22 February 2015

Out of the Mouths of Babes OR How a 7-Year-Old Saw through Big Fashion

“Where does ‘DC Celine’ come from, Mama?”

She knows I have a website. She knows I sometimes write things about her, and that I sometimes ask her if I can share what she’s written or said on the site. She knows I write about fashion, that I read about fashion, and that I love fashion. The first time I took her to New York City, the Museum at FIT Daphne Guinness exhibit drew us there. Then in 2013, the Met’s Costume Institute produced the groundbreaking Impossible Conversations, in which Muiccia Prada and Elsa Schiaparelli discussed their inspirations and motivations - face to face. Decades apart.

While the question didn’t surprise me, it did take me by surprise - a kind of gentle joy of a surprise. I want my girl to be her own person, but I love that we share an interest, and that she’s curious enough, and has noticed enough, to ask about my writing.

So I explained DC Celine’s origin: that Celine, with Michael Kors at its venerated helm, was the first line I recognized without cue. There were no logos, no telltale camellias, no signature zigzag prints. I saw Rene Russo in one of my favorite movie roles, ballsy in her artistic investigation, and sheathed in contrast by supple voluptuousness. If you look carefully, you’ll see Kors’ aesthetic, almost a given, in classic trenches and turtlenecks. But for the French house, that all-American and commercial spirit he trots down his eponymous runways was gilded in the design equivalent of an Instagram filter: softened around the edges and richer than in real life.

Long story short, even after (love of my life) Pierce Brosnan had left the screen, I was still sitting in the worn theater seat, waiting for the credits to confirm my suspicion. I’m pretty sure I squealed when I saw I was right: Rene had stolen Pierce’s heart (and mind) in Celine.

You’ve got me. I didn’t quite give the Bean all that detail, but I did explain to her that the first time I recognized a fashion designer’s work, it was Celine. She seemed to understand, but I stretched for a way to illustrate it for her.

She knows Elsa Schiaparelli’s designs. She’s seen them in person, and she’s read about them (she appropriated the biography we bought at the exhibit, and won’t give it back to me to read). Inspired by Schiaparelli’s friend Dali and his surrealist compadres, her work is distinctive, to say the least. While popular, it wasn’t commercial. It didn’t survive, and went dark until just a few seasons ago, when the house relaunched as Schiaparelli.

Schiaparelli’s contemporary, though, is legendary. Even those outside the fashion world label Chanel jackets, fabric, and logos as “iconic.” For heaven’s sake, aliens probably recognize the double “C” - and maybe even its current guardian, Karl Lagerfeld. His persona is as carefully cultivated and shielded as Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s own mysterious self.

I decided to try an experiment. I Googled “coco chanel designs,” clicked “images,” and showed the Bean the page of pictures. “Are any of these Elsa Schiaparelli’s designs?” I asked? She considered the mostly black and white images (by entering “coco chanel,” vice just “chanel,” it pulled - purposefully - designs from the house’s early years that would be from the same era as to Schiaparelli’s), a page full of drop waist dresses and the early versions of probably the most copied jacket in the world. After a while, she pointed out one of the few pictures of an evening gown, and one of the few with any womanly shape. “This one,” she said.
Google Images results for "coco chanel designs"

I told her who had designed the pieces on the page, simply saying that she was a designer at the same time as Schiaparelli. She’d never heard of Chanel. Then I pulled up another tab full of Schiaparelli’s designs. “What differences do you see?” I asked.
Google Images results for "elsa schiaparelli designs"

Again, she considered before she spoke (on an aside, can we just keep that quality? If she manages to maintain that ability to think before she speaks, she’ll be the most advanced adult around.).

“I would wear Schiaparelli now, but I wouldn’t wear Chanel now.”

In her 7 year old eyes, she saw the straight lines and ladylike deportment that make Chanel both so coveted and considered so “classic” as “old fashioned” and not of today. The almost outlandish artistic quality that might well have done Schiaparelli in, on the other hand, speak to the Bean. For a girl who claims black is her favorite color (not kidding, I told you she’s interested in fashion), the Schiaparelli’s nearly garish color pairings are modern; the black and white Chanel boucle is something a grandmother would wear.

The other day, I read a criticism that Karl Lagerfeld, for all the respect he has in the industry, hasn’t designed a single original thing in 8 years. As I read that, I thought of my 7 year old daughter. A child’s eye caught what legions of fashion admirers and even critics won’t dare to say: that, despite its place in cultural history, usefulness in the classic closet, and commercial viability (we have to assume that there will always be women buying boucle), we can’t just assume a Fashion House’s relevancy. Perhaps men in ponytails, no matter how chic their shades, should have stayed in the 90s.

On a completely unrelated note, this, my friends, is my 1000th post. When I started in December 2005, I had absolutely no idea I'd still be writing on this site 10 years later. I'll probably wax poetic about it at some point later this year, but suffice it to say, I'm grateful for the technology, the community, and the people who grant me the space to keep writing. When I hit 7 years, I wrote a little bit about it, but in the meantime, just THANK YOU.

No comments: