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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Stockholm Fashion Week: Day 3/3

By Haidee Findlay-Levin...

After attending so many fashion shows in so many countries over the years—and I say that without bragging—it becomes very challenging to review shows in both a local and global context. Of course there will always be the standouts whose skill and ingenuity shine through—in the case of Stockholm, these were Acne and Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair, and there are plenty other Swedish labels that have made the international leap. But after the dramatics of Paris, the theatrics of London and the slickness of Milan, how does one fairly assess the collections of an emerging fashion community made up of mostly young and enthusiastic talent?

I tried to ask myself what it was I hoped to see at Stockholm Fashion Week—or Fashion by Berns, as it's called—and the answer was clear: new, young street fashion. When shows hit this note, I can't ask for anything more. I got it at the aforementioned Acne collection, which has actually risen to a level all its own, as well as Cheap Monday, for its cool take on the classic jean. The show and publicity shots were styled in such a way that was fresh, fun and playful. It never took itself too seriously and there was a resourceful DIY quality that screamed youth. I left feeling satisfied; I had gotten what I came for.

But a lot of shows fell short of this for various reasons. Some never went the extra mile to really flesh out an idea or to show something unexpected, and instead showed what was not only tried and tested, but had already been on the streets for the past season or two—evidently, as the audience was already wearing it. They played it too safe! Yes, I've heard all about the recession and credit crunch, but no amount of sameness or of last year's trend is going to make me or anyone else rush out to buy it again.

Other designers struggled with their place in the market. They seemed torn between the exuberance of youth and their desire to be grown-up. Never knock youth; there's a lifetime to grow up! I don’t see the point in sacrificing that youthful enthusiasm and willingness to embrace new ideas, as witnessed at the Beckmans student show yesterday, for the sake of looking adult. Grown-up styles work fantastically well when they are expertly cut in sophisticated and sumptuous fabrics—it's all about the cloth. Without fine cloth and fine cutting, the result is dress-up, a child’s pursuit.

And finally, some clothes are great for wearing but not necessarily for showing. Certain ideas often work better as a presentation or installation, others as a video or in print. Putting clothes on models under the glare of runway floodlights is like putting your work under a very strong microscope that reveals every thread, pucker and flaw. It can also be an enormous expense. Without the right casting of models to carry your clothes and your concept, the appropriate music, make-up and hair, you could be doing yourself more of a disservice.

Some of the shows I saw today—Dagmar, Nhu Duong, A-S Davik—had all the enthusiasm and commitment of Alexander McQueen’s first show in London, but they might as well have been made from trash bags. They didn’t have his impeccable skill, an enormous sense of conviction and an even bigger dose of guts. This is what it takes! This is what made that show, even years later, so memorable. I suppose I have been spoiled.

Sweden is clearly very fair-minded and democratic. Everyone gets a chance and a great opportunity to shine. Talent is proudly nurtured, encouraged and supported—something that barely exists in other cities. And generous awards are bestowed. This is all wonderful. But what they don’t do is self-critique. This makes it too easy and safe. No boundaries are pushed, no egos are bruised and the establishment is not rocked. I probably won’t be popular for saying any of this, but maybe it takes an outsider to do it.

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