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Through a glass darkly…

I thought I’d post some pics I took last year at the factory of one of my clients. I’d never been to Turkey before then and I loved it. I was surprised by how incredibly cosmopolitan it was and also by how liberal it felt. I’ll be doing some posts about the process of fashion, following from the earlier mannequin post. The shows seem o take precedent above all things and there is so much more that goes into designing  collection, trips to desolate factories included.

Let’s start from the very beginning, a very good place to start_

So sings Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. I thought it would be a great way to mark the end of couture fashion week by paying homage to the humble dressmaker’s mannequin, that unsung hero/ heroine of Haute Couture and fashion, really. Where would we be without our Stockmans and Kenneth & Lindsells? After me, doh, re, mi… Or, more appropriately,  pin, drape, tack…  Sew, a needle pulling thread… LOL

The menswear season has come and gone, and a good one it was. Another show I really liked, apart from Louis Vuitton and Rick Owens, was Lanvin. I liked how they’d shifted focus with a more aggressive slant on the Elbaz/Ossedrijver take on deconstruciton. You can only take pretty so far, especially when rivals are catching up. I loved the Aryan/ albino meets Mad Max spirit that was omnipresent in the show. A menacing gang of left bank warriors. The use of the belts on utility albeit luxe rucksacks to suggest a cummerbund was clever. As was the South Pacific take on an Aran sweater by way of fringing.There were also some new ways with colour, such as bleached out mustard with an odd, faded sienna. Quite 70s. Take apart the styling and all the Lanvin signatures are clear and present. Great coats, suits and shirts.

Brooding Aggression: Lanvin Menswear Autumn-Winter 2010, Paris

This is going to be a long post I must warn you. I’ll be sharing some thoughts on the three protagonist houses showing  Haute Couture  in Paris: Givenchy, Giorgio Armani and Chanel. A 70’s redux runs through those shows like the finest silk thread and I can see the shadow of one man cast over all three collections – Halston_

Give Me More// Givenchy par Riccardo Tisci

Reading Suzy Menkes’ and Sarah Mower’s reviews of  Tisci’s efforts he pretty much had  the audience eating out of the palm of his hand and gasping for more. I’m a huge fan of Givenchy womenswear and actually think the menswear is on the up – looking forward to see what effect the new head of menswear will have. The show centred on a less aggressive take on the 70’s. Doe-eyed Natalia Vodianova closed the show in a gobsmacking evening dress that poured itself into a flurry of gossamer-fine ombre pleats around her feet. The show was precise, modern, accomplished, relevant and beautiful. I agree with the slight tut-tutting that it was perhaps a bit too abbreviated but better that way than to induce front row snoozing.

The Halston Effect can be seen in the sculptural ruffles, sequins, chiffon cloaks and linear draping.

2010 Space Odyssey// Chanel Par Karl Lagerfeld

The man is bonkers but a bonkers genius if there ever was one. There’s no stopping him. The Chanel shows can sometimes induce the need to retch into the nearest champagne bucket but there isn’t a fashion house that reduces women to spluttering, stuttering heights of deranged obsession as Chanel. The sugary fondant fancy palette was a tad queasy and there were some proportions and flourishes that were just plain wrong but amidst all that there were some  exits that made you realise how bloody important haute couture is. The sustaining of craft is reason enough for it to exist. Even if a single dress isn’t sold those petits mains need to be kept on a payroll. No other house pumps the lifeblood into couture like Chanel, love or loathe.

Despite the baroque-ice-queen-goes-to-Saturn-for-two-scoops-of -vanilla-and-one-of-pistachio theme there was a way of the 70’s about those draped satin columns, neat culotte pant suits and mirror ball sparkle. Sort of Marie Antoinette goes to Studio 54. Again, see Halston. In particular his pastel-hued dresses from 1972.

Full Circle//Giorgio Armani Privé

Lunar eclipse. Looking to the stars… literally. Cate Blanchet & co have a go-to for Oscar night. I’m not a huge fan of Armani but I respect his work. you know an Armani when you see one – so strong is his handprint. He styles every look himself and that makes his shows some of the most personal. I’ve actually warmed to the Privé collection and I’ll bet anything that next to Chanel no one else shifts more couture frocks. You look expensive in an Armani so it reasons that if you’re spending €50,000 on a dress you want to look so. Also he focussed on trousers, the hardest of garments to cut and perfect. Why don’t other houses push this?

La Luna. The Moon. Silver, space age organzas, a nocturnal palette, crescent motifs & circular cutting, the sporty, minimalist columns and, once again, sculpted ruffles. The influence of Halston is undoubtable.

Postscript. Looking forward to see where Marios Schwab takes the Halston brand next now it seems to be on fashion’s frontline again.

catwalk images

HALSTON, An American Original: Elaine Gross & Fred Rottman, Harper Collins Publishing 1999

Two’s company, three’s a crowd. It’s getting pretty crowded in here…

Jil Sander []

Is this just a slight distraction from the matter at hand (the matter being real clothes for real men)? A ruse to be taken at face value, photographed a few times in I.D. magazine and then buried in that casket labelled “Implausible Ideas in Menswear”? Or is there more to this idée fixe than meets the eye?

This season has produced some stellar clothes so I wonder why so many designers couldn’t leave it just at that. I guess every show needs a showpiece but usually things like that are left to womenswear. Earlier I wrote a post about the emasculation of men in relation to this sudden onslaught of “man skirts’ [Skirms] but on reflection I’m starting to wonder if that has anything to do with it at all. Maybe we need to look eastwards at the cloaks of Tibetan monks, the severe tunics of Maoist China or, closer to home, the Vatican City and priestlike cassocks. I could even go further to suggest, controversially, the Taliban and Middle Eastern dress. Is this the brave new frontier, Le Shocking? We’ve been bombarded with so many images of the war and Bin laden that the most “edgy” thing a designer could do is propose a silhouette that hints at this. All those billowing blouses and dropped crothches seen at YSL and Givenchy.

Or maybe I’m reaching here. This really is just a flight of fantasy that will soon enough flit back into the design studio. Let’s see how many of these purveyors of the skirm practice what they preach. The proof of the pudding’s in the eating after all. Or should that be the proof of the skirt is in the wearing?

War or Peace: Draughty times ahead for the man about town

László Moholy-Nagy

The Boys From the Bauhaus_ Merging craft and technology with a singular style. Western Industrial versus Eastern Promise. The way to go.

Team László

Louis Vuitton, Neil Barrett, Bottega Veneta, Maison Martin Margiela, Raf Simmons


Johannes’ Witnesses

YSL, Givenchy, Rick Owens, Jil Sander, Christian Dior, Raf Simmons (again)

Johannes Itten

Images: bauhaus archiv, magdalena droste, taschen, 1998

Marcel Bruer: Wood-slat chair, 2nd version, 1923. Stained maple + horsehair weave

Looking at the menswear shows from Milan and Paris there’s a graphic, linear quality to the clothes, tempered with a softer handle to the fabrics. There is also a latent feeling of “craft werk” about the way noble tweeds, marls, cahmere drape, thick mohairs and wools have been married with the unnatural, technical aspects of weather proof nylons and fly away techno fabrics. Proletariat. Urbane. Graphic. These qualities recall the aesthetic of the Bauhaus movement – the principles of craft, beauty and workmanship. Top: Jil Sander. Bottom: Louis Vuitton, Neil Barrett []

The oblong collages at Jil Sander were distinctly modernist, playing on the idea of discreet decoration and also recalling the abstract forms of Miro and Barbara Hepworth. Artsy. Another key motif was the dissecting of the top half of the torso with a lateral seam that ran from shoulder over chest, allowing for interesting juxtapositions of texture and colour – plaid with a flat wool at Louis Vuitton. Neil Barrett went a step further with a verging-on-tricksy, vertically challenging approach. One half back, the other dark grey. A pared down version of Oskar Schlemer’s costumes for the theatre at the Dessau Bahaus, perhaps?

Yves Saint Laurent []

Stefano Pilatti’s efforts for Yves Saint Laurent have been widely criticised. Understandably so, perhaps, but I get the feeling that he was trying to take menswear somewhere new and somehow things got lost in translation. I bet come next season the ideas would have settled into something stronger and desirable. The Eastern promise of the Yves Saint Laurent collection [see also Kris Van Assche for Dior, Ricardo Tischi for Givenchy] seemed to have been inspired by the all-in-ones favoured by Johannes Itten.

All in all, this was a generally strong, thought-provoking season with a plethora of new silhouettes and ideas for next fall.

Bauhaus archiv, Magdalena Droste, Taschen 1998

Men Behaving Girly: Comme des garcons, Givenchy, Rick Owens []

Every so often, the menswear shows throw up a multitude of “man skirts”. Nothing new in that. Jean Paul Gaultier’s been hard at it for decades, never mind the Scots with their tartan kilts – a national costume not a quotidian option, I might add. The Japanese invasion in the 80s brought a more funereal take in Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo’s heavy, felted dirndls. Hedi Slimane tried again at Christian Dior in the early noughties. And now the man skirt is once more making another ferocious bid for normalcy.

How does your hemline flow? Hedi Slimane for Dior Homme, Marc Jacobs (inset)

Could this be down to Marc Jacob’s recent fixation with the kilt? Is it really about the skirt or just a way of expressing an Eastern influence of looser, more flowing volumes? See Rick Owens and Stefano Pilatti for YSL. Why should men wear skirts anyway? Do we feel the need to be emancipated? Do women now have the upper hand? After all they burned their bras way back in the 70s. Recent reports in the press on female inequality suggest otherwise. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and the French economy minister, Christine Largarde, have joined forces to ensure that at least 40% of boardroom seats are kept for women. Positive discrimination if you ask me. What if there aren’t 40% of women qualified for those posts? I digress, let’s talk about skirts, baby. Or, perhaps, trousers…

Panty Pose: Helmut Newton + Yves Saint Laurent // Le Smoking, 1966

Helmut Newton’s seminal image of Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking in 1966 made it OK for women to wear trousers and opened the boardroom door for the 80’s power suit. Le Smoking or Le Smocking, that is the question. I wonder, is it really that men should wear skirts or that women should give up wearing them completely – a final, symbolic burning of the bra for the new millennium? Skirts are feminine. See the pencil skirt and the fifties backwards glance at the tightly encased bottom, for example. I would be more shocked if women relinquished their ownership of the skirt than to see a man strolling down the street in flared number. Perhaps it is about ownership after all. Wanting what the other has. What a swap, hey… You can have as many boardroom seats as you like if you just let me have your skirts. Of course.

Skirts aren’t practical, either, and in a moment when both sexes are set to do battle why would a man want to be feminised? That’s really going to keep the shareholders happy as you simultaneously dodge bullets from the AK47 of the credit crunch whilst wearing a tweed A-line jupe. This obsession seems infantile. The joke’s worn thin. It’s just editorial fodder and down right silly. A cheap trick.

Triple delicious.

Marc Jacobs and Paul Helbers have raised the bar so bloody high. This is total, absolute luxury. The shows so far haven’t delivered such a precise, no nonsense line up of perfect, manly clothes. If you’ve gots the cash this is really where you should blow it. Inspired by the Wiener Werkstätte movement, formed in Vienna at the turn of the 20th century, the clothes have been drafted with the precision of an architect. However, there’s a certain nonchalance about the way they have been put together. Natural. The muted colour palette is a dream: coal, smoke, putty, camel, brown. The tactile is played off against the techno – calf skins, mohairs, velvets versus quilted nylons and hi-tech suitings. Great boots too. Did I say delicious?

Waltzing Viennese, I really think so: Josef Hoffman// Palais Societ, Brussells

catwalk images:

They say that the camera never lies. Not true. What you see isn’t always what was. Also, what you don’t see can sometimes be as beautiful or interesting. At a lookbook photo shoot for one of my clients last summer I spent a few idle moments taking photographs of the studio space – Spring Studios on Curtain Road, London.

The light was perfect – natural, bright and crisp, streaming in through the expansive windows_

Jack Barnett –
George Barnett
– Thomas Hein
– Sophie Sleigh-Johnson

Fundamental to a good collection is inspiration – pulling together seemingly abstract concepts and images into a coherent process of thought. Recording a great album is no different. On listening to These New Puritans’ new album, entitled “Hidden”, on the 277 bus to meet a friend for dinner last night I found myself smiling. Smiling because I recognised a familiar piece of classical music on one of their tracks – Drum Courts/ Where Corals Lie. Clever.

Said piece of classical music happens to be a favourite of mine – the Dame Janet Baker, Sir John Barbirolli and the London Symphony Orchestra’s recording of Elgar’s Cello Concerto: Sea Pictures – “Where Corals Lie”. Emily Mackay’s review of the album  in NME cites “hints of Massive Attack’s ‘Mezzanine’ in the whispered menace and unflinching rhythms.” Nah, Emily, go wash your ears, love! I also get touches of Bjork’s Vespertine, the tribal beats of The Creatures, semi-gothic Drum and Bass, Pink Floyd and Marilyn Manson. It’s like winetasting; stripping back all the layers. I’m coming over all Oz Clark! Inspiration_

Its a really brilliant album. 2010 is shaping up to be another great year for music. See also, Vampire Weekend’s Contra.

[salt + pepper – blk – white – gry]

Neil Barrett, Neil Barrett, Burberry

The biggest impression I’m getting from Milan is coats. Obvious, perhaps, seeing that its the winter collections and all, but there seems to be some extra love being given in the coat department. Great volumes, nifty details, luxe textures, good buttons, expensif colourways. Just delicious_

Pringle, Jil Sander par Raf Simons, Alexander McQueen

Last but not least: Puffa ULTIMO, jil sander


Qu’est ce que c’est? Là, sur la commode blanche…

(untitled): Its all non-scents

Maison Martin Margiela [MMM] are about to release a new frah-granse, I hear. (untitled) its called. Apt. I wonder what it’ll smell like? Contender for my Diptyque fetish? Who knows? Actually, I would have been quite excited by this in the past but ever since Marty put down his sketch pad [white], popped his pencil back into the pencil pot [white] and hung up his lab coat [white] I feel somehow short changed. Yes, I know he probably had not that much to do with design towards the end but… MMM’s now akin to a custard cream biscuit without the cream, a little bit dry. They still do great things, don’t get me wrong. I’m there every season at the store fixing my MMM habit – apart from S/S 2009 which was a little off the mark, for me. Margiela’s secrecy and shying away from the public eye, his invisibility, made him vital to the brand. A faceless face.

Who know’s, maybe this is the ultimate disappearing act. Pretend you’ve left while you never really left anyway. Everyone thinks you’re not there but you are, smirking from the shadows. Smoke and mirrors. Stranger things have happened.

First Love_ I got my first grown up bottle of perfume, proper perfume, not Lynx body spray, when I turned 14. My parents decided it was time I smelt like a man. My first manly olfactory indulgence was a bottle of Calvin Klein Obsession. This was the early 90s and you couldn’t get much cooler than that. We had a lot of fun together, my Obssession and I. Our gardener liked it and I liked that because I liked our gardener a lot. My parents weren’t aware of this teenage crush of mine, of course, and the seductive powers of that first bottle of perfume. Obsession was the horse to my Lady Chatterley, or was that Lady Godiva? How I mourned that final amber squirt

Obsessive Behaviour: Smells like a teen spirit…

Current Obsessions_ I dallied with the Comme des Garçons perfumes during the first half of the noughties – Kyoto, Odeur 53, Quarzazte, Avignon . These were strong, distinctive scents that were very important in defining one’s style. They smelt different to everything else and I guess in your mid-twenties you strive to be different to everyone else. However, now comfortably lounging on the sofa of my mid-thirties, I’m a bit more comfortable in my own skin. I favour L’eau de Lierre and L’eau de L’eau [autumn-winter and spring-summer, respectively] by Diptiyque because they’re subtle, fresh and suit my skin. Easy, no fuss smelly stuff. I don’t know what it is about those two fragrances but they really get ’em sniffin’…

And one for the road_ My fantasy scent would smell like a heady mix of whisky and cigar smoke but Demeter’s Gin & Tonic comes a close second. The handy pint-sized bottle fits nicely into my breast pocket. You just never know…

Francesca Bertolini

…Sotto il Prossimo


There’s something quite special about going to the barbers. Its a ritual that seldom changes. 30 minutes or so of peace and quiet, of total trust. You build a relationship with your barber. He understands you – exactly how you like your hair cut, your beard trimmed. And you understand him. You know exactly when to tilt your head backward or to the side, when to pull your lips inward so that he’ll have the perfect surface tension to tend to your moustache. Words seldom have to be exchanged. You understand each other.

An intimate relationship between two men that doesn’t involve sex. Possibly.

Francesca Bertolini understands this. When she gave me a copy of her beautiful book, “…sotto il prossimo“, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The images you see here are a study of this relationship and she likens the quickness of a barber’s hand to the delicate, rapid beating of a butterfly’s wings. Exquisite.

Mad About the Boy

Zach Condon has a band called Beirut. You could quite call Zach a nerd and I’m sure Zach was called all sorts of things prophylactic in high school due to his surname. But we wont go there. Zach’s music is very good. Sort of Eastern Europe Slovenian folk pop. Quite tender. Sometimes tinged with melancholy. Zach plays amongst other things, the ukelele, accordion, glockenspiel, and mandolin but perhaps not the fiddle. I’m sure that he could if he tried. Zach should wear  Prada next winter. A lot of the looks seem like they tumbled out of his wardrobe. Zach seems like a very nice guy.

Cordon Bluff: Come home to Momma

Prada Menswear Autumn-Winter 2010 []

The opening section of the Prada show felt the strongest. Even though it felt like the label was treading water/ reissuing house classics it somehow came across as fresh and looked cute, a word seldom used when describing menswear. The play on proportions was subtle and it quietly twisted classics. See the collegiate blazers in camel paired with shrunken, almost feminine marl knits. Bookish.

There’s an ease about these looks that makes them feel relevant and desirable. So much of the other shows were a bit over-styled or too focussed on youth culture. There’s a late 60s/70s vibe about the collection. Sort of a renegade librarian. The abstract camo prints that played on the idea of formica hinted at Julia Child whose life was brought to celluloid by Meryl Streep last year. In fact, the whole show seemed like it could have been inspired by Julia’s imaginary boffin son, home from Yale for thanksgiving, hanging out in the kitchen with momma, circa 1975.

What better way to usher in the new menswear collections than with a tribute to Oscar Wilde’s  A Picture of Dorian Gray? The novel was reissued Four Corners Books in a magazine format entitled “A Young Man of Extraordinary Personal Beauty”. The cover is in an unusual shade of sky blue but I’ve presented it here in monotone. I treasure it so much that I still keep it in its original cellophane sleeve. The artwork was by Gareth Jones and the book was designed by John Morgan.

Dorian Discarded: Unknown painting that resides in the toilet of the Clark & Reilly Gallery, West London