Sunday, November 13, 2011

The worker, the businessman and the designer

The Singapore Fashion Film Festival concluded its two week run last Sunday, and left me wanting more. I would have braved that climb up to Sinema @ Old School every weekend if only to catch the films that were shown.

Films, especially documentaries are such a great way of getting a glimpse into another world, and for fashion fanatics like myself, its almost like getting a backstage pass to Chanel's Haute Couture show or Versace's RTW show. Besides seeing what happens backstage, such documentaries offer one the perspective of people whose lives reside within the world of fashion. It is almost nearly like delving into the depths of their mind and soul, and seeing things from their point of view. The 3 films that I was fortunate enough to catch helped me to understand the perspectives of 3 different groups of people within the industry, and has thoroughly inspired me.

The Worker
Signé Chanel is not about Karl Lagerfeld but really about the people behind the scenes. The documentary takes one through the work that leads up to a Haute Couture show, and the staff that work laboriously to complete the collection in time. What most people see is 15 minutes of glory on the runway, but not the effort or time that goes into making a dress. 

Seamstresses at Chanel work tirelessly for every collection, or what they call 'Pure Couture' or should I say torture, as they go through countless of fittings. They spend days (and nights) on a single dress, only to have it taken off the collection within 15 minutes of meeting with Lagerfeld. Their skills are at the highest level - at the beginning of the documentary, one seamstress redid the embroidery (beading, mind you) of the entire hem of a dress within 30 minutes. 

More characters come into the documentary. The model, Amanda, who comes in for countless of fittings, only to get pricked every single time by the seamstress who fits her. Then there's the shoemaker, Massaro, who scurries to and fro from him shop to Chanel's building at least 5 - 6 times a day to meet with Mr. Lagerfeld, who makes at least 10 different changes to the same shoe before he is satisfied. Lesage, the embroiderer does the embroidery on Chanel's fabrics and has at least 5 helpers working on the same yard of fabric for a few months. I saved my most favorite artisan for the last. Madame Pouzieux, a 75 year old woman, living on the farm. Using Chanel's tweed, she slowly unravels the fabric, carefully measures the thread count, and uses a loom (that she invented) to manually braid the thread into the famous Chanel braid, and mind you, she does this over the course of 2 weeks  getting an average of 2 hours of sleep a day. It is a dying trait, and so far no one else can recreate her braid.

The shoemaker, Massaro

Such effort that goes into a dress. We are often privy to such things that go on behind the scenes, the workers that turn the wheel, and who play a pivotal role in making high fashion, high fashion.

The businessman
The fashion industry is not all about beautiful designs and great craftsmanship. Fashion houses have begun to understand that it goes beyond these 2 qualities and it is essentially about business. 

Paul Smith is a businessman. He confesses in the documentary, Paul Smith: Gentleman Designer, that he was not schooled in fashion nor had any kind of formal training. Then you wonder how Paul Smith has managed to achieve its status today. Well, Paul is shrewd businessman. From the beginning, he conceived a brand that differentiated itself from others, and it came at a time when young British men wanted something different, something beyond stuffy suits. Paul Smith offered just that. A unique button, a colourful lining, the way stripes were juxtaposed on a shirt, Paul Smith took the traditional tailored suit, and gave it a twist resulting in something ingenious that left his customers wanting more. His brand truly reflects everything he is - fun, playful, humorous, vivacious and quirky. 

Everything, from the store decor (you'll always be greeted by humorous signs and amusing paintings), to the prints ads have been clearly thought through by Paul Smith. He is there in every aspect of his business - he doesn't design, but he sets the theme for every collection, does the photography and conceptualization for Paul Smith's campaigns and represents the brand as its spokesperson, flying around the world to meet his 'fans' (people go crazy over him in Japan). Paul Smith's brand is truly the essence of the man himself, and everything is done in his signature light-hearted and humorous manner.

The designer
The most acclaimed of all 3, and one that needs no introduction, is the designer. In L'amour Fou, Yves Saint Laurent's life long partner, Pierre Berge, narrates the better half of Yves' life story through the art pieces in their home which are going on auction after Yves' death. 

Yves' collection of art is truly remarkable. It also clearly shows his love for art. It is no surprise then, that art was a huge source of Yves' inspiration for many of his collections. One of the more notable pieces from his collection was the dress that was inspired by Mondrain's contemporary paintings. 

The Mondrain inspired dress

Yves truly is a designer who creates works of wearable art. He takes fashion to another level, and transforms clothes into an art form. Another thing that inspired Yves were his travels. His abode in Morocco and the colourful North African influence definitely resonated in some of his collections. A designer thus, must be an artist and must have the ability to incorporate all that he sees and does in his everyday life into his works. Yves himself was a genius, with an ability to conjure up more than 100 designs for his collections. 

It is a frenzied and crazy life a designer has to deal with. Diverging away from norms and immersing oneself fully in designing while constantly having to search for inspiration and new ideas for every new collection. As Pierre Berge, puts it, designers must be blessed by some higher being as they somehow always manage to meet their deadlines. Yves himself was a victim of this hectic and stressful life, suffering from depression and turning to alcohol and drugs. 

Behind all that glamour and air-kissing, is a cut-throat industry that moves so fast that a designer truly needs to dig deep to survive. But designers that do make it, like Yves Saint Laurent, well, they are remembered for generations.



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