Fortuny was born Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo in 1871 to a pair of well-known Spanish painters in Grenada. Although he inherited the painting gene, Fortuny proved passionate about textiles, which he collected and dyed for amusement. As a kid. As an adult, he became known for his silk Greek-goddess'y gowns which utilized glass beads to hold their shape and flow flatteringly on the female form. They are ardently collected by fashionistas and museums alike as art. (His work was said to have inspired Marcel Proust.) What's most intriguing to me about his work is the hand-pleating involved - which no one to date has been able to recreate. (image)
Madame Grès began life in in 1903 as the dowdily-named Germaine Émilie Krebs. She later went by Alix Barton, eventually creating a much more genteel moniker for herself. Her fashion house, Grès, was founded in 1942 and catered to jetsetters like the Duchess of Windsor, Dolores del Río, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Jacqueline Kennedy. A formally-trained artist, she approached her work as a sculptor. “For me it is just the same to work with fabric or stone,” she once remarked. "It inspires," adds fashion writer Suzy Menkes about Grès, "to think about the poetic work of human hands. And how different fashion was in the days when clothes were fitted and stroked to the body, rather than the approximate ready-to-wear."
Alexander Wang sprang onto the map of Fashionland in a sporty spray of streetwear, but has since cleaned up his design act...although not his inspiration. For Spring 2015, he started with ubiquitous footwear of his generation: sneakers. They not only provided a creative springboard, but proved a fascinating lens through which to reconsider fashion history. "I wanted to reinterpret and manipulate the ideas," Wang explains, "and mix them with the cutting of Madame Grès and Fortuny.”
Which translated to technical knits with a bubbled yet vaguely Fair Isle'ish appearance, pleated bra tops of red and gray that seemed to emulate the flames of a hot-rod and the brand of high-glam tuxedo-chic favored by the coldly-beautiful woman of a Helmut Newton photograph. "Wang’s lineup was grounded in some of the best high-waisted black satin pants seen on any runway for a long time, enthuses fashion writer Sarah Mower. "A sophisticated “classic” that looked particularly brilliant paired with a sharp, white spencer jacket." She adds: "As it turned out, the collection that was inspired by sneakers didn’t have a sneaker in sight...but no one cares about where a fashion idea starts; it’s whether you can turn it into something that resonates in the now."
Wang's offbeat, time-traveling inspiration mashup struck me as unlikely to the point of weird at first, until I realized that all three designers were all trying to achieve the same ends: comfort, elegance, timelessness. Sure, the outcome differs in each case, but that is a result of the particular time period, the fabrics available and especially the way people live - the context. The context in which a designer creates will indelibly shape the final form; the impulses, however, come from a much more untouchable font that transcends time, generation gaps and gender.
Although the inspiration for Alexander Wang's collection came from the streets, the way it was filtered through the highbrow and rarefied aesthetic of Fortuny and Gres will make these looks appeal to the younger, hipper members of the Supremium fashion tribe - spendy, style-conscious fashionistas that enjoy jetsetting, globetrotting and shopping their way across the globe. Think fashion show front-row fixture & socialite Olivia Palermo - at left in Alexander Wang.
- Lesley Scott