of the Rosemary Baby’s lullaby in the show soundtrack.  By choosing to use this Real Dutch Wax cloth, Horsting and Snoeren strengthen that original Dutch connection but also seek to elevate what we see as a “cheap” cloth to new heights.  It follows on from similar mono-focus haute couture collections centered around printed tattoo latex and red carpet dresses.  This approach feels singular and relevant as we constantly try and define the parameters of haute couture.  How does it become more “real” or “modern” or “new”?  Horsting and Snoeren’s answer is to use fabrics that almost have a day-to-day familiarity for us and completely flip their context.

Snoeren and Horsting’s penchant for the surreal and a play on proportions and perceptions,really comes into its own as smocking is enlarged on dresses that are inspired by baby’s dresses.  Petticoats are layered up to extremes, reminiscent of that brilliant S/S 10 hole-filled tulle collection.  The prints build up in colour and also transform from 2-D surface to 3-D .  They appear to grow from the fabric, picked out by cut-out flowers lifted up by an invisible force of nature.  Even the black outline of the wax cloth lifts off in an outward direction.  It was lovely to see Horsting and Snoeren’s transplanted Amsterdam atelier at work in Paris, piecing these delicate ensembles together.   On the head, stalks of wheat, elongated by carbon fibres are woven into mad feats of millinery.  They reference fellow Dutchman Vincent van Gogh and his Wheat Fields series.  “I put my heart and soul in my work and have lost my mind in the process,” is a van Gogh quote used in the press release and is an appropriate summation of how Horsting and Snoeren approached this collection.

Some might see the show as a pointless exercise – one that serves no purpose other than theatrical indulgence.  As a counterpoint though to their increasingly commercial ready to wear, this is Horsting and Horsting having complete carte blanche to push their atelier to an extreme.  And for me extremity in any form in fashion is definitely something to be commended.  As it turns out, art collector Han Nefkens has bought three of the dresses already and they will be donated to the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam.  That’s a purpose in itself as these growing bucolic silhouettes can be seen as an artform.  As for wearers?  V&R’s last red carpet haute couture collection was wittily worn…errrm, on the red carpet.  Someone will have the chutzpah to do the same.  

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Moonage Daydream


Keep your ‘lectric eye on me babe
Put your ray gun to my head
Press your space face close to mine, love
Freak out in a moonage daydream oh yeah!

David Bowie’s lyrics of Moonage Daydream provides the perfect lyric prism in which to view the latest Dior show.  It’s why it was one of the tracks used in the Bowie medley that soundtracked the show.  You can be an alligator, a mama-papa, a space invader or more fittingly, a rock ‘n’ rolling bitch in these clothes.  This show was so full in every way possible – full of eras, identities and ideas – I said in my Dazed Digital review of the show, “Too much of a good thing… is something amazing.”  I with more designers would just go and do something that was “too much”.  Then again, few have the bravada and the resources that Simons has to make everything work successfully.  You could see it all as overbearing randomness or rather it was a freeing of haute couture that Simons so brilliantly expressed with this show.

I was always thinking of the future for so many years and I was always anti-romanticising the past, but the past can be beautiful too, ” says Raf Simons. “There is a sense of the romance of the fifties, with the experimentation of the sixties and the liberation of the seventies in the collection – both in its materialisation and attitude. But I really wanted to express something that felt relevant for today, learnt from then, from the point of view of now; something wilder, more sexual, strange and certainly more liberated for the haute  couture and for women.”

Wild and strange is exactly what we got as we entered this never ending mirrored maze of white scaffolding and strangely sensual deep pile dusky pink carpet.  It was a time travel vehicle where Simons’ multi-decade, mucho-clashing, more-is-more vision for Dior could traverse through, going first around the hexagonal upper tier and then descending down the stairs.  If you looked up at the ceiling, you saw these strange creatures reflected repeatedly into infinity.  Sometimes there would be verbatim moments – like psychedelic catsuits taken straight from body painting editorial that might have appeared in late ’60s/early 70s Vogue under Diana Vreeland.  Most of the time decades collided with one another – as seen in the ’60s PVC printed with Dior’s femme fleur and made up into ’50s opera coats, worn over short crystal shifts as well as early punk tattoo body suits.  Bowie might have taken a liking to them in his Ziggy Stardust days.  Or when a full skirted New Look era skirt collided with an O-ring cut-out bodice straight from a go go booted dance club.  Speaking of which, the mere presence of those PVC slicked thigh high gogo boots in bright colours with metal cage heels, was more than enough to inject a kink in proceedings as well as a kick to the mainstream perception of what haute couture is supposed to be.  Cue detractors decrying “This is not couture!”

I’ve literally just come been inside a couture atelier today (more about that in another post).  The head of one of the ateliers said that she loved working in haute couture because there were no limits – in price and in ideas.  If that’s the case then Simons has really understood this sense of freedom.  Exploring its outer possibilities in materials and techniques as well as themes is how Simons has chosen to work with these ateliers, limitless in skill and resources – and that should be commended.  The collective gushing post show was genuine and heartfelt.  “So many ideas!  So rich!” was the general consensus.  Some can take what they want out of it  – a grosgrain ribbon heavily pleated skirt here, a guipere lace dress there – indeed, clients are currently clustering around the racks right this moment, taking their pick.  For us mere mortals, it’s the entire experience of this sensory overload that was so glorious to witness.

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Ghosts of a Collector’s Past


>> I hit many firsts last week and over the weekend as I’ve been reporting on menswear shows for Dazed Digital.  Some of the firsts were good, some not so good. Despite my typing abilities being thoroughly spent, it’s hard not give props to some of those firsts that really gave me the chills.   Givenchy menswear for A/W 15-6 with the bonus of some specially created womenswear looks was a good first.  And it did give me some serious chills.  From Riccardo Tisci’s obsessions as a collector of Mexican carpets, skulls and mystical jewellery came a welcome walk on the darkside that steered clear of the heavy sportswear and streetwear influences that have come to define the menswear in most people’s minds.  It’s hard not to be swung by a strong narrative and this show had it in spades.  Tisci noted after the show that he was at a point where he was currently incredibly happy with what he’s doing and that he felt free enough to just put everything he loved into the collection.  So the references were numerous and sprawling, as objects from all over the world fed auras their into the collection.  That feeling was echoed in The American Horror Story-esque assembly of objects of old TV’s, furniture and spooky dolls in the set.  I’m a sucker for thrift/junk shop vibes and being inspired by objects of significance, especially when in Tisci’s case, inspiration literally came from his own home.  As for the clothes – they were the carriers of all the traits that Tiscis has blessed Givenchy with, making it the house with resonance and relevance that it is today – dark and brooding tailoring, eerie romance, eye-baiting prints and yes, a smidge of that sporty streety stuff (although I’m loving the fact that Tisci has shifted ever so slightly away from the use of a mere printed sweatshirt).   Pat McGrath’s painstakingly painted and collages masks on a few of the models completed this joyously macabre tale.  It’s Givnechy as a haunted house (or should that be maison?) ride – one that you wouldn’t mind going round and round in forever, should you be able to afford its wares.

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