Wednesday, October 4, 2017

PARIS FASHION WEEK: DESIGNERS TRY TO AVOID ‘CONFORMITY’

Paris Fashion Week was notable this year for the strong sense of wanting to shake things up and to use fashion design to raise awareness about certain issues.

Guests of French designer agnès b., for instance, received tote bags with a specific message:  “protest against the rising tide of conformity”. It was her way of saying that everyone is become too predictable, following trends.

agnes b. evokes the Caribbean
The designer’s mantra has always been that she “doesn’t do fashion” - she makes clothes; and the Spring/Summer 2018 collection illustrated this philosophy. The garments were supremely wearable while still being distinctive. They portrayed comfort with individuality, according to one observer.

Some of the designs were meant to pay homage to the spirit of the Caribbean, through vibrant colours, Rasta themes and feminine cuts, alongside the motto of “vive les ȋles” (long live the islands).

But agnès b. said she also wanted viewers to remember the Caribbean islands ravaged by recent hurricanes: Saint Martin, Barbuda, Dominica, Puerto Rico and others.

In addition, the collection included easy daywear – shorts, skirts and dresses - in khaki tones, as well as pastel-hued evening dresses that were striking in their simplicity.

SIRLOIN

Some designers believe that consumers really shouldn’t get all worked up trying to fit in with fashion trends.

Sirloin
“Sometimes you look better when you go out in your pyjamas,” says Alve Lagercrantz, who runs the Shanghai-based brand Sirloin with his partner Mao Usami.  
“Rather than trying too hard, just take things easy,” Lagercrantz advises.

For their Spring / Summer 2018 collection, the duo said they drew inspiration from Miami, and were also exploring “how China is mirroring American prosperity in the 90s and becoming the new land of possibilities”.

What this has to do with pyjamas is anyone’s guess, but most of the designs were loose-fitting, and played with the idea that the models were in their own episode of the classic Miami Vice television show.

Part of the playfulness centred on the concept that underwear can be “outerwear” as well. Why is a swimsuit not a suit, the designers asked. Their answer: it could easily become one, for those who have the “non-conformist” gumption to wear it away from the beach or pool.

Sirloin: comfort is everything.
Earlier this year, Sirloin presented their Fall/Winter collection in the historic lavatories beneath Madeleine Square in Paris. But this time, they “got an apartment” (to use Lagercrantz’s words).

Located in an upscale neighbourhood, the apartment was an appropriate setting for models who sauntered from room to room, sometimes pausing to slouch on an armchair or to stand staring off into space with an expression of ennui.

The clothing matched the mood – baggy trousers paired with silky tops, slack dresses in summer yellows and whites, and, of course, underclothes.

The two stylists, both graduates of Central Saint Martins arts and design college, have said that their “ultimate vision is to create a full wardrobe ‘literally’ from inside out” and to make people feel comfortable stepping out in pyjamas. They seem well on their way.

 ISABEL FELMER

For her Spring/Summer 2018 collection, French-Chilean designer Isabel Felmer used the sumptuous locale of the Chilean Embassy in Paris to good effect, contrasting futuristic designs with the classic decor of marble fireplaces and moulded ceilings.

Isabel Felmer designer
“I love the idea of mixing the future with the retro,” Felmer told Tasshon. “And this is the perfect place for it.”

Her show took the form of a performance rather than a straightforward défilé, as the models strutted around a wood-floored salon to techno music, striking poses from time to time or simply gyrating on one spot.

The three performers - representing different regions of the world also draped their arms around doll-like mannequins dressed in suits or evening wear.

At first glance, it was hard to distinguish the live models from the statues, as together they evoked a space-age distance, a kind of future-to-the-past sentiment, which tied in with the stylist’s aims.

The designer.
Felmer said her designs - both in white, and in bold splashes of colour - were inspired by the Japanese model and actress Sayoko Yamaguchi, who was one of the first Asian supermodels.

Here too, these garments were for those who possess a strong individualistic streak, as Felmer paired masculine cuts with a flamboyant look for the white suits. 

In the more colourful designs, she imprinted photos that she had taken onto the various fabrics. - Tasshon

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

TRAVELLING BETWEEN WORLDS WITH DESIGNER REI KAWAKUBO

The Costume Institute at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is “examining” the work of Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo for its spring 2017 exhibition.

Designs by Rei Kawakubo, at the Met.
The show, “Art of the In-Between”, features approximately 140 examples of designs by Kawakubo, who is known for her avant-garde works as well as her ability to challenge accepted notions of beauty, good taste, and "fashionability”, according to the Institute.

The items on display date from the early 1980s to Kawakubo’s most recent collection for Comme des Garçons (the company she founded in 1969), with many of the designs having “heads and wigs created and styled by Julien d'Ys”.

Visitors will be struck not only by the bold colours and cuts but also by the futuristic elements that would appeal to interplanetary travellers. Beyond that, the show demolishes any concept of barriers between art and fashion design.

Kawakubo: dresses, or not?
“Kawakubo breaks down the imaginary walls between these dualisms, exposing their artificiality and arbitrariness,” says the Institute.

It has organized the exhibits into nine “aesthetic expressions of interstitiality” in the designer's work. These are: Absence/Presence, Design/Not Design, Fashion/Anti-Fashion, Model/Multiple, Then/Now, High/Low, Self/Other, Object/Subject, and Clothes/Not Clothes.

Viewers will find themselves drawn into this exploration of “in-betweenness” and will probably leave inspired by the boundlessness of a creative mind such as Kawakubo’s. And then, there are the clothes: to wear or not to wear?

"Art of the In-Between" runs until Sept. 4, 2017.

The Met’s Costume Institute has a collection of more than 35,000 costumes and accessories, “representing  five continents and seven centuries of fashionable dress, regional costumes, and accessories for men, women, and children, from the fifteenth century to the present.”

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

PORTRAIT OF CLAUDIA HUTCHINS, AN AMERICAN ARTIST IN PARIS

As spring turns into summer, Paris-based artist Claudia Hutchins is in her element, painting the flowers that one can find all over the French capital – from the Jardin du Luxembourg to the roads along the river Seine.

Claudia Hutchins in her studio.
Born in California, Hutchins has lived in France for most of her life and has taught art classes to both children and adults.

She conducted outdoor classes for about 15 years and has introduced aspiring artists to the difficult genre of water-color painting.

“I’ve always wanted to give something back,” she says of the teaching and the volunteer work she does in her adopted country. “It’s a small way to help bring about change.”

Hutchins’ art spans nature scenes, still life, human portraits and animals. She’s currently working on a series of beach paintings and has developed postcards based on her playful cat portraits.

For more information: http://claudiahutchins.com/

Monday, April 3, 2017

FRENCH ART FAIR HIGHLIGHTS CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN ART

Spring means art in Paris. From the end of March, the city becomes awash with the colours of impressionism, retrospectives of master painters, modern art and contemporary works, as museums launch grandiose exhibitions.

Each spring as well, the Art Paris Art Fair welcomes dozens of galleries to the imposing glass-domed Grand Palais exhibition halls, and this year Africa was the guest of honour, with 139 galleries presenting works by an array of artists with links to the continent.

Artwork by Marion Boehm
The 19th edition of the art fair (March 30 to April 2) featured both monographic exhibitions in the Solo Show section and up-and-coming artists in the section titled Promesses (Promises).

Among the 29 countries represented were galleries from Angola, South Africa, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Senegal and other African nations.

The goal, said the organizers, was to “showcase the talented emerging generation of artists from both the African continent itself and from its diaspora”. Around 15 “Western galleries” chose to show the work of their African artists, who included Omar Ba of Senegal, Kendell Geers of South Africa and Chéri Samba from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In all, the participating galleries presented some 100 artists at the fair, with the African focus being under the direction of cultural consultant and independent curator Marie-Ann Yemsi.

Artist Marion Boehm poses with her work.
Some of the works that drew particular attention were created by European-born artists who had lived in Africa - such as Marion Boehm, whose massive paper-and-fabric collages put African subjects at the centre of traditional, Western-style formats.

Boehm said in an interview that she had always been bothered by the “peripheral” placing of African characters in European paintings of the past; so her pieces (which share certain aspects with the work of Senegalese photographer Omar Victor Diop and that of American painter Kehinde Wiley) depict subjects from colonial eras as principal actors.

The fair also displayed works by Senegalese sculptor Ousmane Sow, who died last December at the age of 81. His larger-than-life “Mother and Child” sculpture gave a reminder of why his art was so celebrated during his lifetime.

Visitors view Alexis Peskine's "Wolof Cosmic" -
created with nails, moon gold leaf, paint
and varnish on wood panels.
Works by other notable artists were spread around the fair, attracting viewers even though the pleasant weather outside provided stiff competition.

Still, the current act of showcasing these artists shouldn't obscure the fact that “France is backward in terms of its appreciation of contemporary African art”, said curator Yemsi.

“If it would be inexact to say that nothing has changed in France over the last thirty years ..., the history of art as it continues to be taught and disseminated has hardly contributed at all, contrary to other European countries, to the much-needed decolonization of knowledge and imagination,” Yemsi wrote in the fair’s press book. - Tasshon

Ousmane Sow's "Mother and Child", Bronze 2001.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

PARIS FASHION WEEK: INSPIRATION FROM AFRICA, WASHROOMS

Manish Arora design.
Indian designer Manish Arora and several other innovative stylists have been showing why African print is such a potent source of inspiration. The colours and geometric shapes enliven all materials, and when they’re adopted by visionary artists, they take on a “galactic” dimension, as Arora proved with his Fall/Winter 2017 collection titled “Cosmic Love”.

Manish Arora
The aim was to take viewers on a “visual journey”, starting from Africa and spanning into the “outer reaches of the cosmos”, said Arora, as he celebrated his brand’s 10th anniversary during Paris Fashion Week, Feb. 28 to March 7.

Bold colours and “arithmetic” shapes were thus patch-worked onto denim tunics or appliquéd on silk organza dresses, while “African textures of boiled wool patchwork” were used for oversize bombers and waistcoats - all for an original look.

The emerald and gold of peacock feathers was also a trend throughout, as the models strutted down the runway, their faces and arms decorated with beads and “tribal” paint.

The peacock motif stood out in embroidery on evening dresses and gowns that had Arora’s trademark playfulness.

With other garments, the designer employed striking shades of tangerine, royal blue and fuschia, and mixed Aztec prints and Art Deco patterns for in-your-face wrap dresses and trouser suits.

For some, the boldness was a bit too much. “It lacks subtlety,” a Dutch viewer remarked at the end of the show. “It’s too overwhelming.” Still, whatever the reaction, one thing was certain: this was a show to be remembered.

Manish Arora

SIRLOIN - THE NEW DESIGNERS IN THE LOO

Sometimes location is everything. Shanghai-based womenswear label Sirloin presented their first Fall/Winter 2017 collection in the public toilets of Paris, with models lounging in doorways or, in one case, sitting atop a commode.

Sirloin
Of course, this wasn’t just any washroom, but the historic lavatories beneath Madeleine Square, on which stands the famed Église (Church) de la Madeleine. Built in the 1930s, the toilets were being opened for the first time again since 2011, and the space was therefore gleaming, with its fancy tiles and doors.

According to Sirloin, which was founded by Japanese-Swedish duo Mao Usami and Alve Lagercrantz, the location was meant to emphasize a “self-ironic point of view” during the brand’s launch at Paris Fashion Week.

The two, both graduates of Central Saint Martins arts and design college, have already won several awards, and they say that their “ultimate vision is to create a full wardrobe ‘literally’ from inside out”. That means that underclothes or pyjamas are the priority - garments that make one comfortable, relaxed and light-hearted.

Their “narrative” of the Fall/Winter season was presented through designs that drew on vintage corduroys and cashmeres, as well as on Chinese sand-washed silk, rough sweatshirts and towel-type fabrics.

The collection finished off with “outdoor” wear that employed “underwear details”, to use their own description. The idea was to create a full wardrobe, in which underclothes are somehow merged with whatever one considers “ready to wear”. – Tasshon

Sirloin

Sunday, January 29, 2017

PARIS COUTURE WEEK: DIFFERENT WAYS OF VIEWING FASHION

It must be a challenge to come up with original ways of staging fashion shows, but Dutch-Vietnamese designer Xuan went all out in this regard during Paris couture week.

Xuan: amid the flowers.
Hers was a fashion show where the models did not move around, but instead had to stand still for long minutes, surrounded by flowers or alongside streams of falling water.

The aim was for the viewers to do the “walking” -through all the “different worlds of Xuan’s universe”, as portrayed in the Spring / Summer 2017 couture collection.

“Rather than watch the spectacle as a seated viewer, we invite guests to traverse three sites representing the sensorial experiences that informed the designs,” visitors were informed at the beginning of the show on Jan. 26, the last day of couture week.

So, when individuals in a tightly packed crowd trudged up the stairs to the upper rooms of the Dutch cultural institute in Paris, they were greeted with the sight of a model in a glass “house”, against a backdrop of multi-coloured flowers. The first thought that might have occurred to many is: “let’s hope she has no allergies!”

The designer at work.
Two other models stood in the "house", trying to remain motionless as viewers circled the structure. Interesting as the concept was, it detracted from the sumptuously made clothing, as awareness of the models took precedence.

“How long do they have to stand like that?” one viewer asked.

“About 30 minutes to an hour,” was the response from a staff assistant.

In another room, a stream of water cascaded from the ceiling, spraying two models as they stood in this section of the “universe”. The idea here was that “water, light and sound interplay to create an atmosphere of refreshing melancholy”.

After the third room, it was hard to say whether this was a “refreshing” way to see fashion, or just a bizarre attempt to stand out from the pack during fashion week. While Xuan certainly drew on the artistic side of showcasing clothing, the show had a discomfiting element.

LIU CHAO
Designer Liu Chao presented his collection without movement as well, but in his case there were no live models. His striking dresses were mounted on mannequins, as in a store window, for a presentation that took place at the gleaming, recently renovated Ritz hotel on the Place Vendôme.

Liu Chao
Here, too, viewers were invited to walk around the display, but they could do so without distractions – no blossoms or waterfalls. The daring was strictly in the designs, with the bold use of colour and jewel-embroidery.

“I can play with all kinds of material,” Chao told a reporter. “If I find interesting materials, I’ll work with it.”

The Chinese-born, Paris-based stylist explained that the embroidery included precious and semi-precious stones that come from “all over” the world.

Their integration into his Spring / Summer 2017 couture collection added an old-world charm to modern styles, and Chao's training in professional embroidery was apparent. He definitely seems someone to watch, judging from the imaginative creations. 

HYUN MI NIELSEN
The same may be said of stylist Christine Hyun Mi Nielsen. Visitors to her show were met with a rumpled double bed, on which sat a model dressed in white like the sheet and pillowcases. Later came eerie music and high-stepping movement, as models ambled through rooms full of standing spectators.

Hyun Mi Nielsen
“What’s with the lack of chairs this year?” someone remarked.

“I know, right?” a fellow viewer responded.

Still, this was a show worth standing up for, as Nielsen combined sass with expertise for a range of ensembles that she said were inspired by her own experiences, including sadness at the loss of a job with a major fashion house.

The designs reflected vulnerability as well as a fighting spirit, with the models wearing face paint like warriors, and the earth tones of leather and other materials evoking nature as champion.

“I drew on my own background, and my heritage,” said Nielsen, who has worked as a studio director for Balenciaga and was Alexander McQueen’s Head of Womenwear Design in London. She was presenting under her own brand for the first time in Paris.

Galia Lahav
Other shows with a “difference” included Galia Lahav’s presentation at the glass-domed Grand Palais, where the evening couture collection was inspired by the “Victorian era in England and by its parallel phrase in France, la Belle Epoque”.

The designs included high collars, puffed sleves, long trains and corsets in a mix of rich fabrics and varied colours – ivory, black, gold, purples, scarlet. In-house designers Galia Lahav and Sharon Sever said most of the materials were hand-dyed to “emphasize the depth” of the century.

“We have integrated fabric dyeing techniques ... and embossed silicone, alongside the use of antique, original embroidery, from the 1890’s, made by Lesage,” they told fashion reporters.

Meanwhile, Antonio Ortega stood out for mixing things up in a collection fittingly titled “Hybrid”. Along with oddball evening gowns, he showcased stylish, innovative summer ensembles, such as a wrap-around orange skirt paired with a silky grey top and a shorts "suit" with bright red piping . Ortega, in fact, made couture look cool, and without the use of water.  - Tasshon

Antonio Ortega

Liu Chao

Monday, November 14, 2016

PARIS EXHIBITION: AGNES B. DISCUSSES THE ART OF LIVING

“I love people,” says French fashion designer agnès b. “I want everyone to be happy.”

That philosophy comes across not only in the kind of clothes she produces, but also in the artwork she collects – creations that promote freedom and rights and affirm human resilience. Fans can now see 69 pieces of her immense art collection at the Musée de l’Histoire de l’Immigration in Paris, an institution that focuses on immigration in France.

Designer agnes b. at "Vivre!!"
(Photo: Tasshon)
“I love to discover artists and people,” she told Tasshon in an interview. “Art and design are connected, and I try to support artists who are saying something for the good of the world.”

The exhibition, titled Vivre!!, acts as a kind of dialogue between the agnès b. collection and works from the museum’s own permanent set.

The designer presents iconic black-and-white photographs by Malian photographer Malick Sidibe in “discourse”, for instance, with the huge, vivid colour paintings of Congolese artist Chéri Samba, whose work has been acquired by the museum and whose talent agnès b. says she admires.

The show is divided into different categories, with intriguing headings: World maps, Rebellion, Writing … the Words, Living, Love, Work, Youth, Death, Dance, War and Who Are We.

Image from the video
by Regina Jose Galindo.
In the “Rebellion” section, visitors will find themselves immediately drawn to an arresting video by Regina José Galindo called “Quien puede borrar las huellas” (Who can cover his tracks). It shows a barefooted young woman stepping into a basin of red liquid (blood?) and then walking along the sidewalk in front of a phalanx of armed police officers or guards, leaving red footprints in her wake.

Other works question the notion of identity or deplore the senseless brutality of conflict, such as Damir Radovic’s 2013 work, which bears these words in neon lights: "Who started the war?" This is a reference to the Yugoslav War of the 1990s, with its ethnic cleansing atrocities and crimes against humanity.

In addition to Radovic, the exhibition features another artist from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Antoinette Ohannessian, who shows how blasé humans can be about violent conflict.

agnes b. (photo: K. Ohishi)
“Agnès b is a collector that’s really engaged with what’s happening in the world,” says Sam Stourdzé, the show’s curator. “The artists aren’t chosen for their rank in the marketplace but for their relationship with humanity. She supports artists and art, as a designer speaking to others who are creative.”

For agnès b, there are parallels between visual arts and the art of couture, and it was barely a decade after starting her own brand in 1973 that she opened an art gallery - la galerie du jour. Since then, she has been involved in numerous artistic and humanitarian projects and has won several awards. 

“I don’t do fashion, I do clothes,” she told Tasshon at the exhibition. “I try to make things that can be worn forever. I want people to be happy when they wear my clothes.”

And perhaps when they see her art collection as well.

Vivre!! runs until Jan. 8, 2017 at the Musée de l’Histoire de l’Immigration, Paris.