Bonnie Cashin Circa 1980

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Quilted ensembles from Cashin’s designs for Russell Taylor Weatherwear.

 

Back to the Twenties

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Lanvin

All illustrations from L’Officiel 1924

The 1920’s. Finally, we made it

The 5th season of Downton Abbey which has just begun airing on PBS finds the Crawley family and servants in the year 1924, a time rife with change, a time when modernism ran rampant. It manifested in literature, in art, architecture, in industrial design, graphic design, photography and, of course, in fashion. The waist was dismissed, assigned to hover abstractly over the lower hip like a vestigial limb. The bosom was banished. Although a mere hint remained it was never obligatory. Western culture’s fashionable body, having been engineered to suspend from either the waist or the bust for hundreds of years, relocated to the shoulders. Common to most modes of dress found outside of Europe, this particular fashion innovation hadn’t been seen in Western costume since the Middle Ages, and more distinctly, the fall of Rome. It is why Diana Vreeland once proclaimed the 1920s as her favorite decade citing that it was the first time in history women wore their hair short. The first time their ankles were revealed. It’s the time of the Bauhaus, of Man Ray, of Jazz and Chanel. For women’s dress it was an utter schism.

The beauty of Downton Abbey is that it’s allowed us to follow fashion from the sinking of the Titanic through a World War and into the world of tomorrow — all chronicled through a fantastically written, superbly acted, lavishly produced and exquisitely costumed soap opera. And now with the 5th season beginning the timing couldn’t be better for fabulous 1920s styles to go on display every week for the next two months or so.

The ‘20s is one of the most misunderstood decades. It is consistently butchered and shortchanged, scantily summed up with something vaguely flapper-ish. But the ’20s saw one of the most radical shifts in dress of the last 300 years. While dress reform was already underway by the time Paul Poiret was ruling fashion in 1909 it wasn’t until his success that fashion was challenged directly. Poiret offered revolution in the guise of the exotic. His interest in global dress provided vivid contradiction to the status quo (his innovative though eccentric Harem pantnts were highlighted in Downton Abbey season 2). But World War I brought on many changes and Poiret could not follow up on the modernism he instigated. Credit is given to Chanel for inventing the modern woman’s wardrobe though it is likely her then rival and now virtual unknown Jean Patou who was a more impactful designer. Regardless, both of them made extremely modern, cleverly engineered and flawlessly styled sportswear — obliging the demand for a more active and confident means of dress for even the most fashionable woman.

The effect is not unlike what designers Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen and Phoebe Philo have been getting at in the last couple years or what Armani has been proposing for the last 40. As a sportswear revival goes underway, led by likes of The Olsen twins and Christophe Lemaire, Downtown Abbey offers itself as a compelling series of fashion plates granting a detailed and insightful peek into one of the most exciting and eternally relevant eras of fashion.

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Chez Calvayrac

Raf Simons, 2004

“Life is, in itself and forever, shipwreck”

Before Simons did sneakers for Adidas. Before he did suits for luncheons for Dior. Before Raf Simons stopped having diverse castings. Before he was name-dropped in rap songs. Before he was fashion celebrity elite. Before all that he was doing some of the best collections of his career. There was a string of them, all tremendous and all even more so years later. Within the time he relaunched himself in 2001 to when he took on design duties at Jil Sander in 2006 sits a considerable body of work that stands today as one of the greatest dissertations on menswear of the last 30 years. One collection that feels especially worth revisiting is Autumn/Winter 2004-2005. Now as performance wear has entered not only the common lexicon of everyday dress but fashion as well, now as youth subcultures have gone mainstream, Simons’s ideas come full circle. Avant-garde in the truest sense, the collection could  be shown and retailed today and it would still give most designers something to ponder. Some call it his “surf” collection, inspired by the technical wetsuits of surfers as well as their more casual non-sporty dress: tailored jacket worn over a neoprene body suit, hoodies worn as dramatic capes. In a world of cyber terrorism and technology attached to the very core of our daily experiences, it’s as if Simons recast the surfer as modern shaman. The effect is almost spiritual, monkish, a fitting follow-up to his abstraction of Hare Krishna and south Asian spiritualism the season prior. Ten years after the fact you wouldn’t mind if some of these ideas could be made viable again, by him or anyone else.

Editor’s note: I’m not privy to  the original soundtrack but I like to pretend it could have been Orbital’s remix of Angelo Badalamenti’s theme from the movie “The Beach.” Try it for your own enjoyment. 

Perry Ellis, 1983

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Mark Norklun photographed by Erica Lennard for Perry Ellis.

Perry Ellis, 1981

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Perry Ellis Children’s wear. Photo by Erica Lennard

The Return of John Galliano

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Garmento editor Jeremy Lewis regards John Galliano’s past, future and his new Job at the Maison Martin Margiela for Vice. Read it here.

above images by David Lachapelle, 1987.

Interiors, 1978

There’s a lot of talk about Annie Hall when it comes to cinematic fashion references. And while Diane Keaton, dressed in the film by Ralph Lauren, certainly is the eternal style icon everyone gabs about, when it comes to Woody Allen’s films his most striking in terms of costuming is neither Annie Hall nor even Manhattan but rather his 1978 high-intensity drama Interiors.

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Regarded in film circles as “Woody Allen doing Ingmar Bergman,” it was his first serious drama. Breathtakingly photographed by longtime Allen collaborator Gordon Willis and with impeccable costumes uncharacteriscially designed by Joel Schumacher (the director of the garish and insidious Batman & Robin and Batman Forever films), Interiors is perhaps one of the greatest fashion films ever made. The fashion message? A testament to late ‘70s minimalism; its softness, its austerity and its ease. All the hallmarks of the era’s refined lines and seductive sportswear are exalted and showcased with the scope and attention to detail worthy of any well-produced fashion campaign. Working off an overall tonal palette of pastels, beiges, greys, and browns rendered in lush tweeds, brushed wools, velvets, satins, and gabardines, the costumes exist in perfect harmony with the set design (by Mario Mazzola and Daniel Robert) and Willis’s photography to produce an endless stream of moving images that are as haunting in their beauty as any fashion image lensed by Deborah Turbeville.

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The plot centers around a family in turmoil; three sisters Renata, Joey and Flynn (Diane Keaton, Mary Beth Hurt, and Kristin Griffith) each battling their own bourgeois, intellectual and existential crisis while they deal with their neurotic mother Eve (Geraldine Page) whose depression and obsessive compulsive disorder is driving the family towards collapse. The film’s melancholic tone and script strangely adds to its visual splendor imbuing each image and moment with a humming anguish that is only put to rest at the film’s closing credits. The actors, who are all mostly flawless (the script does read both stoic and theatrical, though not surprisingly as it was based on the work of Chekov), excel as models making their lavishly art directed looks not only believable but charge them with a poignant artificial reality no fashion plate or fashion film could dare to attempt. Diane Keaton has never been more glamourous as she is backlit with wild hair, smoking a cigarette and lamenting her artistic struggles and dysfunctional family.

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Through the costumes you can begin to make out the key fashion players of the era. In the wardrobe of Eve there are nods to the silks of John Anthony, the dresses of Jean Muir and the suits of Halston. In the wardrobe of the sisters, far more casual and youthful, you can make out Ralph Lauren losing ground to Perry Ellis and the triumph of Donna Karan at Anne Klein: a turtle neck worn under a blouse, an ochre cable knit sweater, a khaki coat with the cuffs turned up. Even in Joey’s partner Mike (played by Sam Waterston) there is the semblance of Calvin Klein’s youthful and debonair style, dressed head-to-toe in beige, of course. In one scene set in a clothing boutique, a display of Emanuel Ungaro scarves sit in the background almost as an afterthought, though he had a big moment ten years prior Ungaro wouldn’t again be a scene stealer for another decade

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As a film Interiors is one of Allen’s greatest. As a fashion reference it is significant and profound. Made today you could imagine it costumed by Matthew Ames or Adam Lippes, perhaps Christophe Lemaire or Jesse Kamm for the sportier looks. Years after being made its fashion message remains contemporary. And as Autumn segues into Winter Interiors provides notable personal inspiration in getting dressed: a sense of occasion and beauty in the midst of tragedy and despair, a lightness and warmth to battle the quickly darkening days and encroaching bitter cold and a calmness to ease the disturbing stillness of a muffling snowfall and twilight night. See it for yourself, it’s currently on Netflix.