Is Bailey Blasé About Burberry?

Christopher Bailey showed his final collection in London two days ago. It was not the swan song of swan songs

Burberry Feb 2018 P1

This could be the most anticipated show of the London season, but we could not have known. Christopher Bailey bowed out of Burberry with his final presentation, but it wasn’t a give-it-to-them collection. It wasn’t even a best-of throwback. No one stood up when the models strutted their stuff for the finale. Only when Mr Bailey emerged for his customary runway bow did the audience rose to its feet. The man drew a standing ovation, not the clothes.

As farewell shows go, this one was rather low on moments. Sure, people were thrilled to see the rarely-on-catwalk-these-days Cara Delevingne close the show, being goofy, but what was that she was wearing? Costume from a school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat? And what was Ms Delevingne wearing beneath that? Something to go to bed with, or to pick up the morning paper? Or was this deliberately anti-knock-out last dress, just as the show was anti-exit-with-a-bang display so that it will resound in the pages of final-show history?

Burberry Feb 2018 G1

This was meant to be a salute to LGBT+ youths everywhere, but it could easily be thumbs up to the “chavs” and “chavettes” (loosely, the British bengs and lians) that had once made Burberry many rungs below classy and deserving a makeover, which had led to Christopher Bailey taking the creative reigns of the 162-year-old British house. The checks that the chavs made crass were back in full glory (including those infamous caps). But it was the decidedly low-brow styling—boys and girls going about their mundane day in, possibly, east London, or even Ang Mo Kio—that made the clothes a tad too difficult to digest. Add those tired-by-now supermarket bags and you have a picture of a hipster heartland that is too much a parody to be cool and desirable.

Mr Bailey has long abandoned cool. The London cool associated with his Burberry (trench coats ruched at the shoulder), the English Rose and “Garden Girls” (full-lace tea dresses and floral prairie dresses), the ’60s edge (the autumn/winter 2011 collection inspired by Jean Shrimpton), Mr Bailey has ditched them. Like everyone else, he’s doing street, good and bad street. How else do you explain the (still) oversized Harrington jackets or Yonex-would-be-proud windbreakers? He’s also looking back at the ’90s. How else do you elucidate those multi-coloured embroidered logotype, so done-to-death by Kenzo’s Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, and so reminiscent of the knock-offs that once festooned the night market stalls of Bangkok’s Silom Road?

Burberry Feb 2018 G2

It did seem to us that Mr Bailey was doing a Marc Jacobs: He mined chav culture the way Mr Jacobs mines black culture or disco past. The hotchpotch was certainly there, so was the ’80s/’90s references and the sub-culture tags. Even the vast, somewhat bare show venue at the Dimco Building of West London was reminiscent of Mr Jacobs favourite Park Avenue Armoury. Even the music: No more live performances; just good old gay disco, courtesy of The Communards and Jimmy Somerville and a generous dash of the ever listenable Marc Almond.

Yes, they’re for the kids who have never seen and worn and dance in them before, we hear you say, but where does that leave the rest of us—we who do not want to muse over the past; who desire even the moderately new, the irreverent, the witty, the complex; we who think that, while fashion is cyclic, the cycle should take much longer to come full circle; we who think there’s too much fashion and much of it is like the other, so why bother? We understand that Burberry has to cater to those not yet bored, not yet satiated, not yet inducted, but isn’t there enough grassroots gaiety at Topshop?

Burberry Feb 2018 G4

Oh, the LGBT+ bit. “My final collection here at Burberry is dedicated to—and in support of—some of the best and brightest organisations supporting LGBTQ+ youths around the world,” Mr Bailey had said to the media. “There has never been a more important time to say that in our diversity lies our strength, and our creativity.” The recurrent motif in about half-a-dozen outfits was the rainbow flag/stripe. And if they seemed a little reductive in view how far gay people and their kindred kinds have come, it’s because there was something very gift shop by way of the Castro in San Francisco or the Chelsea in New York, circa 1988, in those bubble vest, coat, jacket, dress, bags, and trainers. You sort of half –aspect ‘Does Your Mother Know’ jokes emblazoned on T-shirts. We’re not sure if any of them is a good look, for gay or straight.

It could be that Mr Bailey was already in bow-out mood when assembling the collection, which, to us, was just a pastiche of stuff—a rambling thought, flashes of reflections, not the attentively conceived collection dedicated to Henry Moore (same time last year) that thrilled us so. Perhaps, he has indeed lost steam, as some observers had previously posited. This February collection is likely to remain linked to this month, to the end of a designer’s 17-year reign, and would date the moment we forget his departure. Maybe this wasn’t just Christopher Bailey’s last Burberry show; maybe this was his last laugh.

Photo: (top) Burberry/Youtube and (catwalk) Indigital.tv

East Meets East: Confluence Of Uncommon Creativity

At the Singapore Fashion Award (SFA) this afternoon, virtual unknowns Keita Ebihara and Elizabeth Soon won Emerging Designer of the Year (Fashion) for their label Ametsubi. In a rare moment for SFA, the future looks bright

 

Keita and Elisabeth Nov 2017Designing newcomers: Keita Ebihara and Elizabeth Soon. Photo: Jim Sim

Newlyweds Japanese Keita Ebihara and Singaporean Elizabeth Soon have been busy since returning, a few days ago, from Japan, where their label Ametsubi is based, to attend the Singapore Fashion Awards presentation. It is a family trip of sort, too, as Mr Ebihara’s parents are visiting the Singaporean in-laws in our city-state for the first time. So packed have their days been, Mr Ebihara admitted, two days ago, they have not done anything that could later be remembered as honeymoon moments. Heady from a marriage that was registered barely two weeks ago, on 11/11, ironically Singles Day in China (and some retailers in the rest of Asia), Ms Soon was happily showing us a photo of their Japanese marriage certificate—mostly filled out in kanji and katakana—on her iPhone.

Her husband was amused that she was still unable to get over the possession of the marriage cert and teased her about it. Undeterred, she said, Ariel-like, “It’s our first time; it’s my first time. Maybe, the Japanese wedding system is very common for you.” And added, “You are used to it,” quite unaware of what she might possibly have implied. Mr Ebihara smiled at her; his attention not quite ready to be diverted to the conversation at the table.

The Ebiharas’ good humour, easy laughter, and teasing nature belie the intellectual heft that imperceptibly characterised their Ametsubi collections. In sharing with us their design and product development processes—which took up one evening(!), they gave a deep impression of being designers who are not only interested in the exterior and visual effects of clothes, but equally in fashion as applied arts. Even in explaining how the name Ametsubi came about, they spared no effort to impress upon us with the haiku-eque significance of the name, rather than the semantics.

Ametsubi SS 2018 P1Key visual from the Ametsubi spring/summer 2018 campaign

“Ametsubi is a Japanese word,” Mr Ebihara explained. “It comes from the word ame, which means raindrops.” Ms Soon, taking a pen out to elaborate on paper, continued as she wrote, “The original word is ame-tsu-bu—that is water droplets. We took these characters (pointing the tip of the pen to the first two) and changed the bu to bi.” But that wasn’t all of it: “We met in Italy,” Ms Soon carried on, “and we are one (1) male and one (1) female, we chose [the Roman numeral from the] Latin alphabet ‘i’.”

There is more! “I am Japanese and she’s Singaporean, right?” Mr Ebihara rejoined. “In Japan, I hate rain, especially rainy season. Every day is wet and humid, and it is very uncomfortable. Normally, Japanese hate rain. But she, Singaporean lady, said to me, ‘I love rain’, because after the rain it is cool. Later we were talking about fashion, and how fashion is related to the environment. So when we discussed this, we thought this could be a reference point: I hate rain, she loves rain.”

All that for a name!

Keita Ebihara and Elizabeth Soon delivering their acceptance speech at SFA. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

It is interesting that at this year’s SFA, there’s a couple in each of the two fashion designer categories: Yong Siyuan and Jessica Lee of Nuboaix and Keita Ehibara and Eilzabeth Soon of Ametsubi. In many ways, the story of both pairs are similar, which illustrates a fact without alternative: that young designers face the same problems and hurdles, regardless of where they are based, who they are selling to. Undeniably, the Ametsubi duo has a leg up, as Japan has a lively fashion scene and an ecosystem that designers can tap into.

This afternoon, after receiving the trophy for the Emerging Designer of the Year, both designers were too moved with the honour to be able to articulate their feelings. Ms Soon could only say, when she stepped off the stage, that she wanted to cry. For many fashion observers, the win was hardly surprising. One of the judges Tina Tan enthused: “Their things are truly beautiful.” The other contenders, in fact, were up against two talents who are technically on another plane. Mr Ebihara and Ms Soon has shown that looking beyond the obvious augments flair to make fashion more engaging, more unique, totally desirable.

Fellow nominee Amos Yeo of AmosAnanda is a favourite among young TV stars. His clothes capture the spirit of a certain UK men’s wear designer-of-the-day, and cater to those who only care about the surface and not what’s beneath. And Rebecca Ting of Beyond the Vines has carved a distinguishable aesthetic of supreme gentleness, but she has yet shown that she’s adept at manipulating shapes and infusing her designs with details that can excite the eye.

Ametsubi DA graduation collection 2015

The 2013 graduation collection of Ametsubi’s Keita Ebihara and Elizabeth Soon. Photos: Domus Academy

Keita Ebihara and Elizabeth Soon met in Milan in 2013, when they were MA students at the prestigious Domus Academy (DA), ranked by BOF last year as the 19th best global graduate school for fashion. As Ms Soon recalled, “the first day of school was my birthday” and Mr Ebihara was there, mistaking her to be a Japanese lass, but spoke to her in what, by his admission, was then halting English. One renowned Singaporean who went to DA to complete his post-grad studies is the Paris-based designer Andrew Gn, after he graduated from Central Saint Martins. As DA programs are based on the idea of “learning by designing” and students busy themselves in “workshops”, the grouping and intermingling allowed Mr Ebihara and Ms Soon to interface frequently enough that pairing up as co-designers was an attractive idea.

Prior to their academic life together in Milan, Ms Soon, who was born in Canada and moved back to Singapore when she was six, was a student at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts’ School of Fashion Studies, where she graduated with a BA (Hons) in fashion design in 2012. In the same year, her graduation collection zipped to the UK to represent Singapore at the London Graduate Fashion Week, and was met with rave reviews in the English media, which noted her designs’ “powerful visual impact”.

Mr Ebihara, who was born in Tokyo, had gone to Sugino Gakuen, one of the top-10 fashion schools in the city to study fashion design; he graduated in 2009. Although he had “learned more about techniques: Japanese sewing and draughting”, he wanted to know “more about the product.” Terra Italiano was his greener grass on the other side.

While still in school, Mr Ebihara was selected to work for the Milan-based British designer Neil Barrett, and continued for four months after graduation in 2013. It was an experience that he admitted he did not enjoy. With his wife giggling in the background, he said, “to be honest, I found it to be very boring. Because their style is… how should I say? It was something I did not like too much.” While her husband-to-be was designing for a fashion house he did not take pleasure in, Ms Soon was picked to join someone she admired, the Dutch designer Iris Van Herpen, but she opted out of that opportunity. With her husband mock-chastising her, “you should have gone”, Ms Soon explained: “I had a housing obligation then. I signed a rental contract for a year, and I could not back out of that.” Mr Ebihara repeated himself, and she concurred, “I should have, but I was paying 700 Euros a month for that apartment. I couldn’t just go. And I was scared. I was 22, and I was spending too much money in Italy. I can’t go to Amsterdam and pay rent there and continue to pay rent in Milan. I was just scared of any monetary risk.” When asked if she’s a pragmatist, she pointed to her husband and said he is more “realistic”. Who is the dreamer then? Both laughed.

Ametsubi SS 2018 lookbookAmetsubi spring/summer 2018 look book. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

About a year after they left Domus Academy, Mr Ebihara and Ms Soon decided to firm up the plans for Ametsubi, and in September of 2014, the couple registered the company here. Before that, Ms Soon made a trip to Japan and contemplated living in the land of cherry blossoms. It could also be where the Ametsubi design studio would be based. A  couple of months later, everything the couple had in Milan was shipped eastwards, but it was not to Tokyo, where their friends had thought they would take up residency, but to Mr Ebihara’s family home in the prefecture of Ibaraki, known for plum trees.

Ibaraki-ken is 150 kilometres northeast of Tokyo, edged along the pacific coast. It would take about two hours by train to arrive at the heart of the capital city in the south. The decision to situate the Ametsubi office here is primarily to avoid Tokyo’s exorbitant rentals, no doubt a forbidding cost to a new fashion business. In Ibaraki-ken, the young Ebiharas were given a small house, “that sat on my grandfather’s land,” Keita Ebihara shared. His wife had earlier told us—with discernible pride—that he had taken upon himself to fit-out the design studio, and that included “building our own draughting table. And a cage for my pet hedgehog!” The studio consists of their living quarters too, which both happily said is upstairs.

Would a business card without a Tokyo address diminish the prestige of the brand? “We don’t think so,” Ms Soon said, “but being based away from Japan’s fashion centre has its negatives and positives. The positives: we’re undisturbed. Our creation is very pure, in that sense. We are not influenced by the [urban] environment, or ‘Tokyo Street’ [a trend]. We do not make Tokyo collection—there is a movement in Tokyo recently for young designers that is known locally as Tokyo colley, which is quite street, well ‘Tokyo Street’—there’s no other way to describe it.” This isn’t the mad-cap street style once seen in Harajuku’s Takeshita-dori or the less manic, Americanised get-ups of those who hang out in the so-called ura-Harajuku (backstreets). With Instagram eating into most young people’s lives, street displays—once a Sunday joy—are no longer necessary and are, in fact, oddly old-fashioned. ‘Tokyo Street’ is unmistakably post-kawaii, too; it’s a milder incarnation of its former self, its previous madness.

“The negatives,” Ms Soon continued, “means we have to travel a lot as we have to have our meetings in Tokyo and other towns, no one is going to come to us.” Mr Ebihara added, “We have to communicate with the patterner and fabric suppliers.” “And we can’t stay out too late, or it would be hard for us to go back. Our meeting usually starts early. If it’s at 8.30 in the morning, we have to leave by 5 or 5.30.” The social aspects of the business cannot be disregarded and not being in the heart of the action is a negative too. Ms Soon said, “It just means we have to try harder to be spoken about.”

Ametsubi SS 2018 G1Images from the Ametsubi spring/summer 2017 look book. Photos: Ametsubi

Talking about a brand with something to talk about is a starting point that’s easy to initiate. Between the evolution of a spark of interest and the full social media onslaught, however, few will get to know the developmental grind the Ebiharas have to go through to see a collection to fruition. Despite the outward simplicity of the clothes, much thought is given to every shape, every line, every seam, every detail, every fabric. Textiles are of a particular interest to the couple. Although their brand is still in its early years, they have started developing their own fabrics. Ms Soon was pleased to show us a sheer, salt-washed, water-resistant, polyester taffeta that they have co-developed with a mill and was even more delighted when she presented a lightweight poly-blend jacquard of repeated patterns of a somewhat pixilated motif mapped on a grit that they have designed, describing how it all came about and animatedly explaining the workings of a weaving loom fitted with a paper, patterning mechanism.

The passion became even more palpable as she went on to explain the origins of another motif that appeared in another jacquard, this time designed specifically to use as lining for their coats, jackets, and outerwear. “We wanted to do something that is like the old lining the British tailors used in suit jackets,” she explained, “but we did not want to use a medallion pattern, or a paisley.” As they are wont to explore unlikely sources, the Ebiharas started looking at something rather removed from fashion: cymatics. This is, simply put, the excitation of modes (a pattern of motion) in, say, water when a drop hits its surface. The water droplet image is not lost in its association with the name Ametsubi. But, more than that, Ms Soon, a self-confessed geek (“I love data and numbers”), was specific enough to say that the particular nodal pattern they have picked is based on the A-tone vibration of 220/230 gigahertz. This is mind-blowing stuff. And she wanted this water reference to be worn close to the body, hence the lining, “which touches the skin”, presumably to help the wearer feel, if not stay, cool. But how did this came about? “He just gave me some key words,” she continued, “such as ‘frequency’ and ‘harmony’ and ‘symbolism’; words like these,” tailing off with a giggle.  Yes, the mind boggles.

While all the thinking, research, and long hours of developmental work are not immediately identified in their designs, as equally lengthy time spent on embroidery does, Ametsubi is steep in detailed, but un-showy crafting that has a tradition that goes back to early Helmut Lang and Raf Simons. Ms Soon said, “When we’re asked to describe our clothes, we call them ‘high daily’.” The elevated positioning of their wearable designs adds up, as much has gone into making clothes that suits various body shapes. The Ebiharas took out a shirt—always a key item—from their spring/summer 2017 season to illustrate: It is designed without a yoke, with a back panel placed in such a way that a bias effect falls over the shoulder, allowing it to accommodate shoulders of any broadness and thickness. The same idea is applied to a jacket, only now, seams are manipulated to better accommodate the arm, and extra-long facing is added to the ends of the sleeve so that you can fold the sleeve up as a turn-back cuff to better accommodate different arm lengths of customers.  Even when they’re working in the relative remoteness of Ibaraki-ken, they’re sights are set on the very real world further afield.

We started following Ametsubi in 2015 when they showed during the inaugural Fashion Graduate Italia, a presentation of the best graduate collections from all the fashion schools in Italy, much like London Graduate Fashion Week that Ms Soon had participated in, three years earlier. Although there were only five looks, they impressed us with a sophisticated simplicity that was clearly built on far more complex ideas, unlike anything their fellow graduates were doing. At that time, Ms Soon was quoted saying, “We wanted to do something that could merge our cultures together, and merge our experiences in Milan. We focused on the details, as well as the shapes.” Although that may not satisfy those who need more by way of backstory or front-side flourish, we could see that Keita Ebihara and Elizabeth Soon were onto something a lot more tangible, a lot more unconnected with what was buzzy at that time. Which, inexplicably, reminds us of Mama Cass singing, “You gotta make your own kind of music; sing your own special song; make your own kind of music, even if nobody else sings along.”

Photos (except where indicated): Ametsubi

Time After Time, Hush Is Hammered

Jil Sander vs Dolce & GabbanaLeft: Jil Sander, right: Dolce & Gabbana

By Mao Shan Wang

I admit defeat; I’m not putting up a fight. I’ll be drown out by the din; my quiet no match for the scream. I have been told that fashion is not for those who are scared of being thought as weird. But not desiring Gucci (world’s second most popular brand, according to the 1997 Lyst Index) is making me sense that people think I’m totally strange, out of whack. It was explained to me that fashion is shrill in its tone because people need to express themselves and to stand out. It’s the “cultural Zeitgeist”, they say. But I am expressing myself even when I choose noiseless white cotton tops and opaque pants. Ironically, and to my dismay, I am the one now as conspicuous as the proverbial sore thumb. You bet I’m sore!

Ignore at my own peril? I’ll take the risk. Truth is, I understand the brashness of brands such as Gucci, Versace, and Dolce & Gabbana, but I don’t really care about their ploughing through common aesthetic decency. I know it is not about making a fine-looking dress or about something exceedingly well-made. It’s about designs—actually looks—that reflect the times. As a dear friend of mine said to me recently, “I never care about quality. Even if it was roughly made or badly sewn, I’d still wear it if it spoke to me about how the designer felt about fashion or the world today.”

Understandable. The thing about the Zeitgeist is that it is fleeting. You catch it now, or you won’t. And that is the point, and the thrill, and the reason to consume. Some people don’t want to miss the boat. You’re either sailing or you’re sinking; there’s no treading water. And you either recognise it, or you don’t; there’s no maybe. Some people don’t want to be thought ignorant. Or, slow or, worse, obtuse.

What they say about time and tide—it’s true of the Zeitgeist. Together with much of fashion, the Zeitgeist waits for no one. It does not have the patience of a saint. It is also increasingly confrontational. It does not manifest slowly; it appears with a bang, like a bird on a windscreen. If you don’t accept it, that’s too bad. It goes to someone else who is willing to embrace it with wide open arms. The Zeitgeist does not care about you.

I am not knocking showiness per se. This is the way people communicate now, the way they brand themselves, or how they see the world. It’s just that most ostentation is devoid of pith and idea. I look at Versace’s SS 2018 homage collection and I see a meretricious display—little else, even when it is supposed to be a salute to “powerful women”, the very same women Gianni Versace himself was thought to have supported, even if they were really models. I look at Dolce and Gabbana’s family-friendly, grand-enough-for-the-whole-village gaudiness, and I think of retreating to a cave. Okay, maybe up a remote mountain.

Fashion—what it has become—has turned many consumers into magpies although some would readily admit that they’re magpies to begin with. There is such an increasing dread and distaste for the quiet that if you should adopt simplicity for dress, people think you have not tried hard enough. As a friend I have known since school is wont to point out to me, “Why do you bother to wear designer clothes when nobody can tell that you are?” Does that then mean that designers such as Luke and Lucie Meier of Jil Sander isn’t talking, or saying something about how they felt about the world, or that hush is analogous to humility?

I say turn up the quiet, quietly.

Photos: Indigital.tv

Two Of A Kind: Message On The Neckline

Text on the neckline

By Mao Shan Wang

To say that Dior is going down market is perhaps a bit extreme. But how else can I explain this? Children split at birth?

There I was, shopping at Golden Mile Complex, where the Thai supermarket in that mess of a mall is the place I go to whenever I am out of nampla. Sometimes, you do need to brave disorder and unfamiliar smells to get what you think is the best, and—I am totally with the Thais on this—one does have to get the finest when it comes fish sauce.

As I was leaving the building, bottle of the prized brew in hand, a mannequin, not at a shop front, but more than an arm’s length away from the store, appeared before me. She was fitted in a top that immediately made me think of Dior. Only a couple of weeks earlier, I was viewing the spring/summer show online and I remember, as I confronted the dummy, how unamused I was with the crochet-knit number that Maria Grazia Chiuri had put out.

I could see the two side by side, and how similar they would appear. Sure, they don’t look alike—not one bit—but the texts as decorative element on both are conceptual cousins. I don’t know about the appeal of words running on the neckline, but I thought the repeated ‘love’ had more graphic dash than Ms Chiuri’s scribbles that, in the front of the bodice, sported ‘love forever’ (as part of a longer sentence that I couldn’t decipher) and, on the shoulder straps, repeated, cursive ‘Christian Dior’. While her previous “J’adior” on a T-shirt could be (reluctantly) considered tongue-in-cheek, I am not sure the latest proper noun and simple sentence are as close to irony.

Sure, we’re no longer in an era of stylish restraint, but something not discreet that looks similar to what can be easily produce for a cheap clothing shop isn’t exactly the height of luxury fashion. The salesperson saw my interest in the top and came out to ask me if I liked it. I asked her where the garment came from, and she gladly told me that it was from Bangkok. Well, somewhere in Pratunam, someone beat Dior to it.

Photos: (Left) indigital.tv, (right) Chin Boh Kay

The Virtuoso At Valentino

Valentino SS 2018 P1

After seeing Pierpaolo Piccioli’s collection for Valentino, it is clear to us who among the two (once co-creators at the house) was the weaker that Christian Dior enticed. As a solo act, Mr Piccioli has quickly found his footing although some of us have seen it there all along, as we noted at his first one-man couture show for the house early this year. Or, perhaps, finally unhindered, he is able to conceive for a Valentino that strikes the delicate balance between the house’s unmistakable femininity and the present-day call for a sense of the street. It is a sweet spot.

According to those who quoted from his show notes, Mr Piccioli wanted to “make the ordinary extraordinary” with his spring/summer 2018 collection. His ordinary is, however, not the commonplace that has kept lesser brands afloat. Valentino Garavani’s own extraordinary, while not ground-shaking even at its height in the ’60s, is unapologetic femininity that ensured the head-to-toe good taste few women can resist. Under Mr Piccioli’s stewardship, the aesthetic has an even more alluring magic. Evocative of the blitheness of literary heroines of the past, the sometimes near-pious appearance and, at the same time, sweet girlishness have almost obliterated the memory of the uninspired collections of Mr Garavani’s successor, the by-now forgotten Alessandra Facchinetti, formerly from Gucci.

Valentino SS 2018 G1Valentino SS 2018 G2.jpg

Mr Piccioli’s predilection for high necks and long sleeves has prompted some women to think he uses too much cloth.  It is actually refreshing that he has given us reason to believe that fashion, in the end, is about fabrics, not the lack of it, and how they flow on the body, not how they expose it. By that, we don’t mean that Mr Piccioli’s designs are excessively proper and devoid of sex appeal. His short dresses have a youthfulness that is akin to anything worn at Coachella. Yet, he did not have to resort to tired tricks such as blatant transparency and all-over logos to set his message in the clear present.

The first set of the latest collection, in fact, took us quite by surprise. Who’d thought of outdoor wear at Valentino? But there they are: The North Face refaced, and the result sumptuous. These are parkas and kin that are not designed for the rough and tumble of challenging mountains; these are for the joy of get-togethers in an alpine lodge, more so when the outers come with sleeves aglitter with paillettes. Equally beguiling are the fabrics: gossamer veils more in line with couture than clothing that benefits from the use of Gore-Tex. And the layers in pale colours have the sublime lightness of feuillete.

Valentino SS 2018 G3

Valentino SS 2018 G4

To be sure, glammed-up outdoor wear has been explored at Sacai, where Chitose Abe has re-imagined them in unlikely tweed. Ms Abe has a flair for feminising sports and outdoor fashion without feminine overkill, first seen in her collaboration with Nike in spring 2015. Mr Piccioli’s versions are less avant garde, perhaps, and less of hybrids, but they are no less innovative. The pocket placements, the tops stitches, and the mix of fabrics in just a pair for a piece of garment suggest a penchant for the “extraordinary” indeed.

The youthful factor is enticingly augmented by rather un-Valentino details: exposed pocket bags on pants, allowed to hang out like Miley Cirus’s one-time over-exposed tongue. Whether this is a nod to how women—young and not so young—enjoy wearing short shorts with shredded or ripped crotch that exposes unusually long pocket bags, it is not quite clear. But Mr Piccioli’s version is nothing like the sad sacks described. In fact, the pockets are so exquisitely designed, proportioned, and embellished, they’re not the least extraneous, adding to the overall glamourous utility, like a handbag augmenting the stylishness of an outfit.

Valentino SS 2018 G5Valentino SS 2018 G6

There’s also something beguiling about the way Mr Piccioli works with rather conventional forms, but offers compositional daring within. The juxtaposition of prints and textures, the gathers and flounces asymmetrically fashioned, the multiple necklines and singular softness of the shoulders—they validate the notion that women do not need the aggression of extreme shapes to make a statement. His silhouettes do not challenge less outré tastes, yet they are seductive for women who are averse to the unsurprising. His dresses—from red-carpet-worthy gowns to those that would not be out of place on a prairie bathed in sunshine—have a sense of ease about them that does not suggest too effortless.

Despite all the highfalutin discourse about the moon that Mr Piccioli had supposedly shared with the media prior to the show, the clothes offer no perceptible hint of anything lunar. We like that so much of what he has showed is uplifting, just as the swishing of dresses, we imagine, could be euphonic. If fashion should not be minimal, as the prevailing winds suggest, it sure could be as astutely elaborate as Valentino.

Photos: (top) Valentino and (catwalk) indigital.tv

Beautiful Balance At Balenciaga

Like many of you, we were initially rather perplexed by what Demna Gvasalia did at Balenciaga. Admittedly, it took us a while to get used to his idea of what Diana Vreeland referred to as “devastating”. “One fainted. One simply blew up and died,” she said of her favourite designer’s work. We’ve since died other deaths. Mr Gvasalia not only resuscitated Balenciaga, he brought us from the brink… of what, it is hard to say other than something associated with excess. He opened us up to possibilities, such as oddness, plainness, or the fit of garments—they don’t have to cling; they can fall away from the body. And they can look good.

He has made us realise that we do like fashion that is not easy, that makes us think, that makes us wonder how it’s all going to sit into the general scheme of things or fit with the rest of our wardrobe. Perhaps, by now, we’re used to his less-than-ordinary proportions and the jab at femininity, with results that baffle the opposite sex. Mr Gvasalia understands irony and subtlety and the non-so-subtle (such as logos) and how all can come together with as much lure as Facebook feeds, dissonant as they may be. And some of us are—eventually—sold.

The first look, so appealingly worn by Stella Tenant, immediately drew us into its un-Balenciaga androgyny. But there is something else at work here: something lowbrow. The striped shirt is ordinary-looking (buttoned-down!); it’s unadorned and it looks large enough to belong to a guy at home or work (the accounts department?). And the skirt—what our mothers used to call the “tight skirt”—is as unassuming as they come. We won’t be surprised if a school teacher or a HR manager lays claim to it. For added interest, a charm belt fastened with a key chain is hung low across the waist. “Re-purposed office wear”, they call it, and we thought office wear, as a product category, has all but disappeared.

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The shirts may have the appeal of Van Heusens, but those with prints of international banknotes could have been from Japan’s Don Quijote general store! If one charm can be attributed to Mr Gvasalia, it is in the unpredictable high-low stir that keeps many a fashion editor fascinated and craving. His modus operandi seems to suggest a deliberate avoidance of the Balenciaga archives; he gives the impression that he procures solely from the karang guni, or the French equivalent of the rag-and-bone man. Maddening and, at the same time, delightful is this mixed bag, this disparate sources of influence: you never can know where he’ll glean from next. Even when he tackles the crass and the kitsch (and he does), the method in his calculated madness (invariably considered “cool”) makes us reconsider the elegance we were brought up with—chuck it out of the window.

To date, this is Mr Gvasalia’s most elegant collection for Balenciaga, and a wearable one to boot. Elegance as sum effect may be meaningless to Millennials, but before we scoff at it as dated grace and style or fixation, we should consider the point that effortless ingenuity will eventually take the place of vulgar overkill. Sure, the Balenciaga of today can no longer be the “very soul of discretion”, as writer and chief curator of fashion and textiles at the Musée des Arts Décoratfs in Paris, Pamela Golbin, said, but it can still be looked to as arbiter of style with strength. Balenciaga today has captured the shape of things now, and possibly, to come.

On the surface, Mr Gvasalia may have disregarded the traditional Balenciaga shapes, but he has not abandoned shapes. Not one bit. Sure, these are not forms associated with the couture of yore, but they are those that ring as alluringly as a cocoon coat, only now they fall with an insouciance that is in step with a preference for the relaxed and the less studied.

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Despite the redefined shapes and the refreshing oddness, we sense a jolt of déjà vu: the newsprint pattern, which, although used differently, reminds us of John Galliano’s Dior and those coats that look like another is layered on top of each, a visual extra that has been seen at Comme des Garçons on more than one occasion. We are, however, not dismissing them as facsimiles. On the other hand, they make anew what’s been successfully birthed in much the same way his own Vetements breathed new life to trashy labels such Juicy Couture.

The fear-not-of-the-banal at Vetements is certainly brought along to Balenciaga. Just as you think that the haute bearing of the brand will be untarnished, out comes platform shoes by the crassest of crass footwear: Crocs. Its appearance towards the end of the show seems to give the collection the exclamation mark it does not need, but is fun to have—a ‘screamer’, as the exclamation mark is also known in the printing world. No one could imagine a campy Balenciaga, but no one expected it to be this delightfully twisted. We now wonder what it would be like if Demna Gvasalia takes over the house of Chanel. Now, that would be fun to witness.

Photos: Balenciaga

Lanvin’s Lost… Again

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On a Saturday afternoon, about a week before the Lanvin show was going to be staged in Paris, we passed the eponymous boutique at the Hilton Shopping Gallery. It was terribly quiet inside. Not a soul was spotted, not even a salesperson. The clothes in their usual places looked untouched, unimpressive, unwanted. It’s premature to say if new guy Olivier Lapidus will be able to bring the customers back, but looking at what he showed, we’re afraid for the brand, once so desired for the romance that Alber Elbaz had infused it with.

Mr Lapidus—son of Ted, the French couturier who cut his teeth at Christian Dior and had introduced military styles to high fashion in the ’60s—probably had a tough time putting the collection together since, according to reports, he came on board only in August. Undoing the blah that former design director Bouchra Jarrar had left behind in a couple of months can’t be easy, let alone create a new, laudable aesthetic for the brand.

No one can bring back the whimsy and the joie de vivre that Alber Elbaz had introduced to Lanvin. And we may not want it back either. It’s been two years since Mr Elbaz left the house, the same the year Alessandro Michele joined Gucci, which has since dominated fashion conversations around the world. Mr Elbaz’s elegance now seems oddly old-fashioned, possibly too soigné for current tastes. What should the new Lanvin look like then?

We sense that Mr Lapidus wanted to do tarty clothes, but held himself back because it occurred to him that the Lanvin customer is more Natalie Portman than Kim Kardashian. Still, we can’t help but think that sexual provocation was on his mind, especially when there is more than a couple of short, hip-hugging dresses with an inverted-V of a front hemline, as well as those with plunging V necklines that threatened to meet the sibling below point to point. Some pieces just look, for a lack of better word, cheap.

Fashion has become so street-oriented that it is, for many women, lacking in good old sexy, body-clinging dresses. Mr Lapidus may be plugging this gap in the luxury market, but he too wanted to capture the hearts of the young, in particular those charmed by Supreme and the brand’s logo that other luxury labels want to associate themselves with. To strike a chord with these young people, he put out logo-ed dresses, only these look too much like those imitations that think they can pass themselves off as Chanel by repeating the moniker throughout the garments. Lanvin is not exactly known for its logo, except perhaps the mother and daughter symbol, created by the French illustrator Paul Iribe, so strikingly applied on the Arpège perfume bottle. Mr Lapidus’s logo overrun is sadly far removed from the refinement associated with Lanvin.

There is some seriousness though. A trio of solid-coloured coats has rounded shoulders and voluminous sleeves, perhaps hinting at Mr Lapidus’s couture lineage, but do they communicate a sense of surprise, a finger of freshness, or an intimation of ingenuity that was palpable when Morinaga Kunihiko showed similar styles for his label Anrealage? The answer is quite simply no. But Bouchra Jarrar had a second season, so will Olivier Lapidus. So, let’s see.

Photos: (top) Lanvin/Youtube and (catwalk) Indigital. tv

The Dior That Does Not Dare

Dior SS 2018 P2

The moment the slogan tee appeared, we knew the collection is best missed. This time, “Why have there been no great women artists?” was the poser. Seriously, Maria Grazia Chiuri? Firstly, you can’t say it in your own words (instead, you quote American art historian Linda Nochlin, as you did last year Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). Secondly, you repeated yourself. We know you have broken the glass ceiling when you were installed at Dior, but one year on and you’re still harping on the lack of opportunity and recognition for women? Can we get on with fashion?

These are socio-politically sensitive times, we know, and what is said (even well-meaning; even in fashion criticism) can be construed as anti-feminist. Lest we’re seen as non-feminist, we should state unequivocally that we’re all for prospects and respect for women. But if Ms Chiuri wants to use fashion as a platform for her political convictions—valid as they are, then show us that she is made of sterner stuff: that she can be a great woman artist. Don’t just ask rhetorical questions emblazoned on the front of T-shirts. Is that not the same as including a hoodie in a collection and calling it street, or hip hop? Ms Chiuri stands alongside many, such as Donatella Versace, who want women to be recognised for their power and their ability. Nothing wrong with that, just don’t spell it out.

Create great fashion. That unfortunately did not happen at the Dior spring/summer 2018 collection. Ms Chiuri did not change the dialogue one bit since her debut at the French house. Instead, she sticks to her preference for clothes that supposedly appeal to women, or girls, who want real, woman-for-woman clothes, but at the same time also those that are transparent enough to reveal the power underneath—underpants. This contradiction (perhaps not for those who think that power means one can wear anything, even if they unravel conventional notions of modesty) is the undoing of the collection. Ms Chiuri’s design is as banal as Sumiko Tan’s writing is trite, Sunday or not.

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We wanted to be fair to Ms Chiuri, so we looked at the clothes—from the show videos and the stills—five times. (Prior to that, we examined her pieces up close in the store, to see what they really are like. Truth be told, we were quite shocked by the jumpsuit in the Takashimaya store window. And the ordinariness of design and make that are similar to what Hedi Slimane first introduced at Saint Laurent.) And we came to the conclusion that this is not in any way a collection that dares to be different, that dares to up the ante, that dares to engage our desire to go beyond powerful and pretty.

To please is the main thrust. And this could be delight to any feminist, from Ms Ngozi Adichie to Beyonce to Emma Watson. Ms Chiuri wants feminism to be worn on the sleeves, rather than speak from the heart or transmit from the head. Her clothes offer no suggestion of intellectual rigour and definitely no delectable wit; they pander to desire for unmistakable femininity, quasi-cuteness, and blatant sexiness. And somewhere amid all that, the vapid sporty cool of Alexander Wang!

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Repeated viewing reveals to us what appears to be juvenile, almost like term work—rather than graduation collection—of design students. The inspiration is the French artist Niki de Saint Phalle (whose most famous work appears in the Stravinsky Fountain in Paris, the one next to Centre Pompidou), a woman who was no stranger to child abuse, or Dior, having worn Marc Bohan’s designs in the ’60s (Ms Chiuri has said that she does not only look at Christian Dior’s Dior but also the Dior of subsequent Dior designers). She plays up the cute/weird creatures and shapes that the artist was known for by way of surface embellishments, but she does not transmute Ms de Saint Phalle’s misshapen-as-anger images to exposition of the challenges women face today.

The diaphanous skirts—now we know Ms Chiuri loves them—appear again, possibly to underscore their popularity than to establish them as part of the house code. The idea of the exposed shorts (or underclothes?) has as much newness as T-shirts with slogans. Puzzling is the addition of bumble-bee stripes (in the form of a leotard, with shoulder straps that read, gosh, Christian Dior repeatedly!) since parallel lines that alternate between yellow and black seem more the domain of Jeremy Scott. The heart shape that is positioned at the crotch (of a knitted romper!)—shape and placement Mr Scott is likely to do—escapes our understanding too. We think it’s possible that Ms Chiuri is adhering to the minor (and lame) trend of the vulva as motif. Love ’em, not grab! Digestible and commercial feminism?

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These are indeed clothes that easily lend themselves to duplication for the high street. Slogan tees, pleated tulle skirts—entry-level clothes—and sequined rompers are not the stuff of nightmare at factories that cater to H&M and the like. They are the very garments that facilitate rapid production for dizzyingly fast fashion. You don’t even need to wait till the first drop for spring in December to partake in Dior-ish feminist fashion. The floodgates could open next week. 

It has been suggested to us, by a woman designer no less, that women designers tend to be more emotional when it comes to designing as they take into account the various aspects of their multi-faceted lives (motherhood a particular milestone), all the while not wanting to lose the sex appeal that is considered modern and empowering, and central to womanhood. This could be said of Maria Grazia Ghiuri, “feminist designer” at Dior. She’s connecting to women with accessible clothes, and referencing the art of a female artist, but not by answering the very question she poses. That is clever.

Photos: (top) screen grab from Dior and (catwalk) indigital.tv

Still Quiet At Jil Sander

Luke and Lucie Meier

The new husband-and-wife co-designers at Jil Sander have decided to keep the quiet at the house they’re now in charge of, so much so that momentarily you sense it’s on the verge of the monastic. Not that that’s a bad thing. Luke and Lucie Meier (above) offer such a palate refresher of a collection in the wake of eye-popping clothes at other major Italian houses that their debut truly stands out for being able to do more with less.

Does it matter then that, for many fashion consumers presently, these clothes may risk coming across as boring? Probably not. The Meiers are so determined to stay true to the by-now-forgotten minimalism of the brand that they reportedly met Heidemarie Jiline Sander, the German founder herself, before putting the spare-but-not-quite collection together.

The presentation opens with rather ascetic white, as well as back and white sets. The suits have a familiar silhouette and cut, although many would associate it with Raf Simons who was at Jil Sander for seven years; and the white shirts, once so much a signature of the brand, have a lightweight appearance about them—more appealing now that global warming is not only real but palpable. Just as you thought the show would be monochromatic all the way, the Meiers introduce shots of colour, not quite the bold chromatic outings of Mr Simons, but colours that show a particular taste, and possibly quirk: one indescribable blue and those mustardy shades.

We are enamoured with the possibility of the nightshirt as day and evening dress (even if, admittedly, Raf Simons had explored the idea at Dior), the treatment of sleeves and the unusual volumes (particularly the puffed version with the wide cuff deliberately unbuttoned), and the colour-block knitwear (clearly ‘easy’ but also ‘designed’). We also noted the playful elements such as blanket stitching (on the men’s wear) and the ultra-long fringing that tails what looks like macramé-style knit tops.

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Now based in Milan, Jil Sander was established in 1968, the same year Calvin Klein opened a coat shop under his name which, consequently, enjoyed the description “and the rest is history”. Jil Sander the brand saw its founder serve three tenures as designer before finally bowing out. After the Queen of Less, as Ms Sander was often called, three other designers have tried to restore the brand to its former glory before the Meiers were brought onboard, but it was Raf Simons who was able to convincingly give the label the intellectual rigour it gained under Ms Sander, masterfully maintaining the brand’s heritage while elevating its poetic femininity when he held the creative reins between 2005 and 2012.

Although the first successor Milan Vukmirovic, former Gucci design director under Tom Ford, created a commercial collection, he did’t quite make Jil Sander sublime enough for an audience that had begun to gravitate towards something less spare. Before the Meiers, Rodolfo Paglialunga, ex-Prada, rejuvenated Jil Sander and had, to us, created a very appealing interpretation of the brand with rather imaginative cuts and styling. “He is the most fitting designer to write the Jil Sander story,” said CEO Alessandro Cremonesi at that time, but sadly, in about a year’s time, few wanted to read that story, fewer still when Gucci’s came to overshadow it.

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It is possibly a better time for the Meiers now. The protracted flashiness of the Milan season seems opportune for the emergence of a counterpoint, an opposite of ostentation. Minimalism has been so regulated to the annals of history that some people associate it with ‘normcore’, that short-lived trend when fashionistas became bored with fashion and adopted something un-flashy and deliberately everyday in order to stand out from the competitive peacocking that has come to be synonymous with modern style.

We like what the Meiers is proposing for Jil Sander: the near-hush of the collection, the off-beat colours that are rather Milanese, and the sometimes playful sum of parts that hints at a more intelligent and less brash approach to dressing.  There is a reason why the casting of the show did not include any Jenner or Hadid. Yes, we like.

Photos: (top) Indigital.tv and (catwalk) Jil Sander

Flashy Ode To Gianni And His Girls

Supermodels @ VersaceWith Dontatella Versace, (from left) Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, and Helena Christensen

In many ways, it is not unexpected. The time is right for a throwback to Gianni Versace’s heydays. It’s the 20th anniversary of Mr Versace’s murder and it’s been twenty-odd years since his florid prints and clashing colours took the fashion world—then smaller than what it is today—by storm. The reprise of the flamboyance associated with the house is also well-timed because fashion is again truly in love with the visually commanding—Gucci presently the Pied Piper.

Furthermore, the supermodels of the ’90s, made super and then über by Mr Versace himself, are in the news: Claudia Schiffer was to launch a book published by Rizzoli; Cindy Crawford has been reliving her modelling days vicariously through her daughter Kaia Gerber, who was in the same show; and Naomi Campbell, still an active model, now a contributing editor at British Vogue.

That the recent Versace show in Milan closed out with supermodels of the 1990s is not surprising. That the quintet did not appear to have budged from the 1990s is. It’s perhaps fascinating to see the 16-year-old Ms Gerber don clothes similar to what her mother wore two decades ago. However, on a woman, once a host of MTV’s House of Style (wearing Gianni Versace, no less), who should know better than compete with her child on the same catwalk—that seems to us a little pitiable. There must have been reasons why truly original Versace girls Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington gave what Huffington Post calls “an epic reunion” an observable snub.

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Donatella Versace was thought to have given up her design duties after the last show, but she recently dismissed them as “rumours”, which means, now more than ever, she has to keep the spirit and aesthetics of Gianni Versace alive even when there’s no doubt to the parentage of the mayhem of colours and prints that emerged during the post-Cold war years to dispel the notion that black was the colour of fashion. Ms Versace herself has not contributed anything of real substance to the brand other than augment its ‘Glamazon’ appeal. So it’s possible she thought it best to train the spotlight on what her brother did to buy her some time (assuming she’s really not quitting) for a next collection that can truly re-express the Versace name.

It is convenient to tap into Gianni Versace’s ’90s design oeuvre. They’re so loud, almost strident in their boldness, that you can’t really make them any louder. Or, quieter—that would defeat the purpose. In addition, the baroque prints, the medusa heads, the gold frets: they have never really gone away or been put aside long enough for people to miss them; they have been there—in the Versace stores and hotels, in their home wares, and even in the knock-offs that still exists in shops in Little India and Bangkok’s Mahboonkrong.  The era that Gianni Versace dreamed up before his demise and the attendant icons: it’s still potent even when they remind us of a very specific period in time as the world raced towards the 21st Century.

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It took Dior almost 40 years to finally evolve and reflect changing times when John Galliano took the reins at the French house, considered by many to be the most storied of couture houses. It’s only been two decades since Gianni Versace’s death. It’s going to take many more before the ostentation that he built can take on something else, something less than total recall. And even then, maybe only after the one-time muse Ms Versace completely relinquishes creative control.

Donatella Versace had, in fact, hinted at things to come. Back in June, when she took the customary stride down the catwalk during the men’s spring/summer 2018 presentation, she wore a silk shirt-dress with prints that did not conceal limbs or its identifiable extraction. But a near-wholesale revisit did not occur to us since we thought she had presented her best Versus collection to date in London just a couple of weeks earlier. But we were fooled.

Everything that people remember of Gianni Versace at his prime was sent down the catwalk, but not, interestingly (or, unfortunately)—since we’re in look-back mood, those from his formative years, such as the “sporty” spring/summer 1981 collection that was, to us, truly memorable. Those white and khaki ensembles, those jodhpurs, knee-length bloomers and harem pants, and, especially, the earth-tone capsule with the blade-of-leaf motif and the rope-and-tassel belts—a dozen-or-so pieces that was later so stunningly photographed by Richard Avedon for the brand’s advertising campaign.

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The thing is, if we really needed to see all of Gianni Versace’s signature designs, there’s always the depth of Youtube’s pool. And for anyone who has the urge to buy one of those vintage pieces, Ebay and the like are opened 24/7. Looking at these Versace re-issues, as they appear to us, is as satisfying as watching a movie remake that suffers from hopelessly bad casting.

It bears noting, perhaps, that in SEA—here, no less—Gianni Versace’s florid homage to Greek mythology, dead Hollywood icons, and the “world’s fashion bible”, particularly after the introduction of the Versace Jeans line, has gone from novelty to beng/lian must-own, or obsessions of ageing pop stars.

Going back to past glories has really become, ironically, the nature of our advanced world. In fact, it’s been an obsession of the sneaker business since 2013. Think Adidas’s Stan Smith: how many versions are there now; how many do you really desire? We have always been reminded that there will be a generation that has yet to enjoy certain joys the first time round, and that it is for them that brands re-varnish the faded glory of once-popular styles. Everything and, indeed, everyone deserves a second chance. Gianni Versace, too.

Photos: (top) Getty Images and (catwalk) Versace

The Glam Of Gucci

Even if we don’t say a word, you’ll still know what Gucci showed

Gucci SS 2018 show

It was reported that the latest collection was inspired by Rocket Man Elton John (not Kim Jong-un!). But it could have been Liberace, for all we know. The flashy jumble with a ’70s vibe that fans have come to love and expect cannot be missing in a Gucci show. And for that reason, it’s become increasingly hard to say anything different from what has been said before. Given its still-raging appeal, the season-to-season similitude is perhaps calculated—for the same reason brands are milking Rihanna’s fame for whatever it is worth.

“I think it’s no longer time to just talk about the clothes,” Alessandro Michele told members of the media. Shifting the attention away from the clothes is a clever move. Whatever can be said has been said. Or, could it be because Mr Michele has modest newness to offer, so the show, as with last autumn/winter’s, was presented in pertinacious gloom. Even their live stream did not factor the illumination needs of the videographer. The darkness and the relentless flashing of the strobe lights used was a test of the strength of eye muscles and of patience for clarity. How unbearable it must have been for the attendees or, maybe, charming for the adherents!

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But the clothes still matter. Squint hard enough and you’ll see the usual light-catching obsessions now associated with Gucci, as well as the goofiness that has placed the brand firmly in the man/woman-repellent category of clothes that challenge conventional sex appeal. We gave some thought to the unfading Gucci optics. To reconcile the flashiness and our penchant for designs that are less flamboyant, it should, perhaps, be said that the ostentation Mr Michele is partial to has a long tradition in post-20th century dress.

The taste-indeterminate leaning of his designs against the tailored refinement of the Italian establishment is as old as Paul Poiret’s Eastern-inspired exotica in a climate of haute couture tastefulness. As the man famed for hobble skirts said in his biography En Habillant l’Époque (Dressing Up the Era), “The faintest of pinks, lilac, swooning mauve, light hydrangea blue, watery green, pastel yellow, and the barest blue—all that was pale, soft, and insipid was held in high esteem. So I decided to let a few wolves into the sheep’s pen…”

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Mr Michele lets in more than mere wolves; he unleashes dragons and serpents; birds of incredible plumage and insects of conspicuous brilliance, and the odd cartoon character (e.g., a Bugs Bunny that’s camp than cartoonish); not to mention—in the current advertising campaign—Ultraman-age dinosaurs and monsters. Unlike Poiret’s colour preferences, selected to “raise the voices of the rest”, Mr Michele’s creatures, big and small, attempt to silence.

The Gucci look—and it is a look—is less one complete picture than the sum of individual images established in one item, assembled or styled, if you will, to tell a story that’s not necessarily coherent. And the look is as much aesthetic and strategic: stay with it until it is no longer weird or annoying to the majority, and desirable to the initially-skeptical. Fans, besotted from the start, consider this Alessandro Michele’s personal language. The communication, therefore, does not need to be changed every three months. Just let the chatter flow.

Photos: Gucci

Plastic Makeover

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The forecast for spring/summer 2018 at Burberry appears to be inclement weather. We don’t remember seeing so many pieces of rain wear in a Burberry show before. Or is this just a statement about the notorious English showers? Or, the hurricane season in the Caribbeans? It sure isn’t quite the reflection of the climate of Asia. In fact, the clothes looked a bit un-summer like, with so many outers—even a coat that looks like shearling —and rather chunky knits. Or, has Christopher Bailey chosen to remain largely in calm, bearable spring? But this isn’t a spring showing; this is The September Show!

Anything that can be made out of water-repellent “soft-touch” plastic, they were out there: raincoats, dusters, ponchos, anoraks, hoodies, and even skirts! It is not entirely opaque plastic, which means there’s quite a bit of flesh to flash and the only-fashion-types-get-it interplay of translucency (softly coloured!) and textures. It’s as if to deliberately blur the more interesting bits underneath—lovely knitwear, for example. Or, staying with the weather, is that saying something about London’s fog?

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The shower curtain material must have disappointed animal rights activists, reported to have made a spectacle of themselves, shouting outside the show venue—Old Sessions House, a former London court—and causing delay to the start of the presentation. Will it be eco-warriors next to be up in arms in demanding that the plastic be bio-degradable?! Mr Bailey, a win is hard.

But for many fans, the media included, this is a winning collection, if not for its protection against precipitation, at least the revival of the Burberry heritage check, which, at one time, was considered unfashionable when it was associated with British bengs known as ‘chavs’. But it’s all very British—this part of the brand’s history and Mr Bailey isn’t afraid to confront it head on. He has, of course, made it all a lot more current, even when wearing baseball caps of the said check or the knitted sweater-vest (worn alone) that hinted at past chav style, by not being terribly serious about how things are paired and worn.

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It is, therefore, likely that the collection is aimed primarily at the young, as chavs tend to be. The proportions of the clothes—including details such as large collars and lapels— parallel sizes popular in the ’70s and ’80s. This may be in keeping with the prevalent shape of things, but it’s not immediately discernible that the anti-fashion, working-class silhouette and mix of things (cocktail waitress on the way home after work?) will win the love of those of a certain age.

Targetting the young is also augmented by the clear nod to streetwear, a move few designers can afford to avoid these days—“a little street, sophisticated” the designer told Vogue Hommes. Although there’s something to be said of a 46-year-old Christopher Bailey designing for kids less than half his age (“it’s their world”, he conceded to Edward Ennful in a video interview for British Vogue), the sighting of Mino and Hoony of the Korean boy band Winner in the front row attests not only to Burberry’s intended audience/shopper, it bolsters the brand’s youth-oriented image and keeps up their strive for relevance in an age of the young and restless.

Photos: (top) Burberry and WWD