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It’s hard to write about Massimo Alba, and that’s partially his fault: Although he’s a fun and fascinating conversationalist, when you interview him on the record he becomes restless and a little tongue-tied. He roams around his eclectic showroom asking for your opinion instead of offering his. His clothes, though, are extraordinary, a fact that becomes ever more evident the more you spend time either wearing or looking at them. Alba started his first line in the 1980s, which was named after Magritte’s home address. He then worked for the Italian cashmere house Malo before a stint at Scotland’s Ballantyne. Then, in 2007, he started his own eponymous label. In slow, studied brushstrokes, Alba has carefully developed his brand, ably supported by his wife, Marilena, and their now-wheezy labrador, Jasper. All of his pieces are less designed than incepted. A cashmere hoodie, a pair of slouchy fine-wale cords, or a variant on his signature Gstaad jackets based on the Tyrolean jacket but transported by Alba to a beautiful and pragmatic compromise between tailoring and sportswear invariably bear a rich pentimento: Patina peeks out from behind patina. This season’s variation was a yak and wool mix, quilted, which will be perfect fare for the punters roaming his newest store just in the shadow of Mont Blanc. Alba also makes excellent womenswear, but his menswear is a special cult. Whether you only have one of his many emotionally printed handkerchiefs or a full look, you will be joining a club whose breadth surprises more and more every season. Unlike the output of so many brands based on surface hype over double-dyed substance, his are clothes that are more than souvenirs of a moment. Alba is a designer of garments that will fit into your life, and which will enhance it greatly. That green outfit was wrong, wrong, wrong. She doesn’t know the difference between day dress, cocktail dress, and evening formal dress. I wonder if her mother took her for a first bra fitting to a department store, a rite of passage for a young girl. Probably not. Foundation garments, slips, and so on are important to know about. You don’t need the agony of Spanx to look good. You just need to dress to flatter your actual body. She probably wears strapless bras because she’s so enamored of the boat neck and off-shoulder look. Neither is flattering to her and those strapless bras are useless.
As Kerry Olsen wittily riffed in the New York Times last Friday, the decision of Daniel Craig (and it was indeed he, a real-life customer) to wear a corduroy suit by Massimo Alba for a crucial extended action scene in the soon-to-be-released James Bond flick raises some pretty darned profound existential questions about the deadly British ladykiller spy. It is not only that corduroy is a fabric whose utterly non-Bond signifying span runs from elderly rural conservative to left-leaning intellectual louche (in fact corduroy’s previous best celluloid champion was Donald Sutherland’s weed-smoking literature professor in Animal House). It’s also that James Bond is an (albeit entertaining) one dimensional, an anachronistic masculine cipher—a toxic superhero—and that Massimo Alba is a man and designer who operates in multiple dimensions, all of them positive. Just take a look at the outfits here. For me, the slipper is the only misstep: although very Alba, it was too insubstantial a base for the experiments with the volume he played with this season. In the studio this morning I went through pretty much every piece of outerwear (with a bunch of other Alba freaks) trying them on and crooning. If James Bond were dressed in that green brushed cashmere oversized overcoat when he encountered a barely-dressed superhot megalomaniac’s daughter in her dad’s lair, he wouldn’t seduce her then kick her to the curb; he’d enquire about her feelings and join her book group. In Alba’s studio, there were two hand-dyed yak/cashmere/wool sweaters purposefully given license to the pill: their roughness and singular to each piece bruises of color were like watching an emotional sunset. Dressed in one of these, Bond would question the value of working as an assassin for the remnants of the rapacious British Empire with a clarity that might lead him to charity work rather than another bloody film. Especially excellent cameos in this collection included the new articulated pant shape in light and gently flexible cotton, and the oversized check wool coat, and the hooded cashmere check coat and… close to everything, really. Shoes should be elegant, flattering, and wearable. Meghan tottering on sky-high stilettos looks ridiculous. If she were really concerned about “empowering women” she would wear shoes with lower heels. Back in the day, heels were 2″ and “spike heels” were 3″. Spike heels considered a bit slutty. Lately, those 6″ heels hurt my feminist soul. WTF Chinese footbinding redux? Royal style is just a classic style. Classic style is dress length just below the knee, or just above.
In the past week, we’ve witnessed the great American department store Barneys be sold, and the New York original Zac Posen shutter his eponymous business. “It’s not an easy time in our industry,” Posen told Vogue Runway. It’s true, the old systems seem to be coming apart at the seams, but it’s not all dire headlines: New models are emerging. Consider Steven Cox and Daniel Silver of Duckie Brown; their last runway show was in 2016. In the interim, they unwound their wholesale relationships and converted their Meatpacking District studio into a salon of sorts, one part appointment-only store, and the other art gallery, where they host private clients and events that split the difference between art openings and pop-up markets. A visit to their charming, well-curated space is as energizing as a trip through a big-box store is depleting. The smaller-is-better approach feels right for all the familiar reasons: the winnowing of established names from Fashion Week, the glut of stuff not only in our closets but also in our landfills, and consumers’ growing distaste for giant corporations (see: the tech backlash) among them. It’s right for Cox and Silver in particular because they’re making non-flashy but still, special wardrobing pieces designed for real life, not the runway, like trenches, combines, drop-crotch pants, and drop-sleeve button-downs, plus the occasional one-off triathlon short in a kitschy silk print. If you want a fall piece or even an archival Duckie look in a fabric from the giant stack of rolls under their work table, they can make that for you for a surcharge. Conveniently for all involved, since there’s no longer a “middle man,” they’re able to charge less and still earn more than they did pre-restructure. On their spring 2020 racks are a pair of trenches: one is an almost weightless buff-colored silk and the other in a bright yellow stiff-waxed cotton, identically cut yet entirely different in effect. Ingenuity through practicality; it’s a simple recipe for complicated times, and it’s working for Duckie Brown. Velvet has a sheen to it, subtle, yes, which makes it an iffy fabric to wear if one doesn’t have a beautiful figure, but Catherine does, so it worked wonderfully. Velvet (in navy, how chic) is a favourite of mine for Christmastime and parties in winter. The Duchess smiled as she drove in with Prince William who wore white tie for the event. William looked dapper and happy, and the reception was for more than 1,000 guests. Impressive!
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