Paris greeted me and the rest of the fashion circus that has come to ogle at fashion, but mostly at itself (the image of some bimbo taking a half-turn winking selfie in front row at Ann Demeulemeester with the show as background is forever seared into my brain), with incredible weather – a rarity in my recent memory, as usually I find myself dying of heat or freezing to death in the City of Lights. I am convinced therefore that god hates fashion, but these days maybe he hates politics even more, since even such an omnipotent force must operate on some kind of theory of relativity. So does fashion, and as usual, I saw collections that ranged from “I’ll never get this hour of my life back” to “Yes, please, come again.”
It began somewhere in the middle with the appointment at the Undercover showroom. Jun Takahashi stopped his women’s shows in favor of men’s after last season’s phenomenal “We Are Infinite” collection. The S/S 2019 collection, called “The Seventh Sense,” was presented in a photo shoot format. It consisted of seven vignettes, like a collection of loosely tied short stories. There were some parallels with the men’s collection from the same season that was based on the cult film “The Warriors.” Here was some crossover of gangs, and hey, which guy wouldn’t want his stylish female comrade in arms to battle the forces of evil, by which I mean the waves of basic bitches (of both sexes) that have overtaken all the major cities of planet Earth?
As for the garments themselves, they were hit or miss. There was a fantastic black section that perfectly encapsulated Takahashi’s talent for mixing materials and creating just-the-right-off-kilter silhouettes. But in other sections of the collection the fabrics felt too plasticy or too pajama-like, and not in a way a high-end designer clothes should feel. I understand that this was the look that Takahashi was going for, but I wished that it was better executed. There will also be a new Nike collaboration for you sneaker freaks.
My first show was that of Dries Van Noten, and the man did not disappoint. It was a more than competent collection in which the highlights were the hand-painted ensembles in white satin. Mercifully, Van Noten continued moving away from overabundance of ornament while retaining his signature clash of colors and patterns. But here they were more subdued, more graphic, which made that white satin pop all the more.
Next morning I made my way over to Yang Li’s showroom. The London-based designer also skipped a show this season in favor of a presentation via a photo shoot. The rough theme of the collection was self-voyeurism, the idea that we are constantly watching ourselves, and the blending of the real and the unreal into something I guess, following Baudrillard, we could call hyperreal. The lookbook highlighted this by using two different models representing the same woman – one real and the other an idealized version of herself. In the clothes organza featured prominently, both revealing when on its own, and concealing when layered over wool and canvas.
At Ann Demeulemeester we were treated to another disappointment by Sebastien Meunier. The clothes felt lifeless – it seemed like the work on the collection stopped half way in. The lack of energy in the clothes was unsuccessfully hidden by styling – with the veils/hats on models’ faces and fabric roses that felt so cheap that they only highlighted the underwhelming garments. Taken apart in the showroom, however, there were some desirable pieces, so a capable buyer should do quite well. But in the long term that is not a solution for a house that is not quite sure in which direction it’s supposed to go.
Later on that day Uma Wang presented another lovely collection in an intimate show at Eglisse Saint-Merry. It was a perfectly eerie setting for a show that did not stray from Wang’s soft signature, while adding new propositions in the way the garments twisted around the body. I loved that she added big bags made of canvas – their rigidity was refreshing after the expected crushed velvet and soft cotton, and I would be glad to see if Wang continues to explore that fabric story.
And then there was Rick Owens, who set fashion ablaze in a show that was as stunning as it was uplifting. It was held again in the court yard of Palais de Tokyo, and again the kicker was a deceptively crude showman gesture – this time a burning tower modeled after the Tatlin tower (google it). Deceptively crude is what Owens does so brilliantly, as every centimeter of his shows is astutely calculated, as is everything else in his esthetic universe. I couldn’t help thinking that there must’ve been a meeting with the heads of the museum, in which Owens had to propose, without flinching, setting up a bonfire in the middle of Palais de Tokyo. I would’ve loved to have been a fly on that wall.
But the clothes – some of the garments were stunning in their complexity, the novelty of the garments and silhouettes, the styling. The insect-like silhouette that opened the show had it all. Everything cohered to make this presentation a standout, and yet another confirmation that Owens is a true auteur, one of the last one’s standing in the bland world of corporate fashion. Again, some elements had continuity with the men’s collection from the same season – the denim, the giant “sequins,” that were put together in a kind of a puzzle with missing pieces. There were the American flag stripes Owens made barely recognizable by rendering them in black and dirty beige, functioning as wings on a cape. And there was denim, the all-American denim, dirtied up and twisted, just like our politics.
One thing was on my mind after the Olivier Theyskens show. Except for Dries Van Noten, Belgian fashion, however crudely this monicker describes it, seems to be in a bit of an identity crisis. It hasn’t been able to produce a single Belgian talent that has moved the needle on fashion in a long time (I am not counting Gvasalia here, since he is not Belgian). Since its romping heyday of the 90s, when Ann Demeulemeester was voted the second most important designer after Gaultier, when people gate-crashed Margiela shows, and when its young talent took unfathomable risks driven by the sheer energy of their milieu. Theyskens was one of them, and his version of dark romanticism felt so in tune with the zeitgeist. The clothes that Theyskens showed last week were every bit as lovely; lace was offset by kickass boots and S&M prints by Hans Bellmer, for a mix of romance and sex that a dresser can take in either direction (strangely, this is one show that did not translate well into runway pictures). But while Theyskens’s talent is unquestionable, the main question is who will wear his clothes in 2018. In terms of stylistic choices the fashion world has simply moved on from skirt suits and crinoline dresses, and we can lament it all we want, but that’s the reality.
The same question of reaching out to fashion as it is today seemed in the air at Yohji Yamamoto. The designer gave all the wrong answers. There were cut outs in black dresses on thighs and back that revealed the model’s underwear. Sexy Yohji? No, thanks. The first half of the show consisted of garments that seemed to be made of lining – perhaps the outer fabric has not yet arrived? They lacked structure and sartorial detail that Yamamoto is so good at. Then we were treated to an overload of zippers that seemed pretty gratuitous. And so on.
By contrast, how different things looked in the Comme des Garcons universe the next day. The trifecta of Junya Watanabe, Kei Ninomiya, and Rei Kawakubo put on capable, relevant shows that highlighted the fact that this house can both march to its own beat and remain important to contemporary fashion. That of these the Noir by Kei Ninomiya show was the most awe-inspiring only underscores the fact that CdG can produce top young talent better than some fashion schools out there. The complexity of his construction methods imbues virtually every garment archetype he touches with a kind of magic that makes fashion with a capital “F” what it is, or rather what it should be.
Watanabe’s collection – the 9:30 show woke us up with a Queen soundtrack – leaned heavy on some of his favorite tropes – denim and making punk look cute, a Japanese tradition that I find alternatively endearing and irritating. It worked here, and I’ve always admired what a craftsman like Watanabe can do with denim. Here, he once again reengineered it into long skirts and dresses, patchworked them to death (that’s a compliment), and paired it with white tulle and cotton. There was also a fresh-looking canvas section, almost like denim but in beige, which I loved.
Kawakubo-san has mercifully moved away from her manifesto of not making clothes, and it was nice to see her going back to something that resembled garments. In her own words, she wanted to make things simple. In CdG terms, that meant nothing of the sort, and we were treated to slashed and twisted garments that would make any Comme fanatic’s heart sing. There were also unsettling shapes that were cut at the models’ womb level with a pregnant belly protrusion. They looked like jagged C-sections, and I dare not comment on what that all meant, and we’ll certainly never find out from Kawakubo herself. The show was set to a Tom Waits soundtrack that came straight from my brain and made it all that much better.
Speaking of good music, Haider Ackermann’s show leaned on a mix of “I’m Your Man” by Leonard Cohen, which is not fair to certain fashion critics that shall go unnamed. As I watched Tilda Swinton play Tilda Swinton a few seats away from me, the feeling that Ackermann is someone who has made his work into a performance that squarely refuses to deal with reality (this is also a compliment) came back to me. The show itself was a fine addition to Ackermann’s body of work, but it did not make my heart sing the way Cohen did. There were welcome attempts at new shapes in the form of dress shirts with kimono sleeves, but they seemed neither here nor there, as hybrids sometimes do. I did not care for the ornamental laser cut-outs either, nor for the shades of green Ackermann chose this time. But there was also gorgeous golden embroidery, the stunning shade of olive that he should patent by now, and the black and white looks that combined leather and cotton to great effect.
The next day at Thom Browne I experienced an unfamiliar feeling of dissatisfaction. Usually, I love Browne’s combination of surrealist theater and couture techniques, and his general IDGAF modus operandi when it comes to shows. This time it felt a touch too much. The show was held god knows where (No fashion editor will like you for this, trust me), and it was another slow parade of marine symbology that we have seen one too many times. The poor models looked tortured, and we’ve already had enough of all the anchors and lobsters embroidered on all the gray wool, seersucker, and tweed imaginable. I know that Browne’s phenomenal talent is capable of more, so perhaps the next time.
My last show was Sacai, and Chitose Abe proved again that she’s a designer par excellence. The talk of the town during the fashion week centered on what a Celine woman should be buying now that Slimane murdered the brand with one stroke. And by a Celine woman we mean a woman who is into fashion but does not want to look it. No one seems to have the answer. But a woman who is into fashion and wants to look it would be hard-pressed to do better than Sacai. The sheer audacity of construction of Abe’s work is enough to make one giggle with pleasure that such things exist in the world of oversized hoodies and idiotic sneakers. This time Abe took her signature hybridization to another level by putting asymmetry front and center. We saw half-trenches/half-capes, half-sweaters/half-blouses, utility vests mixed with lace, and so on, rendered mostly in solid colors to highlight the shapes. One of each, please.
And that’s about the gist of it. I’ve gotten many requests during my stay here to write about Hedi Slimane’s collection for Celine. I don’t have much to say about it (you can read my take here) – it was always evident to me that this untalented megalomaniac will do Saint-Laurent 2.0. Just give him his own label already and let him make all the boring skinny suits, shrunken perfectos, and sequined kinderwhore dresses he wants. A couple of perfumes, and presto – you’ll have a successful brand with dumb clothes for dumb people. Whatever.