I needed some time to map the Spring 2018 collections seen in New York, London, Milan and Paris. Although defining the different categories was done immediately after the last day of PFW, analysing the styles and the messages behind each designer’s collections took me a while. Without being present at all the shows, I was able to sniff out the comments, the reactions of buyers and critics as I sat next to them in Paris or while waiting in the light rain to attend a show. The readings of Suzy Menkes, Tim Blanks, Angelo Flaccavento and Sarah Mower helped me write down my personal comments today.
My division in chapters of style is based on my personal experiences as a retailer. I continue to see design through the eyes of the buyer, or through the eyes of the sales person I was sitting in front of, the buyer in the showroom trying to act as a go-between to best communicate the message, dream and passion behind the designer’s work.
Let me start with the most complex style that could snuggly fall under a concept recently introduced by Tim Blanks: Transmogrifying The Basics. The surprising or magical transformation of garments was a red thread woven throughout a number of collections such as Japanese brand Beautiful People or provocative Demna Gvasalia for Balenciaga and Phoebe Filo for Céline. The latter obtained rather stylish results – the British fashion designer and her team are able to create the comfort zone mature woman are searching for: no gimmicks, no exaggerated design, nothing but simple beauty to make us feel better. I am convinced we need beauty in this increasingly complex world.
The transformation of garments, the interlocking, morphing and unravelling into a new design was brilliantly put together by Beautiful People. The name of the label itself holds the promise of delivering style for people who love fashion. In his official statement, designer Hidenori Kumakiri says: “We can’t always change the world, but we can choose how to see it.” Nice, isn’t it?
Our perception of beauty is based on personal heritage and education. In fashion, we have to constantly reconsider the concept of the word beauty, observing it from different points of view, genders and generations. To judge the aesthetics of Gvasalia is extremely complex, for it is deeply rooted in street style, irony and provocation; not exactly the same scenario that saw the birth of avant-garde designer Christobal Balenciaga’s elegant and modern woman dresses in the brand’s early days. Models without make-up, looking tired or bored, donned composed and transformed dresses and crocs in bright pink and yellow colours; not exactly the beautiful shoe one would have in mind when attending a party at the Met in New York.
Speaking about bad taste is a very subjective position to take while describing what I saw on the catwalks of the fashion world in September 2017. To have the courage to discuss the word taste is challenging, but I have nothing to lose, so here I go! The ugly beauty-ness is intriguing and if this is the reason why designers use this aesthetic in the collections of spring 2018 I see it as a clear act of provocation towards us, the critics, for nothing is more arduous than criticising bad taste. I can say that I disliked the Vivienne Westwood collection created by Andreas Kronthaler – surely my voice will have no impact whatsoever on his career – but it’s up to the buyers to ultimately decide whether they will acquire these items for the customers who adore bad taste. Maybe there are more people interested in the shock effect provoked by wearing terrible colours and shapes than we think. In a world were values are upside down, maybe dressing down is a good way to fit in society. We, citizens of the world, are a bit depressed anyway, so a terrible garment can only underline the mood caused by our having to digest bad news on a daily basis. Composing a complex silhouette by combining cheap fabrics, terrible colours, difficult volumes and flashy prints on a woman’s body is not so new, but introducing this collage in the framework of a summer collection, where the body is usually quite visible, might be very daring. Some codes are easier to analyse. A pregnant woman showing her belly through an unbuttoned dress – why not? Design inspired by second hand clothes is also not new and we must also take into consideration the way this specific market is damaging the fashion industry in India and Africa. I can hardly say I like the approach of Eckhaus Latta and the sublimation of bad taste present in their imagery and choice of models, style and language. Their nakedness is ugly – but who cares?
My list in the category of Bad Taste, Dressing Down also features Calvin Klein designed by Raf Simons. Not exactly what we expected of mister Simons, but the younger his target becomes and the longer he lives in New York the more negative the body is dressed. Coincidence? Time will tell. The American society is shockingly unsettling – who wouldn’t become disturbed living in a country dominated by fake news and insane management of its current frailty?
This is an easier chapter in my report on the past September fashion weeks presenting S/S 2018. Both Gucci and Saint Laurent are over-the-top! More is more… and we enjoy this bulimic overdose of garments, ideas and unexpected edgy combination of dress codes mashed together with good taste. Only the maestro Alessandro Michele is capable of doing so with brio! The 60s elements are not my favourite when it comes to the spring 2018 collection but he is trying a new aesthetic and it is done with a certain naivety that is charming to observe on the runway. His styling is a clear result of edgy bad taste that however does not ultimately harm the final customer, who can make the item his or hers by selecting a good piece of clothing and forgetting Michele’s tailoring suggestions.
Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello is a revised Saint Laurent. Reminiscent of the energy of change present in both the Tom Ford and Hedi Slimane eras, it is a strong, re-born Yves. Still packed with the elements of its heritage, the new collection flaunts a shorter, sexier, younger, punkier and more dressed-up vibe! It might stand on the edge of good or bad taste but there is a strong coherence in what the designer is trying to apply to the iconic YSL logo. As it turns out, sexy-ness is a good addition to a house that was on the verge of becoming old; the shorter the skirts, the wilder the girls become. The more YSL logos appear on heels, shoes and bags the more they crave this item! Dressing up gives more energy to fashion than dressing down; therefore, I vote for dressing up!
This trend emerged especially in Paris. How far can we go to dress a body? How far can we push the experiment and to what extent is gravity helping the designers play with volumes? For example, let us focus on the volumes of Rick Owens’ final silhouettes, Rei Kawakubo’s boxes and shapes and the extraordinary Lynchian “Twin” (peaks) atmosphere of Undercover’s presentation. I could very easily describe Jun Takahashi’s collection as a work of bad taste, but to me it felt more like an act of questioning who we really are. Are we the person we show the world or are we faking by purposely wearing the wrong clothes? Would I be more honest if I were wearing Uma Wang? Do I hide myself by playing a game dressed in Yohji Yamamoto? Our duplicitous nature is always hidden somewhere; that’s my interpretation of the Cindy Sherman ‘clin d’oeil’ on the garments.
When it comes to strong borderline creativity, the usually unpredictable design of Rei Kawakubo seems to have deflated in her last season’s collection spring 2018. We are now used to her extremely experimental designs, volumes and boxes, hiding woman’s bodies and probably herself from the critique of the Fashion World. It is impossible to love or hate her designs; she checkmates all criticisms. We are all curious to watch her next steps in this complex world of Fashion business.
Last but not least, another prominent figure in this category is considered the master of today’s fashion design: mister Rick Owens. He is serene in his presentation, doesn’t look back or doesn’t hide; he is the master of innovation, creativity in the purest sense of the word and he is playing it a hundred percent cool, natural and strong. Bravo! We were sitting in the open air, a cloudy sky above us, wearing a black plastic cape over our fashionable outfits and waiting for the show to start. I was in the first row (thank you PR) next to American beauties, Instagrammers and music performers, but all was so funny and relaxed that I enjoyed every moment of it. Mister Owens was truly at his best; he found a way to surprise us and give us the adrenaline we needed to attend the non-stop series of shows from morning to late evenings, jumping in Uber cars with traffic jams all over Paris. The ‘Palais de Tokyo’ was the perfect setting to showcase his goddesses as they took to the stairs of the Art Deco building, a symbol of modernity and contemporary thinking – this is your place Rick! As the water of the fountain fell upon us, we raptly gazed onto his amazing creativity without borders, later heading home happy, satisfied and proud to have witnessed this mesmerizing moment. Many beautiful women were dressed in cocktail dresses on occasion of the opening of the new YSL museum… I hope they draped their black plastic capes with the Rick Owens logo over their shoulders… contrasts.
Lest we not forget the pink, skin colours of fashion trends today. It adorns women and makes them look fragile, more tender, softer. Not bad in a world where women are constantly required to offer better, stronger performances on every level. As I observed the Italian designer mister Valentino Garavani at the end of the show I felt young again because he was my idol when I was studying fashion design at the academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. Yes, nobody is perfect, but at that time Vogue Italy was at its peak and fashion was creating the dream for the rich and famous – Italy at its best! This dreamscape managed to overrule the sadness or roughness of other collections, as if it were a kind of gift we all deserved at the end of a long fashion week. Beauty is just beautiful to watch. Nice models, great make-up, soft garments, modern but not too much, romantic but with style, richly embroidered but nonetheless subtle, a lot of pink and on top of this the soundtrack featuring Grace Jones’ sexy voice singing ‘la Vie en Rose’. This is what I would call a real fashion Moment! Pink and red were seen at different shows and also Alexander Mc Queen’s collection designed by Sarah Burton was a dreamlike fairy tale story set in a lush garden of flower and daffodil patterns. I did not find the result particularly convincing but perhaps it was maybe more so to the customer buying those clothes for an evening on the top floor terrace of a six star hotel attending the wedding of a Princess on a beautiful evening in Paris. ‘La vie en rose’ is big business in fashion and why not embrace this soft luxury where ‘prêt a porter’ becomes haute couture and where VIP customers have priority and first row seats next to the Suzy Menkes’s and Tim Blanks, veritable stars of the International press.
But where in this whole story does the Instagram Chic stand, where are the clothes for a generation that will soon represent 45% of the global market? Well, at Chanel and Dior! Surprised? Yes, these traditional houses are understanding what is happening in the online world of today’s fashion. It is product, it is wearable, it is expensive, it feels young (but is it?), it is desirable – therefore it is Fashion! Nobody cares if its good or bad taste, nobody worries about the money involved in making a good show, a good brand, a historical moment in time. It is fashion to be consumed and its main purpose is to be exclusive and desirable. No problem – so let’s say the set-design of Chanel’s latest show at the ‘Grand Palais’ was exaggerated and cost a fortune. Sustainable? Who cares? How can you make a negative comment when you have front row view of 90 silhouettes designed by a legend, mister Karl Lagerfeld? Dior and Chanel, two labels that have shied away from widespread e-commerce businesses; companies owned by the richest people on earth focusing on the youngest generation on earth, a generation that, unlike the hippie youth of 68 that renounced design for the love of revolution and the homemade, is consuming fashion. At Dior, millennials will find the clothes to fit their wardrobes and maybe they will wear the t-shirts with the feminist slogans printed on them without even understanding the messages they wish to convey; messages important for the ‘68 movement but, quite frankly, not so relevant today. Ok, we, women, still need to find our place in this confusing society, but a lot has been done and we are free to speak for ourselves (Weinstein apart, of course).
Italy and Belgium inspired me to write about two designers who apparently decided to take a step back in history; Versace to the ‘70s, when Gianni was designing a new concept of luxury for a budding fashion movement, and Ann Demeulemeester, key designer for a new Belgian fashion movement in the ‘80s and 90s. It seemed as if I were sitting at their show watching design moments that proved to be crucial for the history of fashion at that time but are not relevant for fashion today.
Emerging labels are trying hard and working with a lot of passion to become a significant part of fashion week. Unfortunately, the shows planned for the first day of fashion week are not attended by the big names of fashion critique such as Tim Blanks or Suzy Menkes; as the latter are likely on a plane running to attend the Dior show planned for Tuesday afternoon. Paskal, Jacquemus, Aalto, Anrealage, are interesting labels, engaged and trying to get interesting messages through, but because of their being small and due to the lack of financial support they struggle to reach higher levels of design and creativity. Two labels, Aganovich and A.F.Vandevorst, were actually absent as they were unable to invest in fashion shows this year.
This is my favourite category because the designers are good, strong, independent and succeed in dressing women with authenticity and style. Their creativity is based on honest design, fascinating craft, great fabrics and colours, not overly driven by product and e-commerce. I am talking about Dries Van Noten, Uma Wang, Yohji Yamamoto and Haider Ackermann. A true sight for sore eyes in the ever-changing fashion system. Please, can you keep up the good work and delight us with the same good and strong design you’ve managed to showcase on this season’s runway?