“Everybody said, ‘Don’t touch it; it’s dead, it will never come back.’ But by then I thought it was a challenge.”‘ –Karl Lagerfeld in a 2007 interview with the New Yorker about being offered the job of reinventing Chanel in 1983.
We all know how that went. Three decades later, and he has been for Chanel what the injection to the heart was for Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. At 81, he’s one of fashion’s major players, despite gadding about in what resembles a powdered wig and fingerless knuckleless leather gloves, revealing he would marry his cat if it were legal, and throwing shade at the planet’s favorite British singer for being “a little too fat.”
Other successful insertions of the new guard into the old soon followed: Alber Elbaz for Lanvin, Christopher Bailey for Burberry, Nicholas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga, John Galliano for Christian Dior… although the last two turned sour in the recent years. That’s what I find interesting.
It has just been announced that Marco Zanini, a distinguished member of my old party posse in Milan during the aughts, is out at Schiaparelli after two seasons. This follows his equally short stab at the attempted Halston revival of 2009, which also had on staff Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, Jimmy Choo co-founder Tamara Mellon, celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe, and Sex and the City actress Sarah Jessica Parker.
Too many chefs, I thought at the time, too many chefs. Oh lordy, Marco, may the glitter of Studio 54 raise you up, when the egos and insanity drag you down.
Now even SJP is no longer wearing Halston.
Harvey Weinstein, not to be outdone, or pigeonholed as a mere multi-billionaire movie producer, is behind the relaunch of the Charles James label. You remember the lovely pictures I posted from this summer’s Met exhibition. These ones…
Well, Weinstein is the prince charming that’s currently galloping in to wake from its slumber with one slobbery kiss the House of Charles James. Here he is pictured with his beautiful wife, Georgina Chapman, the founder/designer of the Marchesa label.
So the kiss he bestows will be on a mistress’s pallid cheek.
He says, “Charles James was one of the most incredible couturiers in the history of fashion and this label deserves to be a household name in same ranks as Chanel, Dior and Oscar de la Renta. There isn’t a single designer in high fashion who wouldn’t name him as a major influence. We are beyond thrilled to be spearheading the revival of this brand and bringing it back to the world’s finest retailers.”
I cannot help thinking he is buying Charles James as a trinket for Georgina to gain more brand awareness for her own label Marchesa. She has clearly been inspired by James in her designs over the years. The match is too close. He is co-opting the legacy of Charles James to create a legacy for his wife whose brand is not quite as relevant as it once was. That’s my take.
I don’t see in this bloated moviemaker a Prince Charming with a sensitivity for forgotten romantic, dust-covered couture houses. I see a playa. The House of James will be cast aside when the bloom leaves the rose embroidered taffeta.
Another star of the Met Museum’s marquee yearly exhibitions, this one from 2007, Paul Poiret, is on the block. This month the auction rights will be sold.
God help me, he is one of my favorites. Don’t let him be violated, please! Don’t let his innocence be stolen.
If I imagine myself lollygagging in Paris circa 1910, I would look like this:
If I was writing at home of an afternoon, I would wear this:
I have no interest in imagining myself in 2014’s New York dressed in Poiret. However, they dig him up.
Another friend of mine, Joanna Sykes, was headhunted in 2012 to helm the revival of English heritage label, Aquascutum. Every house in Britain dreams of doing a Burberry. Joanna closed her own burgeoning label to give Aquascutum all her attention but after less than a year the company went into administration. Jo’s a brilliant designer but that wasn’t enough. The powerful players who hired her didn’t need a hero, they needed a miracle.
Fellow graduate from my year at Central St Martins, Greek designer Sophia Kokosalaki, seemed the perfect pick to steer the revival of the House of Vionnet back in 2006. Vionnet was renowned for her draping, her appreciation of Greek art, her invention of the bias cut evening gown and her authentic appreciation of female form regardless of changing fads. When I first heard of Kokosalaki’s appointment, I thought, “Ah yes, that is correct.” Several designers have been welcomed in and subsequently shown the door since Kokosalaki’s short lived stint ended.
I have always loved seventies boho collectibles by English designer Ossie Clark. Those were dresses ideally suited to skipping through fields of flowers, throwing picnics in Hyde Park and, with the addition of a snakeskin jacket, floating on a rock star’s arm come evening. But we don’t skip anymore. Floaters are frowned upon. Clothes must come merchandised with purpose. Ossie didn’t have to clutter his innocent little brain with merchandising concepts, global expansion, it bags, collaborations with H&M.
A master cutter, Clark once said. “It’s all in my brain and fingers and there’s no-one in the world to touch me. I can do everything myself.”
He wouldn’t last a day in this current design-by-committee, micro-managed, money-funnelling fashion industry. The relaunched Ossie Clark label showed its first collection in Fall 2008, was shuttered again in July 2009.
This commercialization of the old houses is a lot like grave robbing.
The fashion industry has plundered our earth, ransacked the planet, now it hacks away at the past in some merciless search for an authenticity we no longer know. We’re looking for something special, now that everything is fast and disposable, Kimye are considered insiders, and great designers are killing themselves for big brands. Gullible starstruck young designers, not long out of fashion school, are seduced in then shoved out when the monumental legacy of a century-old name and the task of its rebranding proves too much. And it is the designer who carries the failure with him on his resume, never the Harvey Weinsteins.
Snarky runway reviews, stratospheric advertising budgets, the hunt for Hollywood champions to add perceived legitimacy, feeding the hunger of an insatiable fashion cycle and its ravenous consumer,…no wonder Gallaino was on valium during fittings! He has claimed his bosses knew of his debilitating addictions and enabled him. After his mega-public implosion and firing, he tried to sue for unfair dismissal and lost. I hope he will be able to regain the respect his name held in the coming years now that he has been given a chance at Margiela. Although, forget Margiela; in a world that made sense Galliano would be grinning out as the face of the relaunched Charles James, not Harvey Weinstein, but ho-hum.
The lids have been removed from the coffins of a long list of old houses. Where once it was a winning strategy, it now enjoys ever-decreasing success. Let the design world return to paying homage in the right way, on our mood boards, in our vintage clothing archives, in the references revealed with pride in post-runway interviews. There is still much to be learned from the past but we see it clearer with a certain distance. Don’t tarnish those names and what they represent for us.
And you, you fat balding billionaires with illusions of glamour? Here’s what I suggest. Stop dwelling in the past. Create the new Paul Poirets and Madeleine Vionnets. Invest in the graduates, the young designers, the talent of the future. Put your money behind their names, trust their visions, and stay in the background.
Let Madame Grès rest in peace.
My novel set in the international fashion industry is now available. You an buy Silk for the Feed Dogs here.