Bold In The Climate Of The Banal

In the fashion of the present, you can either be palatable or a punchline. Nicolas Ghesquière chose neither


LV SS 2019 P1

You often see long queues outside Louis Vuitton stores, even when, looking in, it is far from busy as Fairprice on PG Day. It isn’t hard to guess what most people line up to buy: not the clothes, if you aren’t sure. But, increasingly, the clothes are the reason some of us are willing to get in line with the bag/wallet/sneaker/trinket hunters for a chance, if not to cop, at least to view the apparel, which deserves to be appreciated up-close. Nicolas Ghesquière has more and more offered on the runway garments of such compelling qualities that Louis Vuitton is one of the few fashion labels today that inveigles fashion aesthetes to walk into a store for a closer look.

The brand’s final show of Paris Fashion Week will again encourage some—perhaps many—of us to join the queue: those blousons ruched at the shoulders, those jackets with peaked lapels that were fashioned to look like deconstructed star of David (especially the khaki version with white lapels), those pleated and billowy sleeves, those vaguely space-age-y tops with re-enforced dropped shoulders, those sort-of cocoon coats with coloured shapes, and even those cargo pants (a reiteration of those from his Balenciaga days?). Only through actual contact would we then be able to discern the unusual details, extras, and seam placements that have come to characterise Mr Ghesquière’s work for LV. That, for us, is the real deal: up-close, at which point the clothes offer the chance to enthrall.

LV SS 2019 G1

It is this “another level” aspect, through a very specific lens, that reflects a design muscularity Mr Ghesquière’s predecessor never had despite his later physical brawn. And the reason why so many are disappointed that the distinctive world Phoebe Philo created for Céline (as spelled during her day) has met its end time. Even a view at an LV store window is good enough for some because there is always adequate to astound even the most seasoned fashion follower. Film fans seeing a costume exhibition of their favourite movie experience similar pleasure and tingle.

Mr Ghesquière’s designs, in the past four seasons or so, have a powerful and irresistible effect. No particular aspect is central to his themes and ideas. Instead, he works with multiple visual and technical components simultaneously. This season, it was (again) the unusual, vaguely ’80s shapes, the way he cut his pieces to fall away from the body and yet not hang loose or sack-like, his love for layering that saw the overlays and mash-ups of prints come together in happy discordance, the feminine-but-not-overtly sense of prettiness (dresses not pre-soaked with sex), and a canny understanding that a woman’s wardrobe is not necessarily only spelled out for the roles she plays in her life. A blouson, for example, despite its outdoorsy vibe, can have feminine shape, touch, and flourishes that allow it to be worn to a performance of Bach in a grand national concert hall. Or, in the corridors of business. Without, we should add, sacrificing youthful lilt.

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To be sure, Mr Ghesquière has not always been this successful or sure-footed. We won’t resist the temptation to point out certain silk boxer shorts worn with bejewelled frock coats—a flippant marriage of historicism and Kardashian-esque IG-style show-all. But when he goes beyond the convenience of superficial styling, as he did currently, he is able to place design at the heart of his work. And the designs are what the discerning have come to see, designs that—this season—continue to straddle artsy and sci-fi, sporty and girlish, old-fashioned and newfangled; designs that juxtapose neckline with neckline, sleeves with armholes, long with short.

A little curious to us were the duo or trio (or was it a quartet?) of men’s wear that appeared. In this time of genderless-as-euphemism-for-gender-bending, we weren’t sure if we saw what we saw, or if it was guys’ clothes available for gals or gals’ clothes worn by guys. If Mr Ghesquière is given the men’s collection to do (and we know he can as evidenced by his past output for Balenciaga), what would Virgil Abloh be doing in the studio? Those jackets, with the tweaked peaked lapels, had the strength of creative crafting that Mr Abloh has yet to express. And, if he at Celine can do a co-ed collection, why not Nicolas Ghesquière? We can be hopeful, can’t we?

Photos: (top) Louis Vuitton, live stream/ (runway)