Category Archives: Review

NYFW SS 2015: Siki Im

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Siki Im is as much a storyteller as he is a designer. His collections are narratives, sometimes autobiographical, always personal, and often laden with modern metaphors. These narratives can be complicated, so much so that Im provided a reference guide which this season included William Gibson, Jean Baudrillard and Disney’s WALL-E. The intrigue began well before the clothes came out.

Printed in the show notes was a thesis on the implications of technology on human interaction and its effect on fashion. With advanced developments in personal computers, robotics and artificial intelligence, human interaction has theoretically become utterly avoidable. Through isolation, humanity risks being reduced to a mere concept, a “rational idealism.” But humanity is not rational, it is “idiosyncratic,” and the idea of human interaction disappearing altogether is, as Im says, “irrealizable.” Clothes, worn on the body, are rooted in human emotion and ultimately fashion “appraises” technology, giving it value rather than bending to its presence, “fashion lives beyond technology not within.” And so clothes become an increasingly important expression of our humanity.

It’s a potent thesis not just for its philosophical and psychological implication but for the simple fact that it made for some pretty amazing clothes.

 

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My personal favorite Robotech designs – J.L.

What is modern dress in this technological age? Im addressed it by turning to his personal experience and took inspiration from the 1985 anime show Robotech. For those unfamiliar, Robotech was a Japanese sci-fi show about manned giant humanoid robots called Mecha which are used to fight an alien invasion. The show is especially known for its extremely intricate and stylized animation design which enjoys a huge international fan base of admirers who build their own 3-D model Mechas, often with a level of detail fit for an Industrial Light & Magic production. Im translated these robotic forms, essentially fantasy concepts for human body extensions, into garments.

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Showcasing his virtuous talent in cut and construction, he reverse engineered these bold designs into their fundamental geometry and applied them with Vionnet-like cunning to cloth. His translation is extraordinary. Im avoided any retro-futurist clichés like body armor or neoprene and the end result was a series of subtle and sensuous shapes built in linen, cotton and silk. His expert engineering is masked by the graceful ease of sumptuous, fluid and tactile fabric. It’s just the fix you’d need against the dispassionate machine.

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Last season Im was inspired by the German Krautrock music movement and this season he further indulged the relaxed line of the ‘70s. Elongated soft jackets in stripe and seersucker, “neoteric” medieval tunics, loose flowing pants in cotton voile and gossamer silk; it was a softer side of Im never seen before. The collection was styled into the archetypal dandy, not unlike Quentin Crisp circa 1979 if he were dressed by Armani. Mixed in were streetwear memes which Im has touched on many times before. Both pastoral and aggressive, hyper masculine yet feminine, the contradictions presented as Im’s propositions on volume and soft dressing danced between these two archetypes was stirring. And if all the philosophizing grew too heavy, bursts of tie dye and fuchsia interrupted any overt seriousness. As the boys marched down the runway, as their pants poured over their legs with the rhythm and flow of a whirling dervish, and as the heavy electronic track boomed overhead, this season’s story turned out to be a page-turner.

In the end Im’s narrative set up a powerful metaphor: that advanced robotic technology could be transmuted into an immensely humanistic expression. The designer is breaking down our stagnant ideas on futurist dress and imbuing them with a truth and a reality that is so breathtakingly gorgeous. Perhaps more than a storyteller Im is a poet. And beyond that he’s a world class talent.

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NYFW SS 15: Hood By Air

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Photography by Walter Pearce, all rights reserved.

Hood By Air’s Shayne Oliver is in a precarious position. He has won the attention of international fashion’s governing cabal. He has built a thriving business of logo branded knits. His clothes are worn by some of the music world’s most influential celebrities. And he has single handedly written a new chapter in the long history of American fashion. But that cabal of fashion businessmen and editors have their attentions split thin, the youths who buy his clothes in droves are fickle, the celebrities even more so, and his aesthetic, so ubiquitous, grows increasingly familiar. The pressures for him to expand his business and scope while still remaining true to his core values are mounting.  It’s an exciting but challenging time, but I think he’s more than up for it.

In his first showing since winning the LVMH runner up prize Oliver returned to many of his go-to tropes. Present were the Jean Paul Gaultier and Helmut Lang-isms that have so heavily informed the HBA codes. Present were his ingenious riffs on urban dress and gender identity. And more than present were the wild theatrics that have made his shows such a hot ticket (there was, to many audience member’s delight, a big dog on the runway). But what was most curious was what felt like an earnest and committed exploration of women’s dress.

Oliver has toyed with the idea in the past either directly or indirectly through his ongoing critical re-contextualizing of masculinity and sexual norms. And though he has shown his clothes on women before, the feeling this time was less Aaliyah in an oversized jersey (as good as she looked) and more Le Smoking by Yves Saint Laurent. The looser, body-averse silhouettes Oliver has sourced from urban/black/hip hop dress, and has deconstructed and reconstructed throughout his career, proved electric when applied to the female form, which Oliver ceded more to its conventional ideal than ever before. Already Oliver has mastered the manipulation of gender appropriateness (with a special knack for reallocating the feminine flourish of freeing fabric to men’s clothes). On a man it was machismo subverted. On a woman the effect is a bit harder to describe.

It unfolds in waves. At first you can’t be sure if the clothes were actually conceived for a woman or if it was a mere styling and casting choice.  But then you realize that categories like “womenswear” or “menswear” mean nothing for a designer who is fluent in the mechanics of both and has engaged each with deft maneuvering and visual wit for years. And then you realize Oliver may have always been a keen womenswear designer, even if he was dressing men. And then there is the hushed glee that overcomes you as you consider his new audience and you entertain the thought of a Vogue socialite dressed to the nines in a Hood by Air ensemble with pumps by Manolo. Manifest Destiny. Let’s see where Oliver’s breadth can go.

The emphasis on womenswear highlighted an overall sophistication in the collection. The shapes were more succinct and concise and there was a more concerned line through all the straps, and wraps, and zips, and cut outs. But, while most of the forms Oliver was playing with were beautifully composed not all were totally finessed. The snaking of form around the body with woven fabric is a dastardly affair. Perfected by old school couturieres like Maggy Rouf and Augustabernard and handled consistently with great effect by few (Rei Kawakubo, Vivienne Westwood and Haider Ackermann come to mind), it’s something Oliver will have to learn and develop. And he will. He is a technician, a tinkerer, it is simply a matter of time. The foundation is firm, his will is strong, and his voice is so righteously clear.

NYFW SS 15: Chadwick Bell

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Chadwick Bell is an anathema to his generation. The designer, reared in the ’90s, does not indulge the spectacle and hype so many of his peers have succumb to. A protege of the stalwart Carolina Herrera and the master Ralph Rucci, he is well-versed in the subtleties of excellence and decorum. For the clothes he designs, a quiet approach works best. They need no loud distractions.

Stepping into his studio space at Union Square West, which for that morning had been transformed into a salon, you immediately understood the sophistication and extent of his calm. The whole room, awash in beige and accented with southwestern flora, like Georgia O’Keefe by way of Calvin Klein circa 1984, set an intoxicating mood as the morning light poured in and drenched the intimate group of onlookers. His audience was telling, there was Bethann Hardison and fellow veteran supermodel Karen Bjornson (dressed in a tan suit by the designer). Sitting across the way was F.I.T.’s Patricia Mears. To say these women know clothes is an understatement. They have intimately known some of the best clothes designed in the last 40 years. Their eye is discerning, their taste impeccable. True connoisseurs, these are the women Chadwick calls friends and customers.

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As the solemn but soulful sounds of Cat Power played the first model stepped out from behind the curtain, a vision of wrapped off-white silk crepe. Austere but sensual, highly refined but languid, it set the tone for the collection which was an exercise in pure form. The fabrics Bell uses are delectable: double satin, double wool crepe, triple georgette — each controlled with immense precision. Abstracted and unfettered, Bell let their natural beauty shine through, a restraint which belies master technique in dressmaking and cutting. So reductive, the clothes had an ethnic undertone bringing to mind the ancient shapes of Africa and the Middle East, filtered through a wholly modern vocabulary. The effect of a paneled wool crepe skirt, a series of flaps whipping about the legs, was particularly convincing.

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This season marked a turn for Bell who sought to “build a foundation.”  At a time when “basics” have become a buzzword he beautifully illustrated just how magnificently nuanced a basic can be. Extolling a classical line yet aggressively searching for a future, whether conscious or not, Bell has arrived at the building blocks of a new modern wardrobe. Speaking to the designer after the presentation he almost seemed giddy in explaining that he essentially showed the same look repeatedly throughout the presentation, a continuous variation on a theme. With clothes like these I suppose one look is all you really need.

images courtesy of Chadwick Bell

Adam Lippes Resort 2015: A Showroom Review

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One wondered what the future had in store for Adam Lippes after he narrowly escaped fashion purgatory and bought back his name from Kellwood two years ago. Since then he’s retooled his design manifesto and company culture, abandoning corporate ambition and distancing his clothes from a cannibalizing contemporary market. Today he runs a smaller and more familial operation, the kind required nowadays if a designer is to truly engage luxury clothing in a sound and sustainable manner. It’s certainly no easy feat but going by the clothes Lippes’s efforts have certainly been worthwhile.

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Over the last several seasons he has distilled a design vernacular built on the tenets of the best of American fashion: ease, sportswear, classicism, timelessness. For many designers working in New York these tenets can  become tenuous, reduced to corrupted clichés haphazardly spat out to journalists, conflating the words “classic” and “uninspired.” Should you ever forget what it means for a garment to be timeless, for it to truly evoke that rare sensation of imperishability, Adam Lippes serves as a refreshing reminder. The new resort collection reads like a “best of” of American fashion in the 1970s when its designers, armed with a minimalist rigor, soft fabrics, sportswear separates and a fashionably fluid line, championed a new modern woman. That those ideas, updated with a thoughtful and utterly contemporary sensibility, that they can look so new and bold today as they surely did then is a testament to their infinite appeal and Lippes’s adept ability in handling them. The spirits of Zoran and Halston are present in the floor-length monastic dresses, coats and square cut tops. Fabricated in the most luxurious silks and cashmeres they are no less minimal or exquisite than what those minimalist masters managed in their prime. The flirty but pragmatic appeal of a paper bag-waist in a striped cotton pajama pant and in a leather skirt echo Donna Karan and Louis Dell’Olio’s seductively sensible efforts for Anne Klein. The trapunto stitching used on collars, waistbands, and belts throughout the collection, notable on a v-neck Korean do bok top (rendered in fine silk and chambray) brought to mind the worldly explorations of Bonnie Cashin, a designer who never shied away from adapting an idea from the other side of the globe if it could coax a modern innovation.

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To mention that the clothes Adam Lippes designs are impeccably crafted and finished is redundant as quality workmanship is necessity when addressing simplicity and minimalism. But, from design to construction, Lippes’s clothes are beautifully thought out. Every line, stitch and fold is crafted and considered. And whether it be silk, cashmere coating or humble cotton poplin, each fabric represents the most refined of their genre. It stands to be reiterated: the clothes are impeccable. And they must be, the customer Lippes addresses is a discerning one. She is a woman who demands the best and is to willing to pay for it. She can’t be bothered with trends or fashion shenanigans, she is too sure of herself for those. She expects her clothes, like all the best clothes do, to enhance her own natural appeal, not obscure it, and to grant her ease and therefore elegance as she gets on with her life. One could say after such a bold move to relaunch his name and under such risky auspices that Adam Lippes has come out a winner. Working out of an enchanted townhouse in the West Village, a real modern maison, he has escaped fashion’s distracting din, enabled to toil on his beautiful clothes with integrity. Indeed, Lippes champions forward, but the real winners are the women who get to wear his clothes and live in them.