(Still) Bleak At Balenciaga

A dark, dark, and muddy world, with a parade led by a self-destructive egomaniac

In a four-season world that is facing increasingly warm summers (with some cities reportedly skipping spring altogether), it is strange that at Balenciaga’s spring/summer 2023 show, the first model sent out is Kanye West (rumoured to be in Paris to present a Yeezy collection), bundled up like a ranger on some frigid war-torn settlement. In fact, on his multi-pocketed flak jacket, a label on the left chest reads “SECURITY”. Despite the hoodie over a cap which casts a shadow over his face, the bearded Mr West is still identifiable. He looks as he has been these past year, mostly dressed as if the places he visits are below zero degrees Celsius, even when it’s blazing. As he has explained before, he has the predilection to “dress like winter when it’s hot”. Perhaps that may explain why on Demna Gvasalia’s TikTok account, which shared a short video showing Mr West’s duration on the runway, the caption reads, “Ye is walking for Balenciaga winter 23”!

A friend of SOTD’s said that it could be a “typo”. Perhaps, but unlikely (the Balenciaga social media team won’t make such a mistake). Could it be an autumn/winter outfit made specially for Mr West to wear in summer that can serve as a preview for the season after? This is one Balenciaga customer/“friend of the house” with exacting needs, including a desperate one to be taken seriously by the fashion establishment. Mr West, in fact, looks like he could well be ready for the next Mad Max movie. A Black Road Warrior? And the set of the show matches: a wasteland of very wet mud. After last season’s snow, could this be what happens when the deep freeze thaws, but the war has not ended? In fact, Balenciaga calls this presentation The Mud Show. The set, with real mud dumped into a stadium (in the darkness, it could be a pile of dung), is designed by the Spanish performance/installation artist Santiago Sierra. A waterlogged path is created and on this boggy ground, the indigent-looking bunch (including dads with babies—they look fake—close to the chest), some of the models appear bruised (bashed?), trudge or march on, the hems of their gown and pants, and shoes, quickly dirtied by the muck.

The muddying is consistent with Balenciaga’s recent slew of ‘Destroyed’ garments and footwear. And there are more rips-as-destruction this season to better fit the misery and squalor of the world, seen through Demna Gvasalia’s eyes. If everything around us is falling apart, why not the clothes? The first victims of the tattering are, expectedly, the jeans; this time, also with severe rips in the rear, so extreme, some might consider them unwearable. There is defacement too—graffiti on the hoodies. All the disfiguring, according to Mr Gvasalia, required a “couple of days” more than making clothes that are not damaged. Just as there are the seriously destructed, there are those left whole and untarnished, until the mud gets to them. The dresses, which have won the brand consistent approval and yielded considerable influence, come in slinky jersey with the simplicity of a T-shirt or in fluid plissé that wrap the body protectively like a cape, stand out. However wrecked the world, there are those who chose to dress splendidly. Or in a patch-up of old handbags. In the last dress, a man (or a flat-chested woman?) wears a gown made of Balenciaga’s once sort-after Lariat bags. This could have appeared in the couture collection (along with those clothes made of old belts), but here it is, an unyielding outfit probably too difficult for a woman to wear.

As the models tread, some carry stuffed animals with handles (are they filled bags?) that could have been dropped as children flee whatever/whoever they were escaping from. These are carried by the strangely under-dressed: in hooded tops with scanty running shorts. Or those wearing belts with the width of cummerbunds. Some of the bags look like sacks or pillows, and others like trash bags (already a trending Balenciaga item). One style was most striking. It continues Mr Gvasalia’s passion for conjoining disparate things, such as Kim Kardashian’s favourite legging-boots (this season, there are trouser-heels!). New is the squarish, tote-glove or a tote with holes on the upper half through which the arm can slip into a single full-length glove attached. The models carry them on the shoulder, with arm-in-glove as one. This is perhaps an innovation that befits our penchant for the hybrid, the mixed up, the remixed, the crossbreed. No one wants to look coordinated this days when tattered complexity is a lot less restraining. As one SOTD reader texted us about the Balenciaga collection, “I think this is truly fashion for our times”. Kanye West agrees too. That’s why he is in the show. Better than walking for Dolce and Gabbana?

Screen shot: Balenciaga/YouTube. Photos: Balenciaga

What’s That Hole, Again?

Off-White puts an orifice over the stomach

Holes are here. We saw them in New York at Marni; we are now seeing them in Paris at Off-White. Yes, gaping holes. Their appeal is not immediately clear. Perhaps it has to do with creating a porthole with which to view skin. Or, very specific part of the body, such as the cleavage or, in the case of Off-White, the stomach, which is punctuated with another, much smaller hole, the belly button. The holes of cold shoulders, once so popular, have migrated as a single framed aperture in the center of the body. We have said this before, and we’ll say it again: They seem to focus on something sexual, or reproductive. And Off-White’s larger (than Marni’s) holes could be twice the possibility. Perhaps we are allowing out imagination to veer to far off. Maybe these are just yueliangmen (月亮门 or moon gates)—passageways to welcome you into something.

The show is called “CELEBRATION” (the Abloh-esque quotation a must), and it requires no effort to guess who Off-White is celebrating. Ten months have passed since Virgil Abloh’s death. The world is still celebrating his legacy, not just at the brand he founded, but also at Louis Vuitton, where he had, many agree, changed menswear. Apparently this collection was already initiated by Mr Abloh before he died. The collection is now realised by the team installed at the studio and led by the stylist and EIC of Dazed Ibrahim Kamara, the brand’s Image and Art Director, who was appointed to the post last April. Why Mr Kamara was not made the creative director of the ready-to-wear isn’t clear, but it is possible that he is trying to postion himself as a ”multi-hyphenate”, as Mr Abloh invariably was thought to be.

One of the things he with the varied portfolio has to do is to keep things within Planet Abloh, and a signature colour is a good way to start. Unmistakable this season is the wash of blue that bathes the show and its venue to effect what Mr Kamara called “blue universe”, as he told WWD. This includes the by-now obligatory pre-show performance typical of Mr Abloh’s presentation, this time with dancers all togged in the chosen blue, with faces painted in the same colour. It is tempting to think they are members of the Blue Man Group, but they are not. The performers are reportedly from the French capital. They performed with palpable tribal spunk to the percussive music of Paris-based afro-punk musician Faty Sy Savanet, in leotards no doubt created by the Off-White studio.

As for the collection, it is not going to benefit from what we have not already said about Virgil Abloh’s work. To note, again, is that Off-White is not quite the label it was before; the street tag of the past is mostly not applicable. After Virgil Abloh joined Louis Vuitton and had access to the maison’s vast resources, Off-White became more like a Louis Vuitton spin-off with a ‘couture’ component that also manifests in the present show, although not in quantity. The two outfits are presumably to bring the presentation to a close, with a bang. One is a coat made of what looks like petals (leather?), festooned to give it a vaguely cocoon shape. The other is less conventional, even curious—a lace chador, worn with the face left uncovered. Inclusive, perhaps, but would true chador wearers not take offence to the sheerness of the garment? Or, could this be what Sierra Leone-born Ibrahim Kamara told WWD: “I’m bringing my African point of view”?

Screen shot (top): off—white.com. Photos: gorunway.com

Burberry’s Beach-Influenced Bungle

The English label shows in London as Paris Fashion Week starts. Yes, it is disorienting, and the collection is, sadly, muddled

Burberry cancelled their London Fashion Week slot because of the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Their new show opens as PFW begins. Still, guests were keen to go to London—even if it may mean hopping back to Paris almost immediately—because the rumours have been rife for weeks that this could be Riccardo Tisci’s swan song for the brand. Is that why Naomi Campbell walks the runway, her celebrity presence overwhelming the Burberry outfit she is assigned to model? Ms Campbell is known to be an ardent supporter/defender of the designers she adores. This could be her last show for Mr Tisci at Burberry (interestingly, she did not walk Christopher Bailey’s final presentation for the house, although she did attend). The Italian, like his compatriots, does love the company of American celebrities, but there is no sign of one-time devotee of his Givenchy, Kim Kardashian, or equivalent on the runway or off (unless you count Leonardo DiCaprio’s ex, Camila Morrone), although Kanye West, Burberry-clad and shod, did show up for the front row.

If this is truly his final presentation for Burberry, Mr Tisci seems to have returned to where he started. The 81-look collection has something for everyone, as Mr Tisci was fond of suggesting when his early collections seemed to lack focus. This time, the clothes are inspired by the all-sorts who go to a beach, such a Margate, the southeastern coastal town of England (the teasers for the show is filmed here). So beach/swim wear is a theme, or woven into Mr Tisci’s idea of English eccentric. A sparkly triangular bikini top comes with just-as-brilliant arm floats (but are likely bags); a similar but one-piece swimsuit is worn over a pink gown with cut-outs on the crotch, sides, and buttocks; a black bikini set worn under a slinky gown with an ‘X’ for the bodice. These are the obvious references or “codes from the seaside”, as per Burberry. About British beach dressing, Mr Tisci said, “you really see people dressing on the beach, because you never know when it’s going to rain or when there’s going to be sun… Or, you’ll see a wedding, or someone who’s gone there at lunch time to read. It’s all different personalities.”

The show opens eerily quiet in a warehouse with no set, unless you count the curtains, chairs, and platforms on which people stand. At first it seems that the sound of feet and guests coughing, clearing their throats, fidgeting and doing whatever noisy things fashion-show attendees do were to be the soundtrack. Then an operatic voice is heard; it goes on, somewhat forlornly, and then stops. Silence. Three minutes of stillness. And a live orchestra (yes, it is there all along) plays, and the finale begins. One senses that there is an attempt to appear respectful in the wake of the the Queen’s funeral. It’s almost ceremonial. But, is it necessary when the beach is where inspiration is drawn and sexiness is not omitted? Sure, there are all-black clothes, but these are supposedly goth-on-the-beach sombre, not royal-death solemn. If a wedding can be seen on an English beach, then perhaps a funeral too?

In his attempt to reflect the “different personalities” of littoral life and buzz, Mr Tisci shows he has the sand to build the fanciest fashion that the brand’s customers would want. But the result is as muddled as it is futile. He has a tendency to over-design, to pile on, and his latest (and last?) collection is replete with the unnecessarily elaborate, exaggerated, and expendable. One especially unneeded (even useless) detail or styling trick is the long sleeves from the back of dresses or trenchcoats that, in some, appear to be the bottom-halves of upside-down tops tied at the waist or hung loose by the side of the body. One halter-neck denim top comes with the tied sleeves when, above that, there is already a large floppy pussy bow. Even the Burberry check can’t subscribe to judicious tweaks. In one negligée-over-body-stocking look, the check seems to fade into what appears to be a stretched honeycomb pattern.

Last month, we visited the Burberry store at ION Orchard before it closed in the mall permanently. It was deathly quiet inside. There is a visible absence of chartering mainland Chinese tourists. The SAs were so in need of customer contact that two trailed us, doggedly. Nothing in the store called out to us, not even a possible It bag. There was a distinct lack of ambient pull. We sensed that the London cool of the brand that once distinguished its offering has turned quite tepid. The last big-scale promotional event Burberry held was to celebrate the Olympia bag. Nothing in the store then aroused curiosity, let alone stirred desire. If the rumours of Riccardo Tisci’s departure are true (and the chatter that the design reigns will go back to a Brit, such as Daniel Lee), perhaps they are indications that the time is right for a change of creative stewardship. Burberry needs it.

Screen shot (top): burberry/YouTube

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