high fashion

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What is luxury? A fur coat, a silk Hermes scarf, a vintage Chanel 2.55, or a Guerlain lipstick? Or is luxury time, or even knowledge? Ultimately, everyone has their own version of luxury, but the V&A’s new exhibitionexplores the history of the subject and questions the traditional norms of what is usually thought of as luxurious. By collecting a highly curated selection of objects—from furniture made of human hair, to a classic Hermes saddle—the exhibition investigates the future of luxury through culture, economics, art, fashion and design.

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Below, BAZAAR talks with one of the curators, Leanne Wierzba.

HB: How do you define luxury in terms of fashion?

LW: In terms of fashion, we’re really looking at the motivations of the designer and also thinking about the investment, time and application of skills that’s involved in the production or making of an object. So, it would be difficult to say that any one type of material could be considered universally luxurious. One of the fashion designers we included in the exhibition that we think epitomizes luxury is Carol Christian Poell. He’s Austrian by birth but based in Milan and does menswear, primarily. What’s interesting about Carol is that, unlike most designers who begin with the fabric, he begins with the thread. He spends a lot of time and puts in a lot of research in developing textiles himself. He’s developed a textile that is 15% glass beads—they reflect light in a particular way. Another interesting thing about his work is that he doesn’t use lining. You can actual see all the internal seams. All though there’s a very raw aesthetic, it’s completely precise because the lining typically hides a lot of mistakes or other fabric that hasn’t really been dealt with.

HB: Which fashion objects throughout time have represented luxury?

LW: One of the objects we have in the exhibition is a 17th Venetian lace chasuble, of course used in the church. Another fashion example that we have in the exhibition is Iris Van Herpen’s work. What we think is interesting about her is her compulsion to innovate and collaborate. Most of her work is done collaboratively, people from different fields—architecture, industrial design, or music, and she is bringing in knowledge and expertise and disciplines from other industries and applying them to fashion. We have a Savile Row suit in the exhibition, but it’s actually a military uniform. We thought that was incredible that the object is so heavily codified and it has so much cultural meaning—that’s luxury as well.

Snuffbox, Jean Guillaume George Krueger, Berlin 1775-1780

HB: Can luxury be inexpensive?

LW: One of the increasingly recognized luxuries in busy cities like London is time. Regularly, when we speak to people about luxury they say time is their biggest luxury. Time for yourself, time to spend with loved ones and family, and also time to develop knowledge and to become a connoisseur of luxury.

HB: Does sustainability play into luxury?

LW: One of the resources that will continue to grow will be human hair. In the exhibition, we have a project where they’ve created furniture and accessories using human hair, and resin. They’re quite beautiful, but once you look closely and realize its human hair, people are quite disturbed by that—which is interesting, because there’s a huge global hair trade at the moment. Having it re-contextualized as furniture is a really strong statement.

HB: What does the future of luxury fashion look like?

LW: It’s really tied up in supply chains and thinking of production. That’s really the focus of the exhibition. I think the supply chain will have to be more adapted to resolve ecological and ethical issues related to current fashion models. We agree that the future of fashion, especially pertaining to luxury is about small batch production and imbuing the kind of objects you’re creating with meaning and intention. Something that you would really want to invest in, value and hold on to. Luxury is something you’d want to repair rather than discard and replace.

What is Luxury is on view at the Victoria and Albert Museum from April 25th-September 27thand is in partnership with the Crafts Council and sponsored by Northacre.

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If their experience was anything like mine, they probably felt they were walking on air. At the opening celebrations I attended, including the ceremonial ribbon-cutting on Thursday with Michelle Obama and Mayor Bill de Blasio present and Adam D. Weinberg, the Whitney’s director, presiding, the atmosphere was euphoric, unlike anything I’d experienced in over four decades in the New York art world. Now we know how it feels, I kept thinking, when a museum emerges bigger but better from the excruciating process of building a new home. Now we know what can happen when an architect — in this case Renzo Piano — and trustees, a director and curators are on the same page and keeping their priority straight. Namely, to accommodate art and people with equal finesse.

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The new building offers 50,000 square feet of galleries. CreditMichael Appleton for The New York Times

When a structure like this opens, a sensation of transformation occurs in real time. The Whitney and its collection are shifting shape — growing and deepening before our eyes.

At Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, the city’s cultural metabolism seemed to quicken noticeably as successive speakers affirmed art’s importance to society. That’s because the new Whitney forces a decisive yet organic realignment of the balance of power among New York’s main museums that is good for all concerned. With its enlarged galleries and the reveal of its collection, the Whitney, and to some extent American art, should begin getting the full respect both deserve.

One sign of this realignment: Last Friday, the Museum of Modern Art congratulated the Whitney in a quarter-page ad in The New York Times. It seemed magnanimous but weird. “Welcome to the top tier,” it seemed to say. And yet, except for the white lettering, the entire page was black, like a death announcement.

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In my years in New York, I’ve seen a lot of disappointing architectural activity among the city’s museums: expansions and new structures that displayed glaring flaws from the outset that either got worse or became, at best, bearable. The most prominent include two expansions at the Museum of Modern Art, one at the Guggenheim, two at the Brooklyn Museum, two at the Morgan Library & Museum, a new building for the New Museum and the coming — and going — of the American Folk Art Museum.

The Whitney is palpably a different order of achievement. Art looks better here, to my eyes, than it did in the old Whitney, and it is amazingly comfortable to be in. I didn’t understand this fully until last Friday night, my third time inside the building.

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The museum’s new home in the meatpacking district shifts the balance of power among the city’s major museums.CreditBebeto Matthews/Associated Press

Up to that point, I’d seen Mr. Piano’s eight-floor structure empty, looking big and fabulous inside but somewhat anonymous. I’d visited again when the first show, of roughly 600 works by some 400 artists, was nearly installed, which was thrilling. For a permanent collection display spanning more than a century of art, the opening show has an unusually high (for the Whitney) percentage of works by women (nearly one-third) and a strong representation of African-American and Asian-American artists, if too few works by Hispanic artists. But this isn’t just a matter of numbers; diversity is broadcast by the art itself, throughout the show and in numerous outstanding works and telling juxtapositions.

To cite but a few: Among the works unfamiliar to me were I. Rice Pereira’s “Boat Composite,” a large, vivid yet grisaille canvas from 1932 that dominates a gallery of Precisionist paintings and photographs with its bold scale and paint handling, learning from Fernand Léger while presaging the great late works of Stuart Davis and Philip Guston. And old standbys suddenly became new knockouts: Lee Krasner’s “The Seasons” from 1957 commandeers the Abstract Expressionist gallery, which is further enlivened by excellent lesser-known works by Norman Lewis, Alfonso Ossorio, Hedda Sterne and Eldzier Cortor. In a gallery centered on the use of non-art materials, assemblages by Raphael Montañez Ortiz and Noah Purifoy hold their own against a Rauschenberg combine, and Jim Dine’s “The Black Rainbow” from 1959-60 shows him at his rough-edged best.

But to see the new Whitney in active use is to understand its success as a place for visitors. It instantly became the most physically welcoming art space in New York outside of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And it accomplished its new level of comfort without carving a huge event space out of its center, as many museums have done. For better or for worse, the Whitney is in something of an event space, the meatpacking district, but it also has a series of events spaces at its margins: a flexible auditorium and four large terraces, three of which are linked by an outdoor staircase.

The Whitney may be too hospitable for its own good, but only time will tell. It has timed tickets that are designed to control crowding, but people may linger longer than expected. After art they can retire to the eighth-floor cafe, the terraces or the lines of comfy leather couches facing glass walls overlooking the Hudson and Greenwich Village at either end of the fifth floor (an unmitigated luxury for denizens of New York museums).

The outdoor staircase epitomizes the operative and symbolic logic of Mr. Piano’s design. The meaning and function of a wide switchback three-level affair in steel grating will be parsed for years to come. It is the most aggressive part of the multiple components that make the building a kind of architectural assemblage. From the street, the switchback juts out over the building’s east face like a fire escape on steroids or a fragment of an aircraft carrier. From the galleries, it is a people magnet but also a people mover, integrating the indoor galleries and the outdoor terraces and eliminating dead ends in a way that rarely happens in buildings of any kind. It affords a third way to move among three (if not four) of the museum’s main display floors. It is something like the Whitney’s very own High Line, except that it works for its living.

Mr. Piano has built more than his share of disappointing museums, including his expansion of the Morgan Library. But the new Whitney reaffirms why museums began turning to him in the first place. Moreover, it shows that despite Manhattan’s treacherous real estate market, the borough can still accommodate a gracious museum that is equally receptive to art and the viewing of art. It proves that these conditions are mutually dependent. You can’t have one without the other.

PHOTO: MCV PHOTO.

Whether you’re talking about high-end splurges like Chanel bags, or mass-retail staples (think the Nike swoosh), the designer logo has long been considered a status symbol. But, as anyone who’s clicked through pics of the Fashion Week collections — or even breezed through the mall recently — knows, the role of the ubiquitous fashion logo has been moving in the opposite direction.

Some brands have embraced minimalism. Louis Vuitton made news back in 2013 when it pulled back on the use of its iconic LVs in accessories. And, logo-less purses, such as the understated Mansur Gavriel bucket bags, have usurped the popularity of branded carryalls. Now, there’s a noticeable change happening on the other end of the fashion spectrum: Major fashion labels are flaunting the logos of brands other than their own.

Call it the Jeremy Scott effect. For his debut fall 2014 Moschino show, the designer sent models down the runway decked out in McDonald’s and SpongeBob SquarePants motifs. Scott’s throwback vibes continued for spring 2015, with a Barbie-inspired Moschino collection that was almost exclusively pink and plastered with the Mattel doll’s logos. Scott has been repurposing logos — both commercial and indie — for his eponymous line for years, and he’s not the first to do so, but following the financial success of his Moschino collections, others in the industry are rushing to get in on the business.

PHOTO: COURTESY OF JOYRICH.

The trend picked up more steam this season with additional designers hopping onboard: Opening Ceremony showed tops printed with old-school Kodak branding, NYFW newcomer Bobby Abley debuted a collection featuring characters from The Jungle Book, and Joyrich referenced retro Coca-Cola logos in its pieces. David Melgar, creative director of Joyrich, explained the inspiration behind the logo-centric design: “Being that we are heavily influenced by ‘80s and ‘90s pop [and] street culture, I wanted to do something that reflected this time. I liked how the logo had a nostalgic, vintage feel to it and I felt that with the combination of the fabrications that we used, it would bring life to a whole new story.”

Inspiration aside, tapping into these instantly recognizable images is also a strategic move. Jeremy Scott is consistently one of the top-ranked brands on social media for both Scott’s eponymous line (its spring 2015 collection earned 650,000 likes, posts, and tweets), as well as Moschino, which essentially won the Internet last season with 1.5 million total interactions.

It’s smart for designers to capitalize on our nostalgia for other brands, but we have to wonder: How is this even legal? Turns out, there’s a line between nodding to another company’s logo and infringing on its intellectual property rights, and it all boils down to the message the design sends to consumers.

According to Christopher Sprigman, a professor at NYU School of Law, brands that evoke other brands’ logos must first negotiate licensing deals. “I had seen a report that there was a deal made between Kodak and Opening Ceremony,” he said. “If there hadn’t been one, it would raise questions in the consumers’ minds about whether the product was sponsored.” Not having a deal could have spelled major trouble for OC.

PHOTO: COURTESY OF OPENING CEREMONY.
Kodak, on Opening Ceremony.

In this case, the partnership with Kodak was part of a collaboration between OC cofounders/designers Humberto Leon and Carol Lim and the photo company. As the duo said in an interview with Kodak, “We’ve always loved Kodak’s logos and trademarks, and admired Kodak’s dedication to continuity. We think the capsule celebrates all [the] Kodak values we appreciate.”

Unsurprisingly, this type of licensing deal usually entails a financial transaction. “It’s a situation in which a brand like Opening Ceremony would say, ‘We want to use T-shirts with your logo,’ and Kodak would say, ‘Okay. Pay us money.’ The fashion industry is notoriously for-profit, so this would be typically a deal that exchanges a license for money,” said Sprigman. The goal is to define the relationship between the parties, and if a designer incorporates a logo in a way that might cause confusion about whether it was sponsored, he or she runs the risk of being sued.

The exception? When logos are used in a way in which there’s no risk of misleading consumers into thinking they’re endorsements. One example is using multiple logos. Sprigman cites the streetwear designer Heron Preston. Hissignature tees feature 17 logos splashed all over them, including Google, Nascar, Home Depot, and M&Ms. But, despite all the branding, Sprigman says the message remains clear: “If I had looked at this shirt, I wouldn’t necessarily think that any of these companies were sponsoring the shirt,” he said. “I don’t think the trademark law would require this to be licensed, because I think consumers would conclude that this is a commentary about brands as opposed to a T-shirt sponsorship.”

With London, Milan, and Paris still left in Fashion Month, these clearly aren’t the last of the logos we’ll be seeing on the runway. So, designers, take note: Imitation might be the highest form of flattery, but don’t forget to ask permission first.

The goal was, of course, to do an ollie. Then you knew you would have made it. As a wannabe skater in the 1990s, I could never manage this basic boarder move. Growing up in the not-at-all mean streets of Guildford, skating seemed like it could magic carpet me away from the weight of suburban apathy. Or at least make me feel cool. But I was impatient. Instead of honing my craft, I hung around the skateboarding shops, such as Route One, staring longingly at the skatewear. Those shops were so captivating for a teen looking for some trouble. I remember looking through the racks of sweatshirts and trainers looking for something, an identity I suppose. I must have picked up the same pair of purple Vans a hundred times, so many times, in fact, that I think the staff were convinced I was a shoplifter. In the corner there was a miniscule monitor on permanent loop, showing prolific skaters doing all manner of impossibly difficult manoeuvres. And the sound system blasted out Self Esteem by The Offspring.

The Palace store in Central London

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The Palace store in central London. Photograph: Palace

I was in awe of a world dressed by Dickies and Stussy. A world I could see but couldn’t really touch. Niall Kenny, a director and lifelong skater, unpicks the allure for me: “Skatewear is cool because it comes from a skill someone has,” he explains.

These days this cool has seen skater brands like Palace and Supreme pierce the mainstream as the fashion world co-opts its aesthetic. Marc Jacobs and Topmanhave attempted to put their own mark on skating culture while high-profile models like Cara Delevingne, Natalie Westling and Daria Werbowy also skate.

“Fashion has adopted the cultural values of the skating subculture,” says Maude Churchill, senior editor of streetwear and fashion website Highsnobiety. “Now it’s suddenly transferred into a mainstream way of dressing.” It’s a bone of contention amongst the self-sufficient skating community, as Kenny explains.

Palace's logoed hoodie
Palace’s logoed hoodie. Photograph: Palace

“Kenzo did a show in Paris with a model walking down the catwalk holding a skateboard the wrong way. They have no connection to skateboarding and are not doing anything for the industry. They just think it’s cool; that annoys me.” This “trickle down” economy is an important philosophy in the skating community. As Eirik Traavik, editor-in-chief of Dank magazine, explains: “Not only do skaters make the clothes but the skating brands also make the videos and the adverts, so it ultimately feeds back into the skating world itself.”

Although it is questionable whether the fashionistas taking note has been a good or bad thing, skatewear brands have also experienced a peak in mainstream interest. Palace, the DIY-spirited label started by skater Lev Tanju has just opened its flagship store in London. It follows in the wake of Supreme, the hip New York skating label, which opened its first London store a few roads down in Soho in 2011. The previously hard-to-get brand whose cool credentials were impeccable (collaborations with Larry Clark and Jeff Koons, worn by Kendrick Lamar) was suddenly easily available. “When they opened the store, everyone was wearing their clothes, not just skaters,” says Jamie Hopper, store manager of Slam City Skates in East London. “It’s really opened up and people who weren’t skateboarders started wearing the stuff.” Skatewear has now become streetware, worn by everyone including the HD (Hipster Dad) brigade, who can afford it. Adam Horovitz’s character, Fletcher, in While We’re Young is a case in point.

Model and skateboard fan Natalie Westling in September

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Model and skateboarder Natalie Westling in September. Photograph: Melodie Jeng/Getty Images

Palace, for example, have seen a bump in interest after the likes of Drake andASAP Rocky sported their pieces. With their dreamy aesthetic (they work with VHS video and their designs have a hazy, nostalgic feel about them), Palace began as a grass- roots company, which is echoed in the vaguely affordable pieces – logoed T-shirts start at around £35. The story goes that founder Tanju was disillusioned with the way skate brands were going so he decided to start his own company. Named ironically after the dilapidated state of their living accommodation, Tanju and his crew began printing their own T-shirts.

“Lev just makes clothes he wants to wear,” explains Kenny, who directed a film about the brand in 2011. In it, Lev explains his own criteria: “I like people who wear whatever they want to wear and don’t give a fuck about anything.” He also echoes the food-chain ethos of the skating community. “All the money goes to the skateboarders to do what they do.”

Part of the reason their clothes became so popular was the fact that they were hard to find in the skating shops. “What’s so desirable is that they are elusive,” says Churchill. “You don’t know what’s going on, they don’t push themselves.”

Traavik doesn’t think the opening of their first shop will lose Palace any cool points. “They’ve got a good team and they’re not too serious about things,” he says. “I don’t think the store will have a negative impact on their credibility.”

The crowd outside the new Palace shop in Soho

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Crowds outside the new Palace store in Soho. Photograph: Priya Elan

On the day of the opening I pop down to see for myself. It’s located on Brewer Street, on the parallel road from the Supreme store and sort of opposite a sex shop. The location feels like its part of the old Soho and not the creep of gentrification that has plagued the area, which feels significant. The queue skirts round the block and the shop’s policy of letting no more than five customers in at any one time means that we’re left lined up for three hours after the 11am opening time. Everyone looks young: solvent teens from the home counties, as I was, dressed in a mixture of sportswear, bucket hats and Supreme gear who have travelled down especially for this.

“I was HYPED!,” says Jamie, 18, from Cambridge, who has somehow been in and out of the store three times already. He’s spent £300 on socks, keyrings, a couple of T-shirts and hats. I feel like he might do well on Supermarket Sweep. Like some of the others I talk to, Jamie’s not a skater. “There are two sides to Palace – the stuff that’s for the skaters and the stuff that’s for the other people,” says Alex,18, from Chelmsford. “That’s where their revenue is going to come from, the fashion side, so they’re going to have to keep going.” They both mention that the appeal of Palace is the simplicity and the “basic design” of the clothes.

Inside the Palace store in central London

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Inside the Palace store in central London. Photograph: Palace

When I finally get to enter the hallowed shop it is something that’s echoed on the shop floor: a minimal number of clothing racks, a monochrome marble floor and a feeling of scarcity. No wonder it felt as if everyone who entered the shop left with something. So do I. I’m surprised, though, after three hours of queueing, that I couldn’t feel less like buying into the Palace cult and yet my eye catches a couple of items: Palace socks and a long-sleeved T-shirt emblazoned with psych-country crooner Will Oldham’s snaggle-toothed image on it (one of his band monikers was, you guessed it, Palace). Incidentally, Supreme used an image of Neil Young. As I go into the changing room, I spy HRH on the wall. I kind of love these funny, self-knowing reference points. So I buy the T-shirt, feeling slightly as though I’ve fallen under a mass delusion. But maybe that’s OK. “Everything loses its exclusivity after a while,” Alex tells me “but for right now, Palace represents this culture.”

It strikes me that Tanju, his crew and what they’ve done is an actualisation of what I desperately wanted all those years ago. The appeal of Palace is that outlaw gang thing: doing what the hell they want to outside the mainstream, but being paid for it. For the teenage wannabe skater in all of us: who doesn’t want that?

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Sir New York is the brainchild of designer Auston Björkman, the first openly transgender designer to emerge on the high-end fashion scene. A crossover brand, Björkman’s designs have been seen across the spectrum, from big names in hip hop and rap to prominent drag queens emerging from “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Read the interview below to learn more.

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The Huffington Post: What types of clothing does Sir New York tend to produce?
Auston Björkman: I was recently looking back at some planning I had done in the beginning and saw that I didn’t even know exactly what to call it — I was using the term Technical Tailored Sportswear. Complex Magazine aptly named us as the start of “athletic street goth,” which I love, but I would say both have something true, in capturing some of the essence of what is in the brand.

What is your focus for Sir New York? Do you specifically intend for your designs to be for the queer and trans community?
No, I never wanted Sir New York to be for any specific type of person. If anything my thinking was way too broad. I wanted all genders — everyone wears menswear. I wanted to appeal to the boy next door who likes clothes, to the club kids who are all about turning a look, to the fashion kids who pay attention to design. Whenever you study fashion they really try to make you hone in on “your customer.” But my vision is exactly what happened, with people wearing my designs like A$AP Ferg, Wiz Kalifa and Detox from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” — who has worn it in and out of drag.

shaun

You’re hailed as the first trans male designer to emerge in the high-end fashion scene. What have the reception and your experiences been like?
My experiences in the fashion world have been interesting. It is a very intense and tightly orchestrated industry with billions of dollars dedicated to making you want to look a certain way. It’s very hard for the majority of fashion designers ever to even get to this level and I am far from where I ultimately want to be… I’m still very much an “outsider.” I think most people don’t automatically assume I am trans. Most people only get as far as thinking I’m this odd little gay fashion designer.

The fashion industry has historically been open to all kinds of gender expression and misfits, so I don’t think I stand out in any kind of loud way — partly because that is my nature. I would rather let my work speak for me. I tend to talk about my work and not me, the person. So the positive reception I have gotten from both street wear and high-end fashion has been very much in response to the clothing, the brand and the aesthetic.

I think I have a unique perspective on the gender spectrum. I don’t believe in absolutes, nothing belongs solely to masculine or feminine. I like finding subtle balances.

Helen Pearson

Where have your designs appeared?
Usher came into our pop up shop with Liberty Fairs Concept Space in Los Angeles, copped a grip of the Seahole Future Surf gear and the next day it was on “The Voice.” French Montana has also worn it in videos and interviews and I saw my first stranger on the street rocking it, which is strangely a whole different amazing feeling of accomplishment than when someone high-profile is wearing it. Seeing it in print is also really exciting: Vogue Italia, Flaunt, GQ. I don’t know, I guess we’re getting around a little bit.

Do you have any showcases on the horizon?
Sir New York previewed our AW15 collection and hosted a mini pop-up shop last weekend at dapperQ’s “(un)Heeled: A Fashion Show for the Uncoventionally Masculine” at the Brooklyn Museum. “(un)Heeled” celebrated the style of masculine presenting women, gender nonconformists and trans* identified individuals, offering an alternative narrative to the museum’s current “Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe” exhibition.

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Historically the fashion world has been extremely queer friendly — what role do you think the fashion world has played within mainstream acceptance of LGBT identity?
Fashion has accustomed people to gender bending. We are more open to human expression rather than binaries. People are starting to let go of being uncomfortable about other people being different. Gender is often best expressed in presentation, how you wear your clothes and the swag you have when you feel good about your look. Fashion communicates identity with options.

Want to see more from Björkman and Sir New York? Head here to check out the Sir New York website.