Chic For Real Use

On Kate Moss, Bottega Veneta shows that what is wearable can be far from mundane, but others pulled off the proposition better than she did

She does not open the show, but she is there. Appearing the sixth of a 72 line-up, she saunters out as if she just stepped out of a ranch home. Kate Moss looks ready to work in the fields, if not to actually round up the sheep or milk some cows, definitely to put away bales of hay. Or, get into a truck to go to town to get some flour for an apple pie she would bake later in the afternoon. This is definitely not the Kate Moss we’re familiar with, not the heroin-chic chick, not the vintage junkie, not the festival style maven, not the TopShop collaborator, not a skincare businesswoman, not a rock star’s former girlfriend, not Johnny Depp’s ex in court. She wears a shirt-jacket in shadow check over what could be a tank top and faded jeans, unbelted. Only her leather shoes—not quite heeled—give her away: She isn’t going to do field or barn work. Strangely, Kate Moss on the painted Bottega Veneta runway does not look an urbanite as the other models do.

There is visual trickery involved here. What Ms Moss wears may look like flannel and denim, but they are, in fact, made of leather. Matthieu Blazy, in his second outing for the house, is reprising what he did in his debut: make leather not look like leather. It is a complicated process. Ms Moss’s top requires prints layered 12 times to achieve the chromatic depth of the woven equivalent. Mr Blazy calls this “perverse banality”, but it sounds like something Demna Gvasalia would do for Balenciaga couture. Other seemingly Normcore-looking pieces that might not be out of the ordinary at Uniqlo are given this leather-looking-like-ordinary-fabric treatment. Which means that if one does not examine the finished pieces up-close or in one’s hand, one may not know that the T-shirt is not made of cotton jersey and the jeans not cotton denim. The commonplace is not at all. Thankfully, Kate Moss did not need to do a Naomi Campbell.

The press describes what Mr Blazy does as “wardrobing”, creating practical clothes that have real use and place in a wardrobe. It is not a plan totally new to Bottega Veneta. Even as far back as the tenure of Thomas Maier, BV’s first superstar creative director, the clothes have been easy to wear. Its quiet luxury led Vogue to describe BV fans as projecting “stealth wealth”. The brand’s ready-to-wear line is, in fact, relatively young; its debut appeared only in 1998 (some 30-odd years after parent company Gucci introduced their first pieces of clothing). It was designed by Laura Braggion, the ex-wife of the co-founder of the house Michel Taddei, who, together with Renzo Zengyaro, developed the unmistakable intrecciato weave used in the bags, wallets, even shoes. Bottega Veneta has never alienated their customers with designs considered too radical for a functioning wardrobe.

Mr Blazy has not kept that approach in his blind side. This season the tailoring is elegant, with none of the exaggeration of silhouette that still plagues many other brands; the dresses understated but just so, with some in prints that are graphic as they are offbeat; the leather wear supple and slick, with barely a hint of anything rock or ruffian. There is nothing too forward or too retro about the styling, even the fichu neckline—absent in fashion for so long—is a neoteric, tad folksy flourish, so are the scarfs floating in the rear, their single tip secured to baubled necklaces. Those slim, sheer, layered dresses with padded appliqués and decorative trims are evocative of Prada, but perhaps that’s a certain Milanese sensibility shared by those who design with a certain élan, just as some brands are unshakably partial to flesh and flash. Matthieu Blazy’s follow-up to his debut is a well thought-out and deftly edited collection. And, best of all, beautiful too.

Screen shot: bottegaveneta.com. Photos: gorunway.com

One That’s Twice The Bang

Gucci’s show is a parade of its usual motley group in a single file, but then it becomes a final reveal of freakish twins

Do good things really come in pairs? Are twos indeed couple the fun? Or double the dread? The latest Gucci show starts with a typical motley of models in a spaced, single line. They walk in a fairly dim space. On the walls are black and white portraits (presumably of those populating the runway). Then at the end of the show, before the models file past one more time, the wall opposite the audience rises, revealing a parallel runway on the opposite side. It is amazing that, according to social media, the show-goers did not know that the event was, in fact, two-sided. And then the finale: models from each side emerges. They are twins—identical twins. Who would have thought, even if you knew that there would be a dramatic element? Welcome to Gucci Twinsburg, Milan, not Ohio, where the yearly festival Twins Day is held.

Why anyone would need a two-dose Gucci is not quite clear. But the twins walk hand-hand, wearing the same clothes, the same accessories, the same shoes. Is this twice the usual budget for a Gucci show? Reportedly, the twins were invited from all over the world to participate in this runway pairing. It is conceivable that there are not that many body-ideal, good-looking, catwalk-worthy twins in Italy. The idea of having the 68 pairs do the show is to reflect the parturition truth that Michele Alessandro Michele’s mother is one half of twin sisters. In the show notes, Mr Michele said “I am the son of two mothers. Two extraordinary women who made their twinship the ultimate seal of their existence. They lived in the same body. They dressed and combed their hair in the same way. They were magically mirrored. One multiplied the other. That was my world, perfectly double and doubled.”

Yet, the twinning at Gucci does not necessarily mean twofold excellence. Or, wondrousness. We are supposed to read into it that even with a mirror image, self-expression of the individual can take place. The twins do not need to look like each side of a pair of scissors, spectacles, or chopsticks. Do they not? Isn’t this collection again Gucci seeing itself in the mirror installed by Alessandro Michele in 2013, almost ten years ago? To be sure, he has moved away from the deep-seated tapping of ’70s kitsch. But the mishmash from the world’s thrift shops is very jelak. Is that why Gucci needs the gimmick of getting twins to strut the runway? Can the brand distance itself from stylistic tricks?

The clothes require almost no description. Gucci fans know what to expect, and expectations are often met. To note are some stereotyping involved: that twins dress alike. And Chinese girls wear samfoos and cheongsums, but white girls can wear happi coats. Far-out, costume-y, and campy accessories have always been part of the Gucci look, so this season Mr Michele offers glasses (including shades) with fringing, garters for men, Gremlins to hang on bags (or wherever), beaded scull caps, beaded beards, hairbands weighed down the sides of the face with strands of beads (the little spheres are big this season), and face jewellery (again) that are Deepavali door hangings that drape from ear to nose to ear. Every season at Gucci is a festive season. Celebrate.

Is It Time For Tom Ford To Retire?

Stuck in the disco age and unwilling to skimp on sequins, Tom Ford should consider withdrawing from his own fashion label until he comes up with something truly fresher

Last July, Bloomberg reported that Tom Ford appointed Goldman Sachs to “explore the potential” of selling his company. No reason for the exploration was shared by Mr Ford or CEO Domenico De Sole. But Bloomberg did note that the growth of top-tier luxury brands had been hampered for unsurprising reasons that include inflation, continued lockdowns in China, escalation of energy and logistic costs, as well as those in manufacturing. There was no mention of whether the fashion of Tom Ford is still desirable. Or, if there is demand outside his circle of celebrity friends. That question is even more pertinent after watching his spring/summer 2023 show, staged during NYFW. We sense that Mr Ford is unwilling to move forward amid the hurtling speed of change in our crazy world. He is happy to be caught in the past, in a groovier time that is soundtracked by Studio 54, lensed by Guy Bourdin.

That the former CFDA chairman would go down the disco route is a predictable track and tact that should not baffle us, but we are still, truth be told, disappointed. Dullness maxed out is dullness amplified. How many times do we want to be reminded of the glory days of the ’70s (and early ’80s)? Even the styling isn’t fresh. Gigi Hadid, with the fake blond frizzy hair and pregnant hoop earrings, in that hooker-savvy sequinned dress, is a bad parody of the campy past that Mr Ford adores. Although the soundtrack is a mashup of ’80s pop and latter-day rap, we had Dan Hartman’s Instant Reply in our head. Wasn’t Tom Ford singing, “got to have it… got me floating on a cloud, got me dancing all around”?

Mr Ford has redefined the sexy that is very much his aesthetical lexicon. Of late, it is regrettably meretricious. Perhaps it is in keeping with the prevalent mood in American fashion, which has significantly shifted from sportswear to something more suited for seduction or to express the confidence of an unapologetic sexual self. For the present Tom Ford season, scattered is the focus, from gaudy, sequinned, fringed Western shirts (even gaudier than what they might wear at the gay rodeo) with micro-running-shorts to bras that are just the perimeter of the already skimpy garment to sequins-all-over evening dresses that accentuate the derrière and expose the rump. Eckhaus Latta meets Dolce & Gabbana?

Perhaps there is real interest in the decade (and a little later) that, for some (rather than many), “taste forgot”. Or, the hope that Mr Ford would bring back the hits of his Gucci years. The satin shirt, worn unbuttoned to the navel, certainly did, even if less shiny. If shirts are not worn, underwear must be served. Here, even the guys get the lace in a boxer (Victor’s Secret?) that would make Calvin Klein’s look severely avuncular. Almost every garment shown appears to be for the pursuit of fun under lights that would make each piece glitter. It’s luster that lusts for attention just as the nipple-baring bras begs to be noticed. But these days, vain and shocking are hardly the traits that would make trying fashion striking. Even if he resists going any place without a disco beat, Tom Ford needs to dial down the tacky amid the showy.

Photos: Tom Ford

Anchors Aweigh

Thom Browne adopts the naval symbol of stability while showing jockstraps peeping from skirts hanging on to hips for dear life

It seems that ships have called to port during Paris Fashion Week. After Kenzo’s salute to naval uniforms, Thom Browne presented his men’s spring/summer 2023 collection at the venerable Hotel de Crillon with models wearing an anchor down the middle of their faces, like the maang tikka, forehead jewellery worn by Indian women; only Mr Browne’s are larger and longer, covering the nose, ending, in some cases, at the base of philtrum, in others, the lower lip. That is the only obvious naval symbol used in a melange of looks that span the sailor to the cowboy, wrapped in considerable amount (or less) of summer tweeds, made by the same people who produce the fabric for the brand with the interlocking Cs. Despite the presence of the anchor jewellery, which could commensurate with the navy’s idea of stability and strength, the clothes throws off the conventional balance of what constitutes strong menswear.

It is increasingly common to see women wearing underwear under not quite anything. Mr Browne is proposing that men can do the same, but, for starters, with waistband and top half of the front pouch showing. Rather than the elasticised waist of boxers (as seen in hip-hop fashion) or the waistband of trunks emblazoned with a name (as in Calvin Klein), he chose the thick ones of jockstraps, ‘protective’ underpants once popularly used for contact sports. And, perhaps, more significantly, their association with gay men’s fetishes: a masculine signifier alongside jeans (501s, not anything fancier). In the show, the jockstraps are worn like how women wear thongs, peaking from above the waist of both pants and skirts. In sum, they show the Apollo’s belt (the V-shaped grooves on the ab muscles alongside the hips) in the front and, just as proudly, the butt crack in the rear.

It is distracting in the beginning to see peek-a-boo peculiarities of what in the voice-over intro of the show (presented like a couture runway of the ’50s) says, “an exhibition of garbs (or did she say gowns?) men can actually wear”. Men can wear anything, or not, but will they? The skirts, no longer out of bounds for men, are worn low to deliberately almost expose the forking between the legs. Men do not have hips that (most) women do—the skirts (and pants) worn that low have nothing to cling to, to defy gravity. We assume (since we can’t see) that the skirt, shorts, or pants—many without waistbands—are attached to the pouch and and the rear, cheek-flanking straps of the jockstraps. These are, however, not the only underclothes to be seen. There are also bras. What is their appeal? We don’t quite know. These days, there is nothing under about underwear.

If you look beyond all that (do not succumb to your filthy mind), the clothes are Thom Browne as they always are. The tailoring is impeccable and the shapes flattering. If the fit is reproachable it’s mainly because the bottoms look like they will slip off by the time you put your next foot forward (is that why the models walk so slowly?). If you are not in the market for more of Mr Browne’s usual shirts, suits, and pleated skirts, there are cropped button-downs, shell tops, short shifts, ultra-mini skirts, or fringed chaps with strategic cut-outs and a very noticeable penile sheath. Cast Brooks Brothers aside. Thom Browne has. A long time ago.

Screen shop (top): Thom Browne/YouTube. Photos: Thom Browne

Preppy, Cutesy, Ahoy!

Kenzo seems intent on staying firmly approachable, and rather juvenile at that

The opening electronic strain of Firecracker, the 1978 track from Yellow Magic Orchestra’s eponymous debut studio album, truly has us washed over with nostalgia. That Tomoaki Nagao, aka Nigo, is inspired by Kenzo’s halcyon days also reminds us of the shows Kenzo Takada himself staged back then, when the latter, too, used the techno-exotica of YMO (was it Tong Poo, or La Femme Chinois, or both [in the album, the former segues into the latter], we can’t quite remember now). But our reminiscing stopped there. Mr Nagao told the press that he took the idea of the show, set in a school gymnasium, from a Kenzo presentation of the ’80s, then conceived to evoke a school sports day. But rather than connect that to something akin to, say, the atheleisure style of the present, Mr Nagao has chosen to base his designs on those details usually connected to the uniforms of sailors.

But the clothes are not what Querelle of Brest would wear. Jean Genet’s sea-faring protagonist was portrayed in far sexier togs, at least according to the daring illustrations of Jean Cocteau, which accompanied the first (limited) print run of the book in 1945, then anonymously published. Kenzo’s naval chic is much more in line with the sailor-style school uniforms—or seifuku—of girls worn in Japan since the 19th century that have become quite the symbol of the country itself. Many Japanese are proud of their school uniforms, so much so that the seikufus frequently appear in mangas, even with characters based on their naval-style dress, such as Akebi-chan no sailor-fuku (Akebi’s Sailor Uniform). The most obvious details that Mr Nagao incorporated are the hats and flap collars, which seem to be modelled after the Nagoya collar of seikufus, with the designer adopting, if this was indeed school, a more flexible discipline level to dress. Sailor collars over blazers?!

Under the maritime styles, we see something mundane: The looks are so surprisingly unsurprising that it is hard to imagine them desired by the hipsters that Kenzo seems to be targeting. These are not clothes to stand out in any given crowd, unless in a sea of actual seikufu wearers. There is no reimagining of the sailor suit (or collegiate wear) in ways that would render them not looking juvenile. Shirtless with just a vest littered with Kenzo labels and a pair of jeans? An aviator jacket with the initials KP (Kenzo Paris) and leggings? An off-shoulder, smocked top and A-line denim skirt? An ankle-length sundress and floral broach on the shoulder? Clothes that will delight Shein to no end? Sure, these are not John Galliano’s sailor boys and girls for Maison Margiela, circa spring/summer 2020, but we have been hoping that Mr Nagao would be less The Bathing Ape in his approach. Sure, there is nothing erroneous in paying attention to the school yard for ideas, but much of the pieces look like they would work for the cast of Grease. Or a prim High School Musical.

Yellow Magic Orchestra’s seminal first album used catchy oriental melodies to spoof the West’s obsession with the ‘exotic’ sounds of the Far East at a time when bands exploring the newly emerging futurist electronic music of the late ’70s and early ’80s (later termed ‘synth-pop’) were inspired by the German band Kraftwerk. YMO’s cheeky fusion of arcade game bleeps/blurbs and Chinese classical or folk music was new-sounding and totally delightful. Or, in the case of Tong Poo (the only track of the album entirely written by band member Ryuichi Sakamoto, and recently used by Junya Watanabe for his  spring/summer 2022 and reissued), sonic mish-mash imagined as music the Beijing Symphony Orchestra could play. Mr Nagao’s second collection for Kenzo has no such glimmer of brilliance. Just like Firecracker, in actual fact, a remake (of American composer Martin Denny‘s music from the 1949 album Quiet Village), adapting the familiar for the unfamiliar. Whether the clothes pander or please, we can’t say for sure.

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

Grass-Sprouting Shoes And Clothes, But Nothing Potted About Them

Loewe goes grass planting, from the feet up. And that ‘Puzzle’ pants!

The strongest collection of PFW spring/summer 2023 season: May we declare Loewe? Let’s start from the very bottom: The shoes. Not since the debut season of Balenciaga’s Triple S Racer has there been anything this astonishing. Or, more original. The first pair, which could be the Flow Runner, is covered with weeds, as if the shoes, muddied, were left outside for too long and spring-time nature has taken over. Then there are the clothes—rustic weeds, too: One coat is half-blanketed with grass, one hoodie looks like a (still-growing) vertical garden, and a pair of trousers seems to be attacked by a botanical monster. At first we thought that the grass was very good artificial lawn carpet or some talented participant’s Project Runway ‘Challenge’. The footwear appears very much like some grass head animal adapted for feet!

According to Jonathan Anderson, these gardening experiments were conducted with Spanish designer Paula Ulargui Escalona, a graduate of the Istituto Europeo di Design Madrid, where she specialised in sustainable fashion and textile (her captivating and original Second Skin project is probably what brought Mr Anderson to her). Each shoe and outfit took 20 days to cultivate to achieve the desired shagginess. It is tempting to read eco-friendliness into Loewe’s grassy pursuits. And many have, referring to the clothes as thesis on our changing/damaged earth and its merciless climate. And, as there are references to technology, the need for balance between nature and the digital (even the meta?). Or, is Mr Anderson really saying that, in the end, nature will win, as she always has; we will not?

Many commentators called the Loewe presentation a glimpse of a possible “dystopian future”. Plants may be referenced but it is vastly different from the Dior ‘garden’ of a couple of days back. The set is really just a blank (or, contrary to the clothes and shoes, defoliated?) space, with just two pillars in an expanse of “blinding white”, as Loewe described it. This could be a representation of heaven, as seen in movies (we were thinking Morgan Freeman might cameo), or nothingness, as in the digital sphere (isn’t the metaverse a void until we fill it with the likenesses of this material world?). It is in this extreme whiteness that Mr Anderson is able to focus on the fashion, allowing you read whatever it is you wish it to communicate. And the message is surprisingly clear: clothes as we remember them.

After pushing menswear to the many possible extremes, including—unmistakably—dresses, Mr Anderson has now repositioned Loewe men to a form many, even those outside the parameters of fashion, would understand. A shirt looks like a shirt; a sweater looks like a sweater (even if the sleeves flap when you walk as they are not joined at the seams); a coat looks like a coat (even if is festooned, on one side, with doodads a modern man would be encumbered with or with tablet screens), trousers look like trousers (even if they are leggings or, as is a three-quarter-length pair, cleverly based on the house’s Puzzle bag). Their identifiability does not mean they’re not finessed. However solid the clothes, it is likely that the shoes will garner the most attention next time this year, especially those what-do-you-call-them? Paper bag boots, perhaps (if there are paper bag pants, why not footwear?)? These are so amazing in their simplicity and form, they make the abominable Yeezy NSLTD BT looked positively foolish. On the verdant lawn of Loewe, no mowing is at all required.

Photos: Loewe

Mining “The Land Of The Free”

Junya Watanabe takes on the icons and symbols of Americana—specifically pop-Americana

“Americanos—blue jeans and chinos/Coke, Pepsi and Oreos/Americanos—movies and heroes in the land of the free/You can be what you wanna be”

Americanos, 1989, Holly Johnson

America’s influence on fashion is not just the denim jeans worn almost everywhere. Or, the Americans helming European fashion houses and those showing their eponymous line in Paris (or Milan). It’s also the US cultural-visual identity that non-Americans find appealing and relatable. Junya Watanabe is a known admirer of authentic American fashion brands and has previously collaborated with ‘iconic’ names such as Levi’s, but this time, he wears Americana on his sleeves. He takes some of the most recognisable images and worked into his designs, often as pieces that form the boro or Japanese art of patchworking (as seen on the denim jeans, in particular). This mended fabric or garment is not new at all to Mr Watanabe’s output, but this time the restitched parts comprise patches of images of American brands and recognisable art.

In 1989, Holly Johnson sang in the catchily sarcastic Latinate dance-pop of Americanos (from the Dan Hartman-produced album Blast): “blue jeans and chinos, Coke, Pepsi, and Oreos, movies and heroes, you can be what you wanna be.” In view of the recent overturn of Roe vs Wade, it is irresistible to see Mr Watanabe’s newest menswear as ironic—a poke at the superficiality and materiality of the American dream. Jeans and chinos are, of course, almost de rigueur in his collections, and now Coke (not Pepsi or Oreos) join other brands and names through which America propelled its popular culture, globally: Campbell’s Soups and Marilyn Monroe made vivid by Andy Warhol, Girl with Hair Ribbon painted/dotted by Roy Lichtenstein, as well as the graffiti and scribbles of Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat. It is, interestingly, not “’bout leather, leather everywhere”, as David Bowie sang earlier in 1975’s Young Americans, a song that has been compared to Americanos for its dig at US youth culture.

In Japan, Mr Watanabe embodies the melting of pop culture divided by oceans. His embrace of Americana is, of course, not precedential. But, he is constantly mixing and mixing in ways that, even if no longer surprising, is still charming. Some people consider his work as entry point to the more confrontationally avant-garde designs of his mentor, Rei Kawakubo, even saying that his are clothes for primarily fashion-consuming heterosexual males not willing to venture into, say, Gucci territory: There will never be skirts. Even those patchworked shirts of the finale are reminiscent of the Comme Des Garçons Shirt line. But for most fans, the sustained appeal of Junya Wantanabe’s work is his category-free approach to making desirable clothes. Just as you thought that work wear is what you saw, once on the body, the effect could be vastly different.

The crux of Mr Watanabe’s design is the Japanese concept of making things—monozukiri, which broadly means production or manufacturing. But it also embodies not just technological advantage, but also technical know-how, the embrace of tradition, and a relentless pursuit of innovation. In Mr Watanabe’s case, it has always been more than the amalgamation of the above, but also how he melds seemingly different visual cues—or cultural references—into a seamless whole. So those who do not require a regular blazer will be happy to see hybrid versions and those with unusual cuts. Or those averse to standard-issue jeans will find those with the said boro patchwork or with different washes for the front and back. If Americana is your thing, all the better. But with Uniqlo also featuring familiar corporate logos and the recognisable works of Warhol, Haring, Lichtenstein, and, definitely, Basquiat, are Junya Watanabe’s unique enough, even with monozukiri firmly intact, for us to part with considerable money to own his versions?

Photos: Junya Watanabe

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), ass well as Charleston on the opposite end. 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