Champagne Wishes, Couture Dreams

Champagne Wishes, Couture Dreams
Tim Blanks reports on the way we wore 2007
  Charlize Theron in Dior Haute Couture by John Galliano with the designerPhoto: Rexusa

It was the year of the anniversary—every week seemed to mark another milestone. Businesses such as Christian Dior, Valentino and Ralph Lauren are sufficiently ingrained in the public’s mind, so the fact they turned, respectively, 60, 45 and 40 shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. For me, it was an edgy little proposition like Costume National turning 21 in 2007 that really underscored the Big Story—like everyone and everything else, fashion is getting oooooold.

Which is why my favourite catwalk moments of the year came courtesy of Nicolas Ghesquière, whose collections for Balenciaga effortlessly skipped over banalities like wearability and accessibility in favour of a fever dream of fashion’s future that bordered on performance art. Cristobal Balenciaga was the greatest couturier of the 20th century, and to see the clothes he created for his elite clientele is to well and truly appreciate how mere cloth can be transmogrified into something transcendent.

It’s only a dress, I hear you cry. Why of course, but Balenciaga, an intensely religious man, understood that all God’s creation is touched with wonder. And in Ghesquière, he’s been blessed with a standard-bearer who defies the limitations of the human form—and the various ways to garb it—so imaginatively that his creations are equally transcendent. Those articulated robot legs from Fall ’07, the sculpted floral dresses Ghesquière showed for Spring ’08—I’m glad I don’t have to think about ways to wedge myself into them (though I did see photos of Terence Koh, one of New York’s art-world hotshots, looking fine in the robot pants), but they sure made for 2007’s most provocative eye candy.

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  Blanks with Karla Otto (left) and Daphne Guinness at Valentino’s 45th-anniversary partyPhoto: Patrick McMullan

Maybe it’s perverse of me, but I’m no longer looking to the fashion industry for how-to-dress guidelines. We all know where to find clothes we like at prices we prefer. The Japanese company Uniqlo, for example, produces the best polo shirt for men (I think I paid nine bucks). But such accessibility frees fashion to be something else: a provocation like Ghesquière or Miuccia Prada, a fantasy like Olivier Theyskens at Nina Ricci, a sensually intellectual diversion like Consuelo Castiglione at Marni, the indulgence of Chanel, the intimate luxe of Armani. In other words, fashion is a different language from the one we choose to speak on a daily basis (the $9 polo versus the Savile Row cashmere jacket). You could see it in the uncompromising na-ture of those arch waiting-list gimmes, the shoes and bags. Everything costs so much more now that, if you’re going to pay through the nose, the least you can expect is a new face. (I’m speaking metaphorically, of course.)

That’s why, for me, the year’s biggest disappointment was Valentino’s exit from the fashion stage. I know I just mentioned fashion is getting old, but age accrues knowledge, and in knowledge lies wisdom—and there is no wiser soul in fashion than Valentino Garavani, who, at 75, managed to pull one last ready-to-wear show out of his quiver that was triumphant enough to shame the offerings of designers young enough to be his grandkids. It’s all about knowing how to make a woman look good—and when she looks good, she’s going to feel it, too. That is one signal difference between clothes and fashion. Clothes we wear; fashion we take on like a persona, a guise that gives licence to facets of our personality that might other-wise remain untapped. I know what I want to say: fashion’s a ticket. And 2008 is a whole new destination.

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