Not Your Garden Variety?

Is Dior producing something blooming fine or are there just more gimmicks than usual?

Down the garden path, Dior leaves last season’s city sidewalk. The trail could be a winding one. The back story to Kim Jones’s Dior spring/summer 2023 is just as sinuous. In a nutshell, the Bloomsbury set (again) and gardens (but no cacti). The long trek, a self-absorbed fascination—hence connection—between Christian Dior and Duncan Grant, the British painter who was, seemingly, partial to male nudes, and was a costume designer, too. Part of the Bloomsbury group (which included Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster) that Mr Jones is enamoured with, Mr Grant operated, since 1916, out of Charleston, a farmhouse in Sussex, south of England, not far from where the Dior designer keeps a country home and garden. But more significantly, at least to Mr Jones, is that both Mr Grant and Monsieur Dior shared the same day of birth, 21 January.

Alright, we are meandering. The point is the garden: two, in fact: that of Charleston and Mr Dior’s childhood home Les Rhumbs, in Granville, Normandy, Northwest France. In case we can’t imagine the blooms-filled, bucolic setting(s), a fake, prettified one is created for the presentation, including a 3-D backdrop of Les Rhumbs (and a photo wall of the English Channel behind it). In his (translated) autobiography Dior by Dior, the creator of The New Look wrote: “Our house at Granville, like all Anglo-Norman buildings at the end of last century, was perfectly hideous. All the same I look back on it with tenderness as well as amazement. In a certain sense, my whole way of life was influenced by its architecture and environment.”

Mr Jones looks back with tenderness and amazement, too. But in casting his mind to the past, he endears himself to Duncan Grant, a man thought to be a fashion, social, and sexual rule-breaker of his time (this was in the early 1900s), as much as gardens of yore. But, as one reviewer in the Kirkus Review of art historian Frances Spalding’s Duncan Grant: A Biography opined, the “minor English painter and decorative artist… his mild artistic abilities will always be overshadowed by whom he knew and whom he slept with”. They also held the believe that “unquestionably, Grant was a decent copyist and a reasonable colorist with a good sense of line and form, but his style tended to ebb and flow with whatever was in vogue at the time, so that it is hard to pin down anything in his work as definitively ‘Duncan Grant’”. Sometimes, that thought comes to us, too: What is definitively Kim Jones?

In this collection, outdoorsy looks that some commentators call “cottagecore” are thought to be Mr Jones’s cabbage patch. There are, therefore, plenty of shorts—double shorts, in fact; or running shorts-looking pairs on top of fitted ones that could be for cycling. These are teamed with embroidered fleece jackets, their technical kin (in sort of a camo print), sweaters (including sleeveless ones) bearing the artworks of Duncan Grant that Mr Jones reportedly owns. His usual tailoring is there, too: jackets have softer shoulders, waists cut close to the body, and peaked lapels worn upturned, creating graphic interest for the neck. But something else is not seen before—blousy tops. Mr Jones has largely avoided the semblance of skirts (even his shorts are not that wide) or dresses for men. So two tops are fascinating. One is like an asymmetric, half-woven-half-netting take on a scrub; sleeveless, but one shoulder is extended, the other side, double strapped. The other, a long-sleeved top with a square-necked double yoke-flap (with brooch to hold both pieces in place). Feminine touches, no doubt. Enough? Kim Jones never promised anyone a rose garden.

Screen shot (top): Dior/YouTube. Photos: Dior

Spain Saturated

Maria Grazia Chiuri makes sure that the Dior cruise collection, presented in Seville this time, is unmistakably Spanish

It is off to Spain for Dior’s cruise 2023 collection this season. In Sevilla, Maria Grazia Chiuri presented her desirably wearable clothes at the Plaza de España (or Spain Square), a half-circle complex of mixed styles that was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 (mainly offices of government agencies are housed there now). The sweeping building sits in a massive garden, the Parque de María Luisa and it is in this vast expanse of space, with the Plaza as backdrop, that the Dior presentation took place. For most of the show (to be certain, we—like most of you—saw the livestream), the clothes were lost in the (no doubt breathtaking) expanse of the setting. Also threatening to overshadow the models looking remarkably listless (the runway just too long?) is the energetic dance performance—flamenco that ethnographers and dance anthropologists believe to have started here in Seville as bodily expression of the impoverished and the marginalized. But Dior’s expensive show gives no hint to that little detail of the history of the Andalusian capital.

The Dior cruise collections have mostly been a cultural promotion of sorts or as a “way to tell stories”, CEO Pietro Beccari told Vogue in 2020. From Calabasas (2018) Marrakech (2020) to Puglia (2021) to Greece (2022), the destinations were as far away as the clothes were localised. These city/town/village-themed collections also allowed Ms Chiuri to work with provincial artisans, infusing her designs with the exotic and the cultural so that they’d be artistic and edifying. Oftentimes, the pieces are the “real deal” of how much local knowledge and craftsmanship have been worked into them. In sum, they capture the sartorial spirit and tradition of the land. That, however, does not necessarily preclude the lamentably clichéd.

In Seville now, the clothes (and the very Zorro Cordovan hats!) so radiate those fashion finds from holidays in Spain that they border on the costume-y. Pandemic-era The Barber of Seville? A Roman designer working in Paris referencing Andalusian motifs is likely cultural appreciation, rather than appropriation. Indeed, can white people adopting the fashion of other white people, but of different culture be considered an act of appropriation? There is a greater cause in all this: Ms Chiuri is providing employment for scores of the local artisans and others putting the show together. We must not knock this. Jack Neo recently said of his second Ah Girls Go Army film, “Don’t scold us again… we created 400 job opportunities by doing these films.” Economic benefit in inflationary times trumps artistic merit.

These are clothes that would no doubt elicit the response, “so preeety”. Nothing wrong with that. As fashion gets inexplicably vulgar and meretricious, what Dior is offering could be welcome antidote. Ms Chiuri, whose middle name also means “beauty of form and movement”, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, has always approached design with a more classical eye. Her Dior has predictable forms that prefer not to deviate from the founder’s vision, allowing movement for women to be at their feminine best, from demure to coquettish. So, this season, the modest lengths to maintain primness or the frilly off-shoulders (and bodily tiers) that facilitate flirtation. All the better to project the power of the matriarch (or that of the late flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya, who, danced “energetically” in pants and was—ironically for the Dior inspiration—not a mother): As Ms Chiuri told Suzy Menkes, “All the Mediterranean areas, especially in the South, are matriarchal families, where the women is the centre. These women are super strong. Sometimes too much”.

But excessive may not necessarily be an undesirable trait to Ms Chiuri. Faced with the plethora of Andalusian decoration on fabric, she does not shy away from them. Or, the so-called Spanish lace (much of the lace used in Spain for, say, mantillas—even, reportedly, ecclesiastical lace—were imported from France, in particular Chantilly, where Dior staged its 2019 cruise show). The clothes are accorded surface treatments as if they are destined for an Almerían or gypsy wedding. So lacy, frilly, ruffled, and tiered many of the looks are that it is hard to imagine them for a cruise, or any resort. Traditional Spanish fashion can, of course, be flamboyant—bright colours and eye-catching patterns are typical of Andalusian dress, also referred to as “flamenco”. But Ms Chiuri avoids that path to an extent. Still, it is hard to ignore the fanciness of the fringed-shawls-as-outers (mantoncillos?) Or the toreador jackets and pantalones, even when they are tempered with the inclusion of denim and varsity jackets. Maria Grazia Chiuri is clearly not thinking of the matriarch (and the inhabitants) of La Casa de Bernarda Alba.

Screen shot (top): Dior/YouTube. Photos: Dior

A Showy Amble

Walking on the path Gucci paved, Dior is showing its gaudy side.

The Dior Men’s spring—also known as resort or cruise, in case there’s any confusion—2023 season started rather straightforwardly enough. Like those of other luxury brands, Dior’s inter-season show is staged away from home, in Los Angeles, specifically the neighbourhood of Venice, in what is known as its “heart”— Winward Avenue, a flashy and touristy thoroughfare that cuts right to the famed Venice Beach Boardwalk. This could easily be the equivalent of Bangkok’s Khao San Road, if not visually, definitely in spirit. The runway, not flanked by buildings of architectural value or set against the Pacific Ocean (the Dior show is the second LVMH-owned brand to show in California this season after Louis Vuitton), is done up as if for a beach bash (complete with surging waves!). The clothes correspond to the waterfront party vibe, but with considerably more bling than one might be comfortable wearing to a littoral event with no guarantee that the sand won’t somehow get into shoes and clothes. Then we remember, this is California. The Californication of Dior.

It is open to view that Kim Jones is pandering to a Californian crowd with his California Couture, as the season is themed. Like other designers of European brands, such as Hedi Slimane, Mr Jones seems to have a thing for America (another collection for Dior was staged in Florida: Fall 2020), and this time, the clothes seems targeted at California’s most recognisable metonym for entertainment: Hollywood. And, of course, music. It is, therefore, easy to connect the styling to what stars operating out of this city would wear to go out to dine at high-profile restaurants, on date nights with equally famous other-halves, jam in a recording studio, attend movie premiers and music awards presentations, and, of course, to buy milk. This being the West Coast, the looks have to project unambiguously Californian Casual and Cool, if not exactly Couture. If Californian fashion has not been convincingly defined, what is California Couture, other than plain puffery? Or, perhaps the show is best described by the opening track: My Bloody Valentine’s Only Shallow?

By Mr Jones’s definition, French urban polish will look out of place in California. So the surf and the skate must come rolling in. There has to be commercial American staples, such as hoodies, pullovers, and hang-loose shirts, but being a tribute to Venice Beach’s “seedy glamour”, as described by Mr Jones to the press, all are given a meretricious makeover, in a manner we are already familiar with at Gucci: Their spring/summer 2022 show also in California—on Hollywood Boulevard—still so fresh in our mind. The blatant retro-ness may not be cresting at Dior, but the push-femininity-as-far-as-you-could ostentation is there: pearl-studded fisherman sweaters, jumpers woven with sparkly metallic yarns, mixed-media appliqued cardigans, newsprint tees, satin trousers, those with the cannage-quilting of Lady Dior bags, furry shorts, those with sequined hems, all teamed with the, frankly irritating, laces-untied sneakers. Dior is in California!

What we found starring at us, too, is Dior seemingly mocking itself. Could this be the label doing its own bootleg clothes. Before the counterfeiters strike? It is hard to say this of possibly one of the most-loved menswear lines in the luxury sphere: Some pieces are evocative of what one might find on Taobao. One really stood out for us: a long-sleeved cycling top with a triple chevron underscoring the four-letter brand name depicted in a font layout/placement we are desperately trying not to call cheesy. This season, part of the collection (those hoodies and puffers, for sure) was “guest-designed” by Eli Russell Linnetz of ERL, the much feted brand, especially among hip-hop circles. Mr Linnetz, a Venice Beach native, moves glowingly in the orbit of Kanye West; he directed Mr West’s Famous (yes, the one with recognisable stars in bed, naked) and Fade (yes, the one with Teyana Taylor dancing alone in the gym, quite naked) music videos, and dipped his hands in the now-untalked-of Yeezy line. In 2018, Dover Street Market came acalling. The rest is history, and, now, Dior. California is not dreaming.

Screen shot (top) and photos: Dior

Schoolgirl Sass

Dior’s fall 2022 is for the very young?

At the end of the latest Dior show, Maria Grazia Chiuri took her usual bow, wearing a varsity jacket of the Ewha Womans University (actual name). It confirmed what we were thinking while watching the livestream of the show staged in the 185-year-old private school: she is creating her own ‘campus chic’. This is, of course, nothing akin to what you’d see in the corridors of NUS, where fashion is secondary, but the xiaomeimei (小妹妹) vibe is unmistakable and the look-at-my-young-abdominal flaunt apparent. This is collegiate girliness lensed through the Dior studio, with the usual plethora of sheerness and a paucity of innovation. Liberal education in the company of rote designing for an increasing homogeneous sorority.

The show might be staged on the grounds of an institute of higher learning, but it seems to stop at the steps of virtuosity and brilliance. Or, as the British indie rock girlband Wet Leg sang out in the opening track of the show proper, 2019’s surprise hit Chaise Lounge: “I went to school and I got a degree. All my friends call it ‘the big D’.” While the song is deliciously irreverent and so incongruous to the do-your-best ethos of varsity pursuits, the clothes have less the cheek that one might expect to reflect those individuals inclined to provoke, if not challenge the status quo within the relative safety of academic walls. They lack the lyrical playfulness of the Wet Leg song; they are, at best, catchy, but vacuous.

There is, unsurprisingly, the undercurrent of feminism that is tagged to Ms Chiuri’s work for Dior, if not the past overtone. The 88-look presentation opened with a group of skateboarders—all girls—displaying their fancy footwork, with almost a machismo that seems to dispel any belief that skateboarding is a male sport or that girls can’t be good at it. All that as-strong-as-the-guys sporting excellence, however, does not preface the extreme femininity of the styling that Ms Chiuri has embraced. While some of the looks could pass off as ‘andro’ (even if only in the attitude of the models), most are a reprise of her brand of cool-girl ethos and emptiness, including the oddly omnipresent tie, neckwear that guys are fast abandoning, even among those working in banks. Now, more incongruous on the built-for-the-show skatepark.

It is often said that the Fall—aka pre-fall—or any ‘pre’ collection is a more accessible take on the main RTW. Dior’s vision is not spectacularly differentiated; it is the Dior that has become the Dior of Maria Grazia Chiuri: those unstoppable sheer skirts, the white-shirt-as-base-garment, workwear-as-sportwear, as well as corny sports clothes, bicycle shorts under feminine skirts, negligee over shirts and such, belted dresses of various lengths, and high boots with everything. And if the schoolgirl has a prom to attend or a fashion show at its school compound to grace, there are always the sexy evening dresses. When the young need to impress their peers, sometimes, as Gen-Zers have repeatedly shown, not that much effort is needed.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Dior

Two Of A Kind: Asymmetric Pleated Skirts

Is Dior flattering Sacai?

Battle of the skirts: (left) Dior autumn/winter 2022; photo: Dior and (right) Sacai Resort 2021; photo: Sacai

Women do admire each other when it comes to creativity. In fashion, that admiration could be in the form of adopting a sartorial version associated with someone else. To the one emulated, such a move might be considered blandishment that validates a certain style. Or simple approval. But what if it happens in design? Dior and Sacai are not only brands from opposite sides of the globe, they do not have a shared history, are not of the same age, or under the same holding conglomerate. Respectively, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Chitose Abe are vastly different designers. Their outputs and aesthetics are rather poles apart, yet there seems to be, at least in one Dior skirt style of the next season, a striking similarity to Sacai’s. Coincidence? Homage? Adulation? Or were we imagining the resemblance?

Dior showed a dozen or so asymmetric, pleated skirts for autumn/winter 2022. Sacai has for almost their entire existence, so much so that whichever side the pleated part appears on the skirt, the sum is now considered a ‘signature’. And so identifiable, and associable to the Japanese label that when it pairs with Nike, a pleated fraction of fabric is used in the skirts (and tops) in the different collabs. This uneven balance has so taken the world that the influence has reached even brands with a considerably lower price point. But there is rarely a doubt as to where the pleated detail might come from.

It must say something when we immediately thought of Sacai upon sighting the first Dior skirt (look 15). And then more emerged, in varying lengths; some in print, some not. Another striking detail: the longer, pleated side appears on the left of the skirt, in versions above and below the knee. Why did this placement stick out or say a very specific name to us? For as long as we can remember and have admired, Sacai’s pleating of one part (or added section) of the skirt has mostly swung on the same side as the hand that secures the wedding ring. Dior’s skirts were more than a tad uncanny. But were they really flattering? Or, as they were to us, disconcerting?

Dior: NFT-Ready?

But, is the Bar suit and the sheer skirt prepared to make the jump?

The opening look of the Dior show would have you believe that Maria Grazia Chiuri has embraced the metaverse and is readying her designs as possible NFTs. The first model—real, not digital—of this season’s show emerges into a dark runway, her material bodysuit lit with tracings of green-hued electroluminescence that is evocative of the colour of the title design of the 1999 film, The Matrix. The squiggly lines meander on both sides of the body and limbs, forming a symmetrical pattern. When the light comes on, the black bodysuit could be mistaken for the motion capture (or MoCap) suit actors wear to record their real-life movements and so that their actions could be digitally applied to a 3D character. But Dior’s feeble dalliance with the special effects is not quite the entry into the metaverse that we thought it might have been.

That out-of-place model merely prefaces the tech used in some of the clothes. This suggestion of technological advancement is not a rupture in Dior’s way forward or wrapping itself in digital legitimacy, just a visual gimmick. According to the brand’s press release, a tie-up with the Italian tech start-up D-Air lab, known for its D-air, described by the company as “a sophisticated personal protective airbag technology”, allows Ms Chiuri to re-invent, for example, the house’s Bar jacket. It is now given the external D-Air lab contraption that, we’re told, “transforms the structure of the original model (the jacket) into a system that regulates the body’s humidity and warms it up if necessary”. Does that not sound like Uniqlo’s Heattech (or Airism), minus the gadgetry? But add the tech and the garment becomes, as Dior states, “an ultramodern celebration of self-assertion”.

Take away the technological-innovation-as-feminist-predication, the clothes enjoy the usual delicate and traditional femininity that Ms Chiuri is partial to. All her favourite items are there, augmenting the waisted-and-flare that is de rigueur to the Dior of her tenure. Is it a wonder that many do say Ms Chiuri has no more than one silhouette in her repertoire? Sure, there is some branching off. Skirts are now asymmetrical, and those half accordion-pleated versions have a distinct whiff of Sacai’s. If you look closely at the clothes this season, there is something even more disconcerting: strange fit. The D-Air lab devices add bulk to areas of the body that normally are without. Puffers wrap the body to look like poorly shaped dumplings. Oversized trucker jackets hang on shoulders listlessly. Corsets, although emphasise the waist, do no follow the contours of the bodice and hips. Leggings have oddly loose crotches. Perhaps more baffling is the wear-it-like-a-blouse fit of one jacket—the common reaction, “why is there so much excess fabric on the chest?” We don’t know.

The set of the show is an installation, The Next Era, by Italian artist Mariella Bettineschi (reported to be a feminist), who has placed black and white portraits of “female figures from the History of Painting”, as per Dior’s description, on the four walls of the show venue, but now, each woman eerily has two pair of eyes (“All the better to see with”, to quote the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood?). Ms Chiuri named the collection after this exhibition, but we can’t be certain if her “next era” refers to the one after the pandemic or the Russo-Ukrainian war. With a space-age-y soundtrack that includes 2018’s Linnaea by the British electronic musician Pariah, you’d think that Dior is being topical, if not ironic. If you wonder how that would bode for the brand, consider another track: American post-rock/electronica trio Son Lux’s Lost it to Trying!

Screen grab (top): Dior. Photos: gorunway.com

Dior: Kim Jones The Soloist

Surprise! At Dior, Kim Jones offered no collaborations that set the tone of the collection

Kim Jones, the serial collaborator, is showing that he can have a go at a Dior collection all by himself (and with his design team). There are no artists or streetwear stalwarts to share the glory on the runway, no dead writer to inspire. (Accept, if you must consider them, the footwear with Birkenstock and the hats with Stephen Jones.) This is the 75th anniversary of Dior, and it is just Mr Jones and the legacy of the founder, or so it seems. Christian Dior did not design menswear during his time helming the house. Marc Bohan started Dior’s first men’s RTW collection in 1970. A decade later, there was a line called Dior Monsieur that, if we remember correctly, was mostly business wear. Then, in 2001, under the design direction of the then newish Hedi Slimane, the men’s RTW took off as Dior Homme. Kris van Assche succeeded Mr Slimane. It is not certain if his contribution to the development of Dior Homme is as sizeable as the former, but it would take Kim Jones to add considerable zing to the brand now mostly known as Dior Men.

This season, Mr Jones puts out a presentation that is Parisian in spirit, if not entirely in looks. A life-size replica of Pont Alexandre III, a deck arch bridge across the Seine that links the Champs-Élysées quarter and the areas of Invalides and Eiffel Tower. A fancy part of the capital, no doubt. It reminds us of the Chanel autumn/winter 2018 couture show, set against a fake walkway—sited along the Seine too—opposite the Institut de France. The Dior fellows breeze along the bannister, as relaxed as their finery are. We do not know if Monsieur Dior himself is partial to such casual styles (untucked shirts!), but he might approve the greys that dominate, especially a particular shade known as Dior Grey. Could this be Mr Jones at his most measured?

To us, some of the pieces look like they might have been designed by Maria Grazia Chiuri (perhaps it’s the beret?). She would have put out easy-to-wear blousons on top of round-neck sweaters, on top of shirts with the hem worn over slacks. The easy vibe aside, this could be Mr Jones’s most well-thought-out collection for Dior. Without aesthetical references from a collaborator, much of the pieces have to stand on their own. And quite a few do. Mr Jones has never been a careful-to-calibrate minimalist like his predecessor Mr Van Ascche. He has shown a soft spot for ornamentation, so pullovers are bedecked with flowers (purportedly as homage to Christian Dior’s own love for them) and blousons are petal-strewn. They are rather reminiscent of Raf Simons’s delicate blooms during his tenure with Dior women’s line. If you are not into florals, there is always the leopard print!

As with other houses this autumn/winter season, there is emphasis on the waist of jackets. Mr Jones, too, made them rather nipped-in. To be sure, his suit jacket is especially sharp this time, with lines of stitchwork and what seems like flocking (or frayed edges?) to augment the garment’s fetching trimness. And, soft too: There are those, as well as coats, that are gathered at the waist, creating a draped effect that relaxes the shoulders—tailoring seen more in womenswear then men’s. A certain body type is, of course, needed for guys to look good in them. The petite waist? Perhaps this is Mr Jones’s New Look for men. Will it be “quite a revolution”, as Carmel Snow remarked of the original in 1947? Hard to say, isn’t it?

Photos: Dior

Postponed: Dior X Travis Scott

It is reported that the launch of the doomed collaboration would be deferred. Nope, not cancelled

That one of the most hyped collaborations has to come to this is not surprising. As announced on WWD, Dior’s collaboration with Travis Scott—dubbed Cactus Jack—is “postponed”, the news site emphasised, and “indefinitely”. As stated in the report, based on an “exclusive” statement that Dior availed to WWD: “out of respect for everyone affected by the tragic events at Astroworld, Dior has decided to postpone indefinitely the launch of products from the Cactus Jack collaboration originally intended to be included in its summer 2022 collection.” They were careful not to use the now-divisive and unpleasant word “cancelled”.

As we understand it, the men’s spring/summer collection is almost “entirely” conceived with Mr Scott. For many, it is inconceivable that a complete collection would not be available to purchase. WWD reported that Mr Scott’s team shared that the postponement was a mutual agreement. Dior did not say what merchandise plans would be in place for their spring/summer 2022 season. This is their first time pairing with a musician, and reports had predicted it to be “major”. Merchandisers we spoke to told us that at the time the Astroworld tragedy struck, it is likely that the clothes were already in production. And that is very possible since spring/summer drops can take place as early as this week, or next.

Many of those who commented on the emerging reports of the postponed collection felt that Travis Scott is wrongly blamed for the Astroworld deaths and that the brands were too quick to disassociate themselves with him, once a star who could do no wrong. One commentator wrote in response to a Hypebeast post, “He isn’t responsible for the actions of thousands of fans, even if they can prove he incited raucous behavior.” Die-hard Travis Scott fans are also burning with curiousity: What would become of the already produced merchandise. Burn them? Or let them be available at a discount store?

Runway photo: Dior. Photo illustration: Just So

Hint Of The Literary

Dior’s next season for men is inspired by the American novelist Jack Kerouac. Kim Jones is again a wanderer

“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars” — On the Road: the Original Scroll, Jack Kerouac

The next season’s collections are showing earlier and earlier. Sure, the end-of-season sales have begun, but we have not celebrated Christmas. Yet, somehow brands are certain that we like seeing what we might desire to wear (at least) nine months later. Dior’s fall 2020 (with some reports labelling it as a “pre-collection”) appears just a day ago, and around the same time as the collection shown in Florida in 2019, also labelled “fall”. Based on the absence of winter coats, it is quite certain that the autumn/winter season will be staged in January next year. And, with the show brought to London, we can be quite certain that the not-in-Paris showing is resort/cruise/pre-whatever. Does it really matter? Would we remember?

Kim Jones may have brought the fall 2022 collection back to his home in London, but for the clothes, he had America in mind. A very specific America, based on the work of the Beat-Gen novelist/poet Jack Kerouac, whose contemporaries include Allen Ginsburg and William S Burroughs. Mr Jones’s fascination with the writers of literary movements first manifested itself early this year with his debut Fendi haute couture collection, which was inspired by the British Bloomsbury Group, a set that included Virginia Woolf, which prompted the press to suggest that he brought “Virginia Woolf chic to Paris”. There was nothing Woolfian about that collection. Similarly, it would be hard to find anything Kerouacian about the latest Dior.

But, Americana is evident. It is, however, not the Americana that Raf Simons imagined for Calvin Klein when he briefly designed for the label. Nor, Stuart Vevers’s for Coach. Mr Jones approach is more, shall we say, an amalgam of sources, not necessarily from the author of On the Road himself, who was not especially noted for his sartorial strength, even if he was considered a “looker”. Prior to attaining fame as a writer, Jack Kerouac was a sportsman (he played [American] football in college, before he dropped out), a gas station attendant, a construction worker, and, very briefly, a marine.

Mr Jones had elements of workwear in the collection, but a few pieces looked to be inspired by what Junya Watanabe has been doing for years, including the contrast-coloured straps on the outers. Or those blazers with contrast utility pockets an additional shirt placate. Even those Fair Isle sweaters, were they not explored in Mr Watanabe’s current autumn/winter collection? Sure, there is a vague ’50s vibe in the collection, but missing is the certain roughness—aided by sex, drugs and jazz—that unabashedly described and played up in On the Road. The only literal association is the set of the show: a reported 80-metre long scroll that represents Mr Kerouac’s own 120 feet (36.5m) long manuscript for On the Road, that according to lore, was written in three weeks.

The Dior fall 2022 collection does not appear to be put together in such a haste. And, that, to us, is perhaps why it looks so inauthentic. To be fair, it is one of Mr Jones’s better collection, but if the Beat Generation is noted for their waywardness and rebelliousness, the clothes seem too composed and calculated, and devoid of the risk-willing and devil-may-care attitudes of the youths that one sees from reading Jack Kerouac. Was there too much concern with the street to be aware of being on the road? There is no denying that Mr Jones’s Dior embraces elegance, but some styles appear to be from the Giorgio Armani play book, in particular look 39—the mocha-coloured, asymmetric, stand-collared leather jacket (itself seemingly like a fitted take of a vintage Swedish army motorcycle jacket), teamed with mottled grey wool pants. To strengthen the likeness, the model wore a beanie and a pair of sunglasses. Search as we have, no image of Jack Kerouac came to us that way.

In On the Road, Mr Kerouac wrote: ”The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles.” We are not hoping that Mr Jones—or Dior—become this mad (although that would be great), but we really wish to see something burn, even if just a flicker.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Dior

Sicko Mode: The Destructive Force Of Travis Scott

The Washington Post called him “the maestro directing the chaos”. After this year’s Astroworld mahem, Travis Scott will forever be linked to the death of some of his rabid fans. Who would remember his connection to the world of fashion? Do we want to?

Warning: this post contains language and descriptions some readers might find offensive

Nike has made the first move, but Dior has largely kept mum. In the wake of the Astroworld tragedy, it is doubtful that Travis Scott’s very name can still move merchandise, massively. But his fashion collaborators seem to prefer to wait and see. Nike held on for more than a week before announcing that their collaboration with Mr Scott’s Cactus Jack brand on the Air Max 1 will be postponed “out of respect for everyone impacted by the tragic events at the Astroworld Festival”, according to a corporate statement issued on its SKRS app a few days ago. Delaying the launch is not canning it. At the moment, it is known that Nike has some ten styles in the works with Mr Scott. That is a staggering amount to do with a single fellow, without counting those already released and sold out, a sell-through situation no brand can resist. How long more does the owner of Air Max intend to wait is not known.

Also in with Nike’s now-troubled partnership is Japan’s Fragment Design. As we have noted before, collaborations these days can consist of three brands (or more), not just two. To triple the allure of the initial pairing, Fragment Design joined Nike and Travis Scott three months ago to reimagine not only the Air Jordan 1, but also to put out a three-piece apparel collection (that was, as expected, sold out), which Nike described as one “that satisfies the ‘rule of three’”. Hiroshi Fujiwara of Fragment Design has not issued a statement with regards to his past pairing with Mr Scott or future partnerships. His association with the rapper now under investigation, it seems, would not be severely affected as Fragment Design is still associated with credible, fashion-forward brands such as Sacai.

But perhaps the label that has to really deal with the increasing ignominy of the rapper is Dior. Hitherto, the LVMH super brand has not uttered a word about what has happened, nor the pal of Mr Scott, Kim Jones. It is known that Mr Jones had conceived the spring/summer 2021 collection almost entirely to benefit from Travis Scotts’s fame, more as a consumer rather than designer of fashion. In fact, the collab was dubbed Cactus Jack Dior, after the rapper’s own Cactus Jack Foundation. The first drop will likely appear next month, but would it have any pull? There is no doubt that, there would be those shoppers who will still bite not matter how contentious the sale of such a collaboration would be. The question is, how would Dior play down the fact they paired with a performer whose concert reportedly resulted in the death of nine people and who apparently went on singing even when attendees were screaming for the show to be stopped? Or is it too late in the progression of the production of the line to stop now? According to a WWD report two days ago, Dior is merely “evaluating the situation”.

It is often said that Travis Scott’s style “is as popular as his music”, admired globally, but no one can say with certainty that his talent in design is tantamount to that of his music

Dior’s predicament, if it sees itself in one, does open the postern into the persistent creative pair-ups between luxury brands and mega-successful stars that frequently ditch true design for brazen hype. It is often said that Travis Scott’s style “is as popular as his music”, admired globally, but no one can say with certainty that his talent in design is tantamount to that of his music. Or, that he understands what it takes to put a piece of clothing—any—together. The ability to dress himself in some semblance of what is deemed fashion overrides practical ability or manual dexterity. Popularity alone is often enough for brands to want to be associated him, from Bape to Saint Laurent. The merchandise, one Gen-Z fan described on Quora, “goes higher and higher in value just like brands like Supreme. Our generation loves that. We love status symbols.” That Travis Scott is a “status symbol by which the social standing of the possessor of his goods could be derived/assessed is not unusual—even if staggering—when consumers are eager to surrender to the power and prevarication of social media influence.

Mr Scott’s status in fashion is so lofty that collaborator Nike would even allow him to tamper with the Swoosh, a trademark so entrenched in popular consciousness that it would normally be considered sacrilegious to meddle with. In the Air Jordan 1 and the Air Max 1, to name just two, the Swoosh is placed as a mirror image on the sides of the shoes—the longer, narrower end does not emerge from the heel notch, close to the collar. While no Tinker Hatfield, he was able to have leeway to do as he pleases. It did not occur to Nike that it could perhaps be more convincing if he were to create a totally new silhouette, like mentor Kanye West has with the Yeezys. Could that be indication that Travis Scott has scant design flair?

Most alluring for both fans and some members of the media is his personal style. Last year, Esquire called him “a tastemaker par excellence second to none”. The taste, CR Fashion Book wrote, “typically features vintage t-shirts, denim, baseball cap, relaxed joggers, oversized jackets with bold brands like the Louis Vuitton LV logo or bright colors like pink and Nike sneakers”. Esquire also stated that Mr Scott “tends to stick to a few variations on the same theme when it comes to getting dressed, at least casually”. How all that is sufficient to allow him to be a trendsetter or dip his hands in the process of design is not clear. As the Rolling Stones correctly noted, “for close to a decade, Travis Scott has carefully positioned himself squarely at the center of hype”. He barely traipses into the unconventional, let alone groundbreaking. For sure, no dresses/skirts of A$AP Rocky or Andre 3000 for him. At the 2019 “Camp” Met Gala, he skipped the theme entirely, appearing in a brown Dior top and pants, with what appeared to be military webbing. Camp? Perhaps to those going from Ah Boys to Men.

From left to right: Cactus Jack Dior spring/summer 2022, Nike X Travis Scott X Fragment T-shirt, and Nike X Travis Scott Air Max 270 ‘Cactus Trails’. Photos: Respective brands

Although Mr Scott is known to encourage reckless behaviours during his performances and has, in fact, faced two charges before the Dior show in June for “disorderly conduct”, the French house did not see that their star collaborator’s brush with the law would be problematic or a blemish to their impeccable couture suits. In 2015, Mr Scott had allegedly urged his unthinking fans to climb over barricades at the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago, leading the repetitive shout, “we want rage”. According to media reports, the scene was so tumultuous that the police had to detain the rapper after just five minutes into his performance, but he fled. He eventually pleaded guilty to the charges. In 2017, during a concert in Arkansas, he again encouraged “rage”—so rapidly it escalated that the police accused him of “inciting a riot”. Just weeks after that, one of his concerts in Manhattan was said to be so riotous that a fan fell off a balcony and was left paralyzed after suffering a fractured vertebrae. Mr Scott was often quoted saying in past performances, “it’s not a show until someone passes out”. Does that apply to the fashion he peddles? Is raging and the resultant injuries, if not death, compatible with the culture of clothes?

Despite his disturbing track record, no one anticipated the tragedy of Astroworld. Earlier that fateful day, before the 500,000 concert goers stormed the NRG Park, Mr Scott released a single ironically called Escape Plan in which he rapped, “but wait, it opened gates and this shit just start paradin’, olé (Let’s go)”. While we are not certain what “it” refers to, the rest of the sentence seems to preempt the disaster that struck Astroworld. As much as this is considered a hackneyed view, rap music does seem to laud destructive behaviour. Mr Scott’s own lyrics don’t negate violence and such. In the 2018 release Sicko Mode, Drake used the expression to introduce his friend in the song: “Young La Flame, he in sicko mode”. The phrase, it is believed, refers to the rager mentality that Mr Scott encourages (his fans are known as “sickos”), with clear consequence now. But more than that, death was suggested too: “And they chokin’, man, know the crackers wish it was a noose”.

Born Jacques Bermon Webster II, Travis (also TRavi$) Scott and his rap contemporaries make and break in equal measure. However, some, such as Mr Scott, just more destructively than others. Stars are cancelled for saying and doing stupid things, but he, for whom inciting his fans to “free the rage” characterise him as a performer, is often lauded. In fact, after the Arkansas drama in 2017, he dropped a T-shirt on his website with those three words printed on the back. Unsurprisingly, they sold out. Now ensconced in his Houston “retreat”, Mr Scott seems to be waiting for the rage of the community to abate. How did he, a college dropout, become this powerful? Not that much, in fact, is known about him other than the rebelliousness with a rock-star stance that seems to have served him in good stead. Uncontrollable is a credo, a virtue, a merit. But, if social media is to be believed, many are now ready to denounce the unstoppable rager-rapper. Is Dior, then, brave enough to douse La Flame? And rip out Cactus Jack?

Illustration and collage: Just So

Taste: It’s Good When It Isn’t

Refined and impeccable taste: Have they become so boring that going the opposite way is now far more appealing? Recent trends—and events—have made us wonder: is bad really better?

In a recent article about the rise in the popularity of wellies, the Guardian described the boots mostly associated with rain wear as “bad taste”. And it’s in the headline! Wellington boots, to call them by their proper, more tasteful English name, have a long history—whether illustrious or not, we can’t say. They go back to the early 1800s, and are associated with the British aristocracy. The footwear is, in fact, named after the 1st Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley. The good Duke was a military man and a Tory statesman. In fact, the chap served as prime minister not once, but twice. We do not know if he was an aesthete, but since he ruled over a dukedom, he probably had refined sensitivity towards his sartorial choices. Yet, the trusty wellies that he popularised, as well as their descendants (Bottega Veneta calls theirs by the positively low-brow ‘puddle boots’) are now associated with taste that’s not anywhere near good.

It does not require deep knowledge of current affairs to know that ‘ugly’ is, for more than half of the decade, not the ugly that we know. Ugly, the cousin of bad taste, is attractive; ugly is good; ugly is cool. We were even told that ugly wasn’t a passing fad. And it is true; it is still a trend! Ugly has redefined what is flattering just as much as it has changed what is considered attractive. In fact, chances are attractive is really not. Yet, it now encompasses so many aspect of contemporary tastes that even awful is in the jumble. And there is a word for it: inclusive. Or, the fake synonym, diverse. Both let ugly into the club. Ugly is dancing and winning. Now, if you refer to ugly in the negative, you’d have ugly-shamed! Ugly is so influential (in digital life, is influential synonymous with ugly?), it brought bad taste in too.

The thing about bad taste is that it needs it’s competitor good taste. Without good taste, bad taste won’t be that bad. One isn’t the mirror image of the other, but one can see what the other is not. It isn’t the bad that’s so bad it’s good. It’s bad that makes good look its part. What would Cinderella be without the bad—er, ugly—stepsisters? Would Cinderella stand out? Was it not the Fairy Godmother who gave her everything she needed that had some semblance of good taste? But what the Fairy Godmother created for her so that she could go to the good-taste ball came from the opposite of good: the footmen from mice, the driver of the coach from a frog, and the ball gown from rags! Oh, there is, of course, the coach; it was a pumpkin transformed, not a Yubari King melon!!!

Graphics om the Balenciaga ‘The Simpsons’ T-shirt. Product photo: Balenciaga

Fashion these days is hemorrhaging so much bad taste that it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore it as aberration that will vanish the next season. More and more, we can’t wish it away. It keeps coming at you, like mosquitoes on warm and humid days. Sometimes in ways you won’t expect. We are not hyperventilating. The Simpsons of every-town America, Springfield, for example, are not fashion darlings. As Matt Groening told the Smithsonian magazine in 2012, “I thought Simpson was a funny name in that it had the word ‘simp’ in it, which is short for “simpleton’”. But thanks to Balenciaga—the fearless bender of taste, the family of five are fashion icons. Is any of the Simpsons, now in Balenciaga and on Balenciaga, the epitome of good taste? Even poor Lisa Simpsons looks like a misguided 2nd grader who spends too much money on Shein, pearl choker intact. The Simpsons in Balenciaga seem to suggest that taste, like mood and marriages, can change overnight.

Balenciaga of the present, of course, straddles good and bad tastes, but oftentimes with one foot firmly planted in the latter. Their pairing with the Simpsons maybe irony at its highest order, but is it good taste? Or is this a sure reminder that so many people, like Homer Simpson, simply have no taste until someone comes along and gives them some. Not that Homer Simpson would be able to tell what is good or bad taste. In the case of the Balenciaga makeover of the residents of Springfield, it really depends on luck. But Balenciaga is increasingly able to make make bad taste better, so much so that it becomes good bad taste, or, as some might call it, “impeccable”. Example: Crocs. And recently it shows that on the runway or red carpet, bad taste can walk both. But with their haute couture revived, who’d dare say that Balenciaga is the arbiter of bad taste? Just badder?

Sometimes bad taste comes in the clever guise of ‘eclectic’. This eclectic is a parody of bad taste, often with kitsch as a partner in crime, and the devil around the two. That it might be steep in historicism does not take away bad-taste-as-eclectic’s parodic heft. The pied piper of this constantly jokey, retro-tinged pastiche is Gucci. Like stablemate Balenciaga, Gucci has made bad taste impossibly good, even gauche, galvanising the glaring and the glamourous into action. But few drawn to Gucci see the parody, nor, to be sure, the bad taste. When overexposed to such bad taste, we become immune to it. Bad-taste eclectic has a special—even sexual—power over those seeking fashion that looks like fashion. The nouveaux, like part of China’s social class tuhao (土豪), as well as the new-to-fashion are especially drawn to eclectic, like the proverbial magpie to shiny things. Or, a scene we get to see, flying termites to street lamps!

Chanel’s attempt at bad taste as seen on Lily Rose Depp in a recent campaign

When Balenciaga leads others follow. Bad taste is so potent that many can’t resist its pull, like boba tea. Chanel, once the epitome of good taste, is now moving away from it, baring so much underwear (above), just to name one transgression, that it would be considered bad taste just three pandemic-unheard years ago. Even Lily Rose Depp in the fall campaign couldn’t reverse the course. In fact, none of them nubile young things could. Blackpink’s Jisoo in the promo video Exploring Dior with Jisoo, expressed no taste, good or bad, when she saw the clothes; she was only able to utter, “I love this… I love this… Oh my god, I love this”. Is good taste daft? Chanel and its ilk joined the circus, but others have always been the ringmasters from the start. All-out bad taste at Dolce & Gabbana (including their marketing communication) keeps it in the spotlight. Others may fare less triumphantly but are no less trending, such as Roberto Cavalli and Virgil Abloh’s also-designer/DJ pal Heston Preston. Even to be named the “King of Bad Taste”, as Philipp Plein has, is an accolade. Zoolander, it seemed, saw the future.

To be sure, the Guardian isn’t the first to have ‘bad taste’ in its headline. Vogue, ever the seer of the future, already declared in 2018 that “Bad Taste Is the Best Thing to Happen to Fashion”. It did not conceal its enthusiasm for looks that were “about the hodgepodge style of looking like you don’t care at all coming into fashion”. But of course they cared (and still do), and the media continually shines a spotlight on bad taste, sending it on its inexorable rise. They do this by featuring the many artistes and celebrities, for whom bad taste is also the passport to ‘cred’, such as the Beibers, as well as so many American artistes-turned-whatever. Hip-hop stars have a big part in the rapid rise of bad taste. Whether by designing stuff or wearing them to effect insider advantage and cool, the sum of which frequently courts bad taste. But it isn’t just American stars who succumbed to taste aligned with bad. The Berlin rapper UFO361, a proponent, who attended the Balenciaga couture show, enthused in Stay High, “Nobody rocked Balenciaga. Crazy man. Long live Demna”. Ditto bad taste?

Perhaps bad taste is still taste, and in the world of fashion, it is increasingly better to have some taste than no taste. As the English novelist Arnold Bennett wrote in the Evening Standard in 1930, (even back then) “good taste is better than bad taste, but bad taste is better than no taste”. Although Mr Bennett was commentating on literary taste, what he said is just as applicable to much of today’s culture, not just fashion. In fact, bad taste is so much better that we have become used to it, and to the point it isn’t bad anymore. For many here, bad taste is who are: this is how we dress and behave. Accept it! And who even calls out bad taste when they can wallow in the repository of bad taste—TikTok, even YouTube? Has social media accelerated the consumption of bad taste? Its widespread use has certainly put bad taste persistently visible online. Bad taste manifests in not just what we wear, but in how we behave, in how we speak, in how we write, in the expletives we prefer, in the division we sow, in the crassness we consume, in the asinine jokes we rollick through, and in the private lives we expose—all delightfully. Even the most ardent among the promulgators of bad taste have become the arbiters of good taste. And our appetites only grow. And grow.

Illustrations by Just So

The Fake Good

Lame designs can be instructive: they convince very few

The one thing consistent about Dior under Maria Grazia Chiuri’s watch, apart from unstoppable sheer skirts, is a design sensibility that does not arouse the senses. In a word, banal. Or, another, closer to social-media speak: blah. In fact, it’s hard to find a description not the opposite of dull. Fashion professionals always avoid using the three-letter B-word. So we shall, too. But when we run out of synonyms, what are our options, really? Sure, being Dior, the vêtements are not crummy per se. But as designs not more expressive than just clothes, even if they are well-executed, can we honestly resist the simple lousy? Dior’s spring/summer 2022 show is high on colour, but why is it so low on excitement? So young, but so without spirit? So sporty, yet so enervated? It can be imagined that many women would find much of the styles “cute”, but how does cuteness really advance the house that, for so long, has been associated with grown-up sophistication?

Ms Chiuri has been described as being at the “apex” of her career. A woman designing for women, a mother with a daughter as “cultural advisor” in the same office, a feminist unafraid to speak her mind, she has the ambassadorial advantage to effect a more design-forward influence. Yet, her output is largely a commercial exercise. It is mostly devoid of wit or flair, superscribed by big hits such as the seen-everywhere (and much copied) Book tote, and pitched for gushing reviews, whether they are truthful or not. Or, for the survival instincts of reviewers such as Suzy Menkes, who gleefully posted on Instagram that Ms Chiuri has “a particular skill in picking out the spirit of the moment”. Wow!

What could this “spirit of the moment” be at Dior for next spring and summer? Immediately discernible is the throw-back to the ’60s, with a go at the colour wheel. There are mini-skirts, complete with go-go boots, and whatever screaming girls used to wear when they thronged to meet their idol-band, The Beatles. But the reference point, to be more exact, is Marc Bohan’s Slim-Line collection of 1961. Youthquake(!), but nothing trembling with newness, let alone innovation. Wait not for the aftershocks for once the season is over, you’ll find it hard to remember any of the pieces. Definitely not those vaguely modish mini this, mini that, the numerous “cute” skirt-suits (some with shorts or culottes), and those ringer-style tank-dresses! Curious is the septet of unflattering separates that seem to mimic boxing wear (like in Milan, there are bras to go with the shirts and shorts, under which are unnecessary skin-coloured base garments), and even more baffling is the white union suit that could have been Baby Gap made for grown-ups. Or, to borrow from Karl Lagerfeld referring to sweatpants in 2013, “a sign of defeat”.

While other houses such as Saint Laurent proudly wear their Frenchness on their sleeves, Dior does not, and is, in fact, becoming more, er, Italian? Or Roma, the place of Ms Chiuri’s birth? Is this her strategy? Seems so. The scenography is conceived by compatriot, Anna Paparatti, considered a key figure in the Roman art scene of the ’60s, who created the set based on the Roman night spot of the same era, Piper Club (which still exists!), thought to be the city’s own Studio 54 back then, while the soundtrack is sung live by the Italian indie electro-pop band II Quadro di Troisi, attempting Italo-disco in considerably lesser beats per minute. What should we take away from all this? Viva Roma?

Photos: Dior