And the debate rages on. What is the definition of ‘modern’? It’s a common practice for fashion pros to try to put their finger on what defines ‘modern’ as they observe the styles being proposed by designers for the coming season. Not long after the spring 2006 collections ended in New York, and Milan was history, the ‘New Minimalism’ was being touted as the unofficial barometer of this notion and was the reigning Look of the Moment. Its obvious appeal lies in a certain paring down, stripping away, simplification, and purity of line, but this time around it is not as antiseptic and less scarily austere as the minimalism of the 90’s and there is far more emphasis on design and on deliciously delicate detail (a “softer, kinder” minimalism?)
This, coupled with an eased up silhouette, and almost all white or pale neutral color palette, was exemplified by Francisco Costa for Calvin in New York, who received unanimously glowing reviews and praise from both retailers and members of the press for his efforts, and later by Miuccia Prada in Milan, who is still considered to be THE MOST influential designer showing in that city and who continues to be a major force to recon with on a global scale. But of course, that was before the collections unveiled in Paris, the city where one expects to be inspired and creatively tickled. (Even when it’s not Paris’s “best season ever”, it’s still the highlight of the month long shows).
And guess what happened? Along came Nicolas Guesquiere who kicked things off with a critically acclaimed and crowd pleasing collection for Balenciaga that was a far cry from minimal. Highly embellished, deliciously frothy, decorated, and ornamental, it was an interesting and unexpected juxtaposition of Baroque modernized with bits of rock and roll and plenty of attitude (not to mention a lineup of the best models on the planet and some decidedly modern and sexy looking sandals). Cathy Horyn called it a “spree of brilliance and madness”.
But the following day, Cathy was apparently jolted by what she saw on the runway of Olivier Theyskens for Rochas, a collection that carried the fin du siecle into 2005. It was a beautiful evolution of what Theyskens had presented for fall (which was based on Victoriana) and was far more subtle, more pared down and quieter than Balenciaga. Horyn praised Olivier for his thoughtful and intelligent approach to design and his creation of a “modern uniform” (in this case, a languid somewhat relaxed pantsuit). In her words, “Olivier Theyskens’ collection tonight for Rochas clearly, handsomely and calmly established what is modern in fashion. It erased the day. It made you rethink everything you had seen since the French spring 2006 shows began on Sunday.” (Just a note, the ‘Man of the Hour’, Olivier Theyskens will be the center of attention in New York later on this month when he will be guest of honor at a party at Barneys New York, and on October 28th, he, along with fellow designers-“The Romantics”- Valentino, Alberto Ferretti, and Ralph Rucci, will be feted at Fashion Group International’s 22nd Annual Night of Stars).
The conflict and conundrum which apparently left the fashion writer befuddled was evident in her October 6th review, “while Balenciaga was rich and provocative, the Rochas show, with its tranquil palette and emphatic, uncluttered line, raises a question about what is modern.” At the very least it makes for a lively fashion dual.”
To my way of thinking, it’s not as much about a “dual” as it is about a ‘dual’ ity. Why must one philosophy win out over the other or negate the other? Why does one have to choose between plain and fancy? Why can’t both be relevant? Why can’t both happily coexist? I can just see the ongoing dual raging right now within my closets as the heavily embellished items duke it out with the simpler ones as they vie for more space, and ask, “Can’t we all just get along?”
The way I see it, there is a time and place for everything- all looks are relevant depending on one’s needs, wants, and desires. Who would want a wardrobe of just one look, just one designer, just one ANYTHING (regardless of how wonderful and fabulous it is?) “Variety is the spice of life” and “Man does not live by bread alone” (or in this case, “Woman does not live by ‘thread’ alone”). As Sara Mower put it, (in her review of the highly varied Chanel spring 2006 collection for Style.com), “In reality, fashion is now more about the availability of a gazillion simultaneous choices rather than the single, old-school designer diktat.” Exactly!
Some days you may want- or require plain, straightforward and simplified clothes. The next day, you may crave (or need) something more celebratory, expressive, decorative. If this seems schizophrenic, it is. But schizophrenic and bi-polarity as it applies to fashion is not a condition that requires medical attention – it’s the essence of modern and it was even captured in the title of Tuesday, October 11th’s ‘Fashion’ review in the New York Times, “Two Schools for Spring: Ruffled and the Reverse” by Cathy Horyn. The essence of ‘modern’ is also in knowing when each is appropriate. But perhaps the most modern of all is mixing the two together the way it was done on some of the most influential runways in the world. It continues to be all about offhanded, unexpected mixes and unorthodox pairings. It’s a balancing act and you can get away with almost anything if you know how to wear it.
Part of the success of Balenciaga was the way in which Nicolas Guesquiere mixed “architecture with airiness” (according to WWD), austere with ornamental, hard with soft, masculine with feminine, street with couture. Here in New York, some examples of clever mixing were seen at Ralph Lauren, where a lavishly embroidered frock coat was shown over a humble cotton striped t shirt, slouchy white jeans, accessorized with a gutsy wide brown belt and masses of beads, or the way in which a fitted patchwork denim skirt suit was softened with a white ruffled cotton blouse. Ralph’s use of shiny gold leather bags and shoes with sporty white cotton pieces was another good example. Michael Kors nonchalantly tossed a classic and chic khaki trench over a full midcalf tulle skirt dusted with gold sequins and added a mile long muffler, and Vera Wang put a heavy white cotton menswear shirt under a feminine black taffeta coat with puffed sleeves, belting it with a heavy brown leather belt to further ‘throw’ the look off.
The best part is that these are all things you can do without even buying new clothes- just by shopping in your own closet and experimenting with different proportions, unexpected pairings, and interesting juxtapositions. Think out of the box!