Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Paris Fashion Week: Messiness is Your Dior

Nineteen sixty-one was a pretty good year. It may have been the last year we truly had something to be optimistic about, up until the Bay of Pigs proved that nothing was perfect, not even "plausible deniability." That's the year we elected Jack Kennedy to the White House, and remember how good that felt? Out with fuddy-duddy Ike and Mamie and in with Jack and Jackie; Jackie in particular. Old Joe may have poured millions into that campaign, but in the end it all came down to glamour. Glamour, in case you hadn't realized it, always prevails.

Camelot, they called it. A White House couched in terms of a mythical court and with the better half of it outfitted by Oleg Cassini.

Cassini understood something: Style is a remedy for whatever ails you. Socially, we were a provincial, potluck nation still dining out on tuna casserole. We were not chic. In certain quarters, we might have even been a bit of an embarrassment. You couldn't compete globally while dressing locally. That was the genius of Cassini, a European whose mother had been the darling of the D. C. social set during the McKinley and Roosevelt administrations and a dress designer subsequently.

Well-articulated elegance and simplicity became the key design components of Jackie's state wardrobe, and as a result that wardrobe became a polity unto itself. The First Lady prided herself on her French-Catholic lineage; she pronounced her name in the French manner. Much of what Cassini designed for Jackie might be termed borrowings, as one borrows words from mother tongues or recipes for sole à la Meunière from Larousse Gastronomique. Heavily influenced by master French couturier Hubert de Givenchy, Jackie's wardrobe was a sensation. The Frenchification of the United States was under way.

That Frenchification was returned to Paris by way of John Galliano's anti-anomic Dior Fall 2008 ready-to-wear collection. Anomie is today's hottest ticket. It's what happens when society goes to hell in a handbasket due to corruption of its principles. Designers, especially younger ones, do whole idealistic collections around this theme. They try to darn together what we are so desperate to rip apart, and when they can't they build clothing for new empires that will themselves eventually strike back.

Galliano's wayback machine backs up from a time when we want more out of life to a time when we just about had it (or so beer and cigarette advertisements claimed), and in doing so he has penetrated our conscious with clothing that appears to have been designed exclusively for us. This is not pigeon-toed perimeter apparel in the face of all that hipness. The new Fall collection is equal parts fond concept and crackerjack modern execution.

Bohan-era Dior may have been the professed jumping-off point, but it wasn't a parasitic one. Time-wise, the collection was a slideshow of the years 1961 through 1965 (that is, before the hippies and women's libbers turned this look into the uncoolest totem in town). Into this literal overlay of boxy, Cassini-like insights went with-it, Mod Manhattan, the Twist, and Nancy Sinatra. And there was limelight and maribou and an evening gown whose bouffant skirt was shaped just like rose hips.

It was beautiful, and what can you do with beauty but mar it?

Remember that perfection is dullness. Injury makes for distinction everywhere but on the wings of butterflies. Thus, Galliano made sure his models walked with crudely corrupted hair and makeup that were parodies of Yardley advertisements and a coiffure that was much harder to maintain than it looked. Ask your mother.

Beauty is messiness. Messiness is Your Dior. So is mimesis, in a way that just made the American legacy collections look arthritic.



Imelda Matt said...

Maribou now there's old friend I haven't seen in a while....fond memories.

I think this collection is perfectly timed. By Autumn the battle will be over and the winner will need to draw on the glamour of Camelot and fight to unite.

A messenger has been booked but the hand basket hasn't left building.

bronwyn said...

Suzanna, thank you soooo much, you absolutely rock! I'm sending you lots of appreciative energy over the cyber waves. This has really helped me contextualise the collection. In fact I regularly learn so much from reading your blog. Well, I'm off to google Oleg Cassini, although I have heard of him, I confess I don't know his designs at all.

Suzanna Mars said...

Bronwyn, I'm glad I could help!

Cassini was interesting; he'd come out of Hollywood and had been married to Gene Tierney. It was considered beyond the pale in fashion circles that he had been selected to design for Jackie. Up until that time he wasn't really taking seriously as a designer, and it was only in his later career that he had some profile in that communinity.

He was also one of the first to understand licensing and use it to his advantage.

Claire said...

My warped mind totally missed the Jackie O references and thought immediately of Jodorowsky's, Holy Mountain. So I am now directing people to you, to really sink their teeth into the heart of the collection...

selinaoolala said...

i just LOVE this collection. it was one of the only ones that i could express an instant liking for rather than having to decode it and accept the weirdness.

bronwyn said...

After googling Oleg Cassini I can now really see the style of his Jackie O designs coming through in a lot of the Galliano outfits. Unfortunately I couldn't find much of his later stuff, especially from the seventies and after which I'd be interested to see as well, the internet has mainly the Jackie O stuff. I'll do further searching and see what comes up.

Suzanna Mars said...

Bronwyn, after the high of the Kennedy administration, Cassini once again became a second-tier designer, in some ways similar to Gloria Vanderbilt in the enormous amount of licensing; this is where these names became truly successful. Huge amount of licensing took place in the 1970s, even among HC designers.

Thomas said...

I'm still kicking myself for not buying the Oleg Cassini three piece, brown cord suit I found. So many bad shopping choices.

enc said...

Reading this post reminds me of this lyric:

"True perfection has to be imperfect; I know that that sounds foolish, but it's true"

I prefer Galliano's sort of contrived haphazard beauty to many of the recent collections I've seen. Perhaps because I'm getting older, I'm drawn to clothes that express ideas in whatever way possible, including the unconventional way, the disorderly way, the chaotic way, the inexplicable way.

I don't desire everything lined up and in control like I used to, and I think that's why the work of dsigners like Galliano, Lacroix, Gaultier, V&R, Yamamoto and Kawakubo (to name a few) appeal to me. They're saying something, rather than just churning out another collection to fill up next season's racks.

Becky said...

I don't know - I miss untamed crazy Galliano of years gone by. I'm beginning to feel what with this collection and the disappointing couture, that he's beginning to settle down. They're still very appealing clothes and the referencing is impeccable but I just don't get that pit-of-the-stomach excitement anymore. I hope he wins me back next season. Wonderful article as always!


riz said...

SM - I enjoyed your review very much. I have to admit that I like many of the pieces in this collection...I think the fact that I can read many of the looks as straight parodies helps me digest Galliano this time around.


'It was beautiful, and what can you do with beauty but mar it?' actually taking this route one must be very confident that he did create some valuable dose of beauty. in this case, i'm afraid, the point was not quite there. and what's more important to me, is how the 'mar it' act was going to happen. when an act of 'vandalism over beauty' is taking place, a 'how?' question becomes a corner stone. Galliano made it bad to me. he missed the point, confusing the cause and the effect. in this crime he appeared a bad evil, but a bad evil is only suitable for some cheap soap operas. it stinks of banality. i liked JG as a Great Evil.
'Remember that perfection is dullness'. once more, that is true. but the perfection was it?