The Dish and Dispatch from Milan Fashion Week

Models backstage at Calvin Klein Fall/Winter 2015. Photo: Matteo Prandoni/BFAnyc.com

Gucci was the talk of Milan; it was intended to be Frida Giannini‘s last collection (her departure was announced last December; she has been creative director since 2006). Last week it emerged that she was given a quick boot, and her deputy, Alessandro Michele, charged with producing a new collection in the space of a week. Actually, it was very Frida — feminine and romantic, with dashes of color, contrasting with the somber collections everyone else sent down the runway (this year’s predominant palate: gray). The puzzle was just how much Alessandro Michele inherited, and how much he altered.

The rumor is that Riccardo Tisci will take over just as soon as his contract with Givenchy is up (in about a year), while Alessandro steers the ship in the interval. For what it’s worth, I really loved the collection, but there will nothing there for GQ, Details, Esquire — it’s definitely not what Americans would consider men’s fashion. It was as if all the cute boys raided their girlfriend’s closets.

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Outwardly, Prada appeared to play it safe, drawing on military uniforms in a collection that included women as well as men. The silhouettes were tight and geometric, lots of double-breasted jackets, very tailored, and naval. Epaulets on the shoulders of some of the men’s jackets were echoed in the bows on the shoulders of the women’s dresses. Many of the fabrics were lightweight — nylon jackets, gray mohair sweaters. I loved it, but as usual you would have to be super skinny to get away with it. You’ve got eight months left to diet.

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Military motifs showed up also in Italo Zucchelli‘s F/W collection for Calvin Klein, but this time with a futuristic patina that summoned Blade Runner–an army of sharply silhouetted models in every shade of grey. In fact Zucchelli was more inspired by film noir than sci-fi, but it’s that combination of brooding masculinity and dystopia that makes this collection come to life. Double-breasted coats, parkas, black vinyl jeans, and cropped sweater and bomber jackets, often embossed with animal prints, felt signature Calvin Klein without feeling in any way repetitive.

BlackBook 3 Minutes: Andy Cohen and Billy Eichner Part II

One afternoon in January, Andy Cohen, the grinning, gleeful, garrulous host of Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live sat down to chat with Billy Eichner, the grinning, gleeful, garrulous star of Funny or Die’s Billy on the Street. Eichner had been on Cohen’s show a few times, and Cohen—an avid booster of social media—is a keen follower of Eichner’s hilarious Twitter feed (sample: “Just remember – without Ringo Starr there would be no Beyoncé”) which has become essential reading during awards season. Cohen and Eichner, not surprisingly, have a lot in common—not only are they Jewish and gay and funny, they also enjoy Girls, love Fashion Queens, and adore Madonna. Well, what else did you expect?

If you missed Part 1, can you find it here.

BlackBook 3 Minutes: Andy Cohen and Billy Eichner Part I

One afternoon in January, Andy Cohen, the grinning, gleeful, garrulous host of Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live sat down to chat with Billy Eichner, the grinning, gleeful, garrulous star of Funny or Die’s Billy on the Street. Eichner had been on Cohen’s show a few times, and Cohen—an avid booster of social media—is a keen follower of Eichner’s hilarious Twitter feed (sample: “Just remember – without Ringo Starr there would be no Beyoncé”) which has become essential reading during awards season. Cohen and Eichner, not surprisingly, have a lot in common—not only are they Jewish and gay and funny, they also enjoy Girls, love Fashion Queens, and adore Madonna. Well, what else did you expect?

New York’s House of Diehl Designers are the Bonnie and Clyde of Fashion

It’s hard to know where to begin when talking about the talented New York artists, writers, and style warriors Mary Jo (MJ) Diehl and Roman Milisic, aka House of Diehl. The couple—partners in marriage as well as creativity—met in 1999 at a book party for the photographer David LaChapelle (Roman was his editor at the time), and have blazed a trail through New York ever since. I was first introduced them in 2003, and even then—before New York City was entirely co-opted by banks and franchises, they seemed like a holdout from another era, when the city was a magnet for the avant garde and the original. The fact that they stubbornly cling on in New York, rather than follow the exodus to Brooklyn, also says something about their mischievous brand of sedition. New York, after all, is fashion—not just a site of pilgrimage for people who want to buy overpriced frocks on Madison Avenue, or home to America’s designers and fashion editors, but a place that has always epitomized expressiveness and individuality. “It’s not about looking perfect, it’s about looking interesting, and the interesting and the unique is what we celebrate,” says MJ, a tall gust of energy and blond hair who grew up in Queens, and has the accent to prove it. “It’s not about buying the latest Gucci bag—in fact, that’s not cool; if you can buy something insane for $2 in a thrift store, that’s more interesting. There’s probably a medium-sized hole in the ozone from another little black dress. Do we need another one?”

If you boil down House of Diehl’s manifesto to its simplest truth you end up with a provocative twist on Dada: The designer is dead. “I said that “27 years” ago,” says MJ. “No one wants to look at things—they want to be a part of the action, so we created fully-immersive environments, where people are a key component of the action.” She is talking about Style Wars, a juxtaposition of audience participation, D.I.Y. couture, and flamboyance, in which participants are given less than five minutes to transform everyday objects—a bicycle tire, medical supplies, clothes hangers—into high fashion. Or, as MJ, sums it up, “They have four and a half minutes from concept to creation—a Hefty trashbag into Hervé Léger.” The contests, which emerged from House of Diehl’s own experiments in what they dub “instant couture” channel the comic surrealism of Pee Wee Herman mixed with the high-octane energy of a rave. Creativity, it turns out, is infectious. “It’s one thing to exhibit this concept ourselves,” says Roman, who was born in Yugoslavia, the son of a poet frequently at odds with the then-Communist government. “It’s another to say, ‘Let’s start a fire and see if is spreads. Let’s see who is out there, already doing this stuff in their bedrooms with their buddies, and put them on stage and see if they can kill it.”

ICPOSTCARD

The fire has certainly spread—to five continents. When the two took the show to Buenos Aires they were astonished to find a crowd of several thousand squeezing into the venue. “They were completely insane,” recalls MJ. “They threw the clothes off the rack and made the outfit out of the rack. That wouldn’t win in Macy’s or at Target, but in Style Wars it totally killed it.” The point, of course, is not to create something that would typically win a fashion award, or garner a spread in Vogue. The establishment is at odds with everything House of Diehl stands for. At one Style Wars event, participants had to smash a piñata doll of Anna Wintour in order to release the materials for the contest. “We’ve always had a ‘Bring me the head of Karl Lagerfeld’ element,” says Roman, who compares fashion designers to the ownership class in Marxist theory. “They own the catwalk, so you have to be one of the super elite to present your work where someone can see it,” he says. “We’re the fucking 99 percent. With Style Wars you can just have an idea, and you don’t need a million bucks or connections to get on that catwalk. It’s all about the currency of ideas, and how important it is to have fresh innovative concepts out there.”

This is one reason why pop stars like Lady Gaga come to House of Diehl to help outfit them in ways that reframe how we think of fashion. “Her stylists are like, ‘Hi, we need something—broken glass, a table, a shoe, and a car—can you make that in ten minutes,” paraphrases MJ. “Who else you gonna call? We’re like the Ghostbusters of the fashion world.” For Roman, helping to outfit pop stars is all well and good, but it’s on the street where House of Deihl finds it greatest expression. “The kids who will wear it downtown are the people who power Style Wars,” he says. “If you can wear something outrageous and make it work in a real setting, like they do, that’s great.” And this, perhaps, is the crux of their sensibility, to challenge the idea that fashion boils down to deciding which label to choose from the rack in the department store. “Reality is our runway,” says MJ. “It’s really about using something exclusive to be inclusive—it’s not about another watered down designer collection, like McQueen at Target. That’s not what people want when they think of fashion. They want a star-making experience. For us it’s not about looking like star, simply aesthetic, it’s about becoming a star—the best you that you can be.

xraybw2Photo: Gregory Shelukhin

metaldressPhoto: Gregory Shelukhin

On a recent Saturday evening, MJ and Roman host a party for friends at their salon/apartment in New York’s Flatiron district. It’s a potluck, and the guests squeeze into their tiny kitchen to deposit dishes they’ve prepared earlier—stuffed mushrooms, braised pork loin, a cake. Around the room are various outfits the duo has designed over the years, as well as a portrait series of iconic scenes in movies—Rosemary’s Baby, Cabaret, Taxi Driver, Bonnie & Clyde—in which the couple restyled the characters in House of Diehl couture for a 2004 BlackBook series. MJ gestures to an outfit made of lengths of tape measure that has the appearance of a revealing cocktail dress. “That one is called, ‘The dress is fine, it’s the party that makes you look fat.’” She laughs. Wit is a big ingredient in what makes of House of Diehl work, but the wit is underpinned by a deeply held philosophy on liberating fashion from dogma. “We’ve always been about transformation,” explains Roman, “What does transformation mean in the fashion world?” MJ leads me to the photo of Bonnie & Clyde. “This picture, more than anything else, represents Roman and I in the fashion world,” she says. We stare at America’s favorite outlaws as they stare back at us, pistols in hand, from the wall. “They were anti-establishment, they did what they wanted to do,” says MJ, before adding with a tart wink, “And they were sexy and stylish as hell.”

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House of Diehl will be collaborating with Absolut Tune on an immersive experience that will debut in Spring 2014. To learn more about current and upcoming Absolut Tune events, visit Absolut.com.

Main image by Danielle Levitt

Eight Stand Outs from Milan’s Menswear Shows

1: Brioni’s East-meets-West vibe

You have to go back a long way to uncover the roots of Brioni’s Fall/Winter 2014/15 collection—all the way back to Caravaggio, in fact. Take, for example, Giusquiamo green—yes, I had never heard of it either, but a chief pleasure of fashion is how it expands your appreciation of color. Giusquiamo green—dark and mossy—is named after a leaf (henbane in English), that was said to help witches fly, and the dead forget their loved ones, as well as more practical purposes in treating colic, irritable bladder, and gastric ulcers. And now it is a shade of beautiful knits and jackets by Brioni, taking the color palette from the shades of Carvaggio’s compositional chiaroscuros. There’s also midnight smoke, cherry brandy, dry bougainvillea, and geisha red. Talk about a (cashmere) coat of many colors. And that geisha red is no anomaly: a 1963 travel journal by Brioni co-founder Gaetano Savini, in which he recorded his impressions of Tokyo, serves as the anchor to this sublime collection in which silk shirts and a varsity jacket are embroidered with traditional Japanese scenes that you don’t need to be an extrovert to wear. Current creative director, London-born Brendan Mullane, let me look through Savini’s yellowed notebook, full of scribbles and doodles, and practically humming with inspiration and passion. Mullane and his team have taken that inspiration and expanded it for a collection that genuinely merits that overused trope “east meets west,” by synthesizing the best of both worlds.

Brioni JournalBrioniSilk ShirtBrioni close up

2: Bottega Veneta’s everything.

There were many shades of green on show at the Bottega Veneta presentation early on Sunday morning—at an hour that Tomas Meier, the brand’s reserved, somewhat cerebral creative director, tends to favor, presumably because he thinks that afternoons are for slackers. Meier has helmed the luxe Italian brand, Bottega Veneta for over 12 years—and for good reason. His collections are never less than impeccable, and consistency is his hallmark. There is almost nothing that materializes on his runway that I wouldn’t want to wear, and almost nothing I could ever afford. This season’s signature was a dip-dyed sweater, as well as cashmere sweat pants that will never be worn to the gym.

Bottega

 

DipDyesweater

3: Canali’s Grand Piano

The music for the Canali presentation was a live performance by pianist Ludovico Einaudi, playing his own pastoral compositions on a grand piano. Yes, it was exhilarating to hear Beyonce’s Superpower at Bottega Veneta, and the blast of Pulp’s Hardcore at Feragamo was a delightful mindfuck, but after all the pop and rock that propels the svelte young boys down the catwalks, how nice to have the grown-up sound of Einaudi at the piano. I’d never heard of him before, but when I fly back to New York, this is the song I shall be playing to calm my nerves.

CanaiRunway

Ludovico Einaudi

 

CD for ludovico-einaudi-in-a-time-lapse-album

4: Bebel’s Puntarelle salad

Man cannot live on style alone. Sometimes he needs bread, too—preferably dipped in a little olive oil, and served with a heaping bowl of puntarelle salad. Let me come clean: I had no idea what puntarelle was when I first encountered it at Bebels, one of those typical Milanese restaurants that are over-lit, and basic, but which serve fresh, simple dishes that you crave after a day of sitting endlessly on hard, narrow benches waiting for shows to start 30 minutes after their scheduled time. Puntarelle is a winter chicory that grows in southern Italy, and which is transformed by a little chopped anchovy, garlic, vinegar, and olive oil. Reader, I could eat this every day, and when I am here I do.

Puntarelle Salad_Bebels

5: Pink? No, Flamingo.

I overheard Deborah Needleman, now making waves as editrix of T Magazine, marveling one morning at the rise of the men’s clutch. Men’s fashion had become a little more feminine, she noted, while women’s wear was a little more masculine, and so much the better. It’s a good and true observation, but Valextra, a cult Italian bag company, suggests the wheel has simply been dialed back to the 1960s when European men thought nothing of running around with a slim, elegant purse under their arm. Velextra’s fall collection of leather goods come in three colors—petroleum, dark brown, and what they refer to as Flamingo, a bright poppy pink that would add just the right amount of dash to a man’s wardrobe. It surfaces in attaché cases, document wallets, even a cool little case for your computer cables, but I liked the wallet best of all. Is it too early to draw up a Christmas list?

Valextra-Wallet

6: This model

Watching Pier-Gabrile LaJoie stroll down the runway for the Fall/Winter 2014/15 Calvin Klein’s menswear collection was my Death in Venice moment of this season’s shows (you’ll have to read the novel/watch the movie to understand). In Gerontophilia, the most recent movie by director Bruce LaBruce, the young French Canadian plays an 18-year old attracted to an 82-year old man, and it’s easily LaBruce’s most touching and mainstream movie to date. There was something cinematic, too, about Italo Zuccheli’s latest collection with its masculine suiting and the slick-haired models strutting confidently down the catwalk. Leading the charge, LaJoie wore a green trench and pleated, roomy pants that brought to mind a Raymond Chandler crime noir. Later that night, at an extravagant cocktail party festooned with tureens of caviar, LaJoie reflected the same lovely ease and grace he shows on camera, and yes—I was charmed. And no, I did not ask his age. That would be too depressing.

Pier-bigger

7: Donatella Versace

When her brother was shot and killed by Andrew Cunanan on July 15, 1997 few fashion world observers expected Donatella Versace to have the combination of talent and business acumen to keep the fashion house relevant. And yet, here she is in 2014 with a collection that had the audience at the Versace mansion cheering at the weekend. It was, perhaps, the most purely entertaining and joyous occasion that this year’s shows had to offer. There were men in assless chaps that might have been ripped from the pages of gay illustrator Tom of Finland; and men in elaborate jewel-encrusted cod-pieces; and men in ferociously-patterned biker helmets. I had the pleasure of interviewing Donatella some years ago, and still remember thrilling to her deep-throated purr as she discussed fashion and sex. Was there such a thing as being too sexy or seductive, I asked? “Never, never!” she responded, “You can be too boring, but you can never be too seductive.” Nothing about Donatella has ever been boring. And when she came out at the end—a gush of silky blonde hair and a buoyant smile—seductive was precisely the word that sprang to mind.

Versace

8: The enigma that is Prada

Trays of whiskey were waiting as the fashion press poured into the large cage-like arena for Prada’s always-hot ticket show. A stickler for detail, even the refreshment is often a hint of what’s to come, but as usual with Miucca Prada the show was playfully abstract with a somber undertone. Were we in wartime Europe, or maybe in the immediate aftermath? The fox furs hanging around mens necks, and used, harness-like, to reinforce vests, conjured escaping prisoners, but no — afterwards, backstage, Miucca smiled appreciatively at the guessing games, but quickly clarified: we are in the world of the German avant-garde, of which the late Pina Bausch was such a great exemplar. And Bausch, like Prada, commanded a devoted following, not simply because she knew how to dance, but because she knew to think.
PRADA

Aaron Hicklin is the editor in chief of Out magazine and editor of BlackBook.

Brett Ratner, Jackie Stewart, and Roman Polanski: On Speed (Part II)

A conversation with Formula 1 legend Jackie Stewart and Hollywood mogul Brett Ratner, and a noticeably absent Roman Polanski.

Watch Part I here.

With apologies to James Agee, let us now praise famous dead men: Jo “Seppi” Siffert, Jochen Rindt, Lorenzo Bandini, Piers Courage, Francois Severt. These are just a few of the dozen Formula 1 racers who died in the eight years that Grand Prix legend, Jackie Stewart was dubbed the Flying Scot for his remarkable run at the top of the world’s fastest, most dangerous sport. “We were killing between four and eight drivers a year,” Stewart has said of the era in which he was king. “If you raced for five full seasons, there was a two-in-three chance that you were going to die.

Motor racing is still the fastest sport, but it’s no longer the most dangerous—the NFL and the World Boxing Federation can fight over that dubious distinction. No one has died in a Formula 1 Championship since Ayrton Seena in 1994, and much of the change was lead by Stewart, who witnessed so many friends die on Europe’s treacherous courses that he dedicated his life to making the sport safer.

Stewart, who won 27 Grand Prix titles in eight years, stood out as a loquacious dandy sporting a black Corduroy cap and long sideburns. “The longer they got, the faster I got,” he wisecracks. A working class kid from near Glasgow, he once described himself as “completely uneducated by traditional standards,” and had such severe dyslexia he couldn’t recite the alphabet. Yet by the time he was 30, Stewart was as famous at home as The Beatles and Twiggy. It was that mix of celebrity, sex, and danger that drew another global superstar, Roman Polanski, to shadow Stewart as he prepared to race the Monaco Grand Prix in 1971. The resulting documentary, Weekend of a Champion, was never released at the time, and might have been left moldering in a cupboard if it wasn’t for a phone call from Polanski’s old lab in London.

“They contacted me asking what I wanted to do with the negatives of the film, whether they should destroy it,” Polanski recalled during a recent interview. “So I looked at the film and I liked it, after 40 years almost. I decided to give it a new life.”

After showing the film to Rush Hour director Brett Ratner, a long-time friend and mutual fan of the sport, the idea of giving a proper release to Polanksi’s time capsule took shape. To do that, Polanski and Stewart returned to the same hotel room, at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco where much of the original documentary was filmed in (the first time around Stewart is in his underwear; the second time—wisely—in a suit). The result is a great snapshot of two men—friends—at two moments in their lives: at pinnacle of their young success, and then older, more reflective, with the added hindsight of 40 years.

Like Polanksi and Stewart, Brett Ratner has a powerful biography of his own. As a child he shared a room with his great-grandmother—a Holocaust survivor—in a four-bedroom house in Miami. The other rooms were divided between his mother, his grandparents, and his uncle. He didn’t get to meet his father until his 16th birthday. “One day, I got the courage to ask him why he never visited me as a child,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2012. “He explained that he made the difficult decision to stay away because he was embarrassed since he had been disowned by his family, had abused drugs for many years and knew he couldn’t provide for me or my mom. Holding a job was impossible for him.” A few years later, Ratner ran into his father on the street, homeless but fiercely independent. “He would occasionally call to check in, but it pained him to ask for help, so he stayed away,” he recalled. “My father died a few years later, alone, without me or any family member by his side.”

Now a newly-minted Hollywood mogul on the back of a $450 million deal with Warner Brothers, Ratner sat down with Stewart to talk about Polanski, Monaco, and the common denominator between motor racing and film making: adrenalin and passion.

Brett Ratner, Jackie Stewart, and Roman Polanski: On Speed (Part I)

A conversation with Formula 1 legend Jackie Stewart and Hollywood mogul Brett Ratner, and a noticeably absent Roman Polanski.

With apologies to James Agee, let us now praise famous dead men: Jo “Seppi” Siffert, Jochen Rindt, Lorenzo Bandini, Piers Courage, Francois Severt. These are just a few of the dozen Formula 1 racers who died in the eight years that Grand Prix legend, Jackie Stewart was dubbed the Flying Scot for his remarkable run at the top of the world’s fastest, most dangerous sport. “We were killing between four and eight drivers a year,” Stewart has said of the era in which he was king. “If you raced for five full seasons, there was a two-in-three chance that you were going to die.

Motor racing is still the fastest sport, but it’s no longer the most dangerous—the NFL and the World Boxing Federation can fight over that dubious distinction. No one has died in a Formula 1 Championship since Ayrton Seena in 1994, and much of the change was lead by Stewart, who witnessed so many friends die on Europe’s treacherous courses that he dedicated his life to making the sport safer.

Stewart, who won 27 Grand Prix titles in eight years, stood out as a loquacious dandy sporting a black Corduroy cap and long sideburns. “The longer they got, the faster I got,” he wisecracks. A working class kid from near Glasgow, he once described himself as “completely uneducated by traditional standards,” and had such severe dyslexia he couldn’t recite the alphabet. Yet by the time he was 30, Stewart was as famous at home as The Beatles and Twiggy. It was that mix of celebrity, sex, and danger that drew another global superstar, Roman Polanski, to shadow Stewart as he prepared to race the Monaco Grand Prix in 1971. The resulting documentary, Weekend of a Champion, was never released at the time, and might have been left moldering in a cupboard if it wasn’t for a phone call from Polanski’s old lab in London.

“They contacted me asking what I wanted to do with the negatives of the film, whether they should destroy it,” Polanski recalled during a recent interview. “So I looked at the film and I liked it, after 40 years almost. I decided to give it a new life.”

After showing the film to Rush Hour director Brett Ratner, a long-time friend and mutual fan of the sport, the idea of giving a proper release to Polanksi’s time capsule took shape. To do that, Polanski and Stewart returned to the same hotel room, at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco where much of the original documentary was filmed in (the first time around Stewart is in his underwear; the second time—wisely—in a suit). The result is a great snapshot of two men—friends—at two moments in their lives: at pinnacle of their young success, and then older, more reflective, with the added hindsight of 40 years.

Like Polanksi and Stewart, Brett Ratner has a powerful biography of his own. As a child he shared a room with his great-grandmother—a Holocaust survivor—in a four-bedroom house in Miami. The other rooms were divided between his mother, his grandparents, and his uncle. He didn’t get to meet his father until his 16th birthday. “One day, I got the courage to ask him why he never visited me as a child,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2012. “He explained that he made the difficult decision to stay away because he was embarrassed since he had been disowned by his family, had abused drugs for many years and knew he couldn’t provide for me or my mom. Holding a job was impossible for him.” A few years later, Ratner ran into his father on the street, homeless but fiercely independent. “He would occasionally call to check in, but it pained him to ask for help, so he stayed away,” he recalled. “My father died a few years later, alone, without me or any family member by his side.”

Now a newly-minted Hollywood mogul on the back of a $450 million deal with Warner Brothers, Ratner sat down with Stewart to talk about Polanski, Monaco, and the common denominator between motor racing and film making: adrenalin and passion.

BB_3minutes_PartII