Category Archives: NYC Fashion Week

Adam Lippes SS 2016: Quiet Clothes That Sing

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Agnes Martin, 1965

Adam Lippes knows luxury. He learned it as the right hand to the late Oscar de la Renta and it is literally threaded throughout the hand-sewn finishings of his demi-couture clothes (which he is obliged to sell at ready-to-wear prices). But if in the past his collections have veered towards precious, or even haughty, Lippes has remedied that this season with an appeasement to womanly comforts that are as liberating as they are indulgent. It is the justly outcome when you take on sultry songstress Nina Simone and austere artist Agnes Martin as inspiration. Seemingly disparate, the two women share an utterly modern point-of-view and a resilient but quiet strength. Lippes has harnessed these qualities and has transmuted then into the rarest form of luxury in our modern day: humility.

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It was the the righteous contradiction of humble luxury that erupted into one of Lippes’s best collections ever. Taking cues from the the monastic simplicity of Martin’s artist dress as well as Simone’s own sumptuous, though inconspicuously so, style, he presented a collection of quiet clothes that sang. They were quiet in their shapes: easy and unassuming, shapes that a woman could easily slip on, flatter her, and give her no further fuss as she goes about her day. And they sang in the details: the hand-stitched silk grossgrain placket on the back of a cotton tunic, stitched just so as to ensure the neck lays perfectly. They sang in the the multitudes of finely pleated cotton, cut in a peasant shape, as luxurious as any pastoral costume worn by Marie Antoinette on her faux farm. The height of modesty came in a bleached denim apron dress with an inventive and aesthetically delightful tie in the back. Its hem was bound, turned up and blind stitched by hand. It was nearly sinful in its decadent ease.

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This season spoke to an emerging feminist philosophy which Lippes has made clear in his shoes for the collection. Flat sandals, designed for Manolo Blahnik, were ornamented with ruffled flounce and marked a new direction for his footwear and a significant shift in his design methodology “If you can’t wear it with flats,” Lippes stubbornly and endearingly declared, “we aren’t making it.”

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But a Lippes collection is never whole without the flexing of his couture muscle. A jumpsuit, overlaid with a knotted silk cording came from a reference to Simone’s penchant for macramé. Uniform in appearance, not one of its perfectly formed squares are alike; each are subtlety altered in size and angle, through a process painstakingly executed by skilled hands, as to move flawlessly over the curves of a woman’s body. The reward of such intricate and time-consuming effort, not to mention cost, is perfection. The notes for the collection featured a quote by Agnes Martin: “Simplicity is never simple. It’s the hardest thing to achieve” and Lippes proved he knows this better than anyone else.

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Nina Simone, 1965

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Thom Browne’s Couture

Charles James’s magnificent millinery

Sketch for a coat by Charles James, 1947

Sketch for a coat by Charles James, 1949

James presents a crinoline, 1952

A peplumed suit for Harper’s Bazaar

Some say it was Charles James who influenced Christian Dior’s 1947 “New Look”, James’s architectural approach looked back to the days of corsets, bustles, crinolines, and panniers, when women were literally squeezed into and burdened by a socially demanded femininity—the garment and its underpinnings defining the wearer—a continuing theme of the male couturier’s ego. Dior would follow this idea in philosophy if not in style as he set about reshaping post-war fashion in an ultra-conservative world. James would have a different legacy, dressing the richest and most esteemed women of his era, the grandest couturier of them all, lost in his dreams.

For James, making clothes was an art form, he ran his business as such, and the practical concerns of wearing clothes seemed to escape him even as tolerance for structured, body oppressing clothes faded away into the ‘60s. In his whole career James reportedly made only 200 designs, spending months and thousands of dollars to get a single sleeve just the way he wanted. He was known to be callous and impulsive, refusing to deliver a client’s gown just hours before an event if it wasn’t perfect or if he found the client undeserving. When he did try his hand at ready-to-wear he turned out to be too difficult to work with and so he was never able to build the kind of business that so many of his peers, including Dior, were able to prosper with. In a way, his lack of financial success embittered him, throughout his career he threw accusations of other designers stealing his ideas left and right, usually followed with a lawsuit, some of them not without cause. But James was never able to accept that aspect of fashion or the fact that his clothes were of a different time, and it forced him to shun so many people who might have wanted to help. He was a true genius, a mad genius, all alone in his own world.

Thom Browne’s Fall/Winter 2011 collection

For Thom Browne, a designer who has built his reputation in menswear by subverting a nostalgic longing for midcentury masculinity, appropriating American kitsch as a tool for branding, and for designing into his clothes his own severe and restrictive code of dress; Charles James, with his structure and layers of feminist/misogynist discourse, would be a natural point of departure for his women’s collection. The built up Arc sleeves, the barrel skirts and crinolines, and the peplumed jackets spoke the language of Charles James with a high level of fluency, accented of course by Browne’s kitschy surrealism.

It’s hard to imagine any literal reference to James’s work making sense as a modern fashion proposition instead of spectacular costume — as inspiring as his clothes still are. But maybe this is the inner mystery Thom Browne’s work. For his men’s collection shown in Paris he looked to America’s founding fathers, and for women he now looks to American couture. It’s as if Browne is foraging through the country’s sartorial history and adding its most savory moments into his own imagery and lexicon. That it is anachronistic and outlandish only heightens its appeal. A purist might consider any resemblance to Charles James in Browne’s collection purely surface, but one has to admire Browne for recognizing that America indeed has a couturier worth referencing– for rewawakening James and his dreams of grandeur in a bygone era and bringing them into a world of his own.

The Newcomers

Two looks by Marc Jacobs, 1987

THE NEWCOMERS

UNLIKE PARIS, WHERE a beginning designer can set up shop with little more than a song, a New York neophyte better have at least a million dollars in his back pocket from either a benevolent backer or the bank. In Manhattan, business comes first: the rent of work space, payroll, fabric costs. Lines of credit are necessary before creativity is even considered. Despite these hurdles, there are any number of interesting new names emerging. David Cameron is perhaps foremost among them. With only a slight bit of Seventh Avenue experience, but with the requisite financial backing, he opened on his own two years ago. Since then, he has had ups and downs, but the ups have been very high. The press, retailers and his peers have praised and rewarded him for his racy, modern, expensive yet very well-made fashions. Some others are Marc Jacobs, an energetic young man bent on making his name for inexpensive fashions. Isaia is already a hit with stores for his cheap and chic designs, usually made of stretch fabrics. Isabel Toledo and the team of Norbury and Osuna experiment with interesting shapes. Patricia Clyne knows well how to cut and drape a sinuous line, while Carmelo Pomodoro is emerging as a solid sure-fire sportswear stylist in the Anne Klein tradition.

– Excerpt from THE AMERICANS WHO LEAD by CARRIE DONOVAN, NYT, June 28, 1987

Charles James, 1977

A New York fashion moment to consider as the shows kick off: in a film by Anton Perich, Matuschka models the last designs of the grand couturier at the Chelsea Hotel. James, who you can see directing Matuscka in her poses, would pass the next year from bronchial pneumonia, alone and in poverty, and as one the greatest designers the fashion world has ever known.

Patrik Ervell, 2010

The triumphantly reserved repetitious drone of Terry Riley makes a  fitting soundtrack for Patrik Ervell’s Fall/Winter 2010 collection and the parade of pubescent boys he showed it on. The clothes, like the music, speak to a minimalist desire (a cause but not an effect) to relinquish references, a tabula rasa, a foundation for one’s unique identity to shine. For Ervell, the new masculinity is not rooted in subcultural subversion or a reversal of body image lexicons, never anything so obviously “cool”. It is the noble tension of the extravagantly mundane, the proudly plain, without affectations or compromise.

The Post Helmut Lang Generation

Spring 2001

Spring 2002

Spring 2003

Spring 2004

Spring 2005

– all images from L’Officiel Collection

It is not so much that the Spring 2011 collections in New York directly referenced Helmut Lang’s work, it’s more that the Austrian-American designer, in hindsight, has come to define the spirit of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. The period’s reconciliation of 90’s minimalism, its attempts to subvert a benign and prosperous status quo, its anticipation of a cultural/aesthetic revolution brought on by technology, and most importantly, its fearless and optimistic futurism are all tenets of Lang’s oeuvre.

One could argue that the events of September 11 redirected fashion’s trajectory, turning it away from a brightly lit utopia, flinging it back towards comforting, albeit artificial, memories of the past. The collections from Rag & Bone, Alexander Wang, Prabal Gurung, Altuzarra, and Thakoon – upstart designers who have been lauded by both the commercial and media tastemakers – seemed determined to steer the direction back on track. It is almost as if these young designers, so young that perhaps their most formative memories of fashion were during those couple of years before and after the new millennium, are pining for the era they missed. It’s a different kind of nostalgia. And yet, the most natural and literal expression of Helmut Lang-isms came from Reed Krakoff, a veteran industry professional with a knack for the needs and dreams of the time. Of course, it’s totally appropriate as Lang’s women’s design director, Melanie Ward, has been contributing to the line.

looks from Rag & Bone, Alexander Wang, Prabal Gurung, Altuzarra, Thakoon, and Reed Krakoff

images from elle.com

MATTHEW AMES, 2011

photos by Jeremy Lewis

Visions of Tom Brigance, Bonnie Cashin, Clarepotter, and Claire McCarrdell, Matthew Ames continues for Spring 2011 in the very best tradition of the American avant-garde.