Friday, February 23, 2007

Waiting for wood: Williamson's morning glory at Pucci

Milling around backstage before Pucci. As you'd expect, it's a kaleidoscope of colour.

There are racks of candy-coloured furs - apparently a new area for Pucci. One Glam Rock-look shaggy orange Mongolian lamb coat hangs waiting for, according to its rack tag, Sasha Pivovarova.

Matthew Williamson is flitting about. This is his third season as Pucci's creative director and with two seasons of lacklustre reviews (including The Sydney Morning Herald's), Williamson must be praying for some traction with this collection.

It's 11.30am, about 20 minutes to show time and the models are already in "first
looks" - in other words their first show outfits.

I walk into Elise Crombez, a tower of bright orange felted wool in a bellbottomed trousersuit and boxy belted jacket with little shoulder guards. There's that AW0708 'armour' theme again.

"All I need is orange juice" says Crombez to a minder.

Her catwalk colleague is wearing an aubergine car coat in the same felted wool, with the same shoulder detail - and aubergine leather sleeves. She's holding a little clutch purse on a gold chain, which has a Pucci print worked into a kind of enamelled Glomesh.

"I want you to turn right and left, sort of alternating circles" a show producer instructs Crombez for her end-of-runway turn. They're not the clearest instructions.

I squeeze past Kim Noorda having her photograph taken in a shagadelic patchwork suede shift dress.

An Asian model is wearing a knockout patchwork knit microdress in bright purple, green and orange with tobacco basques. She is holding a ginger fur courier satchel and has a striking gold cube mega-cuff on one wrist.

Another model walks over wearing an aubergine knit microdress with slashed V-front and a geometric gold in-built choker stretching from her neck to her navel. She has a matching aubergine fur chubby.

"Olya - you need to be carrying an eggplant" quips the show producer to her.

Another girl is wearing a rag cocktail dress that is completely covered in different-sized and -shaped sequins, in yellow, violet, black and sapphire blue.

US Vogue snapper Robert Fairer [who I first met at Gareth Pugh] is posing three models, including Crombez, all dressed in bright orange.

One is in an A-line felted wool skirt with little 'tough chic' gold-plated reinforced corners, bright orange stockings and yellow suede platform Mary Janes.

Walking around here blogging, it's a bit like being a fly-on-the-wall at a dozen simultaneous photoshoots.

There's Natashy Poly, glamming it up for another camera in an ultraviolet knit microdress with long, bell sleeves and a deep V-neck - with an oversized gold pendant necklace that looks like she's wearing a gargantuan makeup compact on a chain. Slap a few numbers on it, it could also double as one of those US-style police lineup ID plates in which people are snapped after arrest. In this instance, the relevant infraction would of course be DUIIC: driving under the influence of intense colour.

What else can I see?

Rhubarb-coloured velvet hipster flares hanging waiting for Julia Dunstall.

Right behind those, a harlequin-esque cape in hot pink, tobacco and tan-coloured patchwork fur. It's fastened with gold hardware clasps and the cape lining, which the audience of course won't see, is pretty: a Pucci plume print in turquoise, salmon pink and red.

At the end of every rack hangs the standard model-issue, flesh-toned G-string. With all the models already dressed however, I wonder why their underwear is on display.

I ask one dresser.

"If they have a similar one on already - they don't need" replies the dresser.

I guess it pays to have a spare nude thong.

"OK girls into line!" shouts the show producer and I realise I had better make tracks. I run to the end of the room and slap bang into the line of models waiting to go out on the runway - and Williamson, who has an exasperated look on his face. Without moving his head, he looks and points to the left to direct me outside.

It's too late to get to my seat so I walk to the end of the tent to stand at the beginning of the runway.

The collection was apparently modelled around a print from Pucci's 1950s archive. Called 'Ceramiche', it's based on wood blocks and was once apparently a favourite of Marilyn Monroe. The wood cues are also picked up in the staging: everything, from the runway to the backdrop, has been fashioned from what looks like untreated pine.

The show starts with a kind of Charlie's Angels tableau of five models - all kitted out in the bright orange felted wool suits and shift dresses, and some hot pink versions that I didn't see backstage.

It's a powerful start to an acid-bright, uptempo show. And one which, bar one or two dull patches which Williamson would do well to corrall to the showroom (and let's face it, few designers pull off a perfect collection), marks his turning point with the Pucci brand.

We had a quick chat afterwards:

Everyone backstage tells designers that they're fabulous, fabulous, fabulous. But you've had some harsh reviews over the last two seasons.
Matthew Williamson: I could write a book on that question... You know what, you have your fans and then you have people who are not fans. I'm doing the best that I can do and I'm trying to bring a modernity to the house and it's taking a long time. I think with the last collection, despite the reviews that you picked up on, I think people are starting to understand. I think the sales at Pucci have risen since I've been here. The editorial has certainly risen. So I think there's a slow move forward.

We can be a tough crowd.
A bloody tough crowd, yeah.

Do they really matter, the reviews?
Yeah it's very upsetting when it's not well received. It's six months of 24/7 hard work and of course all you want is for it to be well received.

Were you very disappointed by the reviews of the first collection?
You know what, I've been doing it for ten years and I have tough skin and I am toughened to it. And I have been there when it's been fabulous and I've been there when it's not been fabulous so... can't believe the hype?
As cliched as it is, I think you don't believe it when it's great and you don't believe you know... There'll be people that don't like it and I'm prepared for that.

Obviously you can do what you like with your own line. But when you're designing for another house you're the brand custodian. Do you have complete creative freedom at Pucci?
I mean I love the brand. I have a passion for the house and the heritage and I absolutely want to respect what's been done to date. But I feel that I'm the right person to move it forward. I feel that the association between me and Pucci is appropriate.

It seems like a good fit.
Yeah I feel it is. So I don't feel out of my depth. If I did I'd be very uncomfortable but I feel happy with the job that I have.

What's the main difference between designing your own line and being a gun for hire at a big company like this (LVMH)?
Geographically it's difficult. Physically it's difficult. But I'm getting there. It's getting easier.

And have you learned things that you have been able to apply to your own brand?
Well the challenge moving forward now is to kind of really not let my label suffer. They've got to both kind of become strong and sing.

Would it help if LVMH was interested in acquiring equity in Matthew Williamson? [Williamson currently has one backer with a minority stake]
We'll see.

It's tough being independent.
Absolutely, yeah no we've been going for ten years. It's kind of amazing that we're still there. Were not McQueen or Stella, being bought by Gucci, we're still going.

Have you had knocks on the door?
Yeah in the past I have.

Why wouldn't you sell?
Because I'm really proud of what we've done and you know, we've kind of got this far and I'm very precious and protective over my label.

You're the king of bling. You always use very extreme accessories - you had those giant crystal-studded bracelets by Scott Wilson in your recent New York show, the last Pucci show had that great enamel jewellery from new designer Xenia [Bous]. Who did the jewellery this time?
That was Xenia again. She's brilliant, I love working with her.

You said Pucci doesn't normally do fur but you've done a lot this season.
I did fur in the first winter collection, but not in such a big way. But that seems to be a talking point. A lot of people have mentioned the furs.

It's a controversial issue. Doesn't the anti-fur flack bother you?
I've got bigger things to worry about. I obviously don't take a strong view on it.

So you're not worried about having your runway stormed by PETA next season?
I do worry about that but... we'll see.

You could always protect yourself with one of those mega cuffs.
Yeah [punches the air] - kapow.

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