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

Remembering Alber Elbaz

Major names and labels will honour the late designer with a single interpretation of his work each in a tribute show to be live-streamed during Paris Fashion Week

The new entity that Alber Elbaz created before his death in April will organise a fashion event in honour of its founder. AZ Factory just announced on social media that the Love Brings Love fashion show, to be live-streamed on the brand’s website and Instagram, will feature designers from all over the world, totaling 44. It is not known if the organisers are aware that this number 4 in many parts of Asia is not considered auspicious. Probably not: four(!) designers will represent this continent: three from Japan—Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo, Sacai’s Chitose Abe, and Tomoki Koizumi—and one from China—Guo Pei.

Each participating designer will present a bespoke work inspired by the legacy left by Mr Elbaz, according to AZ Factory’s press advisory. The concept of the show is based on Théâtre de la Mode, a travelling French fashion exhibition that toured between 1945–1946, just after World War II. It was spearheaded by Robert Ricci, son of Nina Ricci, and featured the top Parisian couturiers of the day, about 60 of them, such as Ricci (of course), Balenciaga, Lanvin, and Balmain. The clothes were worn on mannequins 70-cm tall, approximately one-third the size of their human equivalent, and were created by artists such as Christian Bérard and Jean Cocteau.

It is not known how visually spectacular the AZ Factory show would be, or if dolls would be used, but Love Brings Love is now seen as the highlight event of Paris Fashion Week, just as the risible Fendace was. The show will be live-streamed on 5 October, 8pm CET, or 2am here on October 6. Staying up?

Photo: AZ Factory/Instagram

Fendace Is Verdi Real

It’s dubbed The Swap, but in a world with too many labels and too much clothes, are the Fendi and Versace I-do-you, you-do-me collections necessary? Are they at all nice?

It looks like Milan Fashion Week has its climax show to end the festivities. The “unexpected” Fendi and Versace or Fendace collaboration, or “hack”, to steal from present-day, pandemic-poised parlance, really took place after the initial rumour grew more heads than on Medusa’s. And rather than a reprisal of the Gucci/Balenciaga manoeuvre in April (or vice versa), Kim Jones (and design partner Silvia Venturini Fendi) traded places/brands with Donatella Versace to “interpret” the other house’s aesthetics and codes. The result is high on the marketing potential of the idea than the ideation itself, more brash than dash, more Versace than Fendi. It isn’t clear yet, which brand will stand to gain. Versace, fresh from a showing just three days earlier had already jog one’s memory about those ideas that make the house instantly recognisable, do they need another splashy retelling? Or, is this Fendi trying to go hipper, playing down Mr Jones’s banal muliebrity in his reimagination of the brand?

It is like his Shein moment, her Boohoo, all TikTok-ready, influencer-approved. Sure, we understand that we are living in such times, but must we see Fendi go from soignée a week earlier to meretricious now, Versace go from Versace to Versace Max? It is understandable that brands love mash-ups and, possibly, their customers too, but is it really time to blur aesthetic lines when no side gains? One SOTD reader was clearly dismayed when he texted us this morning about Versace’s interpretation of Fendi, “In the end, it just looked like two Versace shows; one better than the other! Apart from the monogram, there was sadly, no Fendi to speak of.” Make that three if you count the spring/summer 2022 show of the main line. “It’s the first in the history of fashion,” Ms Versace said through a media release. On both front, yes.

No one is mistaken that this is Sacai’s Chitose Abe doing Jean Paul Gaultier and certainly not, if a pop reference is preferred, Lady Gaga doing Cole Porter! It is all about the hype. Do we still remember that? Or has hype been so over-hyped that we are more immune to it than one relentless virus? Is hoopla so blah that we need to revive it. And throw in some old-time catwalk excesses (a revolving Medusa logo reveals the double F?) and other-era models to up the surprise factor (since there are none in the clothes)? Sure it is a delight to see Kristen McMenamy playing Donatella Versace, Mariacarla Boscono still looking good, and Kate Moss looking not, but when it comes to Naomi Campbell closing the show, it really is a bit jelak. Did she not just appear in the earlier Versace show, in the same swagger?

There is the laughable name too. Sure, the project can be cheekily referred to as Fendace (the lazy conflation of Fendi and Versace), but when it is actually spelled out as a real brand, it sounds like something you would find in Mahboonkrong Centre in Bangkok, among the Armanee jeans, Frid Perry polos, Adibas kicks, and Relax watches. Clearly ‘Verdi’ is not allowable—a national icon deserves far greater respect. Perhaps this is a dig at the Chinese counterfeiters who can’t spell. Still, could they not think of something less Qipu Lu, Shanghai? We have no idea if this would appear as a label on the back of the clothes, but since Fendace is already there as a belt buckle and on the bags (including those Book wannabes), so expect nothing less. According to reports, the project was brewing since February although the news broke that it would be a sudden coming together of the brands only this week. Designers taking over as new creative directors of other brands have precocious less to work with. A waste of resources, just to feed the empty hype?

The show opens with Kim Jones and Silvia Venturini Fendi doing Versace. One senses this is really the job Mr Jones was after, rather than the Fendi appointment. Loud is waiting to jump out of him, and he creates the chance to allow it to radiate, but could he do loud better than Versace has been? It is not hard to see that Mr Jones is not particularly adept at handling or mixing prints. Or squeeze out more. The florid Versace silk dresses and separates look like they could come from a lame season of the now-defunct Versus. Donatella embracing Fendi, a house so unlike the one her brother founded, conversely, appeared the more triumphant among the trio, leaving every identifiable Versace hallmark where they can be left, like a canine marking her territory. Even the Fendi monogram is treated to Versace-esque colours. No garment is free of Medusa heads, animal prints, Oriental frets, Baroque swirls… whatever could be squeezed onto a silk screen. If not, there is always the chain mail.

Is it because the show took place on Versace’s turf? Would it be different if it is staged at Fendi’s headquarters? Will it be there next? Would there be a next? Where would the clothes and accessories be sold? Both lines at each other’s stores? Just as the show was live-streamed on both brands’ website, on visually similar pages? High-high pairings (in this case, one French-owned—LVMH and the other by American upstart Capri Holdings) may be trending now, but how Fendace will pan out is perhaps too early to tell. The idea may not have been explored before, but the execution is nowhere near radical. And, it is hard to see the sustainability (in every sense of the word) of The Swap. It is a showy novelty set up to wane.

Photos: Fendi/Versace/Fendace

The Underwear Collection

At Dolce and Gabbana, they are really on-trend

Missed the Victoria’s Secret fashion show? Watch Dolce and Gabbana. Not enough bras from this season’s fashion week so far, including New York? Watch Dolce & Gabbana. Need to know what to wear the bra with? Yes, watch Dolce & Gabbana. We know by now that the visible bra is big, but D&G makes sure you know how visible and how big. Out of the staggering 103 looks that appeared on the runway, 74 showed bras, either on their own, peeking between the vertical opening of tops, or under diaphanous blouses/shirts (not counting those with just the bra straps showing). That’s more than half or—to be exact—71.8 percent (nearly three quarts) of the collection. Some looks are unmistakably bra-and-pant sets, some as the only top you need, others are the bases on which sheer and more sheer must do their job: titillate.

There is a bra for every look, every taste, every occasion: to go shopping in (with denim shirt and jeans), to attend class in college (under a ‘Jennifer Lopez’ T-shirt), to WFM (with a halter wrap-top), to go for a job interview (under a buttoned-up transparent floral shirt), to go on a date (with a panelled body-con dressed assembled by lacing), to impress a hookup (with a beaded gilet), to street walk (under a sheer corset dress or a fitted stretch-lace dress), to the disco when they eventually open (under a beaded tuxedo jacket and with fitted gold pants), to hang out with the BFFs (with a sheer leopard print dressed, slashed to the side and held together only at two points: the neck and hip), even to hang out with the boys (with camo fatigues). It is enough to think that D&G is starting a lingerie business.

The reference to the Victoria’s Secret show is not only because of D&G’s underwear on display (they include panties, bodysuits and other onesies), but also wing-like extensions in the form of butterfly-shaped sleeves—all five of them. Sure, these are nowhere near the scale of Victoria’s Secret’s angel wings (the heaviest apparently weighed around 27 kilograms), but the fantasy element is there and not lost. These are wearable wings; they won’t be turned away at a Michelin-starred restaurant, or Shake Shack. But it is not so clear if the predominantly bra-and-panty looks will be welcomed with opened arms, even in Met Gala’s home, New York City, let alone this conservative (we’re constantly reminded) island, also known as the Little Red Dot.

The D&G collection is reportedly based on the year 2000 (presumably the spring/summer season too), when the brand was considered to be at its peak, way before the 2018 fall out with Chinese consumers. Yes, a decade ago, they too were showing bras, teeny ones. But the undergarment did not have a starring role as they do now. They were all worn under something—many shirts, many sheer. The oversized diamanté buckles on skirts and pants were more the focal points. And the collection was a paltry 83 looks, 20 less than the present. Back then, the transparent tops over bejeweled bras, teamed with embroidered micro-mini-skirts might have been novel, but move that forward, add more tiny skirts, skinny pants, and military-style fatigues, and we are stomping new grounds? Or, are we really seeing the post-pandemic fashion so many women are waiting for?

Photos: Dolce & Gabbana

Under Undulating Silks

Returning to the live presentation format, Versace shows what stagecraft (or runway craft?) could be, with Dua Lipa upstaging even Naomi Campbell

Lipa Dua closing the Versace spring/summer 2022 show

Donatella Versace really knows how to stage a show. In Versace’s comeback IRL presentation, things don’t just happen on the runway. At the start, a group of masked men, shirtless to reveal extreme musculature, struts down the catwalk and then disappears into the audience. The camera zooms in on the men standing in the rear. With their hands gripping on a thick black rope, they begin to yank it downwards. At first you might think they are operating manual fans. Then you realise what they are doing. On the ceiling, two row of colourfully-printed squares of silk foulard—like giant Versace scarves—swell and billow, and ripple. Are they improving the ventilation or air quality of the indoor venue? Or, are they, as one SOTD reader texted us this morning, “efficiently moving COVID over everyone”? Maybe for now, let’s pretend that the show is set under a tent and it is very windy outside.

And it is surging under the canopy too—with excitement. The show opens with Dua Lipa walking—not performing—to her disco-dynamite Physical. Reportedly, the livestream was so massively watched around the world that it crashed at some point (it affected us not)! We didn’t know who would be appearing, but many, it seemed, did and had tuned in to catch Emily Ratajkowski and Lourdes Leon (yes, Madonna’s daughter is a model!) as well, and to a small extent, Naomi Campbell (if you are, er, above 45). Ms Versace certainly knows who she is targeting and ensnaring. Sure, she has worked with pop stars before, but they may have not appealed to the right demographics (remember Jennifer Lopez? Before the return of Bennifer?). This time, it is clear that Versace also needs to tether less to the “supers” who have made the brand famous, save the present-everywhere, host of her own show/YouTube channel, Baby Woman, Ms Campbell.

Elsewhere in Milan, designers are doing sexy. Donatella Versace does not have to do sexy—it comes to her naturally. And sexy has never left the house. Body-con dresses may not presently be a thing, but if they are, the house of Versace can be counted on to do them fittingly, fittedly, and flatteringly. Few designers can shape, say, a bustier as perfectly as Ms Versace. Ditto for the one-slit, figure-hugging, ankle-length dress. In chain-mail, too. Especially for a full-figured Lourdes Leon (in silver, above). High-octane sexy is undeniably the result, but they never need to elicit the response, trashy. In that respect, the designer does not quite get the credit that she deserves. To have the sexiness stay alive, even when fashion was nearly consumed by loungewear (and athleisure before that), is no easy task. Ms Versace has kept sexy burning, just as the vestal virgins had kept the perpetual fire unextinguished.

This collection also explores, as is the case in recent seasons, the Versace DNA, including those little things that have been associated with the house, but may have been forgotten, such as the once ubiquitous safety pin. Back in 1994, when Liz Hurley wore that dress—the slit up the right rump and the V-shaped opening on the right side of the bodice were held together with gold safety pins—it was considered scandalous. These days, many women work it with a lot less fabrics and even less opacity, as sexy is even more in your face. But rather than test the safety pin’s versatility and, consequently, a fabric’s tensile strength, Ms Versace has opted to use the pins in decorative ways, just as she does with buttons and the house silk foulards as ruffles or edging to peek from hems. Judicious use is, of course, not a house trait, just as timid colours are not too, but somehow, by marrying visual excess to pop culture’s predilection for the wildly eye-catching, Versace is able to convince the next gen of stars and their followers that that much may not be so. It is a win when it is Dua Lipa, rather than Naomi Campbell, who closes the show, and takes the post-finale bow with Donatella Versace. They, as Ms Lipa sang in the soundtrack, “created something phenomenal”.

Photos: Versace