How bad was the collection Lindsay Lohan and Estrella Archs designed for Ungaro? The show—held in Paris last week—has been the talk of the town and the blogosphere. It was called a "hot mess," "disastrous," "cheesy and dated." It featured fly-away jackets revealing heart-shaped pasties. But the fashion skeptic can be forgiven for thinking, Designers send weird things down the runway all the time! Was the collection really that horrible? Or was Lindsay Lohan just the victim of fashion snobbery?
Rest assured, fashion skeptic: The collection was truly, deeply horrible. While snobbery did play a role in the reviews, it was only a supporting role.
Before I explain the particulars, I should note that I worked briefly as a design consultant to Ungaro in 2005, when the house was under different ownership, and that I didn't see the show. My comments are based on images and reviews in print and on the Web. But certain points are clear nonetheless.
There were several factors likely to irk fashion snobs, no matter the quality of design. For one, the show was held in the Carrousel du Louvre, a purpose-built venue under the museum that was opened by the French government and is adjacent to a shopping mall and food court. Although it's conveniently located, it's hardly the place for editors and retailers to strut their Manolos, and I can't think of a single show there that's ever been a blockbuster. Atmosphere is part of the fashion equation, demanding the tonier backdrop of, say, the Hôtel de Crillon * (where Balenciaga showed this season), the soaring glass dome of the Grand Palais (Chanel's venue of choice), or the arty galleries of the Marais (Bernard Wilhem, Veronique Leroy).
Second, Lohan's anticipated walk down the runway reportedly caused more than the usual chaos at the door, which surely put the crowd in a bad mood before the show even started. Door frenzy can excite a fashion crowd—we love to walk past a red velvet rope, after all—but it invites insult if the clothes are not well above par. Fashion people will be stepped on, but only for glorious designs, big ideas, and newness. (Cult designer Rick Owens caused chaos at his show this season by double-booking his front row seats, but such a move suits his aggressive brand, and the crowd loved the clothes once the chaos died down.)
The most important turn off for fashion purists was Lindsay Lohan herself. Sure, fashion loves a celebrity muse. And Ungaro President Mounir Moufarrige, a man once lauded for putting celebrity child Stella McCartney at the helm of Chloe, was understandably looking to pump juice into a label that has dried up. McCartney, to her credit, had at least studied design. But Lohan? She's tabloid fodder, a perpetual victim, and hardly has remarkable style befitting a great French name. Wouldn't Lady Gaga or even Pink have been more relevant?
Further raising hackles was Lohan's unusual role in the collection. Had she been a behind-the-scenes stylist, that would have been another story. But she wasn't signed to stay backstage. Her title was "artistic adviser." Although it's not clear what that job entailed, fashion people are ultimately protective of a designer's role, no matter how bad the designer. Lohan's presence undermined Archs, and that makes fashion people steam. What exactly did Lohan contribute? Pasties? It's one thing to have Madonna or Gwyneth front a brand in advertising and quite another to give a star—and a dubious star at that—credit for building a collection and a bow at the end of the show.
While these factors no doubt made the crowd inhospitable, the real problem was the design. The collection was mediocre, without any new form or content, lacking in invention or development. It presented a High Street, tarted-up look that is out of step with the times. When the major trends are subdued, recession-friendly takes on classic chic (seen last week at Chanel, Givenchy, Celine) and a darker, opposing, deconstructed vision (Louis Vuitton, Viktor+Rolf), a tart is moronically off-trend.
Tartiness alone, however, was not the problem. Fashion people will readily tolerate what most would find misogynist. Bare titties are no big news. We might even go for pasties, but not in the absence of a larger frame or idea.
The worst offense, and where the collaboration of Archs and Lohan hopefully ends, is their total misreading of Emanuel Ungaro's great legacy, which no one seems to have mentioned. The brand has been struggling for years now. Ever since Giambattista Valli, * Emanuel Ungaro's protégé and successor, left in 2004, retailers and the press have been promised change after change. Designers come and go (Archs is the fourth since Valli), and change comes and comes, but it always seems to be for the worse. This collection, and those preceding it (including, it was said at the time, the one I worked on), was riddled with clichés of the Ungaro woman.