April 24, 2012

Talking Fashion With Dries Van Noten

Courtesy of FIAF
``I’m more inspired by things which I don’t like…. Nothing is so boring as something beautiful. I prefer ugly things, which are surprising… You force yourself to ask yourself questions. ” 

Those of you who follow me on twitter heard my dilemma; whatever do you wear to an evening with Sir Dries Van Noten? Dries Van Noten is a designer I admire for his aesthetic, as well as the manner in which he runs his business. I’m very methodical when it comes to shopping, so it’s rare that I regret leaving an item behind in the store. The few exceptions have been Dries Van Noten pieces (a pair of shorts of all things), that I continually dream about.
I’m drawn to the subtlety that’s inherent in Dries Van Noten’s designs. His aesthetic is informed by color, fabric, print and texture, but done in such a subtle and composed way that’s unique. It was a pleasure to attend the French Institute Alliance Francaise’s third and final Fashion Talk of 2012 with Mr. Noten a few weeks ago. It was such an honor to hear the designer, who shuns promotional talks, speak so candidly about his process. 

It has often been asked if Mr. Noten is shy. He is not. In an hour he touched on so many facets of the complicated fashion industry with great generosity. Mr. Noten is unassuming, quiet and orderly. Much like his beautiful garden in Lier, Belgium. After each of Pamela Goblin’s questions, Mr. Noten would take the time to carefully consider what was being asked and to reply in a precise, articulate manner. My friend and I left that evening feeling as though, Mr. Noten had said everything he could possibly say, which is quite a feat for someone whose work truly speaks for itself. 
When asked about his approach to fashion, he mentioned that the only way to make the clothes he wanted to make was to start his own company. Dries Van Noten reaffirmed his contentment as an independent designer by stating “I like my independence, the possibility that I can do whatever I want. My design style is a natural thing. You put colors together. It’s me asking myself a lot of questions.” He repeatedly extolled the value of being able to follow his own rhythm as a designer. For Mr. Noten, this means foregoing pre-collections (the complexities of his fabric creations and the time involved renders this impossible). It also means prioritizing designing clothing over more lucrative accessories. It’s clear that he relishes being able to grow at his own pace.
Dries Van Noten's charming garden in Lier Via Vogue. Scans by me.
It was invaluable to hear about Mr. Noten’s unique business approach.  He stated that  when designing, "It’s a story. It’s not a person. I don’t have a muse. [Then] you have to choose a model. Then people will say, that is the only kind of person to wear the clothes and that is not for me.” There was a sheer joy when Mr. Noten spoke of the possibilities of playing with color, considering fabrics and choosing which style of garment to work with. I really appreciate the careful way that Dries Van Noten balances feminine and masculine textures, patterns, colors and shapes. It was beautiful to see his desire to create new volumes and proportions for every body type each season. This shouldn’t be a novelty, but sadly many designers refuse to acknowledge this. 
Mr. Noten cited that the greatest compliment as a designer was having people wear his clothes. When you don’t advertise, people purchase the clothes for the clothes, and not  for the brand, which is what Mr. Noten strives for. As both Creative Director and CEO of the brand, I enjoyed hearing his position on fashion shows. “Fashion shows are really my way of communication. I don’t go on Twitter. I don’t go to parties. I don’t often do fashion talks like this. So for me, it’s really what I want to communicate. It’s the end of the story… So the venue, the light, the location, the sound, the hair, the makeup, all makes it for me. You have ten minutes to explain to your audience what you are doing, what you want to tell. So everything has to be perfect.” As you know, I find such inspiration in considering all of the factors that go into a good fashion show. 
The perfect trench to wear when tending to that beautiful garden Via FirstView
I also loved hearing how special and personal the Paris store is to him. In keeping with the organic manner in which he runs his business, he was searching for a showroom, when he fell in love with the space. The Paris and Hong Kong boutiques are two of my favorite retail spaces- such beautiful environments that are truly expressive of the brand. Although what stood out most from the evening was the wonderful advice and reminder to "take your time..."

April 16, 2012

No Fuss

Blouse: Peter Soronen, Necklace: Chanel, Skirt: Rachel Roy, Shoes: Manolo Blahnik

Hope you all had a lovely weekend. The weather here is gorgeous. Here are just a few pictures taken en route to the Accepted Students Party I hosted at our alumni clubhouse on Saturday. The clubhouse is easily one of my favorite places in New York- it’s such a beautiful space to get lost in, but more importantly there’s always a friendly face and I always leave with a few new friendships. Clearly, my parents feel similarly because upon hearing that the party was later that afternoon, my dad couldn’t get there fast enough- I love it!

As you all know, I love looking polished, but under no circumstances does that mean fussy. When it comes to important events, I gravitate to pieces that have worked for me time and again. This blouse and skirt is one of my fail-safe options- it’s elegant, chic, comfortable, wrinkle-proof and meets the club’s imposed dress code.

This blouse is one of my favorites. I have the best memories of visiting Peter Soronen’s atelier a few years ago and putting the finishing touches on my blouses (you can see the other blouse here). It happened to be the day before the Grammy Awards and Peter was busy putting the finishing touches on an amazing gown for one of the nominees. It would have been far easier for me to come back at another time, but I was welcomed in, and immediately in my element- poking around at all of the gorgeous eveningwear, including samples of Michelle Obama’s Twilight Gown

I have long admired Peter Soronen’s work for the craftsmanship, structure and shape. Both of my blouses illustrate the skilled manner in which Peter works with lace.  I love that he uses lace in an unexpected and modest manner. In his words, he likes to design “for a woman who’s strong, who likes a garment that’s well built, who understands her clothes.” I like to think that I’m that woman.  

Speaking of strong women, I’m wearing a skirt by Rachel Roy, who is such an inspiration. Several of the foundation pieces in my wardrobe are from her early collections. She wears her own designs and always looks flawless, while humbly balancing motherhood, a demanding career and her charities. I appreciate the inherent ease to this skirt.

Do you have any fail-safe items in your wardrobe? I would love to hear. 

PS- My necklace deserves a post of its own, but I can say that patience is a virtue when sourcing for a very specific item.

Edit- How appropriately timed is this article? Honestly, I've been wearing lace in a sophisticated manner forever.

April 9, 2012

Inspiration- Standing Tall

Via JackandJil

One of the most delightful aspects of writing this blog is when lovely readers understand exactly what I’m attempting to say. Here’s to that sense of shared camaraderie that blogs inspire. Don’t we all just want to be heard and understood? When I wrote about this dress being one of my go-to smart dresses (for feeling instantly confident), the lovely, intelligent and talented Alice Olive commented “You walk taller in a dress like this, right?” That’s exactly it and I couldn’t have said it better. There are some garments that exude CONFIDENCE. I adore designers who design with this in mind. 

As soon as I read Alice Olive’s comment, I thought of this Tommy Ton photograph of Shala Monroque. This is the perfect example of wearing a garment with élan. Shala stands out in my mind for having an innate elegance, while remaining modern and insouciant. Perhaps it starts with a great smart dress, but here it’s really about poise, comportment- standing tall. Every woman deserves a dress that makes her look and feel this good. 

PS- I can’t begin to entertain the idea of wearing white shoes, much less the idea of white shoes in the Tuileries. I always wind up falling victim to the dust and debris. Yet, something about this is spot on. 

April 3, 2012

Talking Fashion With Stefano Pilati

Courtesy of FIAF 
Let’s not go there. Challenging is not the right word. It was traumatic! It was tragical. No, no, it was great, of course, it was great. You know what, Tom has such a self-confidence that you can really absorb it — he has enough for everyone around him, and I definitely got it. I was like, yeah, give it to me! I question every single moment of my life — about myself, what I do, what I say, what I didn’t say, if my idea is good or not good, you know. So imagine, somebody who actually brings me there and gives me a lot of responsibility. It was an amazing relationship.”

Stefano Pilati on Tom Ford bring him to Yves Saint Laurent 

Last Tuesday, I had the opportunity to attend Stefano Pilati’s first public comments since presenting his final fashion show for Yves Saint Laurent. This year marked the fifth anniversary of the French Institute Alliance Francaise’s Fashion Talks series. Hosted by Pamela Golbin, Chief Curator of the Musée de la Mode et du Textile at the Louvre and an inspiring woman in my mind; the series invites three leading designers to discuss their collections, inspirations and experiences. Attending the talks eluded me for several years due to travel and I’ve found myself sending friends in my place. 

The talk was arranged prior to Mr. Pilati’s departure and Ms. Golbin opened the evening by mentioning that the occasion marked the one-month anniversary of the announcement of his departure. Mr. Pilati quickly put the room at ease by his reply “Yes, I thought it was quite chic to be here.” Mr. Pilati was witty, in good spirits, and affable. He possessed a boyish charm, but most importantly, he was humble. 

What I admired most about Mr. Pilati was the discrete manner in which he discussed his tenure at Yves Saint Laurent. In an age when people exercise little discretion in the workplace, it was refreshing not to hear a harsh word uttered against Yves Saint Laurent. When pressed by Ms. Golbin, he was unable to identify a low point at Yves Saint Laurent. Several times during the evening he mentioned how lucky and grateful he was to work in fashion. 

The talk focused primarily on Mr. Pilati’s career- his start in fashion at the young age of seventeen. Mr. Pilati spoke of starting in fashion at Cerruti designing classic menswear, suits, etc. where “You don’t design as much. There was no sportswear. Menswear differentiates itself by the fabrics. The fabrics fuels creativity.” I was happy to attend the talk with my very talented friend who happens to be a textile designer. I can’t think of anyone I know who would have enjoyed the talk more. Mr. Pilati spoke elegantly about his love of fabrics- working in the textile industry in Milan and later in fabric research at Prada. 

Mr. Pilati quickly sited Miuccia Prada as the designer who most inspires him. It was truly a touching moment to see his respect and admiration for Miuccia Prada. It was fascinating to see Mr. Pilati look back at his time at Prada and Miu Miu in contrast to the YSL years. He recounted, “Prada was getting successful, but Yves Saint Laurent was international. Prada was a family situation. Things were literally discussed over Miuccia and Bertelli’s table.” Mr. Pilati painted a very clear picture of the shift from a familial business structure to “an American boss (Tom Ford), American mentality and business model” that dominated at Yves Saint Laurent.

There are many things that can be said about Stefano Pilati’s tenure at Yves Saint Laurent, however it’s undeniable that he rebranded and repositioned an unprofitable and overly licensed house. Pilati mentioned that designing for Yves Saint Laurent required him to “put aside his ego and freedom to make the house profitable.” Mr. Pilati humbly confessed that he wasn’t an accessories designer, but he learned. Judging by the commercial success of Pilati's Muse bag and Tribute sandals , I would say he's a fast learner. 

I know I’ve mentioned it here, but I’ve always loved how Pilati approaches designing for women- it’s instinctive. Mr. Pilati spoke candidly of the few meals he shared with Yves Saint Laurent and the touching letters he received. We can only imagine the complexity of their relationship. Perhaps the greatest homage to Yves Saint Laurent was Mr. Pilati’s reply that elegance is the most underrated attribute of fashion. You can imagine I ate that up. 

As for what’s next, that question remains unanswered. I’m anxiously awaiting Pilati’s next steps.