Two Of A Kind: Wide Shoulders, Narrow Waists

Fenty 2019 Vs A Wang 2020.jpgLeft: the suit jacket at Fenty. Photo: Fenty. Right: The suit jacket at Alexander Wang. Photo: Alexander Wang

Hers came first if only because she sold hers first. And is for the current season, not spring/summer 2020, a far-off six months or more later. Rihanna’s Fenty jacket, worn as a dress by the singer herself at the opening of her first store, a pop-up in Paris, has a silhouette not unlike Alexander Wang’s, shown in New York last Friday, as part of a segment purportedly homage to the now defunct fashion line of Donna Karan.

That the broad shoulders and nipped-in/shaped waist are finally expressed by hype-driven designers perhaps attests to the proportion’s mass acceptance… at last. Balenciaga under Demna Gvasalia’s watch somehow escaped American designers’ inspiration… until now. Is it uncanny that one Barbadian designer’s Parisian debut is echoed back in North America, where European aesthetics have always been dreamy aspirations, not commercial reality?

The similarity is truly remarkable: wide shoulders with enough padding so that they do not droop, the fairly large armhole, the natural-waist emphasis, and, in particular, the vertical lines below the bust used to accentuate the waist—boning for Fenty and reverse darts for Alexander Wang. Rihanna styled hers as a dress, and although Mr Wang teamed his with turtle neck and what appears to be jeans, the jacket looked like it, too, would work sans bottom.

This jacket shape looks to us to be without a dotted line that can be traced to European couture. Rather, it appears to be related to black tailoring of the Forties: the jacket half of the zoot suit, a garment that was, as Smithsonian magazine noted, “unbranded and illicit”. It explained further: “There was no one designer associated with the look, no department store where you could buy one. These were ad hoc outfits, regular suits bought two sized too large and then creatively tailored to dandyish effects.”

There is, of course, nothing “unbranded and illicit” about Fenty and Alexander Wang (who is now using his name as Calvin Klein did and does) and their suit-jackets are clearly not provisional nor standard-issue. It is perhaps easier and more convenient and less provocative to say that they both tap into the zeitgeist emerging from black America, and is going (gone?) mainstream.

Rihanna is today not only a high priestess of fashion, she is, as CNN puts it, “a godsend for curvy women”. Riri does not have the same body as the lass who released the debut album Music of the Sun in 2005. Now bigger, she considers herself her muse, who presumably represents the many women out there that designers, such as fellow LVMH employee Hedi Slimane, do not cater to. That her first male customer is reportedly British Vogue’s Edward Enninful substantiate her social enterprise spirit of wanting to design for non-traditional body shapes that fashion is not partial to, just like the Savage X Fenty underclothing line.

Alexander Wang may be Asian, but he’s American in every way. His Europeanisation of self via Balenciaga (2012—2015) was essentially a parody of what European couture looks like from across the Atlantic. His heart has always been in Harlem; his strength in streetwear. That a jacket of uncommon proportion should appear in his collection indicate that, like other American designers, Mr Wang is addling our understanding of what is street-influenced fashion by taking the tailoring-as-confirmation-of-arrival route.

For now, Rihanna and Alexander Wang are marching to the same drum beat, but who will march on?