Fashion, Sarah Mower, etc.

Before I launch into another fashion post, let me start by saying that I don’t go to fashion shows, I don’t go to stores and buy clothes or handle them. I look at runway photos. They’re frontal views and they have to fit into the frame of a twenty inch screen. I’ve started, over the last few years, paying attention to fashion the same way I started getting into film, painting, and every other art form I have, simply following my nose, whose zealotry for creativity in its many forms I trust to steer me right. What kind of art fashion is and how it stands up against others are thorny questions and seem to me a little vulgar, a little ungrateful in this fledgling state of my interest. But one definition of art is creativity that supercedes the demands of function and, going by that definition, though it’s a pretty broad one, the shows I’ve been looking at would absolutely classify. And who cares whether its art or not, for that matter.

The thing I’ve been struck by reading fashion reviews and blogs is how similar the language is to that used to talk about other arts. Actually, its often quite a bit better. It’s brief, describes the pieces, makes a few aesthetic calls, and entertains. But the concerns are the same. It’s about innovation, influence, history, futurity, and of course, the voracious present. That it’s for sale should hardly trouble our consciences; all art is business these days, nothing gets done without a glance toward the market. At least fashion designers are forthright about it - demonstrably, if not always in word: to listen to their interviews, you wouldn’t necessarily know it.

Sarah Mower’s reviews for have been wonderful: crisp, opinionated, breezy, and all within a few hours of seeing the shows. By way of killing two birds with one stone, I’m going to paste in two of her reviews, of two shows I was looking at a couple weeks ago, when I meant to post this. I still mean to get around to posting my own comments, such as they might be, on a few of the shows, but, you know, in the meantime, somebody who knows what they’re talking about…


To take a lead now in the headlong rush and cacophony of multi-platform fashion-news generation, it takes a clear mind to figure out what women want, and what we’re lacking. And, far more radically, to address aspects of the system that have been (to say the least) annoying the hell out of many. Miuccia Prada did that today with a calm shrug.

"It’s normal clothes," she said backstage before her show. "Classics. Revising the things I did in the nineties." Behind her, models, hair done up in sixties beehives, were changing. Among them were Doutzen Kroes, Catherine McNeil, Lara Stone, and Miranda Kerr, young women whose relatively curvaceous beauty has generally exempted them from being cast as exemplars of female gorgeousness on runways such as Prada's for the past few years.

The clothes themselves were a deliberate, and quietly humorous, compliment to the womanly. If it’s the possession of breasts that’s been bothering model-casting agents for the past few years, this collection was a nightmare scenario for them. The ample bust was the unavoidable focal point of the silhouette, picked out in balconies of lace ruffles and upstanding pointy-bra formations on raised-waist, wide-skirted dresses and coats. Any girl on the runway who didn’t have the natural Bardot-esque equipment was bestowed with it by means of frothy fabric placements, but the eye naturally migrated to the ones who did. The others, young and pretty as they are, marched on in the usual kind of anonymity. In fashion, appreciating the exceptional is always more interesting.

Model politics apart, this was not a one-issue shape-lib show. For aficionados, the collection was, as the designer promised, a thorough revisiting of Prada’s strengths. She worked the house double-face cashmere into flattering dance-skirted fifties-sixties dresses and skirts, detailed jackets and coats with double-layered collars of cable knit and fur, cut A-line skirts in patent leather, and reprised her signature scratchy-grid prints. Then she broke into an extended riff on Prada knitwear, made into tweedy peacoat-ed suits and chunky belted sweaters. By the time she sent out black coats, smothered with jet embroidery, the entire repertoire of brand Prada—down to the pointy pumps and kooky tweedy socks—had been refreshed and reconsolidated.

It was nice to see that Prada envisages this being worn by women other than the zombie army of teen models that has roamed her runway recently—and that has influenced others to mimic that uniform aesthetic. Customers, she can be assured, will like that shift—but will it have a bigger ripple effect than that? Miuccia Prada is a fashion-industry influencer. Let’s see who scrambles to follow the leader.

- Sarah Mower

Comme des Garcons

Rei Kawakubo is at her most effusive when she gives two words rather than one to account for a collection. “Inside decoration” was her description for Fall, but that still leaves a lot of room for others to stab around at what the clothes looked like, and what they were about. If indeed they can be said to beabout anything other than an exercise in pure form.

Pillow-form outcrops of padding placed on shoulders, hips, backs, and bodices were the essence of Kawakubo’s experiments this time. In resolute defiance of conventional notions of female body enhancement, they added bulk and heft to all the places fashion avoids if it seeks to flatter and make sexy—two things that have never been part of the job description Kawakubo has accepted. We are on different terms here, forced into the field of the visual associations the designer triggers, rather than struggling to sum it up in the usual ways.

It’s funny where the mind goes when that happens. What, for instance, were the coiled sections of interior padding arranged between waist and knee in garments that can loosely—very loosely—be described as shorts? Were they something akin to the folds of a shar-pei’s skin, or (dare we think it?) a reference to intestines? Then, when Kawakubo turned from black to white, were the smooth, undulating mounds on the skirts starting to look like freshly fallen drifts of snow? Beautiful, but was it intended?

For students of Comme des Garçons, the hunchbacked and pigeon-breasted zones of wadding might be reminiscent of the notorious “lumps and bumps” collection of Spring 1997. That landmark work has kept fashion theoreticians writing treatises ever since, but it’s never been satisfactorily explained, and certainly no further elucidation has ever come from Kawakubo. Her work is only ever offered as a fashion Rorschach test, within which we find out about what discomfits, annoys, confounds, and maybe tickles us when our expectations are denied. In the age of instant communication from shows, the impenetrability of Kawakubo’s design at this particular moment might also be construed as a piece of passive resistance to dumbed-down commentary. Capture this one in 140 characters, Twitterati!

- Sarah Mower


Speaking of Prada, I kind of have to give it to this ad for its spring 2010 campaign. The music, the less-than-24 fps video, the way the logo is stamped on the screen every twenty seconds, almost parodic in branding it, and the clothes, too - all cool, in that slightly dirty (for being too clean), commodity-fetishist sense.

Saint Passionate


priceless anecdotes drawn from my real experiences and souvenir jpegs of lost time


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