Tuesday, January 24, 2012

La Nouvelle Haute Couture

This week Paris is host to some of the most exclusive and eagerly awaited fashion shows of the season. During the Couture week, a selected group of fashion empires show their Couture collection to the cream of the crop: celebrities, royalty and of course the international press. 
For a couple of days, the fashion world becomes even more exclusive than it already is. Yesterday the three days of haute couture madness were kicked off by the house of Versace. There will be a total of 23 shows, including Elie Saab, Valentino and Givenchy. Peanuts compared to the more than 80 ready-to-wear shows that were held in Paris a couple of months ago.
You could say that the structure of the fashion industry is in essence a pyramid, with haute couture making out the highest order. 
The difference with ready-to-wear is that haute couture consists of exclusive garments tailored for a specific customer. Often the pieces are made ​​in luxurious and expensive materials, but more importantly, they are entirely handmade. Minute detailing and the use of time-consuming techniques are also often employed in Haute Couture ateliers. 'Haute Couture' is a legally protected term in France, which can only be used by selected brands that meet certain quality standards. The official "Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture" currently has thirty members.
Yesterday, before his show, Giambattista Valli told the press he wants to have the Haute Couture ateliers be made Unesco World Heritage. It hasn't come to that yet, but in a society where a growing percentage of people are anxious to preserve tradition, whether it be material or intangible, who knows?

This season Haute Couture takes on a modern form. In the collection of Bouchra Jarrar for example. She effortlessly combines materials and different worlds in wearable pieces. It's the ultimate luxury for the woman of today: unique clothing that is practical and made for an urban setting. 

Bouchra Jarrar, Spring 2012 Couture

Alexis Mabille uses colour and plastic-like materials to create an otherworldly show. 

Alexis Mabille, Spring 2012 Couture

The two collections above stray far from the traditional Couture esthetic. The latter can be found in the collection of Versace, since long an important voice in the world of Haute Couture.

Versace, Spring 2012 Couture

Although I'm not a fan of the styling, the dresses do bring a  surprising mix of Hollywood glamour and warrior influences.

A marriage between tradition and modernity, that's the way some designers are looking at the Haute Couture phenomenon these days. 
The layered constructions of Bill Gaytten for Dior have a fifties feel, but the sheerness and unfinished semblance of the clothing is very now.

Dior, Spring 2012 Couture

Giambattista Valli on the other hand makes use of the craftsmanship so specific to Haute Couture in a way that looks timeless: neither historical, nor futuristic.

Giambattista Valli, Spring 2012 Couture
Chanel lays down a very youthful and rebellious look with the help of a punk inspired styling. But the clothes themselves are modern of cut and lend the somewhat antiquated tweed suit an almost, selfmade, disposable air.

Chanel, Spring 2012 Couture

Haute Couture doesn't have to be a distant elitist fragment of the fashion world.
It shows the endless possibilities of fabrics and ensures the passing on of the metier. 

Most importantly ... it encourages to dream.

The Mere Alchemist

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Genius Teaches Genius

A lot of geniuses have died 'before their time'. Before their time, I've always found that expression extremely unsettling. Does everybody have an expiration date tattooed behind their ear or stamped on the sole of their foot? If so, how come that particular date is only known for people who are no longer here and rarely coincides with the real date of their departure?

Egon Schiele, Janis Joplin, Emily Brontë, Arthur Rimbaud, Ian Curtis, it's just a small excerpt of a long list of artists who died at a young age. The question I ask myself is, what magnificent poems, drawings, music never came to exist because of the untimely death of these exceptional creators?

The same question can be asked about Alexander McQueen who died in February of 2010. When the word of McQueen's death reached the world, the fashion community reacted with disbelief and grief. At only forty years old the British designer took his own life after lived through some personal tragedies like the death of his mother and that of his close friend Isabella Blow.
McQueen had always been a rebel which earned him the name of 'l'enfant terrible' of the fashion world. Some of his designs were very extravagant, but ultimately his exquisite tailoring, original use of fabric and genius detailing were responsible for his fame and success. In 1996 he succeeded Galliano as art director at Givenchy, a job he executed until 2001.

Alexander McQueen, Spring/Summer 2006
Dress made out of real flowers
Alexander McQueen, Fall/Winter 2009
Dress made out of feathers
Alexander McQueen, Spring/Summer 2010

The Posthumous exhibition 'Savage Beauty' held by the Metropolitan Museum in New York was a huge success and attracted a lot of visitors.

During the fashion week of October 2010, all the eyes were directed to one woman: Sarah Burton. Since long McQueen's right hand, she would carry on the vision of the house. Due to the almost godlike status McQueen had acquired disappointing the critics would have been easier than counting to ten, but to everybody's surprise the quiet and hard working Burton revealed herself to be the perfect successor.

Alexander McQueen, Spring/Summer 2011
To me not only did Sarah Burton continue the unique McQueen feel, but she also added a subtle feminine sensibility that I thought was sometimes lacking in McQueen's designs. 

I know this could be considered heresy to McQueen fans. I apologize in advance and I won't claim that this isn't just my humble opinion. Somehow I often have a preference for female designers and this case is no different.
Compare some of McQueen's last designs to some of Burton's and judge for yourself.

left: McQueen's last collection, Fall/Winter 2010                
right: Sarah Burton, Spring/Summer 2011 and 2012

The new Spring/summer 2012 collection blew me away. Burton was inspired by the ocean. Think nymphs, corals, waves,..

Alexander McQueen, Spring/Summer 2012
 The style and craftsmanship Sarah Burton has developed is deeply in debt to her teacher Alexander McQueen, but to me she has perfected his art. 
Isn't that the greatest gift you can give someone? McQueen's brand will not only exist, but most importantly be alive and continue evolving.
Indeed a teacher is someone who renders himself progressively unnecessary. McQueen did this in the most dramatic and tragic way.

Sarah Burton
Alexander 'Lee' McQueen

The Mere Alchemist

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Madonna of Life and Death: Nathalia Edenmont

The nice thing about big cities is that you can stumble upon hidden treasures every time you turn a corner. True, you can also fall into the clutches of a criminal gang or step in droppings of a not discernable animal, but even if those things would happen to me, I would forget them easily because of all the unexpected, wonderful things that could have happened. I am rarely this positive, so it's safe to say that I'm a metropolis enthusiast.
A perfect example of why I love cities is the trip I took last week with a friend of mine. We drove to Paris (more specifically, we sat in a car being driven) and had one day to take in the atmosphere, visit some expositions and catch up on each other's lives.
Trying to avoid big lines and touristy places we unintendedly ended up in the gallery district of le Marais. There we discovered some interesting artists. One exposition in particular really moved me because of its affinity with art history and textiles. Nathalia Edenmont (°1970) is a photographer born in Ukraine. She went to school in Stockholm after she was orphaned.

Nathalia Edenmont, Self portrait
The color of this work really struck me and instantly reminded me of the fifteenth century paintings of Jan Van Eyck, which I adore.

Jan Van Eyck, Madonna with the Child reading, 1433

 Nathalia Edenmont positions herself in the center of the picture. Her pose and robe are iconic for the Madonna theme found often in classical painting. In place of the baby Jesus she holds a rabbit as if it were a hand puppet. An allusion on the manipulation in religion? Or maybe it signifies the historical power of women, the kind of power that's not visible but was always hiding behind a male actor.
Edenmont often refers to art history in her photographs, sometimes more literal, like in this portrait of a man, were she comments on the gender problem by replacing the Maya of Goya with a male model.

Nathalia Edenmont, Portrait

Goya, The Naked Maja, 1800-1803
Or in another portrait based on Velazquez' Venus at her mirror, where she has placed her model on a shabby bed without any mattress or covers. The naked body is fragile and cold, not surrounded by luxury as with Velazquez' painting.
Nathalia Edenmont, Portrait

Diego Velazquez, Venus at her Mirror, 1650
 Louise Bossut, a Belgian photographer has also touched this subject, but puts the body in a sleeping position. The white sheets give an eerie feel because of the connection with shrouds.
Louise Bossut, Portrait

The two photographers have some other projects in common, like modern variations on the Madonna with child theme.

Nathalia Edenmont

Louise Bossut
Edenmont's view is more raw and at the same time more staged. 
Fashion and textile are very important in her work. In Paris I saw some compositions, made wholly out of butterfly wings. The colors and construction were marvelous. It's almost a textile design and I could see this being used as a print on fabric.

Nathalia Edenmont
References to historical clothing also appear in her photographs.

Nathalia Edenmont

Frans Hals, Portrait of a Man holding a Skull, 1610
The skull on Hals' Painting is a so called vanitas motif. It reminds the observer of the fleeting time and the vanity of life. Edenmont's work also holds a lot of references to death, which could have the same goal.

Nathalia Edenmont
It's important to be aware of the temporary nature of life, it helps you to live in the moment en experience it as a unique opportunity. We often forget that the things that make life wonderful aren't the things we might want, but the things we already have. So enjoy!

The Mere Alchemist

Nathalia Edenmont, 'Existence' in L'Institut Suédois, Paris