A Tighter Season With a Looser Look – S/S 2011

14 Dec

“Fashion is born by small facts, trends or even politics – never by trying to make little pleats and furbelows, by trinkets, by clothes easy to copy, or by the shortening or lengthening of a skirt.”

— Elsa Schiaparelli

I recently attended the FGI (Fashion Group International) Spring/Summer 2011 trend forecast at the MFA.  It was, as always, a wonderful presentation by a wonderful organization.  A major topic of discussion afterwards was that the collections for next season are cleaner and more tightly edited than ever.  There are, as always, a myriad of looks and silhouettes, but the general feel of the season is decidedly simpler.

There seems to be a new sobriety in fashion – not that everything is dark and dreary, there’s still plenty of color and print – but that designers on the whole showed less eclectic, more focused groupings.  One trend that swept the shows is of particular interest – volume.  Slouchy jackets, fluid trousers, loose tunics, skirts long enough to be deemed ‘shoe toppers’ – in all, much more coverage for the body.  And, surprisingly, it’s been heralded by viewers and critics alike as a refreshing change.

There has been a gradual build towards looser, less structured shapes for a few seasons now, but this is the first time fullness has been such a hallmark throughout the collections since the early 1990s.  But why volume?  Why such an increase in proportion? And why now?  Is it a reflection of our times?


A frenetic economy, a socio-political climate fraught with international conflict, internal security leaks and rampant distrust don’t lend themselves to a particularly optimistic worldview.  And as always, fashion follows society’s lead.

Historically during times of crisis fashions are always more somber, less conspicuous.  One need only examine the Edwardian period in dress during the turn of the 20th century, overshadowed by WWI and the suffragette struggle, to individual style a mere ten years later.  The end of a world war, the beginning of the industrial revolution, a burgeoning economy and bright outlook ushered in an era of jazz and nightclubs, hope and prosperity that was reflected in fashion – makeup became de rigueur and bobbed hairstyles commonplace.  Hemlines rose above the knee for the first time in human history.

Though the rise in both hemlines and economy were fairly short-lived, they are prime examples of the intense connection that society and fashion share.  When businesses thrive hemlines rise, when conflict is at a minimum skin exposure is at its maximum. So, it’s not surprising that we’re seeing this major shift in a more understated direction.

It’s evident in other ways as well – there was hardly a miniskirt to be found in any of the Spring/Summer presentations, and when designers did show legs, they featured high-cut shorts instead.  Though the same amount of skin was shown, there was something less forward and sexually aggressive about a mini-short.  (Frankly, with the micro-minis that have been shown in recent collections, one wrong move and the world is your gynecologist.  Micro-shorts, on the other hand, give a more reserved impression that is in step with this new era of modesty).

There are certainly other notable trends for Spring/Summer:  A strong 1970s groove involving every aspect of that decade from disco to punk, nods towards classic staples like crisp white shirting and khaki trench coats, and a consistent nod towards one of the great masters of the 20th century – Yves Saint Laurent, recently the subject of a major museum retrospective.

But to me, this new play on proportion and demure sensuality is the most fascinating.  It is not something that will fade away soon, and has interesting ramifications for the future.

So one must beg the question — Is this concept of softer silhouettes and longer lengths, greater space between body and cloth essentially the couture equivalent of Teflon?  Does it bestow a sense of protection, safety, reassurance?  Perhaps we see this as armor against our tumultuous socio-political surroundings – a security blanket for the soul.

And even more importantly — What will these new proportions do to the zeitgeist of fashion going forward?  Will it affect the unrealistic ideals of body image we currently hold?  Will we begin to see a move towards more womanly curves, and away from the unrealistically whippet-thin models dominating the runway?

Because this new volume does not require the boyish, fat-free proportions of previous trends, might it begin to reverse the disturbing epidemic of eating disorders that currently plague our society?  Will young women finally be allowed to perceive themselves in a more healthy, realistic and positive light?

Time, and fashion, will tell…


Fashion or Style ?

2 Dec

“Fashion fades, style is eternal.”

– Yves Saint Laurent

“Fashion fades, only style remains the same.”

– Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel


It’s easy to be fashionable.

Open the latest issue of any fashion magazine, buy what you see, and wear it. Just rock that head-to-toe look that you see in any editorial layout, designer ad, or store window and, voila, you’re fashionable.

But what about wearing something with a sense of style ?  What’s the difference ?  Exactly what is personal style ?

The answer is really in the question – it’s personal.  It depends on the individual.

Fashion is about following trends, blindly meandering down whatever paths the hippest magazines and hottest celebrity red-carpet-commentaries send you.  (My god, it’s exhausting just thinking about it.)

Style, on the other hand, is about adding your own twist — tweaking your look to match your personality, mixing it up, not taking it all too seriously and most importantly, making what you’re wearing your own.

When Isaac Mizrahi returned to design in 2003 with a vibrant collection for Target while simultaneously creating a small, elegant couture grouping, he introduced the concept of ‘high-low’ dressing – taking something of great value and pairing it with a simple, inexpensive find.  Mizrahi has always been one of the greatest proponents of this idea.  He often mixed his inexpensive Target creations with his couture pieces in editorials and was quoted as saying “I love it when a woman takes a $10,000 hand-embroidered evening skirt and pairs it with a $5 Hanes t-shirt.”

In other words, making it yours and wearing it with style.

French women do this with impeccable taste, courage and panache.  They are fearless in their approach to style.  A French woman will take a pair of oversized men’s trousers, cinch them at the waist with an elegant little belt, pair it with a tight little top and her favorite black heels, and just go.  They don’t necessarily care whether this is the sexiest ensemble.  If it appeals to them they wear it, and somehow they’re sexier because of it!

(Search for images of Charlotte Rampling, Jane Birkin, Catherine Deneuve — you’ll see what I mean…)

Americans have their own style icons, of course.  When Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw (styled by the utterly unique Patricia Field) first skirted grimy New York City puddles wearing olive cotton cargo pants and impeccable silver Manolos, or rushed for cabs in unexpectedly mixed Marni prints, we were given an introduction into not just a fairy-tale world of fashion labels and “gotta have it” handbags, but into the frenzied, frenetic, fabulous world of style.

One of the things I loved so much about growing up in the 1980s was that dressing was more about personal style than fashion.  Trends and ideas were coming from every corner, every culture.  Suddenly it was not only acceptable, but encouraged, to borrow from a hundred different sources and create a bouillabaisse of garments to mix and match however you wanted.

Though it had been percolating for a while, (and when we begin to discuss fashion history, we’ll delve into this more deeply) designers were suddenly taking inspiration from the streets, and the concept of high fashion was, quite literally, turned upside down.

Punk and hip-hop influenced luxury design and haute couture – take Karl Lagerfeld’s first collection for Chanel or Stephen Sprouse’s designs as an example – and couture details began to trickle down more rapidly than ever to everyday ready-to-wear.  My love of fashion and design was cemented during that era of unbridled creativity, something that we have not seen since, sadly.


Personally, having style is wearing something with wit and a certain amount of irreverence.

It is being possessive of an attitude that can take a garment perceived as ‘precious’ and bring it into the everyday.

It is being able to wear a black tweed Chanel blazer, piles of pearls, a simple cotton tank and your favorite, most comfortable jeans.

It is wearing an exquisitely draped Lanvin evening gown in scarlet silk jersey with flat menswear-inspired shoes instead of stilettos.

It is pairing the simplest black cashmere sweater with an outrageously voluminous, asymmetric plaid Comme des Garcons skirt and black Converse sneakers.

It is about mixing unexpected colors, melding unusual textures, blending the old with the new, and playing with volume and proportion even if it is not considered “sexy” enough.

And it is, above all, about confidence, attitude and individuality.

After all, fashion is supposed to be about fun, no?


So what about you, dear readers?

How do you define your own personal style?  What have you worn lately that you gave your own twist to?

I look forward to your input…

It begins…

1 Dec

“Society is founded upon cloth.”

— Thomas Carlyle

I’ve always loved fashion.

I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that, more than any other creative field, fashion has always existed as a social barometer, giving any outsider a view of what was going on culturally, economically and socio-politically at any given era simply by examining what people are wearing.

Take, for example, the events of the 1920s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.  Factor in the precursors and repercussions of those periods and view what people were garbed in over these decades and you begin to see a pattern of action and reaction, influence and confluence.

When really analyzed, one cannot help but realize that fashion is powerful, relevant and surprisingly cyclic.  What goes around comes around, yet as the world gets smaller and more accessible via technology, these cycles get shorter and faster.

(We’ll discuss much more of all of this in future blog entries…)

Now, for those of you who don’t know me, I’ve worked in almost every aspect of the fashion industry for the past 22 years.  I’ve been a retailer, a buyer, a manager, a pattern cutter, a designer, a displayer, a merchandiser, an accountant, an advertiser, a writer, a consultant and a teacher.

This blog has been a while in coming.  The idea of publishing something online that (with hope) people would read and respond to regularly is both exciting and frightening.

I kept worrying about whether it would be interesting enough, relevant enough, exciting enough.

Finally I realized that I needed to stop worrying and just write — write from my head as well as my heart, write not just from my personal experiences but from fact and history, and write for the pure joy of sharing what I think and what I know.

This will not be a blog touting the merits of the latest Gucci bag or the must-have quotient of this season’s Prada pump.  There are a million of those out there already, and they’re all great.

However I’m not really an it-bag, of-the-moment fashionisto kind of guy.

I think the idea of totally reworking one’s wardrobe on a seasonal basis to satisfy the whims of designers and editors is not only economically unfeasible, it’s just silly.  I believe in wearing what inspires you and makes you feel like a million bucks.  And not just because a magazine tells you so, but because when you look in the mirror, you can tell yourself that same thing.

And I honestly don’t give a crap about what the must-have clutch or shoe of the season is, what celebrity is wearing what designer, or what’s hot and what you shouldn’t be caught dead in.  If everyone had that much time and money to spend on their lives and their wardrobes, we’d all be very happy creatures.

Though, to be fair and honest,  even I have my moments — sometimes a creation is written up that I do truly fall in love with and inspires me tremendously.  On the opposite end of that spectrum, however, if I see another pair of UGGS with jeggings going down the street I can’t be held responsible for what I may do to the wearer.

I know this makes me in some ways the antithesis of all that is sacred in the world of fashion, but hey – that’s always been who I am.  It’s how I dress, it’s what friends, family and clients have admired about me forever, and it’s never going to change.

What’s always done it for me about fashion is the beauty of it, the architecture, the complexity, the integrity and depth of history that pervades every aspect of this industry.

What makes someone not just fashionable but stylish ??  What are your favorite pieces of clothing and, more importantly, why ??  Why is one pair of jeans or a cashmere sweater $60 and the other one $600 ??  What are the influences that are behind trends that we see and sometimes just blindly follow ??  Why do we buy what we buy, shop how we shop, look how we look ??  And just what exactly is sexy anyway ??

These are the things that fascinate me: the history of fashion, the psychology of why we buy what we buy and the immense changes in the whole of the industry in just the past few decades.

Hopefully they’ll fascinate you as well…

Oh, and one last thing: I want feedback.

I want your questions, your opinions, your observations.  I’d love for this to be as interactive as possible. If something I write about intrigues you or you can relate to it, tell me about it !!  If something I write rubs you the wrong way or you disagree, tell me about that too !!

This is no fun without your input.  More on FASHION VS. STYLE in my next entry.

Be well, everyone….