Anna’s Act

The next Met fashion exhibition has been themed. ‘Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty’ might just be Anna Wintour’s personal tribute to her “brilliant friend”

Chanel has been Anna Wintour’s go-to label for the Met Gala. From top left, in 2010, in 2017, in 2018, and in 2019. Photos: Getty Images

In the biography Karl Lagerfeld: A Life in Fashion, Anna Wintour stated that the ‘Kaiser’ “often said that when he died, he wanted to disappear”. She quickly added, “Well, that cannot happen”. With the next spring exhibition at the Anna Wintour Costume Center (AWCC, formerly the Costume Institute), the Vogue editor will keep to her word. Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty is the next theme of the Met’s annual show and opening-night fete. Although it sounds like the exhibition spin-off of the book, it would be, as it was in the past years, the work of Andrew Bolton, the head curator of the AWCC and its fashion exhibitions, and the life partner of the designer Thom Browne. Mr Bolton told the media at the press conference to announce next year’s theme, “I’m not sure Karl would approve of the exhibition”, echoing Ms Wintour’s own sentiment. In all likelihood, the monographic show was initiated pushed through by the woman whose name precedes the Costume Center.

It is no secret that Anna Wintour is Karl Lagerfeld’s ardent supporter in not only what the designer did for brands such as Chanel and Fendi, but also in her continual wearing to the Met Gala the Chanel haute couture gowns that Mr Lagerfeld designed, sometimes just for her. Both of them were thought to be close. In a tribute, titled ‘My Brilliant Friend’, published in Vogue in 2019, after Mr Lagerfeld’s death, Ms Wintour wrote: “We were often in touch” and “the hours I spent with him at the (dinner) table make me feel luckier than any stroke of fortune I’ve had at my editing desk”. Both did not see each other frequently, but they had “a standing dinner date in Paris on the first Sunday of every Fashion Week”. Despite the suggestion of deep friendship, Ms Wintour did not reveal why “it’s doubly painful to have lost him”, as she wrote, except that “he never fell out of love with his work or with the world, and his death marks the end of the era of craftspeople who could do it all”. What did their relationship really mean to her?

“the hours I spent with him at the (dinner) table make me feel luckier than any stroke of fortune I’ve had at my editing desk”

Anna Wintour

It is hard to know if she was that close to Mr Lagerfeld. In a sort of postscript to his book Karl: No Regrets, the author/artist Patrick Hourcade, who knew the designer well since 1976, drew up a list titled ‘Fellow Travelers’. Anna Wintour is not under the subhead ‘The Closest’ (another Anna is—Piagi); her name does not appear beneath ‘In the Realm of Fashion’ (a familiar one, Ines de la Fressange, does). She is there in the final lineup ‘A Few Journalists’; her famous moniker at the end of the page, after Andre Leon Talley. It is not clear how Ms Wintour met the Chanel designer. Mr Talley, who knew Mr Lagerfeld and had met him much earlier than the Vogue supremo, in 1975, suggested that it was he who facilitated the acquaintanceship between the designer and the editor, even claiming in his second autobiography The Chiffon Trenches that his “role at Vogue was no doubt secured by my relationship with Karl Lagerfeld.” He was emphatic about their bond: “His importance in my life and career is without parallel.” Ms Wintour was never that forthcoming or sentimental.

Mr Talley even revealed that the Chanel dresses that she wore for her wedding to Dr David Shaffer—a psychiatrist—in 1984 was not acquired through her special friendship with Mr Lagerfeld then or connections with the couture house, but “through Joan Juliet Buck (the former editor of Vogue Paris, as it was known then) to gain access to the dresses”. Anna Wintour has loved Chanel from her early years in journalism, especially when she finally joined Condé Nast. Mr Talley shared that “she purchased her Chanel at Bergdorf Goodman”. But she would soon have an arrangement with Chanel when she became chummier with Mr Lagerfeld. In the 2005 biography of the EIC, Front Row, author Jerry Openheimer wrote that Ms Wintour was (likely between the mid to late ’80s) “wearing nothing but elegant, very discreet Chanel as her Condé Nast work uniform.”

He then went on to describe what was dubbed ‘The Chanel Affair’ (also the title of the chapter), quoting Cristina Zilkha, the wife of Michael Zilkha, a business partner in the New York music company ZE Records that represented US New Wave groups such as Kid Creole & the Coconuts. Mrs Zilkha, who did not think Ms Wintour liked her, recounted: “Michael said to me, ‘You know, you’ve never had a Chanel suit, so I told Anna that when she sees Lagerfeld to get you something… because she gets fifty percent off.” When the parcel arrived, “it was half a suit of a really nasty pale yellow with a puce undertone—a Mr-Livingston-I-presume double-breasted safari jacket with thick, huge gold metal buttons, each of which had a huge CC. It was vulgarity one couldn’t believe and something Anna would not have been caught dead in”.

Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld. Photo: Glamour

For herself, Ms Wintour was always immaculately fitted in the brand with the double Cs. At the Met Gala opening parties, Ms Wintour has almost always been in Chanel. There were, of course, regular attendees who wore the French brand, but none so routinely as Ms Wintour. In her Vogue tribute to Karl Lagerfeld, she readily admitted that his designs “expressed who I was and what I hoped to be”. Yet, in the recent video editorial Vogue’s 73 Questions, she commented that her style is “safe, verging on extremely boring”. Did she mean now, as opposed to then? How amaranthine the Chanel style is is reflected in her choosing of the brand. According to Amy Odell in Anna: The Biography, the editor “often wore Chanel couture” and when she attended the shows, it “was always opportunity for her to shop”. Ms Wintour admits to the frequency in which she picks Chanel : “I’ve worn Karl’s beautiful clothes during the most important, emotional moments of my life: at my wedding, at my children’s weddings, when I received a damehood from the queen, at Franca Sozzani’s memorial service”.

Karl Lagerfeld appeared to appreciate the friendship and was very generous to her (as he was to others he held in considerable esteem, until no more). Glamour reported that in 2015 after the British Fashion Award, when Ms Wintour presented Karl Lagerfeld the trophy for Outstanding Achievement, the honoree gave the presenter a gift—a tennis court built on his Biarritz compound, described as a “ploy to get her over as a houseguest”. A thrilled Miss Wintour said, “Karl was trying to give me somewhere I could feel at home, where I could be myself. This was the first and surely the last time anyone has constructed sporting turf in my honor.” The next fashion exhibition at the Met would be her opportunity to construct something in his honour, even when Andrew Bolton had asserted, “Karl never tired of telling me that fashion did not belong in a museum.” But the exhibition would not be devoted to just his work for Chanel since, in 2005, the Costume Institute had staged a Chanel exhibition that went by the brand’s mononym and featured Mr Lagerfeld’s work. It almost did not open, as he had initially withdrawn support for it.

Next year’s Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty would not be the first exhibition at the Met dedicated to a single designer. In 1983, the year Mr Lagerfeld joined Chanel, the Costume Institute opened the Yves Saint Laurent exhibition, organised by the late Diana Vreeland. It was touted as “the first retrospective of a living couturier’s work”. Before her loyalty to Chanel, Ms Wintour wore a lot of YSLs. In Front Row, a friend recalled her cupboard in the Upper East Side apartment where she was staying: “I opened her closet and it was extraordinary—there was one Saint Laurent suit from ready-to-wear after another that she’d bought from Paris, all perfectly hung with the shoes above them.” No one needs to open Anna Wintour’s closet today to be able to visualise the row of Chanel clothes in there. What would, perhaps, be more fascinating is to know how many of them would be on load or donated to the Costume Institute to make the Karl Lagerfeld exhibition her line of beauty, too.

Big On Details

Literally. Louis Vuitton shows size in unexpected ways. And impractical too?

Louis Vuitton closes PFW with a flashy purpose-built set in the Cour Carrée by the French visual artist Philippe Parreno. He and the Hollywood production designer James Chinlund (The Lion King and the upcoming The Batman) have built an installation in the courtyard in the Louvre Palace that looks like a giant rosette made of red sails. Nicholas Ghesquière describes it to the media as “kind of a flower, a carnival flower”. The sheltered runway encircles the strange bloom, with the models emerging from the middle and down a ramp. It is huge and is impressive as a pavilion in a World Expo might be. This is the fanciest set seen in Paris this season, rivalled, conversely, by Balenciaga’s also-artist-created mass (and mess) of mud, both no doubt profoundly costly to set up.

These past fashion weeks, mad as some of the shows were, do not seem to comport with what is happening outside of the annual circus. The UN very recently warned the world that rich nations may spark a global recession with their aggressive monetary policies that “could inflict worse damage than the financial crisis in 2008”. Add to that, the ongoing war in Ukraine, unrelenting inflation, spiking interest rates, and we have the global economy teetering on the brink of recession. And perhaps Louis Vuitton is hinting at how big the downturn might be, even if it is possible luxury labels won’t be that badly affected. Nicholas Ghesquière has not retained the still prevalent upsized silhouettes for LV, as others designers continued to have, but he sure has made large—startlingly and comically—what should normally be discreet: fastenings and hardware.

While Kanye West has declared the omission of zips, buttons, and hardware in his clothes for Yeezy, Mr Ghesquière has gone the opposite way, only that he made sure you won’t miss those zips, buttons, and hardware. What would normally not be noticed are now fasteners begging to be looked at. The buttons are the size of Famous Amos’s soft cookie. The zippers are not hidden (no discreet YKKs!) and come with wide tapes, massive teeth, huge sliders and even larger pull tabs, and as a pair, if they’re two-way fasteners. Little Red Riding Hood would have been duly impressed, and cried out, “What big zippers you have!” And there are those hardware, normally used on bags—these are made chunky too: swivel clips and D-rings, in striking gold no less. Utilitarian turns decorative. But, could a large zipper pull tab under the arm (as seen on a dress with side opening) be comfortable? Forgive our vulgar consideration for comfort. Could these clothes be cleaned in a washing machine without scratching the drum? Forgive our prosaic approach to laundering!

Then there are the blow-up (we think they’re filled with air, rather than down) add-ons that mimic airplane neck pillows, but also found on hips. Or, those framing the neck that look like tubular swim floats (actual ones were used at Moschino). Mr Ghesquière has pulled away from the synthesis of historicism for the paste-up of the usually unromantic components of dressmaking—the trims, and the effect is both quirky and quixotic. Which again magnifies his compositional skill of combining unlikely shapes, pairing uncommon textures, and tweaking unexpected proportions, all within recognisable clothing forms. This season in Paris, two unremarkable garments are poised for posterity—a spray-on dress with the design finesse of anything you’d find in Mango and a T-shirt with a slogan deemed inappropriate and offensive. Despite Nicholas Ghesquière’s notable efforts, his complex and astonishing designs would not top the lasting, viral glory of those two.

Screen shot (top): Louis Vuitton/YouTube. Photos: gorunway.com

Two Of A Kind: Mud Landing

In two cities, it’s fashionable to frolic in the muck

Mud in Paris versus mud in Singapore. Photos (left): Balenciaga and (right): TikTok

Whose mud is better; whose is muddier? And whose can really muck up? Balenciaga has shown at the recent Paris Fashion Week that, when it comes to fashion show grounds, bog is better than pile. For their spring/summer 2013 presentation, held at the Parc des Expositions, the French couture house created a runway that was not carpeted, but muddied. Yes, earth of the very wet kind. We, too, had our own runway last weekend, during the comeback F1 Night Race, at the parc de City Hall, aka the Padang. It was near-identical, the mud, but we did not have to create the guck. It was there all along, compacted soil waiting for a downpour and excited F1 attendees to whip it up into a deliciously sticky and slimy mess.

According to The New York Times, 275 cubic metres of mud was dumped onto the Balenciaga show venue. But this was no ordinary mud; this was black dirt “harvested from a French peat bog”. Definitely more atas than the common earth on our historic Padang, all 43,000 sqm of it. And Balenciaga had the Spanish artist Santiago Sierra dump and “arrange” the guck there. The only artist we had was good ’ol Mother Nature and her showers. And to make sure their sodden runway smelled right, Balenciaga had a scent specially concocted—dubbed by NYT as “eau de peat”. It was sprayed into the air of the site. Seriously. A perfume to intensify the fragrance of wet soil. Very high-end, indeed. All we had was Mother N’s own bau—geosmin and, consequently, petrichor—and they didn’t have to be spritzed to odorise the Padang.

Balenciaga is known to show their collections outside Paris, even in unlikely places such as the New York Stock Exchange. They are, therefore, not opposed to decamping to foreign soil. If they had asked, we’re sure the Singapore Tourism Board would be happy to arrange for them to have a field day at the Padang, and allow their expensive sneakers and silk gowns trudge through our free and foul mud. According to the show notes, the Balenciaga Paris set was a “metaphor for digging for truth and being down to earth”. We do not for certain if they can do that here, but we are quite sure that the Lion City is as good a venue as the City of Lights to muddy a fashion show.

The Cult Of Yeezy

Is it about the clothes? And they still make them? And the show—what devotionals?

Truth be told, we remember very little of what Yeezy is as a fashion label. They have been relatively quiet (not owner Kanye West, of course) but their return to Paris after the last show—season 8 in 2020—is not. The event was prefaced by Mr West walking the Balenciaga show and his appearance on the Givenchy front row. And there were the notices on social media, including one in Instagram, claiming with sheer exasperation that “Magically No production companies (sic) have been willing to produce my YZYSZN9 fashion show in Paris on October 3″ (that post, since deleted, was accompanied by an image of the list of Gap “Board of Directors”). The show, latter to be touted as being on “the new frontier”, was off to an inauspicious start.

We stayed up last night to try to watch the show on yeezy.com. But, as it turned out, it was a private livestream. On the landing page, we were asked to “enter your email address for YZYSZN9” so as to “join the waitlist”. To watch a livestream fashion show? That’d be a first. But the Internet is a wondrous place and you could still view what some might wish to place a restriction on you. The livestream came on, but we had to wait more than an hour for the show to start. And when it did, it was not even the show. In Virgil Abloh fashion, a film preceded the proceedings, or rather, a video compilation of events past (not necessarily connected to the Yeezy brand), including clips of the dead—John Lennon and Steve Jobs and his mother Donda West, whom Mr West spoke of during the David Letterman talk show—and the living, Kim Kardashian (he really couldn’t let go of her?). Then the waiting continued.

This was the weirdest Yeezy show (or any show), to say the least. Or, more—the most boring, the dreariest and the draggiest to watch. It is amazing how the guests (reportedly only 50 were invited) could put up with the indefinite waiting. The show (more like a rally) finally started, but still no clothes. Kanye West took to the centre of the semi-circular, atrium-like space, offering multiple-Instagram-posts-in-one-rant. Seriously. He fretted, with no spotlight on him, about the reactions to the late start of his Yeezy Season 4 show on Roosevelt Island, New York in 2016, and how the press, having to wait for two hours, “completely killed us” (Mr West forgot to mention that his Donda listening events started late too, but fans, of course, didn’t mind). He went on about the former missus getting robbed “right here in Paris” and people still talking about the Tommy Ton photo, shot in 2009 when he and Virgil Abloh and others attended their first PFW.

Other than his first arrival in the scene, Kanye West wanted to remind you that Yeezy “did change the look of fashion over the past ten years” and that “we are the streets; we are the culture”. And, therefore, “we will not be bullied; we will not be treated differently than you treat any fashion show that might start a little bit later, just to present the best idea to you”. Lateness in the start of shows (and the arrivals of merchandise. Remember what happened to the early drops of Yeezy Gap?) is part of the deal because, in case you did not know, he is all that matters. He stated very clearly, with total alpha-male certainty, “I am Ye and everyone here knows that I am the leader.” That must have been a turn-on for many. It is notable that for a considerable part of this sermonic exhortation, quite a few could be heard saying, when they agree with what was uttered, “yes”, which might have been amen. The self-appreciation/affirmation—and further denunciation (Gap was singled out)—went on for some ten minutes. Towards the end, we heard: “You can’t manage me. This is an unmanageable situation”. By then we were very sleepy and very bored.

Were we here to hear grouses, not see gowns? Shortly after the rambling speech, which ended with “Bernard Arnault is my new Drake” (read into that whatever you will), the show began. And, again, sort of. A little girl took to the performance area, and shouted ”good morning, Donda”. A chorus of juvenile voices responded. Then other kids joined her, including the fashionista-daughter North West. They are reportedly from Mr West’s controversial Donda School (except North), and they continued the salutation to Donda (person, school, or album, your guess would be as good as ours) like a religious chant. A fashion event suddenly seemed like the Kanye West Sunday Service. Or a community event in Harlem. Then a choir master took over, and the worshipful vibe became disturbingly palpable. When the kids started circling the space, as if in some sacred ritual, before the models emerged, it started to look like a cult ceremony. They sang their hearts out, this motley bunch of different ages. There was no explanation as to why the kids were involved in the selling of Yeezy. Early aesthetical indoctrination?

The clothes: Before the ragtag models joined the still-singing children, they were filmed somewhere backstage, and the live images were projected on the on-site screen and shown—each quadrupled—during the livestream. It would take no effort to see the similarity to Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga’s communication materials. Yeezy solo is still unable to pull away from the aesthetic that Demna Gvasalia had helped the collaboration cement. And it is a look Mr West has been personally keen to adopt and push, including the obscuring of faces—identity be damned. The Yeezy collection is really variations of what were established earlier with The Gap, even when Mr West seemed certain that “the idea behind this collection is that everything is pulled on and pulled over… The future of clothes… No hardware…” Or, for that matter, discernible logos. But what Yeezy hoodie or T-shirt isn’t pulled over, and has no hardware?

The collection is, we’re told, co-designed with Shane Oliver of Hood By Air. Mr West apparently couldn’t go at the design singly. But the hand of Demna Gvasalia is strong. The lightest clothes, a pair of fitted singlets with spaghetti straps and cold hips (and the similar in dress form), were overwhelmed by the pieces that were variations of the hoodie and the puffer, now puffed to extreme shapes, and the outers that looked like rags wrapped around and around the body. Is this truly the direction Yeezy is taking to make fashion accessible to everyone, to break down the class divide that Mr West believes exists in fashion (never mind the show was attended by the said 50 people), even if it is doubtful that anyone wants to looks thrice their size and, in doing so, appear sinister? That Kanye West is able to continue to do this, to appear baleful, is due to, in no small part, the ardent support of those who really believe he is a design deity: such as attendees Anna Wintour, Hamish Bowles, Demna Gvasalia, Riccardo Tisci or friends-as-models Matthew Williams and Michèle Lamy (wife of Rick Owens), and Naomi Campbell, who looked like she was wearing an inflatable pool bed.

Not much about the collection was immediately talked about post-show, even on social media. By next week, the clothes may be forgotten. But one item had already stoke fires: the black, long-sleeved T-shirt Mr West wore, with a photo print of Pope John Paul II across the chest. At the back were three words in white san-serif font, arranged in three lines: “White Lives Matter”, a slogan that came into use in 2015, after the Black Live Matter movement. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, the phrase on the T-shirt Mr West wore is “a racist response to the civil rights movement Black Lives Matter, is a neo-Nazi group that is growing into a movement as more and more white supremacist groups take up its slogans and tactics.” The Anti-Defamation League declared those three words a “hate slogan”. It did not help that Kanye West was seen with conservative influencer/commentator/activist Candace Owens (three weeks ago, she called Kim Kardashian “a prostitute” on her talk show Daily Wire), who also wore the same top, but in white and with black text. How nuts were the Wonder Twins? Mr West did say earlier in his tirade-cum-homily, “people feel like they have the right to come to my face and call me crazy. Like it doesn’t hurt my feelings. Or like, you don’t have to be crazy in order to change the world.” Yeah.

Screen shots: Julius Agen/YouTube

(Still) Bleak At Balenciaga

A dark, dark, and muddy world, with a parade led by a self-destructive egomaniac

In a four-season world that is facing increasingly warm summers (with some cities reportedly skipping spring altogether), it is strange that at Balenciaga’s spring/summer 2023 show, the first model sent out is Kanye West (rumoured to be in Paris to present a Yeezy collection), bundled up like a ranger on some frigid war-torn settlement. In fact, on his multi-pocketed flak jacket, a label on the left chest reads “SECURITY”. Despite the hoodie over a cap which casts a shadow over his face, the bearded Mr West is still identifiable. He looks as he has been these past year, mostly dressed as if the places he visits are below zero degrees Celsius, even when it’s blazing. As he has explained before, he has the predilection to “dress like winter when it’s hot”. Perhaps that may explain why on Demna Gvasalia’s TikTok account, which shared a short video showing Mr West’s duration on the runway, the caption reads, “Ye is walking for Balenciaga winter 23”!

A friend of SOTD’s said that it could be a “typo”. Perhaps, but unlikely (the Balenciaga social media team won’t make such a mistake). Could it be an autumn/winter outfit made specially for Mr West to wear in summer that can serve as a preview for the season after? This is one Balenciaga customer/“friend of the house” with exacting needs, including a desperate one to be taken seriously by the fashion establishment. Mr West, in fact, looks like he could well be ready for the next Mad Max movie. A Black Road Warrior? And the set of the show matches: a wasteland of very wet mud. After last season’s snow, could this be what happens when the deep freeze thaws, but the war has not ended? In fact, Balenciaga calls this presentation The Mud Show. The set, with real mud dumped into a stadium (in the darkness, it could be a pile of dung), is designed by the Spanish performance/installation artist Santiago Sierra. A waterlogged path is created and on this boggy ground, the indigent-looking bunch (including dads with babies—they look fake—close to the chest), some of the models appear bruised (bashed?), trudge or march on, the hems of their gown and pants, and shoes, quickly dirtied by the muck.

The muddying is consistent with Balenciaga’s recent slew of ‘Destroyed’ garments and footwear. And there are more rips-as-destruction this season to better fit the misery and squalor of the world, seen through Demna Gvasalia’s eyes. If everything around us is falling apart, why not the clothes? The first victims of the tattering are, expectedly, the jeans; this time, also with severe rips in the rear, so extreme, some might consider them unwearable. There is defacement too—graffiti on the hoodies. All the disfiguring, according to Mr Gvasalia, required a “couple of days” more than making clothes that are not damaged. Just as there are the seriously destructed, there are those left whole and untarnished, until the mud gets to them. The dresses, which have won the brand consistent approval and yielded considerable influence, come in slinky jersey with the simplicity of a T-shirt or in fluid plissé that wrap the body protectively like a cape, stand out. However wrecked the world, there are those who chose to dress splendidly. Or in a patch-up of old handbags. In the last dress, a man (or a flat-chested woman?) wears a gown made of Balenciaga’s once sort-after Lariat bags. This could have appeared in the couture collection (along with those clothes made of old belts), but here it is, an unyielding outfit probably too difficult for a woman to wear.

As the models tread, some carry stuffed animals with handles (are they filled bags?) that could have been dropped as children flee whatever/whoever they were escaping from. These are carried by the strangely under-dressed: in hooded tops with scanty running shorts. Or those wearing belts with the width of cummerbunds. Some of the bags look like sacks or pillows, and others like trash bags (already a trending Balenciaga item). One style was most striking. It continues Mr Gvasalia’s passion for conjoining disparate things, such as Kim Kardashian’s favourite legging-boots (this season, there are trouser-heels!). New is the squarish, tote-glove or a tote with holes on the upper half through which the arm can slip into a single full-length glove attached. The models carry them on the shoulder, with arm-in-glove as one. This is perhaps an innovation that befits our penchant for the hybrid, the mixed up, the remixed, the crossbreed. No one wants to look coordinated this days when tattered complexity is a lot less restraining. As one SOTD reader texted us about the Balenciaga collection, “I think this is truly fashion for our times”. Kanye West agrees too. That’s why he is in the show. Better than walking for Dolce and Gabbana?

Screen shot: Balenciaga/YouTube. Photos: Balenciaga

Which Way To Better?

With Carine Roitfeld in the game, is Givenchy scoring a win?

So Givenchy is getting reinforcement. After a few seasons (since spring/summer 2021, to be precise) of unconvincing output, Matthew Williams has enlisted the help of Carine Roitfeld, the ex-French Vogue editor, present EIC of CR Fashion Book, one-time accomplice of Tom Ford’s “heroin chic” for Gucci, and now, former stylist at Max Mara (as the rumour circulating in 2010 went, she borrowed a Balenciaga sample and loaned it to the Italian brand she consults for, which led to Balenciaga reportedly banning her). Ms Roitfeld is also the arbiter of ‘French chic’, an American obsession, known over there as ‘French girl style’. So her input is invaluable in assisting Mr Williams get the Givenchy look—which has been elusive, and more so under his watch—right. This is le chic Français for a brand that has lost its way, but all roads lead to America, do they not?

If you have been following Ms Roitfeld’s much-covered career (including her collab with Uniqlo), you might know she is partial to a lean, sexy-in-spades silhouette, build around a suit jacket (not too fitted, not to oversized) and slim skirt (preferably black), and finished with stilettos to give her vertical advantage. With Givenchy, she gives hints of what is identified as her style, yet concurrently submits to Mr William’s insistence on a street aspect to the collection, but now decidedly more svelte, and with midriffs still exposed. Ms Roitfeld’s love of lingerie (with its racy connotation) is there too, but now they are bra tops paired with unsightly, ripped, cut-off-at-knee, multi-pocketed biker jeans (l’élégance means there is a version in tweed). And papery slip dresses with raw edges that look like they won’t survive even the first wash.

Supposing, as many did, that Givenchy suffered from an identity crisis before, it still appears unresolved. There is a conscious tempering of Mr Williams’s initial streetwear-gone-luxe with sleeker dresses, and Ms Roitfeld’s well-loved slim skirts. But does Mr Williams really need the visual stimulus that Ms Roitfeld presumably could provide? And did Los Angeles native really benefit from it when he seems to be still tied to LA? Some pieces are puzzling and the antithesis of ‘French girl style’, such as the frightening oversized denim trucker and cargo shorts (they are cargo jeans too). Even Bella Hadid can’t save the denim bra-top and the dirty-looking jean-skirt. Some are sad clichés, such as the boucle skirt-suit or jacket with, gasp, bleached denim cargo jeans and the Chanel-esque round-neck jacket and straight-cut jeans. Others are just duds—military-style cropped hoodie and distressed fatigues or the PT singlet and khaki skirt.

Mr Williams seems to draw inspiration from the red light districts of LA too. There are cropped tops with a broad, flounced border (one comes with a limp ruff!), slip-dresses with half-assed half-drape along the neckline and one-shoulder gowns to show off the bland brassiere on the uncovered side. There is, surprisingly, a visible lack of the hardware that Mr Williams is known for, except the odd buckle that appears on bra cups and a strange two-buckle belt that goes on the waist of a ruched ebony dress. For someone who loves black, there is a curious green in a colour story that is generally muted. It led us to wonder if it’s the same shade at Fendi last month, even if a tad toned down in intensity? Seriously, is the maddening mash-up just Matthew Williams playing irrepressible DJ?

Screen shot (top): Givenchy/YouTube. Photos: gorunway.com

The Instant Dress

We’ve seen the future: Don’t get dressed, get sprayed!

Bella Hadid enjoying the aerosol droplets

It is for sure a moment for history. The last look of the Coperni show yesterday saw Bella Hadid emerges in nothing but a thonged panty and a pair of heels, her right arm covering her breasts. She steps on to a low platform, and designers Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant—hands with equipment very much similar to a spray gun used in spray painting—begin spraying the model. The sprayers dispel a white foamy liquid that quickly cover her body in opaque white (Ms Hadid slowly removes her arms as one breast is covered and then another). Those old enough would remember this as ‘airbrushing’. Very soon a semblance of a garment could be discerned. The body-con (naturally!) dress took about seven minutes to complete or about the time it takes to cook hard-boiled eggs. Talk about fast fashion!

When the spraying stops, an assistant takes over to finish the dress. She shapes the straps by rolling the edges inwards, like you might with pastry made with thin batter, such as zhuchangfen (猪肠粉 or rice noodle rolls). She then pulls the straps down the arms to create an off-shoulder upper. She moves to the front and kneels to trim the randomly-formed hem around Ms Hadid’s calves. She takes a scissors and cuts a slit on the right side, at the front of the leg. She loosens the fabric adhered to Ms Hadid’s limbs. She opens up the slit and, voila, the dress is complete. A dress as basic as it comes. There was uproarious applause. Ms Hadid steps off the platform and struts for the appreciative audience in her new spray-on dress.

Finishing the sprayed-on dress

Bella Hadid posing in the completed dress

For many, this moment is reminiscent of what the late Alexander McQueen offered during his spring/summer 1999 show—his thirteenth at the time. Shalom Harlow, then the subject of the public experiment, stepped out in a white, strapless dress with an outer skirt over a tutu, and stood on a turntable between two robotic arms. After the pair of identical mechanical limbs flailed somewhat threateningly, they spray-painted her dress, one shot out yellow dye, the other black. Ms Harlow moved as if in orgiastic delight. She continued to spin, the audience were delirious. This was technology meets fashion as high art, witnessed live, no streaming required; a moment conceived to be deeply indelible.

Fast forward to the present PFW, the Coperni spectacle seems less hi-tech, with the robotic arms swapped for human ones. The spray exercise is more in line with McQueen’s focus that season: the Arts and Craft movement (with a technology component). Coperni worked with the Spanish textile-tech company Fabrican, founded by fashion designer and scientist Manel Torres. Vogue Business reported that the liquid used is a polymer solution that contains cotton and synthetic fibres. The fluid evaporates when it touches the skin, leaving the fibres behind, which, presumably, dries quickly. If we can 3D-print our own accessories now, will it be a matter of time when we can spray on a dress after we step out of the bath? Will getting dressed be an archaic idea? We shudder.

Screen shots: BabyGhoulYT/YouTube

Loewe: From Grass To Anthuriums

Jonathan Anderson gave men sprouting patches in June, now the women get tailflowers

It’s back to nature at Loewe. If you haven’t noticed, Jonathan Anderson has quite departed the craft period of his tenure at Loewe and moving the brand closer to what his own label JW Anderson has been offering. In recent seasons, that means incorporating objects that should not appear on or trapped in clothes. These could be organic and synthetic. Last June, he grew real grass on coats and footwear for the men’s collection. Now for the women’s this season, single-stalk anthurium forms the bodice of the clothes, or turns into bra cups. Strange is putting it mildly, but it is, compared to the early years of studied modernised crafting. When Mr Anderson joined Loewe in 2013 (it’d be a decade next year!), his stylist/collaborator Benjamin Bruno told The Cut recently, “we had to invent a fashion language for it.” Now, not only has that language changed, there is a whole new dialect.

It is hard to pair words with what Mr Anderson dreams up without us creating a new vernacular too. Or, sounding didactic. Perhaps we should put it this way: the ordinary that becomes extraordinary is also exquisite. The choice of a flower for spring is not unusual—not at all, but one that looks more like a leaf and is curved and an elongated heart-shape, and can be used to cover the upper body is of rather special beauty. At this point, we can’t tell what the anthurium in the collection is made of (fibreglass?), but a bloom with a spikey spadix (rubber?) fans the burning of our curiosity: Did Mr Anderson choose it for its potential phallic allure? Or because the real plant is not wearable as the sap is poisonous and may irritate the skin? A toxic flower is as tempting as forbidden fruit?

There is, naturally, quite a lot to see and unpack. But one notable point: Even when the not-quite-delicate anthurium is a bra cup—single or a pair—the dresses do not succumb to the sleaziness some other designers have adopted for theirs. Perhaps Mr Anderson is better at quirky than sexy. And quite far out are the shoes. One pair of them is covered with deflated balloons (a recurrent motif) that, in some, looks like slip-on mops (also called mop slippers). The home maintenance idea (or at least that is how we see it) is extended to four tops that look like massive breastplates, but could have been ironing boards! Can you bend forward in them? A few strapless dresses have front-facing paniers that seem like a side table is hidden beneath them. A quintet of curious bubble-skirted dresses sport necklines that look as if held up by umbrella ribs, but a lace version later shows that the zig-zags and the peaks are really formed by frames.

Of late, Mr Anderson is inclined to visually comment on digital technology that affects us (such as using QWERTY keys in his own collection). For Loewe, he is looking at something that appears at low resolution or is deliberately blurred—indistinct pixels. A T-shirt and a hoodie gets the Minecraft treatment, with the outlines of the garments cartoonishly pixelated. Both are worn with trousers, printed with grided blurring done on purpose. There are look-backs too. Two bib-front shirts, now in leather, recall those from his early Loewe collections, but are more deconstructed (or skewed?) than before. Perhaps the most sort after would be the new bag that is shaped like a well-filled jiaozi (饺子 or dumpling). If that is not goofy enough, there are the open-toe sandals with the upright anthurium (backed by a leaf). With the way the world is now, it really is time to put the bloom in the gloom.

Two Of A Kind: Repeated Triangles

A three-sided figure—even right-side up—and repeated just recalls those of a very famous Italian brand

Uma Wang’s pantsuit vs Prada’s Symbole jacquard tote. Photos: Uma Wang and Prada respectively

Uma Wang (王汁) is a popular designer in China. And the Chinese are especially proud that she is one of the few among the dalu (大陆 or mainland) designers to show abroad with anomalous regularity. Recently, she shared images of the digital presentation of her spring/summer 2023 collection, A Gaze into the Wilderness, during Paris Fashion Week. Among the Central Saint Martin alum’s usual oversized, drape-y styles, two outfits stood out, but not for their exceptional designs. There is a coat and a pantsuit and both are in fabrics with a orderly repeated pattern that immediately brings to mind the jacquard used in Prada’s Symbole bags.

Prada is, in fact, rather late in the monogram-style pattern in place of all-over logos or logotype on clothing and accessories. Based on its familiar inverted triangle that frames its logo, the Symbole was introduced this summer, with a campaign in our part of the world that featured Korean stars Kim Min-ju, Bona, and others. Prada describes the pattern of the Symbole as “modernist”. And it is even minimalist, if seen with the more recent monograms, such as Burberry’s interlocking TB, introduced in 2018 (what would its fate be now, since its introducer Riccardo Tisci is no longer with the house isn’t clear) or Versace’s Le Greca, launched last year.

Modernist might also be how Ms Wang sees her rows and rows of triangles. If you look at the dominant black ones, they are isosceles, closed-plane polygons with sharp vertexes, just like Prada’s, but placed right-side up and are more condensed. The linear arrangement is similar to the Italian brand’s as well—the black alternating with the lighter-coloured, with a sum effect like the board used for the triangular chess (yes, there is such a game, invented in 1986 by American lawyer George R. Dekle Sr). In that scheme, even Ms Wang’s chromatic choice is similar to Prada’s: black and khaki. It is possible that she picked her fabric (known to be from Italy) before Prada launched the Symbole bags, but it is even likelier that the latter went into development much earlier. Since only too looks were created with the said fabric, would it have been better for Uma Wang to omit both so as to avoid being compared to Prada’s increasingly popular Symbole?

What’s That Hole, Again?

Off-White puts an orifice over the stomach

Holes are here. We saw them in New York at Marni; we are now seeing them in Paris at Off-White. Yes, gaping holes. Their appeal is not immediately clear. Perhaps it has to do with creating a porthole with which to view skin. Or, very specific part of the body, such as the cleavage or, in the case of Off-White, the stomach, which is punctuated with another, much smaller hole, the belly button. The holes of cold shoulders, once so popular, have migrated as a single framed aperture in the center of the body. We have said this before, and we’ll say it again: They seem to focus on something sexual, or reproductive. And Off-White’s larger (than Marni’s) holes could be twice the possibility. Perhaps we are allowing out imagination to veer to far off. Maybe these are just yueliangmen (月亮门 or moon gates)—passageways to welcome you into something.

The show is called “CELEBRATION” (the Abloh-esque quotation a must), and it requires no effort to guess who Off-White is celebrating. Ten months have passed since Virgil Abloh’s death. The world is still celebrating his legacy, not just at the brand he founded, but also at Louis Vuitton, where he had, many agree, changed menswear. Apparently this collection was already initiated by Mr Abloh before he died. The collection is now realised by the team installed at the studio and led by the stylist and EIC of Dazed Ibrahim Kamara, the brand’s Image and Art Director, who was appointed to the post last April. Why Mr Kamara was not made the creative director of the ready-to-wear isn’t clear, but it is possible that he is trying to postion himself as a ”multi-hyphenate”, as Mr Abloh invariably was thought to be.

One of the things he with the varied portfolio has to do is to keep things within Planet Abloh, and a signature colour is a good way to start. Unmistakable this season is the wash of blue that bathes the show and its venue to effect what Mr Kamara called “blue universe”, as he told WWD. This includes the by-now obligatory pre-show performance typical of Mr Abloh’s presentation, this time with dancers all togged in the chosen blue, with faces painted in the same colour. It is tempting to think they are members of the Blue Man Group, but they are not. The performers are reportedly from the French capital. They performed with palpable tribal spunk to the percussive music of Paris-based afro-punk musician Faty Sy Savanet, in leotards no doubt created by the Off-White studio.

As for the collection, it is not going to benefit from what we have not already said about Virgil Abloh’s work. To note, again, is that Off-White is not quite the label it was before; the street tag of the past is mostly not applicable. After Virgil Abloh joined Louis Vuitton and had access to the maison’s vast resources, Off-White became more like a Louis Vuitton spin-off with a ‘couture’ component that also manifests in the present show, although not in quantity. The two outfits are presumably to bring the presentation to a close, with a bang. One is a coat made of what looks like petals (leather?), festooned to give it a vaguely cocoon shape. The other is less conventional, even curious—a lace chador, worn with the face left uncovered. Inclusive, perhaps, but would true chador wearers not take offence to the sheerness of the garment? Or, could this be what Sierra Leone-born Ibrahim Kamara told WWD: “I’m bringing my African point of view”?

Screen shot (top): off—white.com. Photos: gorunway.com

Cross-Border Dilemma

Adidas’s design for Algeria is intensely disliked in Morocco

The Moroccans have filed a complain against Adidas for cultural appropriation. According to Morocco World News, the Kingdom’s Ministry of Youth, Culture and Communication has asked the president of the Morocco Lawyers’ Club to raise the issue with the German brand. What’s the score? Algeria’s football team’s new jerseys designed by Adidas have posed a problem. Seen on social media, the tops sport a colour-saturated pattern that, to the Moroccans, are similar to their zellige, geometric tilework of hand-cut mosaic pieces that are made from a clay found in Morocco. Adidas said that the pattern they picked is, in fact, inspired by those seen in the El Mechouar Palace in the heart of the city of Tlemcen, Algeria.

Moroccan Netizens were quick to couner that the El Mechouar Palace was renovated in 2010, “employing Moroccan calligraphy, plaster art, mosaic, and art,” Morocco World News reported. Arousing further disapproval was a video that went viral, purported to show a director who supervised the renovation of the Palace acknowledging the help of the Moroccans, even using materials from their land. The Algerians have not yet commented on the controversy.

According to the BBC, the letter sent to Adidas’s chief executive Kasper Rorsted stated that there was, in the new design for Algeria, “an attempt to steal a form of Moroccan cultural heritage and use it outside its context”. Additionally, Algeria’s 2022-2023 season kit for the footballers “contributes to the loss and distortion of the identity and history of these (zellige) cultural elements”. Zellige (also spelled zellij) tiles in Morocco is very much a part of its ancient architecture, as well as the modern. In fact, these tiles are used in Algeria too, although their tilework and patterns might defer. Such disapproval and disputes are not uncommon in regions with shared history. It sure brings to mind one nasi-lemak squabble of fairly recent time.

Photo: adidas MENA/Instagram

Fade To Flowers

Dries van Note returns to Paris. He is still the master of controlled sumptuousness, even in black

We can’t remember when Dries van Noten showed this much black on the runway—17 looks in total inkiness (this season, we have been doing a lot of counting ). The not-colourful opening set, however, isn’t a mournful expression of something plaguing the world. Mr van Noten has not shown in Paris IRL for more than two years, communicating digitally in ways that were not necessarily illustrative of his predilection for the exuberant (if not stylistically, at least florally). This joyous return could perhaps be seen in the clothes, but rather than jump right into the 花浴 (huayu or floral bath), he chose to begin with those blacks that have between them the soft tailoring that Mr van Noten is partial to and the sculptural assymetry that he has shown to be adept at, allowing the raven sophistication to segue into spring-appropriate pastels before bursting into the summer flowers—print on print, too—that he is known for.

The show, set in a what looks like a disused space, opens to a soundtrack of a knocking beat that could have been produced by the muyu (木鱼) or wooden fish, the woodblocks used in Chinese temples to produce a hypnotic cadence that accompanies the reciting of Buddhist text. But, here, it is digitised and on reverb. The somewhat bleak beat, accompanied by the clacking of the models’ heels, soon builds into an urgent pulsation that crescendoes to the familiar refrain of Blondie’s Heart of Glass over an unfamiliar mix, which vaguely reminds us of Heart ov Glass, the remake by British electronica act Product.01 and remixed by the German techno producer Justus Köhncke. The tribal/festive percussive mix of electro and breaks is attuned to Mr van Noten’s trippy blend of rosettes and ruffles, blooms and more blooms. In a word (which we do not often use): delightful.

With Dries van Noten, the output is always a sensorial win. With the exception of some jewellery, there is no need for glittery ornamentation to make any of the outfits stand out or speak, even in the eveningwear. One loose-fitting, but still shapely jacket is bunched up in the front and secured by pins. A dramatic black top—worn with shorts!—is an asymmetric heave that looks like a fichu fluffed up. On a skirt, plissé swathes draw together in the front and cascade as an off-centre bustle. Pleated medallions sit atop gathered tiers in free-flow abandon on a top. Elsewhere, ruffles curve around the body and end on the hem, or meander and then become rosettes—and nothing flamenco about them. There are openwork knitwear gilets that could have been handicraft macrame bags repurposed. When it comes to the florals, there are more permutations that what you’d find in nature; the pairings and the layering, crumbly or crushed, sometime recall those from past collections, but no less arresting.

It is an uplifting collection even with the darkness of the opening set. Some people think that Mr van Noten’s clothes are typically not immediately joyous. While he is not inclined to go with spring-break ardour, as craft precedes frills, we can’t begrudge the palpable positivity of his re-entry to the Paris show season. Few designers today offer desirable clothes that are more than what they seem, that can boast designs that go along synergistically with dressmaking. Or, take what would be flowers-for-spring cliché to fields of desirable artistry. As before, these are clothes to wear and keep. And to wear again.

Screen shots (top) and photos: Dries van Noten