Monday, June 20, 2011

Sylvia Heisel: Some Random Thoughts

so here go some random thoughts…..

i can't believe i still do this…..i'm not sure i still love or understand "fashion" but i still love designing and making clothes…..

my business has gone through a lot of different stages and identities in all these years….

20 years ago i was a young hip downtown NY designer… money, lots of press, very creative small company designer fashion…..then downtown got claustrophobic and being poor stopped being okay and i moved uptown and my clothes lost a lot of their creative edge and became more commercial and i made money…..then i ran the business sort-of on autopilot and renovated an apartment in manhattan and a really rural home in the Catskills….then i fell in love and married an artist…..then the economy crashed and i stopped making money……….now my business is a lot smaller and i've moved back downtown with my artist husband and i'm trying to be as creative as possible and make beautiful clothes and places and events and whatever else inspires me….

the bridal came about because someone (Robert Taylor) in the bridal business approached me about doing it….i don't understand the bridal business at all but the dresses are a lot of fun to design….sort-of like decorating giant cupcakes….

the apartment was incredibly much fun to do and has inspired us to pursue a lot of great new projects….it came about because we were renting an apartment in a very fancy new construction apartment building and everything was falling apart and the management fixed nothing….at a certain point almost everything had been put in storage because of leaks and nails that came through walls and other stuff and we knew were leaving at the end of our lease (4 months later ) and it just seemed like a fun thing to do…it took about a month to complete, cost very little (lots of tape, some fabric and a little paint) and we removed everything when we left….NY Magazine seeing it was random lucky break….

from that my husband and i have started doing other temporary design projects….Scott is a sculptor who was a bartender at Studio 54, an owner of nightclubs in NY and LA, and an assistant to event florist Robert Isabel at other times in his life…..we both have a love of crazy over-the-top stuff and like making things….

we're especially interested in making things and places that are temporary and made from recycled or recyclable materials….also what i've become very interested in with clothes….

fashion is really strange right now and i have a really hard time wrapping my brain around it… me, a lot of what the world thinks of as fashion is luxury product and very conservative and even more of it is just stuff that celebrities wear…..and a lot of what we all wear (myself included) is very function and comfort driven and not particularly creative….

these days i'm much more interested in making clothes that are either a part of other larger creative projects or are more conceptual and less functional as ready-to-wear clothing…..

the thing about couture and me is I love creating one-offs and special pieces but I hate working directly with the customer…..the moment it becomes about dressing mrs. cinderella for the ball and can i make the dress match the diamond earrings the emperor just bought her and haggling about the $'s  i'm miserable…..i like creating creative couture stuff more than dressing the rich and famous in luxury goods…..

Sylvia Heisel website here.

Madame Gres, A Guest Post From The Licentiate

This wonderful guest post is from Licentiate.                                                               
“I wanted to be a sculptor. For me, it’s the same thing to work the fabric or the stone” - Madame Grès'
Museum poster
The Fashion/Art debate rages on.  While a Jean Paul Gaultier retrospective opens in Montreal and the news that Rodarte's first couture collection will soon appear at The LA County Museum of Art, one exhibition continues quietly on in Paris.
Madame Grès, La Couture à L’Oeuvre’, which is showing at the Musée Bourdelle in Paris will close on the 24th of July.  In this exhibition is a lifetime of work and has possibly the closest examples of fashion as an artform on display.  It's only good and proper that sculptural dresses lie next to more conventional mouldings.  It's a move that legitimises the claim of fashion as a real artform. 
Photo from Carmi's Art - there are some great close-ups here
The eighty examples of Madame Grès' are not outlandish, or controversial.  They do not assume lofty themes or have pretensions of grandeur.  They are sculpture in fabric.  Self-assured, impossibly executed and classically beautiful, the understatement of the simple forms emphasises the now extinct craftsmanship and inherent knowledge of a woman known first as Germaine Krebbs, then Alix, then Madame Grès.
Spring 1944 - source
Spring/Summer 1946 - source
Autumn/Winter 1952/3 - source
It's a shame that the Grès name isn't better known.  On trying to explain who she was to the boyfriend, he thought that she had something to do with fine dining.  Perhaps a partner without an interest in fashion is a bad example, but this is a woman who existed in the golden age of female couturiers - she operated in the same city, within the same timeframe with Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, Jeanne Lanvin.  She should have been incredibly famous, but she died aged 90, in a home for the elderly, practically penniless after her name had been sold to a swiss licensing company, which now manufactures (not particularly good) perfumes.  Even though the archives of Chanel and Lanvin may be raided to provide inspiration for Lagerfeld and Lanvin, the craftsmanship of Gres cannot or will not be copied.  Her vast, intricate pleating was time intensive and took up yards of material to create mere centimetres of a waistline.  Her dresses were not tailored, they were draped and built around the body - a skill that is taught at precious few fashion schools, which are more geared towards fast fashion and profit margins than ever before.  Each dress was different and special - true to the spirit of couture. On reviewing this exhibition, Suzy Menkes said that "fashion can be an art form only with rigorous craftsmanship". Is that is true, then Madame Grès must be fashion's Michelangelo.
The Licentiate blog is stylish and intelligent; relishing views of fashion and its inhabitants with humor, kindness and honesty. I fell in love with her consideration of Anna Piaggi and Tavi Gevinson as kindred souls; of course she is correct and not bogged down by preconceptions. Thank you so much for our conversations and your work on this. Beautiful .. wicked good actually. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

On Father's Day

"I'm your father and mother," my mother would say when I was quite small. It made me cross because of course, I as a snarky five-year old would think, she was only my mother.

She dropped me off at a birthday party in Silverlake, admiring some very modern houses on the way, houses very different than our bungalow in Hollywood on a street where cars drove too quickly to leave it and there really was a stranger offering candy to children. I leaped out of her car into a happy house with its father sitting in a comfy chair with a cacophony of little girls, an entire first grade class. I handed off the present my mother had wrapped and noted that in the hierarchy of size and beautifully wrapped presents, it was small and the ribbon was tired.

The bow on my dress was generous and my black patent Mary Janes were shining, white lace ankle socks were clean and the memory of the baby powder sprinkled carefully into my shoe my mother remained. The father held up a book and twenty scattered girls flopped at his feet in unison, as we'd learned to do at school. I shut my eyes while he read, wondering again why I didn't have a father and a little angry at my mother.

My mother had told me stories that didn't make sense to a five-year old, that she'd loved my father so much that she'd torn up all his photos. She held my hand at an amusement park as she instructed the sketch artist on the details of my father. When it was done, she looked at it and remarked that my dark hair was very much like his. I liked that much more than the vague sketch of a father.

She sent me to private school, drove me to ballet three times a week and made my costumes, she found an upright piano and a teacher, she kept me home from school for an entire morning to make me learn the multiplication tables. She and I played dress-up and glided through the small house with books on our head. She let me wear her cherry red lipstick pretending not to notice that I'd taken it, again, from her purse. She clapped too loudly at recitals and spelling bees and unlike my classmates, she sat alone.

It was hard and would get harder for her as she struggled with secrets and mental illness. As her world fell apart, she kept my tutus hung carefully and smiled at me when I came home from school.

I miss her. My mother who was both mother and father.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Cristobal Balenciaga Museum

A rare Cristobal Balenciaga coat with the label Eisa B.E. from 1935 - 1938 is part of the ninety piece collectiion on exhibit at the Cristobal Balenciaga Museum that opened last week in the northern Basque region of Spain.

Like Bill Cunningham, his sexual preferences were discrete and unknown; his private life remained his.     He closed his House in '68 because he didn't like the direction of fashion.

Nicholas Ghesquierre is also a master of black.

Retrospective of Yves Saint Laurent Haute Couture 1962 - 2002

Pierre Berge maintained a complete archive of over 5,000 pieces which allowed the depth of the exhibition at the opulent Le Petit Palais. Cocaine nights and Haute Couture days, an antidote for the pain of L'amour Fou. 

Karl Lagerfeld once said to Chanel's chairman, Alain Werthheimer, "Chanel is an institution, and you have to treat an institution like a whore - and then you get something out of her." While luxury can be vulgar in its extravagance and hauteur, the beauty is compelling and in the fabled story of Yves Saint Laurent, heartbreaking and overwhelming.

This Is What Dreams Are Made Of, Well These Are My Dreams

This is what dreams are made of ... today, with the encouragement of a friend who loves stories and fashion (but mostly Azzedine, of course) I sent off the impossibly daunting proposal, something that seemed impossible to complete, to sort through the possibilities. "Elegance is refusal," a good Diana Vreeland saying for getting through a project, sorting through a closet, considering excess which is not decadent. Decadent layering of accessories is different, I think. It can happen. Just like reaching for what you want, which is the good thing .. dreaming.

Stan Rogow produced the Lizzie McGuire television show, which made him the King of Tweens. And made me a Hollywood Wife for a long time (and now Hollywood Mom; Jackson is filming his third season on Cartoon Network's Dude What Would Happen). Sadly that fell apart, not really over a white belt but that was part of it. Don't ever hate a white belt!! 

We went to Rome to make the Lizzie McGuire movie written by the extraordinarily talented, amazingly comedic, brilliant Susan Estelle Jansen, with Jackson given eight weeks of school work and homework. On breaks and at lunch Jackson tried to keep up with homework when he wasn't hiding in Hilary's trailer. Huge tables at lunch with Hilary and Jackson doing math together, curling up on the floor of our hotel elevator to see who the tinier was. Jackson is the Curly Haired Boy in the credits; he's the young boy at the airport. 

Hilary's dress for the video just wasn't right and the movie flailed for a little. It was crazy important and all I could think of was Alexander McQueen's ruffled ballgowns. His office told me they couldn't do one quickly enough. Dave Robinson, the costume designer from Zoolander (ok, yes, the world's greatest movie ever!!) designed the ballgown that can be ripped off so she can dance.

I hit send this morning on the proposal email humming this song because This Is What Dreams Are Made Of. Oh, and plotting out the next one ... The Hollywood Wife, Hollywood Mom one. Dreams.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

I'm Confused, Counterfeits Are To Be Celebrated?

Sidney Gittler was the world's largest buyer of Haute Couture at a time when line for line copies were cool. I know; my mother oohed at some and others that did not meet her standards reduced her to a haughty churlish glare, flaring nostrils and tightened cherries-and-snow lips. Well, that was a long time ago. Yves Saint Laurent sued Ralph Lauren over copying the iconic YSL tuxedo dress he first showed in '66 and again during the fall '91 Haute Couture collection, collecting 395,000.00 for the finding of "counterfeiting and disloyal competition." Azzedine Alaia flew to Los Angeles to sue a local manufacturer for outrageous copies of his things purchased from the Alaia chez Gallay boutique on Rodeo, Alexander McQueen and Balenciaga both sued Steve Madden, and Louis Vuitton even goes after artists incorporating its iconic LV's.

I like Alan Schwartz. He's urbane and handsome and charming. I first met him at Helena's the night I met Eddie The Hat, the best "bad boyfriend" ever. I remember a Thanksgiving at his house crawling with football stars. His things were of fashion and affordable. I bought a few things for my shop, and they sold as well as the spendy, edgy European designers on the racks.

Sidney Gittler paid a caution, a fee to attend the Haute Couture shows with a commitment to buy a guaranteed amount of models, to be able to produce line for line copies. It's arguable whether copies impact  designer goods. Certainly there are wealthy customers who are proud to have an Hermes Birkin for 199.00 .. but each year, even in the dark shameful days of the recession, business at Hermes thrived. The Balenciaga motorcycle bag was copied even down to the under 20.00 level sold at Target; soulless, ugly things unlike the original.

Princess Kate seems very cool and unlikely to be riled up by the silliness and commercialization surrounding the Royal Wedding.

I wish Alan had resisted this time.
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