MMM at H&M

Oversized Pea

No, the collar stays are supposed to be under the armpit.

If you heard, or just thought that today, you were probably basking in the once in a lifetime opportunity to purchase from clothier Maison Martin Margiela at pennies on the dollar. For the sleepy fashionistas up before dawn this morning, the offer was a generous slice of surrealism, and the gift monger was H&M. And in case I fall asleep whilst typing, thank you, my Swedish friends.

trompe l'oeil dress

Felted Wool Dress

Narrow Shoulder Jacket and Oversized Pants

Perhaps the best aspect of this collaboration is that in making avant garde clothing less expensive, it didn’t find a need to water it down. I will be thrilled, yet somewhat surprised, if all of those behemoth Oversized Pea Coats were snatched off the rack on day one in San Francisco. This is a “best of” Margiela collection; it plays with shape and construction. Unlike much of H&M’s function, it’s not aiming to necessarily look cute for a first date. Much of the collection is very flattering, but some of it takes a more subjective approach. Some pieces might even be described as “challenging”. If a dress on the runway in 2005 had two decorative-only sleeves, it still does now. Cool.

Upside Down Dress 2005 and Horizontal Dress 2012

Having apparently left the label sometime in the mid 2000s, it’s hard to know whether or not the reclusive Belgian designer was in any way involved in the collaboration, or even what his opinion of it might be. The label continues to be incredibly strong, continuing to sell to those in on the “delicious private joke”.

Candy Wrapper Clutch

When I spoke to my brother about the sale, he was excited. As a Sak’s 5th Avenue display manager and long-term veteran of Barney’s New York, he knows and loves Margiela’s work too. He was able to complete the description of my new Glove Clutch. “We had it for $1,200, what did you get it for?” $149.

Glove Clutch

Leather Glove Clutch

Leather Bag

Even at dramatically reduced prices from the originals, finances were still the only reason to hold back. We watched as one woman required two sales assistants to help her exit the store with her twelve mammoth bags overflowing. With only a closely timed fifteen minute window from entering the boutique to check out, she’d done well. To underscore the notion of a tightly moderated window, I mean: man with a bullhorn in the women’s dressing room barking out the remaining number of minutes before threat of forcible removal in whatever stage of undress.

MMM Wristband

Rumor had it that the line began forming at 9pm the night before. My accomplice and I didn’t arrive until 6:50am, although in my defense, I’m no longer in peak shape for sidewalk habitation. Compared to me, the existing line’s demographic was half as old, twice as chic and about 80% more Asian. The store opened at 8am and while our fitted wristbands said “9:25 to 9:40”, the line moved at a pace quickly enough to maintain hope that a few things might be left on the shelves.

And they were! While Twitter and Instagram monitoring described frustration and disconsolation over garment-less hangers on the East Coast, a decent, albeit quickly disappearing, span of sizes and a nearly full range of accessories still existed and hour and a half into the San Francisco sale. (I know my new city is less label-conscious than New York, but even though the shorter line and increased stock worked in my favor, I still found it somewhat disheartening.)

Assistant 716am

I had readied my assistant (i.e., accommodating friend) with a cheat sheet of thumbnail photos and the corresponding acceptable sizes. We hunted and gathered for 10 minutes before I ran for the dressing room. After I was warned that I was making a one-way trip out of the boutique, my wristband snipped off and my items sorted and counted, I had 3 minutes left for the dressing room. Tragically, the first two articles were far too big (the nearest feasible sizes found) and when the third, the Horizontal Dress, came off the hanger, it became a puzzle too difficult to decipher in the remaining moments before Nazi Hipster came yelling and banging on the stall doors.

Horizontal Wrestle

Minutes later, I was forced to make a heart-wrenching choice between handbags. Sniff. I took both sizes of the Horizontal Dress that we’d grabbed, to decide between at home. Incidentally, having since tried them both on, I’m still not sure which to return. When the chest is the waist, and the skirt is the sleeve, the collar stays are supposed to be under the armpit. Right?



Early 20th C.

Isabelle de Borchgrave has married fashion with paper.

Isabelle de Borchgrave Installation

The Belgian artist turned her talent for trompe l’oeil paintings (the art technique of using realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the objects depicted exist in 3D) into elaborate papercraft. Her paper sculptures appear as life-sized garments. By crumpling, pleating, braiding and painting on rag paper, de Borchgrave has achieved the uncanny effect of fabric (such as lace, brocade, silk and elaborate embroidery) which she uses to create the illusion of haute couture.

Pret-a-Papier Opening Gala. Photo by Tony Powell. June 14, 2012

Her paper sculptures recreate nearly 300 years of fashion, from Elizabeth I to Coco Chanel. Working with fashion historian, Rita Brown, de Borchgrave created Papiers à la Mode, a collection of historical costumes in paper and paint. Her past collections have included an 19th century Venetian-inspired line, a look at the famous figures of I Medici (an opera set in Renaissance Italy) and a study of the Ballet Russes (costumes made for the early 20th c. ballet company).

Pret-a-Papier Opening Gala. Photo by Tony Powell. June 14, 2012

Pret-a-Papier Opening Gala. Photo by Tony Powell. June 14, 2012In her latest show, “Prêt-à-Papier : The Exquisite Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave“, she presents a range of styles from the late 17th to the early 20th century. The venue, Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens in Washington, D.C., hosts the vast collection of the late Post cereal empress and art collector, Marjorie Merriweather Post. Through living in the Soviet Union with her ambassador husband (third of four husbands) during the 1930s, Post became a comprehensive collector of all things 18th and 19th century Russian monarchy.

Pret-a--Papier Opening Gala. Photo by Tony Powell. June 14, 2012

The Hillwood exhibition features more than 25 of de Borchgrave’s interpretations of historical costumes and haute couture dresses, with six new works made for the exhibition, including one commissioned solely for Hillwood. For that dress, the artist replicates the details of the main figure’s dress in Karl Briullov’s “The Countess Samoilova”. The  dress is displayed in front of the grand-scale painting that inspired it. Other replicas include the costumes of Tsar Peter the Great and Empress Josephine, which convincingly mimic brocades, damasks and silks.

Drawing Room

And you felt pretty good about that origami crane you made.


Pret-a-Papier Opening Gala. Photo by Tony Powell. June 14, 2012

Pret-a-Papier Opening Gala. Photo by Tony Powell. June 14, 2012

Here’s a video:

“Prêt-à-Papier : The Exquisite Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave” is on display at the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens in Washington, D.C. from June 16th 2012 to December 30th 2012.