Thursday, September 10, 2009


Emanuel Ungaro was a master and enjoyed the esteemed pedigree of being one of Balenciaga’s first assistants. His couture was of the best, and in the 80’s he exploded when, along with Lacroix, he defined the look of wealth, excess, and extravagance.
He retired in 2005 closing the couture business and leaving the RTW to his protégé Giambattista Valli. The young designer who shared Ungaro’s Italian heritage masterfully interpreted Ungaro’s Latin flair but clashed with the new owner Asim Abdullah (who had just purchased the brand from the Ferragamos) and left to start his own label. And since then the company has been in tumultuous flux, having gone through a series of design directors in only a few years (Vincent Darre, Peter Dundas, and now Esteban Cortazar have all come and gone). But the eyebrow raiser on this recent snafu is that at the source of their woes is a troubled, former child star with a penchant for theft, drug abuse, and DJ lovers — a Miss Lindsay Lohan.

To say that Lohan was the one that ousted Cortazar is not entirely fair although it is understood the designer is suing the company on the basis that they breached his contract when Ungaro hired Lohan to come on board as “artistic advisor.” Cortazar was never the savant the fashion industry had hoped for when at 18 he was showing his collection at NY fashion week. When it was announced that Cortazar was going to take over Ungaro the industry wished him luck but it was understood but never spoken that the designer had little chance to succeed where so many other and more gifted designers had failed.

The reviews of his three runway collections (a resort collection was shown just as shit hit the fan) were mediocre if not mortifying for the venerable house. The collections lacked the kind of design sophistication expected for Paris or even the young Latina customer that Cortazar seemed to be beckoning, Balmain’s Christophe Decarnin and Peter Dundas (now at Pucci) showed better fare for that customer.

Now Abdullah hopes that celebrity will give the brand the appeal it couldn’t get with a star designer (if faint and distant). They have hired on Estrella Archs, a veteran of Prada, Pucci, and Lacroix, to work with Lohan on the collection. The idea is simple; to tap into the newly revitalized archetype of the rich, vulgar, and sexy woman that Cavalli has been designing into for years but who Balmain has only now made chic and popular, managing to expand the genre far beyond its natural limits.

It’s a bold move and seemingly addled with more problems than a single blog post could list, but in these tough times it’s innovation that will prove successful. Their first collaboration will bow at Paris fashion week this October and while the industry should hold its verdict until the collection hits the runway, it is my gut feeling that this latest tangent in getting Ungaro back on track and out of the red will prove no more successful than any of the previous attempts. But good luck to the two of them, and we shall see.
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