ON THURSDAY, THE FASHION GROUP NAMED SEVEN MEN MASTERS OF DESIGN. HERE’S WHAT THREE HAD TO SAY ABOUT FASHION, PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE.
Byline: Eric Wilson / Bridget Foley / Lorna Koski
John Galliano couldn’t make it to the Fashion Group International’s starry night to pick up his award, but he doesn’t want anyone to think he’s blowing off the whole affair.
“I’m the most disappointed,” Galliano says in a telephone interview from his home in the Marais, in Paris. “I’m elated to win this award. It is a great honor. I wish I could be there, but I’m grounded here.”
Galliano says a schedule of fittings for his two upcoming ready-to-wear shows — his signature Galliano line and the Christian Dior collection — prohibited a trip to New York to receive the “star” award that was to be presented to him Thursday.
“I’m working around the clock,” Galliano says but adds that he’s quite content designing two collections at once. “I’m a happy bunny.”
The reaction to Dior’s recently launched ad campaign has been positive, Galliano says. Sales are strong, and he’s ironing out the idiosyncrasies of moving into the Dior house.
After Galliano joined Christian Dior last October from Givenchy, the company terminated most of its global licensing agreements, including one with Jones Apparel Group for women’s suits. The company said it was repositioning its ready-to-wear to concentrate on the designer segment.
As a result, Galliano acknowledges, there are fewer Dior products in the American marketplace now.
“Of course, I pay attention to that,” he says. “At the moment, we’re redefining the Dior image, which takes a little time to do. It is difficult. Some things over the years haven’t quite come up to standard, so we are remaking that, more in keeping with a unified relation.”
He has modified the house’s cutting and draping techniques and added a “lighter touch” to the clothes. His staff meets regularly to brainstorm about accessories, scarves and color so that “everything works in relation to what I’m doing at the house of Dior.”
“I’m very fortunate at Galliano that I have a very close, family-knit team that understands my sense of shorthand. Dior is a different team, but I can kind of work in a different structure,” Galliano says. “Dior is developing its own shorthand, which is very exciting because there is so much wisdom in that house.”
And how about his own look, known to change radically from season to season — from painted toenails to Rastafarian braids to gold chains and plaid shirts?
This season he has grown his hair out into a “foppish fringe.” He says, “It is r-r-r-raven — the color of movement! It is a Twenties shape with the movement of the Sixties.”
Asked what that meant, exactly, Galliano says, “Oh, I’m growing my hair out. Let’s keep it simple.” But the designer adds that he has been wearing suits from the Christian Dior collection.
Galliano would only hint about what he’s working on for his upcoming October rtw shows in Paris.
“They are both very romantic and feminine collections,” Galliano says. “Mata Hari was such a formidable character in the [Dior] couture collection that it is hard not to be influenced by her spirit at Dior.
“I have great teams in each house that help enormously. To do research for the collection, I differentiate them by going to London for my Galliano research, and I stay in Paris for Dior,” Galliano says. “For the rest, I rely on my teams.”
Galliano went home to London the last two weeks of August and toured the major summer art exhibits and his favorite markets, “none of which really moved me very much.” He says, “You know, how you get taken in by their PR game?
“But it was great to be back in London. I spent two weeks this time and cut my holiday short so that we could really take up London and get my head around the drum bass and the music happening there.”
He says he visited with family, “went out to eat and gossip with my mom, and I met my niece Charlotte, who is just six months old. Unfortunately, she is not at the age that you can put her in a room with a box of clothes and then see how she puts them on.”
Galliano says he hopes to make a trip to New York at the end of October after the two rtw shows but not for personal appearances.
“It’s really just to hang out in New York. I’m looking for something urban, to do something with no formula. I might end up in the museums. Who knows?”
Yohji Yamamoto’s right hand is wrapped in a white gauze bandage. “Karate,” he explains. “I am a black belt. But there are many levels, and I want to go to the second step. In this step you really have to fight, and last week I was fighting with a very strong instructor. I received his very strong kick.”
Nevertheless, for Yamamoto, karate’s benefits clearly outweigh the pain. “It requires perfect concentration,” he says. “You have to forget everything. When you’re tense, you’re very safe. In that way you forget everything, about life, the job, the pressures of a girlfriend, everything.”
The job. A low-key term from a man who is a designer’s designer, who, for the better part of two decades has been captivating, disarming and awing audiences inside of fashion and out, one whose work continues to defy classification and transcend the winds of the moment. It’s not that Yamamoto wears a mantle of false humility, but he’s not about to overstate fashion’s importance or his own role in it. That doesn’t mean he’s not opinionated. He shrugs off minimalism as laziness, and he has little tolerance for the bandwagon approach. “Some times designers, or stylists, are looking around at too many things. Their collections are just that — they collect far too much of what’s around.”
On the other hand, Yamamoto praises fashion’s great individuals — Azzedine Alaia, Jean Paul Gaultier, Martin Margiela and Rei Kawakubo. And of Yves Saint Laurent, he says, “I have great respect for him. When he was young, he made a revolution. Now, the work is almost perfect, as if done by a great master.” He lauds fellow Fashion Group honoree John Galliano for his eccentricity and says that Karl Lagerfeld “is like a king.” He explains, “He rules a fashion world. Sometimes he’s arrogant, but he is also extremely generous, with all these ambivalent strengths. I like it.”
As for his own work, is it art? “I would rather speak of my strengths and advantages as a designer,” Yamamoto says. Strength number one: “I am a natural-born feminist.”
Yamamoto claims to have “learned the world through women’s eyes.” He adds, “And that is my advantage as a fashion designer.”
He was raised in a Japanese subculture dominated by women; his mother, a dressmaker, was a war widow forced to be self-supporting in a time and place when working women were anything but chic. “It was not only my mother who was struggling, it was a common story,” Yohji recalls. “There were so many Japanese war widows; they had it so hard.”
So, of course, did their children. Yamamoto discussed the long-term effects of growing up in post-war Japan in Wim Wender’s 1989 film “A Notebook on Cities and Clothes.” “I said in that film that my second World War has not ended, and it’s true. It’s not a simple coincidence that I lost my father to the war.”
Yet Yamamoto claims to have grown up free of anti-American feelings, even about the atomic bombings, and that instead, he is of a generation that came of age harboring ambivalent feelings about Japan. “Of course, I have a strong doubt that was the only way to end the war. But at that moment, the Japanese government had no power of its own to end the war, the Emperor didn’t have any power. It was all the military. And there was no freedom. Suddenly the American people, the American army came over to Japan. They gave us a totally new way to reconstruct the nation — this concept of democracy and chewing gum.”
It was not until years later, when he was in his early thirties, that Yohji first visited New York, a city for which he felt an instant affinity, even if “the United States and England are the only countries where my English doesn’t work.”
But for the harsh realities of his childhood, Yamamoto might have opted to pursue fine art. “My mother worked so hard,” he says. “I knew that painting or sculpting, maybe I would not be able to eat, or make my mother happy.” He also knew what he observed, “that society was controlled by men, and women lived in a low situation.” It was this early epiphany that cemented his desire to build a career by celebrating women. “I knew working women were independent, not only financially but spiritually. But they are still women, and they’re thinking also about the rest of life, about making love, about making a baby, about buying a mansion or a beautiful apartment, they have both.”
Most recently, Yamamoto’s collections have been remarkably beautiful, ingrained with an iconoclastic glamour that makes distinct references to the past — Penn, Dior, Chanel — without falling prey to retro camp. In short, they are as haute as ready-to-wear gets.
“To be glamorous or sexy or charming or elegant is not done by clothes. It comes out from within women naturally,” he says. “But yes, recently I’ve tried to transfer the sense of glamorousness of the past to out modern age, to prove it is always right. Going to the future means you have to use your past but in a sharp sense. This is very difficult.”
At the same time, business forges on: A London store is scheduled to open later this month, Yamamoto’s fifth outside of Japan, and he is in discussions with a Japanese firm for a new collection, “not diffusion, but with a broader reach.”
For his upcoming collection, Yamamoto says he will try to deal with two issues: Putting a definitive end to the Seventies revival, and exploring where “the future of couture is going.” Still, every collection begins with the same question. “I ask myself, do you still love women, and what type of woman do you want to reach?”
The English have a term for it — a flying visit. And that’s just what Karl Lagerfeld is making in New York this time around. He arrived Wednesday and will leave today — fitting a dinner party hosted by Ingrid Sischy and the Fashion Group’s awards ceremony in between. But even the briefest visit with Lagerfeld is entertaining, full of wit and sparkle. He begins talking from the moment he enters the room and doesn’t stop until the departing elevator arrives.
“I just went to a little dinner at The Independent, with Cindy Sherman, Lou Reed, Lenny Kravitz. I’ve never been to such a nice party. It would never happen in Paris,” he reports. He’s also pleased that his long conversation on the plane with Amanda Harlech, in English, got him geared up to appear on the Larry King show when he landed.
As for other current news, Lagerfeld says he was shocked by the death of Princess Diana. “When you see that beautiful girl going around and talking to everyone and comforting everyone at Versace’s funeral, you don’t really think that she’s going to be the next one in a box. It’s a horrible idea. She was more beautiful in person than she was in pictures. Not many people have a quality which appeals to everyone. Also, it’s a lot easier to just talk about Bosnia and Africa. It’s much more dangerous and uncomfortable to go there.”
In the fashion realm, Lagerfeld says it’s still too early in the season to say what he’s planning for Chanel or Fendi. As for Lagerfeld, he recently bought back the company from the Vendome Group, and he wants to “completely cut out all the mess they made of it — there were so many problems with late deliveries and everything.” There isn’t enough time to do a proper show in October, he says, but he’ll have an exhibition at his new photo gallery in Paris in January, featuring photos of the clothes — “I didn’t want to have a fake couture show.”
Asked what he thinks is coming in fashion as a whole, Lagerfeld says, “The only thing new under the sun these days is materials. We’re only playing with proportions.”
Even the whole idea of retro isn’t new. Although many consider the current moment to be notably awash in waves of nostalgia, Lagerfeld, who’s 57, points out that the late Sixties and early Seventies, when the term retro was invented, were also a big period for vintage inspirations and thrift-shop clothes. Even earlier, Paul Poiret borrowed the idea of the Empire line from the Napoleonic era, which got it from the ancient Greeks. And as for predictions of the future, Lagerfeld says, “Remember the view of the year 2000 in the Sixties? Look at how childish and outdated that seems now. Nobody knew then that the world would be the way that it is now.”
But he’s well aware that many couldn’t care less about any of this. “I think there’s a huge crowd of people who are half-blind, who are not interested in what we call fashion,” he says. These people, he adds, go out on the street in clothes he would be embarrassed to meet them wearing in their own bathrooms. “They look like they’re fleeing a catastrophe and ended up on the street in the middle of the night,” he says. “With places like the Gap and Banana Republic, the problem is not money. Lack of money is not an excuse any more. Some people just have horrible taste.
“You can wear jeans and a dirty T-shirt at 25; if you are not that fresh, the clothes have to be fresh. A three-day beard is different after three decades. We don’t even talk about after five decades.
“But even if you’re young and beautiful, you can make yourself banal. I am not for the display of too much flesh in the office. What can you display at night? I’m not a prude, but life is not a medical visit, and it’s not a beauty contest. It’s also not a contest of sloppiness.
“In the past, the very wealthy had to be maitresse de maison. That takes a lot of time, to supervise all the servants on the estate. And they had to change clothes four times a day.”
Does Lagerfeld have any extravagances of his own? “I never wear socks twice. I always throw them away. I don’t do it with shirts. I love shirts. The best moments in the day are when you put on a fresh shirt in the morning and when you put on a fresh nightshirt at night. I’ve been getting mine from Hilditch & Key in London for 35 years. I probably look like a ghost with my white hair and long white nightshirt, but it doesn’t matter because nobody sees me.”
One of the things Lagerfeld’s best known for is the prescience and impeccable taste he displays as he buys up houses and renovates them, usually in a style that’s several beats ahead of fashion. He was an early Memphis enthusiast and in the forefront of the Biedermeier and Vienna Secession revivals, among others.
At the moment, however, he says not only is he not working on a new property, he’d like to get rid of three he does own. These are the Villa Jako in Hamburg, his most recent acquisition, because he’s only spent 10 days there in the last year; his house in Monte Carlo, because he always stays in his apartment there, and a house in Paris that he hasn’t visited in three years. It’s clear that the fascination houses hold for Lagerfeld is in the renovation; after that’s done, he often loses interest.
“It’s like masterminding something like a huge life-size dollhouse,” he says. “I have a virtual replica of all my houses in my head. But I never wanted to do up other people’s houses, because I’m not a psychiatrist.”
How does he have enough time to do all this?
“I’m organized,” he says simply. “And I have good people working with me. But I’m not a serious person. If you suffer in doing things, you shouldn’t let people know. People won’t buy your clothes because you suffered. Clothes are there to make people happy and to improve things if they need it. I think things should be improved. I like that line of Carrie Donovan’s: ‘Fashion is important because, darling, you have to get dressed in the morning.”‘