Tag Archives: The Look

Catching the Moment – AFR


CHANEL1Ulan Bator1 Ulan Bator2 Ulan Bator3

Catching the Moment

AFR | September 2011

Where is fashion marching now, asks international fashion editor Marion Hume. Forget Borat jokes; Kazakhstan is a new luxury nexus with the oil-rich city of Almaty the No.1 seller of shoemaker Christian Louboutin’s crocodile stilettos. Yes, luxury labels have reached Ulan Bator. And all other corners of the earth besides.

When fashion wants to look back, it is a sure sign of its unease at looking forward. Of course, fashion continually takes inspiration from ‘vintage’ but that’s not what I’m talking about. Instead, it seems to me, people are looking in the rear view mirror as if wondering, “how on earth did we get here?”

‘Here’ is a world where luxury labels have us so addicted, you almost suspect there’s nicotine in the handbag leather. ‘Here’ is a world where, when it comes to basics, we seem to believe it is others who should take responsibility that the cotton in our clothes is not the same cotton that causes lakes to run dry. ‘Here’ is a place where a clutch bag in iridescent python is described as “so on trend!” despite grave concern elsewhere that the number of snakes slaughtered for style could lead to an explosion of the rat population and then a spread of human contagion.

It can be ugly, this business driven by desire for beautiful things. So thank heavens for Botox, injected into snakeskin to make that clutch bag feel scaly not flakey. I had no idea of that little detail until I read “To Die For. Is Fashion Wearing out the World?” by Lucy Siegle. I’ll hold back on her description of what happens in the slow process of snakes being slaughtered only because losing you too early hardly serves my purpose in writing the rest of this article.

But who’d want such a ludicrous display of wealth as a python purse anyway? Not you, of course; you prefer to dress down. So that cotton T­shirt? Did you check it hasn’t reached your back via the labour of schoolchildren – and their teachers – who are forced out of the classroom every summer to harvest the cotton crops of Uzbekistan? Those new jeans that already look old? We need other people – poorer people – to get the look for us by sandblasting, which is big in Bangladesh, where garment workers are dying of silicosis. Sandblasting is the new fur. You shouldn’t be seen dead in it. Donatella Versace is the latest designer to join the campaign to outlaw it. Expect the next trend in denim to be a direct reaction; dark indigo, except that’s turning vital rivers in India bright blue. It would be wrong to suggest that all the big fashion brands are up to no good. Most of them try quite hard not to be bad.

I can’t think of a single one that has ignored consumer pressure to get with the eco agenda. But now they have done the easy stuff (cutting down on packaging, changing the light bulbs, re­routing grey water to flush the loos), it’s a hard road ahead. For those just entering the business, that road must seem almost impassable. Even if a young designer does get a break, financial pressure now translates as shareholder demands front of mind. And if our young talent still believes in fashion as ‘art’, what chilling examples are to be found: Alexander McQueen dead by his own hand in London; John Galliano, who killed his career with anti­semitic rantings in a Paris bar.

The pressures of producing endless fantastical collections generating those endless dollars can prove unbearable. Which leads me to looking back. About a year ago, I started getting random requests for a six ­part BBC fashion documentary called The Look which I worked on from 1990 to 1992. In the past six months, interest has increased from England, Australia, Korea . . . and unsolicited emails arrive from those just born when it was first broadcast. They are reacting to the six episodes posted on vimeo (video­sharing website used by creatives) with the wonder of archeologists stumbling into Tutankhamun’s tomb. (OK, that’s a gigantic exaggeration, but one thing that will never go out of fashion is the industry’s ease with hyperbole).

Anyway, the other day, I too found The Look online. I understood instantly why the clothes appeal now; they are so utterly out of fashion, they are on the way back in. I suppose watching the late Gianni Versace, Moschino and Yves Saint Laurent appeals to this constituency the way The History Channel does to guys obsessed with WWII.

In The Look, names now thought of as brands still belong to people; in the program Donna Karan admits in it she has only recently stopped opened all the mail with her name on it. The supermodels are in their prime.  “I don’t know what a supermodel is. Does it mean I’m super?” squeaks Linda Evangelista, her voice surely as shocking as when silent stars switched to talkies. And there’s Carla Bruni, with the face she was born with, wisely saying nothing, missing nothing; good training for the future First Lady of France.

The doco seems to capture a golden age; a moment in time before things went absolutely crazy. Not that all was calm. In 1992, the series was aired around the world, perhaps to the chagrin of marie claire editor, Jackie Frank, then a New York based stylist, whose feisty reaction to a scrum scene outside a Jean-Paul Gaultier show was viewed by the folks back in Melbourne. Crowd control has much improved, but otherwise, that lack of organization had advantages. PRs were posh women in pearls. Today’s media managers would never let anyone get the equivalent of a shot that goes on and on as Yves Saint Laurent ‘Elnetts’ his bouffant backstage.

Lurking about was a guy in a tie we never bothered to interview. Bernard Arnault was in his early 40s when The Look was being filmed and looks vulpine, stealthy, as he circles his prey. The rhetoric the chairman and chief executive of LVMH pushes today is that fashion stars don’t matter as much as they did. Now it’s all about the product. (This from the man who – at time of writing – has no viable designer for Dior).

But in 1990, he was the star maker to Christian Lacroix, an experiment that would fail to the tune of  €150 million in losses over the years. That Arnault’s other instincts were more sound is evidenced by his current status as the wealthiest man in France, with a Forbes-estimated worth of US$41 billion.

Today, the money is on the quiet ones, specifically Phoebe Philo, who heads up Celine and is independent of spirit (though not in business, Celine is part of LVMH). She creates uncluttered clothes for busy women and references her own needs as the stylish mother of two young children. Yet her sartorial statements echo those of the leading minimalist we talked to back in the early ‘90s. Giorgio Armani’s muted palate and unadorned silhouettes were exactly what sophisticated women yearned for back then, although this being TV, we cut away from frocks to shots of his home, complete with five colour-coordinated Persian cats.

The landscape of fashion was expanding, literally; it was the beginning of the identikit designer superstore in London, New York, LA (although we would have to wait until the millennium for most brands to open in Australia). That territorial land grab goes on. Twenty years ago, China was the place that made the cheap stuff. Now 20% of goods labelled Prada are, legitimately, made in China.

Where else is fashion marching? Forget Borat jokes; Kazakhstan is a new luxury nexus and its oil-rich city of Almaty the No.1 seller of shoemaker, Christian Louboutin’s crocodile stilettos. Where there’s muck, there’s frocks and fashion mags; Cosmo Mongolia launched in the wake of Rio Tinto mining the massive Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold deposits. Yes, luxury labels have reached Ulan Bator. And all other corners of the earth besides, thanks to e-commerce.

Asked in 1990 what her life’s ambition was, New Yorker, Donna Karan shot back, “A Broadway Show!” Today, her response would be more holistic; her company is, for example, among pioneers trying to source product out of Haiti to aid its reconstruction. Vivienne Westwood played the pantomime dame in The Look; her fault and ours, given she was the one cavorting around in a nude body suit with a gold fig leaf. But we didn’t listen when she went on about global responsibility. We just thought she was bonkers. And great TV.

Recently I’ve been working closely with Dame Vivienne and know her to be wise. I consult for the UN-World-Trade Organization agency, the International Trade Centre, on the Ethical Fashion Program which links top designers to some of the world’s poorest people. A growing percentage of Vivienne Westwood accessories is produced in the slums and drought-stricken regions of East Africa. Driving across Northern Kenya, seeing hardly a tree because those farmers whose animals had died had felled them to burn and sell for charcoal in order to feed their families, the designer’s ardent advocacy that climate change cannot be ignored makes poignant, sound sense.

Fashion as a vehicle out of poverty? Who would have thought that in 1990 when we were getting excited by who had a mansion, who had a yacht? Yet you can create lovely beads from the carcasses of cows dumped in a slum, you can make handbag hardware from brass salvaged from abandoned cars. Artisan skills, from screen printing to embroidery, can be done by those displaced by conflict, quickly earning them a living wage.

Not that the Mighty UN is the only body to have identified fashion’s unique power. There are scores of smaller initiatives: from Ecuador (The Andean Collection, which offers natty felt hats to Manhattan urbanites) to Ethiopia (Sammy Ethiopia, whose featherlight scarves, wrapped over bikinis, are a summer hit among the Med set). Spurred by its success in Uganda and Cambodia, the Spotlight Stitch in Time program operates in Australia’s Top End where, it is hoped, the provision of sewing machines and support could mean that indigenous women, among the world’s most marginalised, may earn a place in a lucrative value chain.

While small companies can react to changing needs and, designers such as Vivienne Westwood can be nimble because she retains control of a business (with estimated annual sales in excess of £120 million ($189 million), plus ownership of all key retail real estate. Who’s bonkers now?), the fast fashion juggernauts require a longer turning curve. It is encouraging that Pablo Isla, the new man at the top of Inditex (owner of Zara) has pledged to make sustainability a cornerstone of all of activities and has announced that his company has signed on to the Better Cotton Initiative and The CEO Water Mandate.

At the dawn of the ‘90s, it was the Ladies-who-lunch who fascinated. I’d certainly never met anyone like couture-clad Texan, Lynn Wyatt, a damn good sport who agreed to wear a wire so we could listen in to the front row set. Now, those I record (entirely legally) might be scientists, hardly a profession known as best dressed.  Fashion professional Helen Storey works with boffin, Tony Ryan, to create dresses which disappear, thereby demonstrating that detergent bottles of the same material  (polyvinyl alcohol) can “knowingly” reduce to a compostable gel once empty. There’s Dr. Helen Crowley of the Wildlife Conservation Society whose biodiversity objectives include sustainable cashmere, this to stop over-grazing of goats and so save the rare Przewalski’s horse from extinction.

Fashion really is everywhere, (Benin Fashion Week followed Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, by the way), its glitter sprinkled  even on Magnum ice-creams (Karl Lagerfeld just shot the TV commercial). Yet the given is, it always reacts to what has gone before, hence Tom Ford, – he of Gucci runways vast enough to land an A380 – now favours salon presentations, no cameras allowed. While Vuitton-checkered flags flutter over all points of the compass, upcomers want just a handful of stores, or only one, in Paris. When you can get everything everywhere, a thrill lies in something you can only find somewhere.

In the days of The Look, we never spoke about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR); now those in power recognise fashion must become more fair to respond to consumer demand. While eco is a trend with staying power, claims for eco cred must become more intelligent. Pack purchases in paper in a world short on trees yet littered in plastic bags? Let’s rethink that. Marginalized women across Africa are cleaning and crocheting waste that would otherwise be burned releasing dangerous dioxins. A plastic-bag crocheted tote from Zambia, with no designer label, has replaced the Birkin as the schlepp bag of choice for a New York tastemaker I know.

Last year, Naomi Campbell was called to testify at the international court of justice at the Hague. Her memories of 1997 when she was given those “dirty looking stones” reminded us what a filthy business the diamond trade used to be. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), formally adopted in November 2002, has done much to clean up things, to the point that if you splash out on something sparkly from a reputable jeweller, you can be confident there’s no blood on your hands.

Fashion is much more diverse than the international gem trade (itself still grappling with the transit of illicit precious stones from Burma, Zimbabwe, etcetera and it should be noted, the KPCS does not cover environmental concerns nor guarantee fair trade). It will take wisdom, time, effort for a clear international system of ethical labeling to become as useful as the one inside your jacket that directs you to cool iron or dry clean. While the 21st century journey of that jacket to your back is way too complex to fit on an actual label, there are positive developments.

Just as e-commerce has made it possible for the consumer to voice concerns (much easier via pressing “contact us” than trying to get answers from a harried shop assistant), so might m-commerce on smartphones allow us to receive the life story of clothes just as we are deciding whether of not to buy them.

There are no plans I’m aware of to make a sequel to The Look but if there were, what moment might it capture now? I think this is the time where those of us who love fashion face up to responsibilities that include saying “no” if something seems too cheap, in the awareness that it may carry other costs we can’t countenance. The Look captured a moment of style. If a sequel could capture the moment of style equaling substance, wouldn’t that be good?

Giorgio Armani – The Sunday Telegraph

The Sunday Telegraph | September 2011

For Decades, Giorgio Armani has remained Loyal to A philosophy of Shape And Tailoring this season’s collection of suits is true to form.

by Marion Hume

‘Silhouettes must evolve slowly, so that an upcoming season never renders the one that has gone before redundant. Fabrics must be both sensual to touch yet tough enough to endure.’

Such sound sartorial sense may sound like the latest quote from a minimalist such as Celine’s Phoebe Philo. But it was Giorgio Armani who said this in 1991, when I interviewed him for a BBC TV series called The Look. Judging by e-mails  I’ve been receiving since 10 magazine posted links to is on an online blog, The Look is currently gathering an audience of those barely born when it was new. Amazingly Armani’s clothes still look current- adjust the shoulder pads a little and his jackets could walk off the screen and out onto the street without looking remotely ‘vintage’.

As a combination of great tailoring and good taste returns to the centre of fashion, it is Giorgio Armani’s turn yet again, and the 77-year-old’s collections have been garnering rave reviews. While those who work within the Armani universe, headquartered in a palazzo in Milan, might argue Commendatore Armani has stayed in style since the label was launched in 1975, his understated refinements of the jacket, first for men, then, in 1976, for women, have been both fashionable and, inevitably, less so in turn over the years. There have certainly been times when the designer himself has criticised the competition as ‘motlo porno’ or ‘‘troppo Joan Collins’. Now, he might argue, the rest of us have returned to our senses.

What is also certain is that at no point has the Giorgio Armani brand-its start-up costs funded by the sale of a Volkswagen Beetle-ever stopped advancing hence a fortune which Forbes puts at $7bn (March 2011). The Armani empire is now vast, comprising sleek stores around the globe, underpants promoted via the buff body of Rafael Nadal, hotel rooms, even chocolates…Yet the central pillar that supports it all is a jacket, created by this architect of the power suit, who, paradoxically, changed the way men and women dress for work by knocking the stiffness clean out of it.

Jackets had a rigidity that made them awkward to wear’, he says of the mid-Seventies. ‘My idea was to take them apart, then put them together again, removing the structure, the padding and the lining reconfiguring them with all the easy comfort of a knitted cardigan.’

Today Giorgio Armani stands as a style colossus, the creator of a democratic uniform which cuts across class and geographical divides. Of course, it requires substantial cash to own a real Armani (slightly less for Emporio Armani), but his influence is writ large even on those imitations where the colour and the weave of the fabric have nothing like his subtlety and quality.

After my first collection for men, my sister and her friends asked me to design similarly deconstructed but impeccably cut jackets for them as well,’ he says today, explaining the genesis of his signature look. ‘I went on to offer women an alternative to clothes that imprisoned them in a confined ‘baby doll’ role.’

I saw my first Armani show in the mid-Eighties and I was blown away by the unadorned beauty. But as more seasons of beige perfection went by, the impact inevitably diminished. At the time, his understated and elegant approach was also in stark contrast to the ostentatious sexiness of one of his closer neighbours, and the press delighted in comparing Giorgio (northern Italian, sedate) with Gianni Versace (southern and then at the height of his women-as-courtesan obsession).

But Armani insists that tailoring can seduce, and that his is ‘a sensuality that is hinted at, never shouted out loud’. He explains: ‘When I design a suit, I like to give it a sexy edge, firstly through the choice of fabric, but most importantly through the balance of proportion and volume that often reveals the beauty of a woman”s anatomy better than nudity.’

From the vantage point of Armani’s autumn/winter 2011 reviews, this may seem credible, but 25 years ago it was easy to see him as an austere perfectionist. Stories circulated in the press of his obsession, like how he insisted the hangers in his stores were always exactly the same distance apart. Now we are used to the attention to detail of Tom Ford and Burberry’s Christopher Bailey, that sounds so fashion-normal. Sadly, back then, the fashion press was so busy refined in front of our eyes was a category piece that would stand the test of time alongside Chanel tailleur and the YSL tux. And then came Hollywood.

Armani was the first to assess the massive brand-building potential of the red-carpet, back when Cher was in feathers, Meryl Streep in some gown she brought on the way to the ceremony and Jodie Foster on the ‘worst-dressed’ list. In the space of a year, Armani moved in and Foster was ‘best-dressed’ in a beaded tuxedo and the US magazine W replaced its famous ‘In/Out’ list by one headed ‘Armani/Armani Not’. Kim Basinger, Michelle Pfeiffer, Diana Ross, Angelica Huston, Julia Roberts, Harrison Ford and Robert De Niro all wore Armani.

That Armani always appeals to grown-ups may, of course, be due to the fact that he was 40 in 1975 when he launched his own label along with his partner Sergio Galeotti (who died in 1985). While it was his self-taught talent, refined first as a window-dresser, then as a freelance designer, that set Armani style agenda from day one, the fact that the company earned $1m in its first year was largely down to Galeotti’s business acumen and considerable chutzpah.

By 1976, Fred Pressman, who was at the helm of Barney’s New York, tracked the pair down via the Milan telephone directory. By 1977, the Giorgio Armani label was being stocked on America’s West Coast, too, attracting the attention of screenwriter Paul Schrader, who was working on a follow-up to Taxi-Driver that would centre on a male escort. Would Armani be interested in costuming John Travolta? Then Travolta pulled out of American Gigolo. Enter a young buck called Richard Gere.

1n 2000, two decades after the film’s eventual release, at the opening of a 25-year Giorgio Armani retrospective at the Guggenheim, New York, I wandered into a side gallery where clips from the many movies for which Armani has designed the clothes over the years were played on a loop. And there was Richard Gere, grey around the temples, still gorgeous, watching his cocky younger self in fashion’s number-one-all-time-favourite film clip- working out what Armani shirt, what Armani tie, goes with what. It’s the most glamourous image of a man getting ready to go to work.

The interesting this is Giorgio Armani will probably be remembered for creating a new wardrobe for the working woman. ‘Throughout the Seventies, I saw women establishing their right to a personal status beyond the family environment, often in a professional capacity,’ he says. ‘At that time, they did not have an aesthetic model to emulate. My aim was to find a positive sartorial solution to this problem, adapting certain elements of the male wardrobe, softening the lines and aiming for a balance between precision and delicacy. In short, I was determined to provide clothes for a new kind of woman.’ So this was fashion as a social statement? ‘It is all a long time ago, but there can be no doubting the significance of my small revolution concerning the jacket.

Back in 1991, in the interview for The Look, he said, ‘The jacket obscures, the jacket suggests. It’s mysterious. It’s protection, a shield, a kind of armour to help you survive modern life. A dress reveals too much. You see a woman in a dress, you know how she is made. The jacket conceals and gives you shape.’ This season’s elegant offerings make it obvious that the maestro of minimalism still stands by that.

the look – bbc4


In 1989 Hume was tagged by independent film makers, Freelance Film Partners as the insider they needed for a BBC six-part series called The Look. For the next two years, she worked on the series and also appears in 5 of the 6 episodes. Interview subjects included Gianni Versace, Donatella Versace, Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan and Christian Lacroix. The episode entitled Runway was the first to chart the evolution of the Supermodel. Yves Saint Laurent refused to be interviewed for the hour-long documentary about him, although close associates including Pierre Berge, Catherine Deneuve, Paloma Picasso and Betty Catroux did speak on his behalf and Saint Laurent himself was filmed backstage at his haute couture shows and at his 30th Fashion Birthday at the Opera Bastille, Paris. The Look has been broadcast all over the world and was most recently repeated on BBC4.



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