I sort of blurted it out. As we were waiting for the show to begin, I just went ahead and asked Vogue contributor Andre Leon Talley if he buys into this whole end of the world thing.
It’s in the air – the oil spill, the ongoing global unrest, etc – and it’s in the fall/winter Chanel collection that Talley accompanied (on behalf of Anna W and the magazine) to Woodinville’s Januik-Novelty Hill Winery for a Nordstrom-sponsored fundraiser for Pacific Northwest Ballet and the Henry on Wednesday, June 9. With his faux-fur pants and icicle spike heels (see them all in the slideshow here), Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld is either anticipating another ice age or really concerned about the melting glaciers – or both.
But no, Talley himself isn’t stocking his basement with canned food and preparing for the end days.
"We’ve got to remain positive," he said, in that clear, almost preacher-man baritone. And then he flashed that wonderful grin.
In looking forward to Lagerfeld’s post-modern cavemen collection, I had spent the day thinking about how the time to dress is now. If we’ve only got til 2012 (or fall/winter 2010!) there’s a real urgency to turning it out on a daily basis. And Talley, all six feet and seven inches of him, is someone who definitely dresses daily.
"Oh no, you cannot wait until tomorrow to put your best foot forward," Talley told me, and confirmed that the clothes we were about to see on the runway were Lagerfeld’s "survival tactics for permafrost culture."
Although on one hand it’s the most basic of art forms, fashion is also a pretty abstract medium. Without talking to Lagerfeld personally (now that would be something), it’s impossible to parse exactly what he meant to convey with what he has called the "fantasy fur" collection. Maybe it’s simply a high/low thing: inexpensive fake fur for all – and for every outfit and every season. Kind of like costume jewelry in the ‘30s – or the ’10s. Maybe it is a comment on global warming, or cooling, or whatever. Probably. When the collection debuted in the Grand Palais in Paris, his team brought in actual icebergs from Scandinavia to give the clothing context.
But Tally is heavily associated with personalities from Andy Warhol to Anna Wintour to Michelle Obama, and what I also wanted to know was, do we want political and environmental commentary from fashion designers?
"Yes, you do," was Talley’s quick reply. Collections are a "designer’s vocabulary for the season," he continued. "Fashion is a language." But the iconic fashion editor doesn’t so much think that clothes can change the world. "They get you up the stairs and out the door," he said, but he dismisses the notion that they make the man, and he resists giving them too much power. "There are other things than fashion, there are other things than shopping." Namely? "The oil spill, childhood obesity, education."
As obtuse as Chanel’s messages may be, it’s possible to catch certain phrases loud and clear – and many of them are quite well-humored. Talley likes the ice cube clutch in particular, and hey, those wooly mammoth boots and hot water bottle mufflers? I mean, c’mon. Lagerfeld may be concerned about the future of the planet, but he’s having a pretty good time with it for the time being.
"The world is wacked. The world has always been wacked. The Spanish Inquisition was wacked. The tea baggers were wacked. Sarah Pallin was wacked. We’ll always have wacky wackers," Talley mused, suggesting again that fashion is as much a necessary escape from reality as a part of it.
And Talley does know about reality. The real kind, sure, and the television kind. The ANTM judge insisted that Tyra’s modeling competition helps young women better understand the industry and develop a thick skin, but he isn’t really into the genre as a whole.
"Reality television does more harm than it does good. That god awful Dancing with the Stars. The horrible, degrading torture those people are subjected to. The outfits! The ghastly exercise – only to fail," he went on…
So what would he rather watch?
"I Love Lucy. The Golden Girls. That was television."
Before I left Talley to mingle with the other guests, I couldn’t resist asking him for his take on Lady Ga Ga. For my money, she’s basically a horse-woman of the apocalypse.
Here Talley paused and looked at me with a certain gravitas. "I prefer Grace Jones."
In other words, perhaps, get used to the idea of fake fur pants.