Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Referencing with skill & sense

I rarely publicly comment on any individual fashion show that I have not been assigned to review but I'm going to make an exception with an ulterior purpose for the "Saint Laurent" collection that Hedi Slimane sent down the runway yesterday in Paris. Let me be direct & clear about a few things; I didn't like it and the why has nothing to do with Yves Saint Laurent or the history of the house. I understand the need for reinvention, the value of a shocking change and the controversy it creates. That's all tried & true and I'm the last person in the international fashion community to oppose a brave risk. The reason I didn't like the collection was that the clothes were lazily imagined and void of any cleverness. Every piece has existed, unaltered, previously.

For reasons that I don't yet fully understand there is nothing that trips up fashion designers more consistently than referencing. The mental act of using someone else's art or style as the singular starting place for a collection of clothes is apparently akin to daydreaming while on a stroll in a minefield. More perilous still seems to be the act of referencing an era. The act of being inspired is intended to be a jumping off place only. The designer is then meant immediately to dive headlong inspiration in hand back into her or himself and run the inspiration through the marvelous creation that God made called you... Designers need to wrestle with the inspiration, struggle and sweat with it fashioning it into something that ONLY THEY COULD HAVE CREATED. As an example other than the lackluster copying that is "Saint Laurent" Fall '13 let's look at a recent trend here in NYC. There's been a lot of "Jazz Age" inspired work on our runways of late. If a designer says that the Roaring Twenties is their collection's genesis and then parades a bunch of below the knee silk velvet skirts covered by fringe down the runway they have failed. That's COPYING and not being inspired by. It shows a lack of effort, a lack of blood and sleepless nights. The great designers I know find the act of creating a collection exhausting and exhilarating simultaneously. Quite frankly when I see them in person during that time they look like hell. Show me one person who has held on to the mantle of "great" who doesn't work harder than everybody else?

Fascinatingly anybody at all can tell when this has happened to a collection. I mean almost any lay person can figure it out. All you have to do is read the fashion press and see if they talk about the reference more than the collection. Good fashion should be difficult to describe, it should make you work for an accurate vocabulary to capture it. Looking with a penetrating, incisive, and insightful eye the reviewer should be able to explain specifically what the designer did that was special. Hedi if your reference was "Grunge" and the reviewers spent more text on plaid and Courtney Love than on your fabric choices and techniques then you lazily copied, which Mr. Saint Laurent would never have settled for.

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