July 31, 2008

Latin American Luxury?

The discipline of haute couture in Paris boasts the highest embodiment of craftsmanship in fashion. The exclusive couture houses see to it that the finest and priciest silks, wools, and chiffons are woven into elaborate fantasies for their most illustrious clientele. But far from the City of Light, the overlooked countries of Latin America have yet to make their mark in the fashion industry. At Givenchy’s Fall 2008 Couture show, Riccardo Tisci took us by surprise in trading European society muses to excavate the luxury of ancient Peruvian royalty. Likewise at the MET, special exhibition Radiance from the Rainforest: Featherwork in Ancient Peru eclipses its neighboring European Sculptures with a display of perhaps the finest featherwork in existence.

Tisci’s collection dares to culture Paris, sending heavily blanketed, warrior-like women in tobacco browns and bone ivories down a runway of woodchips. The ideology of the Incas reflects Latin America’s humble passion for naturalism-a heavy burden for Tisci to bear when dealing with Parisian materialism. As the Incas built houses of stone and mud and hand-wove garments of cotton, feathers, alpaca, and llama-fit even for gods, Tisci too aimed for a comparable degree of excellence in arts and crafts, evident in his impeccable tailoring and precision despite such ponderous fabrics. Through playful items like fur pieces and leather gaucho boots, Tisci is able to unite the sophisticated Givenchy lady with her machismo spirit, suiting her for the rugged terrain of the Andes’ empire.

At the MET exhibit, great craftsmanship of the Incas zeroes in on featherwork from the 7th to 16th centuries. Feathers were greatly valued for their “magnificent color and silken texture.” In a selective process, less than 2% of all bird species were used. Giant tabards hang like tapestries in geometric patterns and colors that reflect macaws and parrots, not excluding the brown and whites visible in Tisci’s folkloric ponchos. At a time when royalty glorified barbarism, it is no surprise that the clothing was large, heavy, and built as protective armor. Yet the true craftsmanship shows in the Inca’s manipulation of such a delicate and precious material. "The gloss, splendor, and sheen of this feather cloth is of such exceptional beauty that it must be seen to be appreciated,” wrote Europeans who arrived in Peru in the early 16th century. Amid the 70 pieces on display are also crowns, ceremonial headdresses, and neckpieces.

With the current spotlight on Latin America it’s natural to review today’s concept of luxury. Whereas a luxury fashion brand manifests a romantic idea with boundless imagination to an exclusive patron, it tries to recycle and thus eternalize itself. What Tisci did, despite adding signature black leather and lace of Givenchy, is throw the luxury consumer from her comfort zone and suggest that more powerful and timeless than a brand is the transfiguration upon its use. The marvelous feather garments, long before couture and capitalism, transformed Latin American Indians into Kings and Queens of the highest wealth and status of their time. Latin America has a lot of catching up to the world of luxury to do, but in all its rawness there is certainly something to be learned from the accessibility of a garment so finely built.

July 11, 2008

Eva Peron: A Madonna Role We Loved

When you're skimming foolish internet quizzes you're bound to stumble across "which Madonna era are you?". You could be Sticky and Sweet, her latest, or raw erotica, perhaps cross-burning, but wait self-sacrificial? How about anti-American, Henna-sporting, movie-making, bad girl or just plain old cowgirl? Only Madonna, the Queen of the Queers, could have more costumes than the dressing room of a drag show. With a resumé of defying custom, it is evident to me that the most audacious stunt the lady has ever pulled in her career was in her crusade to portray another great woman: Eva Peron. With much gumption, Madonna wrote a long letter to the director of Evita (Alan Parker) imploring that he let her play the role of Eva. She also submitted her 40's/50's Spanish-inspired Take a Bow video, which I have mentioned before and happens to be my favorite Madonna video. So politics have always been a form of artistic weaponry for her, but why oh why was Madonna so infatuated with the role of Eva Peron, this Argentinean woman who via marriage had such a tremendous impact on her Latin American country?

I did my research on Señora Eva and watched Evita, and sang along because I was dancing to Antonio and Madonna's songs long before I ever saw the film. And in my research I drew many similarities between Mrs. Ciccone and Mrs. Peron, if not traits of Evita that Madonna might deem enviable. Eva Peron was a rebel who could not bear to see the upper class of Buenos Aires flourish while the poor existed. She was also the first woman in Argentina to wear trousers in the spotlight! Throughout the film Evita is dazzling in her 40's style tea party and swing dresses of puff-sleeves, floral prints, of silk and chiffon. She had pencil thin eyebrows, deep cherry lips and nails. She wore beautiful furs and men showered her with gifts. "Dress, voice, style, movement, hands, magic, rings, glamor, face, diamonds, excitement, image," they sing in "Rainbow High". Eva Peron was known to be particularly fond of Christian Dior.

Yet Europe apparently humbled her style a bit, and after her "Rainbow" tour abroad, she began to ditch her fancy pinned curls and hats to wear her hair pulled back; instead of dresses she opted for haute couture dress suits. Oh Europe, how you've done the same to our Madonna-it's just that America is a little too over the top for a lady to handle whilst being put under a microscope. See one cannot forget that Eva Peron was a radio-show actress, she was a star, she loved glamor, and she loved her voice. This is not to discredit her, but to say that with every Madonna personality (so few come around..) it is hard to differentiate the ultimate goal of that herculean heart. In the film, Evita referred to politics as "the art of the possible." Is not campaigning for change in a way a manipulation of the public into her romanticized personality cult? The men argue that "statesmanship is more than entertaining peasants." But the lady wins.

Madonna, now questionably going through her second divorce, will not relinquish her throne. The public humbled Eva, just as they fueled her. For Madonna, Eva Peron was simply a role that she innately could relate to. She has too much attitude to be humbled by the public, however. Even having children didn't seem to do the trick. I like Evita, because you can always go back and remember when she was vulnerable. I came across Marianismo, a latin term which describes the cult of feminine superiority. It recognizes a spiritual strength in women, a divine purity that does not exist in men. A virgin madonna, if you will. Eva Peron, once given the title "Spiritual Leader of the Nation," was perhaps seen by Madonna as an indefinite source of female dynamism. The marriage of a passionate female heart and a political podium to spin monologues-in garbs of Dior or Gautier for Madonna's sake-is their forte. It was said that on the day of the death of Eva Peron, all the flower shops in Buenos Aires had to close because they sold out of flowers. Madonna, you had better shape up if you want that kind of treatment.

July 2, 2008

Givenchy Couture

On yet another mission, Riccardo Tisci borrows inspiration from Latin America to culture the unequivocally presumptuous walkways of Paris-he dedicates Givenchy fall couture 08 to a forthcoming trip to Peru. Historical Peru gave birth to the Incan Empire, a civilization founded upon great structure in their craftsmanship and exemplary of warrior ways. Tisci has adapted these two elements, in addition to the their artistic inclination toward geometric patterning. Givenchy as a label is the queen of guarding ladylike structure and outputting warrior-like women fated to sport confidence in such sharp, incredibly well-tailored pantsuits. Peru was a brazen choice that worked for Tisci. In fact it's rural homage recalls Julien MacDonald's 2004 Spring line that also boldly transformed peasantry into a high-society woman. Nature inspired tones of muddy browns, earthy olives, stormy grays and bone ivories dominate the collection. Fur pieces and heavy leather boots become an irony that unite the rugged Latin American terrain with haute couture. The natural force behind his monochromatic looks are difficult to pin point, but it is a beautiful contrast from the mud smeared pieces and wood chips that serve as a runway. Perhaps Tisci felt inclined to insert a ribbon of light for the sun-worshiping people who built and populated Machu Picchu. Nor does he fail to omit the signature black leather and lace.