Paris, France – Live, reporting from another mixed season, which is better than reporting from a bad one, and pretty good as far as things go in fashion these days. As I got to Paris the buzz went something like, “Wow, creative fashion was shown in Milan,” referencing the Bottega Veneta show, where Daniel Lee, formerly of Celine, showed a hard-edged collection, avoiding the customary Milanese triangle of glam/kitsch/camp. Pigs also fly. Also, old favorites disappoint. But that’s fashion – it’s fickle, and even diehard fans must recognize that things change. It still seems that the most important question today is who will be the new old Celine, since the new Celine gets sadder with each season. Jil Sander seems to be the top contender. Also, streetwear, at least for women, seems to be finally over. Also, not a single pair of Balenciaga Triple S amongst the Paris show attendees. This is how hype dies – quickly, but not before cashing in, so don’t expect that to change.
My first show was that of Dries Van Noten – a decidedly un-hype designer. The show’s invite was plain gray, confident in its monochromatism. So were the first five or so looks that he sent down the runway – powerful, assured without being cocky. It was refreshing and strong and unexpected, until the expected kicked in. It ain’t no Dries without flowers, and sometimes only he can give the flora the treatment it deserves. This wasn’t one of these times, but it was still a collection worth seeing. I loved the patent leather platform shoes with rubber-coated bottoms, that offset too much sweetness; it’s the Dries I love – the one who can throw in a little kink curveball so deadpan that most people will totally miss it because they are too busy looking at the roses.
At Ann Demeulemeester the next day the show felt tired. My hopes were up after an excellent men’s collection Sebastian Meunier presented in January, but they were shattered after a dozen or so shapeless dresses that trailed on the floor. I wouldn’t mind a couple of them, but one after another they looked lifeless, and those made of cotton jersey simply looked cheap – even the clever styling could not save them. The large hats perhaps were meant to detract the eye, but they only highlighted the inadequacy of what was shown below them. The monastic tailoring Meunier presented in a handful of looks was great – he could have easily made an entire collection out of such a visually rich theme. I didn’t even mind the shiny peach jacquard – it was levels above the sad cotton jersey. One things is clear – the Ann Demeulemeester label needs a reboot, and I am not sure where it will come from.
I love auteurs – I promise one day I will write an article about this – and Rick Owens reminded us all again that he is an auteur par excellence when he presented the women’s version of the Larry collection, dedicated to the Filipino-American designer Larry LeGaspi. It was a phenomenal show – full of energy from start to finish, from the music to the make-up and of course the clothes. In the fashion world Rick Owens is now left peerless to fly the freak flag – and he never flies it at half-mast. While other designers occassinsaly dabble in freakness, which only makes them look more fake – Owens owns it. And while others use freaks as props in their spectacles and discard them when they are no longer needed, Owens has made a home for them and has given them a high-level platform to express themselves. So it was with the Instagram famous Salvia, who did the prosthetic makeup for this show. So it is with the late LeGaspi, whom Owens is resurrecting this fall with a book he is publishing with Rizzoli. The fashion crowd loves Rick’s freak the way it likes the animals at the zoo or Buddhist monks – just another form of entertainment and tourism. Owens knows this and doesn’t care. He will do what he does and more power to him. I sorely wish more designers were invested in their work the way Owens is. Fashion would infinity benefit from it. And, yes, the clothes were there to back up his talent – the severe coats with padded or rounded pagoda shoulders, the in your face platform boots, the sexy body suits. I hate the whole empowerment through sex cliche, but the women who stomped down the runway looked nothing if not empowered.
On Friday morning I saw the collection of Yang Li, who this season decided to forego a runway show. Instead, he sent full looks to women he admires and asked them to take selfies in the clothes. The resulting shots became the lookbook. In the industry that is obsessed with keeping control of its image, ceding this control was a bold gesture. What’s more, it was a smart one, because the muses first posted the selfies on their Instagram accounts, which enabled Li to harness the power of social media. Within a day, the campaign had a half a million Instagram impressions. Li continued to mine his already established design codes that marry kink with elegance – leather pants and a white cotton dress shirt, a long wool coat with cut outs on the hips, the elegant goth silk dress with a bondage strap, and so on. My particular favorite was a buttery leather top with zippered shoulders and a folded collar, which, if you looked closely enough was simply a perfecto reduced to its most minimal expression.
At Yohji Yamamoto the following day the maestro presented a collection so polite and inoffensive that I couldn’t even muster a for or against reaction. It consisted of all the Yamamoto tropes – black, gabardine, etc. – and there were flashes of sartorial brilliance here and there, but mostly it was as listless as the strumming of guitars that soundtracked the show. Some coats had built-in gloves, which Yamamoto has done before. One of them showed a middle finger, a gesture that has become tired and banal in itself. Seeing Yamamoto play by all the rules of fashion – dressing celebs and models in his clothes and sticking them in the front row to be photographed – made the whole affair even more dispiriting. Do you really think Coco Rocha has Yamamoto in her closet?
Saturday was the day of all things Comme des Garcons, with three shows from its galaxy. In the morning was the riotous presentation of Junya Watanabe. It was grungy and punchy, and if he borrowed a few things from Undercover in both the clothes and the presentation, I did not mind, because it was still Watanabe in its execution. The man is talented and my wish is that he continues mining the youth culture themes, because he will still make everything the Watanabe way – spliced, twisted, thoughtful.
At Noir, Kei Ninomiya continued proving that he is the next best thing at Comme des Garcons since Watanabe. As I wrote in the BoF profile that came out the day of his show, the sheer uncompromising complexity of his work makes him fit right into the CdG universe. Ninomiya takes a deep dive into a one-note concept – this time the rose was the inspiration – and makes a symphony out of it. And so it was here with the voluminous constructed pieces, some of which were hand-woven from fabric tubes into nestlike garments whose intricacy was nothing short of mind-blowing. If one day Ninomiya will take over Comme des Garcons, I’ll say I told you so.
Later that day Kawakubo herself showed that of course she’s in no mood to cede her avant-garde crown to anyone. The Comme des Garcons collection was dedicated to shadows, those phantoms that grow stronger as they multiply. The mood was dark and the clothes were steadily somber and complicated – almost everything was black. Kawakubo does not care about wearability as far as the runway concerned, but I am very curious about how it will be all toned down in the showroom – there is potential for this collection to one of her most desirable in recent history.
Between all the Comme des Garcons action there was the disappointing Haider Ackermann show. Look after look, my reaction was that we’ve all seen this one too many times. I don’t mind – nay, I love designers who go narrow and dig deep, but this was narrow and shallow. It was a lazy effort – there is no other way to say it – same robe coats, same slim leather pants, same color-blocking, same color palette, same shoes. It was if Ackermann only realized that he has a show to stage a few days prior, went into his closet, pulled out some old garments, and slightly tweaked them.
Geoffrey B. Small presented an intimate off-schedule show the same night. It was called “I Am Not Sustainable,” the phrase that models hurled at the audience in lieu of the soundtrack. Now, if anyone can lay a claim to sustainability it’s Small, who produces highly limited runs of garments made by hand in Italy from most exclusive natural fibers, and who worked with re- and up- cycling way before it become trendy. But Small is sick of all the greenwashing that’s going on in the fashion industry and he wanted to dedicate a show to just that. The clothes themselves were what Small does best – that out of time mix of traditional tailoring and contemporary proportions, not exactly historical but simply atemporal – the kind of stuff you can wear forever.
Next day the ever inscrutable Thom Browne put on another fascinating show. For this one he built an inside of a ‘50s bank – one of his recurrent motives. The female clerks showed up in their Browne (make that Grey) uniforms and did some typing, while the rest of the models circled the runway. Maybe because it was of the music that reminded me of the Spirited Away soundtrack, but I couldn’t help feeling that they seemed lonely, in a sweet melancholy way. I wanted to know what they do when they get home. Do they make a salad and watch some stupid TV show, knowing full well how stupid it is, how smarter they are than the life fate dealt them? I could be completely off the mark, but Browne loves different interpretations of his shows, which are never obvious. For example, what did it mean when the same office workers came out in the dresses that in trompe l’oeil resembled their gray suits? They did not look like they were subverting the workplace – they sat docile and typed as instructed. I am concentrating on the presentation, but it did not overshadow the brilliant clothes – especially the long tweed dresses with a sexy full-length zipper in the back. One of Browne’s points of brilliance is that he has been steadily erasing the line between couture and pret-a-porter for years, and he continued to do it here.
Before Thom Browne I saw the Undercover collection in its showroom. Jun Takahashi continued his pivot from music to film as the main source of inspiration, this time using both the old and the new versions of the horror film Suspiria. The results were stunning, from the coats with all-over prints to the suits with interchangeable lapels made in mixed fabrics. The kawaii silhouettes clashed with the terrifying theme in that most deliciously macabre Takahashi way. The brilliant jewel-tone color palette only added to the experience. “The thing with Suspiria is that it’s horror, but it’s also a beautiful film,” Takahashi told me at the showroom. And it’s exactly the feeling with which he imbued this collection.
I had to cut my trip short this time and missed the Sacai show, which looked great from the photos. Japan remains the one country that still is able produce artistry in fashion, and it’s the country I still look to with hope in our increasingly dispiriting fashion world where hype and corporate interests have taken over completely. C’est la vie.