Underwhelming

Perhaps, for once, Kim Jones does not live up to the pre-show hype?

Did we really think Kim Jones was going to astonish us with his debut couture collection for Fendi? Frankly, no. But we were hopeful. People can surprise. Mr Jones, for sure. He is known as a man of immense talent, a voracious reader, with a curious mind, and a deep knowledge of fashion—the craft and the history. It is with this erudition, know-how, and awareness that, we suspect, scored him the enviable position at Fendi. He doesn’t need the job, we feel, but it allowed him one key thing in his career that he never was able to proof: a flair for designing womenswear. Would this be second nature as it has been for him incorporating the sportif at both Louis Vuitton and Dior? No one would have guessed the truth to that when the news broke that he’d be joining Fendi; nor confirm it now. Despite an increasingly large menswear market, it is in the women’s lines that the glamour is found and absorbed, and from which a designer would win acclaim and, in many cases, be remembered. Mr Jones, it appears, need this. As Vanessa Friedman from The New York Times astutely noted, just days before the Fendi couture show, “Kim Jones Wants to Rule the Fashion World.”

Staged in what looks like a co-working-space-turn-fashion-showroom, which also looks like a glass menagerie (actually showcases that, when you look from the top down, are in the shape of Fendi’s interlocking F logo, designed by Mr Jones’s predecessor Karl Lagerfeld), the show featured models unanimously described as “A-listers”. These include (an unrecognisable) Demi Moore, who opens the show, and (an also unrecognisable) Kate Moss and her daughter, as well as Bella Hadid, Cara Delevingne, Adwoa Aboah, Christy Turlington, and, unsurprisingly, Naomi Campbell, who closes the presentation (surprisingly, no Victoria Beckham!). As both Ms Moss and Ms Campbell had walked Mr Jones’s final Louis Vuitton show in 2017, it seems apt that both models would do the same for his first with Fendi. If nothing else, to root for him. It is so thick with congenial friends-for-friends vibe that the media reports that emerge very quickly after the presentation in Paris are headlined with who appeared on the runway, not what.

The what, in fact, is the real point of interest for many who watched the live stream, rather than, say, the strangely unfamiliar eyes of post-Topshop Kate Moss. But Mr Jones’s friends may be the reasons why his debut couture collection looks the way it does: it is conceived for women who lead very specific lives. It almost seems like the clothes are made just for them. All the talk about referencing Virginia Woolf’s Orlando—and the kindred Bloomsbury set, a collective of intellectuals in the early 1900s that included Ms Woolf, and their lives and creative works (that had earlier influenced other designers such as Christopher Bailey and John Galliano)—is just talk to lend cultural heft to the clothes. As the show goes on, it is not certain Mr Jones has an immediately clear aesthetical direction for Fendi couture. Despite the feminine flourishes, sometimes just half of the outfits, it is hard not to say the collection isn’t at least in part informed by his long experience in menswear, and in the last three years, introducing couture elements to Dior for men. The addition of a trio of guys do not convincingly share the thinking of Pierpaolo Piccioli, who also showed men’s recently for Valentino, “couture is for people. I don’t care about gender.”

So what do Mr Jones’s friends need or wish to wear, whether in lockdown or not (many of them are obviously still able to travel)? A sheer cape to blur the lines of a halter-neck gown? A bosom-defining dress with a rosette to punctuate the cleavage? A half-suit-half-dress, with half a fichu? Shoulder-augmenting capes that are more royal than superhero? And, if you’re young enough, panty revealing skirts? In all the polished feminine allure, conscious good taste do not block out boring. Or, have we been let down by expectations not met? Are we simply perceiving Kim Jones’s couture incorrectly? Oh, would we also be wrong if we see, especially in one white gown with encrusted neckline and long fluted sleeves and those bosom-dusting earrings, Andrew Gn?

Screen grab (top) and photos: Fendi

Casual Is The New Couture Black

At Valentino, Pierpaolo Piccioli stepped away from red carpet, state dinner, or charity gala dressing. And it still dazzles

There are those who can accept the winds of change. They stand in the flutter—or blast—and enjoy the caresses of shifts and reversals (of time) around their bodies. Pierpaolo Piccioli is one of them. Not only does he embrace the currents flowing his way, he rides on them and soar. His latest couture for Valentino takes a break from the stupendous special occasion dressing that makes even grown men cry. They take into consideration, serenely, the unsettling time that is today. Called Code Temporal, the collection seems to address the question of what having the means to dress up really means at the present. And he does not need to suggest that it takes a village. Or a village wedding to give couture the reason to exist, to extol its time-honoured traditions. Just a stately home—the Palazzo Colonna in Rome, exemplar of the Roman Baroque, where an actual family, the Colonnas, still live (although part of the home is also a museum open to the public). It is in the ancient Great Hall of the Colonna Gallery, inaugurated in 1700, where Mr Piccioli sets the contrasting to his couture that, in comparison with his past output, is minimalist, the descriptor loathed by couture purists.

Haute couture has been in a state of protracted crossroads for as long as we can remember, and here we are again, considering not its survival or relevance, but how excessive or not it should be. There are couturiers who only want to whisk up volumes and those who can only design if they are in knee-deep vats of sequins and beads, even those based all the way in Beijing. The couture atelier was once known as a “laboratory” of ideas. Increasingly, they are more workshops of excess. With facilities that can output anything to indulge the couturier’s wildest fantasies, the clothes have been largely the basis for entertainment than the expression of a singular vision. Pierpaolo Piccioli shows that he is able to straddle both poles. And when the frippery of a former normal is shed, he shows himself to be a virtuoso of garments of technical finesse and beautiful proportions, of the tailleur and the flou, all the while not diminishing the specialness that is couture.

As if designed for (working from?) home that equals a chateau and the like, the clothes are pared down to respond to the needs of women in a domestic setting that might turn into a social gathering for a small intimate group, with not even a moment’s notice. Or for visiting the neighbour in the next palazzo down the road. Sure, the sensuous knit dresses can be worn to supervise the readying of the spring garden, but for most of the pieces, they require wanting to look this good when there is possibly no immediate audience. Dresses are sleek and not constricted; skirts—a couple with a train—swish or, with the slimmer pieces, lightly flap; cotton poplin shirts have the crispness of the ones you’re already used to, but look far dressier; supple coats, with their comfortable looseness, sheath like petals, while shorter, wrap-like tops swaddle like blankets. There is a noticeable lack of surface embellishment (save some embroideries and sequins), until the appearance of a pink open-work “bijoux” top (worn with bermuda shorts!), and you hope nightclubs will be back in business soon. Simplicity is no indication of lack of surprise: one sleeveless belted dress has a rear that looks like an unfastened gilet. Many outers are slipped off the shoulders at the end of the runway to reveal either simple separates inside or, in the case of one, a jaw-dropping top-and-pants-combination with ruffles and full sequins. Even a slip dress can have a double-boiler effect: the inner contained within an outer—one that threatens to slip completely off.

Valentino, to some, might not be Valentino if not for the ultra-feminine and, for a lack of a better word, the frothy. But there’s something to be said of designs so controlled in their execution, and colours and pairings so spirit-lifting: they convey real and rare artistry. Clothes of the highest calibre, conceived and made in rarified spaces that few find fathomable, can be this imaginable in a wardrobe, and can afford this palpability of elegance, deserve their place on actual bodies, not a collector’s store room or a museum’s archival facility. Valentino and Pierpaolo Piccioli should be accorded the honour.

Photos: Valentino

Dior’s Tale Of Lesbian Awakening

Another side of Dior, even if only in a tarot-based fantasy?

Are we taking everything too literally when we say that this is a tale of same-sex discovery? Or are we narrowing our thinking, the result of staying too much at home? There is the bath scene. What was that all about? What is it doing in a fashion film? Or, perhaps some might say, why shouldn’t it appear in a fashion film? But isn’t fashion about putting on clothes, rather than taking them off? And what fashion can be discerned when making out in a bath tub? Where the two characters, male (er, masculine should be the better word) and female, played by the same actress, the Italian-French Agnes Claisse (most recently 2017’s Blue Kids) really, in the end, just a union of the ying and the yang, the opposites that exist in us all? Is it possible that loving both our masculine or feminine side is, in fact, just the narcissism we have always denied? Or, is this the love that dares not speak its name—forbidden colours, to quote Yukio Mishima? If the non-utterance and forbiddance is so not now, isn’t it because the film seems to depict medieval times? Don’t you hate it when films, long or short, leave you with more questions than answers?

Fashion is, of course, about fantasy, the faraway, the stuff that exist in dreams until some designer takes it out of there. In hard times, fantasy and dreams are good, some seem to think. While many designers have reacted to the current still-pandemic-stricken situation by reflecting what the mood among fashion adopters is, Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri prefers to take the contrary position. Her latest outing takes us to an imaginary Le Château du Tarot (actually a Tuscan residence) in a time that is believed to be when the tarot cards were invented and used the way we know them now. Divination is not alien in the history of the house, as, reportedly, Monsieur Dior himself had often resorted to the reading of tarot cards to help him move forward in hard times. This superstition and the illustrations found on those cards, in particular, the ancient ones, are the basis of the visual positioning of Dior’s spring/summer 2021 haute couture collection.

For now, Ms Chiuri has retired her political/social/feminist statements. The replacement is a moody dreamscape/fantasia that is alive with assorted characters found on tarot cards: the women and feminine representations, such as the High Priestess, Temperance, Justice, and, inevitably(?), Death, appearing in the film by Italian director Matteo Garrone, who had also directed last season’s Dior couture presentation, set among nymphs and fairies in the woods. The dreaminess and soft focus are, therefore, visually recurrent to better recreate a magical realm and, as Dior states, “tarot cards are among the keys to accessing” it. The storyline, as you watch the film, is not immediately clear. It takes place among the many rooms of the said château. The protagonist arrives, she goes in, and is led through multiple rooms by different inhabitants (or are they, like her, visitors too?), one of them laughing dementedly (or eerily?). She sees a masculine character and is lured into seeking him-her. She is given directions by the splendidly-attired that she meets. A few have head-dresses to equal Maleficent’s. Apart from playing ushers, what were they really doing? The climax is the bath, where she who seeks finds he-she who lures. There was the disrobing and then the inevitable kiss. Two become one, to paraphrase The Spice Girls. The masculine absorbs the feminine, and the change of hair colour confirms the union.

The clothes—it’s always about the clothes—hint at her years with her former employer, Valentino, where she co-designed the collections with Pierpaolo Piccioli, whose “reign in the House of Valentino,” Frances McDormand wrote in Time, “has been a lesson in grace.” Ms Chiuri has brought a vestige of that grace to Dior couture, specifically the decorum linked to medieval times, which both designers explored when there were colleagues. There is a palpable modesty to it all, as if to negate the skin bearing or hinting that she has introduced to the RTW. Or are all that fabrics necessary to show off the skills of the atelier? The luscious gowns, without doubt, represent the epitome of dressmaking done mostly by hand. The recherché classicality deliberately illustrates the exquisiteness of couture, in case you didn’t know. It is difficult to position custom-made collections these days. Does a house celebrate craft or design? Can both coexist? Despite the dreamy and fanciful filmic musing, Dior has not really answered the question.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Dior

Through Snow And Ice

Performance wear right where it is needed

White Mountaineering has largely been, since its inception in 2006, an outdoor-wear sort of brand, but not in a hardcore sense, although, to be fair, designer Yosuke Aizawa has imbued much of his output with what adventure-seeking fashion types might wish to wear, whether hiking on a verdant hillside or a snowy slope, and Helly Hansen—or the like—isn’t calling (or, Gucci X The North Face). For the brand’s autumn/winter video presentation, Mr Aizawa availed a compelling and beautifully-edited video, shot in Hoshino Resorts (including their famed Ice Village) on Mount Tomamu, which sits in the heart of Hokkaido, and modelled by those who appear to be professional snowboarders and snowmobile racers. It is a sleek amalgam of scenes reminiscent of the 2014 documentary The Little Things, interspersed with fashion snaps, featuring those who might actually wear these clothes in a setting that would really require them. Few fashion films unite stunning action photography and runway against a rugged, natural backdrop so seamlessly. One just wishes to rush out to buy a parka and head for the (even if white-out) hills!

The thing is, even with its fashion-forward designs, White Mountaineering is also known for their high-performance wear. Mr Aizawa himself is a recognised and ardent fan of the great outdoors. The name of his label is proof of his mountain-sports leaning, as well as his desire to blend fashionable clothing with the usability of high-altitude gear. Or, using details found in, say, ski wear in city clothing (for serious mountaineering gear, there is the collaboration with French brand Millet Mountain). Fans appreciate the Junya Watanabe alum’s use of unexpected textile pairings as well as touches, such as hardware to create a decidedly forward style (carabiners, a/w 2018!) that straddles rather than distinguishes regions and climates that may be poles apart. Although this autumn/winter collection is shot in sub-zero conditions, the clothes don’t just look like they belong up there, between the powdery slopes and the log cabins; they are as suitable for exploring the towns at the foot of the mountains.

It is hard, in fact, to pin the pieces down to mere winter-sports wear. We are drawn to, for example, a plaid wool shirt-jacket with practical patch-pockets of different fabrics (but in the same tone), three in a row on each side, worn with trousers with a lighter shade of similar plaid, an ensemble that would not be out of place in Tokyo’s fashion-centric areas, such as Marunouchi or Daikanyama, where the White Mountaineering flagship is situated. Or any of those utility jackets, with the yoke that appears to be extended forward in the front (or is that to give the effect of a trompe l’oeil vest?), so effortlessly smarter than, say, a chore coat. In fact, with the cold-season collections, many pieces of Mr Aizawa’s outerwear, year after year, are as collectible as the other favourite labels for-extreme-weather gear, such as compatriot Eiichiro Homma’s Nanamica.

Japanese designers have, for years, been adept at adapting classic American-style outdoor wear to their own street-tinged (but not necessarily streetwear) looks, just as how they have been able to similarly rejuvenate denim jeans even earlier. They have also the particular skill in striking a balance between the performance ability expected of outdoors clothing and the stylish aspects so needed in the selling of fashionable garments. And if certain technical aspects require professional supervision, they won’t hesitate to collaborate. White Mountaineering, apart from working with Millet Mountain, has also paired with the Italian brand Colmar A.G.E. this autumn/winter season. No matter who Mr Aizawa teams up with, or whether he keeps his brand on the slope or down below, White Mountaineering continues to provide, within the shape of recognisable garments, elements not usually found in menswear destined for mundane city life. And therein lies the mountain-high some of us often happily derive.

Screen grabs (top) and photos: White Mountaineering

The Sum Of Its Fascinating Parts

Kolor’s Junichi Abe, the master of category-defying styles, offers a master class in mixing and patching things up

At Kolor, it was a rare IRL presentation for the still mostly digital autumn/winter 2021 Paris season. There is a runway, set in what looks like an outdoor space that, in the darkness, bears some resemblance to the Midtown Garden of Tokyo Midtown during their year-end festive light-up. But, in fact, the show is staged in Happo-En Garden in the affluent residential neighbourhood of Shirokanedai, Minato. There are attendees too, appropriately socially distanced, as can be made out. The models, both men and women, walked the runway in the manner models walked when they are watched: aloof and indifferently, or impossibly cool. It helps that the clothes are able to augment the in-person attitude. And, how they are worn—often with indefinable mash-ups that never leave the effect we still know as elegance. After last season’s on-set, topsy-turvy headache inducer, the runway show allows, once again, Kolor’s riveting patchworks within recognisable wholes to be appreciated without the interference of distracting camera work.

Fans of Kolor and its low-key designer Junichi Abe look out for the season’s “accent” pieces, usually outerwear for autumn/winter. And, they won’t be disappointed. Wearing one of these delightful pieces would continue to invite the inane question from the clueless, “did you they have not have enough fabric to finish the other side?” Case in point: A slouchy blazer looks perfectly normal on the left side, but to its right, there is no corresponding other half of the notched lapel. Instead, you get the button side of a strip of cardigan! Or another: A regular crew-neck sweater that is not so regular when you spot the sleeve of a Harrington jacket on the other arm, and its tab collar on half the neck. We could go on, but detailed description takes the fun out of looking at the clothes and be captivated. Mr Abe not only pulls together disparate elements to complete a garment, he marries genres too. Athletic wear, in particular, is spectacular incorporated into more traditional menswear staples. A vintage-y track top, for example, could magically be worked into a classic bombardier jacket.

Pairing and patching have always been Mr Abe’s particular forte. Through the years since Kolor’s founding in 2004, he has been able to perfect the mixes, which, despite the increasing complexity, never felt contrived. This season, as stated in the show notes, Mr Abe tries to forge, in the light of the world’s present troubles, “a new style of simplicity where complexity also coexists within.” This is not immediately obvious if you allow the complexity that evidently exists to carry you away. Perhaps simplicity comes in the final product, when all the different parts have settled in their respective places to yield their intended effects (such as when elasticised in-seams in this season’s pants settle with regular out-seams). The womenswear, shown alongside the men’s, appears to be more composited—with some pieces, you can’t be sure which is part of the garment, which is accessory. Perhaps it is in bafflement that interest is sustained.

Reaction to Kolor, in fact, borders on the fanatical. It is considered one of the most successful labels in Tokyo, heightened by their collaborations with sports brands such as Adidas and Puma. Like Comme des Garçons, Kolor’s key pieces from past seasons fetch a high price with sellers of the pre-loved. As Junichi Abe continues his deep, deconstructive pulling apart and then bringing together of classic styles and opposing categories of clothing, and applying textures and colours (in order for its name to retain its meaning?) to the results in unexpected ways, there will always be a strong following of his style of simplicity that happily allows complexity to coexist.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Kolor

Priming The Pomp

Dior salutes “the masculine extravagance of ceremonial garb”, as the show notes state. Are you ready for band leader schtick?

For the latest Dior collection, Kim Jones collaborates with yet another artist—Scot-in-Trinidad figurative painter Peter Doig, contemporary of the milliner Stephen Jones (they where schoolmates at Central Saint Martins). The Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones’s impression of Mr Doig: “Amid all the nonsense, impostors, rhetorical bullshit and sheer trash that pass for art in the 21st century, Doig is a jewel of genuine imagination, sincere work and humble creativity.” In the first part of Mr Jones’s comment, he could have referred to fashion as well, but we are not sure if Kim Jones (no relation to the critic) is offering anything in his work for Dior that can be characterised as “humble creativity”. If anything at all, the Dior designer has infused the brand with considerable measure of grandiloquence, which is really how some luxury brands are moving forwards theses days, as counterpoint to the the mundane and the necessarily practical that have come to dominate the world, much of it in various guises of lockdown and reduced social interaction. Dior projects that this will all be over by Q3, and we’re all ready to rally around the bandstand and watch society and everything around us bounce rhythmically back.

According to Dior, the collection is a nod to “the ceremony of the everyday”. That is, of course, diametrically different to what we’re used to these days since formal activities conducted in public with some measure of solemnity—or importance—are far and between, or even discouraged. Many pieces in the collection allude to uniforms of brigades ready for a parade. Or, intended for evening dress. Mess dress redux? Our NS men would recognise them as No. 1 dress, although the silhouettes are a lot more relaxed, and the details more akin to the less regimental versions of Calvary uniforms, be they reiterations of the shell jacket or the frock coat. The details—without lapels in some instance (stand collar instead), contrast piping, and brass(?) stud buttons—have the air of the ceremonial, but where do they stand if the occasion were to be decidedly less, say, inaugural, to cite one recent event that’s still fresh in our minds?

These are nothing like those military uniforms that rock stars of the past used to wear—clearly ceremonial, such as the red Grenadier drummer’s jacket that Mick Jagger wore in the ’60s or the authentic hussar’s uniform (believed to date back to 1850s) that former soldier Jimi Hendrix wore, or those braids-aplenty sets adopted by the Beatles during the Sgt. Peppers era. These are, of course, more modern, more cool, as Mr Jones designs are usually tagged. And to augment these two crucial elements, he has added extended/exposed pocket bags to the front of the jackets and appliqued ribbons and stars emerging from the yoke, and tweaked the traditional stripes down the outside leg seams of military trousers—also known to the Germans who popularised them as lampasse—by leaving them stitched up to the knee or up to the calf and flapping like the ends of notched or pointed ribbons respectively.

Yet, theses could be the look of teenagers incorporating drum major uniforms into their anti-establishment stance. Or, as we see them, the mimicking a bell hop’s at-work look. Seeing the clothes this way may obliterate their haute couture bearing (Dior’s petit mains are, again, involved in some of the pieces), but it is precisely this perception that, to us, takes the haute out of the equation. To be sure, these Dior ceremonial coats are, according to Mr Jones, inspired by what artists in France wear during the ceremony when they’re inducted into the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. But how many of us enjoy occasions such as those these inductees partake? Or, the chance to just play dressed-up in looks reminiscent of military folk of yore?

And there is the art collaboration; art being the incorporation in luxury ready-to-wear now that attempts to elevate the ho-hum to high art. Mere graphic design isn’t enough (although Issey Miyake Studio has done wondrous work with the estate of Ikko Tanaka, with such well-received output that there’s an Ikko Tanaka Issey Miyake sub-brand). Art has a long history with haute couture (at present, we’re thinking of Yves Saint Laurent and George Braque). Mr Jones’s previous pairing with Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo, Portrait of an Artist, yielded a “celebration of identity, of power of creativity”, visibly, not necessarily or convincingly, so. This time, with Peter Doig, the application of the artist’s distinctive brush strokes is more subtle, less plonked-on, less museum shop, and, in some outerwear, the monochrome washes, more textile than canvas, distinguishing themselves as wearable rather than exhibitable. It is not yet clear how successful such collaborations are. Artists, for most, do not paint with the aim of being assimilated into fashion design, which, in the end, is destined for the body, not the easel.

Photos: Dior

Post-BLM Fashion?

When black style dominates, are we talking about a fashion moment or a cultural shift?

No matter how delicately we put this, we will be misconstrued. This is not the Louis Vuitton we know or remember. There is no good or bad, no better or worse. It is different and we have to acknowledge it. Under the stewardship of Virgil Abloh, LV is increasingly reflecting what he told British Vogue last year, “My power is to show Black talent, Black people, and Black people inside of my output.” And that power is expressed in full force this season: blackness has not been so obvious in an LV collection, so mightily expressed, so explicitly articulated, so evocatively styled, leaving no doubt that a black American creative director now helms the 167-year-old label. This is, perhaps, response to a burgeoning black clientele, or the ever-more surefooted stride of black creatives. Is LV, however, ready for such a massive aesthetical shift?

It is really hard to say. When Mr Abloh was handed the creative reigns of the house, surely it was foreseeable that he would create a strong identity that deviates not from his own. Mr Abloh has shown talent in deeply referencing from a whole lot of sources, but the exercises always come through from a very specific lens: black experience. This is most evident in the current show or, more specifically, film, shot by the transgender, half-Chinese-half-Swedish, American artist-and-indie-filmmaker Wu Tsang (such as the 2012 documentary Wilderness or 2019’s One Emerging from a Point of View, shown at the Singapore Biennale 2019). At 13 minutes long, this livestream event is an opus, given the general brevity of most phygital presentations now. From its opening snow-covered mountain wilderness to the interior of what looks like a subterranean space that’s evocative of a posh subway station (actually Tennis Club de Paris), with commuters, wanderers, voyeurs, and sleepers—all men—sharing the interior, the film seems to be conceived to appeal to those with a fondness for the pretentious or to video-savvy TikTok stars, such as Noah Beck, he with a bankable legion of 24 million followers, and now an LV-aligned KOL.

Titled Ebonics (the English spoken by black Americans, and considered to be a language in its own right), the collection is probably Mr Abloh’s most ambitious, covering men in suits, men in skirts, men in bulky sweaters, men in (fake?) fur, men in padded-shouldered shirts, men in hoodies, men in motocross gear, men in Calvary officer uniform, men in work wear, men in gym wear, men strapped with architectural models, men with Carrie-Bradshaw-worthy rosettes, men with Gaddafi drapes. In all, a relatively large collection of 70 looks (Prada showed only 42, and they have two designers working on the collection), which in sum, is a bit (Berry Gordy’s) Motown, a bit off-the-courts NBA, a bit Kanye West and co, a bit RuPaul when not in drag, a bit Laurie Cunningham, a bit Iceberg Slim, a bit Harlem-flashy, a bit Congo dandies, a bit Wakanda royalty; really a whole lot to unpack, and you may not want to.

As with most of Mr Abloh’s designs (or the lack of it, some might say), styling is key to setting the looks. A regular suit jacket, for example, is mis-buttoned to yield an asymmetric effect. Or, topcoats given extra-long tails so that they drag on the floor, like the trains of gowns (to excite Billy Porter?). Aplenty are knife-pleated skirts, but we’ve seen them elsewhere before—even when worn over pants (not that this will make the skirts more masculine). As well as the show-off pieces: urban armours, composed of buildings that could have been made with Metcalfe card construction kits (to better remind us Mr Abloh is a trained architect?) Despite the myriad looks, the black aesthetic is unmistakable. Could this be artistic taste that is palpably and necessarily stronger, following the Black Lives Matter movement? As Mr Abloh told the media, “Within my practice, I contribute to a Black canon of culture and art and its preservation. This is why, to preserve my own output, I record it at length.” He sure did—13 tedious minutes long.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Louis Vuitton

When Art Slips In

Undercover’s Jun Takahashi combines art and fashion so effortlessly

Fashion may not be art (we’re not initiating a debate), but art can sure work its way into fashion. Jun Takahashi has always been a designer with a strong graphic sense, which explains why Undercover T-shirts, with their offbeat illustrations, are massively popular at both the Madstores anywhere and the brands flagship in Aoyama, Tokyo. And, the collaboration with Valentino two fall seasons ago, seducing fans of both labels with a curious and compelling mix of flying saucers, alphabets, Beethoven, and Edgar Alan Poe in thoughtful collages that are really more arty than it is, as some KOLs thought, street. The subversive bent that Mr Takahashi is known for was ever present too.

But there has never really been art, as defined by the art world, until now. For his latest collection, Mr Takahashi collaborates with the Swedish painter, Markus Åkesson, known for his photorealistic portraits of persons completely wrapped, up to the head, in floral fabrics that would give Richard Quinn an orgiastic thrill. The anonymity of the subjects and the fashion-worthy cloths for both model and background makes for compositions that are odd and beautiful, or oddly beautiful, which may also describe Undercover’s unconventional application of graphics in clothes that are, well, oftentimes conventional. This is one of the most synergistic collaborations between artist and designer, something not always evident with those who have previously tried.

Art on clothes—that are often described as streetwear—in the hands of Mr Takahashi is beguiling. Most of the garments are Undercover on familiar territory: pullovers, hoodies, blousons, parkas, and such. But the application of the art, composed without loss of the visual impact of the original, elevates the pieces. as elevation is meant to transmit. The familiar becomes unfamiliar, the everyday becomes occasion-worthy. While not many might wear a poster-size delineation of an unknown on their front or back, there would be those who has no qualms in striking portraiture as part of their sartorial expression. Mr Takahashi, like many of his compatriots, has also a weakness for workwear, for utilitarian details, and this season he does not disappoint. One standout detail: a bag attached to outerwear, which we suspect is used to also house the garment itself when folded for compact transportability.

Undercover is one of the most popular menswear labels in Japan. One of the reasons why they’re so esteemed and followed is the immediacy of everyday usability in their products, without sacrificing design. And all the while not losing the punk sensibility that still filters through from his early days as band member of The Tokyo Sex Pistols. Jun Takahashi may not consciously position himself as a streetwear designer (his underrated womenswear is proof), but fans won’t think otherwise. Accessibility has always been his strength. Even when there is the application of art, as is the case this season, the pieces do not distance themselves as objects so rarefied that they’re untouchable.

Photos: Undercover

One Colour Each

Tone-on-tone is the chromatic choice among the women attending yesterday’s US presidential inauguration

Topcoat day: (from left) Jil Biden, Kamala Harris, Michelle Obamam, and Jennifer Lopez. Photos: Getty Images

It looks like the women attending the inauguration of the 46th US president Joe Biden received the memo: go in a single colour. And wear a topcoat. That’s certainly the case with the office-holders and high-profile women who attended the Washington DC event. Could they have also been inspired by one of the key trends at the recently concluded Milan Men’s Fashion Week—monotone? Or, is a single colour a lot easier to deal with than coordinating with different colours and prints? National-level political events are probably not the time to take a gamble with fashion. Staying safe in a single colour not considered challenging (or worse, controversial) is the best strategy. Few women have the sartorial guts of Lady gaga, who sang the national anthem in a custom-designed Schiaparelli (by Texan Daniel Roseberry, for those nationalistic fashion watchers!) of fitted, navy, wool, lapel-less jacket and froth of red silk-faille skirt. Oh, there was also that distracting gold dove.

Peace may have been on Lady Gaga’s mind, but unity seemed to be on the other women’s. A single colour is perhaps an unambiguous message about how good it looks to be united. As the president himself said, “without unity, there’s no peace.” And to show unanimous support for America (or to express national pride?), they wore American designers, all largely unknown, at least outside the US. Jill Biden wore Makarian, the four-year-old New York label by Alexandra O’Neill; Kamala Harris wore Christopher John Rogers, the New York-based black designer-du-jour, who founded his eponymous label in 2016; Michele Obama wore Sergio Hudson, another black designer, whose seven-year-old label had a kick start at Bravo channel’s Styled to Rock, the reality fashion TV, executive-produced by Rihanna. Well, except for Jennifer Lopez, who sang in, surprisingly, total Chanel.

Outgoing FLOTUS Melania Trump, too, was in a single colour. But it surprised no one that the one-term Slovenia-born first lady emerged from the White House for the final time in not a shred of designed- or made-in-America. She was in telling, mourning black—the separates comprised a Chanel jacket and a Dolce & Gabbana dress. It was a silhouette that was similar to the Ralph Lauren suit that she wore to her husband’s inauguration four years ago. But now that she no longer needed to show that she supported American labels (not that she really did; the relationship was mutual), it was back to her usual enthusiastic nod for her favourite European brands. Towards the end, as with everything Trump, disconnected she happily stood.

Raf Prada!

Has Miuccia Prada become more hands off sooner than we think? Or is Raf Simons merely asserting himself? Would this turn out be the best menswear collection of the Milan season?

If you love Prada and you love Raf Simons, you would love this collection. If you love Raf Simons more, this would totally grab you by the collar. The world was deeply curious when Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons as co-designers was announced in February 2020: How would the “balance of power” work out? These two designers do have distinct voices. Will they harmonise? The answer came in the form of the spring/summer 2021 women’s collection shown last September. It was as much Prada as it was Raf Simons—the best of both worlds, some say. But, with the pair’s first men’s collection for autumn/winter 2021, Mr Simons seems to hold sway. It was all rather familiar. Those of us who have been following the work of Mr Simons will recognise many of his touches. But more importantly, it’s how everything comes together, including Prada’s unmissable inverted triangle (now more symbolic that the straight-on enamelled logo)—there’s no mistaking Mr Simons has a strong hand in all of it.

Called Possible Feelings, the possibilities can indeed be felt. This is not a collection (or the thinking behind it) circumscribed by the four walls of your home because you are WTF. It isn’t a deliberate and conscious reaction against what is considered far from normal, which, as we know, is being redefined. Possible Feelings are what you, the individual, feel, and people do not feel alike. This open-to-interpretation approach is also reflected in the Rem Koolhaas/Amo-designed set. Although presented as a ‘show’, it isn’t on a regular runway, as the entire Milan Fashion Week is an online affair. We see the models walk into rooms, sans audience. Prada calls them a “non-space”. But they are physical confines, even if empty. Each with surfaces differently coloured and textured. Could they be separate realms? How do we possibly feel? Raf! The faux fur walls! Did they not appear in Mr Simons’s website History of my World?

It all starts with a sort of base garment: a knitted, patterned body stocking of sort, be it a top, a legging (the media calls it “long johns”), or both. Against the hard and grinding sounds of Plastikman’s soundtrack, the models appear in silhouettes that are generally lean. Raf! (We’re not getting into the argument of who did skinny first although we know.) The patterns recall Prada’s notorious but welcome “ugly” geometric shapes, in the colours of ’60s wallpaper. But these were not restricted to the close-to-the-body wear; they are in the form of cardigans (or all-knit cardi-suits!), coats, and, in what appears to be the lining of outers. Sometimes underneath all these is a turtleneck pullover. Raf! The slightly oversized sweaters, bombers, coats (those lapel-less pea coats!), shaped longer than the standard issue, contrast appealing with the lean separates worn underneath. Raf!

If you look at the pieces individually, you can’t really describe them as out there. Even with the addition of a co-designer, Prada keeps to the merchandising approach characteristic of the brand. Make a great coat, for example, with perfect proportions, of a familiarity that even non-fashion guys can accept, only make it in a blistering yellow or the softest of pink so that fashion folks cannot resist. Also Raf! There seems to be a push for textures, and the pairing with the smooth. A Prada collection is incomplete without nylon, and here, it goes with boldly patterned jacquard knits. There are also the matte turtle-necks and just-as-shine-free slim pants teamed with slouchy bombers with a soft sheen—almost lurid (the purple in particular). Prada calls these “sensory stimulation”. Given how our surroundings have been last year and would be the year ahead, such a stimulus is very much welcomed.

But it isn’t just the individual pieces that come together to show a Prada that’s delightfully not quite the same as it was before. The styling, too, speaks of the newer half of the designing duo. The models are thinner than ever (“all new models,” as The New York Times reported Mr Simons saying in a dialogue with Ms Prada). There’s the bowl cut of the hair—a reference to the Mods, although sartorially, the total is not quite the ’60s and there is no rebellion against the austerity of a previous generation. Raf! Or, could this be Prada’s style-aware otaku tribe, as opposed to the dandies seen elsewhere, such as at Fendi? Some of the guys walk awkwardly, some dance. They’re in their own world, kitted in their own vision of what is fashion in a world when fashion should not matter, at least not to the extent it deserves something as inane as Zoom meeting wear.

“Fashion became pop,” Mr Simons said in that dialogue, “and the winners now are the ones that scream hardest, not the ones that speak most intelligently.” Was that a prediction that having a vestige of intelligence in speaking, or communicating a design language or aesthetic, as is (always) evident in Prada, may result in not winning? Even when it was reported that Prada has been doing well, especially in Asia? It is unthinkable of a debut Raf Simons collection that does not emerge from speaking intelligently. Although Prada’s newest collection does not scream, it is audible in its tactile sumptuousness, pattern-strong pep, and off-beat pairings. How Raf.

Screengrab (top) and photos: Prada

And The Luxe Goes On

Despite what’s going on around us right now, Silvia Fendi does not believe in an abstemious life. Her latest collection for autumn/winter 2021 continues to pile on the luxe and is not short of ideas, proving that her strength is in menswear

“Hello,” goes the matronly voice above the not-yet-loud electronic beat, “it’s Silvia calling. I just wanted to tell you about humanity, colour… about what is normal today, about light… and darkness…” That’s how the Fendi show started. These days, the creative heads behind luxury houses want to speak to you directly. Silvia Venturini Fendi does so through the soundtrack by Not Waving, the London-based Italian “musical artist” Alessio Natalizia, for the live-streamed men’s show. She does not sing. Instead, she speaks as if through a phone, or Zoom without the video turned on. It is reminiscent of Jean Paul Gaultier’s 1989 dance single How To Do That, in that he too didn’t sing, but Mr Gaultier sounded like he was having fun, rather than encourage a discourse on what matters now. Ms Fendi’s wanting to tell you about “what is normal today” could be prelude to what her Fendi men’s might look like.

But only, it isn’t really. This is not some elevated athleisure or loungewear 2.0 frippery; this is whatever you wish to call it, with extra doses of the deluxe. Not quite the fashion of WTF, unless you live in a country estate in, say, Buckinghamshire, England, the look that reflects a still-precarious time. We can’t place exactly where these clothes might be worn to or where they might feel right, but we are drawn to them, if only because they look like we might be able to snuggle in them or turn one of the quilted coats into pillow or blanket. These are not exactly clothes for a lockdown (or for retiring, socially); they look like they would want to be worn somewhere. And clothes have such appeal if they are destined to be seen outside, in the world, no matter how awful or lamentable it is. What’s normal for Ms Fendi, as it turns out, is not quite so.

Such as shorts in winter. Although quilted, they might be insufficient for, say, Sapporo. Or too much for Hong Kong, where winters rarely warrant quilted garments. So they will be a fashion item, distanced from the practical obsessions of a now-different world. The head-to-toe knits too (we like the overalls with the turtleneck sweater), which could be for a log cabin apres ski (who really wears sweater-knit slacks outdoors?). Or, for that matter, the quilted dressing gowns? The dandy vibe is not lost, although it’d be eye-opening if there are, at this time, or nine months later, men who’d want to express their predilection for clued-in elegance by adopting such symbols of deep refinement and eccentric aristocracy. But it is the unlikely, by way of the practicable or visual, that we find this collection compelling.

The first look sums it all up. Two quilted coats together is unusual enough, but it is the cable-knit sweater worn underneath that draws our interest: it has a collar (if you can call it that), seemingly made from two joined sleeves. The styling allows these two ends to just hang down the chest, but we suspect that, for the more fashion forward, they could be tied into a pussy bow! Ms Fendi, as head of menswear, kidswear, and accessories, has, in these past years, made Fendi men a considerable force. Her women’s line, after Karl Lagerfeld’s death, banked too much on Roma retro, and did not quite excite, which may explain Kim Jones’s taking over in the upcoming season. Whether extreme or conspicuous luxe for menswear shall stake its place in a pandemic-ravaged world remains to be seen, but Silvia Fendi has positioned the now-LVMH-owned brand well, and with wit to boot.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Fendi