October 2, 2006

BC Fashion Week Spring 2007: Blushing pretty, Gottler constructs minimal Mannerist wonders

From Mara Gottler's Spring/Summer 2007 collection, the designer contrasts minimal jacket details with a profusion of expressive pant pleats

BC Fashion Week wrapped up. I went to two shows that caught my interest: Shelley Klassen of Blushing Designs and Mara Gottler. They were a study of contrasting design approaches.

Both their runway shows were on Friday night at Performance Works Theatre on Granville Island in Vancouver. Seen together, they provoked thoughts about the role of BC Fashion Week.

We are in a globalized fashion and media environment where places like Paris, New York and Milan seem to get all the attention and eclipse local efforts to the point, one needs to ask, "Who needs local design?"

And who needs BC Fashion Week? Doesn't it merely ape what goes on at the fashion centres. More importantly, do exercises like BC Fashion Week have any impact on design and fashion culture in this city and beyond?

Shelley Klassen, the head of Blushing Designs, is a good example of what is pragmatically possible for a fashion designer based in Vancouver.

Represented across the country and featured at the laudable Canadian by Design section of The Bay Downtown in Vancouver, Blushing's strength are it's dresses.

(Katherine Raso, head of media communications for The Bay in Toronto never heard of Canadian by Design or the woman who heads it, Ruth Ho...hello, you're on the same team...and you're supposed to be an iconic Canadian retailer!!!)

Where was I...oh, yes, Blushing clothes are designed AND made in Vancouver. Speaking with Shelley Klassen, she says, "The focus is on 25-to-45-year-old women but basically, it's clothes I like."

And what she likes is pretty and what showed in her Spring 2007 collection were pretty, feminine and comfortable dresses that showed off the body.

Standouts included a jersey wrap dress with a blue ribbon detail at the waist that took avantage of the liveliness of a floral print and the fabric's natural springiness.

For me, Shelley represents the balance between the pressures of price point and designer vision. And she has used platforms like BC Fashion Week to her advantage to advance the brand.

That said, her dresses don't make for the best runway shows. Neither outlandish in construction nor complicated in their details, maybe even flat, her dresses tend towards to graphic emphasis and pattern. Klassen keeps it feminine with a flattering line, flirty hems and showy hips. All simple moves that make for an economic aesthetic.

They make for great seasonal archetypes - in this case the summer dress. And this is not to be derogatory. Pretty-girl summer dresses don't have to be fancy or expensive.

I actually felt bored at the show (maybe the beers made me sleepy) because Blushing dresses don't make statements and simultaneously, I could see from even the back row that if I saw a woman wearing a dress by Blushing, they'd be one of the prettiest, sun-drenched outfits walking down the sidewalk that anyone would hope see next spring. Yes. Context is everything.

Like the great Red House Painter song says, "Summer dress, makes you more pretty than the rest."

Now, Mara Gottler is on the custom/studio side of the couture spectrum and her look was made for the runway.

I would suggest, she is the deep thinker of the Vancouver scene. Her looks are tailored, sophisticated, not remotely girlish and extremely urbane.

This year she took her inspiration from the Adriatic pleasure zone of Dubrovnik in Croatia where she claims familial attachment.

Terracota orange, white and beige were her colours for spring. It was totally sun-drenched collection.

But colour isn't what counts. Tailoring and construction -- subtely beyond the ordinary -- is Gottler's unique offering to Vancouver.

As a costume designer for Bard on the Beach, Gottler is used to creating one-offs that are comfortable under the spotlight of starring roles. As a matter of fact, her theatre work and her fashion work and they are beginning to synthesize. One feeds the other. And I've spoken to women who've been turned on to her clothes because of what they saw treading on the Shakespearian boards at the Bard this summer.

That said, Mara's clothes are not wacky theatrical constructs yet within them are embedded a strong sense of drama.

Like her Fall 2006 collection, her Spring 2007 has secrets held in the form.

Last season, Mara created mysterious folded and gathered wrap dresses and jackets. This season the mystery factor has found it way into hot orange linen jackets with no fasteners. There's a minimalism, a peek-a-boo nature, where the tailoring and the construction is revealed and yet it gathers and overlaps in sensual ways that are not simple and never fully reveals what's going on.

And while, Mara was in love with the beige and the orange in her collection. I think Mara actually is the master/mistress of white. She doesn't need anything else and here's why: In the show, there is a bistro skirt that had gored hems that flared at the bottom and simultaneously a set of vertical pleats running up the front. In this simple flaring skirt were both the ideas of tight and flowing entirely captured and expressed through the cut and construction.

And it's this level of sophistication that will send Mara far beyond the local trade.

Her clothes have meaning and reward both the body and thought. They're sensual and intellectual without being cerebral.

Can I say this: there's an intuitive semiotics at play in her clothes and it reminds me of Michelangelo. For the master renaissance artist, white marble was fine. You don't need to paint Michelangelo's sculptures. And Mara, well she doesn't need embroidery or pattern to bring her clothes to life.

There's volume. It's sculptural, and all her clothes hold a drama within the fall and the folds of her fabric without resorting to tricks. There's contrast and push and pull and beautiful backsides and in the end it makes her clothes stand out and more importantly, it brings out the woman inside it.

As a designer, Mara Gottler is fully in control. And though she's relatively new on the fashion scene when it comes to whole collections, she has come to it fully-formed and with a considerable vision, coherence and maturity. I hope her clothes go across the country and around the world because she's doing original work.

And you can see it live at the Bard or BC Fashion Week.

blushingdesigns.com (Spring 2007 not mounted on the site yet)

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