Can fashion be art? If you ask the curators of museum shows lately they would say “yes – of course.” We are not talking about lifestyle manufacturers like Ralph Lauren and Karl Lagerfeld.
We mean those two sisters from Pasadena who have set a small media bonfire in the fashion world and Miuccia Prada whose company is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange.
Rewind to the beginning of New York Fashion Week showing Fall 2012 RTW (ready to wear clothing that will be in the stores in September). Fashion Week is a bi-annual ritual of the fashion world that lasts nearly a month and takes the glamorati – that big ball of fashion goo – from country to country, New York to London to Milan to Paris in an unlikely marathon in the service of predicting what you will be buying, wearing , coveting, reading about and red carpet watching in six months.
This obsession for one who is no longer part of this world began for real when I started streaming live the New York shows. I was already interested in Rodarte as artists since MOCA gave them a show at the Pacific Design Center last year based on the Black Swan film for which they designed the fantasy costumes for Natalie Portman. In addition, LACMA gave them a mini show based on the Fra Angelico in the Renaissance collection of the museum. But can the clothes that are made to be worn serve as art as well? Also, there is a show at the Met this spring of Schiaparelli and Prada assuring the status of the latter as artist.
The four designers I will call my four horsemen of the apocalypse are in my view, true artists : Rodarte, Prada, Marc Jacobs and Commes des Garcons.
Several months ago, Brett Easton Ellis wrote an article in Vanity Faire magazine on Empire, Post Empire and Charlie Sheen.
His premise was based on a theory by Gore Vidal that America from 1945 to 2005 was an Empire unlike that which the world had ever seen.
But this was a troubled, self deluded world of missed opportunities, 60 years spent on keeping up with the Joneses and trying to maintain “benign” world domination. Well, we all know how that is going-trillions in debt from ego driven wars and flagrant overspending verging on economic collapse. And not forgetting the core deep disappointment felt by so many.
Empire as defined by BEE is a clear cut world of truth and lies, real versus fake. Post Empire is self referential, the artist creating and living in his own world. Are Charlie Sheen’s rants real or fiction? Hard to tell, and that is why it is Post Empire.
Ralph Lauren creates a Gatsbyian Hamptons fantasy that is so Empire while the Rodarte sisters’ fall runway show was inspired, they said, by the Australian outback. The models glided down the runway in floaty chiffon long dresses with aboriginal handprints on the fabric. And the kicker is that neither Mulleavy has ever been to Australia. Why bother when they continue from season to season to create their own prairie mashup. They are creators, not re-creators.
In Marc Jacobs’ show, the sets were designed by Rachel Feinstein, delicate paper cutouts that looked like interior design if one lived underground. The Dr. Seuss hats on the models wearing piles of clothes, beautifully tailored and wearable coats , skirts, pants engulfed the wraith-like models. Like the homeless who wear all of the clothing at one time. The music “Who will buy?” (so Charlie Sheen)was from “Oliver”, a very Empire Tony and Oscar winner in the early 60s. So here we are in Marcworld living under a Dickensian city of rich and poor, the models filing somberly past as Victorian high end urchins wearing non-bodyconscious outfits.
When asked backstage “why fur hats?” the designer playfully responded”Every woman should have a fur and wear it on her head”. Marc is the Artful Dodger.
On to Milan and another artist hard at play. The audience at Prada waited for an hour uncomplaining in the dark in a space that could have been designed by Kubrick-a purple geometric print carpeted square surrounded by rows of chairs and rectangular lighting from some 70s one grand hotel.
The models filed out, eyebrows powered, “bandit” eyes, long ultra straight hair tipped in black or white. They wore black faux jewel embellished cropped pants and mid-calf coats. Then segued into colored graphic prints, a favorite of the designer. Uniforms for the wealthy. No ballgowns. No frippery. No see-thru blouses or minis. This body covering trend will probably appeal to the throngs of Asia’s new rich who may have been pre-ordering by the time the show ended.
Ms Prada called her models “strange creatures” which reminded me of — “tiger’s blood”. This is Post Empire where Miuccia has created a meta world, the artist as Pied Piper of Hamelin where one can follow her or not.
With the Paris shows scheduled for next week, I have not yet seen what Rei Kawakubo of Commes des Garcons will come up with. But her design prowess has been on a continuum from the late 70’s for whom the three other designer are in thrall.
For Spring 2012 her show consisted only of white bridal gowns. The models were Elsa Lanchester’s granddaughters no less. There wasn’t a groom in sight. This is not a “Say Yes to the Dress” reality. This is a Post Empire it is what it is.
These four designer are artists doing what artists have always done- making up worlds that tell us about ourselves, tricky as that may be.
Sheridan Brown for Notes on Looking, February 2012