Saturday, June 22, 2013

Van Hongo, 2013 collections

It's that time of year again -- Izumi Hongo of Van Hongo has created two wonderful collections this year, and I'm reviewing both. All photos are courtesy of Izumi, and the complete lookbooks can be found on Van Hongo's website. My previous reviews of her work can be found here, here, and here.

Spring/Summer's Atelier Delight shows a departure from the previous ones in its generous use of prints and color . While the previous collections mostly contained solid pieces, here we see quite a  few prints:

The clash of color panels with stripes, horizontal and vertical, in the bright colors of Mexican serapes, is almost startling compared to the earlier collections, but the brightness is tempered by simple silhouettes in Van Hongo signature shapes -- most pieces are flowing and loose or columnar, none are particularly body-conscious or targeted toward a traditionally femme silhouette. I definitely appreciate this preference for the artful geometry over the commercial sexualization of female body. The now-familiar nod to androgyny is also present, in a very playful way:

Here we have an interesting use of a tie-like accessory, which both undermines and underscores the borrowed-from-the-boys but very feminine (without being too precious) look. (It is also worth noting that the pieces of Van Hongo's collections work well together -- they all can be combined with each other, making each collection as modular as Swedish furniture.)

Van Hongo's signature crossover tops and baggy trousers (executed in fluid jersey and stiffer cotton) are also present:

Some of the trousers looks are reminiscent of her previous collections, with new touches of coral pink and classic wine red; in others, the jackets are worn open and are longer than the previous version, creating the impression of the pulled-together insouciance.

And this is perhaps what I find so interesting about this collection: while a lot of pieces are modest and even work-appropriate, the use of color and accessories makes them more than their basic appearance would suggest:

Classic? Of course. Stodgy? Hardly! And may I have an "amen" to the pockets on that skirt?

Autumn/Winter's Softened Decoration is using heavier fabrics and more structured silhouettes, as one would expect in an AW collection, but the prints and silks make a return, for which I am grateful.

The print on this cardigan is almost Marni-esque, and the off-center buttons and silk fabric recast this fall staple as a true statement piece.

The print also works in a skirt, in the signature asymmetrical Van Hongo shape. Many of the pieces actually seem to be perennial favorites, such as Izumi's snuggly mohair knits:

There are a few of those, which are also available in the online shop. (Disclaimer: I have one of the long capes. It is an incredibly warm and comforting piece for a cold winter. Also, a useful tip to stop mohair from shedding: put it in a ziplock bag and freeze for 3 hours. Works amazingly well!)

The overall impression I get from Van Hongo's latest is the tendency to pare down the shapes:

While folded seams and neck detailing give the dresses above an unusual shape, it is still very simple, sheath-like silhouette. It is wearable but not boring, and I enjoy seeing that: it feels like artistic self-assurance when the flourishes can be kept minimal, and the geometry of the garments, their unique outlines are created by masterful tailoring. After all, is there a greater feat for a designer to make a shirt and pants outfit and yet make us want it as if it's something we've never seen before?

One of the joys spotting talent early is that one gets to watch how the creative development unfolds with time -- the change in the esthetics, the evolution of the color schemes and silhouettes. I am also thrilled to see that Van Hongo has an online shop now, and that the label is successful. I hope it continues to expand; I am looking forward to finding Izumi's pieces in boutiques stateside. And of course there's a certain thrill in saying, "I knew this label way back when!"

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The return of fashion blogging -- Indie designers edition, with outfit pics

As I mentioned many times, my clothes shopping has evolved toward more indie designers, with some more mainstream pieces mixed in. While I haven't entirely nixed the fast fashion, it is a very small portion of my wardrobe, mostly confined to the silhouettes I want to try but am not yet ready to fully commit to at designer prices (such as Zara sarong trousers below, which I really like, but not enough to buy the Celine version).

(I'll explain the jacket in a just a sec).

So today I wanted to talk about some indie designers, all three from New York City. I will also do a post on Ratt soon (the label created by Rita Attala, an amazing Greek-Lebanese designer), but today I wanted to focus on the closer to home -- especially since I just had a chance to visit NYC, on the day when several indie brands had a sample sale at the Textile Arts Center in Manhattan. Fashion heaven, that what it was.

I was very pleased to see Degen well-represented there. The playful and interesting knitwear by the brand founder, Lindsay Degen, has been on my radar for a while -- mostly because, as their lookbooks amply show, this is the closest I've seen a knitwear line come to embody the very nineties DIY, zine, Riot-Grrl esthetic. I did get a nice tank, in a fairly subdued white, red and gray pattern (look, I'm almost 43) for a fraction of retail price, so bonus! No pictures though.. yet. However, I found an image of my tank at Of A Kind:

The standout of the sale however was Titania Inglis -- of whom I somehow haven't heard until Friday. Titania herself was present at the sale, gracious and friendly, dressed in a gorgeous black dress that was all its own while being just a tad reminiscent of Rick Owen and Ann Demeulemeester. The edgy, almost punky geometric look of some of her other pieces was well-contrasted with softer tea-stained blouses and sharply cut pants and skirts. There was a jacket of Japanese selvage denim that caught my eye right away, and I needed little persuasion to snag that piece. (The jacket is featured in all the pictures, because I just love it.) Here's a closeup:

Needless to say, I also appreciated Titania's philosophy of using deadstock and ethically sourced fabrics, organic dyes, and local labor. Garments produced ethically are not cheap, but the reduction in environmental impact and the wardrobe size makes it worth it. I will certainly be looking at more of her pieces (maybe one of those tea-stained blouses).

Finally, The Cut has recently profiled Peggy Tan of Mandarin & General. This is a brand explicitly built on incorporating elements of traditional Chinese dress into modern western garments. Fashion industry as a whole LOVES the "exotic" and tends to be at worst appropriative and at best tone-deaf about incorporating "cultural" elements: tribal prints, Chinoiserie, "Navajo" beading etc etc -- the list goes on forever. Apart from the troubling tendency to treat traditional dress of non-Western cultures as costume, somehow separate from "Fashion" (it needs to be filtered through the eyes of the recognized designer in order to be accepted into the fashion fold, a la Duro Olowu and Nigerian prints), it is still heartening to see the interpretation done by the cultural insiders. Tan (who is from Taiwan originally) is clearly familiar with traditional Chinese dress (looking at you, Dior) and its significance and manufacture, as well as has a keen eye for the understated and yet striking.

Take for example this skirt:

It is black, flowy silk, with long slits down the sides but the panels are held together at the knee, preventing the wearer from flashing the entire leg a la Angelina Jolie. I love it when something so simple and basic as a long black silk skirt is made interesting by minimal and clever detailing. And everything is made in New York, just like Titania Inglis pieces! Seeing that on a label just makes my heart sing.

So here you have it: three cool designers, all doing different things to bring the Garment District back to its former glory. I know for sure that I will be on the lookout for the new collections by all of them.