Thursday, March 8, 2007

Two Americans, an Australian and an Israeli in Paris: giving the bold shoulder to FW0708

After Collette Dinnigan's triumphant return to the Parisian runways there was nothing else to do really, to cap off the season, than head for two French blockbusters: Louis Vuitton and Lanvin.

Louis Vuitton is the world's biggest luxury brand and parent LVMH likes to splash around the money. No Grand or Petit Palais this season, but a transparent, purpose-built marquee slap bang in the middle of the Louvre - in fact the original location of the French ready-to-wear shows, before the underground Carrousel du Louvre venue was constructed.

A luxe collection of slick, 40s-look tailleurs counterpointed against trapeze-line painter's smock-inspired blouses, dresses and coats, as well as a biker's jacket theme, many garments were made from futuristic, Wet Look rubber-infused or waxed fabrics. For evening, creative director Marc Jacobs stepped back into the fairyland of his spring/summer collections with more romantic pouf dresses, this time in pretty degrade colours. The entire collection was inspired by the paintings of Vermeer.

The degrade motif was also picked up in the handbags - where of course most of LV's money hails from - with plenty of the world-famous, and much-copied, LV monogram, in quilted and embossed leather with patent leather strips and raw sheepskin edging. Next winter is all about a patent leather or vinyl ankle boot - Vuitton's came in luxurious plastic-coated crocodile.

In a week virtually bereft of celebs - due, theorised many, to the timing of the Oscars - Jacobs managed to reel in the week's biggest name, LV's current advertising face, Scarlett Johansson.

En route backstage, and in spite of the best efforts of Johansson's security thug, I managed to throw a few questions her way:

What did you think of the collection?
Johansson: I thought it was gorgeous. I loved it. I loved all those beautiful dresses towards the end, they were very kind of whimsical and dreamy, the colours. So fabulous. And also like the really kind of crisp, white [shirt] with the slim pencil skirt.

Do you wear a lot of Louis Vuitton?
[cheeky] Well now I do.

You don't normally?
I said now I do! [laughs]

So we might be seeing you in some of those degrade pouf dresses? They were like fairy dresses.
They were, I loved it - the feathers and everything.

Although I didn't get a chance to talk to Jacobs on this occasion, two hours later I did grab another Marc: Australian interior designer Marc Newson. Spotted at Dinnigan's show earlier in the day, Newson was front and centre at Lanvin - together with girlfriend, and soon-to-be mother of his first child, UK stylist Charlotte Stockdale.

You live in Paris - or just have an apartment here?
Newson: No I live in London. I have a house here, I have an office in Paris, an office in London and I sort of go between both places a little bit. And everywhere else.

You've got your own clothing line haven't you? [G-Star]
Yeah I sort of dabble. It's not really fashion. I like to look at it as workwear.

The photos are amusing [the models have been photoshopped out of the shots]. Model are getting skinner and skinner, they may as well not be there.
Yeah well exactly. They're just getting so skinny - this is a sort of anti-anorexia campaign. But my involvement in the fashion industry is pretty miniscule really.

So why are you here?
Well because they're just... friends. Charlotte, my girlfriend, she's an editor and stylist so she's there. And my buddy .... is the head of Lanvin and I'm good friends with Stefano, who's the designer of YSL.

So what do you think about the nexus between fashion and design - or at least to interior design?
Look for me it's not so much about fashion and design, it's contemporary culture. And as a designer I think that's it's very very important for someone like me to be aware of, you know, as many aspects of contemporary fashion as possible. Music, film, fashion... I mean it all influences our lives in one way or another and you know, regardless of what I think about the fashion industry and the fashion world it has to be a part of what we do. And I don't think it is actually to a great degree.

Well no, I don't think most designers are very successful at ... at assimilating fashion into their kind of world. I don't do it in a conscious way. I don't do it in a very obvious way either. I just think it's important to know who Alber Elbaz is. And I don't think a lot of architects or industrial designers have a clue. I'm certain of it.

Someone once said that at any one time there will only ever be five truly influential fashion designers - if that.

He's definitely one of them. I mean I think always, you've got to look towards someone like Azzedine Alaia. We're great friends and he's a collector of my stuff and we see each other a lot and I find him a wonderful source of inspiration. And he's firmly entrenched in fashion. He is kind of fashion. He's I think as good as it gets here really.

Apart from talent obviously, what do you think it is that differentiates those at the cutting edge from those who are just behind the cutting edge - in any sphere of design?
It's very, very hard to say really. I mean it's got to be luck, but then as they say the harder you work, the luckier you get.

But it's not just luck.
Being in the right place at the right time. Being tenacious.

Going out on a limb?
That goes without saying. I mean there's just no way you'll get anywhere if you remain in mediocrity, if you live in that space.

Have you been surprised by your own success?
Sometimes it surprises me but to be really honest I can't really see the wood for the trees. I'm so sort of immersed in what I do that I don't often step out to take a look at where I am or what's happening around me. You know I'm still surprised - if people recognise me I mean it always com es as a huge shock. I'm always taken aback.

Do you think breaking through internationally is any harder for creative people who come from Australia?
No I don't think so. But if it is hard in some ways then it's got to be easier in others so it all sort of evens out in the end. I'm always asked that question about Australia - what it is to be Australian in the design world or at least to be in a creative industry. For me it just doesn't really mean anything. Because I'm Australian, that's for sure, but I work everywhere. I work in every country. Well maybe not every country but I work all over Asia, in the US, in Europe...

You probably live on a plane.
Yeah I spend a lot of time on planes.

At least you've got your own bed that you've designed [Qantas Skybed]
It does come in handy.

So what are you working on at the moment?
Still an enormous amount of work for Qantas in fact. We've just designed the lounges actually. We're just finishing the first class lounge in Sydney and Melbourne. And I'm coming out in May to launch those. They're not just lounges actually. The one in Sydney's a building in fact. We've effectively built a building on top of the airport. Noone else in the aviation industry is doing anything remotely like what Qantas are doing.

So is it 2001 A Space Odyssey?
Yeah pretty much. Absolutely. It's a bit of that, it's a bit of the old TWA terminal in JFK. But it's an extraordinary building. You won't be able to see it from the moon but it's the first thing you'll see when you land.

But you have to be rich to experience it.
Yeah... kind of. You don't have to be that rich. But you know a lot of other people can get access.

What do you think about the idea of design only being available to a privileged few - as opposed to the masses?
Well we start there. You know and it kind of trickles down. First class is the loss leader I think. I'm talking more metaphorically. We start there and it does trickle down. I'm doing a lot of economy class stuff. In fact I've spent the majority of my time doing more mass-produced things in economy. But it has to start at the top somehow for me. That's where you have an opportunity to kind of put your money where your mouth is and really put your stamp on a concept, or a branding concept. It's much easier to do it there.

And so to Lanvin, at which many of us decided to call it quits. There were two shows afterwards, including the as per usual ludicrously exclusive presentation of Prada's Miu Miu diffusion label.

Set against a brooding industrial backdrop of mirrors and metal scaffolding - and two flights of stairs that the models, all wearing graphic short black bob wigs, had to carefully negotiate in their skyscraper heels en route to the runway - Lanvin creative director Alber Elbaz presented a collection that was at once tough, and romantic.

Groaning in waistless smock dresses and coats with exaggerated, puffed sleeves in Elbaz's signature colours of purple and red - this time far brighter violet and fire engine hues, the collection also notably boasted myriad versions of the season's omnipresent sleeveless, fitted shell dress with a simple rounded collar. Simple and straightforward at the front however, Elbaz's shell dresses then cascaded in ruffles and volume at the back.

I spoke to Elbaz briefly after the show:

You showed many versions of a sleeveless, fitted dress - which in a way has been the defining silhouette of the season. What is it about that dress?
Elbaz: Maybe it's the fact of believing in a thing that has to be a bit more simple. Maybe life is complicated enough. One time I asked myself, what would happen if I was a skinny man? Would I design differently? And I think it's the fact that I'm not in that group of skinny people make the whole lightness a fantasy for me. So I'm trying to do everything light and simple, which is everything I'm not.

You were talking before [in other interviews] about the exaggerated sleeves of the dresses - and about shoulders being about power, while arms are about strength. This season there have been a lot of 'strong' women on the runways - 'tough chic' has been a key theme. Your setting was also quite 'tough'. Why do you think designers want women to look strong?
I believe that men are powerful and women are strong. If you have a million dollars in the bank, you are powerful. But if your child tells you 'I love you', you are strong. I think it's hard being a woman. I am surrounded by women. Almost all the people that I work with are women. And you know what, it's much more difficult these days to be a woman than to be a man. What is right and what is wrong? Is it about more being a good mother or is it about being professional? And what is professional? I think that all these kind of rules that women have, that they have to be perfect, they have to be beautiful, they cannot look old anymore, there is no age. They all have to be skinny, they have to be great wives, they have to be great mothers, they have to be great daughters.... So there is a lot that women are doing today that men are not and that's why, we as designers, we can help there. Maybe.

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