Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Stop the Fashion Merry-go-round, I Want to Get Off!

Yesterday I attended Fashion Group International’s Ready to Wear Collections Spring/ Summer 2008 Trend Overview from New York, London, Milan, Paris, Los Angeles, and Sydney. Spearheaded and narrated as always, by the incomparable Marylou Luther, FGI’s tireless creative director, the venue was moved from FIT’s Katie Murphy Amphitheatre back to the Time and Life Building, where it had been held for many years.

Because its high security lobby boasts an x ray machine which checks all guests’ bags, there was an unavoidable delay in starting the audio visual presentation, but the well attended and popular event was, as always, more than worth the wait. Ms. Luther is masterful at editing down, sifting through the countless trends, and highlighting those that have the most relevance; pinpointing those key elements that are the “sum and substance” of the season.

Unsurprisingly, the ‘news’ is in color, prints, transparency, looser dresses, softer pants, sleeveless jackets, jersey, chiffon, embellishment, and special occasion dressing. (I say ‘unsurprisingly’ since spring summer 2008 has already been dissected by everyone else at this point so none of this is exactly ‘new’, though Ms. Luther, as always, adds her own spin and observations, and puts it all into a fresh and interesting context)

And the ‘Best Bets’ (those items that are “most likely to succeed”…with the customer) are: 1- Color (especially citrus shades like yellow and orange); 2- Prints (Art Nouveau, Florals, Graphics); 3- The Dress (“On the loose” or “Wrap and tie”); 4- Jackets; 5- Pants (High Rise and Fluid); 6- Transparency; 7- Safari; 8- The Toga (the latter two fall under the heading, ‘Appropriation’, a new word which means, ‘referencing’ or ‘sampling’); 9- Jersey; 10- Chiffon; 11- Satin; 12- ‘Special Occasion’; 13- The ‘Statement- Making’ Shoe; 14- Handbags, specifically Chanel’s ‘re-hab’ bag which fastens around the ankle, and Richard Prince’s artful collaborations with Louis Vuitton. And while this didn’t necessarily ‘fit’ into one specific category, Marylou singled out Sonia Rykiel’s “all orange opener and joie de vivre finale of barefoot nymphs in cloud-like chiffons” because in her words, “they captured the essence of this season of beautiful dreams”. (Hey, what’s life without those fabulous dreams?)

The reason I always like attending the 12 o’clock presentation, is that there is the bonus at the end- a guest panel headed by a guest moderator talking up relevant issues and themes. This time, the honors went to Bridget Foley, Executive Editor of W Magazine, and panelists Julie Gilhart, Senior Vice President & Fashion Director of Barneys; Meggan Crum, Accessories Director of Instyle; Joseph Boitano, Senior Vice President & G.M.M. of Women’s RTW, Saks Fifth Avenue; Sarah Brown, Beauty Director of Vogue.

When Ms. Foley took her place on stage, she immediately began talking about “the most controversial element” of the season in her opinion (and one that was addressed during the presentation)…that of ‘appropriation’ (the act of referencing or sampling…taking something from someone or somewhere else). She asked the panel how they felt about this all too common practice, and if they had any thoughts on when it crossed the line to become simply ‘knocking off’.

According to Julie Gilhart, it inevitable, due to both the pressure to create as well as deadlines designers now face.

For Joe Boitano, it was inevitable as well though he felt as long as designers gave it a modern spin, a new twist, and made it comfortable, it was okay.

Ms. Foley asked if customers want the familiar or if they really prefer the new. Julie Gilhart (who seems to be on every panel these days and is always one of the most articulate and expressive) said that it’s the job of a great designer to “give the customer something new that feels familiar”.

As for the continuing importance of accessories in the market place right now, BF wondered out loud whether or not accessories are so important they have eclipsed ready to wear (“are clothes the new accessories and accessories the main event?”)

JG: “Our customer is looking for something unique and individual”.

BF: “What excites you about the season…what are they ‘keys’ of the season”?

SB: “Art and whimsy, playful individualism…learning how to express yourself through makeup.”

JB: “All the many alternatives which are available out there for the customer.”

MC: “I’m excited about costume jewelry as exemplified by Lanvin’s beautiful huge estate pieces and Vuitton’s whimsical fun pieces. The belt (from skinny to wide) is the key item.”

JG: “There’s a lot of choice for the customer; so much so that it will be hard for the customer to decide, but that’s not a bad thing.

Transparency is my favorite word….I like transparency. It was done the best by Raf Simons for Jil Sander who beautifully wrapped transparency over something a customer would normally wear anyway. The definition of luxury is changing. How do I define the new luxury? A well made product…no waste…creativity to the max!”


BF: “What trends will be difficult to sell?” (When she mentioned that prints might be THE STORY, but they are admittedly not the easiest to wear or to sell, Julie Gilhart had another point of view).

JG: “Dries Van Noten (whose spring collection was all about an explosion of mismatched florals and recently held a trunk show at Barneys) was the most successful trunk show we ever had.”
“I think Prada will be difficult this season…and extreme (high heeled) shoes”.

JB: “Transparency will be difficult. Dresses will be easy as will prints.”

Towards the end, Ms. Foley acknowledged the amazing ‘fashion moment’ in Paris that was courtesy Alber Elbaz in his blockbuster show for Lanvin.

BF: “What made Lanvin by Alber Elbaz so great this season?”

SB: “It was flattering, timeless, and filled with investment pieces.”

MC: “I’d wear everything in the collection and yes, they are investment pieces”.

JG: “It had energy. It was not only the best show of the season, but Alber’s best show”.

By the way, speaking of timeless investment pieces and the never ending, always changing, cycles of fashion, Mark Holgate’s column, “Why less is More”, which appears in November Vogue (page 198), makes a very strong case for ‘less is more’, paring down, and getting off the tiring and very expensive fashion rollercoaster. Among the several good looking, smart, chic, and fashionable women who are photographed and interviewed, the one who stands out is Aleksandra Woroniecka, a French born fashion stylist who, for the last 14 years, has affected a uniform and has enviably pared down her closets to six navy jackets, 10 pairs of lean jeans, four bags, a “pile of ballet flats”, two pendants, and a ring that belonged to her mother.

She claims she has found what suits her and will only purchase something if it “has meaning” and “will last”. More importantly, she does not feel “deprived”, and as you can see from her picture (she is wearing a Chanel jacket, and carrying a black Birkin bag), she is hardly deprived. In fact, she looks a lot better than many women who have become fashion victims and who blindly and incessantly buy without any thoughts as to how their purchases relate to their own look, body type, or lifestyle.

-Marilyn Kirschner

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