Can the little red dot stand shoulder to shoulder with the little black dress? A native islander and friends look at fashion (and such) in Singapore, and, occasionally, among her neighbours, and a little further afield
Oh, we are living in body-positive times. And there’s a place for middle-aged men in briefs among young girls
An almost-naked middle-aged man, posing with rubber tyres, however artistic we are led to believe, is still the almost-naked middle-aged man, posing with rubber tyres. That the photos were shuffled between those featuring young models, some scantily-clad, isn’t supposed to caused discomfort to the viewer. It is, after all a fashion shoot executed in inclusive times. The placement of said man is beyond problematic or controversial too because he is, in fact, the photographer who has appointed himself as the non-Adonis counterpoint to the nubile lasses. This is what it is this season at Loewe. The LVMH-owned Spanish brand has engaged the German photographer Juergen Teller to lens it, as it is, the brand’s spring/summer 2022 lookbook. Mr Teller gleefully places his self-portraits among the images of models he, too, shot for Loewe. Sure, he is no stranger to the inclusion of himself in commissioned work. In 2019, he shot and starred in the Asics collection designed by Kiko Kostadinov. He was not doing Eric Rutherford, for sure, yet those trashy images seemingly bothered no one. And here he is at it again, in Speedo-skimpy undies (or swimwear?), sometimes caught in the middle of a tyre—in one photo, his buttocks towards the viewer.
We know what Mr Teller is saying as a photographer, but what is he communicating as a model? Is there a sexual message when he places his avuncular body through the centre bore of those tyres or through a stack of them? Or are they just innocent and playful poses? It has been suggested that he is satirising the annual calendar of Italian tyre maker Pirelli. Really? Or is his holding of a tyre in each hand a parody of Herb Ritts’s 1984 shot Fred with Tyres? Presumably he will be paid as a photographer, but does that mean he too will be compensated for being a model? Photographers, as far as we’re aware, do not place themselves in the pictures they shoot for clients. These photos of Mr Teller are too numerous to be considered a professional intro to the work the brand is presenting. Certainly no small photo byline or credit. Of the 26 photographs shared, six are of Mr Teller, which amounts to a not insignificant 23 percent. What value does his aberrant participation bring to the fashion of JW Anderson? Frankly we do not know. These are indeed difficult-to-understand times.
What about the clothes? That man isn’t wearing any! So we examined the models who are—some scantily clad, like much of this season, so far. As fabric is increasingly immaterial in fashion, it requires close scrutiny—not necessarily successful with these ‘action’ shots—before we could make out what the key message JW Anderson is trying to communicate for next spring, apart from being cheeky by planting Juergen Teller in the series of photographs set in a tyre yard, a site Richard Prince might like to go to for his Blasting Mats. Did the dirty-looking space, traditionally the domain of men (no?), enhance the choiceness of the clothes? Are they prettier when you can even discern the smell of rubber? Are they more delicate when juxtaposed with the heftiness of the tyres. An average car tyre will apparently last about 60,000 miles, according to the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (or 96,560 kilometres; about going from the far east of our island to the far west 1,931 times). Are these clothes as durable?
It appears that Mr Anderson is in a playful mood. The models are not in a can’t-be-bothered-to-do-anything pose. They seem to be discovering the enjoyment potential of a working-class surrounding normally not conducive to a fashion shoot. There is no clear theme in the designs, but they bear the JW Anderson hallmark for artsy details on clothes that look like the result of some advanced home-sewing class. There are short ultra-circular skirts, dresses with handkerchief points (one with an impossibly low back), and more slips for the cocktail hour than you’ll ever need. Accessories (still searching for a teeny bag?) seem to be as important as the clothes, and the footwear, in particular, will massively appeal, especially the heeled, thonged sandals. The collection points to the anticipated return of social fun, even if, for now, the models look like they were not posing for posting on Instagram. OnlyFans, perhaps?
These may not be names we get to see and buy here, but followthem we sure can
If the Japanese can organise the Tokyo Olympics in the middle of a raging pandemic, while the capital was (and still is) in a state of emergency, it would not be unreasonable to assume that they could put together a Tokyo Fashion Week (TFW). And they did. But the annual event no longer goes by that name. The old TFW had been struggling to stay on its feet, until Rakuten came along as official title sponsor in August 2019. The Japanese “e-commerce giant” Rakuten pulled out of Singapore in 2016, just after two years of operations here, and retrenching staff on the fifth day of the Lunar New Year—one ill-advised HR move that startled the industry. Known as “the Amazon of Japan”, it lost the accolade that year (website closures also included Indonesia and Malaysia, and in Europe) to, yes, Amazon. Rakuten Group’s business has become varied since, and now includes telecommunications. Still, its e-commerce connection is not severed, and, with the company’s motto “Shopping is Entertainment”, remains a huge part of Japan’s online shopping culture and hive.
To bring more heft to mere sponsorship, Rakuten also created the sibling “by R” project to “support the fashion shows” of Japanese designers (both new and established), “with the goal of broadening the horizons of talented young designers in Japan and showcasing the country’s designer fashion to the world”, according to a company statement. It does not say what the criteria of selection are. Only two are picked. Recipient of the support at the inaugural “by R” shows last year were Undercover and Beautiful People, both labels benefitted from “planning assistance and event management for the fashion shows”, as well as the “stream(ing) of videos of both shows on the Rakuten Fashion online fashion shopping website for free, with the goal of helping to further raise awareness of the brands”. This season, two awareness-not-quite-required names were selected for Rakuten to “power”: White Mountaineering and Kolor.
White Mountaineeringin a garden
Kolorin a subway train
Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo this year, which began on 30 August and ended last Saturday, surprised many industry watchers as it did not take place in the more traditional month of October. The orgainisers moved it to be even ahead of New York Fashion Week, which begins tomorrow. Two weeks before the shows started, The Japan Times called the new dates the “shock of the month” and reported that media and buyers were “caught off guard”. Some observers thought that the new dates were to better accommodate those brands that offer menswear, usually shown earlier than women’s. It is, however, unclear how this will affect international buyers’ timetable (are they still travelling?), but with the sudden rescheduling, the Tokyo shows seem to target the domestic market, which has always been sizeable, and continues to be encouraging. According to a Reuters report, published on the first day of the shows, “Japan’s retail sales rose for a fifth straight month in July (a rise of 2.45% from the same month a year earlier), beating expectations”. That was clearly off to a good start.
Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo’s 48 brands offer a varied mix of IRL shows (with or without audience) and video-films, some more compelling than others. For many designers, a physical presentation is still the more desirable option, even when not all could present to an audience. As Yosio Kubo said through a video presentation, “There was a tendency that digital announcements were enough due to the corona, but there are still many things that cannot be done. After all, I think that the physical fashion show will continue. You can see it from various angles and smell it. I feel it and realize the importance of the parts that cannot be covered digitally. That is why I think that the fashion show will not end even though it is an old system.” Digital-only fashion weeks may be seeing the last of their heydays.
All of the following brands featured are not, as far as we are aware, available here. We have been following them in our annual visit to Tokyo, which unfortunately had to come to a halt in 2020, but this does not mean that we cannot continue to enjoy their creative output. We hope you’d take pleasure in them too.
The Bunka Fashion College-educated, Seoul-based designer Avizmo Jo is a proponent of “New Normcore”, based on the big-in-Japan fashion movement Neo-Dadism—essentially the meeting of what is considered art and the minutiae of everyday life. The designer’s post-graduation label De_Caffeine Homme, conceived in 2018, offers “trendy style(s) that you can enjoy freely in your life, like decaffeinated coffee”, according to their communication material. It is not entirely certain if Avizmo Jo is a real name since it does not sound Korean (some members of the Japanese media refer to the moniker as a brand, even framing it with inverted commas), but his designs marry the realness of what men increasingly want—nothing too formal or business-y—with details that are often surprising, such as this season’s multiple collars/collarless treatment on a single shirt. Almost-traditional tailoring is strong with masculine silhouettes that are relaxed by not exaggerated.
Hare is part of the Tokyo-based fashion retail company Adastria’s stable of more than 25 mid-priced-to-affordable brands, such as Rage Blue, Lowrys Farm (that exited Singapore in 2015 just after three years here), and Niko and… (currently wildly popular). Regular visitors to Tokyo would be familiar with Adastria brands although they may not know which company is behind them. Hare is one such label, often seen in teen hotspots such as Lumine Est in Shinjuku. Established in 2003, the label, categorised as a “mode brand” in Japan, is put together by a team of in-house designers who translates the key trends of the season into looks that straddle fashion-school-graduation excesses and high-street salability. This season, oversized shapes dominate, with a welcome dose of technical fabrics and rich prints. The layering suggests a far more sophisticated leaning than what the brand is noted for in stores.
Hyke was launched during the 2013 autumn/winter season, but designers Hideaki Yoshihara and Yukiko Ode—married to each other—have worked together since 1998. Their eight-year-old label is very much followed in their homeland, where could be consider the Luke and Lucie Meier of Japan. Winners of the 35th Mainichi Fashion Grand Prix in 2017, the designing duo is known for their strong tailoring with feminine touches. For spring/summer 2022, their strength in pattern making and modern fabrication are again evident. Menswear styles are tempered with puff-sleeved dresses, sometimes paired with unlikely accessories such as a helmet bag. Just as striking are the strong but simple tops, teamed with waist-gathered skirts that are cut from shinny, technical fabrics. A collection that truly stands out for its grown-up, intelligent attitude.
Although the brand has a clothing line, F/CE is popularly known for their bags, including serious camping backpacks that could rival The North Face. And, their cool retail space in Shibuya called Root General Store. Founded in 2010 by Satoshi Yamane (with Asami Yamane designing the womenswear), F/CE is a go-to RTW label among those in the know. Mr Yamane has quite an impressive CV: a former designer at Men’s Bigi and, later, sales and marketing manager for Crocs Japan before moving up to become the shoe brand’s chief designer. Like quite a few of his fellow Tokyo creatives, Mr Satoshi is also a musician, playing the bass guitar with his post-rock band, cheekily named Toe (there are three studio albums to boot). Perhaps, it is this background in commercial footwear and indie, guitar-based music that Mr Yamane is able to lace F/CE with a considerable dose of edgy cool: utilitarian styles paired with outdoor wear and holiday garb, and the brand’s wearable and desirable bags.
Yohji Yamamoto alums Yu Kobayashi and Yuji Abe used to be the revered 77-year-old designer’s pattern maker and product development specialist respectively. Launched during the autumn/winter 2020 season, Irenisa is a menswear label that does not quite look back at the co-founders’ fashion pedigree. Instead, both men have forged forward with an aesthetic that they called “chic with sarcasm”. It is not certain that the sarcasm is immediately discernible, but Irenisa do not shy away from the elegant, and the the seemingly basic. Upon closer examination, one sees the three-dimensionality of the cuts and how they allow the comfortably-fitted separates to envelope the body without excess and without confining it. A jacket looks like a jacket, a shirt looks like a shirt—no needless deviation.
In Tokyo, Rainmaker is unusual in that it is based in Kyoto, the cultural and historical heart of Japan. Although one does not associate the city with fashion, it is considered a textile hub, especially for kimono silks (the best are still hand-woven and hand-dyed). It is in this artisanal environment that Rainmaker was conceived in 2013 by Kohichi Watanabe and Ryutaro Kishi. The duo’s aesthetic for both the men’s and women’s lines have always been heavy on crafting that tends to characterise those brands not operating out of Tokyo. From traditional fabrics to dyeing techniques to the relaxed silhouettes, there is something refreshingly retro-urban about Rainmaker’s looks. This season, blue in all its glorious subtle shadings—indigo naturally not to be omitted—determines the collection’s Japanese-ness, if it can be so described. Set apart, the clothes will not stump the adventurous pattern maker, but when worn, these pieces feel like the best pieces of a mature wardrobe.
One of the newest labels of the season, Sartograph was launched only last year, yet designer Shinsuke Nakano’s collection is so confidently put together that the clothes feel like the work of much more seasoned hands. A Central Saint Martins graduate, who benefited from winning Alexander McQueen’s Sarabande Scholarship, Mr Nakano completed his PhD at CSM. Sartograph, although only into its second season, offers no lack of technical finesse. Mr Nakano has been described as a minimalist designer, but it isn’t the minimalism of say, the ’90s. Within the discipline of the traditional tailoring, utilitarian workwear details—sometimes in the form of wearable accessories—are incorporated, almost like graphic design. The result is unmistakably contemporary, without traipsing into the much trampled grounds of streetwear.
Seishin Matsui’s Sise is a Tokyo Fashion Week regular. Conceived in 2010, Sise came into prominence after securing a place as a finalist at the 2015 Woolmark Prize. The line is often described by Japanese media as “minimalistic”, but, increasingly, Mr Matsui explores more complex cuts and styling that are reminiscent of the ’90s Japanese avant-garde, seen, perhaps, through European lenses. Colours are mostly kept muted to better reveal the subtlest of details and silhouettes—still body-respecting that they avoid leaning on exaggeration. Although Sise offers menswear, it is the women’s collection that is presented at Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo, and like the other stronger looks shown this season, Sise’s sits comfortably on the side of androgyny without jumbling too much the male/female sartorial divide.
Yoshio Kubo showed his modestly-staged IRL collection in his office/atelier in Nakameguro, Tokyo’s hotbed of edgy labels, marking a welcome return to the Tokyo calendar after showing in Milan and Paris for the past five years. Among the names in this list here, Yoshio Kubo is possibly the most internationally-recognised. In Asia, the line was sold in Bangkok and Hong Kong, and here at Club 21. Although Nr Kubo’s clothes are not considered so subtle as to escape the curious mind, he does hope to encourage consumers to “think about the design and details of clothes again”, presumably as opposed to the thoughtless consumption of fast fashion. A graduate of Philadelphia University’s school of Textile & Science and a former assistant with American couture designer Robert Dane of The Danes for four years, Mr Kubo’s work is not separated from impeccable refinement, even when the final looks—as in this season’s curved lines within relaxed tailoring—tend to place him among the leading Japanese avant-gardists.
Photos and screen grabs: Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo/respective designers. Collage: Just So
Kolor reprises their spring/summer 2022 show with an IRL presentation in a Tokyomass rapid train
Tokyo, despite the inner-city madness that it often is, provides likely and unlikely locations for fashion shows. From serene gardens to manic metro lines, they offer context for the clothes that Japanese designers dream up, frame of reference not seen on an indoor, purpose-built runway. Kolor’s repeat showing of their spring/summer 2022 collection for Rakuten Fashion Week is a total opposite of its digital show—a walk-on-the-spot presentation filmed in a studio. In contrast, the IRL version takes place in a working train, with guests seated as passengers. The brand is, of course, known to ardently embrace the city in which it is based. Past marketing campaigns and look books were shot in the heart of the capital, sometimes in the busiest areas, in total oblivion to the daunting pedestrian traffic. This time, models are sent through a Tokyo subway platform and train—unmistakable Nippon transportation settings, except for the absence of body-against-body commuters. Too quiet, in fact, to be even off-peak hours.
The lack of frenzy is possibly due to Kolor’s choice of station—this is not Shinjuku. The start of their commute is not at any that obvious, or an eki on the looped Yamanote Line. Instead, the less-known Keikyu Kamata Station (京急蒲田駅) on the privately-operated Keikyu Line is picked. Situated in Ota (大田区, also Ota City), in the Southeast tip of Tokyo, the station lies in what’s considered the hub of the ward—a stone’s from Haneda Airport—that goes back to Edo times. Although Keikyu Kamata station was not errected back then, it is still considered of advanced years—120! Rebuilt and refurbished a few times, it sits in the heart of a ward known as “the centre of Japanese technology”. It is in this off-beat location, a distance from the typical show venues of the capital’s centre, and considered where one might encounter “the real face” of Tokyo, that Kolor showed its collection, amid true local colour.
The runway comprises of the interior of a chartered four-car Keikyu train and the platform of Keikyu Kamata Station itself, where the line arrived (destination reads “charted”) from Shinagawa (品川区)—the ward to the north of Ota City—with the invitees of the show seated socially-distanced. Students, presumably from fashion schools, line the platform. When the train stops, the doors open as they normally do. But there’s no waiting for the show to begin (or anyone to exit). Hardcore techno beat comes on and models emerging from an escalator onto the above-ground platform—just like commuters—immediately enter the first car and walk down the aisle. There is something more substantive in this presentation than the digital version showed during the Paris calendar in June. This is not make-belief. This is not styled for a runway. This is a real (too real?), everyday setting that is familiar among those who need to commute via public transport daily, on-trend fashion in stride. The models look like Tokyo urbanites already populating the city—in a haste, strikingly turned-out, supremely confident.
The co-ed collection, in many ways, reflects the city too. While Tokyo is not as plural as our island, their fashion consumers are, including those willing to adopt styles that are not too everyday, or slack. In Tokyo, contemporary popular culture may clash with traditional aesthetics, but what designer Junichi Abe creates are not weird clothes worn only by certain fashion tribes; these are amalgamated looks one could easily witness in any of Tokyo’s busy trains and on their teeming platforms. As Mr Abe said, in an interview with show organiser Rakuten, “beautiful things, ugly things, and dirty things are mixed, and even though there is a sense of discomfort and anxiety, they (customers) accept as beautiful”. Additionally, Kolor’s choice of Keikyu Kamata Station augments the city’s reputation for having the best mass rapid public transport in the world. It posits the city itself, with all its chaotic madness and modern precipitancies, as the ideal backdrop for seventeen-year-old Kolor’s splendid urban designs. To underscore—or contrast—its aesthetic strength, they need not show in Tokyo’s equivalent of a kampong.
White Mountaineering showed their desirable outdoorsy womenswear… outdoors. Where else?
Just days after announcing their collaboration with Uniqlo, to the delight of fans (our post was one of the most viewed of the month), White Mountaineering showed their womenswear spring/summer 2022 collection during Tokyo’s Rakuten Fashion Week. It’s the brand’s first presentation in their home city in nine years (they’ve been showing in Paris), staged in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden that dates back to the Edo-period, and one of the largest koens (公園) in Tokyo, just 10 minutes from Shinjuku Station. The easy-looking pieces welcomed the outdoor, just as they did in the men’s spring/summer 2022 collection, but rather than having the models navigate a mountain trail, the women scrolled down a garden path that, like remote elevations, had no visitors. Some may think that this is making it easier for the female models, but could White Mountaineering also be saying that their womenswear is better suited for the manicured, rather than the wild outdoors?
Designer Yosuke Aizawa, as we know, has a thing for outdoor wear. Passion would be a better word. But Mr Aizawa is not creating another The North Face. Rather, he is adept at melding different categories, styles, and parts of dress into an unexpected whole. Workwear meets outerwear meets river togs meet mountain gear in a happy, sometimes intriguing mingle. Femininity remain high on the agenda while the focus is on utility and functionality. Mr Aizawa is not opposed, for example, to allow a slit to go thigh-high or for the navel to be clearly seen. He has taken the potential frumpiness out of outdoor wear and given the collection the sexiness of ‘gorpcore’. And in all likelihood, for the women who are enamoured with White Mountaineering—and there are many, these clothes are as comfortable for working in an office as they would be for walking in the park.
Mr Aizawa worked with a lot of black this time, and some army greens. The chromatic darkness (save a fruit tree-printed tank dress, worn over a straight skirt!) does not quite appear to be a cheery collection for warmer days, especially in the garden known for its cherry blossoms, come spring. This is made more so when the layering does not look like a breezy affair, not the just-throw-on-a-cotton-voile-shirt kind. The jackets, also vests, are more for fashion survivalists than climbing enthusiasts. For those familiar with White Mountanineering, this is understandable and a good thing: Mr Aizawa has a way with outerwear, even when he is not designing those for going up-mountain. And it is our understanding that he sells these well, for both men and women. And these hardy-looking outers’ outdoorsy looks are teamed with gathered skirts, roomy trousers, knee-length shorts. The jackets and the like—even with pouch pockets and utilitarian straps (no paracords!)—immediately shed their non-oppidan vibe.
This collection only serves to heighten the anticipation of White Mountaineering’s collaboration with Uniqlo this season. Based on what we have gathered so far (and this may not be totally true yet), the capsule will feature mostly outerwear or, those “created as a common language for everyone”, as White Mountaineering announced last month. Uniqlo, of course, retails some of the handsomest jackets and kindred garb for colder climes, and often at irresistible prices. With White Mountaineering in the picture, some of Uniqlo’s already sophisticated ‘outers’ will get a welcome update. Many of us are possibly not travelling this year, but investing in good protective wear is never a bad idea. And since both brands veer towards the practical and wearable, longevity is on offer too. White Mountainering’s just-shown collection simply provide additional temptation.
Kolor is on track to delivering some of the coolest clothes, when it’s time to mingle and impress
You can always depend on Kolor to colour what could be turning out to be the pandemic-influenced preference for drabs. Fashion is grappling with loungewear-goes-to-the-street on one hand and ready-to-party-clothes-for-all-occasions on the other. Many designers believe that when things go back to normal (as they surely must), we we will want extraordinary clothes that look like they truly deserve the attention that is now mostly lost to a disease people are sick of. Junichi Abe does not negate the truth that when we’re out of the woods, we’d want comfortable clothes, as well as those that say we’re embracing fashion again. And these could be garments that are the sum of what we have worn before, pre- or, hopefully coming soon, post-pandemic. A happy amalgamation of all those that had brought us joy and comfort, in ways that they had not been able to in the past year, at least visually.
Yet, if the spring/summer collection looks a tad similar, it’s because Mr Abe’s design approach this season seems like a version 2.0 of his autumn/winter 2021 collection. Could this be a natural progression of designs started during the lockdowns that struck so many countries and progressed to a time when social restrictions are still very much a part of our lives? Perhaps that could also explain Kolor’s presentation. The space is the neutral confines of, say, a theatrical black box. The models walk on a short treadmill (barely half the length of what you would find in a gym, and operating at a speed that would feel like a stroll). Despite the walk, the models are essentially in the same spot. An observation of how we are all essentially in one position, at the same time, even if the optimists among us think we’re heading towards a better place? And does the pair of flanking robotic arms with cameras attached to them, to zoom in on the walkers—garment parts recognition, too, enabled?—work like contact tracing devices and apps, tracking us and the clothes we wear? How this must delight the fashion police!
Kolor has always been about the compositional. Increasingly, it is more so. Their individual pieces feel like parts of clothes we are familiar with that are taken apart and then reassembled on those we are still familiar with. The less imaginative might think these are scraps or remnants from the sampling room, but upon closer inspection, it can be seen that they are not odd bits and pieces of an upcycling project (if only fashion upcycling is this good-looking). The parts are ‘site-specific’ and are knitted and woven to be placed in those exact spots that they are destined to reside in. Despite the seeming randomness, a collar remains a collar, a yoke stays where it is supposed to be. They come together as a coherent whole, not some fashion Frankenstein (as our description might make them out to be): a jacket still looks like a jacket, a sweater is recognisable; so is a dress. The result maybe off-beat, but they are not weird or require a manual to wear. They may look a tad busy (how do we iron them? Can the parts be dismantled?), and sometimes we do wonder if we need clothes with such extraneous additions, but a closer look at them will excite those who are intrigued by such dressmaking intricacies and improbabilities.
A co-ed collection is shown and, for both men and women, the approach is the same. These are not hybrid clothes; these are clothes with parts, not necessarily from the type of garment on which they appear. The first look for men typifies those to come: a top coat appears to have the top left half of a pique polo shirt, draped over the shoulder of the same side, but the collar seems to be part of the inner garment, the actual polo top, which seems to sport three collars! A simple collar and we’re fixated. But they are hydra-collars! As it turns out, the coat too has a polo collar and the actual polo has a collar and a half (forgive us if you are not following. See the second top photo)! What’s with all those collars? That’s why Kolor is a joy to behold: it does not immediately make sense. These are not quite as much cut and sew than rip and tack. Where do they begin and where does one find the end? Sure, many consumers do not need fashion to challenge the mind. Just make me look good, goes the common plea. But why settle for less—a lot less—when there could be more to play with and to dress the mind?
It’s a confusing time for fashion and to add to the confusion, brands that should be rivals, even under the same conglomerate, are featuring each other’s accessories. We don’t know why this has to be so other than for both to sell more bags and such. Call us naïve. But if even a storied house like Balenciaga has to feature saleable Gucci merchandise with additional Balenciaga branding, then perhaps we’ve moved from ugly to crass. This Balenciaga’s spring/summer 20211 and the Gucci part really got to us. We can understand Gucci wanting to share Balenciaga’s winning aesthetics, but for the B to want a sliver of the G is, frankly, bewildering. Do customers of both brands really want a Balenciaga Gucci or Gucci Balenciaga? The two-is-better-than-one-thinking? Don’t be so serious, we hear people say. Oh, is this some mischief we know not of? An inside joke between the two houses? Because, if we look closely, Balenciaga has done the Gucci diamond monogram with a double B! Oh, we forgot. It’s called “hacking”. And who can be mistaken when a monogrammed tote is scrawled with “This is not a Gucci bag”？Don’t let the red-and-green stripe fool you.
From the first outfit, a black number that could have been destined for The Conjuring to the final, a red gown that could have been for Cruella, Demna Gvaslia does not let us forget that he is determined to set Balenciaga on his own course. Or that Balenciaga could be an offshoot of the brand he first founded: Vetements. From the oversized—now supersized—jackets to those loose, long-sleeved, printed modest dresses, to the deviant tops and bottoms inspired by retro track wear, these shall continue to be Balenciaga signatures. And, oddly for spring, those bubble coats too, with their gravity-defying collars, worn standing up—like what Mr Gvasalia had done for shirts, framing the face (rather than as some pulled-back screen as there were once before) and with the elegance of a more traditional quilted coat. But are we really seeing Balenciaga that is refreshing? Or one offering clothes that a diehard fan wouldn’t already have lusted after and own? Perhaps such familiarity, such tropes, are to ensure that followers do not forget Mr Gvasalia’s design past and the kinship he still shares with the family-namesake who still helms the house they both created.
Exaggeration is still the name of the game, whether in the silhouettes or the geekiness. And the off-beat is now so standard here that even the over-washed, carpenter-style denim cargos with the surfeit of low-brow utilitarian D-rings as decoration (rather evocative of White Mountaineering and their use of fancier carabiners) and the Crocs, again ‘elevated’—now in the form of heels, pumps, wellies, and platform slides can no longer be seen as demystifying the traditionally-not-attractive. These are destined for TikTok just as the printed dresses will have a place, again, on Instagram, so too those outers with extended, droopy shoulders. But are they really taking us anywhere? Or is entering the world of the young, weaned indiscriminately on luxury streetwear good enough (more Billie Eilish, of course, than Olivia Rodrigo)? Or sustaining on a diet of the likes of the sweatshirt on which Homer and Marge Simpson and brood are depicted wearing last season’s Balenciaga—another suitably LOLzy satire? Sure, our eyes have adjusted, as The Washington Post predicted in 2018, but have they also not seen quite enough?
But everything could be an illusion. Balenciaga broadcasted a show that never actually took place. They admitted to producing a “deep fake”. We were happy to see an IRL show, even on a PC screen, but we were duped! It was all digital trickery, all produced with software magic (listed on the media advisory, which we don’t care to repeat here), and, like the Vetements poser, “Are we becoming wires ourselves?”, is a thesis on the effects of the our online existence on our very selves. The media quoted Mr Gvaslia saying and asking, “What we see online is not what it is. What’s real and what’s fake?” Being a partner-in-crime with Gucci also questions the state of fashion today, as observed by social media watchdogs, such as Diet Prada: What is authentic? Who’s copying who? And does it really matter? The spring/summer 2022 show is called Clones, which has a rather mid-’90s ring to it (remember Dolly the sheep?). But in cloning the show’s model (one person throughout for both the men’s and women’s outfits) and itself (or repeating their classic shapes), is Balenciaga also telling us to put our consumption on a loop, as it’s so easily done on a music streaming service? The more of the same you see, you want in, not out.
For spring/summer 2022, Vetements is way earlier than the rest. Does it matter?
Fashion seasons are really quite screwed up. Sacai just showed their autumn/winter 2021 collection, and so close to the season’s retail drop, and in the middle of what, for some others, is resort 2022. Vetements, conversely, presented their spring/summer 2022 so many months away from when stores might stock them. What is going on? Is anyone keeping up? Is anyone keeping track? We are not quite at the end of the present spring/summer season yet. Are we, therefore, poised to look at the next? Would we, by the time it is to buy them, remember what was shown nearly six months earlier (assuming that spring/summer now retails as early as late November)? Wouldn’t we, by then, be confused by another ultra-early who-knows-what-season? In a disregard-the-fashion-weeks world, those questions probably do not matter. And Vetements probably don’t give a damn.
Their proposals for next spring/summer were made available to the media through photographs that appeared to be Photoshop (PSD) files with the background removed (which would normally be viewable as a PNG or GIF file to the non-Photoshop user), but the model and clothes in full 2-D glory. The collection purportedly questions the relationship between man and machine, and some how the 1999 film TheMatrix was thrown by the brand and its commentators into the mix. The tech talk and how “wires have become the only way for us to stay connected to the outside world and the reality we live in”, as posited in the PR notes, all seem to play up what would otherwise be the usual Vetements design tropes. A Vetements fan wouldn’t care to ask, as Guram Gvasalia did: “Are we becoming wires ourselves?” As long as there are those exaggerated shoulders and, for some, the body-obscurity shapes, the brand can do no wrong. Or, alienate fans.
Vetements has become so good at pushing their unmistakable look that sometimes it seems that they are parodying themselves or—oddly—staying a step behind Balenciaga. Perhaps that should be ahead? It is easy to pin it to the Gvasalia brothers thinking alike, even when they are working separately and independently. But since the strange call-out last September by Vetements that hinted at Balenciaga copying the former (followed by the unambiguous message, “WTF”), we can’t be sure if the aesthetical parallel is coincidental or the leftover from sibling collaboration that was once deep and seriously trend-setting. Even in pandemic-defining times, there is no stepping away from the goofy, the geeky, and grandma goon. Vetements continues to draw out the odd-balls among their adopters, who all seem to prefer the fringes of what is already on the periphery of fashion. Ugly, once associated with the brand, now does not matter, or is seen as such. Take the cheesy and the beat-up and throw in a dash of the sheen of luxury and you can make the unseemly in appearance the LV for the flashy.
These season, there are references to the big screen. And definitely technology-can-screw-us thrillers such as The Matrix, as seen in the fabric with the green alphabets and numerals that mirror the film’s title sequence. And it doesn’t end there. The homage-to-Vogue film of 2006, The Devil Wears Prada is also in the line-up (as in ‘The Devil Doesn’t Wear Prada’ T-shirts), but how that fits the whole us becoming wires spiel isn’t clear. At some point, we thought we saw something akin to what Tilda Swinton wore as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange. All the referring to films also points to other brands. If the devil doesn’t wear Prada, perhaps they wears Versace? Or, gold curlicues that would make Donatella Versace beam with pride? Does the devil wear gender-neutral clothes too? Slip tops, for example, are for both women and men. Or, is the devil just the middle-aged uncle who prefers baggy avuncular suits over a cropped top that shows off a middle-aged paunch? Whatever the devil wears, the devil’s ally Vetements is still fashion’s diabolical adversary.