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In the BBC sketch show Twenty Twelve, a mockumentary following the organisation of the 2012 Olympics in London.  In amongst the fictional Olympica Deliverance Commission team, the character Kay Hope Bullmore is Head of Sustainability.  Then Fi Healey comes in as Head of Legacy.  Nobody knows what exactly is the difference between sustainability and legacy and an ongoing face-off ensues between the two characters and their overlapping responsibilities.  These two words immediately come to mind when I think about the fashion powers that be, who play a game I like to call “Mad for Maisons” – that is plucking a moribund fashion house from relative obscurity, buying the rights to the name, chucking loads of money at it and resurrecting it all in the name of “legacy”.  But is this actually sustainable?  Maybe it’s those monied investors who are rubbing their hands together whilst getting those two words muddled up, thinking they’re one and the same.

A revitalised mason, when done well is spectacular of course.  My objection isn’t against visionaries such as Nicolas Ghesquiere’s past work for Balenciaga, Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy or Olivier Rousteing for Balmain where an identifiable strand of design DNA of each house’s founder runs through their current creative direction.  Or when you just wipe the slate clean completely and go your own way √† la Phoebe Philo at Celine, which is really just The Phoebe Philo is Awesome and You Better Recognise showcase.  Or even when a house like Carven, which pretty much had no recognisable identity to begin with save for a famous perfume, gets a young and jolly uplift (although one could argue, Guillaume Henry could have done the same all on his own without the shelter of a maison).

What I find unnecessary is the persistent backing of yet more houses, whose owners clutch on to their past, going through the motions of building up “heritage”, without necessarily having due respect to their founders but instead, with cold and steely eyes on the big cash prize.  I think often about the interview I did with Olivier Saillard at the brilliant put together “Paris Haute Couture” exhibition at Hotel de Ville.  “There were many mysterious names during the thirties to the fifties doing very brilliant work,” said Saillard of names like Jacques Heim and Jean Patou, whose frocks were on show at the exhibition.  “They don‚Äôt exist anymore but perhaps that is a good thing.It‚Äôs important to communicate that you can do something with your name and not necessarily for a label. If I was a young boy, it would be great to see this exhibition and to think ‘I can invent my own name and label!’”

Yet some of those very names have been slowly making their presence known again in fashion, with varying degrees of success and unknown results that remain to be seen.  Despite the waves of interesting and talented young designers coming through the ranks from all over the globe, cobweb covered maisons are still thought to be something of a sure thing.  That’s not to say that there aren’t exceptions to this Mad for Maisons game.  There are a few with a historically strong and revolutionary design identity that could yet intrigue and excite the fashion world.  However I’m going to say it quietly – perhaps some of those thirties to fifties houses, which Saillard talked about, are purely of their time – to be respected and remembered, but not necessary to revive and rejuvenate.

“These names are harder to communicating to the public than new names because their history is not well known,” says Saillard.  “It’s a sign of the times. Probably we will see new names in the future. It’s more interesting and passionate to invent your own story. It’s quite bizarre to create for another label, for another identity.”  Perhaps the tide is changing.  If LVMH and Kering Group’s keen eye for investment in young labels is anything to go by (as well as the recent announcement that LVMH will be launching their very own prize).  Perhaps new identities will be given the resources, time and space to grow into veritable maisons themselves so that we don’t have to keep looking back at the old ones.

I thought I’d take a look at some of the culprits and what possible contribution they could make to the current fashion landscape, if any.

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Let’s get the big positive out there.  The House of Schiaparelli is finally making a formal return to the haute couture schedule in January with Marco Zanini, formerly of Rochas instilled as the creative director.  Numerous names were bounded about and Schiaparelli cleverly built up to the announcement by inviting Christian Lacroix to present his personal tribute of a collection to Schiaparelli back in July during the Paris couture shows.  The name Schiaparelli may still be a while away from having the recognition level of say Chanel but any fashion enthusiast worth their salt can’t deny the impact and contribution she made on fashion with her ahead-of-the-time sense of quirk and humour.  The Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations exhibition at the Met last year certainly emphasised Schiaparelli’s potential relevance to today and knowing Zanini’s brilliant, if a little underrated contribution to Rochas, of all the newish maison revivals, this one looks like it has definite legs.

Schiap0Photo by David Pedroza of Master the Art of Style

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Schiaplacroix2Christian Lacroix for Schiaparelli presented in July 2013

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RochaslastRochas S/S 14

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I’m not even going to dwell on how crap this Worth Paris website is, or even that there’s a well cheesy ticker tape headline quote by Lady Gaga on the top but more to the point, is Charles Frederick Worth (ahem) worth reviving?  Worth was of course the Englishman who went to Paris and gave us haute couture as we know it today, dictating design rather than pandering to whims of clientale as mere dressmakers.  There’s no denying the beautiful work that Worth did.  But they belonged to a vastly different era.  Worth left no tangible recognisable aesthetic mark that would be relevant today but his major contribution will always remain.  The house was revived in 1999 and Giovanni Bedin became its creative director, designing both a couture line and a ready to wear line.  I’ve not seen/heard a peep from them since their haute couture S/S 13 collection – all corsets and bows – and if the website is any indication, perhaps their owners have had second thoughts about the direction of Worth Paris.

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Worth1a Worth1bWorth Couture S/S 13

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During the February ready to wear shows, right after I had interviewed Saillard, I was sent this curious press release from a New York based company, who announced they’d be relaunching Jacques Fath for the American market.  Fath was a contemporary of Pierre Balmain and Christian Dior in Paris and his ready to wear introduced in America was a hit with the likes of Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe.  What struck me about this sad looking Powerpoint-esque presentation was the fact that we had to have history and facts drummed in – Fath was a very important designer, therefore we MUST respect and take notice of these handbags that are the latest fruits of revival after a lot of chopping and changing in designers and ownership.  Fath was great and his work deserves wider recognition for sure.  Sadly, if these bags are any indication of Jacques Fath’s future direction, then to say Fath would be turning in his grave, may not be an understatement.  Jacquesfath1

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Jean Patou is one of the latest names thrown down on the Mad for Maisons gambling table.  Patou has been attributed with the popularity of items such as the cardigan and tennis skirt, allowing a more casual and fluid approach for womenswear in the 1920s and later became more known for its numerous perfumes and rotation of starry creative directors in the sixties to eighties, such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Karl Lagerfeld and Christian Lacroix.  No creative director has been named to date.  I know I keep banging on about websites but it does cheese me off that so little consideration is given to your sole mode  of communication about, what is essentially a dead-and-buried brand to those born say after 1980.  Does it do Jean Patou’s work and “legacy” any justice?  Does it get people excited about the future collections of Patou when a creative director is appointed?  It smacks of caring just about the bottom line and not much else.

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I loved learning about the work of Italian designer Mila Schön, the Giorgio Armani of her day, through various books and look forward to seeing examples of her work at the upcoming The Glamour of Italian Fashion exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum.  I am failing though to see the connection between some of the wonderful archive images of Schön’s work and the S/S 14 collection designed by Alessandro De Benedetti, the house’s new creative director.  Schön definitely has played her part in the trajectory and development of Italian fashion and her clean and classical lines, worn by the likes of Jackie Kennedy-Onassis and Lee Radziwill, might well be due a revival.  But is De Benedetti contributing anything new that doesn’t already exist elsewhere?  There lies another problem in going Mad for Maisons – these houses mostly existed at a time when the fashion landscape was sparse.  Today, they enter a very crowded place.  Is it healthy or sustainable to have houses jumpstarted, only for it to be chopped and changed with new ownerships and a carousel of revolving creative directors?

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Milass14_1 Milass14_2Mila Sch√∂n S/S 14

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No, the Jean-Louis Scherrer brand, isn’t about to have its ready to wear and couture lines revived.  I just thought I’d include this website as an example of poor licensing and how a venerable name can go through some strange and muddied waters.  I was quite ashamed that I didn’t know much about Scherrer until a few years ago when my friends in Paris introduced me to his work, marked by sensual flamboyance and fluid tailoring.  His death earlier in the year sparked tribute from all over the industry for his contribution to haute couture.  Like his American contemporary Halston, Scherrer’s lack business sense meant he was eventually fired from his own company, losing his name, which is currently fronting quite terrible watches and jewellery.  Again, for legacy’s sake, is this how Jean-Louis Scherrer’s work should be represented?  Hopefully a beautiful retrospective or an insightful book will come about to rectify things.

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A very good example of legacy being preserved in a tasteful way is this Norman Hartnell website.  Hartnell was of course famous for being dressmaker to the Queen and was one of London’s few couturiers.  That history is portrayed very well on a simple and clear site with beautiful imagery.  There’s no word of Hartnell’s revival and the site just pays respect to his contribution to British haute couture – nothing more, nothing less.

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We come to the revolutionary “Space Age” designers of the 1960s who are still alive today.  André Courrèges for me still holds much relevant sway as everytime I encounter a bit of vintage Courrèges, it never fails to take you by surprise.  Its slow but steady resurrection as a ready to wear label can be attributed to its current owners – two former advertising execs Frédéric Torloting and Jacques Bungert.  They have eschewed seasonal shows and instead work on reinterpreting core Courrèges values.  Much like their vintage counterparts, I’ve found myself being drawn to the new and current Courrèges pieces in stores like United Arrows in Tokyo and Corso Como Seoul.  The work is speaking for itself as opposed to a star designer although there have been whisperings that Simon Porte of young gun French label Jacquemus has been tapped to take his love of Courrèges (he’s always cited the space age couturier as an inspiration) and apply it to the real thing.

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Finally let’s talk about Pierre Cardin, the sprightly 91-year old who recently put on his first haute couture in years at Maxim’s in Paris.  Not gonna lie – the pictures are certainly a far cry from the groundbreaking designs that Cardin created in his sixties heyday.  That said, Cardin has been a master of license deals, multi-disciplinary design and putting his fingers in many pies and if he wants to put on a show, out of sync with the seasons, in his own restaurant, he’s earnt the right to do so.  What he said at his recent show though did crack me up.  ”If you make dresses at this level, rich women buy them,” said Cardin backstage.  ”We have to get rich people to spend their money. People need to make a living – that’s the message.”  Bang on, Monsieur Cardin.  Here’s hoping those rich women get spending on the future maisons of today – the many MANY talented designers who deserve their own spotlight, without being lumbered with someone else’s identity.

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Comments (17)

  1. Anna says:

    Love vintage illustrations
    aforvogue.blogspot.co.uk

  2. WOWS says:

    Awesome Worth and Calder designs!
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  3. Imogen says:

    I love your writing style and the fact that you bother to research what you say before you say it. Nice work

  4. DinaBella says:

    wow.. beautiful post.. we really appreciate the hard work you put into this… wooow!

  5. Camille says:

    Here in France fashion is too often seen as only an heritage. We get a lot of wonderful exhibitions, retrospectives… but few structures to help young designer in comparison. I think it is a shame that so many designers have to be “lumbered with someone else’s identity” as you put it when they could do better on their own. Thank you for being one of the few fashion bloggers giving us well-written articles taking a stand. It never fails to make me feeling passionate for fashion again.

  6. Sandy Allain says:

    I never watch fashion shows, I’ve never been interested in it, no offense. But when I do, I only watch just to see the models hehe.

  7. Janette says:

    Your blog is like mood board after mood board! Love it!
    http://janetteroche.blogspot.com.au/

  8. Sweet Perdition says:

    que pasada de coleccion!! me encanta!
    http://sweet-perdition.blogspot.com.es/

  9. It’s amazing to look back at the old masters…. Some brilliant historic fashion houses out there!

  10. Nancy Haynes says:

    Wonderful and inspiring post. It seems that fashion industry is changing with a vital speed and new changes are highly appreciable.
    http://www.debrachigwell.co.uk/blogs/news/8598885-imogen-thomas-shows-off-incredible-post-baby-figure-in-plunging-red-dress

  11. Eli says:

    Greatly documented post! Loved it!
    And if you could see the horrible fashion line under the Pierre Cardin license that is sold here in Mexico, you’d get an absolute depression. It is sell in one of the stores owned by Walmart. That low can fall a line that does not respect its own heritage.

  12. Anne-Marie says:

    Great post!
    I hope that one day Paris will be the talent pool that London is, and stop trying to dig out old corpses to make money out of it.

  13. Great site you have got here.. It’s difficult to
    find high-quality writing like yours nowadays. I honestly appreciate individuals like
    you! Take care!!

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