Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Museum at FIT Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the 70s

A friend of mine alerted me to the last viewing days of the YVES SAINT LAURENT + HALSTON: FASHIONING THE 70S presentation currently being held at The Museum at FIT. It is a show that focuses on the two iconic designers's creations specific to that decade. I had been wavering whether or not to attend, but when I asked his personal opinion he described the collection as "full of life and love". Well, I certainly couldn't pass that up! I'm so glad I made the trip as his description was accurate.

Housed in the basement of the museum, the exhibit takes place in a large room with an all glossy white interior. Some of the models were placed on large pedestals whilst others were contained in partial plexiglass rooms. The mannequins were grouped in twos, one dressed in Halston, one in Laurent. The exhibition was further divided into themes such as exoticism and menswear. Side by side, the outfits eerily mirrored each other. It was absolutely mesmerizing to see how these two designers with different backgrounds, different cultural references (one French, one American), and in different places created designs that paralleled each other during the 1970's. Was it coincidence? Do great minds really think alike?

The pieces all seemed to be quintessentially seventies attire; lots of jersey, jumpsuits, and halter tops. Let's not forget, this was also the decade of disco, so there was a healthy dose of sequins, ruffles, and gold lamé. It definitely appears that Halston and Laurent were all about flow-y pieces. Most of the looks were draped allowing for easy movement. I did notice a lack of any body conscience looks.

I am always so pleasantly surprised when I'm viewing vintage clothing and find it extremely modern. It is very clear that the work of Laurent and Halston continue to be inspirational for the designers of today. The exhibition was all tied together with a feature wall displaying a dual timeline of both designers' careers from 1952 to 1984 and not one, but two spinning disco balls. There was, however, no music.

Noticeably absent from the collection were shoes and there were very little accessories. It prompted me to think about what the complete look was like. What kind of jewelry did the women wear and how did they style their hair? Having not been born yet, I have to rely on pictures and exhibits like these. So decided to ask someone who lived through the 70's and who had a first hand experience with the fashion and could paint a complete picture. My mother.

I gave her a call to quiz her about her past wardrobe choices. As expected there were bell bottoms and chunky heels. Jumpsuits and blouses with long, billowy sleeves. She was partial to pastels, empire dresses and a line skirts. My mother happens to be petite and recalls having several pieces custom made and personalized. (Think embroidered initials!) I asked her specifically about Halston and Laurent. She remembers Halston's designs, but not Laurent. Funnily enough, she did mention she favored geometric print dresses that featured blocks of color. No doubt a reference to Laurent's 1965 Mondrian Collection. I inquired about her hairstyle. Her chosen look, a large afro a la Angela Davis.
Accessories included big loop earrings, bangle bracelets, and wide rim floppy hats. Fashion is often a topic of discussion between us and she is constantly remarking how she's seen and worn most of these styles before. Oh, and she says there was polyester. Lots of polyester.

Unfortunately for me, my mom didn't save these things. She travelled extensively during the 70's and as a result, her wardrobe got lost in the fray. I am deeply saddened by the possible treasure trove of a wardrobe that could have been. After a long talk about trends and popular styles from her youth, the one thing she stressed the most is that she simply wore and purchased whatever she liked the most. A sentiment we should all practice.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Dior and I

Yesterday I was so excited to attend an afternoon screening of the highly anticipated documentary DIOR AND I downtown at the Film Forum. It is the latest offering from director/writer/producer Frédéric Tcheng who is known from his work on other great fashion based films. The movie covers an integral time of the famous French fashion house Christian Dior as they announced the appointment of their new Creative Director, Raf Simons. The timing of Simons' appointment meant that he would have only 8 weeks to put together an entire haute couture collection, an undertaking that normally takes 4 to 6 months. Haute couture is a very serious thing, not to be taken lightly. The documentary provides an in depth behind the scenes look at the Belgian designer's artistic process, the business, and supplies plenty of humorous commentary from the dressmakers. I have been waiting impatiently for this film to debut for some time and thankfully, I was not disappointed.

As the film begins, I notice that Simons seems a bit shy and introverted. The stress of the responsibility is clearly seen and he is often shown with a pained look upon his face. The extremely shortened timeline would have been a logistical nightmare for anyone and the worry quickly spreads through the entire house. Through this time, Simons stands strong in his conviction to create and translate his ideas into wearable garments. However, it's important to note that producing collections of this magnitude is a group effort. He challenged an army of assistants, seamstresses, tailors, directors, and designers to come together to create art. You watch in suspense as the team labors through a period of adjustment, not unlike the arrival of a new baby to a family, but the end result is spectacular.

Simons himself has largely been associated with a minimalist esthetic, mostly due to his background in menswear and his time at Jil Sander. Many felt he was an unlikely candidate to take on couture, especially at Christian Dior, a design house known for extreme femininity. The fashion world was skeptical as was I. The Belgian designer's previous offerings seemed to be in direct contrast to the legacy of Dior. Interestingly during the film, we learn that although he does minimalism very well, the designer doesn't consider himself to be a minimalist. Who knew?

DIOR AND I culminates with a no expense spared floral extravaganza and in the end, Simons is overcome with emotion the day of the show. I think it's notable to mention how many other big name designers were in attendance for his debut show. Simons was shown an overwhelming amount of support and with the 2012 presentation he made a grand entrance into haute couture. If anyone had any doubts about Simons' ability to tackle couture, they certainly don't now. Raf Simons has proven himself to be skilled and very much capable. I strongly believe that the future of Dior is in very good hands.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

From the Fashion Library - Rose Bertin, The Creator of Fashion at the Court of Marie-Antoinette

After reading Caroline Weber's QUEEN OF FASHION as research for my upcoming book, I was eager to learn more about 18th century french fashion and the origins of haute couture. After searching Amazon, I came across ROSE BERTIN THE CREATOR OF FASHION AT THE COURT OF MARIE-ANTOINETTE, a detailed account of the queen's favorite dressmaker. Originally published in 1913 in french by Émile Langlade, the text has been translated and reprinted. We already know the importance that Marie Antoinette's wardrobe played during her reign, so it makes sense that the only thing more important than the dresses themselves was the woman who made them. 

Armed with beauty and ambition, Rose Bertin came to Paris and to the court of Versailles early in her career. An opportune meeting with the new monarch and coming into her favor would set the tone for the rest of her professional and private life. Quickly becoming the choice milliner, Bertin clearly understood the power of the influence the queen had and what that meant for her profits. For even when the general populace conspired against her, they still wanted to dress like her. What the queen wore influenced a fashionable world and fueled the economy, thus making what Bertin created so very important. I wonder if Bertin had never left her small village, would another genius milliner have taken her place? 

From the Au Grand Mogol on Rue de St. Honore, Bertin used her familiarity with Marie Antoinette to her advantage. Her genius was to keep the queen in new, ever changing styles whilst the rest of her clientele eagerly tried to keep pace. The task to constantly create something new and trendy is not unlike the challenges fashion designers face today.  

With the story of her life and career, we learn how Bertin is so closely related to France's deep love affair with haute couture. Subsequently, the book is also a detailed account of the entire fashion era. 
ROSE BERTIN is a brilliant biography carefully curated from published memoirs and journals from the National Library. Bertin's fashionable dress filled life is full of anecdotes of unrequited love, money woes, and law suits. It all makes for a very interesting read...