Princess Diary: Back To Paris

After a hiatus, the Thai label Sirivannavari returned to the French capital during fashion week to reveal its royal creator’s lastest collection. Charmed?

One week after Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana Rajakanya of Thailand returned to Paris during PFW to show the autumn/winter 2023 collection of her eponymous label, she received a military appointment back home. According to the latest royal gazette (and reported in the news locally and throughout the region), the princess is now an “Army Specialist” in the royal Thai Army and accorded the rank of “Major General”. What she specialises in is not immediately known, nor, if she were to be a general, would she command her own troops. Neither was there elaboration of her military career, assuming she had one. The youngest daughter of the king is part of the current round of military promotions, announced by the monarch yesterday. Around the time of her Paris show, the Thai interior ministry launched a book in her honour—36th Anniversary of Her Royal Highness Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana Rajakanya, to mark not only the anniversary of her birth, but also “her contributions to the local weaving industry”, as reported by the Thai press.

That contribution was, as far as we could tell, not immediately reflected in what she showed in Paris, a static display in a small chandeliered ballroom at the 125-year-old Hôtel Ritz that overlooks Place Vendome. The 20-look collection was placed on and around a short aluminum runway, set up to, presumably, benefit buyers wishing to examine the clothes closely. This was the princess’s third Paris showing. The first was in 2007, when she was “invited” by the house of Balmain, pre-Olivier Rousteing (her grandmother, queen mother Sirikit, was an important customer in the ’60s when she embarked on a royal tour aboard with her husband, the late king Bhumibol Adulyadej). In the following year, the princess returned to the city on her own accord for a follow-up show, which was later brought to Moscow for the Russian Fashion Week of that year. No reports emerged back then on how well her collections fared or if the brand attracted international buyers. Observers felt that the label was too young and lacked a distinctive voice. The interest in Sirivannavari then was thought to be modest and mostly within Thailand.

The princess is a driven fashion designer. Throughout the pandemic of the last three years, she did not let up, continuing to produce collections for an unidentified market. In 2020, when Bangkok was in the thick of protests that were mainly lead by students and when the capital was seeing how devastating the COVID-19 pandemic could be, she staged a full fashion show at the city’s historic Oriental Hotel. While the presentation was well attended, it also concurrently generated streets protests—and parodies of fashion shows—that charged her unheeding display as untimely and tone deaf. At a time when Bangkok was heady with re-energised nationalism, she showed a collection called French Flair. Despite the rumblings, media response to her show was largely positive. She was lauded for her “signature creativity”. As far as we are aware, there were no other shows following the French Flair affair. Society folks have said that there were private parties, but not runway presentations.

This time, for the designs exhibited in Paris, there was “a Thai aesthetics touch”, as her brand states. The princess told an enthusiastic Suzy Menkes, who shared a brief chat with the former on Instagram, “I have a little bit of Thai touch, with a small detail is the collar… a little bit of Thai touch, not screaming at all.” Is a mere touch, some wondered, enough to distinguish her Thainess? It is true that the pieces were not shrill in their vestiary expression, but these were not entirely quiet clothes either. There has always been a discernible ‘hi-so’ (short for high society in Thailand) sensibility in her work. This could be due to the customers or supporters she attracts, primarily, we have been told by fashion insiders, staunch royalists and a small circle of friends. Many Thai fashionistas, especially the young, are not enthusiastic of her brand mainly due to this circumscribed state; they consider her clothes unrelatable. Many also do not consider Sirivannavari “a real business, it’s her hobby“, as we were often told.

Even with a “Thai touch”, there is no escaping the pull of French fashion or forms a la française. We saw a little Balmain here, a little Celine there, and snatches of Saint Laurent. To all that, some Cavalli—Italian sexiness for good measure. Some followers of her career think what her clothes lack is an edge or high-street appeal. For a relatively young designer, a Thai buyer told us, “she seems to design for an older clientele.” Still, skin-bearing is typical of her collections, so is the pronounced shoulder, which is rather persistent—or consistent with her personal style. It has to be said that this was her most mature and pulled-together collection to date, but despite what Ms Menkes diplomatically called “lovely workmanship”, it has yet to reveal the variables—Thai or not—meeting and functioning in a way that look to come from her, and just her alone. The collection will still not shake any ground on her home turf, in Paris, nor anywhere else in the world.

When Ms Menkes visited her show space, she asked the veteran journalist, “have you seen all the collections (she was referring to her own)?”. Accompanied by her coterie of friends, including the ever present Vogue Thailand’s EIC, Kullawit ‘Ford’ Laosuksri, she seemed thrilled by Ms Menkes’s presence, even a little nervous, we thought (she asked the near-octogenarian how the later was, twice!). When asked what she loved most of the looks showed, she said (we quote verbatim), “Well, I love the most is something like me. I love everything about the smoking or the suit. I love the thing with the mascular, femmina, like altogether.” The École de la Chambre Syndicale de la couture Parisienne alum continued, “I want to show that, first of all, I really come back very strong. I really miss very much to show my collection in Paris. I want to show like this is like, growing up girl, with a very strong collection, erm, inside me. I not stop learning; I not stop working; I look forward for working and I want to show at this place, again.” Spoken like a true princess.

Photos: Sirivannavari

Provocation Beneath The Prim

Miu Miu went lady-like. Or so it seemed

Miu Miu has had a good run these past seasons, chalking up considerable social-media exposure with those ultra-mini-skirts, so brief that there were apparently irresistible and must be flaunted. This season, Miuccia Prada walked away from that narrow, horizontal strip of cloth passing off as a skirt and opted for far longer lengths—knee-grazing, in fact. When the first look appeared, it seemed a model of modesty and nudge of neatness. As we examined the ensemble closely (or as closely as our PC screen permitted), there was considerable visual trickery involved. The round-neck cardigan in slate grey was a distraction, not quite a fashion statement. The attention-grabber was below the waist: a sheer, micro-dotted, slim-fit skirt, worn really low. In fact, it appeared to be clinging to the wearer’s hips, exposing the pantyhose, worn high at the waist, where the cardigan was casually tucked, like one would after an unexpected quickie. It helped that the model’s hair was messed up. She trotted urgently on, with a bag carried in the crook of her arm, swinging with comparable urgency. Back to work?

The show was themed Ways of Looking. That could also mean ways of being looked at. But the typical Miu Miu girl—such as those on the front row or Emma Corrin (The Crown) on the runway—probably does not care how anyone looks at her. She is only aware, as she strides on in her kitten heels, of the ways she alone looks at things. Such as how her navel could be exposed, but not quite. Or as Miu Miu explained in their show notes, “the instinctive process of looking, ways of seeing, and how an act of observation can, in turn, transform the object of its focus.” By looking long enough, and the transparent is not? By staring and the discomfiture is gone? Most of the looks Ms Prada sent out could be described as pants-less (even when leggings were worn). In fact, the last three models (Ms Corrin among them) appeared in just plain turtlenecks and crystal-encrusted granny panties. Will the fancy underpants be outerwear when we look hard enough too? Or, perhaps just look intently and the intention could be unintended?

The beauty of this collection was that almost ‘normcore’ clothes (yes, they’re around) could be given a spin and made sexy. That was the shrewdness of Miu Miu (and Prada too). Marketeers like to call such exercises “elevating” the basics. But much of what Miu Miu elevated was hosiery—pulled up high so that they sit above whatever bottom chosen or under more panties, acting like a sheer canvas. That said, panty-baring was very much part of the game. But, you could really turn out these looks with what already exists in your wardrobe. Just pull this down, yank that up. When pant-less was not the effect, the look was decidedly masculine, even hulking (see the jackets). In fact, some male models were used in the show, but whether the clothes were indeed part of a revisited menswear line, it is isn’t clear. Miu Miu reportedly preferred to describe the looks as gender-fluid. Was that why the guys were clothed in women’s cardigans? But négligée styles were very much a part of the line-up too, many embroidered or appliquéd. Would those diaphanous dresses be sold as gender-fluid too?

The show was staged in the Palais d’Iéna (next to the Trocadéro Gardens), constructed in the 1930s, and one of the three buildings that was kept standing after the Universal Exhibition of 1937. Although the palais is noted for its “classical style”, the Miu Miu show space was set up to effect some industrial exposition (or an outdoor concert?), complete with visible aluminum posts of the modular truss system and flat screen monitors suspended above the narrow, raised runway. The looped video shown on the screens was a curious, repetitive, Warholian performance by the Korean artist Jeong Geum-hyung, who, with hands above various garments, was basically caressing herself. All this to the show’s soundtrack of upbeat jazzy tunes. Miu Miu described the artist-provocateur’s act as “examining the relationship between her own body and clothing”. That was indeed one of the Ways of Looking.

Screen shot (top) and photos: Miu Miu

Camellia Crazy At Chanel

They went big on the bloom, in more ways than one. GWPs out of control

It is not surprising that Virginie Viard turned to the bloom so closely linked to the maison to set the tone for her latest collection. The camellia is, according to the brand, “eternal code of Chanel”. When the time comes (and it does), you turn to the fleuron forever because it is easy and convenient: it’s always there. As it turned out, this is the centennial year of the use of the 16-petal camellia at the house of Chanel. Time to celebrate, but rather than imagine the camellia as, say, a whole bodice, Ms Viard used it as a motif for fabrics and as ornamentation other than brooches or hair clips. The employment is undeniably classic, which is easily euphemism for stodgy. Or, unimaginative. One supposedly novel use of the camellia was to place white blooms in different sizes on black knitted tops (frumpy round-neck cardigans), like random polka-dots! The result was, at best (and regrettably), juvenile.

In contrast, the show was minimal and sleek. It was staged at the Grand Palais Ephémère, the temporary exhibition space (in the park Champ de Mars), erected to stand in for the Grand Palais, practically Chanel’s show home, which is under renovation, in preparation for next year’s Olympics. The set up was simple, but monumental: a really long runway with two circuses on which each, a trio of gigantic camellias sat, front-facing. A black-and-white moving image of Chanel’s “ambassador”, the Japanese actress Nana Komatsu (who attended), was projected on the uncoloured flowers—the petals seemed to be in motion. For the finale, those camellias were lit in red, a striking patina, no doubt. But when the clothes appeared in a row, they had, sadly, less the dramatic impact than the set. In fact, this, to us, was the funniest Chanel collection of recent memory.

Humorous because, well, the outfits were comical. We were not expecting Ms Viard to do anything that might be considered inventive or clever. Boucle jackets with asymmetric hems, for her, could be considered advanced. Some critics have said that she does not vary from a handful of silhouettes. We struggled to count even that many. So it was down to the extraneous to make a giggle-inducing difference. This season, there were the marabou puffs on a vest that looked like pockets and more of them all over a black pullover and skirt. The feathers were even used to trace the outline of Chanel’s resident flower and applied, oversized, all over a sweater! By themselves, the individual pieces of the collection might just be a tad okay if not for the styling. Ingenious meant a gilet over a coat-dress, cardigan with knit shorts, sweaters with lace biker tights (there were many more shorts, in fact)! A cropped jacket was teamed with a pair of knickerbockers. A romper, well-loved garment no doubt, had bloomers for legs. Ms Viard has been partial to styling with a frumpish persuasion, but this season, she went big with it.

And, of course, more camellias! There were leather leis on the lapels of a leather trench, posies for pockets or beaded (single) blooms, 3-D cutouts on a T-shirt, as single petal that dotted a gilet, and repeated patterns (in a grid) for fabrics that were as beguiling as bus flooring. The blooms were woven into the knits, stitched decoratively on a jacket, studded on a denim pantsuit, stitched together like yo-yo quilts, sequined on fabrics already with camellia prints. They framed a neckline so that it looked like a necklace was worn and dot cuffs as if they were giant links. They came as buttons (of course) and as bags, too, but some, oddly, in the shape of balls. They replaced the double-C clasps (or perhaps covered them) on flaps, were edged-out on sheer gloves, and finely patterned on boots. Jelak yet? The sum probably exceeded the quota that, elsewhere, would be considered judicious use. Surely every house limits the profusion of such “codes”? If the camellia was not a cliché before, it sure is now.

Screen shot (top) and photos: Chanel

Indefinable Is Best Kept That Way

Louis Vuitton waded into a mashup of flat shapes, unusual embellishments, and odd bulks, and they are

Louis Vuitton does not follow a fixed route to where it intends to go with their womenswear, which has worked well in its favour. Each season, the collection looks different from the previous, and indeed, the past. Still, there has always been a numinous quality about them. Nicolas Ghesquière has paved a somewhat erratic path for LV, taking us away from the mundane and the easily-scaled. This season, it’s a similar amble, but one does not encounter familiar characters or see the same scenes. Social media babble post-show asserted that Mr Ghesquière was in defining mode, specifying what “French style” might entail (even when LV has positioned themselves as a global brand). It was not a neat conclusion that he could easily arrive at. As he told the press, a tad anticlimactically, “French style belongs to everyone”. But are there that many who want to own it? Those who have been following his work know that Mr Ghesquière’s approach to design often escapes definition, even adequate or accurate description. If there is one designer who truly marches to his own constantly changing beat, it’s Nicolas Ghesquière.

Musée d’Orsay is the venue of choice for LV’s autumn/winter 2023 season, rather than their much-loved Musée du Louvre, diagonally across the Seine. Once a train station, Musée d’Orsay, on the left bank, is now home to a vast store of 19th century art, particularly the world’s largest collection of Impressionist paintings. Inside the Beaux-Arts building, LV built a runway—a part raised—that mimicked the cobbled streets of Paris. It wound through the audience like a train track in a village town. As the show started, what sounded like outdoor urban sounds, including chatter and birdsong, were picked up. Above this, a verbal introduction of the museum was made, which could have come from an audio guide. Insistent footsteps could be heard as the models walked past. We tried to determine if this was in sync with their purposeful stride; we wondered—in hindsight, foolishly—if tiny microphones were lined along the runway to pick up their tread. There was another perceptible disturbance: flickering and plinking chandeliers and garlanded lights, as if the building was just sputtering to life.

Audio and illuminative distraction aside, the clothes held their own. There were Mr Nicolas Ghesquière’s off-beat silhouettes, but it was what he incorporated within them that was a pull. There are always those who think his shapes are tricky to handle (more than Demna Gvasalia’s?)—perhaps, evidenced by the MediaCorp stars who wore the spring/summer 2023 pieces for the re-show at the Pasir Panjang Power Station last week? Back to Paris, however extreme the shapes, the garments circumscribed by the exaggerated lines composed of parts and details proportionate to the outsized silhouettes. If there was any vestige of French style, Mr Ghesquière certainly warped it. The first look, for example, was a bulgy, pleated, lapel-less blazer worn belted over a open-work dress; it challenged the notion that French girls like a sleek, lean appearance with pronounced shoulders (such as at Saint Laurent?). There was the odd ovoid white collar and suspended tubular sleeves of a dress or the oversized petal sleeves of another that sported one more pair of sleeves that didn’t appear to belong to the main garment. And the pin-striped, sleeveless, V-neck dress with a skirt that looked like a flat isosceles trapezoid.

Illusionary tricks were at play too. Knitted pieces were, in fact, embroidered to look like that. As with other houses, there were treatments of leathers that rendered them appearing less like hides. A leather camel coat was embossed and then printed to make it seem like it was cut from wool. One pinstriped pants—also in leather— was hand-painted and then sequinned in parallel lines. There was almost a couture sensibility in the details (and we’re not just referring to the embroidery), to the extend that we wondered how the finished garments could be offered at retail without astronomical pricing. The show closed with Squid Game’s Jung Ho-Yeon in a black and white, floral-embroidered dress, not unlike the petal-sleeved version we described earlier, but sans the additional covering for the arms. Nicolas Ghesquière made sure there would be items in the store that are irresistible, regardless the cost.

Screen shot (top): Louis Vuitton/YouTube. Photos:

Balenciaga, The “Reset”

How would Demna Gvasalia undo the damage at the house he revitalised eight years ago? He kept resolutely to fashion, no gimmicks, or so it seemed

That the Balenciaga show was the most anticipated of the staged PFW events was the proverbial understatement. But this time, the expectancy is not for a new designer’s debut. Demna Gvasalia is still holding court. This was, by design, going to be a show like no other in his eight years with Balenciaga. This was a post-scandal, time-to-make-good exercise—redemption. This was, in effect, the maison saying they screwed up and that they were apologetic. The first show since last December’s explosive social media backlash, it was conceived to make peace with those who didn’t wait to jump at the label’s slightest misstep. While it may still be uncool in certain quarters (such as among reality TV stars) to support Balenciaga openly (the brand is certainly missing this film award season, not that Balenciaga is up Michele Yeoh’s now-spotlighted lorong), it was not the case among some stars, the press corps, hopeful business associates, and fervid supporters. This was a well-attended Balenciaga presentation—packed, as if nothing bad had happened before this. Balenciaga, now sans provocation, could possibly be vindicated, but will the past be forgotten, soon enough?

It was the most straightforward of Balenciaga shows under Mr Gvasalia’s watch. None of the theatrics of the snow or the mud of the recent past. This was a vanilla (also the colour) runway production in an exhibition space in Carrousel du Louvre, variously cool-and-then-not PFW show venue under the compounds of the Musée du Louvre that is also a shopping centre. But this is not unusual for Mr Gvasalia who is known to prefer common—even low-brow—locations. There were no sets or snaking configuration of the seating. It could be an ultra-large corporate meeting room. Even that would not be unusual. Last year, a shoot in what appeared to be an actual office landed the brand in trouble. But this time, no incriminating props. In fact, for the collection, Mr Gvasalia stayed clear of the cheesy, the cute, the weird, and concentrated on making extraordinary clothes. It was irony-lite too. And collab-less. Sneaker-bereft. As fashion goes, it was aboveboard. Barefaced Balenciaga, but logotype-free. And the models, the usual motley group that Mr Gvasalia prefers—were seemingly without make-up too (nothing TikTok filters can’t fix later?). On them, the clothes did not appear to go beyond the bounds of what he has brought to the house. Not that Mr Gvasalia stayed away from technique and crafting. Those qualities, in fact, did the talking.

First up was the tailoring or, specifically, the silhouette that has influenced practically everyone and every maison. The jackets were still wildly upsized, the shoulders extended—key in how Mr Gvasalia has been using the shoulder line to influence the jacket’s appearance—and the wider armhole that better kept its body away from the torso. That in themselves would not have been exceptional if not for the suggestion that tailored pants were used to make garments not intended for the waist downwards. The jackets, as well as coats, had waist bands at the hem, complete with belt loops and fastenings (without prong keepers, though), even button holes. As for the trousers or skirts that were teamed with the jackets and coats, they looked like upside-down versions of themselves, with extra legs on each side, flapping as the models walked (we could not see how they were fastened to the main garment). They reminded us of the two-in-one clothings of Y/Project—even their superfluous extras or additional parts were evocative of Comme des Garçons. Had Mr Gvasalia been a tad obvious that his world turned topsy-turvy? Especially after the teddy bears in dominatrix gear? Or, is this how mainstream weird has become?

Others by now considered conventional at Balenciaga included a just-as-oversized denim trucker with a low neckline for the collar or, in the case of other outers (some puffed up to look heaving), brought above the jawline, those fitted tops (interestingly, there were only two hoodies) and leggings, seemingly designed for skinny fellows (but they could easily be unisex), as well as those cover-a-lot, pleated dresses—this time, with what in our part of the world would be considered 水袖 (shuixiu or water sleeves), only theirs did not dust the floor. A couple of dresses had a half-cape on the right that concealed the sleeve and a bag that, for some reason, needed to be conspicuously hidden. There were the noticeably rounded shoulder treatment too, humped ‘pagoda’ that gave the wearer a slight shrug, even an aloofness. “I have decided to go back to my roots in fashion as well as to the roots of Balenciaga, which is making quality clothes — not making image or buzz,” Mr Gvasalia told Vogue recently. This was a show of constructional and engineering finesse or acumen, together with the guile at shifting the attention back to the designs. While the collection might have been emphatic of Balenciaga’s strength, it was hardly radical. It offered no guarantee that Netizens would be applauding and the lines will start to (re)form outside the stores. Let’s hope. Forgiveness is a good thing.

Screen shot (top): Balenciaga. Photos:

Spellbinding Simplicity

Loewe goes without ornamentation, not a blade of (real) grass, not a single stalk of flower, Oh, just those feathers

Spare is not, as Loewe illustrated in their autumn/winter 2023 collection, nothing. Clean lines are not trimmed of details. The calf-length A-line dresses, as simple as shifts, that opened the show are not quite that straightforward. On the dresses, cut from duchess satin (itself a tricky fabric to handle) and shaped with practically no darts, are over-prints that make you wonder if your eyes are playing tricks on you. The singular images are not sharp—the bane of anyone professionally involved in the business of printing. Some looked like faded ’50s house coat florals, a trio evoked the shape of a body sheathed in a dress, one a trench coat (complete with corresponding details printed at the back), and another that could be the result of a prenatal ultrasound scan! And on these, if you look closely, some had strategically placed (but designed to look random) creases on the upper bodice. Clearly a lot of thought had gone into such a simple (sorry, that word again) garment, the various sleeve lengths and shapes and the print placements.

If there is one thing that may work against such technical finesse is that few women will appreciate it. Jonathan Anderson has made these clothes rest on dressmaking of a certain exactness, not logos or any identifiable motifs attributed to brand DNA, and used to death, to stand out. Ironically, it is in the restraint and clearness that Mr Anderson has distinguished Loewe. The show, as before, was in a massive white space, only this time it’s in the 613-year-old Château de Vincennes, once a prison between the 16th to19th century, outside of Paris that predated Château de Versailles. The set, designed by the Italian artist Lara Favaretto, comprised of single-colour, waist-high cubes covered in confetti. They are similar to those in the 2016 installation The Man Who Fell On Earth, a composition that is the total opposite of the other artist-conceived runway at Dior. The clothes, therefore, became the true focus, and just as with Ms Favaretto’s cubes, you couldn’t ignore Mr Anderson’s sculptural purity

It is convenient to describe the collection as ‘normcore’, as some already have. But these are not quite the norm of the staples we see in a fashion consumer’s typical wardrobe. These clothes, we suspect, have far longer staying power. The leather pieces, for example, are not fashioned as leathers usually are. Here, they take on the form of a shirt-dress with a draped side, supple coats with a liquid quality about them, a ‘pullover’ with a fold-over neckline, a shell top with four triangular pieces as part of the bodice (in the rear too), and cropped tops with a sweet primness about them, and those molded dresses and skirts. When it came to knits, more over-printing on the cardigans, and oversized for those as long as dresses that intriguingly clung to the hips. The spareness was even evident in the separates composed of feathers (we assume, for now, that they are real): there was no decorative, frilly arrangement; they take the shape of the garments—blouses, skirts, and trousers. which could be those worn as limbs of beasts with plumage.

It is dispiriting to think that the Loewe collection is “buzz-worthy”, as has been pointed out. Distasteful it is that clothes so carefully considered and deftly designed would be selected by consumers because of the potential buzz they would generate. The Loewe pieces deserve far more than social media attention; they should be admired, bought, and worn. And again. Jonathan Anderson, together with Matthieu Blazy of Bottega Veneta, are probably the only two designers creating compelling clothes circumscribed by what Mr Anderson called “couture classicism”, all in a seemingly normal manner. Perhaps this is the newness because the pieces do not shriek fashion. Now, we wait for Phoebe Philo to join them.

Screen shot (top) and photos: Loewe

Best Set At Dior

It’s hard to say the same about the clothes

While waiting for the Dior autumn/winter 2023 livestream to begin two hours or so earlier, we thought of Abby Choi. If she were alive, it is possible that she might appear on our screen, and we would be able to see her stand before the photo wall, like so many of the guests (such as Jisoo) did, and allow the photographers to happily snap away. This would be totally up Ms Choi’s street: the celebrities, the clothes, the atmosphere, the show. This season, Dior walked away from the old format of a long wall, on which massive paintings or photographs hang, in front of which the models walk; their profile, their side facing the audience seated as if in a gallery. Now, the models seemed to walk randomly, definitely not on a linear path, among the audience clearly not in a gallery. But it wasn’t the route or the dressed up but bored saunterers, or the mostly front rows that beckoned. It was what was above them.

The set was designed by Joana Vasconcelos, the French-born Portuguese artist known for her massive installations of colorful, fertile, pinata-like shapes, usually suspended from the ceiling. For the Dior runway, Ms Vasconcelos created just-as-colourful, wildly-pattern, abstract mammoth of a centrepiece—also hung from above—that could have been pieced together with giant maracas, some with dramatic stalactitical drops beneath. Each rattler-like piece is elaborately patterned. Between them are colour-saturated, cruller-like lengths of fabrics snaking through the installation like ruffled dragons of a dragon dance. This could be some Eastern bazaar; this could also be some fey bandid’s hideaway. But, to Ms Vasconcelos, it was Valkyrie Miss Dior. Could this then be the Valhalla. Where was Odin?

The Dior presentation was likely not intended for any male god, Norse or not; least of all, male gaze. As with all Maria Grazia Chiuri shows, the latest was a visual paean to the females she admired—another women for women celebration. Only this time the celebratory spirit was not in the clothes (they were usually not). Sure, they celebrated the woman’s body, but could there have been more by way of design? There has always been something repetitive about Ms Chiuri’s output. Perhaps these were her ‘signatures’ for the maison, but it’s hard not to say they were on repeat, insistent even. The white shirt and the high-waisted pleated skirt, the shirt and tie and slouchy trousers, the spaghetti-strapped dress, and sheer, panty-showing skirts—they were all there, some in different fabrics, some rumpled this time, but they were there. For sure.

Ms Chiuri has, no doubt, found her groove. And stuck with it. She’s been with Dior for seven years now, longer than most designers not working for their own house. Alessandro Michelle ended a seven-year run at Gucci last year. Analysts thought that Mr Michele had been doing the same thing for too long. “Brand fatigue” was bandied about. Ms Chiuri has not exactly rejuvenated Dior (more Book totes!), even after her fifth year. She makes “classic” clothes with just-as-“classic” silhouettes (more from the ’50s!) that we are often told exactly what women want. Feminine to the nth degree, for the nth time. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that. But season in, season out of the same things mean one thing—repetitive. Is that why the massive, scene-stealing set was required? So that we would be distracted from the same-same? Clever.

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

Gucci: Until They Start Afresh

In the mean time, trashy will do

If there is any brand in need of evidence that a house cannot be without a creative director, they should look at Gucci. The autumn/winter 2023 collection, shown earlier, was put together by the members of the design studio. They took the customary bow at the end of the show. Did 21 of them—a motley bunch with different tastes—sense, as we did, that this was not the roaring applause that Gucci usually received? Thirty minutes after the livestream, we were still in a state of disbelief. To be certain that we were not over-reacting, we showed some screen shots to a Gucci fan. She didn’t conceal her shock: “Eeeee… where got Gucci like that, one?” We, too, wondered. We’ll be the first to admit that after Alessandro Michele’s first few season, after he became too sure of himself and too carried away with the collections, we lost any sense of joy in his collections, even when the rest of the world raved and raved, and raved. But, this was exceptionally… bad.

We know, of course, that Gucci will have a new CD on board. Nothing could be gleaned from the latest show that could inform us what Sabato De Sarno will bring to the house. Mr De Sarno, whose appointment was announced just a month ago, would not be presenting his debut collection until September, during the fall season. Or, as Kering said earlier, until he has “completed all his obligations”. Eager press reports already excitedly proclaimed that “a new era at Gucci has begun”. So what was it that we saw; what was that really about? Why did Gucci even bother with this show? Could they not have skipped a season? Take a clean break? Do these tawdry clothes deserve a runway or would they be better placed in a Sam Smith music video? Or was Gucci hoping that a bevy of influencers, placed in the middle of the show space in two circular pits, would give the clothes the approval/endorsement needed? The opening look—a tiny metallic-chain bra sporting the brand’s interlocking Gs, worn with a long, slim, black skirt, made less of a hobble with a gaping slit in the rear—immediately raised that question and others. But by the end of the show, there was no answer.

It is hard to imagine that this would be expected of Mr De Sarno, whose credentials include roles at Prada and current work at Valentino. We like to think that the startling level of tackiness is the result of the lack of leadership. That was why sleazy dresses in the vein of the naked dress presided. Or why a strapped bandeau had to show the wearer’s nipples. Or, why indeed there were so many sheer these and those. Try imagining Harry Styles in any of these dresses. And, appear on another cover of Vogue. To be sure, Alessandro Michele did not stay clear of the diaphanous, but it was not this crude. If the transitional team attempted something more conservative and tailored, the effect was a pathetic imitation of early Balenciaga under the then newly celebrated Demna Gvasalia. Or Louis Vuitton when an odd panier skirt curiosity appeared. Editing, always advantageous when design output is rojak, somehow stayed elsewhere.

It appeared that Gucci was keeping the spirit, if not legacy of Mr Michele alive, even if his departure was what they needed to reinvigorate the brand. No palate cleanser in the offering. Cheap-looking pervaded. With such a meretricious collection, it seriously boggled the mind how these clothes will sell out. Or in sufficient numbers to justify their existence. With these pieces, can they really drive the droves to the their stores, now increasingly missing the front-door queues? Perhaps Gucci was hoping that the accessories would be crowd-pullers, as they have been, and sell like the proverbial hot cakes. But what was exceptional? Or investment-worthy? The clutch with the oversized horse-bit strap? The massive and furry boots? The gloves that covered only the fingers? The earrings that were so long that they were knee-dusters? Perhaps even the hosiery? For now, we’ll just say pass.

Screen shot (top) and photos: Gucci

Season Of Skirts

Prada goes from pencil to circle. All with gravitas and gallantry

Who’d send out on the runway a first look with a predominance of a white skirt except Prada? An unsexy ankle-length?Not high-waisted? And a plain grey sweater to go with that? And no accessory, not even a bag? But flat pumps with origami-like flaps? Prada had no qualms in allowing the fewest essential to be in the spotlight, to be held up to scrutiny and, consequently, be admired. There were no statement pieces (perhaps, the skirts?), not that Prada does not make statements. It’s just that they are usually less proclamations than propositions. Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons are not inclined to putting a loud-hailer to their designs. That white skirt (yes, we were taken with it) is not extraordinary in shape, but the sheer overlay on which floral-patterned medallion cut-outs, like Chinese 剪紙 (jianzhi or paper cutting), were neatly appliqued in a grid, did focus one’s attention on it. That it looked like giant motile cells added to its pull. Just one skirt.

Perhaps it was the bareness of the runway that allowed us to focus on what was coming down it. The show was, as before, held at the brand’s own space, the Fondazione Prada. Only existing pillars, painted in what could be traffic orange, could be considered sets. But as the show proceeded, floral casings—in white blooms and green foliage—slid down, as if a bridal show was to unfold. We were enthralled by the soundtrack too: First, a menacing industrial growl/hum, and then Roxy Music’s In Every Dream Home a Heartache, a brief transition of Vangelis’s electronic Spiral, before The Kinks’s I Go To Sleep. And then, totally unexpected was The Blue Danube waltz by Johann Strauss! Was the highly mixed genre (which, to us reflected more Mr Simons’s taste than the maison’s) a reflection of the no-fixed theme of the collection? Sure, the show notes mentioned, menswear, uniforms, and, er, wedding dresses—did these explain those white skirts? And the floral display?

Prada has, of course, been a proponent of uniforms for as long as we can remember their RTW. And their revisit this season was not unusual, and far from groundbreaking. But then Ms Prada and Mr Simons were not limited by what the need for uniforms usually entails—specific functions or the enhancement of unity. So they could, for instance, mix the military with the nuptial, not that both recognisable aesthetics appeared glaringly in one outfit. But a tad subversive it was of the pairing of a hint of bridal dress (that skirt!) with the noticeably military (that sweater!). Celebratory meets utility. There was also placing of work shirts—the type a commercial pilot might wear—atop mini skirts with folded or draped panels. Or those not at odds with the SAF’s No.2 dress, just with delightfully oversized epaulettes, and teamed with high-waisted skinny(!) pants. There were, too, very-Prada details elsewhere: flapping trains (even on printed, body-skimming dresses Anna Wintour would quickly place an order, but she very likely, too, would ask the train to be chopped), detachable collars (bi-coloured!) to go with oversized blazers (in case you wished to wear them alone), and the new spot for the Prada logo-plaque—on the white skirts, to the left, at hip level.

The beauty of Prada is that they don’t complicate things. They let their sense of proportion, control, and colour come through unambiguously. You know what you are seeing. Off-beat details are there to throw the orderliness, even neatness, off balance. Deconstructionism is not their urgent story (never have), but tilting the kilter is. The symmetry is so until you see a distraction. Yet, the distraction is not, well, distracting. The simplicity is still preserved, enhanced, beautified. Some people might think that we’re bias, eager to point out the restraint and directness of others, but not Prada’s. For avid followers of Prada (and we know there are many), that requires no defending. We’ve often been told that Prada isn’t for many women, not their sisters, or mothers. Perhaps, therein lies their immense charm.

Fade-In/Fade-Out Fendi

Could this be Fendi’s most cheerless collection under Kim Jones?

At the end of the Fendi livestream, we wanted only to remember how many times we yawned, and yawned. But we could not recall. As with most fashion show livestreams, the presentation did not start on time—20 minutes later, in fact. It was a test of our ability to stay awake, even when it was not that late in the evening here (just after Channel 5’s slightly more arousing News Tonight). It didn’t help that it was a runway obligation devoid of energy-boosting colours, just a train of beige, baby blue, and grey, a union of the unsaturated (until towards the end when there were, finally, shots of fuchsia and red). We are not opposed to the neutral palette (some of our favourite brands make magic with it), just the joylessness of the event, the anti-pleasure-ness. It has to be said—and with delight—that the right soundtrack was picked: former members of Throbbing Gristle, Chris and Cosey’s appropriate Lost Bliss.

And the staging was admittedly good. A lit, white, patterned circle (possibly composed of exposed bulbs)—like a paper doily or a lace coaster—first appeared at the far end of the long, darkened runway. Then a ring of spotlights, hung before that fascinating dot, cast fractured light around it, rapidly giving shape to a pattern, much like a kaleidoscope, only that the graphic formation didn’t change; it remained uniform and symmetrical. When your eyes were able to adjust to the illumination, you realised that there were very strong beams emerging from circular light sources that trace the perimeter of that ring. The rays were so powerful that they shot vertical lengths of light far forward, forming a tunnel in which the glum models dutifully did their work. It was spectacular, a light show deserving its own time slot, and an audience.

But we’re here to talk about the clothes. We hope it is not that obvious that we are holding back. Regular readers of SOTD would know that we’re not massive fans of Kim Jones’s Fendi. We do not think he is a very convincing womenswear designer. But women love Fendi and, we have been told—with considerable fervour—that Mr Jones’s designs are adored and appreciated, and sold. So we’re always curious as to what could prompt such ardour. And it is fun, we suppose, to trace the path forward, on which Mr Jones has so smoothly coasted along. This autumn/winter 2023 season, which marked two years Mr Jones has been with the brand, he went quite lean, keeping things simple. But simplicity is subjective and may only appear to be so. While there is the straightforwardness of a-dress-is-a-dress, the designs are a lot more beguiling, if you look close enough. But it’s the sum effect that is not pulling any heartstrings. The clothes just look stodgy, the stuff for a mundane life, and a similar wardrobe.

Some of the styling seemed to suggest a young girl’s first attempt at grown-up fashion. But, in fact, Mr Jones was inspired by an adult—Delfina Delettrez (and in case you don’t, journalist-turn-influencer Suzy Menkes made sure you did on Instagram), the daughter of Silvia Venturini Fendi, who is behind the label’s accessory, menswear, and kids’ lines. It is, of course, advantageous and career-protecting to butter up members of the family whose name is on the labels sewn on the clothes, just in case massive double F logos on a shirt or two aren’t quite enough. When not blaring the name, there were negligee dresses, as well as knit dresses with slits that can be unbuttoned to the rump, shirts and tops with halter-neck straps, the strange, not particularly attractive vests with additional panels on the sides that hid the forearm, but exposed the upper and shoulders, and many pairs of unremarkable—but no doubt immensely wearable—trousers. Pleated skirts are a thing, too: they are ankle-length or mini, some worn over pants. Excited yet?

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

Coming Up Roses At Burberry

And checks too. Daniel Lee’s debut at the British house pointed to a cool Burberry again

We were up at four this morning to watch the livestream on our phone of what was surely the most anticipated show that closed the five-day London Fashion Week. It was hard to rise at that hour, so we remained in bed, watching the non-action of the attendees filling up the space. Twenty six to five, when we were fiercely resisting going back to sleep, it began—in a dark, set-less, well-attended tent, erected in St Agnes Place, once a squatter street in Kensington, South London, that had amazingly resisted eviction for more than 30 years. It is a different place today, mostly residential, and now a venue for the city’s most important people watching the UK’s most important luxury label’s autumn/winter presentation. Daniel Lee’s debut was expected to generate tremendous buzz, possibly even more than his first show at Bottega Veneta, where he suddenly left the brand in November 2021 amid rather strange circumstances. Now that he is back, on home turf, no less, was it as good as many had expected it to be. Was it the turning point Burberry anxiously needed? Did we waste our sleep for this touted-to-be-history-making moment?

It was not immediately clear that history was made. Perhaps we were too groggy to discern. The show, even just one-minute in, was admittedly a stark contrast to Riccardo Tisci’s debut for the house back in 2018. Then, Mr Tisci wanted a collection that catered to more than a group of customers: “all-generations”, as it was reported. His multi-part show, set on a polished, raised runway, offered that much, but said very little that we can now remember, except that everything was not as cool as it was expected. Or, it was, to us, not very British—eccentric even less. If we had wanted Italian sleekness, we would not have been eyeing a British heritage label. Mr Lee, too, appeared to try to cater to not one particular target. There were, similarly, rather many looks—for usually-forward indie musicians, football stars with money but not necessarily taste, the rich kids of celebs (the Beckhams?), the edgy folks who shop in Dover Street Market, tourists who must bring home a bit of the Britannic, and yes, even the chavs of the early 2000s (only now less brash or gaudy?). The clothes were not daringly innovative, but, in the styling that hinted at a certain uppity insouciance, coveted cool did come across, calculatedly.

Apparently Mr Lee was looking at archival material that did not only come from within Burberry. Sure, there was the trench, and there were the checks (but not those with the black and red lines against a beige background), now blown up so massively—and applied diagonally and in vibrant hues—that you might not have recognised them, but there were others not necessarily associated with the heritage details, such as, fur. Back in 2018, Burberry apparently put the breaks on the use of the real stuff. So it could be assumed that those employed here on the clothes and the accessories (that mop of a trapper hat!) were faux, including some destined-to-be-a-hit fox tail danglies (should that be swinggies?). The most obvious comeback was the Burberry logo of the galloping knight. It too was scaled up and was so massive that it became a lone rider on an asymmetric dress, or a wool blanket. Englishness would not be quite so without the English rose (both flower and woman). But, as Mr Lee would have it, “A Rose Isn’t Always…Red”. So that declaration and a rose in blue or green(!) appeared on a long-sleeved T-shirt, it’s best-seller status concurrently announced. And, by not always, he rather meant it. Prints of roses were in black and, erm, brown.

Despite the varied looks, all sufficiently swish and handsome, it was hard to determine if they would, as of now, bring Burberry somewhere, anywhere. Wearable clothes were aplenty (and a clutch of the not-so—the pair with chicken feathers, for example), but we did not sense they were directional, at least not sufficiently to help us determine where Burberry would go henceforth. Too curated? There was something reminiscent of Mr Lee’s first runway show for Bottega Veneta in 2019. Some silhouettes were reprised, as did shots of colour. The media back then was happy to say that he was enticing the old Céline customer. Now, with Phoebe Philo’s return very near, surely Mr Lee no longer needed to repeat the past luring. Back in South London, one unexpected accessory (a category expected to expand in size) that appeared repeatedly was the hot water bottle (even the guests received one, placed on their seat). The models held them close to their bodies, or chests. Did the fabric-wrapped, flat flasks aid us in allowing the collection to warm the cockles of our heart, to use a phrase now associated with one Sengkang MP? We may have to wait and see. Coolness is better cool.

Screen shot (top): Burberry. Photos:

Jonathon Anderson Looked Back At JW Anderson

Was this a greatest hits collection?

These days, there is a TV programming trend here: the various cast of old television dramas get together to 话旧 (hua jiu) or reminiscence about the good ’old days. On Channel 5, there is On the Red Dot: Reunions and, on Channel 8, The Reunion (小团剧 or xiaotuanju). Each program banks on the viewers’ love of nostalgia and looks back at old TV series through the eyes of the cast. This reliving of the past are mostly dull, augmenting not the viewer experience. In some ways, the JW Anderson autumn/winter 2023 show is in the same vein, but they engaged the mind far much more, and tugged at the heart strings immensely too. Mr Anderson was looking at Scottish dancer/choreographer Michael Clark’s vast body of work. Both men have never collaborated before (Mr Clark did pair up with the ’80s British label Bodymap. The brand’s designers Stevie Stewart and David Holah had conceived costumes for the dancer’s performances and, in 1986, Mr Clark choreographed a Bodymap show), so this was hardly a reunion. But, it was an exercise at revisiting both their work, concurrently. As Mr Anderson explained in the show notes, “As I looked back through my own archive for this show, resurrecting elements from each collection of the last fifteen years, Michael let me rifle through his. It helped me pinpoint my own obsessions.”

Mr Clark was often described as the choreographer-provocateur who “brought punk to ballet”. He was also a fashion circuit regular: Hussein Chalayan designed his 1988 piece current/SEE, and he choreographed Alexander McQueen’s 2003 Spring/Summer presentation Irere. Mr Clark’s own dance performances in his early years were known for their “circus-like quality”. While Mr Anderson did not quite create a circus for his show, there was a hint of the entertainment in the form of a rink as runway (at the Roundhouse in Camden), and in which three, box-like installations were placed, adjacent to each other. On one, was a Warholian illustration of the male genitalia (in place of Mr Clark’s famed prosthetic dildos!). Another, a photo image of two fingers held up to denote the peace symbol. The third a rift on Coca Cola, but with the text, “Enjoy God’s Disco” instead, followed by the rhetorical “Is there nightlife after death?”. In sum, they seemed to offer a more controlled, even neater version of Mr Clark’s madcap, sexually-charged dance world. JW Anderson fitted this nonconformity (some might consider it deviancy) rather nicely, without quite shaking the conventions associated with current fashion the way Mr Clark did with the orthodoxies of dance.

If you were expecting cut-outs in the rear of pants, exposing bare bums, you’d be disappointment. JW Anderson is beyond what Mr Clark considered of the infamous (and impertinent at that time) buttocks-exposed costumes, design by the late London nightlife impresario Leigh Bowery: “I thought they were a lovely fashion detail”, he told the Barbican Centre in an interview to coincide with the 2020 exhibition Cosmic Dancer. There were, of course, details in the JW collection, but they were in technical finesse, rather than titillating minute parts: wrecked sweater ends (and still decorated with glittery bits), seemingly hand-torn hems of trousers, peplums that moved to the bodice, overalls with zouave-like bottoms (the inverted smiley face a clear reference to Mr Clark), or the triangular legs of the jodhpur-like pants. For those who hoped to own key pieces of JW Anderson’s past, there were smart (but never overly) gray pant suits and checked coats, or those with massive triangular—almost habit-like—collars, or sweater-knit pullovers with tubular necklines. We are partial to those shell tops with a sort-of-half-shawl wrapped asymmetrically to the left, a deconstructed trench coat truncated into a complex top-cape, and those mini-skirts that could have been an obi deliberately worn on the hip, askew.

In paralleling his past output with Michael Clark’s, Mr Anderson strangely made his eponymous work less subversive. There was, of course, the underground vibe of that dress that appeared to be made of Tesco (not the more posh Waitrose) plastic bags, but on the whole the collection was not a rigorous attempt to challenge anything, least of all his own 15-year output. This was, to us a casual look-back, a pleasing replay, a reiteration that was not offensive, penile glory on the chest of a top notwithstanding. In 2016, Michael Clark told the press, “I never really had a plan, except to express myself as purely as possible.” Mr Anderson has had a plan since the quiet birth of JW Anderson in 2008, and he has expressed himself, if not purely, at least unapologetically, and for that, we will look back with him, but we prefer casting our sight forward. Something greater awaits, we’re sure.

Screen shot (top): JW Anderson. Photos: