From One To Another

Marc Jacobs has in past collections paid tribute to some of fashion’s greats … and now, another—the late Vivienne Westwood

Marc Jacobs has always been creatively stimulated by his favourite designers, from the traditionalists to the avant-gardists. And he has no qualms saluting them through his designs—back when he was at Louis Vuitton and, now, via his own label, seeing no cardinal sin in the inspiration-to-runway transmission. There were Yves Saint Laurent, Comme des Garçons, and Yohji Yamamoto in his past work, all with various levels of parallels. This season—spring/summer 2023, showed really late—Mr Jacobs took design cues from the late Vivienne Westwood, the British designer who dared to use articles of clothing of the past and reimagined them as she pleased, while keeping the historical silhouettes rather intact. American designers do not generally design in such technically challenging, convention-disregarding manner, and if they wanted to, they would look further afield, way past their training or their studios’ ability to pay homage to their fashion heroes. Incidentally, Mr Jacobs, who learned much from his 16 valiant years at LV, has titled his collection Heroes.

And he quoted his hero, Ms Westwood, in the show notes: “Fashion is life-enhancing. And I think it’s a lovely, generous thing to do for other people.” But what life enhancements did Mr Jacobs offer that his heroes had not already propose in the past? And how lovely was it the thing he did for other people not his potential customers? It was not immediately discernible in the Park Avenue Armory, the show location he abandoned some three years ago for the New York Public Library. Back in the cavernous space, he staged a somewhat bleak show, soundtracked by a solo violinist playing the frenetic, scratchy notes of Philip Glass’s ‘Knee Play 2’ from the 1975 four-act opera Einstein on the Beach. The show space was in total darkness except the runway. Models emerged, arms—in leather opera gloves—folded across the chest, walking as if they were restrained in straitjackets. They were all in platform boots—evocative of the Vivienne Westwood ones that caused Naomi Campbell to fall on the former’s runway show in 1993. But another name came to mind, too: Rick Owens. Mr Jacobs has a deep fondness for the boots by Mr Owens, and his version for his latest collection was reminiscent of those, even if just profile-wise.

That this was Vivienne Westwood redux could be understanding it. Marc Jacobs’s humourless homage is a reimagining of the work of the British designer through his own ‘street couture’-focused lens, tinted with the chroma of CDG (even, we sensed, Rick Owens). He seemed to want to outdo her, contorting her silhouettes to meet his desire for humps and bumps by styling oversized garments on the body in ways that reshaped the wearer’s natural silhouette. Extension of the really small spring/summer 2022 collection? Puffers (for warmer months?) puffed up to obscure the shoulders. Skirts were deconstructed cargos amalgamated into tented shapes from the waist down. Piled fabrics wrapped like blankets. Knitted tops with pleated swirls formed the breasts like volcanic apexes (their openings the opposite of Ms Westwood’s tits of the ‘nippled’ tank tops from 1981). Distorted dresses that were a far cry from the ’50s frocks he once liked. Patchworked coats evoke something boho. There were bustles but no mini-crinis; polka dots, no tartans; dip-dye, no distressed wash; John Galliano-esque deconstruction, no British tailoring. And there were the opening earthy colours—a nod to Ms Westwood’s 1982 shop and later collection Nostalgia of Mud?

On an old LVMH profile on Marc Jacobs, the designer was described as “influenced by all areas of culture”. It did not include many areas of the work other designers did (and do). While it might be well considered for him now to credit his source of inspiration, he did not always do so. How many times were we disappointed? Nostalgia impulses are not always easy to navigate or expressed in design. It could be commendable that Mr Jacobs desired to salute one of his favourite designers, but it is not apparent the attempt was inspiring or moving. This is not Hollywood. Even in Tinseltown, remakes are not always a better version of past productions. Ms Westwood was, in her early years, a bearer of shock, even upheaval. What Mr Jacobs proposed was neither disquieting or cataclysmic. Post-LV, he was once into hip-hop, now he was trying historicism. How convincing was he, really?

Screen shot and photos: Marc Jacobs

Big On Details

Literally. Louis Vuitton shows size in unexpected ways. And impractical too?

Louis Vuitton closes PFW with a flashy purpose-built set in the Cour Carrée by the French visual artist Philippe Parreno. He and the Hollywood production designer James Chinlund (The Lion King and the upcoming The Batman) have built an installation in the courtyard in the Louvre Palace that looks like a giant rosette made of red sails. Nicholas Ghesquière describes it to the media as “kind of a flower, a carnival flower”. The sheltered runway encircles the strange bloom, with the models emerging from the middle and down a ramp. It is huge and is impressive as a pavilion in a World Expo might be. This is the fanciest set seen in Paris this season, rivalled, conversely, by Balenciaga’s also-artist-created mass (and mess) of mud, both no doubt profoundly costly to set up.

These past fashion weeks, mad as some of the shows were, do not seem to comport with what is happening outside of the annual circus. The UN very recently warned the world that rich nations may spark a global recession with their aggressive monetary policies that “could inflict worse damage than the financial crisis in 2008”. Add to that, the ongoing war in Ukraine, unrelenting inflation, spiking interest rates, and we have the global economy teetering on the brink of recession. And perhaps Louis Vuitton is hinting at how big the downturn might be, even if it is possible luxury labels won’t be that badly affected. Nicholas Ghesquière has not retained the still prevalent upsized silhouettes for LV, as others designers continued to have, but he sure has made large—startlingly and comically—what should normally be discreet: fastenings and hardware.

While Kanye West has declared the omission of zips, buttons, and hardware in his clothes for Yeezy, Mr Ghesquière has gone the opposite way, only that he made sure you won’t miss those zips, buttons, and hardware. What would normally not be noticed are now fasteners begging to be looked at. The buttons are the size of Famous Amos’s soft cookie. The zippers are not hidden (no discreet YKKs!) and come with wide tapes, massive teeth, huge sliders and even larger pull tabs, and as a pair, if they’re two-way fasteners. Little Red Riding Hood would have been duly impressed, and cried out, “What big zippers you have!” And there are those hardware, normally used on bags—these are made chunky too: swivel clips and D-rings, in striking gold no less. Utilitarian turns decorative. But, could a large zipper pull tab under the arm (as seen on a dress with side opening) be comfortable? Forgive our vulgar consideration for comfort. Could these clothes be cleaned in a washing machine without scratching the drum? Forgive our prosaic approach to laundering!

Then there are the blow-up (we think they’re filled with air, rather than down) add-ons that mimic airplane neck pillows, but also found on hips. Or, those framing the neck that look like tubular swim floats (actual ones were used at Moschino). Mr Ghesquière has pulled away from the synthesis of historicism for the paste-up of the usually unromantic components of dressmaking—the trims, and the effect is both quirky and quixotic. Which again magnifies his compositional skill of combining unlikely shapes, pairing uncommon textures, and tweaking unexpected proportions, all within recognisable clothing forms. This season in Paris, two unremarkable garments are poised for posterity—a spray-on dress with the design finesse of anything you’d find in Mango and a T-shirt with a slogan deemed inappropriate and offensive. Despite Nicholas Ghesquière’s notable efforts, his complex and astonishing designs would not top the lasting, viral glory of those two.

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

(Still) Bleak At Balenciaga

A dark, dark, and muddy world, with a parade led by a self-destructive egomaniac

In a four-season world that is facing increasingly warm summers (with some cities reportedly skipping spring altogether), it is strange that at Balenciaga’s spring/summer 2023 show, the first model sent out is Kanye West (rumoured to be in Paris to present a Yeezy collection), bundled up like a ranger on some frigid war-torn settlement. In fact, on his multi-pocketed flak jacket, a label on the left chest reads “SECURITY”. Despite the hoodie over a cap which casts a shadow over his face, the bearded Mr West is still identifiable. He looks as he has been these past year, mostly dressed as if the places he visits are below zero degrees Celsius, even when it’s blazing. As he has explained before, he has the predilection to “dress like winter when it’s hot”. Perhaps that may explain why on Demna Gvasalia’s TikTok account, which shared a short video showing Mr West’s duration on the runway, the caption reads, “Ye is walking for Balenciaga winter 23”!

A friend of SOTD’s said that it could be a “typo”. Perhaps, but unlikely (the Balenciaga social media team won’t make such a mistake). Could it be an autumn/winter outfit made specially for Mr West to wear in summer that can serve as a preview for the season after? This is one Balenciaga customer/“friend of the house” with exacting needs, including a desperate one to be taken seriously by the fashion establishment. Mr West, in fact, looks like he could well be ready for the next Mad Max movie. A Black Road Warrior? And the set of the show matches: a wasteland of very wet mud. After last season’s snow, could this be what happens when the deep freeze thaws, but the war has not ended? In fact, Balenciaga calls this presentation The Mud Show. The set, with real mud dumped into a stadium (in the darkness, it could be a pile of dung), is designed by the Spanish performance/installation artist Santiago Sierra. A waterlogged path is created and on this boggy ground, the indigent-looking bunch (including dads with babies—they look fake—close to the chest), some of the models appear bruised (bashed?), trudge or march on, the hems of their gown and pants, and shoes, quickly dirtied by the muck.

The muddying is consistent with Balenciaga’s recent slew of ‘Destroyed’ garments and footwear. And there are more rips-as-destruction this season to better fit the misery and squalor of the world, seen through Demna Gvasalia’s eyes. If everything around us is falling apart, why not the clothes? The first victims of the tattering are, expectedly, the jeans; this time, also with severe rips in the rear, so extreme, some might consider them unwearable. There is defacement too—graffiti on the hoodies. All the disfiguring, according to Mr Gvasalia, required a “couple of days” more than making clothes that are not damaged. Just as there are the seriously destructed, there are those left whole and untarnished, until the mud gets to them. The dresses, which have won the brand consistent approval and yielded considerable influence, come in slinky jersey with the simplicity of a T-shirt or in fluid plissé that wrap the body protectively like a cape, stand out. However wrecked the world, there are those who chose to dress splendidly. Or in a patch-up of old handbags. In the last dress, a man (or a flat-chested woman?) wears a gown made of Balenciaga’s once sort-after Lariat bags. This could have appeared in the couture collection (along with those clothes made of old belts), but here it is, an unyielding outfit probably too difficult for a woman to wear.

As the models tread, some carry stuffed animals with handles (are they filled bags?) that could have been dropped as children flee whatever/whoever they were escaping from. These are carried by the strangely under-dressed: in hooded tops with scanty running shorts. Or those wearing belts with the width of cummerbunds. Some of the bags look like sacks or pillows, and others like trash bags (already a trending Balenciaga item). One style was most striking. It continues Mr Gvasalia’s passion for conjoining disparate things, such as Kim Kardashian’s favourite legging-boots (this season, there are trouser-heels!). New is the squarish, tote-glove or a tote with holes on the upper half through which the arm can slip into a single full-length glove attached. The models carry them on the shoulder, with arm-in-glove as one. This is perhaps an innovation that befits our penchant for the hybrid, the mixed up, the remixed, the crossbreed. No one wants to look coordinated this days when tattered complexity is a lot less restraining. As one SOTD reader texted us about the Balenciaga collection, “I think this is truly fashion for our times”. Kanye West agrees too. That’s why he is in the show. Better than walking for Dolce and Gabbana?

Screen shot: Balenciaga/YouTube. Photos: Balenciaga

Which Way To Better?

With Carine Roitfeld in the game, is Givenchy scoring a win?

So Givenchy is getting reinforcement. After a few seasons (since spring/summer 2021, to be precise) of unconvincing output, Matthew Williams has enlisted the help of Carine Roitfeld, the ex-French Vogue editor, present EIC of CR Fashion Book, one-time accomplice of Tom Ford’s “heroin chic” for Gucci, and now, former stylist at Max Mara (as the rumour circulating in 2010 went, she borrowed a Balenciaga sample and loaned it to the Italian brand she consults for, which led to Balenciaga reportedly banning her). Ms Roitfeld is also the arbiter of ‘French chic’, an American obsession, known over there as ‘French girl style’. So her input is invaluable in assisting Mr Williams get the Givenchy look—which has been elusive, and more so under his watch—right. This is le chic Français for a brand that has lost its way, but all roads lead to America, do they not?

If you have been following Ms Roitfeld’s much-covered career (including her collab with Uniqlo), you might know she is partial to a lean, sexy-in-spades silhouette, build around a suit jacket (not too fitted, not to oversized) and slim skirt (preferably black), and finished with stilettos to give her vertical advantage. With Givenchy, she gives hints of what is identified as her style, yet concurrently submits to Mr William’s insistence on a street aspect to the collection, but now decidedly more svelte, and with midriffs still exposed. Ms Roitfeld’s love of lingerie (with its racy connotation) is there too, but now they are bra tops paired with unsightly, ripped, cut-off-at-knee, multi-pocketed biker jeans (l’élégance means there is a version in tweed). And papery slip dresses with raw edges that look like they won’t survive even the first wash.

Supposing, as many did, that Givenchy suffered from an identity crisis before, it still appears unresolved. There is a conscious tempering of Mr Williams’s initial streetwear-gone-luxe with sleeker dresses, and Ms Roitfeld’s well-loved slim skirts. But does Mr Williams really need the visual stimulus that Ms Roitfeld presumably could provide? And did Los Angeles native really benefit from it when he seems to be still tied to LA? Some pieces are puzzling and the antithesis of ‘French girl style’, such as the frightening oversized denim trucker and cargo shorts (they are cargo jeans too). Even Bella Hadid can’t save the denim bra-top and the dirty-looking jean-skirt. Some are sad clichés, such as the boucle skirt-suit or jacket with, gasp, bleached denim cargo jeans and the Chanel-esque round-neck jacket and straight-cut jeans. Others are just duds—military-style cropped hoodie and distressed fatigues or the PT singlet and khaki skirt.

Mr Williams seems to draw inspiration from the red light districts of LA too. There are cropped tops with a broad, flounced border (one comes with a limp ruff!), slip-dresses with half-assed half-drape along the neckline and one-shoulder gowns to show off the bland brassiere on the uncovered side. There is, surprisingly, a visible lack of the hardware that Mr Williams is known for, except the odd buckle that appears on bra cups and a strange two-buckle belt that goes on the waist of a ruched ebony dress. For someone who loves black, there is a curious green in a colour story that is generally muted. It led us to wonder if it’s the same shade at Fendi last month, even if a tad toned down in intensity? Seriously, is the maddening mash-up just Matthew Williams playing irrepressible DJ?

Screen shot (top): Givenchy/YouTube. Photos: gorunway.com

The Instant Dress

We’ve seen the future: Don’t get dressed, get sprayed!

Bella Hadid enjoying the aerosol droplets

It is for sure a moment for history. The last look of the Coperni show yesterday saw Bella Hadid emerges in nothing but a thonged panty and a pair of heels, her right arm covering her breasts. She steps on to a low platform, and designers Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant—hands with equipment very much similar to a spray gun used in spray painting—begin spraying the model. The sprayers dispel a white foamy liquid that quickly cover her body in opaque white (Ms Hadid slowly removes her arms as one breast is covered and then another). Those old enough would remember this as ‘airbrushing’. Very soon a semblance of a garment could be discerned. The body-con (naturally!) dress took about seven minutes to complete or about the time it takes to cook hard-boiled eggs. Talk about fast fashion!

When the spraying stops, an assistant takes over to finish the dress. She shapes the straps by rolling the edges inwards, like you might with pastry made with thin batter, such as zhuchangfen (猪肠粉 or rice noodle rolls). She then pulls the straps down the arms to create an off-shoulder upper. She moves to the front and kneels to trim the randomly-formed hem around Ms Hadid’s calves. She takes a scissors and cuts a slit on the right side, at the front of the leg. She loosens the fabric adhered to Ms Hadid’s limbs. She opens up the slit and, voila, the dress is complete. A dress as basic as it comes. There was uproarious applause. Ms Hadid steps off the platform and struts for the appreciative audience in her new spray-on dress.

Finishing the sprayed-on dress

Bella Hadid posing in the completed dress

For many, this moment is reminiscent of what the late Alexander McQueen offered during his spring/summer 1999 show—his thirteenth at the time. Shalom Harlow, then the subject of the public experiment, stepped out in a white, strapless dress with an outer skirt over a tutu, and stood on a turntable between two robotic arms. After the pair of identical mechanical limbs flailed somewhat threateningly, they spray-painted her dress, one shot out yellow dye, the other black. Ms Harlow moved as if in orgiastic delight. She continued to spin, the audience were delirious. This was technology meets fashion as high art, witnessed live, no streaming required; a moment conceived to be deeply indelible.

Fast forward to the present PFW, the Coperni spectacle seems less hi-tech, with the robotic arms swapped for human ones. The spray exercise is more in line with McQueen’s focus that season: the Arts and Craft movement (with a technology component). Coperni worked with the Spanish textile-tech company Fabrican, founded by fashion designer and scientist Manel Torres. Vogue Business reported that the liquid used is a polymer solution that contains cotton and synthetic fibres. The fluid evaporates when it touches the skin, leaving the fibres behind, which, presumably, dries quickly. If we can 3D-print our own accessories now, will it be a matter of time when we can spray on a dress after we step out of the bath? Will getting dressed be an archaic idea? We shudder.

Screen shots: BabyGhoulYT/YouTube

Loewe: From Grass To Anthuriums

Jonathan Anderson gave men sprouting patches in June, now the women get tailflowers

It’s back to nature at Loewe. If you haven’t noticed, Jonathan Anderson has quite departed the craft period of his tenure at Loewe and moving the brand closer to what his own label JW Anderson has been offering. In recent seasons, that means incorporating objects that should not appear on or trapped in clothes. These could be organic and synthetic. Last June, he grew real grass on coats and footwear for the men’s collection. Now for the women’s this season, single-stalk anthurium forms the bodice of the clothes, or turns into bra cups. Strange is putting it mildly, but it is, compared to the early years of studied modernised crafting. When Mr Anderson joined Loewe in 2013 (it’d be a decade next year!), his stylist/collaborator Benjamin Bruno told The Cut recently, “we had to invent a fashion language for it.” Now, not only has that language changed, there is a whole new dialect.

It is hard to pair words with what Mr Anderson dreams up without us creating a new vernacular too. Or, sounding didactic. Perhaps we should put it this way: the ordinary that becomes extraordinary is also exquisite. The choice of a flower for spring is not unusual—not at all, but one that looks more like a leaf and is curved and an elongated heart-shape, and can be used to cover the upper body is of rather special beauty. At this point, we can’t tell what the anthurium in the collection is made of (fibreglass?), but a bloom with a spikey spadix (rubber?) fans the burning of our curiosity: Did Mr Anderson choose it for its potential phallic allure? Or because the real plant is not wearable as the sap is poisonous and may irritate the skin? A toxic flower is as tempting as forbidden fruit?

There is, naturally, quite a lot to see and unpack. But one notable point: Even when the not-quite-delicate anthurium is a bra cup—single or a pair—the dresses do not succumb to the sleaziness some other designers have adopted for theirs. Perhaps Mr Anderson is better at quirky than sexy. And quite far out are the shoes. One pair of them is covered with deflated balloons (a recurrent motif) that, in some, looks like slip-on mops (also called mop slippers). The home maintenance idea (or at least that is how we see it) is extended to four tops that look like massive breastplates, but could have been ironing boards! Can you bend forward in them? A few strapless dresses have front-facing paniers that seem like a side table is hidden beneath them. A quintet of curious bubble-skirted dresses sport necklines that look as if held up by umbrella ribs, but a lace version later shows that the zig-zags and the peaks are really formed by frames.

Of late, Mr Anderson is inclined to visually comment on digital technology that affects us (such as using QWERTY keys in his own collection). For Loewe, he is looking at something that appears at low resolution or is deliberately blurred—indistinct pixels. A T-shirt and a hoodie gets the Minecraft treatment, with the outlines of the garments cartoonishly pixelated. Both are worn with trousers, printed with grided blurring done on purpose. There are look-backs too. Two bib-front shirts, now in leather, recall those from his early Loewe collections, but are more deconstructed (or skewed?) than before. Perhaps the most sort after would be the new bag that is shaped like a well-filled jiaozi (饺子 or dumpling). If that is not goofy enough, there are the open-toe sandals with the upright anthurium (backed by a leaf). With the way the world is now, it really is time to put the bloom in the gloom.

Two Of A Kind: Repeated Triangles

A three-sided figure—even right-side up—and repeated just recalls those of a very famous Italian brand

Uma Wang’s pantsuit vs Prada’s Symbole jacquard tote. Photos: Uma Wang and Prada respectively

Uma Wang (王汁) is a popular designer in China. And the Chinese are especially proud that she is one of the few among the dalu (大陆 or mainland) designers to show abroad with anomalous regularity. Recently, she shared images of the digital presentation of her spring/summer 2023 collection, A Gaze into the Wilderness, during Paris Fashion Week. Among the Central Saint Martin alum’s usual oversized, drape-y styles, two outfits stood out, but not for their exceptional designs. There is a coat and a pantsuit and both are in fabrics with a orderly repeated pattern that immediately brings to mind the jacquard used in Prada’s Symbole bags.

Prada is, in fact, rather late in the monogram-style pattern in place of all-over logos or logotype on clothing and accessories. Based on its familiar inverted triangle that frames its logo, the Symbole was introduced this summer, with a campaign in our part of the world that featured Korean stars Kim Min-ju, Bona, and others. Prada describes the pattern of the Symbole as “modernist”. And it is even minimalist, if seen with the more recent monograms, such as Burberry’s interlocking TB, introduced in 2018 (what would its fate be now, since its introducer Riccardo Tisci is no longer with the house isn’t clear) or Versace’s Le Greca, launched last year.

Modernist might also be how Ms Wang sees her rows and rows of triangles. If you look at the dominant black ones, they are isosceles, closed-plane polygons with sharp vertexes, just like Prada’s, but placed right-side up and are more condensed. The linear arrangement is similar to the Italian brand’s as well—the black alternating with the lighter-coloured, with a sum effect like the board used for the triangular chess (yes, there is such a game, invented in 1986 by American lawyer George R. Dekle Sr). In that scheme, even Ms Wang’s chromatic choice is similar to Prada’s: black and khaki. It is possible that she picked her fabric (known to be from Italy) before Prada launched the Symbole bags, but it is even likelier that the latter went into development much earlier. Since only too looks were created with the said fabric, would it have been better for Uma Wang to omit both so as to avoid being compared to Prada’s increasingly popular Symbole?

What’s That Hole, Again?

Off-White puts an orifice over the stomach

Holes are here. We saw them in New York at Marni; we are now seeing them in Paris at Off-White. Yes, gaping holes. Their appeal is not immediately clear. Perhaps it has to do with creating a porthole with which to view skin. Or, very specific part of the body, such as the cleavage or, in the case of Off-White, the stomach, which is punctuated with another, much smaller hole, the belly button. The holes of cold shoulders, once so popular, have migrated as a single framed aperture in the center of the body. We have said this before, and we’ll say it again: They seem to focus on something sexual, or reproductive. And Off-White’s larger (than Marni’s) holes could be twice the possibility. Perhaps we are allowing out imagination to veer to far off. Maybe these are just yueliangmen (月亮门 or moon gates)—passageways to welcome you into something.

The show is called “CELEBRATION” (the Abloh-esque quotation a must), and it requires no effort to guess who Off-White is celebrating. Ten months have passed since Virgil Abloh’s death. The world is still celebrating his legacy, not just at the brand he founded, but also at Louis Vuitton, where he had, many agree, changed menswear. Apparently this collection was already initiated by Mr Abloh before he died. The collection is now realised by the team installed at the studio and led by the stylist and EIC of Dazed Ibrahim Kamara, the brand’s Image and Art Director, who was appointed to the post last April. Why Mr Kamara was not made the creative director of the ready-to-wear isn’t clear, but it is possible that he is trying to postion himself as a ”multi-hyphenate”, as Mr Abloh invariably was thought to be.

One of the things he with the varied portfolio has to do is to keep things within Planet Abloh, and a signature colour is a good way to start. Unmistakable this season is the wash of blue that bathes the show and its venue to effect what Mr Kamara called “blue universe”, as he told WWD. This includes the by-now obligatory pre-show performance typical of Mr Abloh’s presentation, this time with dancers all togged in the chosen blue, with faces painted in the same colour. It is tempting to think they are members of the Blue Man Group, but they are not. The performers are reportedly from the French capital. They performed with palpable tribal spunk to the percussive music of Paris-based afro-punk musician Faty Sy Savanet, in leotards no doubt created by the Off-White studio.

As for the collection, it is not going to benefit from what we have not already said about Virgil Abloh’s work. To note, again, is that Off-White is not quite the label it was before; the street tag of the past is mostly not applicable. After Virgil Abloh joined Louis Vuitton and had access to the maison’s vast resources, Off-White became more like a Louis Vuitton spin-off with a ‘couture’ component that also manifests in the present show, although not in quantity. The two outfits are presumably to bring the presentation to a close, with a bang. One is a coat made of what looks like petals (leather?), festooned to give it a vaguely cocoon shape. The other is less conventional, even curious—a lace chador, worn with the face left uncovered. Inclusive, perhaps, but would true chador wearers not take offence to the sheerness of the garment? Or, could this be what Sierra Leone-born Ibrahim Kamara told WWD: “I’m bringing my African point of view”?

Screen shot (top): off—white.com. Photos: gorunway.com

Fade To Flowers

Dries van Note returns to Paris. He is still the master of controlled sumptuousness, even in black

We can’t remember when Dries van Noten showed this much black on the runway—17 looks in total inkiness (this season, we have been doing a lot of counting ). The not-colourful opening set, however, isn’t a mournful expression of something plaguing the world. Mr van Noten has not shown in Paris IRL for more than two years, communicating digitally in ways that were not necessarily illustrative of his predilection for the exuberant (if not stylistically, at least florally). This joyous return could perhaps be seen in the clothes, but rather than jump right into the 花浴 (huayu or floral bath), he chose to begin with those blacks that have between them the soft tailoring that Mr van Noten is partial to and the sculptural assymetry that he has shown to be adept at, allowing the raven sophistication to segue into spring-appropriate pastels before bursting into the summer flowers—print on print, too—that he is known for.

The show, set in a what looks like a disused space, opens to a soundtrack of a knocking beat that could have been produced by the muyu (木鱼) or wooden fish, the woodblocks used in Chinese temples to produce a hypnotic cadence that accompanies the reciting of Buddhist text. But, here, it is digitised and on reverb. The somewhat bleak beat, accompanied by the clacking of the models’ heels, soon builds into an urgent pulsation that crescendoes to the familiar refrain of Blondie’s Heart of Glass over an unfamiliar mix, which vaguely reminds us of Heart ov Glass, the remake by British electronica act Product.01 and remixed by the German techno producer Justus Köhncke. The tribal/festive percussive mix of electro and breaks is attuned to Mr van Noten’s trippy blend of rosettes and ruffles, blooms and more blooms. In a word (which we do not often use): delightful.

With Dries van Noten, the output is always a sensorial win. With the exception of some jewellery, there is no need for glittery ornamentation to make any of the outfits stand out or speak, even in the eveningwear. One loose-fitting, but still shapely jacket is bunched up in the front and secured by pins. A dramatic black top—worn with shorts!—is an asymmetric heave that looks like a fichu fluffed up. On a skirt, plissé swathes draw together in the front and cascade as an off-centre bustle. Pleated medallions sit atop gathered tiers in free-flow abandon on a top. Elsewhere, ruffles curve around the body and end on the hem, or meander and then become rosettes—and nothing flamenco about them. There are openwork knitwear gilets that could have been handicraft macrame bags repurposed. When it comes to the florals, there are more permutations that what you’d find in nature; the pairings and the layering, crumbly or crushed, sometime recall those from past collections, but no less arresting.

It is an uplifting collection even with the darkness of the opening set. Some people think that Mr van Noten’s clothes are typically not immediately joyous. While he is not inclined to go with spring-break ardour, as craft precedes frills, we can’t begrudge the palpable positivity of his re-entry to the Paris show season. Few designers today offer desirable clothes that are more than what they seem, that can boast designs that go along synergistically with dressmaking. Or, take what would be flowers-for-spring cliché to fields of desirable artistry. As before, these are clothes to wear and keep. And to wear again.

Screen shots (top) and photos: Dries van Noten

En Présence De La Tour Eiffel

The pieces in Saint Laurent’s latest collection seem to mimic the leanness of Paris’s famous tower, but, perhaps, far sexier

How many variations of a lean, body-skimming silk-jersey dress can one squeeze into a collection without the garment looking repetitive? We counted about 38 of them out of the 49 looks that Anthony Vaccarello showed for Saint Laurent’s spring/summer 2023. And can hoodies be anything other than what they have been? We counted them, too, and there are 24, worn over the head in more ways than one. Some of the looks remind us of what Grace Jones wore as May Day in the one of the James Bond franchises, 1985’s A View to a Kill (in which Roger Moore was licensed to kill for the last time), interestingly partially shot in Paris. Her costumes were designed by the late Azzedine Alaïa. One particular burgundy hooded dress in the Saint Laurent collection is truly evocative of a purple one Ms Jones wore, which stood out like the Eiffel Tower against James Bond’s real love target, Tanya Roberts as Stacey Sutton, in hyper-feminine clothes that Virginie Viard would love. Perhaps, most unusual of all was the hood; it had never appeared on a Bond girl until then.

It is, however, unlikely that Mr Vaccarello was inspired by a fictional M16 secret agent’s nemesis-turn-one-night-stand, even if double-O-seven’s romantic interests are mostly clad in the styles of the day. The hoodie-dresses have a different lineage, one that can be traced to Yves Saint Laurent himself, when he introduced the capuche (literally hood in French) dresses in 1969, four years after the more famous and remembered Mondrian dresses were shown. Mr Vaccarello has, naturally, taken the ’60s out of the capuche and given it his own ’80s touch with what could be a ’30s slenderness and swish, and present-day sinew. Compellingly, the hoods are fashioned in different forms, many emerging from the bust, some criss-crossing the bodice, some draping one shoulder and extending to become a sleeve. These are, as redundant as the pointing out might be, not your garden-variety street-style hoods.

In this collection, Mr Vaccarello seems to want to reduce it to perhaps the essential, even if that risks sounding banal in this near-the-end-of-the-pandemic world. You get the slim maxi-dresses, the hoodie versions, the leather jacket and coats (some with pronounced shoulders, some not), a few blouses with pussy bows (by now a house standard), and relaxes trousers. And not a single bead, paillette, or embroidery, and yet even the jersey dresses look sleek and glamourous. The relatively small offering in terms of looks could suggest a preference for uniform dressing, perhaps; but not quite such as those adopted by folks of Silicon Valley, certainly not Elizabeth Holmes. Not for Mr Vaccarello a take on the turtleneck! Interpretive flair points to looking at the house archives and adapting judiciously, especially the colours. These are more muted than what YSL was known for, but no less seductive. Reportedly, Mr Vaccarello selected them from old Polaroids of the fittings of the past; hence, the lack of punch, but not without depth, and for those who require not the brightness of flourescent pigments in some modem dye jobs.

The restraint—chromatic and stylistic—in the collection seems to suggest a toning down, even if just for now. Perhaps this is the proverbial palate cleanser. There is, you could see, not even a single short skirt (what would Zoe Kravitz wear?! Or Blackpink’s Rosé?). Even the occasional torso-baring is overwhelmed by powerful coats, their shoulders accentuated, their hems grazing the floor. When we look at the models, walking daintily, as if they are confined in hobble skirts, as they pass the lit Eiffel Tower in the background, we wonder if the darkened figures could be the silhouette of the capital’s most famous tower, seen upside down! The favourite symbol of the city isn’t co-starring in a Saint Laurent show for the first time. Still, each continue to embody the spirit of Paris with certainty and, yes, undiminished élan.

Screen shot (top): saintlaurent.com. Photos: gorunway.com

Dance Back To The Past

This season Maria Grazia Chiuri brings up her country of birth again, and reconnects with an Italian woman in history for Dior

It has been a while since Dior had dancers get in the way of the models’ display of Maria Grazia Chiuri’s fussy, re-imagined Dior. The last was shown two years ago, during the Resort 2021 collection, staged in Puglia, Italy, where ten local dancers performed as a throbbing mass while the models walked on as if they were no obstacle. This time, Dior engaged a Dutch dance troupe formed by the siblings Imre and Marne van Opstal, dubbed “the hottest new dance choreographers in Netherlands”. The dancers, in nude-coloured costumes of tank tops painted with torsos, paired with plain underpants, executed a primal, writhing routine that could be seen as carnal. In the latest issue of Purple, the sister Imre van Opstal told the magazine, “We like to speak about the human body”. So does Ms Chiuri, who, through her love of sheerness, communicates her idea of body image, however the ideal body is framed for her culturally.

This season, with her woman-for-woman Dior, Ms Chiuri looks at the reputedly diabolical Renaissance proto-feminist Catherine (also Caterina) de’ Médici (of the powerful Florentine banking family). Like her, Catherine de’ Médici is an Italian transplanted to France, only in the latter’s case, by marriage—to King Henry II, a union few in court were thrilled with as the Médicis were of merchant class, not royalty. As Queen of France, she—not known for her beauty (she has been described as “homely”)—was patron of the arts and a fashion consumer, who, being “plump”, made corsets quite the fashion, as well as heels to make her look taller. When she left for France at age 14, she reportedly brought along a large retinue, including dressmakers, jewellers, and perfumers. While she was the embodiment of the dress politics of the time, it is arguable if she was a major contributor to French fashion the way Marie Antoinette later was (or her husband’s mistress Diane de Poitiers), unless the scented gloves she introduced in court is counted. The Sovereign was better known as a manipulative, even vicious regent (her three sons were consecutive rulers), who was hated by the Protestants for her supposed role in France’s religious civil wars of that era, in which many were assassinated. She was, to put it mildly, the political force behind the reigns of her sons. When she died in 1589, France mourned her with the same outpouring for a slaughtered hen.

It is understandable why Catherine de’ Médici would appeal to another Italian woman who designs for a company named after a Frenchman. According to the show notes, “women know how to explore magical territories since they have a privileged connection with nature and its vital force”. Thus blessed, Ms Chiuri establishes the link to the past, but however modern her attempts, the results bordered on the costume-y made current by today’s midriff-baring must. The corset is brought back, but not with the constriction of those that tightened Catherine de’ Médici’s waist. Ms Chiuri made them loose so that you can wear them like you would a singlet (oh, that, too, appears) with the shape of a stomacher curve at the bottom end (and what’s more modern than wearing them with elasticised-waist pants?), giving you the chance to boast a flair for sartorial historicism. And perhaps find kinship with the unconventional sisters of the past?

And then there are the mini hooped skirts (we already hear many say cute) in the shape of table food covers, showing off how exquisite Dior is with lace, also a Catherine de’ Médici fave. Clearly Ms Chiuri does not reference the past the way her predecessor John Galliano did. It appears that she went to the cutting table without humour or a vestige of wit. Still, rather funny are those flimsy skirts with hooped uppers that made them look like lanterns, or bird cage covers, or worse, mosquito netting over a baby’s cot. Pretty skirts means there are dirndl versions (in floral patchwork!), cheerleader skirts with smocking across the stomach, and those to be worn over shorts like capes for bottoms. To enhance the overall femininity, there are lacings for sides of bodices as well as neckline, or down the length of skirts; lace borders as seen on négligée: gathered trims like those on the edges of French maids’ aprons: and more open-work fabrics to delight your dry-cleaner. Oh, there’s also that much lauded print of the map of Paris., so you’ll know Maria Grazia Chiuri is putting Paris on the map.

Burberry’s Beach-Influenced Bungle

The English label shows in London as Paris Fashion Week starts. Yes, it is disorienting, and the collection is, sadly, muddled

Burberry cancelled their London Fashion Week slot because of the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Their new show opens as PFW begins. Still, guests were keen to go to London—even if it may mean hopping back to Paris almost immediately—because the rumours have been rife for weeks that this could be Riccardo Tisci’s swan song for the brand. Is that why Naomi Campbell walks the runway, her celebrity presence overwhelming the Burberry outfit she is assigned to model? Ms Campbell is known to be an ardent supporter/defender of the designers she adores. This could be her last show for Mr Tisci at Burberry (interestingly, she did not walk Christopher Bailey’s final presentation for the house, although she did attend). The Italian, like his compatriots, does love the company of American celebrities, but there is no sign of one-time devotee of his Givenchy, Kim Kardashian, or equivalent on the runway or off (unless you count Leonardo DiCaprio’s ex, Camila Morrone), although Kanye West, Burberry-clad and shod, did show up for the front row.

If this is truly his final presentation for Burberry, Mr Tisci seems to have returned to where he started. The 81-look collection has something for everyone, as Mr Tisci was fond of suggesting when his early collections seemed to lack focus. This time, the clothes are inspired by the all-sorts who go to a beach, such a Margate, the southeastern coastal town of England (the teasers for the show is filmed here). So beach/swim wear is a theme, or woven into Mr Tisci’s idea of English eccentric. A sparkly triangular bikini top comes with just-as-brilliant arm floats (but are likely bags); a similar but one-piece swimsuit is worn over a pink gown with cut-outs on the crotch, sides, and buttocks; a black bikini set worn under a slinky gown with an ‘X’ for the bodice. These are the obvious references or “codes from the seaside”, as per Burberry. About British beach dressing, Mr Tisci said, “you really see people dressing on the beach, because you never know when it’s going to rain or when there’s going to be sun… Or, you’ll see a wedding, or someone who’s gone there at lunch time to read. It’s all different personalities.”

The show opens eerily quiet in a warehouse with no set, unless you count the curtains, chairs, and platforms on which people stand. At first it seems that the sound of feet and guests coughing, clearing their throats, fidgeting and doing whatever noisy things fashion-show attendees do were to be the soundtrack. Then an operatic voice is heard; it goes on, somewhat forlornly, and then stops. Silence. Three minutes of stillness. And a live orchestra (yes, it is there all along) plays, and the finale begins. One senses that there is an attempt to appear respectful in the wake of the the Queen’s funeral. It’s almost ceremonial. But, is it necessary when the beach is where inspiration is drawn and sexiness is not omitted? Sure, there are all-black clothes, but these are supposedly goth-on-the-beach sombre, not royal-death solemn. If a wedding can be seen on an English beach, then perhaps a funeral too?

In his attempt to reflect the “different personalities” of littoral life and buzz, Mr Tisci shows he has the sand to build the fanciest fashion that the brand’s customers would want. But the result is as muddled as it is futile. He has a tendency to over-design, to pile on, and his latest (and last?) collection is replete with the unnecessarily elaborate, exaggerated, and expendable. One especially unneeded (even useless) detail or styling trick is the long sleeves from the back of dresses or trenchcoats that, in some, appear to be the bottom-halves of upside-down tops tied at the waist or hung loose by the side of the body. One halter-neck denim top comes with the tied sleeves when, above that, there is already a large floppy pussy bow. Even the Burberry check can’t subscribe to judicious tweaks. In one negligée-over-body-stocking look, the check seems to fade into what appears to be a stretched honeycomb pattern.

Last month, we visited the Burberry store at ION Orchard before it closed in the mall permanently. It was deathly quiet inside. There is a visible absence of chartering mainland Chinese tourists. The SAs were so in need of customer contact that two trailed us, doggedly. Nothing in the store called out to us, not even a possible It bag. There was a distinct lack of ambient pull. We sensed that the London cool of the brand that once distinguished its offering has turned quite tepid. The last big-scale promotional event Burberry held was to celebrate the Olympia bag. Nothing in the store then aroused curiosity, let alone stirred desire. If the rumours of Riccardo Tisci’s departure are true (and the chatter that the design reigns will go back to a Brit, such as Daniel Lee), perhaps they are indications that the time is right for a change of creative stewardship. Burberry needs it.

Screen shot (top): burberry/YouTube