Uncommon Opulence

When one show dulls the senses, another awakens them. Thank heavens for Dries Van Noten


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If fashion is about dreams, imagine this one: the ghost of Paul Poiret haunts, and a phantom collection emerges. It is styled by another ghost, that of Anna Piaggi. Art deco florals swirls amid inner-city checks. When you’re awaken, the clothes are those of Dries Van Noten’s spectacular autumn/winter 2020 show. If there is a dream that we do not want to wake up from, it is this—a dream that could keep us away from a ‘reality’ of “When Women Strike the World Stops”. In the context of fashion, we do prefer When Women Look Striking, the World Stops.

And what striking women at Dries Van Noten. But apparently we were in the wrong dream. Or, wrong era. As Mr Van Noten told the media, his inspiration came from Eighties’ party girls (also the gritty/seductive song by Michelle Gurevich that soundtracks the show), in particular those who frequented The Mud Club and Camden Palace in London. People then did indeed dress up to go clubbing (unlike these days, when any ratty old singlet and shorts will do), and some clubs admit by fashion, which in those days, did not necessarily mean designer, although the young, post-punk crowd was partial to anything put out by Vivienne Westwood and Malcom McClaren through Sex, Seditionaries, and later, Worlds End.

Back to Dries Van Noten! Striking, too—and remarkable—is the Sam McKnight hair, all slicked and spot-coloured, which looked like they share the same pigments as scarlet macaws, as well as the Inge Grognard makeup, which is evocative of Serge Luten’s dramatic work with Shiseido in the Eighties, and, simultaneously, projecting the femme fatales of Tamara de Lempicka. Oh, we are in the wrong era again! The thing for us is, this is Mr Van Noten’s Gilded Age, to borrow Mark Twain’s phrase, an afterglow from last season’s wondrous collaboration with Christian Lacroix, the non-practising couturier still on everyone’s mind.

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We have never described, in eight years of SOTD, a collection as gorgeous. But that was what came to our mind again and again, and again. From the first look, the plaid biker jacket teamed with granny cardigan and marabou skirt, to the last, a sleek shirt-and-long-skirt combo, with sleeves pushed up to reveal opera gloves, we saw a procession of unceasing gorgeousness, in colour, in print, and in texture. Mr Van Noten is a master mixologist who seems even more sure-footed in bringing together the disparate after his outing with Mr Lacroix. Rare is opulence this intoxicating.

Yet, it is not all swirling florals and lush feathers in the haute sphere. If you looks closely, there are elements of grunge (that sometimes dreaded, sometimes adored aesthetic that had once tanked the career of a particular designer). Glamourous grunge? That biker jacket with the marabou skirt, checked shirt tied around the waist, floral camo trench over floral denim jumpsuit (with the upper also similarly tied)—they offer a seductive slouchiness, but not sacrificing the effect of the dressed-up or the polished façade that might, in truth, conceal a messy divorce or adultery, or a court case against sexually predatory behaviors.

And there are not just the traditional haute fabrics, such as silk and velvet, but also those that are especially suited to plaids—poplin; stand outs being the shadow check in that almost glowing blue and, conversely, the strange dusty versions, recalling those that you might find as shirts in the thrifts stores of Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa. Casual can walk hand in hand with glam. Other designers showed plaids and kindred checks too, but none yet, this season, have yielded the sum of such magnificence.

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And if you look even closer, you’d see that, while the clothes look like only special occasions would do them justice, they are, in fact, composed of wearable pieces and separates. The beauty—and desirability—is in the fact that they don’t look totally accessible. It is possible that there are already best-sellers in the making: the full-length day dresses, the slouchy pants and their leather cousins, and those Bowie-esque boots (Marc Jacobs could be hyperventilating). And—we keep coming back to them—that biker jacket and the skirt.

As the show progresses, Ms Gurevich sings, in the near-masculine voice of hers, “It doesn’t matter what you create if you have no fun”. This does not, of course, reflect the output of  Mr Van Noten. He was reported to have later told well-wishers back stage that the collection was “about nightlife, about going out, enjoying life, having fun”—the last, increasingly, is something missing in much of today’s make-money-for-the-master runways. Still, some shows just take your breath away. Dries Van Noten’s this season is one of them.

Photos:  Dries Van Noten

What’s The Point?

Dior strikes a raw nerve. Again


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These days, watching a Dior show—the live stream for us—means trying not to succumb to a dulling of the senses, best described as maddening. That is, of course, not possible. Actually, in the Malay language, there is a perfect word to term the feeling after even giving Dior a cursory glance: geram. This can be translated to mean angry, but is really dosed with annoyance and certainly, disdain, especially in reaction to something that should not have to be exasperating. Hard as it is, we try convincing ourselves that we have not viewed something akin to a mall show. That, too, is not possible.

Maria Grazia Chiuri has created fashion week high by going low—raising the bar not. Make pretty clothes. Let them be young-looking. Better still, common-seeming. These are, by her own admission, reminiscent of her teenage years and—no service to Dior—they look it. These are clothes that don’t augment the wardrobe or challenge the eye, certainly not the mind.

Just as Ms Chiuri is not able stay away from the average, the unexceptional, the quotidian, or move beyond those sheer panty-revealing skirts shown since her Dior debut (is “consent” required to look?), she is unable to dial down the volume on her feminist call to arms. Slogans have now gone from T-shirts to stage set, blaring like a sale announcement in a hypermarket. Yes, feminism is well and alive. The #metoo movement has its oxygen. Harvey Weinstein is a convicted felon. Let’s get on with fashion.

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Perhaps, not. Season after season, Ms Chiuri creates a Dior for the Dior novice, the fashion newbie, for the humble masses. A humbler Dior? Why not common then? Or is that already achieved? In fact, many of the pieces are painfully pedestrian. Is it any wonder why Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons want to get together “to relook at how creativity can evolve in today’s fashion system”, as Mr Simons told the media.

Ms Chiuri’s reference points are not entirely comprehensible too. Several fringed dresses (yes, by now we know fringing is key) look like something a hooker in movies made in the ’90s would wear. As we have said here at SOTD, the irony is that even hookers today don’t want to look like one anymore. Every single fringed dress is cringe-worthy. One, in black, brings us to Britney Spears. Or is it the newsboy hat? To be sure, this isn’t a Jennifer Lopez in a green dress moment.

It has become increasingly clear that Dior wants to sell the likes of a trucker jacket, but must they be placed on a runway show? Do low-barriers-to-entry designs require a spotlight? Can’t they go straight to the store? Most brands want to be commercial (no longer a dirty word in the trade), but many also offer something more directional—20% of the collection that might be difficult to sell. But Dior is 100% what one fashion designer describes to SOTD as “clothes that have no special technique in execution. They are so easy to produce, the ROI for LVMH must be delightfully high.” Given that they charge so much, he added, “shouldn’t women expect more?”

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There is more: more of the Book tote (yes, it appears on the runway again, the one Joanne Peh, aka Mrs Qi Yuwu, uses as a grocery bag). Its recognisable fascia means it can morph—box logo et al—into a blanket-poncho. Or, anorak. These could pave the way for more profitable bag-to-garment transmutation in the future. As any CEO would say, you do need to work (flog sounds too cruel) the good ’ol cash cow. Oh, yes, those transparent skirts, too.

At the risk of sounding harsh, not a single outfit paraded deserves a runway. Ms Chiuri’s work easily fuels the inspiration behind many of today’s copy-to-survive brands. This is not, as some will misconstrue, having a misogynistic go at Ms Chiuri. Regular readers will know that we admire Rei Kawakubo, Miuccia Prada, Consuelo Castiglioni, Phoebe Philo, Jil Sander, Chitose Abe, Vivienne Weswood, Clare Waight Keller, Lucie Meier, Donatella Versace, and, lately, Silvia Venturini Fendi. To this cohort, we should add Phoebe English, Mary Katrantzou, Ann Demeulemeester, Maureen Doherty, Iris van Herpen, and Woo Young-Mi (this list isn’t, admittedly, extensive). To us, it is really the depth of design. When Ines de la Fressange for Uniqlo is better than Maria Grazia Chiuri for Dior, it is perhaps understandable why we are geram.

Photos: Dior