Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Posted by Bethan Holt, Fashion Junior at Large

Jonathan Saunders AW12 is shown against the backdrop of the London skyline (image from magazine.motilo.com)
It began in London on the Sunday afternoon of fashion week when most people were probably at home enjoying the final remnants of the weekend. For the fashion crowd, it was time to work and Jonathan Saunders underscored this by ushering us up sleek escalators and speedy lifts to the the 20th floor of the Broadgate tower to watch his AW12 show. It may as well have been Monday morning, had it not been for the setting sun which greeted us upon arrival in the floor-to-ceiling-glazed showspace. As we waited for the show the to begin, the sky was a soft orange and London’s skyline clearly visible from within the clean, corporate surroundings. A stunning venue.

Berenice Abbott's City Arabesque, 1936 (from Flickr.com)
Her images encompass all that is evocative about   the huge
buildings which tower over us in cities
The very next day, Saunders’ contemporary, Christopher Kane, also chose a shiny modern office building as the location for his show. Fashion is not akin to associating itself with these almost spaceship like behemoths of capitalism, but it seemed like Saunders and Kane were interested in introducing them to their fashion equation. Maybe some of their biggest customers work in these places?

Chloe AW12
In fact, the overarching theme of the Paris collections that designers clearly more concerned with dressing the working woman, as opposed to the socialising women - though of course party dressing is always a bit part of fashion.  Over Paris Fashion Week, the big players have been showing collections aimed directly to the heart of professional women and her wardrobe including Lanvin, YSL, Stella McCartney and Celine to name a few.

Stella McCartney AW12

Yves Saint Laurent AW12

Balenciaga's uniformed ushers (image from Jessica Michaults' Twitter)
In Paris last Thursday, Balenciaga overtook a space on the 27th floor of a tower in the Beaugrenelle area for their AW12 show. The vision of kane and Saunders was this time extended; attendants in Balenciaga uniforms guarded the entrance to the venue, as if to ensure that no spies from rival corporations were allowed through. Nicholas  Ghesquière  had apparently spent months with his in-house artist Dominique Gonzalez- Foerster to perfect his reimagination of the historic French house as a corporate machine.

The fogged up view across Paris from the Balenciaga venue (from Emily Sheffield's twitter)

Suited, booted and gloved corporate clones (Image from Vogue Turkey's Twitter)
 He told Style.com that he has become obsessed with the time in the late seventies and early eighties when ‘France became Modern’. Perhaps when the private sector is promised as our only hope for economic recovery, there is a renewed fascination with how vast companies operate, both now and in the past, and the aesthetic which their hugeness entails- the uniforms, the logos, the company colours and dress codes. I know from friends who work in the city that they often end up wearing the same clothes and eating the same food as their colleagues, simply because of the culture which exists in their companies.

The corporate mood ran right through into the clothes, where Ghesquière used concrete grey, cobalt blue and black as the colour anchors. The shapes were sharp, futuristic and, all importantly, architectural. There were also sweatshirts with superhero cartoons emblazoned on the front, these emphasised the fantasy element of Balenciaga Inc.

Balenciaga AW12

Balenciaga AW12 

Balenciaga AW12 (All catwalk images from catwalking.com)
Whilst in Paris this weekend, I found time between shows and showroom appointments to visit the Berenice Abbott exhibition which is currently on show at the Jeu de Paume (a mere hop, skip and a jump from the Tuileries show venue used by numerous designers).
Canyon Broadway and Exchange Place by Berenice Abbott, 1936 (image from www.artblart.wordpress.com)
Abbott, a photographer who died in 1991, has a varied repertoire which reflects her desire to show ‘the whole American scene’. Some of her best and most fascinating photography was done in New York in the 1930s. She undertook an almost decade long project to document how the city was changing during this time. Her images sum up what is really awesome about the huge sky scrapers which are now familiar sites in most major cities- the precise architectural thought plus the end purpose of providing a place from which hundreds of people gather with the collective goal of making insane amounts of money.

Broadway to the Battery by Berenice Abbott, 1938
 (image from lalettredelaphotographie.com)
The Flatiron building, 1938 by Berenice Abbott
(from www.photographersgallery.com)
Abbott said that 'New York is the most phenomenal gesture ever made'. Arguably, the period in French history which Ghesquière looked back to would have been quite different without New York's sky scraper prototypes. Right now is not so different- we may not be building these towers in the quantities of previous decades, but they are symbols of what got us into the financial crisis and what will probably end up getting us out of it too. In fashion specifically, there is now more than ever, a kind of admiration for designers who turn their creativity into good business. So who can blame them for having that on their mind when they pull a show together? There aren't many better ways of getting the message across than by holding your show in an elegant, corporate space rather than an old car park. Plus, as Abbott's work shows, these places are really quite beautiful.

Berenice Abbott is on at Jeu de Paume until 29th April. Check here for further details

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