Beauty

“I wanted to be nasty. I’m fed up with everything.”
So said Miuccia Prada after her emphatic spring/summer show, which looked at the debate over women’s roles without flinching.
I know it’s a political discourse,” said Mrs Prada, “but I wanted to say what I could through clothes.”
It’s rare, if not unheard of, these days for a big global brand to take a stance on any issue; worried about inadvertently offending potential consumers and losing a lucrative revenue source, they waffle, avoiding commitment. Hemlines are high – or they are low. Trousers are tight – but they can also be wide. Coats are light as air – except when they are fur. Shoes are sky high – and completely flat. And so on.

Five years ago, as New York Fashion Week began, Lehman Brothers began its fast slide into bankruptcy and as the shows progressed so did the sense that the consumer world as we knew it was about to change. The ensuing financial crisis altered not only the economics of fashion, especially fashion in Lehman’s home city, but also its aesthetic course, though perhaps not in ways anyone might have predicted. Or so was apparent from last week’s spring/summer womenswear season.

Print matters

From chequerboards to Greek pottery, kinetic swirls to giant gingham, next summer will be one of clearly defined contrasts. Read more

One of the more notable moments of the recent Paris couture week occurred at a very fancy party hosted by Bulgari in a former palace now used as the Chamber of Commerce on Avenue Friedland. As attendees milled around the gardens, swilling champagne, snacking on stuffed tomatoes and chatting to the various executives – outgoing chief executive Michael Burke (who has moved to Vuitton), incoming chief executive Jean-Christophe Babin and Francesco Trapani, head of watches and jewellery at LVMH – models sporting elaborate jewels mingled with guests such as Milla Jovovich, Alexa Chung and Bradley Cooper.

Of all the executives, models and celebrities in attendance, however, none drew as many sideways glances and surreptitious whispers as the new face of Bulgari’s Diva collection and the star of its forthcoming ad campaign, resplendent in black trouser suit and 43-carat sapphire necklace – France’s former first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Read more

It’s too bad EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht wasn’t at the couture shows last week. It would have given him lots of ammunition during this week’s EU-US free trade talks (presuming they go ahead) when the question of the French exception culturelle is raised. After all, the fashion industry is not covered – not even the made-to-order highest end of it, as invented and perfected in Paris. What became increasingly clear during the collections is that, other than location, couture no longer seems to have much to do with France.

Part of this is literal: of the big brand names still on the couture schedule, only one, Jean Paul Gaultier, is actually designed by a Frenchman. The rest are created by Belgians (Dior, Martin Margiela Artisanale), Dutch (Viktor & Rolf), German (Chanel), Italians (Versace, Armani, Valli, Valentino), Russians (Ulyana Sergeenko) and Lebanese (Elie Saab). But most of it is aesthetic.

Does anyone think just taking a picture of a celebrity in your stuff – or taking a picture of a celebrity in your stuff and making a video of the picture-taking – or even taking a picture of an artisan making your stuff, is enough to convince today’s super-suspicious-of-all-marketing consumer of the integrity of a brand? Burberry clears doesn’t think so, and their just unveiled Autumn/Winter campaign is their response. It’s multi-layered! It’s referential! It has history! It has retail! It goes way beyond the usual. Is it a harbinger of what’s coming? Probably.
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According to a new report published today by the Digital Luxury Group, Chanel has ousted Louis Vuitton for the first time as the most-searched-for luxury brand in China (that’s their Beijing store, below). Rock our little velvet-lined world. Especially because why is one of the best arguments I’ve yet heard for why a brand needs to hit every luxury market segment.

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Can it be a coincidence that the start of the summer cultural season – ie, that time of year when blockbusters hit big screens and beach reads land on bookshelves – has been heralded by two launches that, while they don’t necessarily celebrate consumerism, certainly have it at their core?

Between The Bling Ring , Sofia Coppola’s dramatisation of Nancy Jo Sales’ magazine piece about brand-and-celeb-obsessed teenagers and the criminal lengths they reach, andCrazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan’s novel about lux- and status-obsessed Singaporeans, it’s hard to escape the idea that this will be the summer of stuff. Read more

Once upon a time, to most people, “the woman in red” meant a mediocre 1980s comedy starring Gene Wilder and Kelly LeBrock. Not any more. These days, the phrase is shorthand for the protests in Turkey over the past two weeks. That the latter has so overtaken the former is testament to the power of the image in the age of social media. And clothing has a lot to do with that power.

Just as pre-fall appears in stores, pre-spring (aka resort) appears on runways. But how to make sense of a season that spans from November through to May? The answer for a number of designers: skin. Sometimes yours, sometimes an animal’s, sometimes something that looks like an animal’s.

Last weekend I experienced an unfamiliar clothing trauma (I know, I shouldn’t admit it). Coming from New York, where it was muggy and 32C, to Europe, where it was 13C and rainy, via a stop in London to see the Chime for Change concert, with two black-tie events and a conference on the menu, I was paralysed by the question of what to wear. Having decided June qualified as summer, and having packed away my winter wardrobe, I simply couldn’t get my head around what I knew I needed to bring, which involved the words “cashmere” and “knit”. It felt philosophically wrong.

Generally, as I have written before, I have a wardrobe stocked with clothing bought to solve specific problems (black-tie work events, where you need to be fancy but appropriately covered; pre-work meetings with your children’s teachers, where it’s better not to be too glossy) but the transformation of climate into a fungible concept has proved difficult. Having been trained to think in a spring/summer vs autumn/winter dialectic, I find it difficult to accept a new philosophy. Even though, to paraphrase Francis Fukuyama, it increasingly seems the End of Seasons is nigh.

Dries Van Noten is one of the world’s most successful independent designers. An original member of the Antwerp Six, the group of Belgians who transformed the city into a locus of avant-garde fashion in the mid-1980s, he is sold at more than 500 outlets worldwide, and has won the international award of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).

Elizabeth Peyton is an American artist known for her stylised figurative portraits of well-known people; her work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Pompidou in Paris, and the Kunstmuseum in Basel. The two have been friends since 2009.

And so the morality comedy (tragedy?) currently being acted out in public over the importance of appearance continues. Last week at a fundraiser in California, President Obama called California Attorney General Kamala Harris “brilliant,” “dedicated,” and “tough”—and then added she was also “the best looking attorney general”. Guess what everyone wrote about the next day? Guess who had to apologise? Guess what I can’t help wondering? Read more

What does it mean to be the face of a movement? Well, it means, literally, that your face (not to mention the body below it) is a symbol. It means, like it or not, having to take responsibility for how the cause looks – ie, how you look.

And yet as far as I can tell, Sheryl Sandberg, author of the much-ballyhooed third-wave feminist book/exhortation Lean In, does not seem to have realised this – despite putting herself on the cover of the book; despite the fact that she is also on the cover of this month’s new Cosmo Careers magazine supplement because of it; and despite the fact that everyone else is more than happy to discuss it for her.

So you thought the fashion weeks were over for now, and that you did not have to hear about catwalk shows for at least another three months or so (until June, anyway, when menswear begins again). Sucker!

There ain’t room for all of them in this here town. That, methinks, is what etailers are increasingly thinking. Hence, as small ventures stumble upon good ideas, the big players snatch em up, the better to dominate the space. Case in point: the announcement today that net-a-porter will start doing beauty.
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Are semi-obscure male celebrities the most effective way to sell men’s scents? I have to assume the answer to this question is yes, because otherwise why would brands spend what must be a significant amount of money signing up so-so male celebrities to front their cologne campaigns? (Celebrities do not come cheap these days, as sic Lisa Jacobson at United Talent Agency. They all see “ambassador” roles as a prime source of secondary income).

After all, news comes today that Australian actors Eric Bana, left, and Simon Baker, below are fronting, respectively, the new Bulgari and Givenchy men’s scent campaigns. Recognise them? Read more

Over and over came the oversized overcoats: the giant menswear-inspired outerwear items. From grey flannel to navy wool, plaid to pea coat, the runways were covered – literally and metaphorically – by the sorts of toppers that can take a village (inside). It’s less a nod to the romance of filching a too-big item from the closet of a boyfriend or husband than a reflection of the current trend towards toughening up that has also spawned the return of the suit.

These coats cover a multitude of sins, creating their own psychological and physical comfort zone: just huddle, or cuddle, up inside. And while they also nod to ye olde vintage craze, and are smart enough not to advertise their haute origins, make no mistake: in fabric and expanse, they are the ultimate in insider luxe. Read more

Fashion month kicked off on Friday with the first full day of the New York womenswear shows, and there were some surprise attendees in the front row. Who were these lucky folks? Why you, dear reader. Or, to be accurate, people such as you: non-fashion professionals in the comfort of their own homes who got to see a variety of shows (and will get to see more) thanks to a move among some backroom players in the fashion world to provide digital access to the shows.

I am referring specifically to KCD and IMG. The former is one of the biggest press/event/show agencies in the fashion world, working with – at New York Fashion Week – Marc Jacobs, Diane von Furstenberg, Alexander Wang and Victoria Beckham, as well as, overseas, Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Givenchy and so on.

By Vanessa Friedman

There are three big fashion events this week. It’s hard to know where a style-watcher should look: to Paris, where the couture shows kick off on Monday; to Washington, DC, where Barack Obama’s inaugural balls – 11 official dos and multiple more unofficial ones – also take place on Monday; or to Davos, where the suits’n’smarts shows begin on Wednesday: fur hats and rubber boots in the snow. Any of the three is bound to provide fodder for the fashion watcher, what with the tribal dressing that goes on, be it ever-more-towering stilettos at couture; navy suits in Switzerland; or tuxedos and sparkles at the Washington Convention Center. Read more