Two Of A Kind: Breastplates

Now that the chest rig is so 2018, perhaps its time for something else to protect the torso?

It’s rather curious to us that warm-weather (or cruise) dressing would require additional gear to trap air to the torso, while arms are totally uncovered. Isn’t it true that with the heat (year after year not letting up), many prefer not to layer? So the suddenly popularity of the breastplate is rather curious. Okay, so far it’s just from two labels: first Dior for cruise 2022 and Burberry for spring/summer 2022, but would these armour-like extras be prelude to a wider trend? Sure, these are not really an outer layer. Do you even consider them clothes? Surely not accessories! But since they are worn and would likely remain on the body throughout the duration of their stay (unlike a bag, which are frequently parted with the body), they might be considered garments?

Breastplates, sometimes also known as chestplates have, in fact, been around for a long time. Often associated with battle wear, they can be traced to antiquity, as seen on Greek warriors, such as the Athenian hoplites. As the elite hoplites had to provide their own panoply or full suit of armour, they had theirs custom-made. This included the breastplate—mostly made of leather and bronze. Only wealthy Greeks, therefore, could be a hoplite. Breastplates slowly fell out of fashion until their resurgence in the Middle Ages. By the 14th and 15th centuries, they were basically very much part of the standard battle order, and remained so all through the Napoleonic wars in the 19th century. In Asia, breastplates were worn too. There were the Chinese xiongjia (胸甲) Japanese do, although both were more like a cuirass—it covers the back as well. Closer to our shore, there was the Majapahit Empire’s karambalangan, sometimes reported to be lavishly gold-embossed! Today, the bullet-proof vests that the police use are believed to be directly descended from the breastplate.

Do Dior’s and Burberry’s breastplates have any protective quality? Frankly, we do not know. Dior’s bib-like versions—although shown in Athens—aren’t quite like those worn by the hoplites or even the goddess Athena (often depicted wearing one over her peplos). Their version looks like chestplates Amazons of Themyscira (later known by the more familiar Paradise Island) might wear—more Queen Hippolyta than Princess Diana. The abstractly-shaped and loose version at Burberry appears more like a shrunken apron with a rather shapely hem that recalls the bottom edge of the bodices worn by Italian women of the 16th and 17th Century. Whichever you’re drawn to, wear these equivalent of a face-mask-for-the-torso with something sleeveless underneath. And breathe.

Photos: Dior and Burberry respectively

Dior Goes Sporty

At the cruise show, Dior shows pieces that you could go to gym in. Will you?

Dior packed their 2022 cruise collection and sent it to Athens, Greece to be shown at the Panathenaic Stadium, an ancient site where the first modern-day Olympics took place, in 1896. This show isn’t, of course, the first fashion presentation to take place in a sports arena. Last October, Hedi Slimane showed his spring/summer 2021 collection in Monaco’s Stade Louis II, a track and field stadium that’s also the home of AS Monoca, the national football team. But the Panathenaic has a far more ancient history—it was first built in the late 5th century BC (it was rebuilt many times before), and the present stadium—refurbished in 1890s and opened in time for that first Olympics—that Dior picked for its show only hinted at what it was before. But the touristic monument’s ode to sports is commensurate with Maria Grazia Chiuri’s latest (feminist?) pursuit: “clothes as a way of giving freedom of movement”.

Although, ironically, only men participated in the sports of the precursor to the Olympics in 566 BC till the 3rd century AD, women too were involved. In fact, the Panathenaea, as it was known, was largely a festival that also involved religious worship (to honour the goddess Athena), cultural events (poetic and musical competitions), and the prize-award ceremony, all held in the stadium (originally the greek word stadion, a measure of length said to be roughly 600 feet, or 183 metres). According to the show communique, “the choice of this venue, creating a prodigious bridge between sport and culture, ancient heritage and contemporary youth, is highly symbolic for Maria Grazia Chiuri, notably through its connections to the body and the freedom of movement she cherishes, but also through the motifs that inform the collection and its sportswear spirit…” Operative word: “freedom”, the exemption from the old believe that sports clothes are kept apart from couture.

Sportswear, it should be noted, is not necessary sporting clothes, just as athleisure has very little to do with athletics. Ms Chiuri’s garments for fitness pursuits are really puttering with the idea of looking sporty and not for the specific engagement in rigorous activities of the athletic kind. These in a gym would have a look-at-me side effect that no serious gym goer would desire (they rather have trimness or musculature be appreciated). The print-heavy pieces would appeal to, say, tai-tais who like to amuse themselves and their friends with the believe that they’re fitness fanatics. Healthy is the new wealthy. This is, however, not Undercover’s Gyakusou line. The pieces are, at best, ‘activewear’ for running around, not for raising the heart rate or meeting the 10,000-step health quota. Or, what sports brands call “lifestyle” options. Luxe Lululemon? Ms Chiuri also appears to target her sportswear at hip-hop artistes, who often blur the line between sporting clothes and those worn for performing—looks that make a statement, fashion that serves as status symbol.

Ms Chiuri’s idea of modern is to pair sneakers with nearly everything, even red carpet-ready dresses. Despite the many pairs of trainers worn, there is something overly dressed-up about her sports ensembles (you’d need time to pull everything together), which may reflect the sartorial mood at the Panathenaea, maybe not. In ancient times, the Panathenaic Games comprised athletic and equestrian contests, and contestants required no footwear (at least in the beginning. Athletes who wore sandals—the daily footwear then—were seen as novel, even parochial). Perhaps the most delicious irony of Dior’s layered and gaudy looks at the Panathenaic stadium is that the men who participated in the sports here, back in those early, early years competed in the nude.

Screen shot (top) and photos: Dior

Two (Plus One) Of A Kind: Is The Swan Dress Really A Thing?

It has been twenty years since Björk wore the much-ridiculed swan dress to the 2001 Academy Awards. Now, Dior is offering one too. An anniversary homage?

From left: Björk at the 73rd Academy Awards, Valentino 2014 spring couture, Dior cruise 2020

Did Maria Grazia Chiuri think we have forgotten? Or did she think we remember? Either way, is it time to revisit an old idea? Ms Chiuri is a designer with commercial instincts, so it is hard to fathom the need of a swan gown in the Dior cruise 2022 collection or the fascination with the cygnus. Many of us, of course, totally recall Björk at the 73rd Academy Awards in the cocktail number that looked like a white swan had taken the Icelandic singer as a mate and somehow attached itself to her. She clearly was not attending the ceremony as Odette the swan princess. Thirteen years later, Valentino showed a swan number for their spring 2014 couture collection, which convinced commentators and the fashion media that the house was paying homage to Björk and her unusual choice for the red carpet.

When Dior announced in April that their cruise show would be staged in Greece and will “showcase local artisans”, we knew there would be goddess dresses or interpretations of the peplos, and, sure enough, there are, even when Ms Chiuri said she wanted to avoid clichés. But what we did not expect was the swan dress, already no longer considered fascinating or a dressmaking feat. In fact, repetitive is that white gown, with a tiered floor-length skirt and what seems to be the neck and head (or beak?) of a swan that Valentino showed seven years ago (then, the head was fashioned to hug the back). But now, it seems to resemble more closely the Travis Banton dress Marlene Dietrich wore to a costume party in 1935, as the Spartan queen Leda. It is not immediately clear if there are any dots to connect swans to Greece. Even if there are, the association is as obvious as rainwater in a (swan?) lake.

At the time of Valentino’s couture swan dress, Maria Grazia Chiuri was a designer at the house, together with the present creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli (both were jointly appointed after predecessor Alessandra Facchinetti left in 2008). The Dior cruise swan gown cannot resist the speculation that Ms Chiuri could be stating irrevocably that the waterfowl form was her idea to start with. In 2014, the publicity and accolade had to be shared, but not this time. Now, she enjoys the spotlight as the sole styliste, and is giving herself the opportunity to reclaim past glory. Or, to flow with the achingly trending, is this a Gucci-Balenciaga-style hacking?

When Björk wore her swan dress, designed by London-based, North Macedonian designer Marjan Pejoski, she did not merely appear in the outfit. As she told the media later, “I was very aware when I went to the Awards that it would probably be my first and last time. So I thought my input should really be about fertility, and I thought I’d bring some eggs.” And she sure did—six of them, all ostrich eggs, presumably large enough not to be missed by the paparazzi’s cameras. She even pretended to lay the eggs, there and then on the red carpet. Like Kate Middleton, Björk is not opposed to repeating her clothes. In fact, the swan dress seen at the Academy Awards (she was voted for best Original Song for Dancer in the Dark) made its fourth appearance. It was first featured on the cover of the 2001 album Vespertine, and then it joined the Vespertine Tour, followed by an appearance at the 2000 Cannes Festival, before finally hitting the red carpet outside the Shrine Auditorium in LA. Looking back, Björk was ahead of her time.

Photos: (from left) Wire Image, Indigital Images, Dior

Cruise To Nowhere?

Louis Vuitton is hopeful that people will be travelling and holidaying again. Its Cruise collection is suggesting that dressing up is part of the return to exploring the world for leisure. But are fashion folks thinking of vaccination or vacation?

We can always turn to fashion for hope. In a world fraught with fears that the next COVID virus mutation may be even more dangerous, fashion provides optimism that, in other parts of our life, isn’t so embraceable. Luxury brands call it the selling of fantasies, even dreams. And Louis Vuitton, with a history steep in travel, is offering at least the feeling, if not the assurance, that what we desire can soon be had or that the bad of the present will turn out for the best. As Nicolas Ghesquière told the media, “It’s a very optimistic, joyful collection”. The show notes expanded on that: “…proud, positive looks that advance straight ahead, serenely.” LV, under Mr Ghesquière’s watch, has mostly reflected a favourable view of the world around them—fashion makes the world go round, cross boundaries, cross eras. We don’t recall anything dark or sinister or dwelling in a gloomy place. It has been clothes to be seen in, and in which you’d wish to go somewhere.

But even LV isn’t really travelling, at least not to some far-flung locale typical of its Cruise collections. It is still shown in a monumental place, only now in their own homeland. This season, the show is staged in the relatively-un-known-outside-France attraction Axe Majeur (or Major Axis in English), in Cergy-Pontoise, a languid suburb northwest of Paris. Often described as “an architectural masterpiece”, the Axe Majeur is part outdoor sculpture museum and part urban walkway that may vaguely remind you—in spirit—of Henderson Waves. Designed in 1980 by the late Israeli artist Dani Karavan and the Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill, the Axe Majeur is huge; it is 3.2km long, and boasting a panoramic view of Paris (it is said you can even see La Défense). The show opens with a frame of the obelisk-like columns on one end of the installation and moves through with the models as they walk on a red pedestrian bridge held up by repeated frames, each looking like a minimalist take on the Japanese torii gateway, often found at the entrances of shrine compounds that mark the start of the sacred spaces.

This season is, as in the last, full of this and that—disparate elements that still beautifully come together, as if this has been the arrangement of the cosmos (there’s even an illustration that seems to suggest exploration of outer space). Mr Ghesquière’s LV output is so ideas-driven, they’re not easily absorbed in a moment or by the end of the show. The clothes do not only have the main body, but parts to them. This isn’t the splicing of one garment and adding another to it so that the final whole is matrimony of two—typical of the Japanese; this is a compositional exercise not unlike a pre-schooler playing with shapes—assembling and un-assembling them. And how they come together always provides the surprise and newness, even when the exercise itself has become quite the formula Mr Ghesquière has drawn up for LV. In this way, the seasons seem to flow from one to the next: an ongoing dialogue. Mr Ghesquière has conceived his own aesthetical timelessness.

Many pieces have the requisite It-ness to warrant a space in the already full wardrobes of fans. If LV were to organise another fashion show here, they would one more sell-well collection in their hands. We see attendees (with nowhere else to go) drawn to the waisted dresses with a draw-cord hem, gently pulled to create a slight bubble of a skirt; asymmetric tops with equally skewed placement of print; the band-leader jackets that Michael Jackson would have loved; the square-shouldered blouses, worn tucked into the rear waistband of skirts/pants; and those outers with sleeves that looked like they were moulded from Cathedral ceilings. It appears to us that for a cruise collection, these do not seem to be clothes that those who like to pack light could cheerily bring along—they would take up a lot of space, unless, of course, they’re packed in a Louis Vuitton trunk.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Louis Vuitton