It’s a confounding time to be a fashion consumer; confounding is the time indeed. Just as you thought that the autumn/winter collections are in the stores, informed as you were by those heavier fabrics and too-covered-up styles, a salesperson throws you off by announcing that it’s “pre-season”. And if you show surprise because, just next door, a sprightly seller was showing you the “latest autumn winter” threads, she comes back with “we have many seasons and now is pre-season.”
Just like that, you feel you’re not with the times. The vis-à-vis encounter has rendered your idea of weather-appropriate, as opposed to seasonal, clothing kaput. Fashion, more than climate, has succumbed to the vageries of the four seasons. Those simply dry and wet that characterise this part of the world mean nothing. If AccuWeather is to be believed, it’s 32°C out there, where the RealFeal® is 41. Yet, inside a mall, where the temperature, if you’re lucky, may be 26 degrees, a salesperson will try to sell you a heat trap otherwise known as a fully-lined jacket.
Fashion has, since the ’80s—when imported European fashion began to appear in large numbers—induced us to consume in seasons. Local retailers too have been eager to tout autumn/winter as a valid retail term, except that consumers aren’t really keeping track of the seasons. It’s so damned hot out there, goes the common complain. But it’s been like that since January! Does autumn/winter in June makes sense, however important keeping abreast of the trends is?
The oversized suit jacket of Balenciaga Men spring/summer 2017
Fashion seasons nowadays come in and out more regularly than rain. In June alone, we’re inundated with news on the Cruise Collections, which regaled us with clothes shown in far-away locales or dark religious arcades. Then, in the stores, the autumn/winter 2016 collections arrive, and in others, the pre-season. This excitement at retail level bubbles while reports of the men’s spring/summer 2017 shows break incessantly.
Confounding, too, it would be for men who consume fashion. Before they can digest what’s key in the upcoming season or recall what fashion trends have been given the top ten positions, they’re now told to keep in mind the key looks for spring/summer next year. Sure, chances of seeing these clothes as early as December are high, but who’s really even thinking of Christmas when the financial year is nowhere near close? Will we one day need an IMDB-style app to help us recall which designer did what, when?
Now that Balenciaga’s first men’s wear show in its 99-year history was staged, so many media outlets are hailing the return of the suit as if it had gone to war, captured as POW, and now released. Sure, the suits in one collection are so plentiful (19 of 34 looks) that, in a season that witnessed the blouson and its ilk reign supreme, they appear to be having a Giorgio Armani-in-the-Eighties moment. But these are not the suits many have been weaned on; these are not those worn with the ease of a cardigan. Unconventional has been the general description of Demna Gvasalia’s first men’s collection for the house of Balenciaga, but that does not cover weird.
Even the coats are cut room, just the like the jackets
What are conspicuously strange are those boxy, shoulders-extended suit jackets. A scale that can be described as zoot suit on steroids. Perhaps Mr Gvasalia has taken into account the changing shapes of men’s gym-produced bodies, or maybe he’s re-shaping because shape and form are integral to the Balenciaga legacy. The silhouettes, however, seemed to be based on cardboard boxes than flat paper patterns. Could they be homage to Professor Utonium (Powerpuff Girls) or, to go a little further back, Professor Nut-Meg (Felix the Cat)? Or to cater to Silicon Valley, where a geek may need a suit to attend his first tech award?
It should be noted that in the casting for the show, Balenciaga has picked mainly young white men of perhaps Eastern European stock. The operative words are young and white. The suits seem to be conceived for a populace in the European continent where kids can make even the strangest garb look oddly attractive. For us Asians, a jacket of such roominess and lapels that have grandfather written all over them is evocative of those that are made in Chinese factories still unshackled from their proletarian roots, and are worn by former military men now installed as head of commercial enterprises, building business empires, blissfully unaware of a sartorially changed world.
There is, of course, a whiff of the aesthetic of the Eastern Bloc’s winsome years that is pervasive in the designs of two dominant forces in men’s wear today: one a Georgian and the other Russian. Nothing inherently wrong in that itself, but can such culture-specific references cross borders, even if we’re supposed to believe that fashion is a borderless world?
The other extreme: ultra-fitted suits
Change is good, we’ve been told, but not all changes are palatable or even digestible. Balenciaga has no real DNA for its men’s wear. Each designer since Nicolas Ghesquière has tried creating its own lasting codes only to be shattered by the next. Mr Gvasalia is not obligated to continue from the last, now-forgotten look. The aim, it seems, is to create seismic change, as seen at other fashion houses. Heritage is immaterial. Who’s talking about Tom Ford’s legacy at Gucci when Alessandro Michele is making (tidal) waves? Even Balenciaga is emancipated from Nicolas Ghesquière’s significant contributions to the revival of the brand. It’s now really about what Demna Gvasalia can bring to the table, and what he can do to capture the attention of an easily sidetracked and loyalty-uncommon world. Likeability is not as important as newsworthy.
Offering two extremes is the way Balenciaga could hit the headlines, or sent social media agog with wild excitement. The severity of jackets with strong shoulders and roomy body has to have a counterpoint in the form of constricted ultra-slim suits. These slender numbers should appeal to those with a penchant for everything skinny. It caters to an existing market, but does it really? On the models, the strange fit of the jacket—the sleeve kisses the shoulder bumpily and also oddly and the foldover of the double-breasted bodice nearly reaches the side of the torso—could be something new or something borrowed from the always too-tight jackets worn by lead actors of K-drama. That is two-pronged too!
Yes, fashion changes, so do shapes of clothes, but knock in vain we shall not on a wardrobe that won’t spill the content to make us look good. However confounding the times, well turn out is key, not looking foolish too, even if, regrettably, they are radical idea these days.