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MAR/11

1 YEAR AFTER THE DEATH OF THE GREAT

ALEXANDER MCQUEEN

ZAC POSEN 2011

&

YVES SAINT LAURENT


REMEBERING

ALEXANDER MCQUEEN

It’s been year since Lee “Alexander” McQueen’s passing. In honor of his legacy, here’s a brief biography of the man who changed Modern fashion as we know it.


IN

the interest of fairness, I should let you know that some people think Madonna’s new album, MDNA, is pretty good. Even if you exclude the obvious outliers (those who get worked up and claim it’s her best since Like a Prayer) and partisans (who’ll ride and die for anything with her name on it) — even if you take into account the low standards set by the album’s singles — even after all that, there’s a definite streak of appreciation for this release. People crave and root for the all-caps version of Madonna who’s meant to be appearing here, confident and cutting loose, eyes and ears focused on the dance floor, ready to be bad. This should be a perfect moment for the regal reemergence of that person. Not only is the pop world near-obsessively fixated on dance music (and the intersection of dance music and sexual/religious theater where Madonna once set up shop), but it seems to be shot through with

propulsive tracks she could skip her high voice over like a stone on water. She’s found countless sounds that welcome her, but the dance-pop of 2012 is not one of them. It’s hard-edged, dense, shiny, and mechanistic, a harsh and unforgiving environment for an instrument that’s always fared better in sonic hothouses. Put MDNA’s production and her vocals together and everything’s flat, colorless, and blocky — as if made out of Legos and photographed in black and white — and no number of chirpy hooks can combat that.

a sudden wide-eyed reverence for the icons of the pre Internet world, the stars who were titans back when titans were well and truly titanic.

feels hollow and strained, and all the lyrical and sonic references to Madonna’s history — lines about lucky stars and getting into grooves, a winking reuse of the

Okay, a few can: the gleamy rush on “Turn Up the Radio”; Madonna and Orbit both echoing their own “Beautiful Stranger” on “I’m a Sinner”; a solid shot of electro machinery on “I’m Addicted.” Those all work well enough; they’re likable, especially if you have reason to want to like them. But a lot of the music here

THE APATHY AND ECSTASY OF

MADONNA’S MDNA

Also, the album is called MDNA, a three-way pun whose every arm seems promising: The album should (a) be very Madonna, (b) reengage with her stunning musical history, her (so to speak) DNA, and (c) sound like it’s on ecstasy. This should be exactly the Madonna the world wants, the one who controls the universe.

“This should be a perfect moment for the

regal reemergence.”

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I’m glad there are listeners savvy, sensitive, and invested enough to actually locate that version of Madonna on MDNA, because the record I’m hearing spends most of its time pinballing from “decent” to “wan” to “okay.” Dispiritingly enough, the one element that doesn’t fit into it is Madonna’s own voice, which has never been the most robust or expressive in the world — it can feel flat and flimsy — but she’s made decades’ worth of fabulous music that’s perfectly tailored to it. Matched with luxurious nineties house beats, it could be a steamy moan, or sound flinty and tough. On ballads it seems small, brave, and lonesome. For a while she had producer William Orbit — who returns to the fold on MDNA, joining a fleet of others — to make whooshing,

Abba sample from “Hung Up” — only underline that fact. There is much expensive workmanship and machine-tooling around here, but not much … Madonna. It’s frustrating, because there are things toward the end of MDNA that suggest the project could have been more interesting. The last few tracks — like “Love Spent” and “Masterpiece” (from Madonna’s film project, W.E.) — circle back toward that brave-and-lonely ballad voice: It’s the sound of Madonna singing songs, as opposed to the sound of Madonna making awkward small talk with machines. And the bonus tracks, naturally, include ideas many times better than anything on the album. (“B-Day Song” sees Madonna and M.I.A. doing a gleeful duet that evokes Sonny and Cher, and “Best Friend” has an ominous, fluttering beat I dearly wish I could hear on the radio sometime.) It’s odd: If there’s one thing MDNA is extraordinarily good at, it’s reminding you of all the less businesslike and perfunctory music you could be listening to instead. - Nitsuh Abebe

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Y

ves Saint Laurent, who exploded on the fashion scene in 1958 as the boy-wonder successor to Christian Dior and endured as one of the best-known and most influential couturiers of the second half of the 20th century, died on June 1, 2008, in Paris. He was 71. The designer who arguably did more to advance fashion than any other of his generation pointed the way to the future by consistently reviving the past. His enduring fascination with more gracious or, perhaps, more vital times, informed his refined, theatrical aesthetic and made him the most influential designer of his day. His celebrated fashions of the ‘60s and the ‘70s continue to inspire younger generations. Saint Laurent achieved his greatest triumphs in the midst of a notoriously turbulent emotional life, giving him mythical stature in his own time. Born Yves Henri Donat MathieuSaint-Laurent in Oran, Algeria, he seemed intent on burnishing that myth from an early age. Precociously, he entered a design contest while still in his teens and won the attention of Christian Dior, who eventually tapped him to take over his legendary fashion house. In 1958, shortly after Dior’s death, Saint Laurent, then 21, was credited with saving the moribund house of Dior with his Trapeze line, displaying a daring that would flourish through much of his career. The beat-inspired biker jackets and turtleneck sweaters of his next, and last, collection for Dior were widely disparaged yet sealed his reputation as a designer who elevated the look of the streets to haute couture.

...And Saint Laurent gave power to women with the men’s clothes.” a ready-to-wear collection, and a boutique of the same name. He was the first designer to use black models in his runway shows. He was embraced by the haute monde; his clients and muses included aristocratic young women like Loulou de la Falaise and Parisian social pillars like Marie-Hélène de Rothschild, and the iconic French actress Catherine Deneuve. In 1983 he became the first living fashion designer to be honored with a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Saint Laurent’s career was famously marred by repeated episodes of substance abuse that injured his health. By the ‘90s, his designs were often little more than reprises of his greatest hits. In 1998, he sold his ready-to-wear house to Gucci Group, leaving him and Mr. Bergé with only the couture. With Mr. Bergé, he created a foundation in Paris to commemorate the history of the house of YSL, an archive of 15,000 objects and 5,000 pieces of clothing. He retired in 2002 and had become increasingly reclusive, spending much of his time at his house in Marrakech, in Morocco.

In 1962, he opened his own fashion house, and during the next decades designed androgynous looks like his safari jacket with tight pants and thighhigh boots and, most memorably, Le Smoking, the classic tuxedo suit for women. Throughout his career, Saint Laurent was visibly indebted to the work of mid-20thcentury painters including Braque, Picasso and Mondrian and the flamboyant fashions of earlier eras. He reinterpreted the belle époque, the ‘30s and ‘40s, incensing critics in 1971 by unveiling his ‘40s-inflected square-shouldered silhouette, which became a dominant look of the decade. His interpretation of the pantsuit has been credited with revolutionizing the way women dress. “Chanel gave liberation of the body to women,” said Pierre Bergé, “and Saint Laurent gave power to women with the men’s clothes.” In 1966, Saint Laurent introduced Rive Gauche,

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The Mondrian Dress Very inspired by Pop-Art, Yves Saint Laurent lead the Mod movement in fashion throughout the 60’s

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ZAC POSEN UP

Z

ac Posen has had a meteoric career since founding his company in 2001, around the time of his 21st birthday. His brashness was a refreshing change in New York fashion, which had been dominated by a handful of aging mega-brands until Mr. Posen planted his flag in the biggest, most expensive tent in Bryant Park. But his extravagant success came so quickly, perhaps faster than his limited experience should have allowed, that his setbacks echo all the more loudly. He became unpredictable, lashing out at the news media as his company struggled with layoffs, a revolving door of executives and an investor pulling back the reins. Sales declined last year by a double-digit percentage, and the company’s fast growth prior to the recession made it look to luxury experts like the kind of business most vulnerable in a downturn.

Mr. Posen grew up in New York, the son of a lawyer, Susan Posen, who manages his business, and the painter Stephen Posen. Through family friends, he was introduced to the fashion world and in his teens began internships with Nicole Miller and the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At college, he gained early fame when the model Naomi Campbell asked for one of his dresses. Mr. Posen’s signature collections have evolved from vampish, old-Hollywood-style bias-cut silk dresses and flirty butterfly chiffons into intricately themed gowns that take their inspiration from something simple in nature -- seashells, raffia or tumbleweed, for example.

D

Mr. Posen, like many of his young peers, began designing under his own label directly out of college (Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, in his case), rather than working for an established fashion house. He also aggressively pursued financial deals at an early age, securing licenses for jeans and hosiery, and the backing of the rap mogul Sean Combs, to give his brand a high profile.

“If Karl Lagerfeld can sell a dress at H&M and still make Chanel couture -- well, I’m fascinated and I’m not worried about it,” Mr. Posen said in an interview in Vogue in 2005. “I don’t believe in the conservatism of fashion. Fashion is a thrill.”

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