Up In The Mountains

The cruise 2018 collection of Louis Vuitton was shown amid the splendour of Japan’s Shiga Mountains, but this was no highland fling

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Louis Vuitton shang shan (上山 or went up the mountain) for its latest cruise collection—on the red pine-forested yama in Japan’s Shinga Prefecture, not far from the once-capital Kyoto. Many mountains in Asia—China, Korea, Japan—are sacred. Going up a mountain is usually associated with retreating to seek spiritual well-being. In ancient China, men roam the mountains in search of immortality and to purify the spirit. In Japan, Shinto shrines dot mountains to honour kami, the divine force of nature perched high.

LV’s staging of a fashion show in one of the most beautiful verdant peaks of Japan—at the stunning I.M. Pei-designed Miho Museum, next to a temple dedicated to the messianic sect of Shinji Shumeikai—is consistent with designer Nicolas Ghesquière’s love of uncommon architecture in exotic locales. It is no coincidence that adherents of Shumei, as the religion is mostly known, believe in the pursuit of beauty through art and celebration of nature, and the erecting of splendid buildings in secluded places to restore the balance that Earth has lost.

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This is the first time a fashion show is held on this spiritual ground. It isn’t clear if the expense—likely staggering—will bring the cruise collection to new heights, but as a standalone season, the cruise is becoming more and more important, so much so that Prada has joined the fray with its first cruise show (Miuccia Prada was reluctant to call it that) after a 5-year hiatus, staged in Milan last week.

Prada sent out a Prada collection—almost standard issue, you don’t sense that these are clothes for travel, not a whiff of holiday. This was not a wow one had hoped from a come-back event. Louis Vuitton, on the other hand, offered clothes that seem much more interesting, to the point that it is more impactful than its recent fall/winter 2017 collection. This is Mr Ghesquière in his element. It brought to mind his fall 2007 collection for Balenciaga that had so impressed us. We can’t say for certain why. Maybe it’s the layering, the patterns, the mix-and-match, the youthfulness, and the joie de vivre. Ten years on, Mr Ghesquière still enthralls.

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This collection is not, by any means, a hush as in the quiet of the mountain. In fact, it edges towards loud—not a ripple in the leaves, but crackle and pop on the ground. Showing in Japan, it is to be expected that Mr Ghesquière would be inspired by Nippon art and culture. But this isn’t an obvious dalliance with anime; this was, in part, collaboration with the master of print and patterns Kansai Yamamoto. Mr Yamamoto was a towering fashion figure in Tokyo in the ’70s and ’80s, with an international reputation hemmed by his designs of costumes for David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust.

Both designers do not revisit those outlandish threads of the British singer nor any of the bombastic embroidery that was seen on Mr Yamamoto’s past designs (hairdresser to MediaCorp stars David Gan was a fervent collector in the ’80s, so is Mr Ghesquière today). In fact, there is nothing retro in their take on traditional mask on sequined dresses and kabuki-esque eyes on handbags: these would just as easily float across the Cote d’Azur or Nusa Dua as any of LV’s Twist. This collaboration does show that the spirit of past designs can be revived without the need for evident homage or, worse, mindless ostentation.

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What the Cruise 2018 has going in its favour is the welcome ease of every outfit and a good dollop of street. Sure, this is one of Mr Ghesquière’s most visually busy collections for LV, but you don’t sense that even when you wear the look wholesale, you would appear decidedly foolish, or as parody of some TV sitcom, say, of the ’70s, the way it is with some OTT labels of today. Expectedly, Mr Ghesquière, like many designers of his generation, was inspired by the ’70s—this time, Stray Cat Rock, a five-part, go-go-era Japanese film that starred the major femme fatale Kaji Meiko (Japan’s Chan Po-Chu?) as a kick-ass heroine (her titular role in Toshiya Fujita’s Lady Snowblood reportedly inspired Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill). Her cool style—including wide-brim hats that she wore in Stray Cat Rock—and nonchalant chic are obviously identifiable to Mr Ghesquière. This is definitely not the Japan of Cio-Cio-San.

We are drawn to the layering that yearned colour-blocking , the landscape prints and brocades (in some pieces, they were pants paired with punk-ish tops), comic patterns that could have been coloured wood-block prints, vest that seemed informed by Samurai armour (we now fondly recall Issey Miyake’s “rattan body” of 1982), the off-beat pairings (such as evening dresses worn with T-shirts and leggings), the oddly proportioned blazers (oversized, rounded shoulders, and nipped-in waists!). As we saw, some stray cats do rock.

Photos: Louis Vuitton

The Quiet Master

Film | In a new untitled documentary, the fashion insider’s designer Azzedine Alaïa is revealed, but only just

Azzedine AlaiaAzzedine Alaïa at his drafting table. Photo: Joe McKenna/Consulate Film

There are designers and there are designers, but none so unconcerned with the drama of the fashion world and its pursuit of excess as Azzedine Alaïa. His refusal to genuflect to the fashion system, whether in Paris or elsewhere, sticking to his own world in his atelier in the Marais, a historic part of the capital in the 4th and 5th arrondissement, makes him as much a mystery as a marvel.

In this new, 26-minute, black and white short made by the Scottish stylist Joe McKenna, considered one of the most respected in the business, who once published his own now-very-collectible and hard-to-find, two-issue (1992 and 1998) magazine called Joe’s, Mr Alaïa is put in the spotlight, but it is friends, models, journalists who are doing the shining. Filmed over a few years in the designer’s atelier during Mr McKenna’s free time, the film feels like an extended trailer than a major oeuvre, snap shot than biography.

Yet, it’s a pleasurable film, if only because there is no moving picture material out there on Mr Alaïa. Any reveal is better than none. Much has been said of the designer’s skill—how he drafts and cuts his own patterns, how, at one time, he even sewed the dresses himself—and why those who wear his designs become life-long fans, but very little is offered about the processes behind those undeniably beautiful clothes, or about the thinking of a quietly defiant man. In this respect, we still know very little of Mr Alaïa’s motivation and inspiration.

Azzedine Alaïa Couture 2011Two of the outfits from the couture 2011 show that appeared in the film. Photos: Azzedine Alaïa

Although the lens trails its subject, the camera does not capture Mr Alaïa saying anything to it. Instead, designer Nicholas Ghesquiere (the only male interviewee), stylist Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele (who styled Anna Wintour’s first US Vogue cover in 1988 that saw a Christian Lacroix couture top paired with jeans), the ex-stylist, ex-fashion editor (British Tatler and Vogue), and now architect Sophie Hicks, still-practising stylists Grace Coddington and Katie Grand, journalists Cathy Horyn, Vanessa Friedman, and Suzy Menkes, and models Naomi Campbell (who calls Mr Alaïa “papa”) and Veronica Webb do the talking.

These are people who doubtlessly and ardently admire him and are intensely protective. Ms Campbell even revealed that Mr Alaïa took her in after she lost her possessions during a sojourn in Paris in 1989, and that he still avails a room in his residence to her. Although we’re told that Mr Alaïa “has a temper”, like many passionate artists, we’re not shown an instance other than his throwing a hanger at an assistant, when he lost composure to rage. Or, if fury or self-control has influenced his designs. Through these intimates, we are seduced into believing Mr Alaïa has no shortcoming.

This is a film strictly for followers of Mr Alaïa’s work—a celebration of the female form and an extolment of sexiness with none of the perverse expression seen in fashion today. It is also for fashion culture buffs who may be thrilled to see some rare footages of old Azzedine Alaïa shows (“another echelon” for Cathy Horyn)  in which supermodels of the ’90s gravitated (somewhere in there is also the now-reclusive Grace Jones). It sometimes feels like a knowing nod among friends for more friends rather than a vivid disclosure for the uninitiated, of the man and his creative output. And a substantiation of the already known fact that very much of Azzedine Alaïa’s designs start at the drafting table—a mark of a true couturier.