Monday, 21 April 2014

Alexandre Herchcovitch Spring/Summer 2014/15 Menswear

In the introductory notes to his Spring/Summer 2014/15 menswear collection that he showed on the last day of the latest edition of São Paulo Fashion Week on 4 April 2014, Brazilian designer Alexandre Herchcovitch declared that he had found inspiration for his creations in the looks of the preachers and believers of the Nazareth Baptist Church, an African religion that combines Zulu traditions with Christianity, also known as Shembe Church (after Isaiah Shembe, who founded the movement in South Africa in 1910). 

Photograph © The Style Examiner / João Paulo Nunes



After the runway show, and during a short backstage interview, Herchcovitch confirmed that this was his inspiration and that he had started developing the collection approximately 10 months before. Coincidentally, that was the time when an exhibition of photographs by South African portraitist Zwelethu Mthethwa was on display at the Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City, depicting young Zulu men wearing kilts and ornate shirts while attending public celebrations of the Nazareth Baptist Church. The exhibition was at the time largely ignored by the mainstream press, with the exception of the website coolhunting.com and an article by Linda Yablonsky in the New York Times drawing attention to the topic, either of which might have also contributed some inspiration to Herchcovitch’s latest menswear collection.

In fact, in her review of Mthethwa’s exhibition published on 3 February 2013, Yablonsky used words that one could perfectly adopt to describe Herchcovitch’s Spring/Summer 2014/15 menswear range: “The kilts, combined with white, fringed-hem blouses, long emerald-green ribbon ties, soccer-player knee-highs, steel-tipped boots and fluffy pompom headbands, are customary male drag for the monthlong ceremonial retreats that the Nazareth Baptist Church, or Shembe, stages twice a year near Durban, Mthethwa’s hometown. The kilts, for example, recall 19th-century Scottish immigrants to South Africa, while the pith helmets on some of the men, along with the uniform soccer socks, are a nod to former British rulers.”

If Mthethwa’s work might have served as inspiration for Herchcovitch, in a dramatic turn of events, his New York exhibition turned out to be the last time his name was mentioned untarnished and his work exhibited in public. On 5 May 2013, the artist was arrested for murder after having been allegedly filmed on closed circuit camera while beating 23-year-old Nokuphila Kumalo to death on a street of Cape Town. Mthethwa subsequently appeared in court but was granted bail. 

Photograph © The Style Examiner / João Paulo Nunes

Photograph © The Style Examiner / João Paulo Nunes

Photograph © The Style Examiner / João Paulo Nunes

Photograph © The Style Examiner / João Paulo Nunes



In a strange and ironic way, added dark layers of twisted reality are not at odds with Herchcovitch’s command of fashion as a language that interprets reality and the world. His decision to use 29 male and female black models to show his menswear collection on the runway was clearly deliberate, as not only did they refer to his main inspiration but also alerted for the issue of racial bias in fashion and repositioned the debate on androgyny, in a gesture that combined homage, irreverence and a critical approach to pastiche. 

The collection revealed an emphasis on textured fabrics and utilitarian sportswear that, for a few minutes, took viewers from the brightly illuminated runway onto the impoverished streets, open-air churches and sports fields (of either Brazil or South Africa) but, rather than remaining at an easy level of referentiality, it brought with it a vibrant and accomplished fashion.

The seemingly relaxed looks featured Herchcovitch’s characteristic sharp tailoring that more often than not includes a certain level of spirited deconstruction. Examples of this set of techniques could be found in the sleeveless double-breasted coats of variable lengths and patterns, the pleated pants rolled up to reveal the ankles, the cropped Scottish kilts worn over tailored trousers, the clean-cut angular collars, or the white shirts with applications of lace blocks. Delicate thin fabrics were treated with metallic or rubberised finishes to add depth, texture and contrast, and included leather, Tyvek, wool, denim, cotton, and embroidered linen in a colour palette comprising predominantly white, black, grey, blue, red, and silver, with the odd dash of yellow and emerald green, whereas patterning came in the form of large patchwork checks and pixelated plaids.

But, as Alexandre Herchcovitch has got his followers used to, fashion is more than what meets the eye and certainly more than the words chosen to describe a collection in introductory notes. During the end of the show run through and as the models paraded for one final display, a large number of conventional pieces could be identified past the styling and the statement pieces that initially impressed for runway effect, particularly in the form of tailored suits and shirting. And, just like that, Herchcovitch brought us back from the illusory streets, open-air churches and sports fields found in deprived parts of the word onto the formality of the runway, with an added demonstrated realisation of his very consummate menswear.

































Unless otherwise specified, photographs are courtesy of www.ffw.com.br


Sunday, 20 April 2014

Burberry unveils new flagship store in Shanghai

Following an investment programme in China initiated in 2010, British luxury brand Burberry has opened a new flagship store in Shanghai. Occupying three floors of the Kerry Centre (located in Shanghai’s Jing An district) the store is Burberry’s eight in Shanghai alone, and brings to Chinese consumers the retail design concept developed by Chief Creative Officer Christopher Bailey for the brand’s global flagship store located in London’s Regent Street.



Conceived as part event space, part entertainment hub, part store, the flagship intends to be a dynamic and luxurious new brand environment featuring innovative digital platforms while focussing on demonstrating Burberry’s own heritage and design archives.




Photographs courtesy of Burberry


Saturday, 19 April 2014

Paula Raia Spring/Summer 2014/15 Womenswear: A celebration of Brazilian cultural identity through fashion, folklore and femininity

It’s a sunny and warm morning in early April 2014 when the international press van that carries me arrives at a wide and leafy street in the exclusive and affluent neighbourhood of Jardim Europa in São Paulo. As we park, I gather my thoughts and put away my briefing papers on Brazilian fashion designer Paula Raia, whose Spring/Summer 2014/15 womenswear collection I have been invited to see in the form of a runway show staged in her own home. Further down the street, a slowly moving line of black cars with tinted windows breaks its processional pace each time a driver stops outside a large house and doors are open to elegant and beautifully-dressed women who greet each other before being ushered in small groups past the gates and inside the house by a bevy of security guards. The minor commotion draws the attention of a few gardeners and maids who try to find out what all the fuss is about from the top of the walled electric fences that surround the neighbouring low-rise architect-designed villas where they work.

Paula Raia (right) puts the final touches to a dress on a model backstage before the runway show is about to start (photograph © The Style Examiner / João Paulo Nunes)



The decision to host a runway show in your own home is a brave and yet challenging one on more levels than one can fathom when first contemplating the idea. Technical imperatives aside (good examples including the light and acoustics of any domestic space, which are, ironically enough, not the most suitable to bring out the best in garments), combining personal and familial life with public and professional realms in the same space is not always a good idea. This is particularly true of events that present the finished work made by an artist or fashion designer that, in such contexts, are often accompanied by a build-up of preconceived considerations about the creative influence and process to an audience of friends, relatives, and complete strangers such as journalists and photographers. However, in the case of the event that unveiled Paula Raia’s Spring/Summer 2014/15 creations, the challenge was accepted, resolved and accomplished with undisputable aplomb at all levels to the benefit of the display of one of the best collections presented during the latest edition of São Paulo Fashion Week.

Designed by celebrated Brazilian architect Isay Weinfeld, Raia’s house is a rare peaceful and green oasis in the centre of a city of towering concrete blocks that house a metropolitan population currently exceeding 20 million people. After taking my seat to watch the show in a room with limestone floors and a wood-panelled central wall surrounded by wide glass sliding windows, I paused to observe the lush garden surrounding the house and the elements that, only after the show, I realised had undoubtedly influenced Paula Raia when developing her collection’s identity: a carefully manicured grass lawn framed a discreet swimming pool designed to look like a natural lake, and a couple of majestic wide and tall trees stood on grounds adjusted across generations around their longstanding existence, in a reverence to nature adroitly illustrated by Raia in her latest fashion range.

Backstage at Paula Raia Spring/Summer 2014/15 womenswear collection (photograph © The Style Examiner / João Paulo Nunes)

Backstage at Paula Raia Spring/Summer 2014/15 womenswear collection (photograph © The Style Examiner / João Paulo Nunes)

Backstage at Paula Raia Spring/Summer 2014/15 womenswear collection (photograph © The Style Examiner / João Paulo Nunes)

Backstage at Paula Raia Spring/Summer 2014/15 womenswear collection (photograph © The Style Examiner / João Paulo Nunes)

Backstage at Paula Raia Spring/Summer 2014/15 womenswear collection (photograph © The Style Examiner / João Paulo Nunes)

Backstage at Paula Raia Spring/Summer 2014/15 womenswear collection (photograph © The Style Examiner / João Paulo Nunes)


Finding inspiration in the universal idea of woman as a resilient tree (and in the indigenous mythological traits that it acquired within Brazilian folklore), Paula Raia resorted to natural fabrics and handicraft techniques to create a collection that is also an empowering celebration of womanhood and motherhood. Hers is a woman stoically and pragmatically grounded to life who, like a tree firmly rooted to the earth, steadfastly battles forces of nature to stand tall and strong for her children (the branches that reach upwards and outwards as physical and metaphorical extended manifestations of body and soul). If the description of woman as a living plant deeply connected to the soil and nature could have resulted in a condescending and commonplace social construction of women, under Raia’s command it managed to straddle the sensitive social line that divides Brazilian women with delicate consideration.

To a soundtrack of African tribal chants (some of which are at the root of Brazil’s folklore music owing to the slave trade during the country’s colonial foundation by the Portuguese in the 16th century), the models descended through a sculptural spiral staircase on the outside of the house and walked in and through two connected large rooms. The result was a parade of 22 looks presented in a gentle cadence through a gradient colour palette of earthy tones ranging from off-white and ecru to straw and ochre in textured natural fabrics such as raffia and straw, as well as in woven silk and cotton organza in some cases meticulously layered to create patterns such as fish scales. 

Texture fabrics in Paula Raia Spring/Summer 2014/15 womenswear collection (photograph © The Style Examiner / João Paulo Nunes)

Texture fabrics in Paula Raia Spring/Summer 2014/15 womenswear collection (photograph © The Style Examiner / João Paulo Nunes)

Texture fabrics in Paula Raia Spring/Summer 2014/15 womenswear collection (photograph © The Style Examiner / João Paulo Nunes)

Texture fabrics in Paula Raia Spring/Summer 2014/15 womenswear collection (photograph © The Style Examiner / João Paulo Nunes)



Elongated silhouettes were prevalent throughout the collection in the form of floor-length column skirts and dresses with sharp angular designs crafted around the shoulder lines. In a number of dresses, stacked layers of contrasting fabrics conjured the geometric designs that were made popular in the fashion and architecture of the 1930s as well as in the bulbous volumetries of Christian Dior’s garments of the late 1940s. Nevertheless, if Raia’s conic structures and pleated details revealed influences of the New Look, they also benefitted from Raia’s own reinterpretation by replacing Dior’s heavy wools with the lightness of cotton lace and of woven or plaited straw. And as the last model exited the house wearing a fitted top made of geometrically layered blocks of ecru and ochre fabrics over a long flowing skirt, and stood in formation with the other models in the garden facing the audience through the glass walls, the sense of communion with nature as the anchoring concept for the collection could not have been reinforced any further.

After the show ended and I began to formulate questions about the collection in my head in case I was able to have a few minutes alone with Paula Raia, I realised how, in spite of all the commotion that always ensues a runway show, the designer remained serenely happy. As I waited my turn to speak to her, I noticed that Raia kept holding her two children’s hands and paid attention to everything they said or did, even when her attention was requested by several people for the most diverse reasons. And when her mother congratulated her by giving her a long, silent embrace with tears running down her face, I quickly came to the conclusion that interviewing her would have been a redundant exercise. Against a hectic and noisy scene, that dignified and unstudied emotional portrait of generational ties and family love had provided all the answers to my questions about the origins of Paula Raia’s confidence, professional reliance, and the foundations for the personal and social awareness of womanhood and motherhood that she so consummately distilled into her sartorial creations.























Models standing in line at the end of the runway show for Paula Raia Spring/Summer 2014/15 womenswear collection (photograph © The Style Examiner / João Paulo Nunes)




Unless otherwise specified, photographs are courtesy of www.ffw.com.br