Thursday, April 22, 2010

In the film ´The Devil Wears Prada´, the devil herself, editor of American Vogue, Miranda Priestly, played by Meryl Streep, overhears Andy (Anne Hathaway)´s teeth-gritting complaint that the exploding rail of designer samples in front of her are ´just a bunch of clothes.´ She responds with a blow by blow account of the historical and cultural relevence of fashion since the beginning of time, referencing everything from cornflour blue to cheesecloth.

It´s a pertinent tribute to fashion, not least because it quickly diffuses the commonly made assumption that fashion holds neither substance nor relevence to the world around it, one that people should never be shy of challenging. And there are few better ways of understanding this than through everyone´s favourite christmas party piece: The Little Black Dress.

Often described as ´timeless´, ´classic´, and´suitable for every occasion´ there are various reasons why the LBD features in many womens´ wardrobes. The most obvious being that black is a most flattering and versatile colour. Yet the timelessness of the LBD as a garment actually owes more to those designers who have chosen to re-invent it throughout the last century than is often appreciated, and here´s why.
In 1926, Vogue published an image of a short, simple black dress designed by the late Coco Chanel. It is hard to imagine today but prior to the 1920s, black was de rigeur for funerals, but, alas, very little else. So in presenting a black dress that would be worn also on uplifting occassions, what Coco Chanel was doing, we might today call cutting edge.

Sleeveless and backless, pin-tucked and draped, made of crepe-de-chine and loosely based on the simple lines of a chemise, the beauty of the LBD lay in its simplicity – it was a blank  canvas on which women were free to stamp their own identiy, whether with accessories, hair style or make-up. Vogue likened it to the Model T Ford, seeing it as a garment that was easily accesible to women of all ages and shapes. Indeed the magazine noted that it would be ´a sort of uniform for all women of taste´.

Whilst Coco Chanel set the pace with her LBD, Hubert de Givenchy championed it in his vision for Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffanys. It may have been over 30 years later, but Audrey Hepburn, elegant in the black dress accessorized with pearls and a cigarette holder, was completely in Chanel´s image.

But Givenchy´s LBD was also timely, pre-empting a change in the nature of fashion. Before Breakfast at Tiffany´s, the fashion industry was limited to what is known as couture. Couture was and still is the supply of hand-made, made to measure garments, to the social and aristocratic elites who could afford it in the early 1950s. There was no such thing as ´ready-to wear´pieces that could be bought off the shelf. Cocktail dresses and glamourous formalwear would have only been worn by the wealthiest members of society. However Hepburn, with her curious mix of stylish sophistication and down to earth charm, set the stage for a new way of dressing that crossed the boundaries of social class in a way that was unprecedented. Givenchy´s vision of the LBD triumphed because it accurately judged the mood of its time.

In the years since the LBD has changed and evolved, often revealing a very telling snapshot of the era within which it was created. Azzadine Alaia´s designs during the 1980s epitomized the decade's fixation with curve-enhancing clothes that hugged the human form. Nicknamed by the media´The king of cling´, Alaia´s take on the LBD dress was notably tight and stretchy, heavy on sex appeal and light on length. Broadly speaking, the 80s was about power dressing, and in Alaia´s vision for the LBD was a very bold statement about a woman´s sexuality.

In 1985 the late Diana, Princess of Wales selected a LBD designed by Cristiana Stambolian (pictured) to wear to the Serpentine gallery, on the night that Prince Charles´confession of adultory was to become public. Ironically, but perhaps not surprisingly, it was Diana and her dress that made the newspapers the following morning. The 80s LBD illustrated power dressing at its most potent. The dress was later named 'The Revenge'. 

And what of the noughties? Whilst in recent years the dress as formal wear and casual wear has seen a revival, with women opting for the ease and sophistication of a one piece look, the fashion forecast for this winter 08/09 heralded a celebration of all things black, suggesting it likely that we will see many more re-incarnations of the LBD this winter and beyond. Additionally an emphasis on lace by designers such as Balmain and Prada, and a nod towards the classic cocktail silhouette by the likes of Stella McCartney, confirm that Chanel´s 1920s vision is as relevent today as it always was.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

When the final heats of last November’s Islas Canarias Santa Pro 2009 (the Lanzarote leg of the World Qualifying Series) moved from St Juan to La Santa, the action was propelled into a whole new league. A huge swell saw waves hitting “La Izquierda” erratically, making an already dangerous spot considerably more so, even by the most experienced surfers’  standards. whilst Drew Courtney went on to win the overall event, it was the runner up, Patrick Gudauskas, who won over the crowd. I caught up with him in his newly established position on the ASP World Championship Tour.

A Californian hailing from San Clemente, Patrick is one of three brothers, all of whom surf professionally. Having just missed out on qualifying for the WCT ‘Dream Tour’ in 2009, his performance here in Lanzarote last year (where he placed third) was one of a series of events that secured his place in the top 15, who automatically qualify for the CT. But for anyone who was part of the crowd  watching from the rocks there was a sense of awe at the seemingly relaxed ease with which he surfed the waves in such challenging conditions. ‘I really enjoy surfing waves like the slab there.  They challenge your ability as a surfer and pump adrenaline into you with every wave you take.  I think that day was part frustration for loosing to Bernardo (Miranda) in the semi-finals and part me just being excited.  I really wanted to win that event, I love the place and the waves and the people. So I just wanted to put on a good show for them after loosing!’

It’s not the first time Patrick has put on a show for the crowds, and his surfing has long been characterized by its progressive style. This paid off in June of last year when Gudauskas surfed an unprecedented finals heat against the Aussie Owen Wright in the Maldives. Pulling a trick known as a ‘Rodeo Clown’ in the final, he was awarded 18.94 points out of a possible 20. To award such a high score for one single move was unparalleled, but it also highlighted Gudauskas’ propensity to take a risk when it’s most likely to pay off.

Gudauskas’ credits his progression onto the WCT last year, following four years on the WQS, to a positive mental attitude. This also comes across in his ability to light up a wave when he is riding it, and woo his audience: ‘I think a lot of competing has to do with your mental state.  For myself I’m just a positive person.  I love traveling and surfing with my friends, so I really have no reason to not love it.  The passion exudes naturally... I've worked on the mental side of surfing heats, but it's not hard to be happy in a place like that!’

And what about Lanzarote? It may be considered the Hawaii of Europe, but  hailing from California, having spent over four years on tour, Gudauskas has the pick of countries, and yet when both him and his brothers have had time off, they’ve chosen Lanzarote: ‘Yeah my brothers and I have been a few times. We are thankful to the locals for welcoming us into their surf when we come.  We love the place, and especially surfing waves of heavy consequence.  It’s great training for places like Hawaii, with the power and the reefs.  Also the local surfers like Goma, Manuel and Jose Maria surf the waves so well that it pushes us, and helps us to learn the lineups and wave style’.

The bond between the Gudauskas brothers is clear – it’s apparent in Patrick’s confidence and comfort in who he is and what he does, and as such it is no surprise that he cites his family as his strongest inspiration ‘My parents and brothers are a huge part of who I am. They are rad! I appreciate their perspectives’.

For someone who spends his life traveling, Gudauskas takes enjoyment from every aspect of the experience, not just the surfing. ‘I love it when a place has great food, and friendly people.  It's cool to see when a culture has pride in itself, and exudes that in their people and place’.

Hosting the WQS continues to be a flagship event for the island, bringing some of the world’s top athletes to Lanzarote, and acting as an inspiration for young surfers, hopefully inspiring the next generation of Canarian rippers.