Friday, 30 March 2012

Falling Free

      Throughout our lives we attempt to better ourselves. Whether it's with regards to our physiques or our careers, we attempt to improve upon our current states in order to achieve something greater than that which we already have. We endeavour to reach some sort of ultimate high in a quest for perfection. However, throughout our lives we also work towards a mental and physical peak and, as we begin to deteriorate from this, our wishes and capabilities conflict:

When the primes of our lives surpass us, do the primes of our careers also? 

      Madonna is a woman, who, regardless of her age, strives to be in her prime. She works out like a machine and with every album she releases, she reinvents herself to prove that she is still the undisputed Queen of Pop. From cheeky ditties on Like a Virgin to empowering anthems on Like a Prayer and life-questioning ballads on Ray of Light to dance-hall fillers on Confessions on a Dance Floor, Madonna has done it all to stay on top of her game...and she has stayed on top of her game. She has never been out of shape and she has never released an album, which has flunked.

        However, with the release of Madonna's 12th studio album, MDNA, this week, certain critics are suggesting that, Madonna is no longer the exciting young artist she once was but a fading star. A 53 year old woman attempting to relive the glory days of her 23 year old self. Mutton-sung-as-lamb. One need only listen to her latest single, Girl Gone Wild, to realise that the lyrics are far more suited to a girl in their 20s than a woman in their 50s, the word 'girl' being key, not to mention 'wild'...but isn't this just Madonna's own little way of challenging us, once she does with all of her albums?
          Madonna may be 53 but she looks incredible. She is still in her prime, and, as opposed to being as ageist as we are, shouldn't we encourage her to embrace that which she has worked so hard to achieve? Let Madonna be the woman she feels and looks. Ignore her age. It's this bigotry which detracts from the fact that MDNA is a brilliant electro-pop album - Gang Bang (it has nothing to do with an orgy - trust me) is an experimental two fingers at Guy Ritchie, Love Spent sees the songstress effortlessly work a banjo into a pop tune and the ballad Falling Free proves that behind the veneer of perfection Madonna is human.

         Similarly, in the fashion industry, designers have to reinvent themselves collection on collection. Diane Von Furstenburg, Karl Lagerfeld and Donna Karan have all been in the business for over 40 years a piece and, with each collection they create, they have to prove that they are still in the primes of their careers. They have to continue to grow as designers to remain successful...and they do. Whilst their age is evident in their works, it's not because their designs are dated, but because they reflect seasoned talent - a fashion-filled wisdom which knows exactly what to do to satisfy and surpass our expectations each season.
         And this couldn't be more evident than in the transition between their SS and AW collections. Furstenburg's AW designs see her puzzle together elegant cuts with jigsaw prints in contrast to her African inspired SS works, whilst Karan's see her move from the ease of NY denim to the edge of 60's leather - her flared mini skirts are genius. Likewise Lagerfeld, has somehow managed to surpass himself once more at Chanel, as he exchanges the prettiness of his SS sea-themed delights, for the jewel toned layering of an icy AW follow-up. From sheer shirts to crystallised eyebrows Lagerfeld proves that he knows how to change it up.

          In fact, despite being some of the eldest people in the industry, Furstenburg, Karan and Lagerfeld prove that they are still some of fashion's leading figures. They still dominate the industry and inspire their contemporaries today because, unlike those who fall behind them, they do not repeat themselves. They reinvent themselves, just as Madonna does in the music industry. And Madonna proves with her latest release that she hasn't lost her musical touch but nurtured it, as she effortlessly exchanges the hip-hop beats of Hard Candy for MDNA's electro-pop. She is not repeating herself but developing.
          MDNA may not be a perfect album but it proudly stands alongside her previous releases a collection of great songs. The likes of Girl Gone Wild may connect more with a younger audience than Madonna's original fans, but does that matter? What is clear from MDNA is that Madonna, like Furstenburg, Karan and Lagerfeld is still in the prime of her career. She can still create an irresistible pop tune, just as she can still write a beautiful ballad, and, as the male-supermodel featuring - Sean O'Pry, Jon Kortajarena, Simon Nessman, Rob Evans, sigh - Mert and Marcus Girl Gone Wild video demonstrates, Madonna can still pull off songs and videos her contemporaries wouldn't even dream of doing. She is still on top of her game.

         Thus, the primes of our lives may affect our careers, when they surpass us, but what is clear from the latest efforts of Madonna, Furstenburg, Karan and Lagerfeld is that the primes of their lives are yet to surpass them. They are still leaders within their respective industries and, as a result, they have the power to 'fall free' in their talent for all the world to admire and enjoy - now and in years to come.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Hansel & Gretel

        When a head designer leaves a luxury brand, questions inevitably ensue:

Who will succeed them? Where will they go? Will the brand suffer?

       Yet, as we find ourselves reluctantly waving off Stefano Pilati and Raf Simons from YSL and Jil Sander respectively, at least one of these questions has been answered; their successors have been announced. Pilati will be replaced by former Dior Homme designer Hedi Silmane, who held a post at the brand in 1997 as its art director, and Simons position will be taken up by Jil Sander herself, who returns to her brand, after an eight year break from the company. Despite the loss of great leaders, it looks as though the brands will continue to prosper under safe hands.

      However, this does not detract from the reality that two fashion eras have ended. Despite mixed views from critics throughout his time at YSL, Pilati shaped the label over the past decade. His original tulip dresses defined the 00s YSL look and within the past year he saw the brand's sales increase over 31%. Moreover, his final 'standing ovation' collection, with it's intricate leather tunics and body-grazing dresses demonstrated why he was YSL's head designer for so long. Pilati encapsulated the brand's effortless glamour and for that both he and his work will be sorely missed from the YSL catwalk.
       In contrast to Pilati, Simons collections for Jil Sander have never failed to please critics, in fact they have always seemed to surpass their expectations. From billowing fluorescent maxis last SS, to paisley pyjamas this AW, Simons never failed to make a statement for the label and, as we gaze upon his final Jil Sander collection of rose-tinged classics, it's already hard to imagine a Jil Sander without him. He transformed the brand and, as he moves on, there's no doubt that he, like Pilati, will be missed, as we eagerly await what they do next.

         When Alexander McQueen died in 2010, however, we were unable to look forward to what he would do next, merely question if his label would continue. And, considering his talent, it seemed that no-one could do continue it, with the result that his brand, along with him, would die. And yet, in the last two years, Sarah Burton has not only continued the McQueen label but helmed it to great success. Her first collection for the brand saw her prove that having been McQueen's assistant for twelve years, she understood his aesthetic completely and her more feminine approach to the label has proved that, alongside her understanding of the brand, she, like McQueen before her, has visions for it.
        However, whilst Burton undoubtedly captured the McQueen look straight away - one thing which she has appeared to avoid up until now is McQueen's sense of spectacle. Perhaps out of respect for McQueen she didn't imitate his extravaganzas, with the result that, whilst her designs have been McQueen, her shows have not and without the concepts of McQueen's shows, the brand has felt somewhat incomplete. Thus, when Burton debuted her first catwalk show for McQueen's sister label McQ last month, it became clear that her fears vanished and McQueen was with us again. Burton finally embraced McQueen in his entirety because, alongside her incredible designs, lay a concept, a Hansel and Gretel concept, which you can admire for yourself below:

       Burton finally stopped worrying about potentially appearing as a second-rate version of McQueen. She created her own spectacle, as she used Kristen McMenamy to reveal that behind McQueen's austere edge, is a sense of humour. In doing so, Burton has established her own era at McQueen. She has embedded herself in the brand and made it her own, with the result that a McQueen without her, like a YSL without a Pilati and a Jil Sander without a Simons, would be somewhat hard to imagine should she ever leave the brand...fingers crossed she doesn't.