Wednesday, 2 February 2011

'The ugliest show in town' - The forgotten Yves Saint Laurent collection

Yves Saint Laurent’s long career was punctuated by success, from his famous Le Smoking to a Ballet Russes inspired spectacle dubbed ‘The New New Look.’ Yet the collection that was originally labelled ‘the ugliest show in town’ was, in fact, to spark a style revolution.

In 1971 Yves Saint Laurent’s Homage aux Années 40s caused scandal. From fox fur ‘chubbies’ that whispered woman of the night to turbans and tailored jackets, it was a highly controversial homage to the past. It seemed that Saint Laurent’s couture clients did not approve of drawing style inspiration from the Nazi occupied streets of Paris.

In an interview on Olivier Saillard, curator of the Louvre’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs describes the 40’s look Saint Laurent was drawn to: “Frenchwomen made skirts out of their curtains, wore men’s tailored jackets, and put their hair in turbans. The look was arrogant, rather than the neutral style one would expect from the women of an occupied country.”

In the 1970s young Parisiennes were reviving the fashions worn by their mothers, wearing turbans and picking up forties clothes in fleamarkets. Saint Laurent always cited “the fashion on the street” as his greatest influence; he was quick to tune in to the trends of the time and (in the words of Lucien Francois) “give them an aristocratic allure.”

Perhaps the allure of Saint Laurent’s highly colourful. retro collection of 1971 was lost on aristocrats of the time. Yet its impact can be seen throughout the years that followed and on both streets and catwalks today.

“From the end of the war through the ’60s, not much changed in the world of high fashion,” said Serge Carrera (an employee of YSL) in France magazine, “then with one collection, Yves Saint Laurent upended everything and made fashion fresh by borrowing elements from the past and mixing turbans with prints. All of a sudden, fashion moved toward the realm of spectacle.”

Controversial, colourful and eclectic, Homage aux Années 40 brought modernity to the catwalk, so much so that Saillard uses it as a marker for the beginning of contemporary fashion.

Saint Laurent’s forties look inspired Jean Paul Gaultier, giving birth to the look of the 80s. Ten years later his forties interpretation was revisited by Martin Margiela and along the way there have been countless other designers that have drawn from elements of that one 1971 collection. If you have ever seen someone walking down the street dressed like a stylish yeti you too have witnessed the effects of Yves Saint Laurent.

After the show Saint Laurent told French Vogue, “What I want to do is shock.” Sometimes it takes something shocking to create change. And sometimes it takes ‘the ugliest show in town’ to change the face of fashion.

Yves Saint Laurent's 1971 collection
Jess Cartner-Morley of the Guardian celebrates Chubby Chic
The Chubby, a YSL classic has inspired many designers, here Balmain (2010)


Thursday, 23 December 2010

Do you really need another pair of shoes?

Some people believe in a god. I believe in shoes.

When I was younger I put my faith in fairies and Father Christmas. The dreams of my six-year-old self were built upon the magic of tiny creatures with gossamer wings and a cuddly old man who would bring me presents if I was really good.

I am now convinced that shoes, in fact, can have magical powers. Just look at young Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. I can guarantee that the Emerald City would have remained out of reach if she had been clicking together a pair of Crocs rather than those famous scarlet sparklers. And then there’s good old Cinders; every girl’s childhood heroine who finds the love of her life by way of one fabulous glass slipper. These two young women may be separated by years and years and very different fairy-tale realms but they have one thing in common; they both understood, and reaped their happily-ever-afters from, the power of a pair of shoes.

Back in the real world and the magic isn’t lost. The right pair of shoes can not only change the way you walk, but the way you feel, and even bring a fairy-tale type of luck along the way. For me it is a pair of red lace-up heels that give me an extra few inches in height, but an extra mile in confidence. Said shoes walked me into two university interviews and out with two offers. They are the same shoes that carried me into Vogue House and out with one huge smile on my face. If I’m feeling low I know all I have to do is slip my feet into the tomato red embrace of my shoes and the sun will immediately be shining.

Shoes can have transformative qualities. Of course, they can lengthen our legs, but the right pair of shoes can make us more confident, more witty, more intelligent and more beautiful. In the words of shoe god Manolo Blahnik: “You put high heels on and you change.”

But it doesn’t have to be heels. There are a million different types of shoes out there to fit a million different moods and occasions. I have my lucky shoes, but also my beach shoes, my happy summer shoes (complete with ample toe-cleavage), my sensible shoes and my New Year shoes. Wearing the wrong shoes for the wrong occasion is a sartorial error punishable by exclusion from the fashion scene for life. (My theory, therefore is just to have enough pairs stacked away in the wardrobe to cover all possible eventualities. Simple.)

A timeline of my life could be plotted by the shoes I wore along the way. My first proper shoes, a pair of black patent Mary Janes embroidered with flowers, marked my transition into the walking, talking world. They were the stepping stone for the pink jelly shoes, colourful converses, wellington boots and pretty pumps to come. The first pair of heels was a momentous occasion. “Look at me,” my feet seemed to cry, gleaming with the jewels adorning my peep-toe courts, “Look who’s all grown up.”

Finding the perfect pair of shoes is like finding Mr. Right. I find that the perfect black boots are as hard to come by as a Ewan Mcgregor look-alike who likes cooking and has his own gite in the south of France. But when found, the love is just as deep. The perfect shoes can be as elusive as the perfect man, therefore you just have to keep faith and keep looking. Just don’t give up hope, because when those red-soled Louboutins come trotting into your life they’ll be the perfect fit.

I swear by the joy of a new pair of shoes. The thrill of new shoes is better than any drug and, with repercussions no graver than a dented bank balance, they are surely a far better alternative. Who needs drugs when there are Jimmy Choos? The cardboard box, the tissue paper and the pristine soles of a new pair all add to the shoe fix which makes for happy feet and one happy girl.

Shoes are fashion’s barometer. On the catwalk trends come and go, but it is what is on the model’s feet that defines the mood. Be it teetering extravagance or the demure simplicity of a pair of kitten heels, the shoes dictate the way we will be dressing not just our feet, but our whole bodies.

It would be impossible to talk about shoes and not to mention Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw. Because boy does she believe in shoes too:

“Aidan: Don’t take this the wrong way, but this place could use a little work.
Carrie: I know, but I can’t afford it.
Aidan: You’ve got eight thousand bucks worth of shoes over there.
Carrie: I needed those!”

Because here’s the crux: in this religion that is fashion “Thou shall buy another pair of shoes” is the first commandment. So: do you really need another pair of shoes? The answer is of course an inescapable ‘YES’. After all, it would be a sin to say no.


Monday, 25 October 2010

Eat, PLAY, Love

Technology can often pose a threat to the fashion industry. With technological advances comes the risk that the mass production these technologies permit will render age-old techniques and one-of-a-kind quirks obselete. Magazines and newspapers face continual problems as their readers turn to the internet where they can watch fashion shows and read news stories for free.

But amongst the downsides come the obvious advantages (making our lives that little easier, making information faster and more easily communicated...) but also the gems. There is one blossoming art form that shows to me how we should be using technology - not merely as a digitalising way of life, but as a tool for humans, and human creativity. Fashion on film shows how technology can be used to create something beautiful.

With the birth of the i-pad and the expansion of media platforms I expect that in the not too distant future designers and retailers everywhere will use film as a natural means of selling product. No doubt the art form will become sadly mainstream and lose its allure. But for now at least we are still in the stages of play where producers, stylists and designers are experimenting with film and achieving beautiful, one of a kind results.

Below are some of my favourite fashion films. They are short, sometimes bizarre, and their purpose is often unclear. But all of these films capture a humanity and playfulness that is beautifully individual. In a sometimes depressingly homogenised world, and when university stress makes me momentarily disollusioned with the fashion industry, these films make me smile and remind me of what fashion can be.

My faith has been restored.

(Click on the links to watch the films for yourself...)

Vanessa Bruno, Le Bel Eté

Vanessa Bruno's film, 'Le Bel Eté' showcased her Spring/Summer 2010 range, was directed by Stephanie De Guisto and starred Lou Doillon. The film isn't just a moving catalogue - in fact the clothes are secondary. What it is is a heartwarming series of uplifting and beautifully shot moving images.

Lou Doillon dances in flour to a background of cheerful music, and balances flowers on her head in a hot pink dress.
Between the scenes of dancing, play and then the sunlit euphoria at the end, there is a poignant moment in which Gonzales plays painfully beautiful piano music and the camera focuses on Lou Doillon's tear stained face.

One of the things the film does so well is capture emotion - after Doillon's tears come unbounded happiness as she rolls down an empty sand dune.

I think 'Le Bel Eté' is my favourite of all these films. Does it sell Vanessa Bruno's collection? Does it matter? What it does instead is warm my heart and make me happy to be human.

Vanessa Bruno, Night and Day

After the success of 'Le Bel Eté' came 'Night and Day' for the Autumn/Winter 2010 collection, a darker but equally compelling film.

The music really makes it in both of the Vanessa Bruno films. From Efterklang's bewitching folk 'Raincoats' to Gonzalez' piano music and Doillon's haunting vocals the music adds another dimension to the images.

Romantic and girly magazine, Lula features many short films on their website...

Why don't they let us fall in love ? Catherine Servel
The title of this film is as romantic as the film itself.

Fireworks for Five Eyes, My Party by Sandra Freij

Ethereal light, an old house and hundreds of white feathers.
I love the misty layers of this film; the models are ephemeral ghosts bathed in gold light.
Doll is Mine by Damon Heath

I love the song that accompanies this short film - Better Times by Beach House. Its video too, is beautiful and worth watching.

Cecilia Mary Robinson, Spring Summer 2011
This film, orchestrated by Swedish director Sandra Freij, is stunningly cinematic.
Every single shot was beautiful.

Complainte de la Seine, Carlotta Manaigo
This film ends fairly strangely, but I still loved it - mainly because I wanted her Parisian appartment and her underwear.
The film was composed of exquisitely stylised black and white images.

Liquid Luxe, Lacey
This film, featuring plastic Melissa / Vivienne Westwood shoes and ballooning clouds of coloured powder, was perhaps the strangest, but also one of my favourites.

The colours, shapes and patterns are simply stunning and showcase what we can achieve with the help of technology.
Hayclon Days - Gemma Booth
Shot on a charmingly grainy film 'Hayclon Days' evokes the simple joy and nostalgia of summer.
There is a glorious golden light throughout, and the film makes me yearn to run through the sea like a child.

Although some of these films promote designers or clothes most of the time it is unclear what they are really for or what they really mean. But sometimes you can fall in love with a poem without really understanding it. These films are moving poetry.