Down By The Thames

…where it’s dank and dreary, Sarah Burton showed a collection for Alexander McQueen damp with the damper

So, the showing of spring/summer 2021 collections is still on-going. At this point, so close to what would be the first deliveries of the next season, it is unsurprising that many people can’t keep up. One product manager told us that he’s “so confused”. Alexander McQueen’s collection for next spring was just shown, and the brand is taking “pre-orders” on its website. Is that a new iteration of the now mostly forgotten see-now-buy-now model, once so fervently touted by the likes of Burberry and Tom Ford? Or, is this deliberately turning one’s nose up at conventional fashion-season schedules. Or, a brand “lead(ing) its own rhythm”, just as Saint Laurent has, when they announced on Instagram back in April?

Whatever the case, brands are finding ways to show to pique both customer and media-watcher interest. Alexander McQueen has eschewed the fashion show (even a reinterpreted one) for a fashion film by the English film-maker/commercial director Jonathan Glazer that shows both the women’s spring/summer 2021 collection and the men’s pre-fall 2021. Shot in a not-so-stunning part of the English river Thames, the film is what optimists might call “gritty”, compared to another on-location showing just days earlier: Saint Laurent’s stunning runway presentation in a North African desert. The Thames is not the Seine, and the film’s setting is perhaps a deliberate counterpoint to Sarah Burton’s underwhelming frocks. Those who love to uncover fashion film messages would consider this a worthy challenge, as they wonder what the two women opening the film were doing in the water, searching for a picnic their friends were already partaking (why could they have not walked on the river bank?). And why waste good tulle by making a model dressed in a froth create an angel shape in the mud?!

Perhaps mud and the muck are tropes for Sarah Burton being somewhat stuck in a sludge of sameness. In the early year since taking over Alexander McQueen after his death, Ms Burton has tried to put out some semblance of those complex and challenging cuts that the former was known for, with hints of consumable historicism. But in the ensuing years, it became one “love letter to women” after another. Ms Burton’s inability to push Alexander McQueen the brand further than just pretty clothes is one of the reasons why look-back Instagram accounts such as #mcqueen_vault is well and alive, and followed. There is no denying that Ms Burton is technically well-grounded, but that is not indication of the flair that made Mr McQueen the name once on everyone’s lips.

The film let on very little. So we viewed the lookbook, usually not the ideal medium to capture the mood of the season. It appears that statement sleeves are Ms Burton’s thing for next spring. As dramatic as they are and as alluring as they would be to the selfie-obsessed fashionistas, we feel we have seen it at Viktor and Rolf before. In view of the current social situation, these could well be (timely?) social-distancing sleeves. What is really ho-hum is the corseted bodice (extraordinary?) of fit-and-flare dresses with swirly symmetry of the skirt. These are low-barrier-to-entry designs, and they, like many other pieces, look tired even when it’s visible that, with some of the pieces, considerable work is invested in them. But, given the ease of dressing that women now prefer, must it be so obvious that she had tried this hard?

Photos: Alexander McQueen

The Tassel’s Moment

One 2021 trend for guys is the use of tassels. Yes, the pendant ornaments. You ready to dangle one?

One of the danglies shown at the recent pre-fall 2021 Dior show is not some Kid Cudi-esque necklace or chain. Rather, it is a tassel—the pendant ornament (we’ve never heard it referred to as accessory or jewellery) that is essentially a column of quite tightly packed strings (referred to as a ‘skirt’) topped with a fancy knot or cap. Dior’s (left), fastened to what could be a belt (or waist bag?), has the girth of Chinese ink brush and the length of a man’s forearm. This particularly thick one is gradated, as if the yellow of monks robes is dipped into a vat of purple cabbage. It is fancy, for sure, and, an IG-worthy exaggeration. They are nothing like those leather tassels sometimes affixed to the vamp of loafers. From our perspective, Dior’s seems to glean from the world of Chinese wuxia, or perhaps scholars.

For those with less progressive leaning, we are, admittedly, putting a more masculine spin here. Since the Dior tassels look Chinese (or Oriental, definitely not those on English academic caps—Oxford or Cambridge, take your pick), we’ll look at China, where Kim Jones engaged local embroiderers to create the two-thousand-year-old seed embroidery (繨子绣 or dazixiu) for the Dior collection. Whether this was to expressly cater to a Chinese market or Mr Jones expressing his love for Eastern craft and exotica, it is hard to say.

Anyway, tassels were once used ornamentally on swords (剑 or jian). Broadly speaking, the sword tassel (剑繐 or jian sui) appeared at the end of the hilt of what was known as the scholar’s sword (文剑 or wen jian), used mainly for self defence and dancing, rather than at war, or to project an elegant image—possibly the same motivation as Pharrell Williams in pearls. The tassel was less evident on the martial sword (武剑 or wu jian), which was used on the battlefield. Historically, the tassel mostly hung from the scholar’s sword. If a sword was designated for offensive use, it unlikely came with a tassel, since it would get in the way of a duel. However, the swordsman blessed with cunning might use a long, deceptively limp tassel to target his opponent’s eyes!

But the Chinese tassel did not only hang on the hilt of the sword, it dangled from the waists of men too. These were known as waist accessories (腰佩 or yaopei)—the Dior belt above certainly qualifies as one. In ancient times, both men and women wore carved jade pieces from which hung a tassel (but never as thick as the Dior version). These were known as jinbu (禁步) or ‘forbidden steps’, which, in the case of women, may make sense, since the jinbu was used to hold down the skirt (including the men’s) and possibly preventing the wearer from striding. How this eventually became a check on female deportment isn’t clear. The men did not, however, appear to need to be held back (guys today who wear extra-long canvas belts left dangling from the box buckle could be mimicking the wearing of a jinbu). Apart from the jinbu, both men and women also wore the xiangnang (香囊) or a fragrance pouch. Made of silk and embroidered, they were often attached to a tassel. The xiangnang was usually stuffed with cotton and aromatics, and were used as personal perfume, air-freshener, and even to ward off evil spirits.

A few days after the Dior show, Nike announced the release of the Air Jordan 1 for Chinese New Year 2021 (no drop date was revealed). This basketball shoe—that Dior (again?!) made massive in June—sports one of the style’s most popular colour combo: ‘university red’ (and just as hongbao bright) and black. That the upper would partly come with a brocade fabric sporting oxen is hardly surprising, but that the shoe comes with a tassel is quite unexpected. The cord, red, is fasten along the collar of the sneaker, like a choker, and the tassel, gold, hangs to the side, near the eyestay, like an earring. This tassel, unlike Dior’s is really quite small. Its short fringe body is topped with what looks like a Chinese button knot. Pendant to a necklace. A neat way of wearing an anklet without actually wearing one?

Photos: Dior and Nike respectively. Collage: Just So

“How Do You Say Dior?”

Kim Jones’s masterstrokes at heightening the allure of Deee-or

Kim Jones is undoubtedly a master at name building. Or, strengthening brand equity. He has continually and successfully used the Dior monogram as a visual affirmation of the label’s desirability. And now, he has also done it in song. For his pre-fall 2021 presentation, he has commissioned a soundtrack that leaves you in no doubt as to who has the money to pay for the equivalent of a commercial jingle. The show opened to a campy feline growl of “Diorrr” (and, later, a kittenish “How do you say Diorrr?”) and a familiar electro-riff and driving base: Deee-Lite’s 1990 club hit What is Love, from the New York group’s debut album World Clique, which spawned the massive dance hit Groove is in the Heart. Thirty years later, What is Love returns to the Dior sound stage, through the auspices of serial collaborator of LVMH brands, DJ Honey Dijon (2017’s The Best of Both Worlds). He was able to get Deee-Lite’s lead singer Lady Miss Kier to re-record the vocals for the remixed What is Love, with parts of the single Pussycat Meow thrown in for good measure. It’s all, as Lady Miss Kier would say, “deee-groovy”.

To make it more far-out, the show, originally planned to be shown in Beijing, is set in what appears to be deep space. The space theme happens twice in a row this week. Two days earlier, Balenciaga’s autumn/winter 2021 fashion video game, Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow, too, alluded to outer space. The Dior models, although less avatar-like, similarly appears to be walking in front of a green screen. Much of the show, then, is a result of some really neat post-production. It delightfully (pardon the pun) contrasts with Deee-Lite’s old-school soundtrack that celebrates good old-fashioned Chicago house with New York pertness. Opposite nature too was seen in the hair of the models. Many wore small plaited buns on each side of the top of their heads. They’re neither especially masculine nor cosmic. Was it because the show was originally destined for Beijing, they were paying tribute to the Chinese protection deity Nezha (哪吒)? Or, if outer space is in mind, maybe a remade and re-scaled Princess Leia coil?

The clothes themselves are not as galactic too. Mr Jones, the prolific collaborator, has chosen the American artist Kenny Scharf this time. Mr Scharf is a giant in the New York art scene of the ’80s and the friend of the now-gone celebrity-artists Keith Harring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. His paintings, generally categorised as ‘street’ or ‘graffiti’, capture a naive kind of joy, especially in his alien-like characters, such as the one depicted in the 1983 portraiture The Fun Inside. In this respect, perhaps Dior this season pays tribute to the cosmos. Mr Jones has incorporated the artist’s globular and jaunty patterns into his clothes, with results that vary on the scale of loud. Mr Scharf’s cartoonish depictions of whatever creatures they are even appear (unsurprisingly) on the Saddle bag and even as a fancy belt (or is that a waist pack?), shaped in part like the characters it depicts. To make the collection couture worthy, some of the art are created using Chinese seed embroidery (繨子绣 or dazi xiu), confirming again, its intended audience.

If you take away the art-as-fashion-print/needlework, the clothes are Mr Jones’s usual straight-on men’s wear, the kind worn in another era, by older urban tribes. These separates (there are 45 looks) do not sport youthful shapes, but since they are targetted at the young, the mature vibe does not matter. Take the balmacaan outerwear, for example; they smack of avuncular pride, even (or especially?) when made in a patterned fabric. Or, the shirts: they’d be just any regular ones if not for the Kenny Scharf print. For details to differentiate, Mr Jones expectedly applies feminine touches: butterfly wings on collars of coats, fringing on shirt tails, massive tassels that hang like pendants on lanterns, or sash-belts tied to the rear as pussy bows. We sometimes sense that Kim Jones designs with K-pop stars in mind. Don’t be surprised that BTS will be outfitted in Dior at the Grammy’s next month.

Photos: Dior