Fashion Week

What Fashion Week Shows Us About Our World

Fashion Week Journal for Monday, March 9

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As this season’s quartet of Fashion Weeks zipped itself closed and exited stage right yesterday and I boarded a plane bound for familiar faces, the voice in my head was never more like the diaristic Doogie Howser crossed with SJP doing her Carrie Bradshaw narrations. So please indulge me as I attempt to make some sense of the sit-com/sci-fi/drama that was these last 30 days of runways, real ways, icons, offbeats and more.

But …. I’m not ready to bring my Fashion Week coverage to an end per se—stay tuned in the weeks to come as I take you behind even more brands and share some special showroom stories and scenes—but for now I’ve distilled a month’s worth of impressions and ideas down to five notions of what the phenomenon of Fashion Month means right now. 

 

1. The Outdoor Runway Game Is Strong

So strong, in fact, that it’s feeling as important as the indoor runway game. The circus of street-style photographers and the bloggers, editors and off-duty models they document can feel at times like a parody of itself, but it’s no joke. The packs of cameras move from this girl to that one, and there are photographers photographing the photographers.

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Image by Crystal Nicodemus for Nordstrom

But that wouldn’t happen if there weren’t such an immense appetite for what happens before and after the shows. We, as a fashion-consuming public, have never been more interested in what other people are wearing, and when you see the mad scramble for images happen live, it’s pretty striking. 

(I like this somewhat obscure and small scale but no less meta capture of the scene, in which the subject seems to find it as silly as it is flattering and important.)  

For fashion editors on the scene (often the very ones being photographed themselves), the task is now not just to delineate the future season—the one designers are presenting—but to accurately gauge what’s happening in real time and roll the in-the-moment trends into the equation as well.

I wish I had time and energy to do the math on the number of runway images versus the number of street-style images published by fashion magazines. (Actually, this conversation could start by noting how many runway images are shared nowadays as compared to five or ten years ago.)

While fashion designers have always taken a lot of inspiration from the street, the modern blogger/influencer scene, wherein scores of formerly “regular” girls have hundreds of thousands of followers hungry for images of their every outfit choice, creates a sort of mirror-within-a-mirror effect. Who’s the cook in this kitchen and which curtain would we need to draw back if we wanted to really take a behind-the-scenes look at who’s dictating the current style? It’s a puzzle obi-wrapped in an enigma tucked inside a question, I tell you what.

 

 

2. It’s a Small World After All, But It’s Not That Small

To dovetail with all of that, one of my most interesting Fashion Week conversations was with Julia Melkonova, who (cool job alert) is the Condé Nast Russia Paris Office Director.

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Melkonova and I met at the super-posh and stylish Paris hotel Le Meurice to chat not just about the shows, but about the climate of style in Russia and her life and work in the mix of the two very different (but perhaps also very similar) countries that are home for her.

In a nutshell:

-she had just come from a meeting with the coolest American-in-Paris and perhaps one of the most globally relevant brands in the world, Stella McCartney

-the top-of-mind show for her was edgy, outré Haider Ackermann

-when we parted ways, she was off to see the super-buzzed-about Russian designer Vika Gazinskaya

Next time I feel like my world is big, I’m going to check myself by remembering Melkonova’s. And yet … and yet …

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Melkonova says she has to think of a very specific fashion follower. The Russian fashion-focused woman remains distinct even as she becomes more and more European all the time, which is how this producer and director assessed the current direction back at home.

For example, she told me first about a recent cover-shoot casting she was just at. When they saw a lovely model with short hair, Melkonova had to explain that that look really wouldn’t work in Russia. Next she referenced that iconic Parisian girl, the one with a cool case of bedhead, a no-makeup makeup look and supremely purposeful nonchalance. Melkonova says those ideas of a woman—the boyish cropped ’do, the #wokeuplikethis moments—simply are not what her readers want.

“We are selling a dream and the dream is about pleasure and beauty. The main idea is to be beautiful,” she said.

And for her publication, that means an old-world version of beauty. Sure, that beauty and style is within an increasingly modern context, but my tea date was clear that while Americans embrace the heck out of sportif style and can’t get enough soft, fluid draping paired with dressed-up sweatpants, the stiletto and pencil skirt still rule where she’s from.

I thought a lot about the globalization of of-the-moment looks while I was traveling this last month. I had many conversations with people about their personal geography and what matters in the cities and towns that are their homebase. Melkonova and Vogue Russia are a sort of metaphor for what’s true in America and all over the world: There just is something about place that plays into prêt-à-porter. (Side note: it’s true in lots of arenas—food, art, culture—not just fashion.) We may all be looking at the same bloggers and Instagram feeds, but roots are roots and in a world that gets more homogenous all the time, regional identities are worth acknowledging, honoring and preserving.

 

 

3. What Happens on the Runway Does Not Stay on the Runway

Okay, on the face of it, this one is obvious, right? Runway looks become everyday looks in a matter of months—that’s what the whole thing is about, but what I’m getting at here is the theater of the runway, and the fact that the theatrical, conceptual, almost costume-like elements are feeling more and more ready for the real world every day.

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Maria Cornejo backstage image by Nordstrom’s Kent Worthington for our Beauty Blog

If you’ve ever had to explain to people outside of fashion why the runway is often fantastical, over-the-top and maybe even a little bizarre (“Are people really expected to wear that stuff?” is the outsider’s common comment), you know that it’s both easy and abstract.

See what you think of the analogy I dropped one night: Say there’s a really successful pop band; they’re hit machines and they know what works for the public in large production, but in order to define and refine their artistic vision and their artistic brand, they put all that on pause a few times a year and issue vinyl-only intellectual moods and textures that are meticulously handcrafted in some rare, ultra-limited release format. And they retain a sense of those rarified moments amid the straightforward ones, too. They weave the transcendental into the everyday. It’s an essential part of their process.

The idea goes for couture as well as runway styling and hair and makeup.

As with the above, one of my very favorite backstage moments from all the fashion weeks, in which one of Maria Cornejo’s mussed, mohawked, braided warrior girl in futuristic face paint contemplates the marching steps she’s about to take.

Do I think Scarlett Johansson’s locks will be like so in some upcoming celeb mag expose about stars at the grocery store? Eh, not really, but I saw a lot of women doing a lot of amazing things with color, cut, geometry and everyday liquid eyeliner.

It’s a brave new world, and I’m all for embracing that.

 

4. Fashion Is Post-Gender, Post-Age

There’s a lot happening right now with collections and presentations in the realm of sexless, genderless style. The recent Gucci shows are a good example; we talked about it with model Emilie Evander (who appeared in their men’s and women’s shows) as well as Vogue Turkey’s fashion director. 

But I found that Robert Clergerie, as a brand, represents that idea in a really clever and organic way—and, as a nice bonus, there’s also something happening there that points to a greying line between the youthful and the experienced, too.

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And I don’t mean “there” as in the Parisian showroom I visited, but in their archives, in their current stock, in their coming fall ’15 collection (pictured here), and, as I heard it, their sales.

To know anything at all about Clergerie’s 125-year-old tradition is to know that it began in a men’s utilitarian footwear factory. To know what is vital about it right now is to know that that same factory is still in operation, but these days it meticulously and perfectly turns out oxfords, platforms, boots and heels that riff on men’s fashion with forward-cutting silhouettes and colors. The kind of shoes that punctuate the street-style looks of global icons such as Marion Cotillard and everyday footwear icons in sport sandals and skirts.

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It was cool to hear about the history of Mr. Clergerie, and current designer Roland Mouret, and to see examples from the archives and their modern-day carry-through.

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The DNA is so strong, and yet the switch from men’s to women’s couldn’t feel more authentic and complete. But then fold into that the story the American Vice President Gilles Assor told me about two very different women—one young, one old; one very monied, one way more a hipster; one uptown, one downtown; one headed for finger-sandwich luncheons, one music-festival bound—who met while engaged in a bit of competitive shopping.

You see, both wanted the same version of a woven style that appears at the top of this post (wovens themselves having a rich place in Clergerie history, going back to wartime when leather was scarce), and in the end they both went away with the very same shoe—and a brand-new friendship too. To hear Assor tell it, hugging was involved, and you know, I totally believe it.

The 125-year-old brand is definitely having a moment, and that moment (like Ari Seth Cohen and Advanced Style’s) is within an important cultural one. See also: street-style frequent-flier Linda Tol’s silvery-grey blonde, and the viral newsiness of Joan Didion for Céline et al. But the real proof—and the takeaway —is in the platforms. I mean, am I right?

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Because let’s face it, all industry and culture analysis aside, these are some wantable, walkable, super-sexy-yet-totally-effortless shoes.

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5. Reemerging Designers Are the New Emerging Designers

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Okay. Anyone here ever played fantasy football? Anyone know anyone who has played fantasy football? Take the idea of building your own dream team, and moving players and coaches from one to another, and imagine a fashion-industry version. Let’s start a league, right?

Sometimes it seems like a game that already exists. We love watching new and emerging brands come online, and we love tracking new designers at not-new labels—like Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, and former Carven designer Guillaume Henry who is now at Nina Ricci.

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Henry’s undertaking—absorbing a beloved and very feminine aesthetic while showing his bosses and the world that he can bring something new to it—is an example of one of the most intellectually engaging aspects of the industry. How to integrate a brand and a brain? How to reimagine an image? How to reimagine a dress? Each season there are any number of examples, and any number of opinions on their success. Inside the Nina Ricci showroom, just a door down from their gorgeous avenue Montaigne flagship, the new designer’s rich, modern take on outerwear was even more fresh than it was on the runway.

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In a word, Henry’s Ricci is neoclassical. It’s a sincere but not at all austere approach to female beauty. Neither is it outside the lines.

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The silver, the see-through lace and lush whites, and the sharply chic lines paired with boxy cuts, yield a sort of ethereal new/old—as if your recurring dream picked up a slightly new plot line.

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Those who have followed Carven closely might have wondered if Henry would shake up the house that Nina Ricci began building in 1932, but I love the symbolism, instead, in his reverence and quiet retooling.

You know the doves that have, for generations, appeared on bottles of Ricci’s L’Air du Temps? They were always meant to symbolize love and freedom, and Henry brought them back.

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And that, sports fans, is a game of fantasy fashion played very well.

—Laura Cassidy