The death of maestro Azzedine Alaïa

¨ Fashion will last forever. It will exist always. It will exist in its own way in each era. I live in the moment. It’s interesting to know the old methods. But you have to live in the present moment. ¨Azzedine Alaia

Alaïa, the French Tunisian artist has died at his home in Paris. He is thought of as a sculptor rather than a designer, although his muse and inspiration came from a lasting love of Fashion.

He was enchanted by the way clothes looked, reading ‘Vogue’ as a boy. By pretending to be older than he was, he attended the École des Beaux-Arts in Tunis, where he studied sculpture, and began working as a dressmaker before moving to Paris in 1957, at first as a tailleur for Dior, then with Guy Laroche and later Thierry Mugler.

Writing of his death, at the age of 77, the French weekly, Le Point, tells of his ‘prodigious talent,’ and Fashion’s ‘insatiable appetite for his designs;’ making him popular for decades. And how his skills at cutting allowed ‘idiosyncratic takes on classic silhouettes,’ for his designs to become the ‘aspirational zenith for many’.

He opened his first atelier in his Rue de Bellechasse apartment in the late 1970s, from which he dressed his private clientele, which included Marie-Hélène de Rothschild, Louise Lévêque de Vilmorin and Greta Garbo.

In 1980 he produced his first ready-to-wear collection, which was championed by the then doyennes of fashion, Melka Tréanton of Depeche Mode and Nicole Crassat of French Elle, who both regularly featured his work in their respective magazines.

By 1988 there were Alaïa boutiques in Beverly Hills and New York. He was dubbed the “King of Cling” by Suzy Menkes! During the mid-’90s Alaïa partially retired from the fashion scene  after the death of his twin sister. He continued to cater for a private clientele and enjoyed success with his ready-to-wear lines.

Alaia

Seen holding his two Yorkshire terriers, Patapouf and Wabo, Alaia  is pictured walking in a Paris street with model Frederique van der Wal, wearing his creation, a black leather zippered dress.  (Don’t you adore her see-through pumps?)

Alaïa was the subject of a major retrospective at Rome’s illustrious Villa Borghese, Couture/Sculpture in 2015.  Three decades of his gowns were shown with masterpieces by respected artists, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Titian. He is celebrated as the inventor of ‘body-con,’ and his work does not suffer from being compared to these earlier Italian masters.

Disobedient Bodies!

TODAY we caught JW Anderson’s exhibition, ‘Disobedient Bodies,’ at the Barbara Hepworth, Wakefield. Very soon I shall be sending off for one of his jumpers but I need to tell you a little story first!!

Anderson has curated an eclectic show making exciting links between styles we currently wear close to our hearts and body shapes from works by Hepworth and Henry Moore, his favourites I’m told.

Then something happened. A two year old girl in tasteful pink, walking confidently between exhibits, suddenly caught sight of my top! She cried out twice, making a slight terrified sound! I said to her father, a step behind her, “My Vivienne Westwood’s frightened her!” We both laughed. It’s good to know the old girl can still hack it!

Hepworth

Below Anderson’s international Loewe collection next to Barbara Hepworth plasters. Children are encouraged to play with giant knitwear hanging 20feet in the air and students are invited to design their own ranges, shown next to Issey Miyake models. And everywhere happy  babies, toddlers and absorbed teenagers, mostly unaware of frightening punk clowns displayed on avid art lovers!

Loewe_Hanro

A Suitable Case for Treatment

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, from Paramount Pictures and Red Granite Pictures.

I’m not a cougar but Christopher Breward’s latest book celebrating the glorious and everyday charms of ‘The Suit,’ makes me see how a predatory woman might feel!

On many of the pages I fall in love again and again!

Breward sets the suit in its commanding history as an important marker inspiring new ways of looking at the power-hungry, the lover, the elegant, through their lives at home, in trade, on travel and in the movies.

The suit has survived hardly modified over generations, worn by men and women, ‘politicians, estate agents, bankers, rabbis, courtroom defendants, wedding grooms’.

The author’s own wedding outfit, now in the V&A, was worn for a civil partnership ceremony  with James Brook on 18 August 2006.  Christopher’s from Kilgour on Saville Row with Jasper Conran shirt, while James’ tailored wool-blend pinstripe by Timothy Everest, for Marks and Spencer are included in the museum’s collections, reflecting the suit’s enduring appeal.

Taking his lead from Adolf Loos, the Modernist ‘suitophile’ who compared the garment to a classical temple, Breward considers its form, function and style across the decades. Thinking ‘the smart flashiness of the soldier’s get-up takes us only so far in understanding the evolution of the modern suit,’ he encourages us to consider the dinginess of English cities when ‘darkness inevitably rubbed off on the man’s suit and its status in everyday life.’

Romping through the centuries he notes how working men’s solid woollen jackets and trousers stood for stronger values than a nineteenth century clerk’s off-the-peg garb, although it it did represent technological advances.

Turning to advice given for successful dressing, he shows how pundits had often suggested conservative, appropriate, two pieces to make a statement, as  novel alternative modes of dress were appearing. In the midst of the flowery Hippies in the 70s and Punk-Goths in the 80s, the monochrome model survived in the service of industry and commerce.

When nepotism and old school ties were superseded by strategic and technological brilliance, as open routes to  lucrative City jobs, the suit became more valuable than ever as a leveller in the market place. Men’s retailers know that the price of a suit is geared to match exactly a week’s wage. So from the 80s on, from the high street to Savile Row, customers would be spending between £2,000 and £10,000 to be kitted out.

When the global crash came in 2008, it had been heralded by informal dress into the worlds of banking and high finance in the 90s and 2000s; seeming to reflect immorality and the rise of greed. Disgraced workers were seen leaving their offices uniformly wearing pastel sportswear on television news channels!

City slickers and bar bound lawyers insist the suit is a sign of distinction and power in the professions despite calls to dress down or man-up for our digital age.  Breward, now a tweeds and jeans-wearing academic, hopes the suit will persist for hundreds more years; for as long as the civilised values it represents are around.

Glass coaches, diamond tiaras and blue jeans

Cinema Fashionista

Fashion’s power probably reached its zenith when Kate Middleton married the heir to the British dynastic throne of the United Kingdom in April 2011.  Prince William had fallen in love with her, it is said, as she paraded down the catwalk at a charity Fashion show in their shared university town of St. Andrew’s, near Edinburgh, in Scotland.  The signs of the harem had transmitted themselves to the virile young royal.

There is a Cinderella quality to this story and clothes played their part towards this happy ending.  Not that Kate Middleton had set many fires, or brushed many hearths, but she now  rides in glass coaches and wears diamond tiaras.

Her days at boarding school mixing with the Home Counties crowd, and Sloane Rangers set, put her on the right track. She’s an interesting mix of American preppy and English Burberry.  Her love of the outdoors means she is…

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Gathering Moss…

A match made in Britain...
A match made in Britain…

A debate on Kate Moss stirs strange passions.  Young women either love or, a few conservative detractors, hate her.  British ‘Vogue’ in May is ecstatic over the continuing success of our British Fashion models, whether from the landed gentry or the street.

Moss, featured on the cover, is placed with other contemporary model successes and the long-running story of the Brits as a ‘punk nation!’

For Harrods and House of Fraser in 'Grazia'
For Harrods and House of Fraser in ‘Grazia’

Writer Chloe Fox says, “we’re constantly challenging notions of beauty. Kate Phelan, the stylist and ‘Vogue’ contributing editor believes, “Our cultural heritage is hugely influential. We constantly challenge the norm and the fashion industry wants to harness that spirit.”

Kate Moss has hit the zeitgeist over decades, a heroin waif in the eighties, the face of London in the 1990s, high street sensation Topshop, and currently for Kering’s wild boy, Alexander McQueen.

A Business of Fashion story which is really a best kept secret is how the international Fashion industry has come to rely on her neat body, outsider ID and perpendicular cheek bones.

She has been modelling for the rising Italian star Liu.Jo since 2011, from when its already stratospheric success has continued, doubling its number of employees worldwide each year.  With La Moss as their ‘face’ they sell across the classes, from city department stores and on-line, to Europe, the far and near East and Russia.

Celebrating the Italian Fashion show opening at the V&A, this week, Colin McDowell, making the important point that it’s really all about the fabrics and the clothes, puts Italian Fashion’s centuries long success down to its heritage and pride-in-making.

A curious anomaly could be that it’s a British teenage rebel performer who is now at the heart of its continuing fascino.

First published in ‘What Would Roland Barthes say?”

Belgium’s famous painter and other anomalies

Raf Simons Mens SS 2015
Ceci ne pas Raf Simons Men’s SS 2015!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They Might be Giants showed the world how much fun there is in Belgium.

Now I’ve been to Brussels I can confirm it’s true!

Lunching in the Hotel Metropole, I was surprised by door codes being the same for Hommes ou Femmes!  Mentioning this to a French speaking sharply dressed woman, I was told that this is the sort of thing the French are always saying is typically Belgian!

Was I seeing the springs of Surrealism at its roots?

Next day in the Magritte museum we heard that modern painters, including one or two James Ensors, would be found in the “Old Masters” rooms! I recounted the Metropole story to the British ex-pat on the desk and she agreed that there was something bizarre, rather Belgique, and similar to the door code oddness, in this curating arrangement.

The French can make as much comedy hay out of Belgian culture as they like! In the comic book museum, ‘Centre de Bande Dessine, each caption is written in the most exquisite version of four languages. My mobile phone was handed in within moments of losing it  and we learned that, instead of backwards-looking educational methods, graphic texts are used to teach reading across the age ranges.

In recent times this small country has produced the two most spell-binding, innovative, Fashion designers since Mori, Yamamoto, Miyake and Kawakubo.

Martin Margiela, who is about to put out a uni-sex cologne, uses the Art and influences of his country to help us wear our intellectual hearts on our sleeves.

Raf Simons has moved the worlds of music and apparel so subtly together we are already in the night club when we view his collections.

So three cheers for They Might Be Giants for putting my delight to music.

 

Artisanal 2011 by Maison Martin Margiela.
Artisanal 2011 by Maison Martin Margiela.

 

 

The Nursery Slopes

MythologiesFairy TalesLucky children in a school near Hebden Bridge will be having their imaginations stirred when their Year One teacher shows them beans, painted with poster colours, which have been dropped by Jack after escaping from the giant.

I suppose my equivalent is having ordered Barthes ‘Mythologies,’ in French.  All my First Year students are going to read it,  I hope, in English.  A French student and I will try to find some ever more subtle nuances, in the words, by comparing notes.

As Barthes said, “We must not forget that an object is the best messenger of a world above that of nature: one can easily see in an object at once a perfection and an absence of origin, a closure and a brilliance, a transformation of life into matter (matter is much more magical than life), and in a word a silence which belongs to the realm of fairy-tales.”

The cover for the French version has the 1960s Dessus on it and so I can direct you to this page: