With the third digital fashion week since LFW last month, a trend is clear to see: there are no fashion shows, just an interruption in normal programming to broadcast advertisements
LV men’s ‘show’. Screen grab: Louis Vuitton/YouTube
Fashion week. What fashion week? By now, it is clear: There are no fashion weeks. We’ve been duped. Following Paris Men’s Fashion Week that wrapped up moments ago, no deep analysis is required to see that there are not only no shows, there are no clothes. Okay, that’s admittedly an exaggeration, but brands in general seemed to be displacing an event that offers the possibility of discerning fashion trends with a digital hub for a massive branding exercise. After London Fashion Week and Haute Couture Fashion Week, and now Paris Men’s Fashion Week, it is obvious that the “front-row seat” we were promised was there for us to watch mostly inane advertisements, one after another. Its been, for us, three long commercial breaks and little else.
If not, what would one call Louis Vuitton’s screening, The Adventures of Zoooom with Friends? Oscar contender it may not be, but it’s a live action/animated short, conceived to wean the young on LV, an approach akin to McDonald’s marketing strategy. Virgil Abloh may not be a brilliant designer, but we’d still like to see what ho-hum collection he’ll put out, what “changes” he will still introduce to men’s wear. There was nothing. We sat through the three-and-half-minute video featuring two porters carrying a trunk (sounds familiar?), loading it onto an intermodal container and allowing motley animated characters that did not appear to have the EU’s Category C1 licence to take over the driving of the LGV. Other vehicles soon joined this one. They arrived at the Seine and the containers were loaded on a barge that subsequently sailed down the river (sounds familiar?), led by a tugboat. There was no destination and the rest of the video showed the animated animals doing their groovy thing—dance. And somewhere in there, champagne was smashed. Talk about product placement!
Dior’s Portrait of an Artist. Screen grab: Dior/YouTube
If not advertisements, they are pseudo-docus, such as Dior’s. Mr Abloh’s colleague, Kim Jones, expressed his timely inclusiveness in the wake of BLM by collaborating with Amoako Boafo, the Vienna-based Ghanaian artist known for his exploration of blackness and identity in such works as the Black Diaspora portraits. The Dior video, Portrait of an Artist, opened with an intro of the painter and some his friends as models wearing the collection (the recent highly-hyped kicks were seen too). It was a 21st century newsreel shot with better cameras. There was the so-called fashion show segment at the end, but with the focus-and-then-out-of-focus treatment, the clothes worn by only black models barely registered, and, by the end of the 10-minute film, it was hard to remember what was seen. The Dior couture video was called out for its lack of diversity in the casting. The same could be said of Dior men’s.
There was an unmistakable and conscious attempt to salute blackness. It was perhaps woke and necessary for the image of the brands, and understandably so, but it was fragmentary that the support of one should be at the exclusion of others. And was it just a reaction or a token? Thom Browne featured a solo black man, the American singer-songwriter Moses Sumney in nothing except a pair of white sequinned wrap-skirt, with a pair of black stripes placed diagonally across from waist to hem. Mr Sumney sang, so this could be destined for Vimeo or the Grammy. The hot Belgian brand Botter by the duo Lisi Herrebrugh & Rushemy Botter, showed, after a one-and-half-minute intro in which they admitted “to trying to express our humble yet positive vision towards the Black Lives Matter movement and other large issues we have been facing all together at once”, parts of their collection on two black models pretending to be models. To be sure, Botter has been a woke brand. The spring/summer 2018’s Fish or Fight collection was dedicated to Caribbean immigrants.
The usual effortless ease of Lemaire. Screen grab: Lemaire/YouTube
There were attempts at fashion shows. Despite the earlier lockdowns that resulted in the digital version of (many) things, some designers have been busy at work. And they have the output to show. Semblances of a runway presentation were, therefore, tried out. Christophe Lemaire’s was the most obvious. The models—quite many of them—walked across what appeared to be a disused portion of a warehouse. There was no accompanying message from the designer, or explanation of how he came to do what he did, just the clothes. At CMMN SWDN, the married Swedes, Emma Hedlund and Saif Bakir, presented a catwalk flanked, not by an audience, but troughs of dried wheat. With just three models, they were able to show 21 looks. Yohji Yamamoto, too, presented a fashion runway—possibly the world’t shortest. Yet, the dreary show of video footages and slides was nearly 15-minutes long; it did not engage for more than five minutes before boredom set in. It was the monotony of both the choreography and clothes.
If viewers were put to sleep by Mr Yamamoto’s runway, would a fashion follower, then, sit through the Dries Van Noten show where there was nothing to follow, except a model playing an imaginary drum in headache inducing lighting? Or be poised enough to ignore the social-distancing-be-damned vibe of the 10-year retrospective video of Pigalle Paris? Or have the patience to watch a video of what could be a deeply unhappy model (actually) followed by someone wearing a switched-on action cam, such as at Études? Or is this merely a reflection of life during a lockdown?
At a Berluti fitting with Kris Van Ascche (rear). Screen grab: Berluti/Youtube
Berluti’s Kris Van Assche is the only designer who truly allowed us to go behind his inspiration that led to the collaboration with the ceramicist Brian Rochefort. A revealing and compelling documentary that showed a designer and sculptor at work, one doing a fitting, one bringing his art to life, told with clarity and through dialogue that was sincere. Amiri, too, showed designer Mike Amiri, at work, presumably in Los Angeles. The reveal was voiced by industry types, such as buyers from Bergdorf Goodman, Mr. Porter, and the Hong Kong multi-label store Joyce, as if to approve the American-Iranian’s work. Mr Amiri himself also joined the conversation, saying, “When I arrived (in Paris) just a few years ago, it would be easy to assume that a Los Angeles designer would be out of place within the conversation of global luxury.” He also added, as if to self-validate, “However, with each collection and every season, it seems that we are actually perfectly within our place.” Acceptance and inclusion continued to run through this fashion week.
Only one brand truly demonstrated, literally, how their clothes are to be worn. Y/Project’s Glenn Martens showed his Transformers fashion soundlessly, but engagingly. The screen was split into 3 panels. A model appeared on each panel in one look and, with the help of dressers, morphed into another, usually by unbuttoning and re-buttoning or untying and re-tying. It is compelling to watch how the looks/clothes are transfigured—not transmogrified—since on the runway we mostly see the end results. Or how silhouettes can change or details can be revealed when there were none at first. This may be helpful to those who have never been able to figure out how their two-as-one (sometimes three) garments should be worn and to yield what effect.
Y/Project in full demo mode. Screen grab: Y/Project/YouTube
Few designers worked outside the range of excess cleverness or deeply dull. It may be immoderate to expect enlightening, even immersive, but for most brands, the experiences offered were, at best, superficial. The whole Paris Men’s Fashion Week felt like a fringe event, not the real deal. The addition of “exclusive” this and that—interviews mostly—added to its peripheral sub-current. The one advantage of watching an online presentation is the option of moving the forward button on the timeline slider bar. Oftentimes, 30 seconds into a video, it can be decided if we wanted to sit through it. Perhaps it’s too much to expect a designer, however good in story-telling, to also excel in content creation, since we wouldn’t expect a film director to be equally excellent in costume design.
While it is true that fashion shows can’t return to pre-pandemic excesses (yet), we didn’t expect three fashion weeks in a row to be like this. Many seasoned journalists say “a computer screen can’t compare…” True, for the rest of us who have always been watching the shows live-streamed to our flat screens, those previous times were better than what’s currently available. Fashion shows, in the form before COVID-19, now seem poised for a necessary comeback. If that happens, not only would those behind the scenes of a runway presentation get back their jobs, trend-chasers too could reinstate themselves, as well as fashion critics (and, gasp, influencers). And fashion show reviews, too! In the Berluti video, Kris Van Assche said, “I really love fashion shows; I love the emotion. There is this one thing you can’t do in fashion shows which is put pause…” To that, we’ll add: Let them halt not.