What is it about models’ faces that designers want to hide? First Viktor & Rolf had their girls don fencing masks; then, later at La Cigale, Undercover’s Jun Takahashi shrouded his in pierced, studded, and chain-covered headdresses that evoked medieval armor (as well as—a shade more sinisterly—prisoners in hoods). While they were in keeping with the wrapping and bandaging motifs that held together such dissimilar looks as knit tuxedo jackets and inside-out parkas, the masks were ultimately a distraction, and they even caused a few of the anonymous mannequins to stumble blindly into the audience. Luckily, though, the punk theatrics didn’t entirely conceal the fact that the Tokyo-based Takahashi had come up with some deceptively commercial clothes.
Take, for starters, a creamy silk camisole with ruffle streamers descending both sides of the torso, a camel jacket with frogging decorating the front placket, cuffs, and rear vent, or an asymmetric tiered black chiffon shirt. In a season of protective layering, Takahashi proved himself a virtuoso here. What looked like a sweater casually thrown over a shoulder revealed itself to be a bolero. Later, the iridescent feathers of a cocoon top parted to display a down-to-earth puffer vest. Other pieces were even more playful. A leather stole morphed into a chain-handled coin purse that perched below the shoulder, and a spiral-seamed dress was embellished with chandelier-size crystals, which will make it tricky to sit still. Not that this energetic designer has that on his agenda.
– Nicole Phelps
As fashion gears up for a run of exposés on film and in print, Jess Cartner-Morley uncovers 10 truths …
Saturday February 18, 2006
Everyone in fashion drinks champagne all day
The classic fashion exposé opens at a party/backstage at a fashion show, with the sound of champagne corks popping and a cast of waiters, who are always handsome and who for some reason always glide rather than walk across a room. It is true that nobody in fashion is remotely surprised to be offered a glass of champagne on arrival at a fashion show at 10.30am – but then toast makes you fat, and porridge is hardly glam, so what else to have for breakfast? The truth is that fashion people love to hold a champagne flute because, like a good pair of sunglasses, it is an accessory that always makes you look great in photographs; very few really drink that much. And frankly, when the rest of the nation is binge-drinking itself to a guttery death on blueberry-flavoured alcopops, the odd pre-lunch Moët is surely nothing to get one’s Damaris knickers in a twist about.
Everyone is really thin
Like, duh! Of course they are. Forget this season’s colours, forget the designers and their muses – thinness is the whole point of fashion. Everyone in the industry thinks a size 12 is fat. It is important to understand this, otherwise you’ll wind up fat, poor, dressed in Marni and wondering why the world does not perceive you as a style icon. The industry is divided into two camps on the thinness issue. One side, made up mostly of American glossy magazine journalists, is thinner than the catwalk models – which, if you’ve ever seen a catwalk model, you’ll understand is no mean feat. The other side – ranks proudly swelled by newspaper journalists from around the globe – are fat, poor, dressed in Marni, and wondering why the world does not perceive them as style icons.
Everyone talks nonsense
Hands up: this is a pretty fair criticism. A quick flick through any pile of “explanatory” notes, helpfully provided at some fashion shows, throws up a stream of fashionable inanity, such as this from Valentino: “Fashion today has no precise reference points. It is a collage of souvenirs expressed in the moments of a real woman’s life that she uses to continuously update her personal style.” Thrown into the mix are a heavy dose of the self-consciously obtuse (Roland Mouret, for instance, finding inspiration in “Hitchcock’s vision of the dynamic between a man and a woman, Francis Bacon’s twisting of perception, and the mysticism of the Scottish lochs”) and, to leaven the dough, always a good sprinkling of the plain old crazy. At the most recent shows, Vanessa Bruno was “inspired by the emotions from lost decadence of art nouveau … her journey takes us to a cross road universe of Indian veiled mystique and sun maidens of the haight ashbury sixties” [sic].
The men are gay or sleazy; either way, they hate women
I would sooner any daughter of mine worked as a shark-wrestler than a model – safer, better conversation, and with superior long-term career prospects. But any industry that employs a workforce of very beautiful girls, most of whom are relocated to a foreign metropolis in their mid-teens, inexperienced and insecure, will attract a swarm of exploitative men: bees to honey is, I believe, the polite way of phrasing this phenomenon. There is no need for undue alarm at this vicious parasite: “modelisers”, as they are known, are not a threat to the normal female populace, being easily recognisable by their velvet jackets, white jeans, transatlantic accents (even when they come from Guildford) and, usually, their below-average height, a fact they try to disguise by wearing lifts in their shoes. (This is why modelisers wear such bad shoes.) As for the gay men, they don’t hate women: they just can’t stand icky fat bits that obscure the divine lines of the accordion pleats.
Everyone is corrupt and obsessed with freebies
Once upon a time, fashion PRs kept editors sweet with Veuve-drenched lunches at Le Caprice. Now that lunch means 45 minutes over grilled fish and sparkling water, with maybe a side order of spinach on a Friday, the money is spent on “gifting” – the sending of lavish presents. Costs about the same, and – a recurring theme – is less fattening. Key freebies are worn, like military decorations, on important occasions within the industry: one Italian label sends top editors the same bag on the same day during Milan fashion week. Because it is an exclusive gift, recipients will be seen toting it prominently, giving the label priceless free PR. You see, it’s not really about the handbags – as in any industry, it’s about status.
Fashion editors will scheme and backstab to sit in the front row
Shows are ruthlessly, unashamedly hierarchical. There is none of that round-table, we-all-make-an-important-contribution stuff popular in other industries: when you walk into a show, your name is written, for all to see, on a row that corresponds with how important you are felt to be at that moment. Naturally, those of a competitive bent take this to heart: it is considered normal for an editor to have her assistant note her seat numbers in a catwalk season, compare them with those given to a counterpart from another publication, and systematically lobby those designers at whose shows she feels she has been snubbed. It is, likewise, not unusual for an editor to refuse to attend a show unless a front-row seat is granted. Petty rivalry never goes out of fashion.
People in fashion are mad
There is no doubt that some in the industry – indeed, some very important people in the industry – have eccentricities that make Jennifer Lopez and her anticlockwise-stirred coffee look reasonable. One successful designer issued such strict guidelines on how his offices should look that an employee who wanted to use a favourite yellow pencil was required to courier a Polaroid of it to the designer’s headquarters in Milan in order to request permission to have it on his desk. Mainly, though, eccentricity is worn for effect, like a Philip Treacy hat.
They call everyone ‘darling’
Not true. “Darling” is a bit old hat; so is “sweetie”. But the new guard will call you “hon” within four minutes of meeting you. Whether or not they know your name doesn’t matter – if they know the name of your handbag (Roxy, Edith, Priscilla), and they call you “hon”, you’re in.
They say ‘fabulous’ a lot
To understand why adjectives are so central to fashion, go backstage at the end of a show. You will witness a receiving line of well-wishers filing past the designer at lightning speed (they have another show to go to, after all). Each has five seconds to kiss and greet him or her. It is essential to sound excited without giving too much away: if you’re an influential buyer who hated the collection but don’t want to fall out with a designer, you might pronounce it “Charming!”, kiss, move on, and return no calls. If you are a reporter who has not yet decided whether to slate the new look, you can call it “Beyond!” without anyone knowing whether this is good or bad.
They are all on drugs
Cocaine makes you thinner and shallower. What’s not to like, as they say in fashion?
Woo’s ‘Solid’ Reputation for Menswear
Some men are still not convinced that women, or the majority of women, are actually not impressed by the lean muscles on their flat abs. Nor do women adore the smooth, fragile beauty of a boy. Women want their men rather plain and simple. Better yet, solid. Like a rock.
And if these solid men were to name a Korean designer who would dress them most properly that probably will be Woo Young-mi. Woo established a menswear brand Solid Homme in 1988, offering simple and streamlined designs in restrained colors for men: an antidote for artsy clothing spun out by the few menswear designers.
After graduating from Sungkyunkwan University, Woo started working at Bando Fashion, the predecessor of LG Fashion.
“I was selected against thousands of other candidates and felt as if I had achieved something,” she recalled.
But after designing soft, feminine womenswear for one year, “My instinct told me that I was not cut out for these types of clothing. So I moved to designing casual clothes for men, and there I found my future.”
Woo compares presenting a collection to “taking an exam every six months.” And she definitely has been getting good grades just like a model student as she refers to herself. “I am not exactly designer material, in that being a designer requires a certain amount of pizzazz of an entertainer and media exposure,” she said.
To Woo, being a designer is more of a hard-working job. “It requires so much energy just to design. You also have to oversee management which also requires a lot of energy and in such a different manner,” she said, adding that she settled on working with her strongest talents, instead of wishing for a miracle, or being good at both.
As you can see, she has been doing quite well. Woo got her first break in the international fashion scene when she won third place in the First Osaka International Fashion Show in 1986 and has been participating in SEHM, Paris’ menswear fair and another one in Koln for several years quite successfully.
However, it was in 2002 that she finally got a firm foothold in Europe, the home of menswear. Under her namesake brand WOOYOUNGMI, she debuted in the 2003 spring/summer Paris menswear collection at the Louvre Museum. “Paris and Milan are the two major cities that host menswear collections. I chose Paris because the French give more credit for one’s creativity over having a certain amount of money and system. Non-Europeans do stand a chance there if they’ve got talent,” explained Woo on her decision to go to the European fashion capital.
“In Paris, I am just another newcomer and one from Asia at that. But in some ways it allows me more freedom as there are no pressures or expectations that follow my career. It is a whole new opportunity for me and it’s fun,” she said, which is not easy to understand for a designer who is almost solely credited with having changed the menswear scene in Korea. “It almost feels like I am born again. And to be on the same table with all the professionals across the world and be appreciated as an equal, that is rewarding enough,” said Woo.
Woo had her share of fear when she competed against Western designers but later discovered that the esprit of the designer is what counts. “What really matters is what one has in mind when designing clothes. If others can tell what I’ve been thinking just by looking at my designs, I am thrilled,” she added.
Her inspirations come from the human body, which is another reason why Woo prefers Paris. French fashion is known to be more aware of the body. “When I’m in Paris I can stare at men as much as I want to. There are so many different types of bodies and I just sit there and imagine what would be the best way to dress each of them,” she said. For her, a man’s body is not all that different from a woman’s. “The only difference is the volume in certain parts such as the bust and the hip. The rest is the same. It’s all human,” she added, saying that even that distinction is becoming increasingly ambiguous.
She also wants to expand fashion sensitivity to something more than just the clothes on a body. “I do not want to limit it to clothing. I hope I could work on broader projects like decorating or architecture,” she said. As a start, she would be designing her first boutique in Paris herself early next year.
“The time has come when selling clothes is not enough. It is time to make money from culture, and fashion is the easiest way to approach the public. Eastern culture is considered mysterious and classy in the West, and that gives us a head start,” said Woo.
“And Koreans stand a good chance of succeeding internationally for two reasons: They are diligent and sensitive. I have no doubt that international success for them will be achieved in the near future,” said Woo. She believes that Korea again can profit again from fashion-Korea was once a leading exporter of textile-this time, by selling ideas.
By Hwang You-mee, http://kn.koreaherald.co.kr/SITE/data/html_dir/2003/11/29/200311290048.asp