For his latest menswear collection, called “Get Ready,” shown during this past men’s fashion week in Paris, the designer Geoffrey B. Small turned to Shakespeare. The reenactment of a scene from “King Lear” served as the backbone and the background of another emotional show. Small is never one to shy away from expressing his political and sociocultural views, nor to use his work in their service. What better way to use art and unite it with fashion than a runway presentation? Indeed, fashion is at its best, or at least most engaging, when it speaks to other cultural disciplines, or listens to them.
We often call a good fashion show theatrical, but according to Small there actually hasn’t been any theater used in a runway show (I cannot recall any either), and in a way this was a visionary outing.
Why King Lear? Environmental concerns are very much on Small’s mind, and have been for some years. And King Lear is about squandered wealth, a resource of a kind. It is also about squandered love, a resource that is often taken for granted as self-renewing, but is actually far from such. King Lear is also a play where everyone is guilty, perhaps with the exception of Cordelia. Though Lear suffers much, he is an impetuous, capricious patriarch, who is now paying for his sins of pride and shortsightedness. Small recast this in a different light, making Lear a representative of an old generation that has squandered our planet’s resources, turning it into a wasteland. This was represented by a runway covered in plastic. Lear and his Fool, also covered in plastic, appeared in the famous scene on the heath, in which Lear curses his ungrateful daughters and the Fool wishes for a world of human righteousness that never has and doubtfully will ever come.
Yet, Small is an optimist. The models who came out wearing Small’s decidedly unplastic clothes represented a new generation, a new hope. Small prides himself on using only natural materials created by human beings using artisanal techniques, and the juxtaposition of his historicism-tinged garments made of cashmere, wool, and linen, or mixes thereof, against the plastic runway was brilliantly jarring.
The standouts from these clothes, which felt sumptuous to the touch when I examined them in his showroom a few days later, were a long priest coat, a jacket with horn buttons usually found on duffle coats, a light linen long coat with a super high vent, a blazer with the inside-out construction, and several long skirts.
What made the show even more emotional was that Small is a proud fashion outsider, who was offered to play the fashion game (at one point Karl Lagerfeld shot one of his collections) but refused, and who has built a successful business despite it. His shows are defiantly off-schedule, and decidedly different in spirit. They, and this one especially, recall the best of the kind of a DIY art spirit that used to permeate prewar-Paris and mid-century New York. It is not exactly anti-establishment, but rather the message here is that we don’t need the establishment, we are perfectly fine on our own.
In the show’s finale the models stood frozen as “regular people” came out to examine them like some statues in a museum where you are allowed to touch the displays. According to the show’s notes they represented a new generation that will clean up the mess Lear’s generation created. In the end, not just the designer himself, but the entire Small’s team came out for the bow, as if to underscore the collective effort that goes into the making of a maison. This was a gesture in itself, since most of the fashion industry slaves away in the shadows. Isn’t it time things changed?
Photography by Guido Barbagelata.