American Avant-Garde?

Marc Jacobs returns with a new collection of gigantic hoods and snoods. And, surprisingly, there’s nothing ’70s about it

After a longer-than-one-season break, Marc Jacobs is back, showing—really, really late—autumn/winter 2021 in his native New York. Every time we thought we have seen the final anything for this year, then we wouldn’t be. Americans are naturally thrilled. Mr Jacobs’s collections are the only ones during New York Fashion Week, even now off-calendar, that, as one buyer told us, people actually see. Now that he’s showing at his own pace, fans and observers are even more curious. Will he stand out without his compatriots to compare to (remembering what Tom Ford showed in February now could be hard)? Will the looks in Europe filter down to his runway’s? Will he be the darling of the global press? Mr Jacobs has always known how to make the news, from desecrating the monogram of one luxury brand to starting fashion shows unreasonably late, he has done quite enough attention grabbing. Even his not showing last season was major news. His name is, in fact, rarely not, which makes this collection’s use of his moniker in bold, san-serif font and near-neon colours in place of a monogram a bit of a puzzler.

Perhaps Mr Jacobs does not want you to forget him. The name, therefore, must be masthead-large (and repeated in lines) to be noticeable, just as the clothes are crazily massive to be noted. Would the Marc Jacobs store (or all other stockists retailing his line, such as Bergdorf Goodman) be required to make even more capacious paper bags than usual? These are seriously oversized garments. The 101 ways with Sleeping Bags? In the case of the outers, they look large enough to fit two wearers. In fact, you actually see more clothes that the persons in them. We’re thinking of South Park’s Kenneth “Kenny” McCormick! Mr Jacobs chose to have the runway—in the New York Public Library, rather than his usual Park Avenue Armory—photos shot to see the side of the models. This could be better to highlight the chunky, vaguely ’60s silhouettes, but they give little to how the clothes would look front-facing. A view of the show is, therefore, necessary. The front, too, obscures the body in many instances, sometimes even faces. There could have been droids in those padded cocoons.

For the present, Mr Jacobs has left the ’70s, even if momentarily. He, too, has allowed the usual Yves Saint Laurent and Rei Kawakubo grips to weaken. Despite the outre shapes and the unwieldy proportions, there seems to be semblance of looking back—to the ’60, first, in what has been described as “space age-y”—those outerwear and their attendant hoods or padded balaclavas, vaguely recalling the futurism of André Courrèges, and secondly, the dresses with medallion-sized paillettes, vaguely bringing to mind Paco Rabanne. Mr Jacobs is a master plunderer of the past, positioning what he acquires at points just past the present. He has taken the vintage-y out of the space age-y by pumping up the volume of the clothes or elongating sleeves and skirts. Exaggeration of shape is not exactly new these days, but New York designers have not been enthralled by the practice. Mr Jacobs knows, therefore, that he can draw attention with the goofy enlargement, and re-establish himself as the American who can.

So the practicable is replaced by the outlandish, as he sends out massive jackets and coats (their size augmented by the skinniness of the pants or the outrageous girth of their legs); some hooded coats placed over heads like wearable tipis. Even Mr Jacobs’s prim jackets with rounded collars are upsized. The puffer jackets are even larger, some with hoods the size of African elephants ears, and one, with a hooded snood as tall and wide as a 20-litre water dispenser bucket. The puffers are so bulky, they come with straps so that you can carry them like backpacks. Whatever cannot be made excessively larger are lengthened: shoulders and sleeves, skirts and pants (so long that they require platform Mary Janes to prevent them from dragging). Veil-like hoods (in sweater knit) are so long, they look like chadors from afar. Paillettes destined for discotheques appear on skirts and dresses, and granny cardis, or are shaped into bib-sized neckwear. The collection also shows Mr Jacobs to be an avid colorist: brights are paired with more brights, sometimes with vintage-looking graphic patterns in the richer shades of ecclesiastical robes. All in all, lots to see, but how much of them will really arouse desire? Marc Jacobs is hopeful; he calls the collection Happiness.

Photos: Marc Jacobs

Sacai Does Soignée

Is Chisote Abe in a couture state of mind?

It’s five months after the last autumn/winter presentations during menswear fashion week in Paris, and we’re still seeing the season’s collections being shown. It is clearer than ever that fashion weeks as we know (knew?) them don’t matter much anymore. Nor if showing in Paris, traditionally the most important city in which to unveil a collection, really matters, even when the city, as a fashion capital, is still important. In stores, such as our Club 21, pre-sale of the spring/summer collections have already begun. It is, therefore, hard to place Sacai’s latest show, unmistakably broadcast from Tokyo, in the scheme of things and the selling season. Surely, the clothes were available to buyers much earlier? Or is Sacai pursuing some form of see-now-buy-now model?

In fact, designer Chisote Abe’s Parisian haute couture debut is near. In July, she will be showing her debut collection for Jean Paul Gaultier as the latter’s first guest designer to interprete Mr Gaultier couture. This was supposed to take place last year, but as with so many partnerships and events in fashion due to the pandemic, it didn’t happen. But no designer is turning back on their pairing, and Ms Abe will show in Paris in the month after next. It is a much anticipated couture collection, just as Balenciaga’s return to couture under Demna Gvasalia is (also for July). Which makes us wonder if the Sacai autumn/winter season is a foretaste of what Ms Abe might produce for JPG? It is, after all, remarkably elegant, almost to the point of special-occasion dressing.

That the outdoor show suggested nightfall (in Tokyo) rather than the time-non-specific of a staging in a neutral interior space seemed to say that the clothes are indeed for when dressing up under dim lights or atmosphere that suggests glamour is possible again. And that the models emerged from a Sacai private helicopter heightened the specialness of the occasion. These outfits are not just for a date at the deli; these would not be out of place at the opera. In fact, some could easily fit and stand out on a red carpet. Ms Abe has always been in touch with the part in her that loves a pretty and dazzling and enchanting dress, but she had always tempered those ultra-femme styles with elements that were off-kilter and definitely military. Her approach is known as ‘hybridising’, or bringing different—often opposing—ideas together, not just seen in those two-in-ones, but also the many-in-ones. She has made this so much her aesthetical signature that in recent years, she seemed to be coasting. Even ardent fans are saying she has become somewhat predictable.

The latest looks, while identifiably Sacai, have a certain beguiling glamour about them, and seemed conceived for women than girls, for keeping than trending. The military-inspired outwear is not surprising, but what is delightful are those dresses with their strength in the way they flow and flatter (the body), not how strangely they distend or tent out. It is the overall sleekness that makes every ensemble eye-catching. Pity the models did not remove the coats to reveal the dresses underneath. Just as it was regrettable that the show was filmed on a set that mimicked Tokyo’s famed Shibuya Crossing, rather than the pedestrian intersection itself. But perhaps this is indication that Sacai is now able to play alongside the big league. The last time a fashion label was able to have their own-branded aircraft, it was Chanel.

Photos: Sacai

Potent Pairing

In a collaboration that no one saw coming, Gucci seems to finally be shifting gears

Did the Gucci show really happen? Is Gucci really 100? Why was Balenciaga the elder (104!) roped in to celebrate? Is this a tap-thy-stablemate’s-mind Gucci for the next century? Did your head not spin? Does Gucci need Balenciaga to—finally—look this interesting? Are they not able to reinvent themselves on their own? Is this Balenciaga doing Gucci? A sort of guest editor? Or Gucci in homage mode? Or an expression of Alessandro Michele’s desire to do Balenciaga? Do we need a Balenciaga ‘Hourglass’ bag with Gucci monogram? Or Gucci jackets with Balenciaga shoulders? Or Gucci-Balenciaga suits with the logotype of both brands littered on them, like department store gift wrappers? Or the familiar printed leggings-cum-boots chez Balenciaga? What’s a coat fastened to the extreme left a la Balenciaga doing in a Gucci collection? Or an asymmetric dress with a draped hemline so evocative of the B appearing in a show (still) typical of the G?

Is the world we are living in now not confusing enough?

The action takes place in supposedly London’s Savoy Hotel, imagined as a club with a catwalk and a secret garden. The music is not house (as has been the choice of the season at other houses), but a mish-mash that is a narcissistic bang at Gucci as narcotic, from Lil Pump’s yo-bro chorus of “Gucci gang” to Tita von Tesse’s tease on Die Antwood’s “Gucci coochie”. And there is a lot to analyse and unpack. But we may risk misreading everything. Mr Michele is, of course, no stranger to collaboration (the allegedly sold-out collab with The North Face, the most recent). He is also quite the plunderer of the past and cultures not his own. This collection, conversely called “Aria” (essentially an operatic solo), although a “pop” version, looks to the past, to self, and to contemporaries in a show that seems to salute whatever deserves to be hailed. A greatest hits of Gucci’s own legacy, the now fashion culture that the house is largely part of, and the design contributions of another equally iconoclastic, if not more, label. As Mr Michele said, post-show, to the media, “I have been an excellent thief, a robber.”

This is not the Gucci we are used to. It’s less geeky (except some of the models), less foolish (except, maybe the accessories), and even less irreverent (except, again, the accessories). Could this be Mr Michele’s tame side; he on the periphery of reasonableness? The clothes do not look too vintage-y (the retro vibe cannot, of course, be totally rid of) nor do they deliberately look as though sourced from the Salvation Army. We keep seeking out Balenciaga, but the partnership is not so much the two designers coming together to design the collection as one expressing love for the work of another. This is not the same as, say, Dries van Noten and Christian Lacroix in 2019. Or, contemporaneously, Valentino and Undercover. And definitely not Miuccia Prada with Raf Simons (no way!). Rather, Mr Michele “quoted” Demna Gvasalia, according to the show notes, not copied. Euphemistic talk no doubt, but it makes the results very much Mr Michele’s singular doing. Apparently, he was granted permission by his Georgian Kering associate to create hacks of Balenciaga’s distinctive silhouettes for both the ready-to-wear and the leather goods. This truly speaks of the creative culture of today, when Balenciaga can be treated like Ikea. Replete with rhinestones and marabou!

The references make for absorbing viewing. For so long (it has been more than half a decade of Alessandro Michele’s tenure!), Gucci has been frustratingly predictable that we wanted to really not dislike this collection. Sure, we do not expect Gucci to suddenly become unprovocative. We want their fans to go on being enamoured. It is inevitable there is enough camp to keep both Harry Styles and Jared Leto delighted and sufficient logos and indeterminate forms to keep Billie Eillish coming back for more. And adequate 70s disco glam (glittered cowl-neck top for men!) to get night owls ready for the day when bars and club can open. At the same time, it is refreshing to see that some of the tailoring is ‘classic’ and that the clothes sit well; the oversized is not actually ill-fitting. And the return of equestrian details, even if they are harnesses for chests or saddles for shoulders—not so barefaced since Dawn Mello was hired to revive the brand in 1989. But we are not sure if we are used to seeing Balenciaga’s extraordinary (less so now), offbeat (that, too) shapes within the kooky universe—including a near-obsession with body parts held in the hand, such as this season’s glittery minaudières of anatomically-correct heart—that is the only Gucci that fashionistas know.

But Mr Michele did not only pay homage to Balenciaga, he also saluted fashion’s patriarch of sexy who changed Gucci forever, Tom Ford (totally snubbing John Ray, Alessandra Facchinetti, and, unsurprisingly, Frida Giannini). The first suit that appeared will always be associated with Mr Ford: in red velvet, and worn with a baby blue shirt, with two buttons deliberately undone. Thankfully, none of the pre-wokeness “porno chic” was revived. That Mr Ford’s designs could be easily riffed—er, hacked—is understandable: Mr Michele and the Texan designer/film maker have a maximal love of the ’70s, even when both dance on opposite ends—one with a deep reverence for the elegance of Halston, the other with the ardour for the hipness of the hippies. The Tom Ford-era suits, now with reshaped shoulders, have the sexed-up dapper cool associated with the oddball individuality of Balenciaga, rather than something akin to those in forgotten wardrobes of Haight-Ashbury. Mr Ford is relevant again.

In most cities, dance clubs are closed, but luxury fashion seems eager for them to open or to be looking forward to the mirrored ball spinning again. The just-concluded Dior pre-fall 2021 show in Shanghai is illustrative. At Gucci, the models, flanked by flash lights, finish their catwalk routine and move to a holding area (gosh, we are thinking of Prada. Again!). But rather than ending their job there, they are led by one of them, who opens a massive door, into a garden. There, they danced among white horses—interestingly, without saddlery—and albino peacocks. Very soon, as the frolicking suggests, the world can parallel Peter Pan’s. Perhaps, Alessandro Michele, in his mind, is singing I will Survive.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Gucci

Teen No More

Is Raf Simons finally inspired by maturity?

Morse code signals of Kraftwerk’s Radio-Activity (or Radio-Aktivität), released in 1975, could have been a delightful hint of what the Raf Simons autumn/winter 2021 co-ed show might look like. But Mr Simons is never unsubtle. And definitely none of the retro-futuristic exuberance for him. Perhaps we were just thrilled to hear the familiar melody of what could be a remix of the remastered title track of the German composers’ first all-electronic album. When the show began, we saw a model emerge from a pentagonal tunnel, lit by running fluorescent lights. Our thinking was in overdrive. When the models walked into the movie-set-like Barenzaal, a power-plant-turn-event-space, we were certain we had thought too much. This was not going to be a collection inspired by The Looking Glass War.

The catchy electro-pop minimalism of Radio-Activity, perhaps, threw us off. We couldn’t really imagine Raf Simons set against Kraftwerk. (But who else could we have thought, Tate McRae?!) In 2015, an article in the Financial Times, enthused that “it is difficult to think of a band less inclined to noodle—and yet there’s also warmth and humour in their music”. Perhaps the same can be said of the clearly-intoned designs of Mr Simons, even when we couldn’t join the dots between the designer and the music. It is not the warmth of his tenure at Dior and not quite the humour of, say, Moschino, but there is—we did sense it—something warm and humorous. In fact, the oversized shapes that Mr Simons has been offering for a while now sometimes felt like a big joke, and you either get it or don’t. We do know, for sure, one person who does: Miuccia Prada.

The show is set in a former mine building, now known as C-Mine, in the former mining town of Genk, in the Limburg region of Belgium. Millennials of the party gen before COVID-19 might recognise in C-Mine, the building St James Powerhouse in HarborFront. The Barenzaal’s bunker-like industrial site somehow made us think that the Amphibian Man (The Shape of Water) might appear, rather than Mr Simons’s gorgeous, supple shapes. What struck us was a palpable omission of obvious youth, “solar” or not. These clothes seemed less gleaned from campuses than camps, or more specifically, the groups favouring the less conventional without looking, when dressed, like arrivistes embracing fashion for the first time, or for social-climbing attention.

People do grow up, so do fashion. Mr Simons said in the accompanying notes to the collection—“I don’t want to show clothes, I want to show my attitude, my past, present and future. I use memories and future visions and try to place them in todays world.” Unencumbered by the heritage or archive of a heritage-house-as-employer, Mr Simons was able to just hit the right notes, as he went on with not just marching to his own drum beat, but by striking the drum too. This collection had all the hallmarks of shapes and details that fans love, whether for his own house or when he was designing for another. If you were sold to the intriguing volumes, they’re all still here, this time in a near-cocoon that might be associated with the business tagged haute. This was “attitude” that, despite being forward-looking, had the sense of the palpable present: comfortable and assuring.

Mr Simons is not only a shape-meister, he’s also a texture ace, creating knits with the surface effect of stretched kueh ambon or forming the diamond-quilts on the coats (with voluminous rear) that could be a remake the 127-year-old British brand Barbour might just need. And there were the colours, too—chromatic pairing that only Mr Simons would attempt. Few could pair brights to black the way he could: always with such electrifying effect, even when the shades were closer to pastels. Who’d think of teaming candy pink with highlighter yellow? And there are the accessories: one skeletal wrist arm-cuff got us wondering. Was this Mr Simons offering the equivalent of the skull? Humour?! And what about those new R. Simons labels that appears even on knitted gloves? Is the brand embracing commercialism? Or, had his experience with the Prada triangle brought something out in him that we know not much of?

This was Mr Simons’s second women’s collection. It’s hard to link anything here to the past, Jil Sander or Dior, although some of the shirts did bring to mind Calvin Klein. Despite the clearly feminine leaning at Dior, Raf Simons is rarely associated with profound femininity and high-octane glamour. Yet, he has a clear sense of what makes striking womenswear that’s sensational, and, at the same time, uncontrived and unforced. We are partial to the tunics and tunic-dresses, so consistent with styles that are knowing and confident. At Jil Sander, one fashion critic once said that Mr Simons was not able to cut the pants well. This season, the trousers looked masterfully executed—with just the slouch that today’s ‘relaxed’ calls for without the too-easy hang-loose of sweat pants. The mood of the moment was truly well, and enticingly, captured.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Raf Simons

Loads Of This And That

It’s hard to categorise Louis Vuitton’s RTW, and therein lies the charm

The runway’s back at the Louvre for Louis Vuitton. Inside, in fact. In the Michelangelo and Daru galeries of the Denon Wing, where some of the world’s priceless masterpieces reside, including one very famous smile. But the models—only them in the flesh—did not walk past La Gioconda, also known as the Mona Lisa. Although without an audience or museum visitors or fashion show gawkers, they had for company Falconet’s Bather, the Borghese_Gladiator, and the headless angel, Winged Victory of Samothrace, among other ethereal sculptures of antiquity. The clothes, far from classical or classic, share the grandeur of Greek and Roman, and Hellenistic art at its most prodigious. The simple draping on the statues, if dressed, perhaps show how far fashion has come and how complex it has become, in view of the delightful disarrangement of forms that Nicolas Ghesquière has brought to LV.

Flanked by the neutral-coloured treasures and against the additional lighting installation, the imaginative interplay of shapes and patterns are just beguiling. They beg a second viewing, even a third. Or, more. (First time, there he goes again!) To borrow a popular fashion-reviewer description, there’s a lot to unpack. And we don’t mean just the individual pieces, but what’s on them too. Mr Ghesquière, a skilled cross-pollinator, does not leave the singular alone. In his hands, unlikely juxtaposition, with no specific point of reference, become not only destined, they yield such extraordinary results that you know that, if worn, these clothes can bring on the much-touted, but elusive quality: transformative power. A jacket is not just a jacket, it has conversation-starting “statement sleeves”; a sweater is not just a sweater, it’s a tunic with potholes for pockets; a dress with a ’60s vibe is not quite ’60s after all, it is graphically encrusted and looks ready for a time when a pandemic can truly be described with the prefix ‘post’.

Mr Ghesquière tells the press that he wants to convey “hope and joy”. The joy is not only in the clothes, the joy is also in viewing them, in desiring them. How does one resist a bi-coloured bubble jacket that stays true to the name—a globular puff-up that looks as warming and comfortable as it is striking? Or the abbreviated hobble skirts that won’t restrict movements since they end above the knee? Or those cocktail dresses made sportif (raglan sleeves!) that you know will have a long life outside soirees slated for nightfall? These are occasion-blurring clothes. You don’t see which is for the office (who’s going back to the office?), which for economic summits, which for first dates, which for Sunday brunch, which for holidays, which for strolling in the park, which for gala dinners, which for the red carpet (no gowns!). In the world that comes after our present troubles, we should not have to worry about what to wear… for who, for when, for what; we should just wear.

At Louis Vuitton, they have been enthusiastically embarking on art-collabs. This season, Mr Ghesquière teams up with the estate of the Italian artist Piero Fornasetti (1913-1988) to apply the distinctive Fornasetti graphics on clothes and on bags. The treatment on the apparel are most alluring: medallion (or coin?) cut-outs of heads of classical icons placed, collage-like, on a new typography of the brand spelled in full are far much more eye-catching than repetitive monograms. LV, of course, still banks on their monograms, such as that seen on the Damier canvas, to ensure that they are the world’s most valuable luxury brand, but rather than introducing more, Mr Ghesquière opted for a graphical approach, blending images and text in a happy medley of the old(ish) and the current that projects the spirit of pop. Sure, this season, there’s the monogram-like pattern of rows of frets, but they don’t seemed destined for a vapid commercial life. Etore Sottssas wrote of Mr Fornasetti in the introduction of the book Fornasetti: Designer of Dreams, “It is perfectly possible to create a world that has never been, that will never be, using the fragments of a world that has been, a world that one fine day blew up in the sky.” That can be said of Nicolas Ghesquière. In the Denon Wing, that explosion was evident.

Screen grab and photos: Louis Vuitton

Keeping Loewe In Top Form

Loewe’s autumn/winter 2021 collection proves that Jonathan Anderson is one of the best designers of his generation

It has been one season’s high after another. Jonathan Anderson’s output at Loewe continuously grips us with “what will he think of next?” And thought he has. This season Loewe proudly declares—as a Daily Bugle-worthy headline—that their seasonal “show has been cancelled”, not of course, unceremoniously, but necessarily. Without the alternative of a video offering (or a phygital show), the Spanish brand puts out, instead, a series of photos, in the vein of a print editorial (but more like an advertorial), modelled entirely by Freja Beha. Are photographs less evocative than a catwalk show, even one without an audience? Not in the case of Loewe. No audience does not mean no reach. In case you do not follow them on social media, the collection is presented, “as a newspaper supplement distributed around the world (with broadsheets such as French dailies Le Monde, and Le Figaro and the American paper The New York Times) on the day the show was due to take place, accompanied by an exclusive preview of bestselling author Danielle Steel’s newest novel, The Affair,” according to the brand.

Yes, that’s the “uncritically acclaimed” American romance novelist whose many characters of wealth could be inspiration behind the styling of Ms Beha, photographed in the 1900 Parisian restaurant Le Train Bleu (The Blue Train, so named also because it’s located inside the train station Gare du Lyon), as well as Mr Anderson’s office, and an unknown members’ club on Champs-Élysées. Allusion to women of means and club privé access aside (or, “a legendary editor-in-chief at one of New York’s top fashion magazines” in The Affair?), the clothes do not share the literary styling of Ms Steel that critiques have generally and summarily called “fluff”. In fact, this could be Mr Anderson’s strongest collection yet, weighted in such exactitude of design and detail that some pieces seemed destined for private collections or museums’, to be kept for future display and admiration.

Mr Anderson appears to have moved aside from his love of craft, but not entirely. There are little touches here and there: presumably-made-by-hand tassels, larger than those on curtain tie-backs, fringe hems of jackets, skirts, and pants with a touch of whimsy that is missing in a season still ensnared in the practical and the mundane; diagonal squares of raffia-like fabric that forms a bib on dresses; and droll, oversized fabric ‘buckles’ (some embroidered) that work like brooches on draped bodices are some of the details that won’t disconnect Mr Anderson from the craft that he has introduced to Loewe. On a “walkthough” video, pointing out the finer points of the collection, he said that he and his team, “looked a lot at draping.” These were seen in the graceful but playful folds that fall across the body, held in place by the said buckles, and arranged graphically, as if they are Matisse squares and swirls. The same could be said of the appliqué stripes, running across the front and backs of coats, with an effect nearly akin to a kindergartener given free reign with a paint brush.

The coats are outstanding this season. We are entranced by one style that has colour-blocked sleeves and are shaped like water skins. These half-moons could have been bags! They contrast beautifully with the quilted body and handkerchief-point hems. It could be hackneyed to join the designs with couture shapes, but big and bold are the order of the day. These coats were photographed in Le Train Bleu, which seems to suggest that they are the statement outwear that women will be lured to when going out and a full-blown social calendar can resume. However, not every look in the collection is about wine and dine, fun and play. Those, whose life tends to be circumscribed by corporate walls, too, could have a piece of Loewe. The office-setting message can’t be clearer, and the sharp tailored pieces too. Whatever one’s social situation or how one’s near future will turn out, one can’t negate that Loewe has presented clothes to covet.

Photos: Loewe

At Prada, Paillettes Peek From Under Fur

The co-designers surprise and delight, making Prada possibly the best show of the Milan season

Prada, whatever (or, after all that) is said about it; however women reportedly do not appreciate their often boxy shapes, is still able to surprise, and perhaps, more importantly, delight. Heaven knows some of us need surprising and delighting. With Raf Simons onboard and together with Miuccia Prada, the partnership is proven to be formidable. The consensus is still out if the collections thus far—just three—are more Mr Simons or more Ms Prada, or if there is equal input from both sides. What Pradaness is, as a result, was poser of the last womenswear collection. Now we could also ask, what is Rafness? It is not an easy question to answer, even when we could clearly see Mr Simons’s deft hands in the designs. But does it matter if there is visible or palpable parity? This is a one plus one that equals much, much more.

Hints of what was to come in the womenswear were already there in the men’s January show. One particular item stands out: the jacquard knit. How a simple idea can be worked into so many aspects of the garments feeds the imagination and gives pleasure to the senses. In less deft hands, the knits—expanding beyond the long johns of the men’s collection—could have been deemed laughable cheesiness. But both designers have the ability to turn even the most banal (the more the merrier?) into elements that lend themselves easily to both elegance and quirkiness. The jacquard knits sport Prada’s love for off-beat patterns and equally unexpected colours. We love how they appear not just as individual garments and accessories and hosiery, but as details, such as collars, bodices, and lining. If one can have a spot of colour for interest, one can have the same with patterns too.

And that is why we always derive much pleasure and joy from a Prada show (this time in a Rem Koolhaas-designed confines that are almost identical to the men’s). Convention is not key to their presentation. Although this is not an IRL staging, it isn’t short on the energy that pre-pandemic shows projected. The models walk into rooms and the cameras trail them, allowing us to catch the details of the garments, or follow them, a la Tsai Ming-liang’s (蔡明亮) camerawork, from behind, like the model before. We can see the details paid to the back of the clothes, such as the inverted triangle—now without the Prada font—fashioned out of said jacquard knits. In such pursuit, we also see the models disappear into a dark ante-room, which we were later allowed in, where they, under strobe lights, went about what they do off-stage, as if unaware of the presence of a filming camera. They could move in the clothes!

It is hard to say where one might wear these clothes to. How do we categorise them? It is easy to say that those sequinned dresses could be for a party, but how many bashes or shindigs do we foresee even in the near future? It is said people want to have fun with fashion again and to dress up (lounge wear fatigue?), but Prada showed bodysuits, which seem the more fetching alternative to sweats. It is appreciable that regardless of how changed our shopping habits now are, Prada has kept the fashion aspects of the collection elevated, a mission that hasn’t waned since the birth of their women’s RTW in 1989. That the eyes can see things and pairings not witness before attest to Prada’s unrelenting commitment to not only innovation and creativity, but, ultimately, design. With Mr Simons onboard, it can get only more inspiring and the increasingly undervalued quality, exciting.

This collection isn’t for everyone—Prada has never tried to cater to every taste. Even their power suits that opened the show, worn with the sleeves pushed up as if the wearers are to embark on something laborious or, hopefully not, a fight, have a whiff of going against the power structures of fashion-consuming society or the increasingly constricted ideas of what is feminine style. We like that dresses can be worn with the (additional) ease of a pullover—the jacquard necklines and bodices see to that. Or that fur, although fake, need not look like cast-offs of wealthy women who amassed them in the ’70s and ’80s, or like they may incur the wrath of PETA. This is a collection that one either understands or does not. It isn’t conceived with the designers’ friends in mind. This has, to a degree, intellectual heft, but not without a sense of humour, and clearly not without a sense of fun.

Ultimately, Prada allows us to have taste, at a time when taste has become generic, social-media sensation, or, worse, “fashion girl-approved”. Or, to make us feel that it’s okay to like clothes that are not birthed from conventional thinking, or strictly from algorithms or sales data. That it’s really fine to align ourselves with a brand that is not under the grips of the past or the cromulent, to borrow from the world of The Simpsons. An SOTD reader, usually an admirer of more attention-grabbing or meretricious styles, texted us to say, “I even like Prada.” That can only be wonderful.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Prada

Boring As Real

Kim Jones’s RTW debut for Fendi is all about realness to better capture the mood of the moment. That means abandoning excitement

It is the most anticipated show of the season, but we are not holding our breath. And true enough, nothing to hold for. Kim Jones, the maestro of hype, delivers “real clothes” for his ready-to-wear debut at Fendi, as the media reports. And how he is inspired by the Fendi sisters. Or, how, as he tells WWD, “I want all my friends to go, ‘I want that straight away,’” Real, of course, comes in many realities. What is real for Mr Jones’s friends, such as Kate Moss, or the Fendi sisters, may not be the same real for the rest of us, the non-friends. It seems the Dior Men designer has assembled wardrobe essentials for this very coterie that share an aesthetic with a provenance that can be traced to different points/moments in the ’70s, an era many designers reviving heritage fashion houses tend to revisit. The ’70s was also when Fendi’s women’s RTW began (1977, in fact), and it would seem that back to that decade is a good place to start Fendi anew, even when, to be fair, the looks aren’t immediately obvious. But does the Roman house need this comfortable position or do are they better served if they are moved a little further forward?

This return-to-the-past-to-find-the-present approach tends to yield a certain aegis against the shifting winds of trends or the risk of innovation. You know Mr Jones isn’t going for groundbreaking when the Fendi show opens with the first 12 looks in different shades of camel, a colour that often brings to mind furs of a particular era—and, oddly and possibility problematically, there are quite a lot of furs. This bathing in browns (except a break in off-whites and an occasional pink) seems to directly challenge what merchandisers and buyers have been saying for many years: such colours don’t sell. Not chestnut, mocha, not even chocolate. But, perhaps, Fendi sees colour differently. One tone, head to toe, might just be the chromatic wow that their customers need as shoppers surrender to the practical and Mr Jones succumbs to the pragmatic. Remember real.

Separates are key. Mr Jones’s approach to line development seems akin to what he does for menswear: dispense with the unpredictable, forgo the capricious. There are blazers, trench coats, dusters, pants, pencil skirts, cropped shirt-and-pants combo (a la silk satin pajamas), and even a boiler suit. Is this traipsing into Max Mara territory, even if more luxuriously realised? Many looks will thrill those pining for the return of executive wear, which perhaps go hand in hand with what we see as the golden age of commercial luxury fashion of the past 10 years, beginning with Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent (second tenure) in 2012. Mr Jones is aware of keeping the books healthy and sales buoyant at Fendi, just as he was just as alert at both Louis Vuitton and Dior Men. His merchandising stunts with Supreme and Air Jordan were masterful money-making strokes. For most of his time at LVMH, his sense of highly approachable fashion was largely supported by his close cadre of chums. The Fendi RTW seems to reflect his friends—maturing—wanting matured looks, but not too. The thing is, his pal Victoria Beckham turns out a more convincing and charming real!

Designing real clothes to spread their reach brings to mind a similar strategy that Riccardo Tischi gave Burberry in 2018. We can’t say with certainty that Burberry is headlining anything now, just coasting. Today, at Fendi it’s similarly a rock-not-the-boat “evolution than revolution”. To be sure, Karl Lagerfeld himself was a designer with sharp commercial instincts, but his output, at least for Fendi, was mostly free of the burdens of the past or house codes. Kim Jones’s designs seems to be on collision course with his predecessor’s near-morbid disdain for reprising the past, so much so that he called his debut RTW a “palette cleanser”. Is that like saying people are jelak (tired) of the old Fendi?

Photos: Fendi

People, Press Play

Balenciaga’s video-game-in-place-of-fashion-show is, for now, gimmicky

Fashion shows—are they not pre-autumn/winter 2020 season? That seemed such a distance away. Since the last shows of that time (in Paris, to us), things have changed drastically for fashion, both for businesses and the people who consume them. The runway, while still important for many luxury brands, is less the ideal platform to deliver and to watch when you know that, for now, models are waking as if for a dress rehearsal, since no audience is present (at Chanel’s Métiers D’art, there was one—never lonelier Kristen Stewart). Brands are looking at other ways to present their seasonal collections. Film is the platform of choice, especially at Gucci, with their pretentious seven-parter that is now mostly forgotten (who remembers what Harry Styles wore?).

Balenciaga, the first to present the autumn/winter 2021 season, has opted to show the new collection as a video game, The Age of Tomorrow (that would be, according to their press material, the year 2031). Now, this is not targeted at those whose closest companion is their Razor hardware, since it has barely the thrill and force of an actioner. Fashion has always been a game (there are always winners, aren’t there?), but this time it’s really one. Being a Pokemom Go deserter, we need an actual gamer to tell us how good the Balenciaga game is. Okay, this is no Grand Theft Auto, but we didn’t think it’d be this slumberous. As with role-playing games, you can choose your own avatar to move through the five “zones”. There are 50 of them avatars, as there are 50 looks (and each exactly like the character models), but for some reason we are not able to pick any. There is no selector button, or key.

The opening scene is a Balenciaga boutique “in the future”, sparsely stocked, designed as if for a dystopian world (it’s rather evocative of the brand’s Rue St. Honoré store in Paris). There are no sales people to welcome or help you. Just unspeaking (it’s all soundless here), unreacting models that turn to give you a 360-degree view of what they wear. We navigate this space on our own, with the guide of illuminated arrows on the floor. When we encounter a rack of clothes, we could not tap on it to see what items are hung on it. In fact, practically everything in this game is unresponsive. We enter a cold world, and we’re left cold. It is odd that a video game has such impassivity. Hoping for more excitement, we leave the boutique (after some hard navigation) and are brought to a backstreet that is worthy of Batman’s Gotham. All the while, we pass Balenciaga-clad people. Many get in our way. Then we are shown a bus stop. A bus arrives, and we’re whisk away. By now, we feel we have been taken for a ride.

You probably guess that we didn’t finish the game. Truth be told, as much as we were, at first, excited to play it, we lost interest barely minutes into into the first zone. The thing is, it’s kind of mindless. We don’t know what the purpose is, what the target is, or what to look out for. We’re just walking. To make matters worse, navigating it is not so simple (or instinctive). On the smartphone, there are two buttons for you to move forward and to look around. Both did not work smoothly. If you play the game on your PC, there are designated keys—W, A, S, D—for you to move in the rather dark world of the game. And your mouse will be temporarily disabled (you’d be told to press the ‘ESC’ button to bring back the cursor). Once you try to use the mouse during gameplay, the screen goes bonkers, or the action moves at warped speed. The game really feels like a test run.

Curious, and for us to be able to post this report, we decided to go back to the game to finish playing it. But we were greeted with a screen that seems to depict a galaxy. There is a digital timer in the middle that appears to be counting down. At the bottom, a discreet message reads: “You ended the game prematurely. If you’d like to start again, please come back later.” Returning to the game means an hour later. If you played to the end, a different message appears: “Congratulations, you have reached the highest level of digital enlightenment. If you’d like to start another game, please come later.” Despite the puffery, it all seems very dour to us. Balenciaga shows under Demna Gvasalia have never been chirpy and buoyant affairs. This game is even less so—in fact, somewhat downcast. We’re surprised Balenciaga did not do something along the lines of the #crabdance challenge, presently with 56 million views on TickTok.

It is too much work to just make out what is fashion. Is there such a thing as too immersive? The irony (it’s Balenciaga!) is, we didn’t really get to see the clothes. Unlike select editors and clients (reportedly 200 around the world), we were not privy to a virtual-reality runway show, viewed through a set of Oculus. We had to click on the lookbook link on the Balenciaga website to have a clearer view of the clothes. And these displayed what Mr Gvasalia has been doing for the house: loose silhouettes, low-brow-high-brow pairings, sportif shapes, fitted turtles necks and loose skirts or wide pants, jeans of ripped knees (and, now, torn posterior), more exaggerated puffer coats (floral too), and more Balenciaga-branded T-shirts (and some with the PS5 logo). We sense that because the clothes are meant to be in the context of a video game, with the somewhat futuristic description The Age of Tomorrow, the clothes have to be at least moderately sci-fi, which may explain some of the metallic guards for limps, as well as armour, and armour parts. Afterworld or afterthought, we don’t know.

Photos: Balenciaga