Facing Fendace

Up close with the curious collab: It is as terrifying as imagined, even when not much is available

Fendi and Versace equal Fendace, a name that rings of Pantpong of the past. We still do not know what to make of this collaboration (we were, in fact, reminded not to call this as such. It is a “swap”). Is it a joke that we do not understand and, therefore, can’t laugh along? To be sure, Fendace speaks to a very specific target: those who are nostalgic for Versace loudness pied-pipered by the house’s Medusa head, those who have never enjoyed the ostentation, and those who would wear anything that scream something. For those who have lived through the garish-florid excess of the ’90s (before the demise of Gianni Versace), this is very much a revisit. It certainly was for us.

We went to the Fendi store at Takashimaya Shopping Centre this afternoon to view the brand’s take on the Versace aesthetic (we skipped the Fendi looks at Versace as they are, to us, too Donatella Versace). Except for two mannequins flanking the entrance, there were no others in windows featuring the Fendace merchandise, nor any lightbox announcing its launch today. The two mannequins—female on one side and male on the other—were not togged to the nines, as we had expected, just simple pieces you’d have missed if you, walking pass, did not pay attention to the dummies’ attire. There were stanchions and rope outside, but a queue had not formed. We walked straight inside.

A beaming sales staff came to ask if we needed any assistance. The only Fendace merchandise we could identify were the bags, so we asked her if the full collection was in store. “Is there anything you want?” She sounded eager to help. Not specifically, we want to see the pieces first before we decide. “Actually,” she continued with a hint of regret, “most of the items are sold out.” We were taken aback. She then showed us a rack the width of a large armoire: Only three items were hung there. “Is there anything you want? Do you have a picture?” We were really surprised they were this low on the Fendace stocks, this soon. “We brought in very few pieces each—one or two.” Why is that so? Is it because our market is too small? “Yes,” she agreed with a smile. “We think the prints may not do so well here. Our buyers feel they will do better in China.”

Not long after the Fendace show in Milan last September, the hashtag #Fendace was followed by 80 million Chinese on Weibo, according to Chinese media reports. In a Jing Daily (精奢商业观察) editorial, it was noted that netizens were divided when it came to how appealing the high-high coupling was: “Some believed it was simply a marketing stunt and even found them “ugly,” yet others saw them as great value.” China is a huge market, even if there are more of those who find Fendace unattractive, those who think not would still be a larger number than any sum here. The sales staff added, as if sensing our skepticism, “it is also popular with the Chinese (residing) here.”

If the proclaimed sell-out is based on the “very few pieces” availed to the store, it would be an exaggeration to say that the collection was met with great success here. But with so little to see merely four hours after the store opened, it was perhaps good optics for Fendi and Versace. “Sold out” is the best marketing strategy and catch phrase. We were also told that there was a private session for VIP customers to pick their Fendace; we were, naturally, not privy to that. Without much on offer, the salesgirl tried to interest us in the few bags left on the shelf, including a SGD4,850 Baguette in the printed silk designed for the collection (and for the bag’s braided handle), although we were intrigued by the much smaller Mini Sunshine Shopper. When we did not seem keen in either, she told us there were some scrunchies we could look at. Presumably we appeared to have only SGD375 to spend.

Tried as we did, it was hard to distinguish between Fendi and Versace in the products. Perhaps, that’s the whole idea: to look indistinguishable. However new and fresh the pairing of luxury labels, the melding of two high-end brands has its precedence: the Chinese knock-off market. In the heydays of affordable bootlegs, to appear without outright copying, some producers of pirated goods bring together unlikely names and aesthetics to blur the lines, so to speak. Fendace, to us, had that spirit, but now the smudging of aesthetical borders is legit and blessed with the finesse of Italian craftsmanship. But does it make Fendace really covetable now matter how gaudy it looks? Or is Fendace really too hot to be anything but?

Fendace is launched today. Most items are sold out. Good luck. Photos: Chin Boh Kay. Illustrations: Just So

And This Is Miu Miu?

Rihanna does not need to mimick no runway look. She can, as we have been repeatedly told, wear anything she wants, however she desires, modest or not—mostly not

Rihanna, out for the night, scantily clad, again. Photo: Backgrid

In the duration of her internationally-viewed-and-followed pregnancy, Robyn Rihanna Fenty has exposed more of her body than the average expectant woman. But Ms Fenty, as we have been made aware, is not an average woman or mother-to-be. So whatever she has worn (or not) isn’t standard either, or maternity wear. Her visible stomach is the focal point of most of her outfits, from the first trimester to the present. The outers, if worn, do not provide cover either. Even if you follow the growth of her baby bump, it may not mean it grows on you. Not many women are comfortable putting their enceinte body in near-full display. Ms Fenty has not only been at ease; she has been eager too. And that, for many COVID-era societies of the West, is admirable, if not exactly imitable.

Such as the above look she adopted two days ago when she went out with A$AP Rocky to have dinner at their favourite restaurant, Giorgio Baldi, in Santa Monica. On social media, so many said she looked “wonderful” or “beautiful”, but no one said they wanted to dress like her. At a glance, it should have been an immediately recognisable ensemble, but Ms Fenty has taken considerable liberties with it and a double take would possibly be necessary to identify the brand. She would not wear something as it was intended (to begin with, she picked regular RTW pieces, nothing, as she vowed, from the “maternity aisle”). So this Miu Miu two-piece, part of the current spring/summer collection that is much loved, was given a Rihanna remake (she is, after all, a fashion designer!): The skirt was lobbed off to shorten it. And she dispensed with Miu Miu inner wear for—presumably—her own Fenty undies. The genius here is making Miu Miu as un-Miu Miu as possible.

Adut Akech on the runway in the same Miu Miu outfit for spring/summer 2022. Photo: Gorurway

Media reports were all raves and more raves: “Rihanna Bra & Skirt Set… Deserves All The Fire Emojis”, “Stuns In See-Through Set”, and our favourite—from Vogue—“One For The Record Books”. Some choice words excited journalists used included “glamorous”, “inspiring”, “incredible”, “style-forward”, “effortless”. The beauty of all this worship is that the goddess is, fashion-wise, faultless. Even if there was discernible wardrobe malfunction. Fans and journalists alike noticed her body glitter, her tattoos, even the linea nigra, but no one mentioned one exposure: In some photographs of her in the silvery crystal mesh top (and matching customised-to-be-mini skirt), part of her left nipple could be seen above the top edge of her brassiere that appeared to have slipped down on that side (it isn’t known why her bra was so loose). Or was that insouciant slide part of what Vogue euphemistically called the “risqué look”?

Just because the Miu Miu set appeared fetching on the model (in this case, Adut Akech), on the runway, it does not automatically mean the outfit would look good on the rest of us. Ms Fenty is, of course, a determined woman. Not to be told what maternity clothes are, or not, she is happy to break all rules (is there any rule in her rule book?) and go the opposite way by not covering a—not just the—large part of her body. It is possible that she was emboldened by the frequent rhapsodising of the press and social media. The more she revealed, the more she was lauded and encouraged. The reciprocal flaunts even gained her a Vogue cover. There was really no need to hold back. It is said that Rihanna’s pregnancy is important to expectant women—she empowers them, to the extent that she needs to be immortalised with a marble statue of her pregnant self sitting in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, among priceless antiquities of stone. If any pregnancy can be this powerful—and political?—and public, it would be Rihanna’s.

Dress Watch: An Intricate Sheath

This Prada sheath dress would be spellbinding to those who appreciate design as much as dressmaking, and the efforts that go into something this complex that looks not quite

This season at Prada, much attention is paid to the double-faced silk satin, very abbreviated mini-skirts that come with an origami-ish train. They are all over social media, although mostly worn without the more covered-up tops that Prada probably intended. The brand called this wee piece of garment “seduction by reduction” and the public-transport-unfriendly train “a spontaneous gesture”. But long-time followers of their design development know nothing at Prada is ever reduced—stripped of details to nothing. And, despite the suggestion of insouciance, definitely not impromptu or offhand.

But more compelling is our favourite dress from the house this season: First seen on the runway (and the sales person was quick to inform us), this one-piece is, at it most elemental, a shirt-dress worn back to front. But, as we’ve noted, few item of Prada’s RTW are as simple as they first appear. The dress is of a conventional enough silhouette (to us, a whiff of the Forties), even with the considerably dropped shoulders. The focal point in the front is the waist, positioned not too high up. It is gathered by means of boning, inspired, presumably, by the corset. But unlike the close-fitting undergarment of the past, this boned treatment is not worn to constrict the torso. Nope, nothing as Victorian as that.

In fact, the boning is not discreet. Of different length placement (but symmetrical), the stiffening slips (we do not know if they are whalebone, nor the staff at the store), which looked to be half an inch (about 1.3 cm) wide, are hidden as well as exposed, allowing a graphically decorative interest. In addition, they keep the gathers in place and the bodice stiff, but not quite. This dress is not worn for body-shaping, and it is made in linen, which isn’t a rigid fabric. And that is, to us, deeply alluring about the dress: the idea of stiffening but executed with fabric that is somewhat limp, made more so by the slubbed finish.

In the rear, the dress is held together by a row of buttons from the collared opening at the neck to just below the posterior (the rest is an inverted-V opening). If you thought that would mean needing assistance getting buttoned-up, then take comfort in the knowledge that Prada intended the dress to be unbuttoned to the waist, which means you can fasten the last three or four buttons and get into the dress without any effort at all. Skin-baring, but without the sleazy exposure of Julia Fox.

Prada Slub Canvas Dress, SGD 7100, is available at Prada stores. Photo illustration: Just So

Flower, Not Tiger

Kenzo has a new brand symbol, and it does not growl

Surprising it is not that Kenzo’s creative director Nigo would come up with a new logo of sort to mark the start of his reign at the LVMH-owned house. Mr Nigo (aka Tomoaki Nagao) is, after all, known for his cute graphics, as seen in A Bathing Ape (although the hirsute simian trade mark is not quite adorable) and Human Made. It is not known if the Kenzo tiger visage, first introduced by designers Humberto Leon and Carol Lim in 2011 after Kenzo Takada’s stepping-down, will be retired or take a back seat, but it is quite obvious that the freshly-launched flower, a poppy-hued bloom of the quince bush known in Japan as a boke (pronounced as bo-kay), will be given immense prominence.

Flowers are, of course, almost synonymous with Kenzo, but a single bloom has never been used atop the logotype (now modified, also by Mr Nigo), as applied on the clothes (shown below). In fact, the five-petal flower is so seemly to the joie de vivre of the brand that we see it taking over the tiger in popularity very soon (wait till the Year of the Tiger is over!). There is a charming sweetness and innocence about the drawing, as if the outlined flower was plucked from a children’s book. The wide-eyed simplicity commensurate to the not-quite-intense fierceness of Mr Nigo’s street style.

Although the boke was shown in Mr Nigo’s debut Kenzo collection for autumn/winter 2022, an 8-piece limited-edition drop for the upcoming spring season will be available in Japan and official online store for the rest of the world, comprising a coach jacket (which the designer wore to take the bow at the end of the runway show), a five-button cardi, a long-sleeved T-shirt, a hoodie (oversized, of course), a pair of belted cargo pants and a version in the form of a skirt (both in a Japanese cotton twill that reportedly was inspired by the uniforms of Gurkhas), and even a blanket. Prices start from ¥34,100 (about S$400).

And just as unsurprising is Kenzo’s foray into offerings for the Metaverse. The brand has also announced that it will debut a limited-edition collection of 100 NFTs to celebrate the launch of the Kenzo Boke Flower collection, which we presume to be digital clothing with the said blossom used conspicuously. Wearable for your wardrobe or collectibles for your avatars? Perhaps it is not at all a choice.

Photos: Kenzo

Gucci: Hollywood’s Costumer

Alesandro Michele brought the Gucci spring/summer 2022 collection to where it belongs: the world’s movie capital, right on Hollywood Boulevard itself

Gucci and Tinsletown are meant for each other. When Gucci arrived this particular night, it was a gilded key in the right key hole. That is why when Gucci sent their dressed-to-the-nines models down Hollywood Boulevard, the key turned and opened the door to a display so flashy that even the best Hollywood gala night could not rival. It was a trip not down memory lane, but a cruise to where it can call home; the motherland. After all, Gucci and movie makers and their stars have always had a chummy relationship. The impressive part was the action on the very street that many associate with Hollywood, the now-closed-to-Gucci Hollywood Boulevard—tourist attraction and home to some of the most famous theatres in the world, including the El Capitan, the Dolby (once the Kodak theatre, now aka the home of the Academy Awards), and the TCL Chinese Theatre, where the models emerged to begin their bored walk on the sidewalks. There is nothing laid-back or cool about this part of Los Angeles. It’s pure kitsch, often bordering on questionable taste, and Gucci, through their clothes reflected all that.

Alessandro Michele is a storyteller, a knowledgeable raconteur. The evening’s Hollywood street feature was homage to the entire cast that makes this town as it is: colourful, like the meretricous souvenirs sold that inevitably make their way into a tourist’s bag. Not the likes of Blanche Dubois or Holly Golightly for the high-minded. But every other character you can think of, every B-grade actress still unable to hit A; every starlet still aspiring; every former child star clutching to bits of their former glory, every off-duty waitress waiting to be discovered; every weirdo thinking they are part of this movie town; every flashy, cocky executive managing just as flashy and cocky stars; every cowboy hoping to be hired as a grip crew; every wide-eyed, here-to-soak-it-all-up visitor hoping to meet their idol; every member of the hidden mafia, possibly still ruling the town; right down to the hookers from South Los Angeles (if you thought we were imagining things, consider the sex toy accessories!), even their pimps—they were all there, out and about, with nowhere to go, but right there. Oh, yes, even she who was hoping to audition for Cleopatra!

The 30-minute-long show, featuring 115 looks, and soundtracked by the music of Björk (not, surprisingly, one of the 22,705 songs that mention Gucci, as highlighted in the brand’s 100th anniversary travelling show) was dubbed the Gucci Love Parade. But it was less a procession than a walk-past. Not a carnival either, but the clothes were right for carnaval. Each look was deliberately considered: from headwear to eyewear to footwear, every piece in its place to effect something not quite ruly. Sure, there were some gowns that were right for a tidy red carpet, but for many of the separates, the sum is Calabasas meets the costume department of Columbia Pictures, including the pasties some rapper must have recently discarded. It is heady stuff, no doubt. Beautiful chaos, fans would say, but is the disorder not rather repetitive? To be fair, the clothes increasingly resist the anti-fit of Mr Michele’s earlier years in Gucci. Yet, they all looked somewhat familiar, whether we were thinking of Aria or Guccifest, or much earlier. What goes around comes around?

Shortly after the Gucci livestream, social media commentators were agog with excitement. Some thought it the most entertaining runway presentation ever. Perhaps all the showiness is deliberate, never mind the parade seemed overwhelmed by the boulevard itself. Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci, starring Lady Gaga, will hit the big screen in two months’ time. The Gucci family has disapproved the film’s casting, describing the leads as “horrible” and “ugly” (no mention of the costume). This has aroused even more interest in the film. The latest trailer shown on YouTube has enjoyed 4.9 million views in five days. Gucci the brand has always been Gucci the movie-in-the-making. And Gucci parading on Hollywood Boulevard will, no doubt, benefit brand and movie, mutually.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Gucci

East Meets East Meets West

Junya Watanabe explores the farther reaches of a continent he is part of, and the result is spellbinding

How much of our own front and backyard can we explore without trampling on the same patch of grass or knocking into the same row of trees? For designers, how often can they revisit Orientalism without ending up using the mandarin collar? Or, putting out yet another wholesale repeat of the qipao? Or, escaping into the folds of a sarong? For his spring/summer collection, presented as an audience-less phygital show, Junya Watanabe discovers the farther reaches of Asia that is not necessarily on the east of the continent in which he is based. And he did not have to use a single qipao ling (旗袍领) to say something about the aesthetical and creative wealth of the region. The designs, while recognisable for their Eastern sensibilities and cognizant of the minority ethnic group they seem to come from, bear the distinct Junya Watnabe way with fabric mixing, texture pairing, asymmetry and draping. In each outfit, a collage of contrasts—a Ming-vase-as-scull meets school-girl prim-and-proper, calligraphic graffiti meets deconstructed denim, sari-like drapes meets negligee-sheer. And those are just the first three looks!

For most of the collection, it is part II (or the feminine expression) of an exploration that began with the menswear shown in July. Mr Watanabe once again looks at the work of British photojournalist Jamie Hawkesworth. These are photographs from 2019 that were shot in (mostly) northern India, as well as Kashmir and Bhutan. The designer told the press that he then “became nostalgic for Asia” and saw “the pure heart of people”. For others (Westerners, for example), this casting of sight on a region some six thousand kilometres away may arouse what, for them, is exotic, but to Mr Watanabe, the images associated with the land and people so far away from him serve to find synergy in his own sense of what is mixable and what is pairable. Against the unplugged version of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Tong Poo from their 1978 eponymous album—specially rearranged for the show by co-founder of the group Ryuichi Sakamoto—the clothes look delectably serene and light, like pray flags of the Nimalayas, swaying in the gentle breeze of tranquil mountains.

But that is not to say that Mr Watanabe does not exoticise the looks at all. In fact, the styling seems to cater to a more Western perception of what is Eastern exotica. The hooped hair on the sides of the head, for example, is evocative of the pierced and stretched ears of the women of the Karen ethnic group of the Myanmar-Thailand border. Peculiarly Asian, too, are the wigs in the shape of the Vietnamese non la rice hats (or 斗笠, dou li in China) and the unadorned liangbatou (两把头) headdresses of Qing Chinese women that could be homage to the Story of Yanxi Palace (延禧攻略). Even the platform sandals have a whiff of the cunzi shoes (寸子鞋) of the ancient Manchus, in particular those with 元宝底 (yuanbaodi or ingot bottom) soles. Perhaps these are to augment the Asianness of the clothes, which are, in themselves, less derivative, and more in tandem with Mr Watanabe’s penchant for montaging shapes, patterns, and textures.

And to strengthen the connection to Asia further, collaborations with Asian artists—as seen in the men’s spring/summer 2022 collections—continue. There is the abovementioned calligraphy of Wang Dongling (王东龄), the Hangzhou-based zihua (字画) master and director of the Modern Calligraphy Study Center at the China National Academy of Arts, as well as two from the July show, Ang Tsherin Sherpa, the California-based Nepalese artist and Phannapast Taychamaythakool, the Thai illustrator now trending in her native Bangkok and much of the fashion world. Ms Taychamaythakool’s floral prints recall those of Chinese blankets, but they are made fantastical by the inclusion of Thai mythical beasts, gaudily coloured like tourist-friendly tuk-tuks. This, perhaps, sums up the collection: there are no creative boundaries, just as, in an ideal world, there are no territorial borders. ‘Asian’ does not have to mean looking at your fast-changing backyard. And it definitely does not require going to a kampong that is a mere shadow of its former self, sarong or not intact.

Screen grab (top): Comme des Garçons/YouTube. Photos: Junya Watanabe

Love: From A To Z, And Back Again

In a fashion celebration that believes love begets love, does it matter who’s good who’s not; who got it right, who didn’t?

There is no semblance of mass manufacture at the AZ Factory memorial/homage to its founder Alber Elbaz. The guest designers and brands that participated in Love Brings Love showed one-offs, which are likely produced in a couture atelier or RTW sampling room. And no one invited to show swapped. They each did their own thing, many with “codes” of what Mr Elbaz’s aesthetic legacy is. Or, offered something that hints so subtly that it is gone the minute the models walk past in the smoke-filled arena. Although it was initially reported that AZ Factory had asked 44 of the world’s most known names to participate, the show-day figure turns out to be 45—the final is the design team of AZ Factory; they produced 28 looks that are truly evocative of Mr Elbaz’s body of work.

Love Brings Love has been described as the “grand Finale” of Paris Fashion Week. Within a single show, the designers from all over the world “put rivalry aside and came together on the runway, paying tribute to their late peer”, as W magazine describes it. Quite a few of them are seated in the front row, observing what their rivals-not-for-a-day are presenting, smiles throwing off the scent as to what they might truly be thinking. Do they, like us, wonder if some of the designs are on-theme? Or are themes not meant to be followed, just as it is at the Met Gala? Are themes in themselves outmoded since the thematic approach to design is hardly ever seen these days? Do those watching in front of their digital devices care about themes, even if it is to honour one designer with a clear vision and an unapologetically romantic aesthetic?

Clockwise from top left: Alaia by Peter Mueller, Alexander McQueen by Sarah Burton, Balenciaga by Demna Gvasalia, Dries Van Noten, Comme des Garçons by Rei Kawakubo, Bottega Veneta by Daniel Lee

Clockwise from top left: Gucci by Alessandro Michele, Jean Paul Gaultier, Raf Simons, Thom Browne, Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello, Sacai by Chitose Abe

Clockwise from top left: Valentino by Pierpaolo Piccioli, Versace by Donatella Versace, Vetements by Guram Gvasalia, AZ Factory design team, Vivienne Westwood by Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler, Viktor & Rolf by Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren

If it’s more and more come dress as you like even when there’s a dress code, it’s also design as you please no matter how distinctive the designer you’re honouring was, or how acclaimed. The heart shape is very much Alber Elbaz’s signature, and so, unsurprisingly, it is picked, appearing as crotch piece, bra cups (or are those pasties?), and edging of a coat, like a halo. A particular pink too is a colour associated with Mr Elbaz. So it appears twelve times, from sumptuous gowns to the shortest dress, and everything between. Flounces are unexpectedly less considered, so is the one-shoulder. Rather, Mr Elbaz’s personal style is explored, even caricatured. His favourite oversized floppy bowtie appears a few times, even in the form of the one Minnie Mouse wears on her head. So too his recognisable gait. Amber Valletta, emerging in a baggy coat, even walked like him and took the customary bow at the end of the show as the designer did, body cocked to the left, and smile totally discernible.

One question does emerge as the show continues. Will these clothes be available to buy? Will they be stocked through the AZ Factory website? Nothing, as far as we know, is mentioned about the sale of these pieces. It was reported that before Alber Elbaz passed away in April, he had thought of creating a traveling show, based on the théâtre de la mode, a mobile exhibition featuring French couture on mini dolls that was conceived to promote the industry during the difficult period after World War II. Love Brings Love is based on this, only minus the miniature mannequins. If the show does travel, can we be hopeful that it’ll make its way to our shores in the near future?

Screen grab (top) AZ Factory. Photos: gorunway.com

And There Are Panniers

Puffed and draped hips at Louis Vuitton. Is Nicolas Ghesquière (still) in social-distancing mood? Or status asserting?

Nicolas Ghesquière seems to derive some perverse delight in mixing up eras, decades even, a gleeful time traveller who can’t stop bringing the past back to the present, like some 15th century adventurer returning to Europe with crops from the New World. And he is doing it all again for spring/summer 2022, taking us back in time, although, according to the Louis Vuitton show notes, “time is of no consequence.” But they are also quick to add, “yet time is everything. It dissolves functions and codes. It unites wardrobes. Day becomes night. The humble uniform becomes sumptuous.” In the hands of Mr Ghesquière, nothing is ever that humble, not even a tank top. Under the row of packed chandeliers in the Louvre, where the show is, again, staged, near-costume clothes are shown, as if a party season is approaching, and the models are going to some extravaganza at some place not less dazzling than the Hall of Mirrors. Yes, we are thinking of the Yew Ball (le bal des ifs) of the 18th century, the mask dance where King Louis XV and his male courtiers reportedly turned up as topiary yew trees!

To be sure, in Mr Ghesquière “grand bal of time”, none of his models strut as plants clipped into fantastic shapes. But there are the harlequins. Or, those designed as eyewear, which seem to belong to bals of more extravagant times. And, undoubtedly, the panniered skirts, seemingly out of a Velázquez painting, only far much lighter. These could be what Maria Luisa of Parma (later the Queen of Spain in 1765) might have worn if she were the equivalent of today’s punk princess or crazy KOL. These are not the stiff, sofa-like contraptions of yore. Some of them look like flapper dresses given side hoops underneath. They bounce and swish with a lightness not quite evident in anything worn in the court of Versailles and the like, and are ankle-length to show off metallic-coloured, laced-up, open-toe boots, also not quite pre-Revolution France. Mr Ghesquière’s transposing of the robe à la française to (nearly) post-pandemic present-day is far more whimsical and technically challenging than other designers adapting, for example, the Greek chiton for modern use. Impractical these dresses are for sure, but the intrepid should give them a spin before they end in museums somewhere.

The ancien silhouette does not stop at the hip-extended skirts. There are details such as ruffles, too, like skirts for the neck (they aren’t exactly ideal for a date night of curry dinner!), as well as the staggering and striking use of passementerie, especially on the bodice, such as braiding and cording, galloons and gimps, showing the skills and artistry that the French were—and still are—known for: their elaborate and sumptuous metallic thread work. Such ornate ornamentation recall the clothing of the elite, especially before the 18th century, when royals, aristocrats, the military men, and the clergy required costumes of visible social distinction. Mr Ghesquière is bringing these back for the coming months, when social life, especially the fun-seeking, fashion-asserting fraternising, returns, presumably with a vengeance. These are decorative styles, no doubt, although they are not aesthetically in the same league as Fendace. Is Louis Vuitton suggesting that fashion not only returns to stand alongside pleasure and entertainment, but also wealth and status?

Other looks, too, suggest patrician life or those of the well-born. There are what seem like equestrian styles (or is it just the headwear?) worn with denim pants (jeans?), the mark of humbler status—a necessary pairing to temper the over-sumptuousness? In fact, denim goes with a tweed jacket and a cropped le smoking, and a laced slip dress. There are many capes too, with fabric manipulation (or treatment) on the surface, and they—like the pannier and the passementerie—were once worn to denote rank or occupation (think: a king or queen’s ermine-trimmed red velvet cape). Mr Ghesquière’s mixing and matching across centuries, and the social classes associated with clothes are not new. But this time, he seems to propose, let’s go all hip-sticking out. Let’s not hold back. After all, as Harry Winston said, “People will stare. Make it worth their while.”

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

Crazy Celeb Crush

Balenciaga’s IRL show is a red carpet event, complete with shouting paparazzi. Be ready to dress like stars next season. Or, one cartoon family

It’s the red carpet of the Met Gala, the Oscars, the Bafta, the Emmys, the Tonys, the Razzies, the Grammys, the BMAs, the VMAs, the BET, all rolled into one. Outside Le Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, Balenciaga staged a fake red carpet arrival, strictly in Balenciaga, of course, and complete with hordes of gawkers and a throng of photographers, shouting for the attention of arriving ‘stars’. Is red carpet fashion a valid category? Apparently, at least to Balenciaga. Designer Demna Gvasalia was, in fact, recently at the Met Gala, making sure Kim Kardashian’s outfit looked right and was ready for the camera. Could the Met Gala experience have been the inspiration behind the presentation for spring/summer 2022? Fashion and celebrity as one, conclusively? This could, of course, be social commentary, but also a reflection of the state of fashion consumption? The red carpet is still the runway (and it is often set up as one) to look to. What goes on on a red carpet does not stay there. Eventually, it will be picked up for the streets and will boost the participating brands’ red carpet and—and not far off—street cred.

Models and celebrities (they’re models too!) arrive as if E! Entertainment is covering this live (which makes the vibe more Hollywood than Paris). A motley group that includes gender non-conformers, hip-hop moguls, screen and music stars, one rapper-couple, one everywhere-he-is photographer, one powerful (still?) editrix, and even a pregnant redhead (or should that be carrot?). They are definitely dressed to the nines, even in street style. They cover the gamut, from couture-worthy gowns to shopping/dating/loafing-ready jeans. What could be different from the average red carpet could be that the guests are carrying handbags. There are even shoulder bags. Who’d think any of them would need one at a gala? Meanwhile, inside the theatre, invited guests were watching the outside proceedings on the big screen, reportedly appreciating what is looking like a “joke”. When the red carpet walkers finally take their seats inside, the audience is treated to a show: The Simpsons! A special screening, as it appears, with Homer and company invited to Paris to walk the Balenciaga runway. Marge Simpson, high on Balenciaga, has never looked so good (not even in that pink Chanel suit), in a gold gown from the spring/summer 2020 collection, with a bow in the rear, the size of a giant Sagami kite!

Marge Simpson trying her first Balenciaga dress

Mrs Simpson on the runway

Demna Gvasalia tells the media that the whole exercise is about having “fun”, something so missing and missed in our COVID-stricken lives that fashion is now placing the seeking of entertainment and mirth as prime. And in Paris, the Simpsons certainly are enjoying themselves. And the whole of Springfield, even if they are fish out of water. Homer, the last fashionista, wears his red Balenciaga jacket like a postman his uniform. Thankfully, outside toon town, the style is more sleek, ever kooky, Balenciaga standard. The charm (and now star quality?) of the brand is its ability—irony still dripping?—to compact both red-carpet elegance and off-kilter street style into a single look with rigour and discipline. Sure, these aren’t dresses a Bond girl would wear on a date with Double-O-Seven (nor are they the stuff of his wardrobe for jet setting and licence to kill), but for those who need to be validated as perversely cool, and directly connected to Mr Gvasalia, such as he who conceives Donda. In Balenciaga, one is not under-dressed or over-dressed, just dressed, statement unequivocally made. How convenient for most fashion-craving rappers and their inner circles.

Now that the Balenciaga couture is shown, and the house’s know-how, although never in doubt, is updated and proven, there seems to be a general sense of heightened raffinement. The dresses are less thrift-store, more cocktails-after-a-fashion-show. The hoodies less sportif, but still hoodies. The suit jackets still hunched, and still too big for most body types. The denim jeans still overwashed, but more up-cycled. And, the Crocs less unusual (now), but much harder… clompers! They are all still composed to better position Balenciaga as the unwavering height of subversive-simultaneously-worn-out cool. The look, by now, is no longer outré, but still unconventional enough for covetous eyes. Just one thing: enough of Naomi Campbell. In whatever.

Screen grabs and photos: Balenciaga

Poem Without Words

In a quiet presentation, Loewe holds one transfixed… and breathless

A large undecorated room. A perimeter of closely-seated guests. An opening in the floor in the centre of the fair-wood space. A gentle flow of spare, percussion-free music (While my Heart is still Beating, from the London-based Italian electronic act Not Waving and label mate Romance). Against this orchestral/electronic track—so stark, yet soaring in parts, it’s almost devotional—the models walk unhurriedly from the basement to to the open floor. Each measured step allows the clothes to be viewed in their structural or fluid brilliance. Nothing is as severe in simplicity as the music suggests. Each outfit evinces that there is a difference between dressing and wearing. Each, a study of balance, texture, and the unlikely. This could be Loewe’s strangest collection, and strongest yet. This is not an exploration of what having fun again would be like. This is fashion as if it never took a hiatus; expressive, as stylish life goes on. This is Jonathan Anderson reaching a climactic career apex.

The first dress immediately opens the eye. A sculptural beauty through the manipulation of form, less of fabric: a maxi-length tank dress, and it is from the back, until you are pulled in at the waist in front. There is a boxy protrusion, marsupial, with a flat top, like a shelf. Then another dress—this time the distention diagonal, across the torso. The next, the waist stretches outwards to the left, and ends with a point. The creation of bodily contours where none exist is, of course not new. We have seen them at Comme des Garçons, but these are not “bumps”. They are, rather, contortions inspired, as the show notes state, by the work of the 16th century Italian painter Jacopo Carucci, better known as Pontormo, who was known for his ‘mannerist’ style, a deliberate disassociation with the naturalism of High Renaissance art. Perhaps more obvious are the petal-shaped shoulder-covers (they’re not quite capes) and the drapes on dresses that seem like fabrics mimicking random brush strokes.

It’s all artistic, with an artful choice of the structural and the soft. Although one senses a clerical purity to the collection, the clothes aren’t so serious that they can’t delight in what may be considered aberrant, even slightly mad, or, as Loewe states, “completely hysterical”, which, amid the season’s sex-as-pandemic relief, is antithetical and a welcome break. So few collections of the season here in PFW or elsewhere, really, push the limit of compositional possibilities. Hard and soft, ruffled/ruched and flat plain, all not confined by either or; they just pair, like heady romances. Similarly, Mr Anderson is not restricted by how fabric and body must come together with a certain spatial expectation. Check the bubble varsity jacket! Close to the body or protrude, or balloon, they all seem natural. He is fearless too in the order of things. The back-to-front outers may look switched, but when worn, do not look out of whack. Even a detail as common as the vertical slit in the skirt: He shows that high they might be, but by framing them with a simple flounce, they need not be crude inverted Vs—arrows pointing unambiguously to the genitalia!

And the footwear! A surrealist wink-in-the-eye. Jonathan Anderson kicks up his heels—quite literally—to reveal that in the rear of two innocent front straps are heels with a base of egg shells… broken and the white and yolk spilled out! Or, the whole heel in the form of a bottle of nail polish—red, no less. Or, even a striped birthday candle, complete with the flower-shaped holder! Are these Japanese shokuhin sampuru (food models), elevated to luxury fashion footwear or are they something more subversive? For all the seriousness of the craft that Mr Anderson feel Loewe should perfect and promote, there seems to be a playful, cheeky underside too. Even the most ardent of inventiveness could gain from smile-inducing humour. If the music of Not Waving that soundtracked the show is analogue sounds in swirling arpeggios, then Loewe is floating on similarly high notes.

Screen grabs (top): Loewe. Photos: gorunway.com

Non-Binary Finery

In a first season with no bifurcated bottom for even the guys, Raf Simons shows that a collection can be almost genderless

The first thing that catches our attention are the shorts. Or what we think are shorts, but they turn out to be quite different: they are not divide into legs. So these are skirts? Of course, it is increasingly apparently that men are welcoming non-bifurcated bottom and the like into their wardrobes, and Raf Simons seem to be catering to these guys (and those gals for whom pants are as dispensable). In fact, there are no trousers in the co-ed collection (or maybe there is just one?). Both men and women are attired to show off legs—if not entire limbs, definitely calves. Mr Simons, we do not think, is trying to feminise his menswear offering. They still look masculine, even when many of the pieces are mostly associated with womenswear. Yet these are clearly conceived and sized for a masculine body, not necessarily brawn. In fact, is doubtful a muscular fellow would look good in these somewhat vertically-linear clothes.

The skirts, to be sure, are not ‘skorts’. They also not too skirt-like, nothing similar even to, say, a tennis skirt. We are initially stumped because the silhouette of the skirts that are worn, at least on the men, are very similar to walking shorts—nothing micro about them either. Nearly all of them end at the knee. So do the tunic-like one-pieces. Is it appropriate to call them dresses, even after so many celebrities (American mostly, from what we have seen, not counting Harry Styles or Troye Sivan), are wearing them with some regularity now? To be certain, many folks—even Raf Simons customers—would not consider them synonymous with a male wardrobe. The boat neck with cap-sleeves or another, similar, but with a gathered neckline—could these be as all right, if not trendy, as they are for women, on whom the fall of the dresses, whether tunic or trapezoid, are a study in sophisticated simplicity? Or are they now simply more sophisticated on men?

Even the shirts are not spared elongate-to-skirt-lengths. But what’s particularly interesting are those that could have been a business shirt in a former life. From Arrow to allure? But these are not your company accountant’s button-downs, nor even Gordon Gekko’s contrast-collared dress-stripes. They are, for one, definitely larger, as if cut by a patterner who is anti-fit, but unlike, say, the boyfriend shirt, or what Dakota Johnson wore in 2015’s Fifty Shades of Grey, these are not sized for someone else. The collar circumference is not too large and the shoulders do not drop too much, even when the sleeves are longer than the standard up-to-the-centre-back-of-your-hand, with the cuff unbuttoned. They are like hanfu sleeve length, and even come with comparable handfu cuffs: extra wide. Despite the shirts’ business vibe, they are styled to look more blouse/tunic/dress (take your pick), even under sweaters.

This spring/summer 2022 fashion week season sees the ushering in of The Swap, designers taking the place of their designing chum’s to interpret the other brand’s signature looks. Given that there is more than a mere whiff of Prada in the Raf Simons collection, is it possible that Miuccia Prada was given some dresses to design? Surreptitiously? The navy or black A-line one-pieces, with their definite shape, modest lengths, and school-uniform-proper, but not girly styling seem a direct leap out of Ms Prada’s distinctive playbook. That Mr Simons would be influenced by her inspiring co-designer at Prada is hardly surprising. But if there is one thing the world needs right now is less of the similar with the other.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Raf Simons

To You, Paris

Saint Laurent’s love of its home city is again illustrated, as it stages the spring/summer 2022 show under the golden brilliance of the Eiffel Tower

What’s more French than the Eiffel Tower? Or the maison Yves Saint Laurent built? The evening presentation of the house’s spring/summer 2022 collection is in the presence of the 132-year-old tour Eiffel, which reopened in July after being shut for nearly nine months as France dealt with the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. If there is anything that could signal a return to some semblance of normalcy, it is perhaps the towering grandeur of the symbol of Paris. The models walked in the open space, extending Anthony Vaccarello’s connection with the outdoors of the past two seasons, only now in the heart of the city and the home of some of the most recognisable brands in the world, especially those founded here, on which the identity of the brands hinge on. None more so than Saint Laurent, whose founder loves Paris so much, he named a perfume after her. But did the house not say they were opting out of the PFW calendar some two seasons back, even ‘showing’ away from Paris? So what could this presentation, right before the most symbolic of Parisian monuments, mean? Change of mind?

The inspiration this season, however, is not the city per se. Reportedly, Mr Vaccarello was particularly impressed by Paloma Picasso, the French/Spanish daughter of the artist Pablo Picasso. In the inner circle of Yves Saint Laurent, Ms Picasso is considered an important figure although much of the accolades went to Betty Catroux and Loulou de la Falaise (deceased). If Ms Catroux was the tomboy and Ms a la Falaise the dandy, Ms Picasso was the femme fatale, completing the trinity of women who surround the man. When he first met Ms Picasso, he was said to have called out in delight: “It’s Dora Maar!”—the photographer/artist who was the lover and muse of Pablo Picasso (it is not known how the daughter felt when compared to a woman not her mother!). Ms Picasso would take a different path from the other two women: she went on to be a jewellery designer, whose name, like another European Elsa Peretti, is very much linked to Tiffany, now owned by LVMH. And also unlike the duo, she was never thought to be quite the designer’s muse, until now when Mr Vaccarello brings up her name. Is a muse still crucial to a house? Or, is that so many decades ago? In an inclusive society that we are supposed to be in, is singling one woman, even if she’s of international repute, to represent women in general advantageous to a brand?

Whether the inspiration came from a single city or a one woman, Mr Vaccarello is in what may be considered his finest form. Doing away the tiniest of skirts or profusion of marabou, he (re)engineered the chic that is so synonymous with YSL, and gives it a keen street posturing that recalls one Left Bank of the ’70s than the equivalent of today elsewhere. The masculine tailoring, for one, stood dependably tall as the tour Eiffel. Shoulders of suit jackets are pronounced, but not overly large or dropping too much, while sleeve lengths shortened to three quarters—a sum that is consistent with today’s love of volume, but also recall the jackets of the house in the past. One particular comes quickly to our mind, the pink, boxy, one-button single-breasted that was featured in the 1985 TV commercial for the perfume Paris, in which the model and her pronounced and straight shoulder was the embodiment of unattainable French chic. Mr Vaccarello’s own take is less feminine, but they are not diminished of the sharp elegance of tailoring associated with the house, and its story of the young heart.

Another piece was striking to us too: the double bandeau-bikini, which recalls the two bows on a bustier dress from the house’s autumn/winter 1988 haute couture collection, worn by “India’s first supermodel” Kirat Young. Sure, it’s been a skin-showing season, but Mr Vaccarello is able to take what is essentially decorative element of the past and reimagine it as a garment—skimpy as it is—that is a lot less bare than those now so omnipresent and destined to be worn in large numbers soon. Sexiness is also evident in the styling (and even concurrently adopted by very young stars such as Olivia Rodigo), but somehow Mr Vaccarello is able to throw a spanner in the works, so to speak, and temper the sexual strength by doing something quite unsexy: tucking a long wallet into the front waist of pants, not quite like a person doing so with a gun because he has no holster, but like a wet-market-bound auntie, keeping her hands free so that she can bring the bags of vegetables home. Since anything can be sexy these day, perhaps that too?

Screen grab: Saint Laurent. Photos: gorunway.com