fashion matters: anna piaggi, rei kawakubo, and my fantasy wish list for the fall

School starts soon, and the Fall season hangs like a predicate waiting for new clothes. My budget may not allow for the gorgeous creations that fill the glossies this time of year (British Vogue being my current fav), but that doesn’t stop the appetite, or the looking. Its in my DNA. And while Fall-Winter 2012/13 collections debuted on runways last February, most of us tend to think of clothes in season.

This year my thoughts on fashion are less about “what’s in” and more about what appeals to personal style, which is never to be confused with trends. As my favorite fashion writer and style icon, the late Anna Piaggi (1931-2012) famously said (and to whom this post is dedicated): “I am a synthesizer.”


© Patrick McMullan Company, Inc.

Mind you, I wouldn’t dream of putting myself in such chic and vanguard company, but she is, and always will be, my kind of woman. Shrewd and adventurous, and adamantly uninterested in the vain, banal sorts of femininity most fashionistas traffic in. I could go on, but the press has already done that, the obits andtributes still pouring in (as they should). I will say she changed the face of fashion with her guts and personality, and her doppie pagines — double-page spreads — in Vogue Italia remain the benchmark for all fashion editorials.



Photo: A d.p. from 2002/Italian Vogue

Someone will no doubt create a whole collection inspired by her, or claim to, and I hope she gets the MET retrospective she so richly deserves!

Thinking about Piaggi’s famous mix of high and low — ie. couture meets Canal Street in a penchant for vibrant colors and clashing patterns — I am reminded of my favorite Jean Genet quote from The Thief’s Journal (1949): “To achieve harmony in bad taste is the height of elegance.” Of course, Piaggi may not have shared Genet’s predilection for the abject as much as she did his rebellion against the dictates of “good taste” – that aesthetic language, which if learned early enough and by those with enough aptitude will eventually breed variation and contradiction, I’m convinced. As Piaggi put it, “It’s like algebra. It goes really by reduction and deduction. It’s a little bit mathematical and scientific.” Fashion Algebra.

One could also imagine Rei Kawakubo of Comme Des Garçons, who deservingly won this year’s CFDA award, saying the same thing. Indeed, Piaggi once said of the latter’s trademark deconstruction, albeit in a somewhat equivocal tone: “Rei Kawakubo’s always right in a way because she has been turning dresses inside-out and front-to-back so much that it has become incredibly professional and convincing.”  Visually their aesthetics bear little in common outside a mutual defiance of (western) classical notions of beauty, but if one considers the quotes made by fans of Kawakubo, one could just as easily imagine devotees of Piaggi, should she have been a designer selling her look/style, to be cut from the same courageous cloth.


© Patrick McMullan Company, Inc.

Regardless, both make the idea of age-appropriate clothing, something I explored in an earlier post seem so inconsequential as to be from another planet.

With all that said, my fantasy couture wish list for Fall 2012 (a girl can dream, can’t she?) is all about Valentino. I love the necklines, the regal colors and fabrics, the Renaissance lines and shapes, and of course, the exquisite construction.









Nearly every garment is given its own raison d’etre rather than merely extending another look.  And by the way, I inferred the Renaissance influence just from looking, and after checking — to my happy surprise! — I found out I was right. Being an art history professor does have its perks.

Of course this is all fantasy shopping here, but lest anyone think I’m not a practical girl, here are my picks for RTW (ready-to-wear). Choices I couldn’t limit to one collection, now could I?

NYC-based designer, Chris Benz gets top billing. The yellow-black-white-silver palette, and alternately red-black-white-gold, is fresh and appealing.



The wigs and transgender-ish vibe of runway models reveals an edgy tension, an oscillation between frumpy-vintage and urbane mash-up that is   palpable throughout the collection. Sort of like John Waters meets 1960s Barbie-housewife (if there’d been such an edition). And I also love the vertical stripes after seeing so many horizontals these last two seasons!




There’s so much going on here that as with Valentino, I am in awe of how many pieces stand on their own, even if some are a bit busy or unresolved for my taste. But Benz is young, and I see him working for Almodovar soon.

My other choices include examples from A Détacher by Mona Kowalska (love the sleeves and the hot red!). Kowalska’s foray here is a slightly toned down version of previous work and sometimes suffers from the same confusion Benz’s collection does, but I’d rather see ambition and experimentation take center stage then get tucked in the closet out of fear. How else does anyone grow and learn?






My last fancy comes from Bellstaff by Martin Cooper. This collection has a fabulous 1920s British roadster vibe with great masculine attitude, and the impeccable details to be expected from this Burberry ex-pat. Belstaff could take a primer from Stella McCartney, however, on the merits of going vegan — all that animal skin is NOT appealing (I choose to imagine it all as faux).







Speaking of which, another sartorial-related “event” that caught my attention this week, in addition to Piaggi’s death, was the plight of female garment workers. One in particular who’d been recently “disappeared” by her Bangladeshi bosses, known for routinely raping and robing their female-only sweatshop staff. Its a disturbing and increasingly common situation as sex-traffickers become the new drug-lords of the 21st century. Thinking about who makes our clothes and under what conditions is paramount to anyone with a ethical bone in their fashion-conscious body.

On a lighter note, how amusing was it to see Michael Phelps in that Annie Liebowitz shot for Louis Vuitton? The latter not being an official Olympics sponsor leading to all the hoopla about Phelps violating his pr clause, and potentially losing all those Olympic medals.


© Annie Leibovitz for Luis Vuitton

All I can say is Annie does it again: John and Yoko, Demi Moore, Myley Sirus…whose next? Funniest of all though was the attention given to the fart bubble the photograph allegedly captures. Will the tyranny of fashion never end? I hope not!