Not Your Garden Variety?

Is Dior producing something blooming fine or are there just more gimmicks than usual?

Down the garden path, Dior leaves last season’s city sidewalk. The trail could be a winding one. The back story to Kim Jones’s Dior spring/summer 2023 is just as sinuous. In a nutshell, the Bloomsbury set (again) and gardens (but no cacti). The long trek, a self-absorbed fascination—hence connection—between Christian Dior and Duncan Grant, the British painter who was, seemingly, partial to male nudes, and was a costume designer, too. Part of the Bloomsbury group (which included Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster) that Mr Jones is enamoured with, Mr Grant operated, since 1916, out of Charleston, a farmhouse in Sussex, south of England, not far from where the Dior designer keeps a country home and garden. But more significantly, at least to Mr Jones, is that both Mr Grant and Monsieur Dior shared the same day of birth, 21 January.

Alright, we are meandering. The point is the garden: two, in fact: that of Charleston and Mr Dior’s childhood home Les Rhumbs, in Granville, Normandy, Northwest France. In case we can’t imagine the blooms-filled, bucolic setting(s), a fake, prettified one is created for the presentation, including a 3-D backdrop of Les Rhumbs (and a photo wall of the English Channel behind it). In his (translated) autobiography Dior by Dior, the creator of The New Look wrote: “Our house at Granville, like all Anglo-Norman buildings at the end of last century, was perfectly hideous. All the same I look back on it with tenderness as well as amazement. In a certain sense, my whole way of life was influenced by its architecture and environment.”

Mr Jones looks back with tenderness and amazement, too. But in casting his mind to the past, he endears himself to Duncan Grant, a man thought to be a fashion, social, and sexual rule-breaker of his time (this was in the early 1900s), as much as gardens of yore. But, as one reviewer in the Kirkus Review of art historian Frances Spalding’s Duncan Grant: A Biography opined, the “minor English painter and decorative artist… his mild artistic abilities will always be overshadowed by whom he knew and whom he slept with”. They also held the believe that “unquestionably, Grant was a decent copyist and a reasonable colorist with a good sense of line and form, but his style tended to ebb and flow with whatever was in vogue at the time, so that it is hard to pin down anything in his work as definitively ‘Duncan Grant’”. Sometimes, that thought comes to us, too: What is definitively Kim Jones?

In this collection, outdoorsy looks that some commentators call “cottagecore” are thought to be Mr Jones’s cabbage patch. There are, therefore, plenty of shorts—double shorts, in fact; or running shorts-looking pairs on top of fitted ones that could be for cycling. These are teamed with embroidered fleece jackets, their technical kin (in sort of a camo print), sweaters (including sleeveless ones) bearing the artworks of Duncan Grant that Mr Jones reportedly owns. His usual tailoring is there, too: jackets have softer shoulders, waists cut close to the body, and peaked lapels worn upturned, creating graphic interest for the neck. But something else is not seen before—blousy tops. Mr Jones has largely avoided the semblance of skirts (even his shorts are not that wide) or dresses for men. So two tops are fascinating. One is like an asymmetric, half-woven-half-netting take on a scrub; sleeveless, but one shoulder is extended, the other side, double strapped. The other, a long-sleeved top with a square-necked double yoke-flap (with brooch to hold both pieces in place). Feminine touches, no doubt. Enough? Kim Jones never promised anyone a rose garden.

Screen shot (top): Dior/YouTube. Photos: Dior

Still We Turn To Ease

Relaxed shapes have always been key to Dries van Noten’s allure. But that does not mean it can’t be dressy

Dries van Noten is never confined by the limits that menswear oftentimes imposes on a designer. He carries on in his laid-back way that seems to be independent of what tradition expects and street style demands. It is not easy to place his aesthetics in the larger scheme of things, and it’s quite an expanse. He is not avant-garde, neither is he Brooks Brothers-prim. He does not make himself buoyant by hype nor is he moored to the post of the static. Yet, he is always able to produce pieces that straddles both ends—whatever ends—of the fashion divide. Which perhaps explains his appeal to old-school fashion editors and must-be-on-trend KOLs.

While other designers are rushing to produce skirts (and more skirts) for men, Mr van Noten is taking this modern merchandising necessity quite in his stride. For the current season, he keeps to the two legs of pants, but over them, he slips on fitted tube dresses, if you will, that work like super-wide cummerbunds (“corsets”, as some writers describe them, are, to us, too constricted). Baju Melayu (Malay costume) wearers may recognise them as how guys wear the kain samping (also known as “merchant cloth” or a short sarong worn over the Malay tunic and trousers), rolled to secure it just below the chest. While the kain samping is most used for ceremonial wear or formal dress, Mr van Noten’s whatever-you-call-it has an ease about it, even when teamed with a suit. It’s like wearing an apron.

We know that Mr van Noten does not shy away from ethnic touches (even flourishes), but we doubt this is his intent for the collection, shown at a rooftop carpark (do they have those in Paris?), that has to speak to sartorially expressive men, even if they’re not peacocks. His use of colour—that dusty pink!—is always winning and his mix of prints remain a desirable strength. Oriental motifs are juxtaposed with sporty stripes, foliage with gradated dots, bold text in san-serif font with patchwork of all the print types that Mr van Noten is fond of: The mix is lively, even fresh, when compared to the ‘dirty’-looking fabric treatment that is gripping Paris (and, earlier, in Milan) this season. Sure, some of looks veer towards the dandy, but is that not more swell than looking like a tramp?

Still, Mr van Noten does not stay too far away from what might be, in the past, considered strictly the domain of women. Or, the increasing universality of womenswear. One piece stood out: The spaghetti-strapped top that seems akin to a camisole. This is worn on its own (a version with thicker straps goes over a shirt), like a singlet at bedtime, a welcome ease that characterises the collection. It is not clear if this slip of a garment will catch on. Skirts have had more time for guys to consider them, but the cami is still novel (until Harry Styles adopts it?). But it’s really hard to say if you consider what buffed guys are wearing on TikTok these days. Mr van Noten describes this piece in the puzzle to the media as “masculine-feminine”. The transitional stage before a full-on womanly?

Screen grab (top): IMAXtree.TV/YouTube. Photos: gorunway.com

Virgil Vuitton

More and more, it looks like both are inseparable

Seven months after the death of Virgil Abloh, Louis Vuitton is still in memorial mode. Just as we thought that the recent “spin-off” show in Bangkok would be the last blaring of his name, Virgil Abloh is being honoured, again. This time in Paris, at the Cour Carrée of the Louvre, which sees the courtyard fitted with a massive playground, featuring a really long runway snaking round the fountain in the centre. It that has been described as a kid’s train set, but looks, to us, like one of those water slides in, say, Schlitterbahn in Texas or our very own Wild Wild Wet in Pasir Ris, in a colour that is supposed to allude to the Yellow Brick Road. Mr Abloh had a soft spot for The Wizard of Oz, originally a book by the American author L. Frank Baum before it became the famous 1939 film, whose characters appeared in Mr Abloh’s first collection for Louis Vuitton, back in 2018: Dorothy (Judy Garland as the main character, depicted asleep in a field of poppies on one anorak, we remember), the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion. Which one was he?

The show, titled Strange Math, opens with an 8-minute long video intro and a performance (described as “rousing” on social media) of a collegiate marching band, Marching 100, from the “historically Black” Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) in Tallahassee. Is this part of a procession of many from the recent Juneteenth celebration in the US that France has probably never seen? Or is this a snippet of the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? Friend of the late designer, Rapper Kendrick Lamar, wearing a crown of thorns, as Jesus did on his way to the Crucifixion, according to the New Testament, is in attendance to do a live rap-ode throughout the runway presentation. Seated next to Naomi Campbell, who moves to the measured beat, Mr Lamar, performs tracks from his album Mr Morale & the Big Steppers, while he intones and repeats, and repeats: “Virgil, how many miles away?” Gone—we are constantly reminded—but not forgotten.

It is such a warm day in Paris—around three in the afternoon (about 28°C, according to AccuWeather)—when the show starts that guests are seen shielding themselves from the strike of the sun or fanning themselves manically. Ms Campbell, a friend of Mr Abloh and LV, even wears her shirt unbuttoned and braless, while holding a portable electric fan. But, you may not have guessed that summer has begun and that LV is showing the spring/summer 2023 collection. What stands out to us is how layered all the looks are, enough to make us, seated in front of the PC (not smartphone!), sweat. True, Mr Abloh loved outerwear and was credited for augmenting the strength of LV’s tailoring by introducing suits, blazers and coats to streetwear staples. But are the seasons in the northern hemisphere so indistinguishable now that warm-weather dressing requires rather bulky layering? Or are the outers perhaps for protection from the heat? A colour-blocked leather jacket with wavy placket is worn over another similar leather outfit (shirt or dress, it is hard to tell), complete with leggings, leg warmers, and high-tops. A tie-dyed overcoat has furry epaulettes and matching belt; the pocket flaps, and the pouches-as-pockets are as flocculent too. A hooded jacket, with a floral surface treatment identical to that on the shirt Ms Campbell has on, appears padded and is teamed with a heavy-looking drawstring/pleated/gathered ankle-length skirt. One embroidered trucker goes over a turtleneck sweater, so is one melton varsity jacket and one leather shirt. A short-sleeved, thick-looking sweater is not styled with arms bare—the model wears opera gloves that appear to be made of leather. Even a short-sleeved shirt is not left to its own devices—it goes on top another!

The collection, we are told, is not designed by Virgil Abloh. The LV studio that had worked with him did it “in his spirit”, and the team, dressed in symbolic black, took the traditional end-of-show bow. The clothes, appear to us, an overzealous attempt at keeping to Mr Abloh’s ethnicity-proud aesthetics: Throw in as many things he would like to see and see what happens. And we are not referring to the usual fancy skirts and gaudy baseball jackets. Or the place-logos-everywhere ardor. Every decorative element they could think of, they employed. From the smallest fancy buttons—floral!—to the visible paper planes on a black suit to the ridiculously large—boom boxes and sirens strapped to the back, like Nepalese porters and their cargo going up Mount Everest. In place of the hanging stuffed toys that Mr Abloh loved in his latter seasons, the clothes are affixed with what could be Indian tota hangings, but they could also be candies in the shapes of LV monogram florals strung together, very much like cords of alphabet beads of the ’90s. If everything appears somewhat juvenile, however “couture-grade” the clothes are, they are in keeping with Mr Abloh’s favour of child’s play “not yet spoiled by societal programming”. As the show comes to an end, Mr Lamar chants “Long Live Virgil”. Is that Louis Vuitton’s plan?

Screen shot (top): louisvuitton/YouTube. Photos: gorunway.com

Found Objects Incorporated

JW Anderson shows in Milan for the first time, and it is somewhat surreal—those clothes, but not bereft of fun

We are not sure about London or Milan, where JW Anderson presently shows his collection, but are their streets overrun by food delivery guys on their bikes, unconcerned with the foot traffic, just like ours? We started thinking of that the minute the first look of Mr Anderson’s collection appears. The model has a bicycle handlebar in place of a neckline. Did a Grab rider crash into an unsuspecting, fashionably-togged pedestrian early in the morning (based on the soundtrack of chirping birds)? Not one but two of them! As the show continues, there are other accidents, too. A duo with cans of food crashed into something or someone and the lids of the purchases embedded on T-shirts and two skateboarders, their devices snapped into two. Bystanders were unscathed. There were ripped clothing bar codes (more shopping references), and those as if CDs were flung on them. JW Anderson’s collision of a show could be a thesis on the state of street fashion as seen on the street.

If the collection appears unhinged, it is not. Look carefully and you’d notice actual hinges used to secure the top half of T-shirts (and dresses) to the bottom half. Everything, in fact, looks more held together than initially perceived, even if those handlebars are a balancing act. Mr Anderson has worked these seemingly found pieces in his clothes before. Those holes on the tees formed by pried-open can lids are reminiscent of the kitchen sink filters of Loewe’s autumn/winter 2022. Similarly, the skateboards on the jumpers bring to mind of Loewe’s womenswear autumn/winter 2022, when a car seemed to be trapped in a skirt! Nonsensical it would be to the average fashion consumer, but when times are serious, uncertain, and complex, a little whimsy can be rather uplifting, even if weighted by bicycle handle bars.

If you are less inclined to want odd bits and pieces ensnared in your clothes (not even a manly gardening glove), Mr Anderson has other garments that would not, to your delight, be conversation starters anywhere you might wear them to. Sure, there are still dresses for guys, if you are inclined to express your inner Harry Styles (a puffy shift in Pikachu yellow?), but the separates at not too far out for you and your mates. The denim double jeans (twofer, really) are likely going to be a hit, so too the artfully torn sweaters (anything damage is coveted these days) and the T-shirt with the striped front on which there is a a rather cheery print of a boy wearing the same eating an apple.

The collection is reportedly inspired by The Pitchfork Disney, a 1991 play by the British novelist/scriptwriter Phillip Ridley. Mr Anderson re-read The Pitchfork Disney, which he had once perform when in the throes of wanting to be an actor years ago. The play is a dark, dreamlike piece that deals primarily with fear—childhood fear. Chocolate is featured in the story, as the two protagonists appear to subsist on it, but it makes no appearance in the collection, barely even by way of colour. Yet, a strange, possibly scary-looking Rembrandt in the 1630 Self-portrait in a Cap, Wide-eyed and Open-mouthed appears, massively intarsia-ed on sweaters. Looking startled, the man could be the selfie that startles, not the clothes.

Screen shot (top) JW Anderson/YouTube. Photos: gorunway.com

Return To Lean

…with many pairs of shorts. Prada looks at its house classics and it’s a formidable show of form

Prada has always marched to their own recognisable drum of not necessarily blazing tempo, but clearly with challenging drum patterns. With Raf Simons onboard, the drill is even more gripping, especially when both Miuccia Prada and Mr Simons go back to what both of them do very well: a punchy groove of minimalist tailoring, now lensed through two pairs of eyes on a single brand. Milan this season is seeing many houses going back to what they do best (even not). At Prada, too, but with the contribution of Raf Simons, it’s double the delight. That they should present what they do best—the dressed-up, the normcore, and the quirky—is a palpable trust in their own abilities-as-one than any revisit to the past.

First up or out, the black suits. These are evocative of those both designers used to do (and, in fact, have been doing on and off): generally slim-fitting but not tight. The jackets are single or semi-double breasted, with natural shoulders that are not dropped (or extended) and arms not constricted. The pants are skinny and sometimes cropped to above the Cuban boots, sometimes to the bottom, with nary a break. The silhouettes are, therefore, lean, so too are the rest to come. Even the T-shirts or the knit tops are not boxy and baggy. The shape of the body (Prada still prefers skinny boys) is not obsured.

And then the looks shift—to shorts. Many shorts! And also worn with the boots. This season, the shorts are not too brief. One recurrent pair is a leather style, sans waistband, with two zips that flank the centre seam (there is no fly), ending at crotch level, and with diagonal welt pockets, their openings set apart. These are worn with almost everything: sleeveless scrubs-looking tops, skinny jumpers, sweater-knit tees, woven pullovers and shirts, and many, many outers, sometimes two coats at a go. Could this be Prada coming as close as possible to guys wearing a dress, after still resisting non-bifurcated bottoms?

Prada has never been strictly sombre when it comes to their colours. This season, while the palate is quite muted, there are some, mostly in the house dusty shades and the occasional pastel. Standouts are the use of gingham and other checks, especially those light floaty overcoats worn with the ease of a lab coat. The Prada triangle, too, appears again. Since Mr Simons’s arrival at the house, Prada has made clever use of its its three-sided logo in ways that are not the black ones we see on bags. This season, the inverted isosceles is a mere perimeter using rickrack, those flat, braided, zigzag trims that are very much associated with home sewing (they were frequently used, we remember, over smocking) before the advent of computerised sewing machines that can do fancy stitches. It’s prettiness without being too pretty.

Prada collections often escape easy descriptions. And this time, it is so again. While the many coats worn over shorts might be evocative of the get-up of a flasher (or whatever else perverse you can think of), much of the clothes are more wearable than they appear, even the round-neck trucker and the car coats that would be, in the past, considered feminine. There is always the fine balance between the tailored and the relaxed, the refined and the off-kilter, the tasteful and the not quite. And in the lively mix or ‘Choice’, as the collection is named, easy does it.

Screen shot: prada.com. Photos: gorunway.com

One More Head

Versace has given the Medusa head of Greece a mate—a death mask of Pompeii. More gaudy historic icons to enjoy?

Is Donatella Versace creating the fashion equivalent of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 with this explosion of a spring/summer 2023 collection? Staged in the brand’s Via Gesù headquarters, the presentation is a detonation of colours, prints and more prints. If Mount Vesuvius exploded “with a force greater than an atom bomb” according to modern-day reports, then the Versace show blew up with the impact of the virtual fulmination of the contents of social media. And one of the prints that will no doubt be virally shared online is that of a death mask (above), apparently an archival image that Ms Versace thinks is timely to bring back. This is not nearly the same as the prettified Medusa head that the house has been using. Rather, this is gargoyle-like and made more garish against luminescent chartreuse.

Ms Versace told GQ in 2018 that the brand that she steers is “a dream that people want to be part of.” Dreams are like meat—they can be another man’s poison, or nightmare. It is often said that Versace provides fantasy in a world that is increasingly devoid of it. The only thing is, the fantasy seems to exist only in a very pop realm, or hip-hop music videos. In fact, sometimes we suspect that Versace puts out clothes in the hope to appear in yet another Migos MV. A part two of the 2013 blatant homage Versace? “Cheetah print on my sleeve, but I ain’t ever been in the jungle” does sum up the current snake skin too. Versace, Versace, Versace… goes the rap, as if Migo was hoping for a lifetime supply of Versace. And if the next video needs to be drowned in Versace too, there are the home accessories that the models carry and wear.

For Versace fans (and there are many, including our own Dick Lee), this is a celebratory show, an emersion into the next best thing after music videos. We see it as an IRL Beng-dom, now under the watchful eyes of busts (or death masks) of the ancients, perched on pedestals. Donatella Versace, herself repeatedly called a “pop culture icon”, is the ultimate hostess of this visual symposium, which in old Greek societies, was, according to William J. Slater in Dining in a Classical Context, “a place for the ostentatious display not just of gilded ceilings or inlaid floors, Ionian couches, exotic entertainment, or luxury vases, but also of the cultural quality of host and guests”. Sounds familiar? Luxury vases! The models weren’t carrying urns!

But it is not entirely high luxe at the show. There are the other printed shirts, for example: Those black ones blaring all over with the Migos refrain “Versace, Versace Versace…”, which look unapologetically entry-level or, as one on-and-off Versace fan told us, “for Fendace lovers.” And, the tacky singlets too, shaped to cling to every muscle of the torso, baring the sides of the abdomen, and abbreviated in the back to look like a sports bra. Perhaps, this is where the allure of Versace’s meretricious designs lies: they appeal to the guilty pleasures that many of us succumb to. One thing nags at us: We are not sure if it feels current, let alone au courant.

Screen shot (top): versace.com. Photos: Versace

Looking Back To See The Present

Or, is Dolce and Gabbana simply stuck—caught between then and now?

Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana open their spring/summer 2023 show with a model in underwear—white singlet and white Y-front briefs. This is possibly a new progressive; it is clearly not a new normal. Dolce & Gabbana could be refocusing their underwear business, or they could be encouraging men to go the Julia Fox way. Do not bother with inner or outer: if you like, just wear. Why be concerned with drawing lines and making distinctions? If women should not be ashamed of their bodies, regardless of what shape they’re in, or whether they are pregnant or not, men should not be too, since they have, presumably, less encumbrances to deal with. This is, of course, not the first time D&G has made singlets and briefs part of their presentation. But this is not an undergarment show. What were the opening two-piece other than lame—even futile— titillation?

Baring skin is happening so often on the runway (and off) these days that there is hardly anything fresh about the act. Even TikTok is peopled with those fellows willing to go topless, not just in their skivvies. What D&G could be prefacing with the first look is that there is more to the skin show to follow. And there is different-hued flesh peeking from tops that are holed, as if cloth moths had an overnight buffet. They are meticulously tatty so that the wearer could look insouciantly ragged—poor little rich boy. And in shredded pants, too—if Balenciaga can destroy sneakers, why can’t D&G do the same to their trousers? These are seriously ripped (destroyed might be a better word), as if to test the structural integrity of the fabric. One pair of jeans has at least ten slashes on each side of the front legs. It can’t be easy slipping into the jeans, but that’s not a consideration. Looking like a fashionable destitute takes considerable effort.

If the clothes seem somewhat rehashed (more lace shirts or religious icons?), that is because they are. The collection is titled Re-Edition, a look back at the brand’s output from 1991 to 2023 that has been prolific of the D&G hallmarks of tawdry—so desirable that there are those who had reportedly ask for them, many a time. It is doubtful that the tailoring, which, to be fair, they do well, is in such I-want-more demand. But a suit, for example, need not be brought back. D&G still offers them. To ‘update’ the selected looks of the past, they puncture the clothes and distress them (one SOTD follower calls the tatters “Sicilian street urchin revival”!) or have more holes by way of unlined openwork fabrics: lace, crochet, and open knits. To avoid the sum effect of looking like they correspond with the clothes of those without any means of subsistence, they pair some of them with proper clothes. The luxurious can go with the miserable.

Dolce & Gabanna would have been a stymied brand if not for the tremendous support of celebrities, such as Khloe Kardashian and the attendees of the nuptials of the former and Travis Barker. In fact, it was said that D&G “sponsored” the wedding. With considerable presence on the red carpet as well, the brand enjoys a visibility that have alluded many others offering just as flashy clothes. Banking on celebrity endorsement usually require tremendous product appeal, but D&G seems less reliant on the latter. To be certain, the brand is alluring to a very specific audience, for whom raucous has more merit than muted. That Dolce & Gabanna is loud is no visit to the past or present: They just are.

Screen shot (top): Dolce & Gabanna/YouTube. Photos: Dolce & Gabanna

The Beauty Of Injury

Fashion needs to be so inclusive that even if you have somehow hurt yourself, you can still be part of it all

This is not just getting your cool friends to draw on the cast that you need over your lower right arm after you fell from skateboarding and broke your wrist. Nor, on a smaller scale, is this the Hello Kitty plaster you used on a cut after you nicked yourself while shredding cucumber for the bimbimbap lunch. Heck, this is not even Jean-Charles the Castelbajac using hospital bandage (a luxury version!) for his BandAid dress of the ’90s. This is making actual ligature a part of the look. And that is what Finnish designer Rolf Ekroth, who—as his corporate profile tells us,—“champions utilitarianism”, has done. Strictly speaking, that should be synonymous with functionality. And what is more functional than gauze bandage used to secure a dressing applied to a wound?

Apart from the bandaged lower arm that appeared in one of his looks (T-shirt with contrast sleeves and illustration on the chest, and paper-bag jeans), there is also the sling (worn with a millitary-ish boiler-suit): Yes, a hanging bandage usually placed around the neck—as it is in this case—in which an injured arm or hand is supported or rendered immobile. Only now, Mr Ekroth has made his sling in a fabric with floral prints that could have been abstracted from Marimekko. As we do not know for sure if the models were indeed hurt, it would be unnecessarily barbed to consider the swath and support mockery.

Mr Ekroth, a psychology and social work major who once played poker professionally before embarking on fashion, is big on the tactile. He has caught the attention of fashion folks outside Finland with immensely intriguing surface treatments of the three-year-old label’s mainly gender-neutral collections. Hand fraying of fabrics seems to be a signature technique. Perhaps, the bandaging by hand as well. In a world that has so much going on that could be injurious to the craft of fashion, the binding up could be a confident sign of healing too.

Photos: Rolf Ekroth