Up On The Dunes

…where it’s all barren, Anthony Vaccarello showed a collection for Saint Laurent alluringly fertile of chic

It has been a looong fashion season. Or, an unusually extended one. In the middle of December, when stores are moving holiday collections, and some are receiving the initial drop from the spring/summer 2021 season (Kolor, for example has announced, barely into the start of winter, that their spring/summer 2021 will launch in their Tokyo store on the 19th), Saint Laurent is showing the latter only now. As far as we can remember, there has never been a spring/summer RTW show in December, at least not by a French house (others are putting out the pre-fall collections). And certainly not one shown in a desert, topping Dior’s make-believe outer space, even Dakar Fashion Week, staged last weekend in a baobab forest. Fashion has always taken us places, but not quite yet to anywhere close to the desolation of dunes.

The Saint Laurent show takes place atop a sand ridge in the Sahara (presumably), perhaps vaguely alluding to Yves Saint Laurent’s own exotic North African roots (he was born in Algeria). However, the house isn’t the first to show in a desert—in 2007, Pierre Cardin showed on the desert of Whistling Sand Mountain in Gansu Province, China. Still, it’s intriguing to see how a runway show could be set up on what appears to be pristine sands, taking into account that they are loose, and likely to shift. Even the YSL logo could be, somehow, worked into the vast slipface of a dune, creating a considerably austere, but no less striking branding of the house. When the models finally appear, emerging from a peak, like Bedouins (perhaps Frank Herbet’s Fremen, too?) coming home, but well socially distanced, we realise this is no mirage: Saint Laurent is bringing its clubby clothes to the desert.

Only thing is, the collection does not seem to be designed with going to the club in mind, or for those occasions when getting dressed-up means a certain dalliance with exaggeration, such as the massiveness of shoulders or the bareness of skin. The models, not quite sure-footed, walking in high heels on the soft sand, are not dressed for a wild night, although much of what is shown may well look good in candle, or strobe light. Rather, what we saw was a relaxed sleekness that veered dangerously close to wearable. Sure, we weren’t looking out for a parade of djellabahs or thawbs, but we weren’t expecting such controlled elegance, not in the sea of sand. These are clothes that have an air of glamour about them, evocative of the ’60s and, partially, ’70s, with a lineage that seems traceable to Christine Keeler’s heyday wardrobe.

Since the setting is a desert, it may also suggest that these are clothes to take on a holiday. But they are nothing like what the women of the Sex and the City 2 film, The Sands of Time, wore: high-camp and a little too fabulous for a desert (or worse, the Real Housewives of New York: Last Call, Morocco!). Anthony Vaccarello has largely (and finally?) stepped away from the shadow of his predecessor Hedi Slimane. The aesthetic is still retro, but it projects an inviting coolness that many might not mind revisiting. The suits are as lean, but a tad loosened-up; the le smoking is edgier, the dresses are not too sheer; the marabou (of the negligee-dresses) are fluffier; the shirts are not Tom Ford-oversexed, the flounces are well-behaved, the two extremes of biker shorts and almost-panties are options for those who likes extremes, and the pussy bows… well, they remain. And there are, interestingly, prints—florals to be exact. But they brought to our mind Richard Quinn, when we were, in fact, in a Jacqueline Susann state of mind.

Photos: Saint Laurent

Midnight Cowboys

Saint Laurent’s men’s wear under Anthony Vaccarello was presented in New York. Is this another of the brand’s attempt at Americanisation?

 

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When bands in the European continent want to make it big, they record or launch albums in the good ’ol US of A. The Brits, in particular, consider North America the platform for global domination. From the Beatles to Depeche Mode to One Direction, bands see Uncle Sam as the father of immense riches or the repository of accessible pop. In the Trumpian world, could this be America, “the piggy bank that everybody is robbing”?

Fashion designers, like band members, see the allure of the United States too. Anthony Vaccarello is one of them. His spring/summer 2019 men’s wear collection for the house was shown, not in Paris but in the Big Apple, a city that provided, as he told the media, “the idea of New York, the idea of the icons of New York in the ’70s”. If that immediately sounds like a cliché, it is. The Americans have been robbing the accesses of the disco era for a very long time, so much so that many of them can’t forgo the lurid glam headquartered in the nightclub Studio 54. But the French, such as Yves Saint Laurent himself, want to show the Americans how to do it better. Hedi Slimane, Mr Vaccarello’s predecessor, was also seduced by the US. He even showed in—of all places—LA! Even in the West Coast, you can’t say “icons of New York in the ’70s” wasn’t on his mind.

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Since Mr Slimane’s remake of Saint Laurent for men, the clothes have been part lost hippy, part rock star, part flashy pimp. Mr Vaccarello has not dramatically change the aesthetic, but has added to the equation part urban cowboy. At the New York show, he styled a sort of downtown dandy, a nocturnal peacock (in a beaded paisley blazer!) that occupies his time mostly hanging out with band mates (still the Pete Doherty vibe?), in the most underground of clubs, under the cover of darkness or the hypnosis of the strobe. It was not easy to see how the clothes would fit any activity of daylight hours, unless your line of work involves, say, entertainment. The outfits were mostly dark in shade, glittery in effects, and slim in silhouette.

In fact, the silhouette has not changed much. Since Mr Slimane exported hipster lean to Saint Laurent from Dior Homme, his successor has not deviated from the look. In fact, skinniness has remained central—a skinniness that has, by now, made oversized and baggy positively more interesting. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with slim-fit, but for those who have moved on to something less of a cling wrap, what Mr Vaccarello is proposing seems a little, well, narrow, or restrictive. The body of today deserves a variety of proportions.

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Within the overall slimness of the silhouette, he added Western touches that few men of horse and lasso would consider authentic. Then there were those unbuttoned-halfway shirts underneath leather jackets, punctuated by a neckerchief—throwback to the ’70s that appeared lame against the signature excesses at Gucci. In addition, those sheer sequinned shirts and sleeveless tops that would have more in common with men of a certain age unable to pull away from the past than the young living in the present. Noteworthy too were the surprisingly large number of jeans, more permutations than even Diesel would churn out per season. And what was the body glitter of the finale about? A nod to the month of Pride?

Look closely and the collection persuaded one to think that it is isn’t terribly inventive by design. Similar to Mr Slimane’s initially divisive approach, Mr Vaccarello had created looks using rather basic clothes in nightclub-worthy fabrics to effect his vision of what he thinks the Americans would like: styles of the ’70s, considered the breakout decade for American designers. The thing is, this may be the most exciting men’s wear season in a long while. Eyes and social media accounts will be trained on the debuts of Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton, Kim Jones at Dior Homme, Hedi Slimane at Celine’s very first season for men, Jacquemus’s own, and Riccardo Tisci at Burberry. By the looks of it, Anthony Vaccarello probably did not aim to be the first among peers.

Photos: Saint Laurent

Time To Get Used To This

Nicki Minaj attending a fashion show with one breast exposed and, on our side of the world, the mother openly breastfeeding her child in an MRT train mean one thing: we’re witnessing a new norm… and, possibly, the death of outrage

Nicki Minaj, Paris Fasion Week’s hottest front-row celeb. Photo: gq.com

Fashion is a mirror image of the times, we have been constantly told. And that was what Anthony Vaccarello held up for Saint Laurent last month (actually, also last year): the reflection of the style of our time. How wrong we were to think no woman would wish to have her breasts feel the warmth of sunshine and the caress of afternoon breeze, unhindered by the presence of cloth, in full public view.

The first to prove us wrong was Nicki Minaj. Her constant scantiness makes Madonna’s bra-as-outer-wear antics look positively vestal. Now, Ms Minaj is into showing a whole breast—its entirety not the least diminished by the use of a pasty. This was clearly one bare bosom at the Haider Ackermann show in Paris last week, and one uncovered for maximum social media impact. At first, she was accused of copying Lil’ Kim. Possibly indignant, the Anaconda singer then did something very clever; she came out saying that she was, in fact, inspired by Pablo Picasso’s work (reportedly the 1908 painting Femme a l’éventail). That dirty old man!

The thing is, art has always depicted women with one exposed (mostly left) breast (as if two are over-expressive and titillating). Ms Minaj did not explain why she picked Picassso. She could have been inspired by so many other painters of one exposed breast, from Francesco Melzi to Auguste Renoir to Paul Gauguin, but she chose a leading Cubist known for eroticism in his work. It is possible that in directing her motive to something related to art, Ms Minaj was saying that her exposed breast was an artistic expression. Life never used to imitate art this way. Wasn’t it all in the artist’s vivid/weird imagination? Surely women didn’t think such exposure inspirational?

Picasso femme à l'éventailPablo Picasso’s Femme a l’éventail. Photo: Musée de l’Ermitage, Leningrad

The second was the woman breastfeeding in an MRT train, and now in the middle of the furore that has divided Netizens this past week. She should have taken the cue from Nicki Minaj. Her exposed breast was a nursing breast, and art is full of bosoms as source of infantile sustenance. Her rejoinder to the post on Stomp could have gone something like this: “I was inspired by Hans Baldung, specifically Virgin and Child.” Surely that would not have caused quite such a stir as the rebuke: “Those who suggest using a cover should try eating or drinking under a cover and see if you like it or not.” Or, the rant: “Anyway, it’s just a breast. We all have it. Be it female or male. It’s meant to be used to feed a baby, I don’t see anything wrong with using it to feed a baby… Maybe girls should stop eating bananas/popsicle in public as some might find it sexual too”both from her Facebook post, which was defiantly accompanied by more breastfeeding photos.

(Let’s leave aside the fact that men do not usually lactate for now.)

As noted by historian Margaret R. Miles in her book A Complex Delight: The Secularization of the Breast 1350—1750, bosoms were considered religious symbols. Of the Virgin’s symbols: “in early modern Western societies in which Christianity was the dominant religion,” Ms Miles wrote, “her bare breast, appearing in paintings and sculptures, signified nourishment and loving care—God’s provision for the Christian, ever in need of God’s grace.” Who would want to incur the wrath of our National Council of Churches (NCCS) by criticising a woman who merely exposed her breast the way Mary did?

Without the religious advantage, it is, of course, naïve of that woman to think that she was not going to get a secular reaction to her very secular (and public) display. There are basically three ways to respond to this: negatively, neutrally, and positively. Interestingly (perhaps, hearteningly?), many reacted positively—even encouragingly, with some saying it is the most natural thing for a woman to do. The breast’s provision to the child, so many in the pro camp seem to say, obliterates its very nakedness, so much so that you see—if you did see—nothing more than a mother feeding.

Hans BaldungVirgin and Child by Hans Baldung. Photo: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

But that trending photograph revealed something else. In her substantial FB post, that woman also said, “I just want to dress up and be a normal woman…” Here, if one were to equate “dress up” to what she wore on that fateful MRT ride, one could see that being in one’s best clothes meant one need not don very much of a dress (according to Lianhe Wanbao, she was on her way to participating in Mrs Singapore. Now you see). She was, therefore, dressed up since dressing up with little that constitutes an outfit is now a normal-womanly thing to do. Her easy-to-pull-down strapless top and a skirt (possibly shorts)—so brief that it is not unreasonable to suspect that both are of equal lengths—bear out the observation that, increasingly, it takes very little cloth to make clothes.

If so much of what we see online is not fake (catchword of the year), fashion is not about clothes. How much you cover is immaterial. Materials, in fact, are secondary just as coverage is no longer the real reason to wear clothes since so little is covered. As more and more celebrities and stars have shown, fashion can exist without garments, or, with incomplete garments. Once the stage personae of more audacious performers—from Josephine Baker to Gypsie Lee Rose to Dita Von Tesse—whose rectitude of motives were never really questioned since their dare-to-bare ways were mostly restricted to the theatre, the exposed body is today very much a part of everyday dress.

As it turns out, the uncovered buttocks of the past years weren’t the last fashion frontier (Azealia Banks, you’re passé!) Now, we aren’t even sure if the bare breast is. The fine line between decency and indecency strangely sits on not much expanse of space—the nipple. Unblocked, it causes offense in the same way the narrow border between the glutes seen will crack the barrier of politeness. The obscuring of the areola, within which the nipple lies (the exit point of breast milk), therefore, lessens the lewdness of the breast bared and, in many nations, stays within the confines of the law. Whether covered by a pasty or the mouth of a hungry infant, the areola unseen, it appears (or suggested by the MRT woman), strips away the sexual aspect of the sole naked bosom. You must appreciate, instead, the epitome of womanhood or, baby in sight, motherhood. Or a fashion statement.

Lil' KimRapper Lil’ Kim pre-empting Nicki Minaj at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.  Photo: Getty Images

For a long time, fashion advertising has allowed us to wean on the normality of the barely covered breast. Who can remember a time when Guess models did not appear to be on the verge of full exposure? But there has always been the divide of they-are-models/we-are-real-women. It’s quite different now. In today’s fashion, familiarity does not always breed contempt. Rather, it fosters assimilation, more so than in art. With social media adherents willing and eager to push fashion messages further towards the extreme, women are willing to follow whoever they follow under the security blanket called “in charge of my own destiny”. Or, as Ivanka Trump says, “Own your femininity”.

Even self-confessed feminist Emma Watson has no qualms of exposing—even not in their entirety—her breasts, as seen in the latest issue of Vanity Fair. To the disapproving masses, she would later say, “They were claiming that I couldn’t be a feminist and have boobs. Feminism is about giving women choice… It’s about freedom; it’s about liberation; it’s about equality.” And she meant not just the freedom, liberation, and equality of the mind, but the body too. She added, “I don’t know what my tits have to do with it”. Which sounded like: I can flash my chest as men can, and do. The interesting thing is, her leading man Dan Stevens had not had to pose in a shirt completely unbuttoned in any magazine to promote Beauty and the Beast.

Ms Watson’s position seems consistent with the agenda of Free the Nipple, the 2014 American docu-film and campaign that not only pushed for gender equality, but also put forth the argument that women be allowed to bare their nipples in public if they choose to. This goes swimmingly with what women have, of late, been told they can do with their bodies, regardless of shape and condition: as you please. They can emulate models or social-media stars, even when they are neither models nor social-media stars. They can show any part of their body on Instagram, even when the world will bear witness to their display and there could be backlash. Eff those who can’t deal with this reality. If dominance is part of what constitutes popularity, then the increasing visibility of bare breasts is going to point, if it has not already, to how we shall dress, and how undisrupting to social norms it shall become.

Saint Laurent SS 2017A one-bare-breast-dress by Anthony Vaccarello for Saint Laurent, spring/summer 2017. Photo: indigital.tv

A dress or blouse or jacket that does not require the portion that covers or enhances the bosom is perhaps also indication that the bust of the garment is redundant. It is quite possible that designers want to do away with that part of the dress, just as many seem to want to rid the area where the shoulder meets the sleeve, allowing it to go “cold”. Anyone with knowledge of dressmaking knows that the bust is often tricky to construct. Fashion students in pattern-making class are known to hate pivoting darts, so much so that many do away with them. The result is often a cut-away bodice comprising two pieces of cloths simply for front and back. Either that or a stretchy fabric such as jersey to cling to every curve and protuberance.

It would be wild speculation to think that Anthony Vaccarello was trying to shirk from creating the most beautifully formed bust on the Saint Laurent dress by not including one, even if it was only on one side. Although in that outfit Mr Vaccarello did not quite “free the nipple”, his predecessor did. In 2015, Hedi Slimane created a permanent and irreversible wardrobe malfunction with a dress that literally covered only half the body, exposing a starkly naked breast. No member of the media seemed particularly disturbed, with vogue.com calling it “fall’s hot topic on the runway”. It must have been, for Olympia Le-Tan even designed a dress with a trompe l’oeil left-breast-exposed—just in case there were those who wanted to bare, but did not dare.

It is suggested that the present fixation with exposing the boob is really backlash against too much easy androgyny and minimalism bordering on the monastic. There’s nothing wrong with an aesthetic that is expressly and visibly female. However, there are no half-measures in fashion. If we look back, we’ll remember that the décolletage soon gave way to the plunging V; the peeking thigh soon gave way to the glaring rump; the blushing crack—left open by the “bumster”—soon led to the full-moon derrière; and the buttocks soon gave up the seat to the bosom. If today is one breast out, will tomorrow be freedom for the other side?

Ain’t No Saint in This Laurent

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Last season, there were at least pasties to cover the nipples. This time, Anthony Vaccarello left the areolae fully exposed, as if there were any woman who would not get themselves on the wrong side of the law by going bare mamilla. It’s not certain if anyone looking at the looks Mr Vaccarello proposed as sexy, or tasteless, but he was on track to cover one of two major trends in fashion: extreme sexiness and over-the-top decorative. Are there really so many women who want to look provocative? Or wanton? Or aggressive?

There’s something menacing about Mr Vaccarello’s Saint Laurent. Maybe it’s all that leather (as in the last season). Or maybe it’s the colour or the lack of. Or maybe it’s just these angry times when a certain toughness in dress is too literal a front to tackle social aggression. Sure, we could be reading too much into it. These clothes have no place in the part of the wardrobe a woman goes to when she needs something for work, to take the children to school or meet the mother-in-law for tea in. These are outfits, if the shine of the leathers is any indication, for a certain setting where strobe lights and proximity to a bar lend the wearer an enhanced cool.

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And that could mean a top with just one sleeve. Mr Vaccarello seems to love the single sleeve, and now, a detachable one too that can be worn on the other otherwise exposed arm. But the two are not quite the same, as if unalike due to some genetic aberration. The removable one works like a hybrid sleeve-glove, where the upper portion opens up like a carnivorous fluted flower, exposing a shearling underside, the deltoid consumed. It’s not certain if these one-sleeves will be sold separately, as they do with handbags, but they sure will send very active IG users into a state of delirium.

Unconsciously, we drifted to Louis Vuitton. For spring/summer 2017, Nicolas Ghesquière, too, had some leather pieces, one-sleeve jackets, and a few very sheer dresses. Only thing visibly missing: totally exposed breasts. We know that cover has become totally unimportant in fashion, but is Mr Vaccarello’s insistence on the breast in full exhibition mode fashion design or cheap trick? Surely the Kardashian clan constitutes a very small clientele?

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And there are those angular extensions, which could be his answer to his predecessor’s pussy bows. Mr Vaccarello is creating his own signature, of course, using ruffles in more superfluous ways than possible. Whether extending past the person next to the wearer, or swirling from bodice to skirt like a candy wrapper, his ruffles have the uncanny ability to be both ornamentation, and unneeded—totally selfie-friendly.

Perpetual fans would be able to point out the YSL references, however subtle, which is, of course, not the point since it is doubtful that anyone who has gravitated to the brand since Hedi Slimane’s tenure would notice, or care. We are not expecting any reiteration of the four-button double-breasted blazer that’s nipped in the waist; not the relaxed, belted safari suit; the ruffled peasant dresses. But must Anthony Vaccarello erase everything that we remember Yves Saint Laurent for? Apparently so.

Photos: indigital.tv