Celine Equals Cool

But coolness is not necesarrily fierce or edgy

It takes a certain woman to wear Celine. She must be of a certain age (young, of course), have a certain height (tall, of course), a certain weight (thin, of course). And a certain insouciance (haughty, of course). If that’s not particularly inclusive, that’s because it is not. Hedi Slimane has a very specific woman in mind for Celine. That’s why in the show credits of the autumn/winter 2022 collection, it is clearly stated that it’s Mr Slimane who casted the production (and did almost everything, including the directing and filming). That is why he very specifically chose the pride of Thailand, Lisa (born as Pranpriya) Manobal of Blackpink, pictured above, as his purported muse (her second video-runway presentation for the house). Ms Manobal, of Swiss and Thai parentage, is 25 years old, 1.67 metres tall, and weighs about 45 kilograms. With a look that is part sexy, part schoolgirlish, and part ingénue, she is perfect. A native of the Isan province of Buriram, Ms Manobal is now the face of Parisian street-style cool, starring in Celine’s current ad campaign, Portrait of a Musician.

Mr Slimane, as it is popularly known, has a thing for singers and songwriters. This season, he has specially commissioned (and even co-produced) for his stubbornly still filmic runway, a track, Byron is Dead, by the American indie hipster-rocker Leah Hennessy, performing as Hennessy, her New York band. The song is a catwalk-as-disco extension (spin-off?) of their charming and infectious and immensely likeable dance-punk cover of The Waterboy’s We will not be Lovers (from the 1988 album Fisherman’s Blues), which purportedly first drew Mr Slimane to the alt-leaning artiste, looking somewhat Byron-esque in the MV of that single. It is admittedly a delicious pairing—the electro-moody pulse-thrust contrasts with the first venue, the 18th century interior of Hôtel de la Marine in Place de la Concorde of the French capital (designed by the same man behind Versailles’ Le Petit Trianon, Ange-Jacques Gabriel) and beats suitably in the “architectural pavilion”, as Celine describes, of the second that Mr Slimane has designed on the grounds of Hôtel des Invalides. It is doubtlessly a controlled affair, based on the exact obsessions of one man.

Mr Slimane told Vogue in 2020 how crucial music is to the clothes: “I just immediately recognise the sound that reflects the character I want to depict in a show and that could give a rhythm for a specific allure and walk for the models,” adding, “the soundtrack and cast are what define the styling, its degree of credibility, its authenticity. What you hear and what you see are all part of one thing, one world as a whole.” It is, of course, Mr Slimane’s world, his whole—an aggregate comprising everyday staples that have been raved by fans as “elevated” (the hoodie now an elliptical dress?). This has always been his approach, but whether anything is raised to a higher level is not always discernible. It is as if he plays the wardrobe master on tour with a rock musician. Mr Slimane does not design the way, say, Glenn Martens does. He has a keen affinity to ‘looks’ of the past and recreates them with the vernacular of today, born on the streets of Paris. There is always a vintage-y vibe. As one fashion journalist told us, “give me a few hours in Chatuchak, and I’ll be able to style a collection like that!”

Called Dans Paris (in Paris), the collection purportedly harks back to Celine’s roots. But it has less to do with the decade of its founding (in the ’40s) than the years of its heydays (in the ’60s and ’70s). Turtlenecks are the base for many of the ensembles, worn with thick chain-link necklace, under tops/outers that would be familiar among work-wear aficionados. Jackets are either oversized and slouchy, or boxy and cropped. Denim jeans of a lighter wash are prominent, with their stitched/laundered/unstitched hem. So too are slim-fitting skirts of varying lengths that suggest either secretarial sleek or party-girl scantiness. Leather this or that are aplenty too. Hedi Slimane’s Celine is the go-to label when women need something considered “dressed up” and the compulsory cool, whether a night with the BFFs or impressions-are-important dates. The dress with a ruffled top, the side-boob-revealing halterneck blouse, the long sheath with cutouts at the waist and the slit in the middle—and others—attest the truth of that observation. These are feel-good clothes for a good-time out. And the times are back.

Screen shot (top): Celine/YouTube. Photos: Celine

Bag For Two

…and three. And other sartorial delinquents of Thom Browne

The autumn/winter 2022 show is for both people and bears—teddy bears. In the middle of the show venue, Thom Browne sat a classroom (or conference?) of hundreds of teddy bears, all togged in Thom Browne, naturally. Mr Browne has, of course, a thing for toy animals, and they are there, such as the dog-bag Hector—only this time, it comes with two handles meant for a pair! Toy, as metaphor, extended to his beloved New York, to which the show is also homage to, as well as its inhabitants. It isn’t a surprising expression of pride. Mr Browne has always found kinship through his work with those whose outward appearance we might call gila. He calls his home “an island of misfit toys”. And those outsider-oddballs are dressed accordingly, totting bags that are the plush-toy embodiments of pets, as well as those that are more vehicular. Quite a sidewalk of curiosities.

Mr Browne has largely pivoted his designs on the suit, which brandishes his flair for tailoring that is often described as “fastidious”. He is partial to shades of grey, and patterns and textures much tethered to menswear and is even more favourably inclined to include lots of sport coats, especially the uniquely British regatta blazer. But in his hands, they have less in common with those adopted for the sport of rowing than the blazing pieces worn by ringmasters of a cirque (this season, a madcap schoolmaster, perhaps?). Preppiness may also be the seeming effect, but subversiveness is clearly part of the equation, for the Thom Browne fan is no collegiate stiff.

The show could be considered a two-parter: the first, what would be ‘standard’ (not disparagingly) Thom Browne. The regatta blazer with a particularly constricted tailoring that is very much a part of the brand’s recognisability plays its versatile role. The pieces are designed to be gender-neutral—teamed with skirts, no-issue staples among the guys. Most are pleated, with inserts that could be club ties. Or, paneled with what could be fancy washing machine outlet hoses, in clashing fabrics. Some of the skirts are above the knee and worn over demure wide-cuffed culottes. On the whole, the outfits are enchanting, with a digestible schoolhouse prim that is possibly even more appealing, perhaps, in the US, where the wearing of school uniforms is not adopted.

But Mr Browne has to have fun too, and when he does, so do we. In the second part, the clothes take a fantastical spin, crossing too closely over to the absurd, tempered by their couture-ness. There is no denying the skill level required to make these outfits that defy the shape of the body: massive quilted coat with lobster pincer to glove the hands, giant golf ball-as-bodice for a sweater, bulbous protuberances on lean dresses, multiple sleeves on one-piece outers, a box shape of a toy soldier for a top, and the immense crinolines that even Scarlet O’Hara’s Mammy would find challenging to handle. Despite their wow-inducing effect, it does beg the question: would all these aesthetical aberrations be possible without the path layed out by stalwarts such as John Galliano and Rei Kawakubo of Conme des Garçons? Regardless, they are all in time for next week’s Gilded Glamour at the Met.

Screen grab (top): YouTube. Photos: Don Lecca/vogue.com

The Skin Show

After being accused of sexual assault in 2019, Alexander Wang makes a tacky comeback with a late, autumn/winter 2022 show

When you look at the Alexander Wang clothes now, it would be hard to connect them to his two-year stint at Balenciaga. Or, remember that he was once there. Mr Wang’s designs for his eponymous label have never truly left the parameters of streetwear and partywear. And he is taking them to no wear—clothes that are barely there, between those that hip-hop artistes need when they want to show their panties on the red carpet or their under-boobs for racier-and-racier music videos and those that actresses choose for revenge-dressing after breaking up with a high-profile boyfriend. He knows what his customers want, we have often been told. He still does, undoubtedly. But why does a designer, blamed for sexual assault (to which he initially denied, then apologised, and then privately met the accusers), return with a collection that places sex squarely in its heart, with the kind of clothes that would prompt his haters to say that the skimpy outfits encourage the behaviours that he was accused of?

Many supportive celebrities (of course, friend of the house, K-rapper CL, was there)—as well as his rabid fans—seemed unconcerned with his predatory past; they were out giving him the thumbs up for his cheesy “Fortune City”—his make-belief emporium of party-on fabulousness. Alexander Wang made a “comeback”, not in his home city of New York, but in Los Angeles, specifically in LA’s gaudy Chinatown, with neon lights for store names and for outlining the kitschy architecture of what is typical of Chinese buildings. It was earlier reported in the American media that Mr Wang was re-connecting with his Chinese heritage. In Chinatown? And what is so Chinese about this part of Central LA other than the foods and the gift shops that he was concurrently helping to promote. As before, Mr Wang’s show was really about the “WangFest”—this time, a yeshi (夜市, night market) that offered guests dim sum and, of course, bubble tea. There is, to us, something terribly lazy about tapping Chinatown and its attendant clichés, and passing that off as aligning with one’s roots.

Mr Wang is, of course, looking at Oriental aesthetics through his Chinese-American eyes, but more the latter than the former, as if pandering to Americans’ idea of what Chinese (or Asian) is. Exotic is crucial as subtext for a collection that says nothing about how he saw his ethnicity in the greater language of design. Mr Wang, born in San Francisco, is, in fact, Taiwanese, and it was the Chinatown of the American West Coast that completed the mise-en-scène of his sleaze-tinged, chinois-not collection. Reportedly, Alexander Wang (王大仁, or Wang Daren) is doing well in China, but it isn’t the fashion equivalent of noodles that he is selling to the Chinese, it is urban Americana revealing substantial skin. Tackiness, as we know, is borderless. And skin-baring is nothing new to him, but coming after February’s New York Fashion Week, his skin show was rather belated. Yet, it did not deter Mr Wang. Or was this merely deflecting from those allegations of sexual misconduct?

If you were hoping to see some rehabilitation of his image, you would be disappointed. It really bordered on the irritating to see more of those skimpy horizontal fabrics revealing much of the breast as clothing. Is there really a huge market for a bodysuit that had more body than suit? Or those ruffled halter-necked pieces exposing much of the torso that one product development manager we know called “vulva tops”? A next-to-nothing Shein has not done and will not do? Even Adriana Lima, pregnant, was mirroring Rihanna on the runway. As we have lamented before, autumn/winter is this scanty? Or, is the US really not that cold any more? Well, if you need to keep warm, you could amp up the vampiness—there are also those crotch-high boots and up-to-the-armpit leather gloves that could have been those very boots wrongly sized at sampling stage! It is truly hard to discern a takeaway from all this. BOF was right to say, “but even before the allegations, Wang’s brand was waning”. Truly, is it still cool to wear Alexander Wang?

Screen grab (top): Alexander Wang/YouTube. Photos: Alexander Wang

All That Tweed

What is Chanel channeling?

A fashion collection may be conceived six months or so earlier, but at the time of its showing, it is hard not to put it in the context of what is happening around us. When the general mood reflects a troubled world, where, in one corner, a war rages, however upbeat the clothes are, they would just look unconvincingly optimistic. Chanel’s autumn/winter 2022 collection (not the models) tries to project a certain joie, but it falls flat under the weight of one of its own ‘codes’: the tweed. So enamoured with this fabric Virginie Viard is that the entire show venue—the temporary exhibition hall Grand Palais Éphémère in the greenspace Champ de Mars—is done up in tweed. Unsurprisingly, the collection is an unsubtle, effort-lite homage to this cloth that was once associated with menswear until Coco Chanel rattled the status quo in the mid-1920s.

The house calls it “a luminous tribute to the landscape of the River Tweed so dear to Gabrielle Chanel”. A natural stream, River Tweed (also Tweed Water)— however beloved to Coco—is not, in fact, directly connected to the history of the woolen fabric. As the story goes, it was an accidental name. In 1826, in the town of Hawick, a label on a shipment of the wool to London read “tweel”—the word the Scots used for twill (one of the weaves of the fabric; the other plain). It was misread and confused with the name of Scotland’s famed river, and the moniker stuck. Tweed, according to some lexicographers, is also an old Brittonic word meaning “border”, which makes sense as the river flows through the Anglo-Scottish border, also known as the Borders region.

Any mention of ‘border’ these days, unfortunately connects us to territorial security (or insecurity?) and conflict—in particular, the one now seen in Ukraine. Sure, Chanel’s colourful tweeds this season does not bring to mind the besieged nation (Ms Viard told the press she’s inspired by London in the ’60s), but the aesthetical sum seems to point to the dress preference of certain women of means of the attacker state. While tweed is a symbol of Scottish culture, it is also a show of immense wealth—the Chanel tweed jacket a veritable status symbol. That in itself does not stir much thought until one sees in the designs that Ms Viard has dreamed up for those undeniably sumptuous tweeds. Hard as we tried, we could not decipher who this collection is for other than the unquestioning die-hards and the paid muses. Could Chanel still be thinking of the wives (or mistresses?) of oligarchs, even when the company has stood alongside other French brands to pause their retail operations in Russia?

The platitude that Ms Viard is increasingly tacking Chanel to is hardly unnoticeable. Her designs appear to seduce the purchasing might of those with money but not taste, with power but not influence. Compounding that, the pieces are inexplicably frumpy! And, suppressing the urge for a rude modifier, boring. Apart from the tweed jackets, coats and dresses in relaxed shapes that would appeal to grannies (but truly those for whom brand name and celebrity endorsement could easily supersede brilliant design), there are those curious cardigans that could have been swiped from a Salvation Army. Or, that pink sweater with appliques and scarf borrowed from a GUM department store sales girl! Sure, an attempt is made to style them young, but even denim shorts and knit leg warmers under Wellingtons can’t distance the clothes from any pile marked stodgy.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Chanel

At LV, The Young Will Change The World

Nicolas Ghesquière pins his hope on youths

Louis Vuitton showed its womenswear outside the Louvre for the first time since 2017. The presentation this season took place at the Musee D’Orsay, situated roughly 800m diagonally opposite the Louvre, on the left bank of the Seine. As it turns out, the museum, a former railway station (Gare D’Orsay), is host to a fashion show for the first time. It is not known why the change in venue (the previous show was still at the Louvre, also a nascent fashion show venue with LV five years ago), but going from one museum to another may not be that much of a difference for Nicolas Ghesquière. The models (still) parade among the exhibits—sculptures, this time from the 1800s—under the watchful gaze of the musee’s famous 1900 clock on one side and Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s The Four Parts of the World Holding the Celestial Sphere from 1872 on another. The clothes, typical of Mr Ghesquière’s output for LV, are, however, much more multifarious.

This is the mix and match that he does so well. Perhaps, more the mix than the match. And what has been described, as far back as his Balenciaga days (who even remembers that now, given how different the brand looks today?), a reflection of how the young, unconcerned with perfect pairing, dress—a mediation that never quite left him. Only now, the youths are not togged in the same devil-may-care disregard to styling as those of some twenty odd years earlier. Now, it’s still lacking the match, but with a heap of the mis. In addition, there’s the cradling of gender-neutrality. And a love of exaggerated shapes. The massive jacket, for one (the doing of a certain Demna Gvasalia?). And, to join that hulk, those oversized polos and rugby shirts. Just as clothes no longer stick to either function or occasion, could the last look—a Ralph Lauren-ish polo beefed up by IOC-frowned substances over an airy date dress—be an undergrad recovering from a night of partying in her boyfriend’s dorm room and leaving in the morning with his sports shirt?

The boyfriend’s polo aside (a natural progression from the boyfriend’s jeans?), Mr Ghesquière is partial to a more masculine aesthetic. We are not referring to the mannish blazers, sized to fit those with way broader shoulders; we are referring to shirts and trousers, and the overcoats that would just as easily fit a beau’s wardrobe. This androgyny has been rather consistent in Mr Ghesquière’s collections for LV, and they could be a deliberate consideration. We have been told on more than one occasion at LV stores that guys are buying from the women’s section, even when, a staffer once informed us firmly, “Nicolas Ghesquière does not design for men. But guys can buy”. Could it be because LV Men is too gender neutral? The women’ clothes do not, however, bank on masculine appeal. There are clearly feminine tropes—some previously explored, such as this season’s flaccid panniers (as opposed to the last’s more rigid and bouncier ones) and those vague mini-crinis with tails. A school-going lass with caparison in her mind than scholarship?

The general cheerfulness of the collection and the collegiate leaning, shown in a beautiful Beaux-Arts former train station, say almost nothing about the ongoing conflict in Eastern Europe. Not that it has to. LVMH has already announced a €5 million donation to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Perhaps that is enough for LV to stay mum about how it feels. Or perhaps, the choice of venue speaks adequately. Its own history as a railway station is connected to World War II. A plaque, hung on the side of the building, commemorates its role in the war years. It was used to collect parcels that were sent to prisoners of war, and when the conflict ended, it served as a reception centre for freed prisoners during their return. That perhaps is the message: the present war will end.

Screen grab (top): Louis Vuitton/YouTube. Photos: gorunway.com

Balenciaga’s Optics Of War

Models are still fashionably togged, but can they escape artillery shelling in spiked heels?

As the Balenciaga show goes on in Paris, news reports comes forth that Russian artillery attacks continue to rain on Ukraine’s residential areas throughout the country. Agreements with Russia earlier on a humanitarian corridor have largely fallen through, and residents are evacuating in droves. Reflecting this grim reality is the Balenciaga presentation, staged in Halle d’Expositions in Le Bourget, the northeastern suburb of Paris. Models brave machine-created snowstorm and gust, trudging, even in heels and above-knee boots (who has time to put them on under the threat of approaching attack?), through a scene originally created to be a warning about climate change. But with the war, the set becomes a timely discourse and, to a considerable extent, memoir of treacherous escape from military conflict. As Demna Gvasalia (now preferred to be known mononymously by his first name), told the press, “But it turned into something else, which often happens with my shows, somehow.”

The audience sees the presentation behind a see-through panel/shield. Looking on, what stands before could be a massive snow globe, but there is no fairy-tale or festive cuteness within. Instead, a diorama of people in peril, with a soundtrack of Slavonic piano to augment its bleakness. It is tempting to say that fashion is inclined to make light the gravity of things, but we do not sense that here. Demna himself said, “To me, fashion somehow doesn’t matter right now.” But fashion, like any show, must go on. The designer was a victim of war—at ten years of age, a refugee fleeing Abkhazia, Georgia in 1993, and was sheltered in Ukraine, where he went to school and learned to speak the language. At the beginning of the show, in total darkness, he reads a poem in Ukrainian. It roughly translates as “your sons will save you”. Although the words are intended for those who understands the language, Demna does intone, “the message is love, always. And fashion has to assume that, at least in terms of taking a position on it.”

But the allusion to war is not an equivocal one. It it can be seen and felt. And many do see and are touched, such as Bryan Boy, who quickly Twittered, “I don’t think I’ve ever bawled in a fashion show until now”. The show may be about evacuation, but it was about defiance too. Demna wrote in the show notes that cancelling the show to say no to the war would have been “surrendering to the evil that has already hurt me so much for almost 30 years”. The authenticity—a less-hackneyed word may be preferred aside—of putting together a show by someone who had been through what is happening concurrently perhaps adds to the poignancy of the production, and to the clothes that are not entirely visible in the precipitative blurriness. Still, there is a tad of incongruity, when freshly-single, always-visible Kim Kardashian, “friend” of the house, sat in the front row, all bound up—in caution tape, labelled Balenciaga no less!

It is not a show that’s easy to watch, not only because of what it evokes, but also because what is seen are mostly the teetering, and the mere silhouettes. These are identifiably Balenciaga silhouettes: beautiful but, at times, ghostly. In the fog of war and inclement weather, bagged-up shapes and floating trains could be either the bourgeoisie in escape or the peasantry in flight, or both. The models, with wet hair, appear to have just taken their last shower. There are the half-naked, covered by a blanket (or is that a towel?), plodding through the snow. Some of the outerwear look like there are taken off a neighbour’s clothesline. But others—the dresses—could be a refugee’s finest because even in fleeing, you’d want to look your best. Many of them carry bags that look like black versions of those used by hotels for laundry. Perhaps better to contain everything you wish to bring along at the last minute. As Demna told the press, he “made everything less madame, less bourgeois, less upper-class”. It is not hard to second that.

💙💛💙💛💙💛

Screen grab (top) and photos: Balenciaga

Dior: NFT-Ready?

But, is the Bar suit and the sheer skirt prepared to make the jump?

The opening look of the Dior show would have you believe that Maria Grazia Chiuri has embraced the metaverse and is readying her designs as possible NFTs. The first model—real, not digital—of this season’s show emerges into a dark runway, her material bodysuit lit with tracings of green-hued electroluminescence that is evocative of the colour of the title design of the 1999 film, The Matrix. The squiggly lines meander on both sides of the body and limbs, forming a symmetrical pattern. When the light comes on, the black bodysuit could be mistaken for the motion capture (or MoCap) suit actors wear to record their real-life movements and so that their actions could be digitally applied to a 3D character. But Dior’s feeble dalliance with the special effects is not quite the entry into the metaverse that we thought it might have been.

That out-of-place model merely prefaces the tech used in some of the clothes. This suggestion of technological advancement is not a rupture in Dior’s way forward or wrapping itself in digital legitimacy, just a visual gimmick. According to the brand’s press release, a tie-up with the Italian tech start-up D-Air lab, known for its D-air, described by the company as “a sophisticated personal protective airbag technology”, allows Ms Chiuri to re-invent, for example, the house’s Bar jacket. It is now given the external D-Air lab contraption that, we’re told, “transforms the structure of the original model (the jacket) into a system that regulates the body’s humidity and warms it up if necessary”. Does that not sound like Uniqlo’s Heattech (or Airism), minus the gadgetry? But add the tech and the garment becomes, as Dior states, “an ultramodern celebration of self-assertion”.

Take away the technological-innovation-as-feminist-predication, the clothes enjoy the usual delicate and traditional femininity that Ms Chiuri is partial to. All her favourite items are there, augmenting the waisted-and-flare that is de rigueur to the Dior of her tenure. Is it a wonder that many do say Ms Chiuri has no more than one silhouette in her repertoire? Sure, there is some branching off. Skirts are now asymmetrical, and those half accordion-pleated versions have a distinct whiff of Sacai’s. If you look closely at the clothes this season, there is something even more disconcerting: strange fit. The D-Air lab devices add bulk to areas of the body that normally are without. Puffers wrap the body to look like poorly shaped dumplings. Oversized trucker jackets hang on shoulders listlessly. Corsets, although emphasise the waist, do no follow the contours of the bodice and hips. Leggings have oddly loose crotches. Perhaps more baffling is the wear-it-like-a-blouse fit of one jacket—the common reaction, “why is there so much excess fabric on the chest?” We don’t know.

The set of the show is an installation, The Next Era, by Italian artist Mariella Bettineschi (reported to be a feminist), who has placed black and white portraits of “female figures from the History of Painting”, as per Dior’s description, on the four walls of the show venue, but now, each woman eerily has two pair of eyes (“All the better to see with”, to quote the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood?). Ms Chiuri named the collection after this exhibition, but we can’t be certain if her “next era” refers to the one after the pandemic or the Russo-Ukrainian war. With a space-age-y soundtrack that includes 2018’s Linnaea by the British electronic musician Pariah, you’d think that Dior is being topical, if not ironic. If you wonder how that would bode for the brand, consider another track: American post-rock/electronica trio Son Lux’s Lost it to Trying!

Screen grab (top): Dior. Photos: gorunway.com

Let Leather Lead

Bottega Veneta’s new designer Matthieu Blazy allows the fabric used in the house’s signature Intrecciato weaving to pilot the brand he’s now in-charged forward

Leather really commands Matthieu Blazy’s debut for Bottega Veneta. Mr Blazy, who took over the creative reign after the sudden departure of his predecessor Daniel Lee last November, has allowed the supple cowhides to do much of the talking. Even the first two pairs of jeans he sends out, they are really made of leather, not cotton denim, but treated to look like those rather washed to death. And that singlet-looking white top, it is made of leather too. More followed: trench coats, car coats, suits, slacks, skirts (narrow and full), little black dresses—really rather a lot. When the clothes are not in leather, the leather accessories dominate the looks, sometimes in the form of bags as large as and in the shape of an ossuary. Or, in other cases, bedroom pillows. Even with the sheer, lacy looks, it is the thigh-high boots that draw the eye.

That leather should feature so prominently is perhaps unsurprising. Bottega Veneta found immediate fame in 1966 with their now-recognisable intrecciato, a leather weaving technique, used, at the start, on leather goods, mainly bags. Ready-to-wear did not appear until the late ’90s under the stewardship of the English designer Giles Deacon, but it was the German Tomas Maier’s first collection for the house in 2005 that the BV aesthetic of easy, logo-less, sophistication was established and became sought after. In some ways, Mr Blazy’s collection was reminiscent of the 2000s, especially the hunky coats and the re-glorification of the intrecciato, now used even on miniskirts.

Just as with Daniel Lee’s debut, it is hard for us to say now if this collection will go anywhere. We doubt it’d break the Internet, even if social media adherents may enthusiastically embrace some of the more flashy pieces. While an acceptable first season, it isn’t one that effects the proverbial bang. It seems that this is Mr Blazy putting to good use his training and aesthetical absorption at Raf Simons and Céline under Phoebe Philo. A sleek confirmation of his ability to make beautiful coats with the proportion of the day? Or, could this, perhaps, be a foretaste of a bigger, more impactful onslaught later? But with Ms Philo’s forthcoming return, is this some kind of prelude for ‘Philophiles’? To be sure, there are some technical finesse on show—the elevated shoulder strap of the shift-dresses, for example. And appealing ideas—the asymmetric full skirts, under which a fringed sister swishes. But are they enough to bring about viewer exhilaration?

Missing is the ‘parakeet green’ that became an impressive sales enhancer for the brand during Mr Lee’s tenure. Sure there is one dress in a colour that is close enough, but the ombré effect minimises its chromatic impact. Matthieu Blazy uses other greens, but they are not as bright and noticeable from afar as the one named after a bird. It’s the accessories, rather than the cloths, that seem to be conceived to have maximum impact on the retail floor, and to draw attention to their wearers: open-weave clutches, double-ended intrecciato buckets, shoulder bag versions of the Pouch, cushion-like clutches, handbags with branch-like handles, above-knee boots, exotic-skin platform Mary Janes, intrecciato clompers, and impressively more. For some brands, leather goods are still the main driver of sales, so it is possible that the clothes of Bottega Veneta are, at least for now, to give context to the accessories. Like on any stage, all leads need striking costumes.

Screen grab (top): Bottega Veneta/YouTube. Photos: gorunway.com

Starting From A Singlet

Prada’s inner garment of what was once men’s undershirt is truly the freshest back-to-basics new beginning

Halfway through this season’s Prada show, Dave Gahan’s voice was heard singing “Let me see you stripped/Down to the bone” in the Martin Gore-penned Stripped (from Depeche Mode’s 1986 album Black Celebration). The song is one of four (the other three Leave in Silence, I feel You, and Behind the Wheel from other albums) that soundtracked the show, staged just hours after Russia aberrantly attacked Ukraine. It is doubtful that the war, predicted months earlier, influenced the Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons, but the aviator jackets and mannish coats that could be those worn over army uniforms had a premonitory feel about them. But it is the strip down to the decidedly mannish white singlet (‘vest’, in the UK)—traditionally worn as undershirt, and, yes, under military accoutrements too—that oddly underpins the magnificence and refinement of Prada’s autumn/winter 2022 season.

Who’d guess that Prada, still associated with the lady-like no matter how subversive they get, would not be using a camisole when an inner garment is required. A boyfriend’s top trending very soon? And, a re-acquainting with men’s underclothing brands such as Gunze and Schiesser? Prada has always leaned on the masculine (to the disapproval of tai-tais, who, as a stylist told us with a tinge of regret in his voice, “do not like Raf Simons”), but that inclination is always tempered with something feminine, as it is now. The ribbed singlet, while in some looks is worn singly, often goes under a sheer shift (sometimes underpants showing) or over a slim, horizontally paneled skirt. It is this visual dichotomy that Prada, to us, is often ahead of and leagues apart from others.

Increasingly, the partnership between Ms Prada and Mr Simons looks back at the brand’s ‘codes’ and bringing them back for re-imagining and re-enjoying. But they are not reprised wholesale, as Mr Simons says in a statement. “There are never direct recreations, but there is a reflection of something you know, a language of Prada.” Those notorious ‘ugly’ Prada prints of the ’90s, for example, in “puke” colours return in the form of knit sweaters, and paired with those narrow tri-paneled skirts. There is a veritable play of textures of fabrics, and density as well, which makes the compositions delightfully more complex than they really are. Or those full skirts, now even fuller, that Ms Prada herself is synonymous with. But the “language” that Mr Simons speaks of may not communicate to that many women here. The silhouettes, for many, is not feminine enough—the boxiness, the wide shoulders (even on the dresses), and the lack of the constricted embrace of curves! But if Kim Kardashian, attending the Prada show for the first time, can be seen in a baggy, leather, men’s boiler suit, why can’t more women here re-examine their supposed distaste for Prada?

For sure, there’s a palpable presence of Mr Simons’s distinct hand in the collection. He does look at womenswear quite differently, unlike, say, Kim Jones, for whom a more traditional approximation of feminine gravitas is what, to him, Fendi needs. The music of the Prada show again: they seem to be a selection that is more in keeping with Mr Simons’s own taste than what the house of Prada is usually known for. The harder, more industrial sound, more techno-retro, too, recalls the selections used in Mr Simons on shows. It does, however, cast Prada in a seductive past/present light, imbuing the clothes with a need-them-right-away nowness. As Mr Grahan sang in Dresses in Black (also from Black Celebration, but not used in the show), “As a picture of herself/She’s a picture of the world/A reflection of you, a reflection of me/And it’s all there to see if you only give in to the fire within.” That’s Prada, and we agree.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Prada

New York Fashion Week: Strip For Autumn/Winter

If some shows of the just-concluded New York Fashion Week is any real indication, it’d be an autumn/winter 2022 season of clothes that are really scraps of fabric on the body

Seasons change; so too fashion. But it’s increasingly hard to tell the seasons apart if we go by what is shown on the New York runways recently. Even the fashion: swimwear or dress? Or, bandages? This has been New York Fashion Week, not Los Angeles, not Miami. The average low of the Big Apple’s winter temperatures is minus-10 degrees Celsius. Yet, for autumn/winter 2022, a considerable number of American designers seemed to have Mogadeshu in mind, not Manhattan. There is no denying that fabric prices are rising (check: cotton, especially organic), so using considerably less might be a strategy to push cost (although not retail prices) down, but if fashion’s main premise is the use and manipulation of cloth to cover the body, does it make sense that less is positively more, unclothed is attractively dressed?

With the biggies, namely Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs, missing in action this time, we were encouraged to look at the runways of other names, not necessarily within our usual radar. And the newbies—“New York Fashion Week Is All About Emerging Talent”, went the rousing WWD headline. We were, however, putting them aside for the noise generated by those deemed New York’s loudest and brightest—the extraordinary individuals who could make noise out of nothing. While there is the subtext of fashion’s relationship with race (now Black designers and Black aesthetic are to be even more celebrated), there is also America’s increasing partiality for the madcap (imprudent?) pulling together of looks that weaken the boundaries of refinement and discernment. Sportswear meets worse-for-wear, pseudo-prissy pairs with tryingly pretty, and utilitarian clichés mate with hoary hussy hacks.

In fact, the vivid pronouncement of sex, or sexiness that must replace loungewear-as-all-wear of the past two years is the dominant theme of this season in New York, from the debut of Lisa Von Tang to the strengthening of Telfar Clements to the comeback of Shayne Oliver. Sure, this close-to-nakedness shouldn’t be surprising when many designers made the bra a major trend for spring/summer 2022, but is stripping down really the way forward even when bare is not normally preferred to battle brrr? Where do we go—or how little more—from here? Or, have fabrics become so expensive that it is really more viable for some brands to use as little of them as possible? Rather than textile cost that impacts wholesale markup, there is this persuasive believe that the market for such clothes is ripe. Pioneers such as Nicki Minaj has been testing the legal limits of the lack of dress since 2017, but at the time, the adoption was mainly among celebrities and stars. Now, we are to believe that women in general hanker after the utterly skimpy too.

…there is also America’s increasing partiality for the madcap (imprudent?) pulling together of looks that weaken the boundaries of refinement and discernment

Near-nudity is not, of course, radical, anymore. We have gotten used to it. Social media made sure of that, the red carpets of the Grammys and Met Gala made sure of that, and the lost of nuances that once constituted sexy made sure of that. Or is this bare-is-beautiful the epitome of modern ease? When we looked at an Eckhaus Latta column, with a plunging neckline (to the navel), ‘cold hips’, side slits, we can’t help but wonder where construction and flattering went. To be sure, there are techniques involved in the assembling of these crisscrossed strips or the hanging of fabrics from a narrow point on the shoulders to barely cover the rest of the body. Change has arrived at how clothes are held together too. Could taping now take the place of sewing?

Some people say that the sex in clothes is not there unless you were looking for it. These are articles of fashion, not dresses for any gaze, male or female. Women are now so comfortable with their bodies that they are expanding the definition of a sexualised body. Self-esteem is boosted by self-sexualising? It is a complex world, and fashion, with all its increasingly mixed messages, is just as much about un-fashion: Why have more clothes when you can do away with a whole chunk of them (even for winter months)? Clothing has a different function from what many of us remember. Unclothed says about fashion design what space does for graphic design: it is an element. Bare skin in a no body-shaming world is lovelier to look at than the stitched fabric that once concealed it. Tom Ford—who’d guess?—now looks positively modest.

These clothes could be one of reasons why not that many people take New York Fashion Week seriously, especially when the output is increasingly looking like the getups at that event on the first Monday of May. American fashion has gone from user-friendly practicality to celebrity-targeted hotness, from Donna Karan’s Five Easy Pieces to just plain easy—free from the constraints of coverings. It is tempting to cast this as a new gen of designers having fun, communicating an inside joke, but the swaddles are serious stuff. The name to watch out for this season was Shayne Oliver, whose former label Hood by Air came to a halt in 2017. Mr Oliver returned with a fashion mishap called Headless, sending out a hotchpotch that set forth his embrace of the display of skin. So, there was that Viktor & Rolf-like shoulder, and a horizontally protracted version, as well as those odd shapes here and there that made every falling piece in Tetris look positively regular, but for the most part—those deconstructed bra tops!—are composites that considered not the sheathing of the body. Supporters eagerly tagged Mr Oliver’s scant semblance of clothes as “American avant garde”. Oh, sure, just like the rest of the bare brigade.

Runway photos: source. Collage: Just So

When Fashion Stops Living

At the recent New York Fashion Week, Lisa Von Tang Dares to Die. Bravo?

Showing in the just-concluded New York Fashion Week, Lisa Von Tang (LVT) serves up her floozy looks at the right time. In the era of the pandemic, women, we have been told, are embracing sexy clothing as an “empowered choice”. This has nothing to do with effecting a sexual response in—well, to be woke—any sex. Women just want to look that way. And Ms Von Tang (aka Lisa Crosswhite, also Lisa Rosentreter, who formerly designed under Chi Chi Von Tang), is willing to wager that her body-hugging, cleavage-baring, navel-showing, rump-exposing, serpent-snaking fashion would find immense favour, especially in the Big Apple, where she is in the good company of like-minded designers Eckhaus Latta, LaQuan Smith, and Bronx and Banco. But, unlike the Americans, she is flashing skin under the gammy guise of Orientalism and, in doing so, ‘Dare(s) to Die’, as the 39-look collection is ominously called.

Whether that is defiance or a taunt, Ms Von Tang is clearly in a death-embracing mood. Hers is an admirable tenacity to milk Chinese motifs for all they’re worth, even when what she ends up with is mostly cheese. She has done it before (all the way back to her first store, now closed, in Scotts Square) and she’s still doing it. She is no Vivienne Tam, who has a pop sensibility, wrapped with cheeky irreverence, in the motifs chinois she employs. Ms Von Tang, who is half Chinese, has a more linear approach, sometimes mistakenly described by the media and her supporters as “authentic”. A dazzling snake has to slither down the body; its forked tongue flicked out. It can’t be placed in a more surprising manner. (We won’t attempt to understand that vulva-centred flame on a crotch! Or, is that empowered?) A slit is evocative of the qipao’s, but works like a rip. It rebuffs the Chinese belief that showing the whole knee is less alluring than a hint of the thigh. Pankou (盘扣) or frog fasteners are less decorative elements than to yield bondage effects; applied to the side of the bodice, they curiously make an outfit look constricted. “For soft, pure, spirits,” as she says on the LVT website, “who have had to deal with the brutality of the world”?

Ms Von Tang, to be sure, is proud of being half Chinese, and, according to her corporate profile, also with “Burmese, Thai and Indonesian blood in her ancient bloodline.” She, thus, wears Asia on her sleeve (LVT is an SG brand! And Ms Von Tang is a SG PR), but she tends to design from a Western standpoint, picking, as a Westerner would, those motifs considered “exotic”, forming a clichéd counterpoint to urban uniforms—such as a blouson—that she, at one time, made popular, one really modelled after the Japanese souvenir jacket. Whatever contemporary “twists” she attempts, they are tagged to the side of the hackneyed. It is, thus, tempting to compare the Mandarin-collared mini-dresses of the present collection to the archetypal Chinese restaurants’ waitress uniforms, but the effect rests somewhere between cringey costume and hooker chic that Saweetie would love.

Chineseness, it seems, is her calling card. She told the American media, “I want to do it in a way that doesn’t feel like Chinese New Year—a little more contemporary and modern”. She may have narrowly avoided CNY, but somehow the clothes have the vibe of Chinatown, not the one between South Bridge Road and New Bridge Road, but those theme-park manifestations in the hub cities of the West. “A little more contemporary and modern” is, therefore, not quite enough, even if they are tethered to the punkish, clubby, and ‘fierce’. Bodysuits unattached at the crotch (there’s also a super-abbreviated one!), OG (the store!)-worthy glittery leggings, skinny satin pants with criss-cross chains(?) across the stomach, bags-as-harnesses (part 1017 ALYX 9SM, part Virgil Abloh for Louis Vuitton?), and cheap-looking crystal danglies for straps and such have the whiff of the death of design savvy. It really might be a tad better if Lisa Von Tang dares to live.

Photos: Lisa Von Tang

Deftly Kolor-ed

With his masterful deconstruction, Junichi Abe propels Kolor from strength to strength

Kolor’s Junichi Abe has a way with deconstruction that is beguiling. It isn’t the same as what we have come to know as Japanese deconstructionism—at Comme des Garçons, for example, which can be rather confusing—but something quite different. The parts on the garments he makes are re-arranged, but they are recognisable: a collar, a sleeve, a placate. But the pieces do not appear as they should. More often than not, they seem constituents dismembered from other garments (even old clothes?) and then reassembled, as Victor Frankenstein might a sapient life form, to create necklines (especially), bodices, sleeves that are fetching, not freaky, amalgams of similar garments, rather that the hybridised forms that his wife Chitose Abe prefers for her label Sacai. The Kolor aesthetic is not so much a chromatic blend as a mash-up of parts, and therein lies the label’s irresistible pull.

Mr Abe did not always present Kolor in this manner, but in recent years, he has become more adept at this mixing of parts (not necessarily matching), and it reached quite a high in the spring/summer 2022 collection. He can, for example, fuse polo collars with the V necks of sweaters, and ribbed round-necks can be linked to other ribbed round-necks, all the while providing a comfortable opening for the neck. Graphic designers might recognise the work as cut and paste. But, now matter how many bits are assembled, there is always a balance in the form and silhouette of the garments. No one is going to mistake a sweater for a jogger, a blouson for a skirt, even if they look disjointed at times. In fact, it is the recognisability and wearability of the clothes that fans continue to visit Kolor for their beyond-basics.

This season, Kolor’s show is a digital presentation shared during Paris Fashion Week (whether there would be an IRL reprise in Tokyo later—as in last year—is not known yet). The runway is within a lab-like space with glass walls and ceiling that reflect the models’ images and what they wear, as in a house of mirrors. At some point, the viewer is given a glimpse of the outside of the rectangular tunnel, and it looks like rush hour in a Japanese underground train station, with uniformed men and women rushing to somewhere. And then it’s a return to the calm on the runway (although the soundtrack by Sakanaction offers no clue of this orderliness). Perhaps Mr Abe is saying that no matter how incoherent (rambling?) the externals of his clothing might be, there is an orderliness within, and a structure that is assuring and confidence-boosting?

Many of the pieces could be described as work clothes. But what fantastic work wear they are and how not belonging to any work site! Jackets have a mysterious collar unfurled onto the lapel—on one side; blazers appear to have the tail of an inner garment slipped through a vent, necklines of sweaters look like scarves crisscrossed on the collarbone; sleeves of outers are puffed on one side, as if the sewer did not get that side of the cut pattern; coats reveal portions that are inside-turned-out, and we could go on. There is a lot to see. And unpack, which may not be necessary at all. It is too easy to be pulled into the off-beat world of Kolor and remain within. There is no denying that Junichi Abe is an innovative designer, but perhaps even more appealing, he is one pushing boundary-within-boundary too.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Kolor