Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Don't it always seem to go...

I wouldn't like to imply by my title, that I thought Lee 'Alexander' McQueen was shamefully underrated in his lifetime: he was quite rightly vaunted and fĂȘted as a bright and fabulous talent.  I'm just a bit sad that it's taken a tragic and premature death for me to come out of the closet and pin my colours fully to the mast: My name is Charlotte and I love high fashion.  I love designers.  I'd give much to go to the shows.  I buy Vogue.

I'd like, in this post, to talk you through my highlights in one collection, in the hope that it will explain why I feel this way.  I warn you now, though, there's going to be a whole lot of florid language... it's going to get pretentious. 

Today, at Paris fashion week, the Alexander McQueen Autumn Winter collection ('All Angels and Demons') had its show. And it was glorious.  (I understand, by the way, that the label will continue - but this collection is unquestionably McQueen's own creation, and as such it's of course the last true McQueen one there will be).  Despite being nominally 'Ready-to-Wear', the shows in Milan, London, and Paris aren't really about creating outfits many of us would want to wear to work or parties.  When inventive catwalk fashion is taken out of its milieu, it often looks alien and undesirable. Hence Gwynneth Paltrow's gothic, string-vest ballgown at the 2002 Oscars (also by McQueen) looked unflattering, harsh and inappropriate.  But the shows offer me two things here on my grotty sofa in South London. In part they are the delivery of aesthetic concepts.  It's like a collision of art and theatre... textures, colours and shapes - given movement and personification.  Secondly, they point the fashion industry, and also me, in a new sartorial direction.  It makes me think about adding this accent or that flavour to my style.  It's inspiring.

The two short dresses I've selected (above and top) have loads of gorgeous elements that can, and I hope will, filter through to the high street this autumn.  Immediately obvious are those gorgeous theatrical reds and the heavy brocades the colour of old gold-leaf.  But look at the shapes. I bet we'll see that belted kimono (top) influencing jackets and cardigans as well as dresses of all lengths.  No buttons, cinched with a belt, bell sleeves (perhaps somewhat toned down for 'real life'), - It's flattering and wearable by women of all ages, and it's a new direction, although importantly for our sense of continuity, it still has an echo of where we've been (the belt cinching in voluminous heavyweight fabric has been big in coats and jumper dresses for a while).  The second frock also has a taste of the familiar: it doesn't take a fashionista to see the silhouette similarities with the tulip skirt.  But it's the new ideas that are exciting.  That effect of the top 'layer' looking as if it's been pulled to meet at the waist and then falling back like a curtain at a window to reveal the contrasting base fabric, that's an idea McQueen has used several times in the collection, and it has potential to make its way onto the high street in quite a direct way even if it's just a general trend to focus attention on the waist through diagonals, that's good news: this look even creates the illusion of a waist from scratch if you're boyish of figure.  The sleeves too, are beautifully excessive - so many folds and pleats, it screams sensuous opulence but with delicate, girlish proportions.  And wouldn't those of us with large upper arms welcome something so generous of cut and, well, spirit, that it'd make our own dimensions look mean in comparison?

Of course, as I said, some of it's about the artistry.  Fashion design - design in general - is the less-respected step-cousin of fine art, and I guess that's because of the bed it shares with commerce.  It's certainly not unfair to suggest that an artist might produce work which more purely represents their vision if they don't have to deliver several pieces of it to a preordained schedule twice a year, every year.  Art too, is free from  constraints of utility:  it does not have to withstand being worn and walked about in, and while fashion designers have pushed the envelope of avant garde, at the end of the day they are creating coverings for the human body.  It isn't then, pure artistic expression - but art, I would argue, it is.  The dress and mantle above inspire an emotional reaction in me that happens outside of my evaluation of them as clothing.  That heavy crust of gold towards the bottom makes me think of life and decay and glory. The quality of it is at once industrial and organic and I want to get close to it and see it in detail but for some reason I don't want to touch it and find it too essentially 'real'.  I'm experiencing it in the same way I might a painting, although admittedly not so deeply as, say, a Rothko. To someone else looking at the same frock, there might be no reaction at all (isn't that true of all art?) but to me - this speaks.

But ultimately, this is a style blog, and my passion is for clothes and the wearing of them. This jacket is by far my favourite piece in the collection. The shape is Old Hollywood - elegant, poised, dramatic - the face is literally framed.  The texture is my favourite part, though - and sadly I can't imagine that making its way to mass production with any success.  It's brittle and detailed like a delicate clockwork model, but at the same time reminds me of a viking feather cloak: tribal and animalistic -  it gives an overall impression of such strength. Over that skirt it puts a new spin on the fishtail gown - the look of a grown-up mermaid.  I'd love to see it on a bride.


  1. Hi Charlotte,
    Admiring you for finding the time to keep your blog flourishing. Any comments on Madrid fashion week (pasarela cibeles)?

  2. Fashion is art. Speaking as someone on a fine art course I don't think there was a dry eye in the studio when McQueen died.

    I'm the wrong weight, shape, like yourself, for what the clothes are designed for and what is considered 'ideal' and yet I still follow them and take from them what I can and the high street (and charity shop -student remember.

    Good writing and will be reading your blog again.

  3. Thanks both - Marta, the blog puts some of the happiness back! Unfortunately, I've not heard much about Madrid, however when I was in Barcelona about 18 months ago, I ws struck by howcreative and ideosyncratic Spanish style is: it's much more like a Uk aesthetic than the Italian and French attitudes.

    FCG, thanks. I've recieved some really lovely feedback through various channels regarding this post - i wasn't sure that what i though made any sense, but it seems it did, to lots of you.


Thanks for commenting - always nice to know I'm not talking to myself...