Sometimes, when I’m watching a runway show, I have to remind myself that I have a degree from a prestigious university and that I was reared by women who impressed upon me the minutiae of fit, proportion, colour and style. Because sometimes? When I’m watching a runway show? I question my ability to understand what the hell is going on. Yes, high fashion can be high art. But it’s good to bear in mind that designers are sometimes full of shit.
A couple of designers at New York Fashion Week claimed their Spring/Summer 2016 collections had been inspired by musicians. The inspiration was obvious in one collection and reeeeeaaaaallly staticky in another.
Rebecca Minkoff muse for her SS16 collection was Marianne Faithfull—specifically, the contrasting sweetness and rebellion of the British ingénue.
Minkoff even called her collection “Sweet Rebellion.” Right on, Becky! Choosing an uncomplicated muse, then hewing to a straightforward expression of that inspiration—this is going well already.
Minkoff’s good junkie/bad junkie collection was meant to present garments a 20something Marianne would have worn today, and the designer hit her mark. Sweet pastel minis, fierce but feminine gladiator pumps and sandals, voluminous maxi dresses that spotlighted the shoulders, and plenty of snowy tones made way for more rocknroll Rebellious textiles. A black leather sleeveless jumpsuit recalled the Lanvin catsuit Faithfull wore in the campy X-rated 1968 romp, Girl on a Motorcycle.
(Here’s the trailer, if you like cringe-laughing.)
Models sporting clip-on bangs slinked down the runway in a suede thistle minidress with a vented bodice, a babydoll top paired with ecru bellbottoms, and black shorts with a black suede fringed jacket.
It’s easy to imagine a young Marianne in any of these groovy ensembles. Would she also wear a suede thistle fringed cape? Maybe not, but who cares? The collection was fun, swingy, and wearable. OK, a little literal, maybe, but not costumey and definitely sexy. Minkoff doesn’t take herself or her inspiration too seriously here, and it all worked.
Inspiration need not be literal, of course. Derek Lam’s SS2016 collection was purportedly inspired by jazz singer Nina Simone and the documentary about her life, What Happened, Miss Simone?.
The show card proclaimed, “Nina Simone’s life, work and style inspire a wardrobe of femininity for a woman with a voice and purpose.”
So where did these clothes come from? Don’t get me wrong—I loveloveLOVED this collection. I want to inject this collection directly into my veins. Every look was sophisticated, rich, languid, urbane and oh so covetable. Elongated bell sleeves, shades of sea, sky and sunlight, buttery leather trenches, liquid mid-calf dresses and super-femme maxis suggested an independent, modern woman with gamine femininity and a confident sense of self.
Those traits may happen to apply to Nina Simone, but . . . OK, I’m not saying he’s lying exactly when he claims she was his muse for this collection but I have a sneaking feeling Derek Lam knows almost nothung about Nina Simone. I’m willing to bet he never saw that documentary. He might have seen the trailer, but that’s it. Does he even own any Nina Simone records?
Simone was unique, formidable, moody, brilliant, brooding, lost, abused, at times unhinged. She was full of contradictions, built of determination, tortured, a survivor. She was a complicated woman. She was a force of nature.
As gorgeous as it is, nothing in the Derek Lam SS16 collection reflects Simone’s dark complexity. The woman who will wear these clothes is independent, intelligent, and sophisticated, like Simone, but those are not the characteristics that set Simone apart from other smart, sexy, strong women. They are not by a long shot what made Nina Simone Nina Simone.
I guess it can be tempting when you hear all the buzz about a certain artist or movie to want to attach that buzz to your own runway show. Did Lam bullshit us all about his inspiration? I don’t know. It just feels distinctly like he superimposed the words “Nina Simone” over a collection that seems to have nothing to do, even figuratively, with this singular artist.
I ain’t mad, though; those clothes stand alone. No need to fake inspiration from what’s hot on the streets right now, Derek. Hey, I’ll trade you a bunch of Nina Simone records for every look in your collection in a size zero petite.
Maybe I’m wrong about the disconnect. Maybe there’s more than a tenuous thread between Nina Simone’s rich, tragic essence and the vague notions of strength and femininity conveyed by these lovely garments. Maybe Derek Lam hums “Wild Is the Wind,” like, all the time. I’m just saying I’m not a complete idiot, and designers are sometimes full of shit.