Friday, June 30, 2017

Balenciaga // Spring 2018 // Menswear

Has fashion become unfashionable? Is cynical realism eviscerating beauty? These are the questions posed in many a think piece in the fashion industry recently in response to the largely unfashionable Spring 2018 menswear shows which fetishised normality, transporting it to an extreme realm where it mutates into something touched by the fashion hand. This aesthetic began to emerge a few years ago with the rise of designer collective Vetements—their bitingly sarcastic dissection of consumer culture and capitalistic values electrified the fashion industry when they catapulted onto the scene in 2014, to a healthy serving of critical  acclaim. The face behind the anonymous, Margiela-esqe cult is Demna Gvasalia. Not only does he serve his own Swiss-based brand but he’s also artistic director at one of the most storied couture houses, Balenciaga. 

Balenciaga and Gvasalia have had an interesting relationship in the year and a half they’ve been together. They’ve been embroiled in legal disputes; they were accused of copying a Thai market shopping bag and, more recently, of copying a Ruff Ryders shirt by rapper Swizz Beatz… Gvasalia has made an indelible stamp on the house: there are his incredible, memorable proportion-defying silhouettes, instantly-recognisable handbags and unforgettable imagery from Mark Borthwick, Harley Weir and Johnny Dufort.

“Young dads in the park with their kids at the weekend.” If memorability is what Gvaslia is solely striving for he certainly achieves that in his Spring 2018 menswear show, his ode to paternity. Situated in the Bois de Boulogne, the second-largest park in Paris, the show was characterised by a further fetishisation of normality—specifically, it was told through the narrative of dad culture, society’s new cultural phenomenon that is fascinated with nostalgia and ideas of parenthood. It was 90s-tinged with leather trousers, wide-leg jeans, vaguely hideous Hawaiian shirts and psychedelic outerwear. In the advent of gorpcore and normcore, the eventual dissection of dads was to be expected.

This is just another facet to Gvasalia’s exploration of mature men—the ones who have long been forgotten by the fashion industry… but for good reason: they’re everywhere—devoting fashion collections to them is no use. Is this tongue-in-cheek portrayal too fond of its subject? In some ways, no: the exaggerated shoulders, the looseness or tightness of his garments add artistically monstrous qualities to the models—just the kind of sardonicism we’ve come to expect from Gvasalia and his frequent collaborator, the stylist Lotta Volkova. The casualness of this collection too had its perversities. Shirts and hoodies were sheathed in plastic, a characteristically fetishistic addition. 

Perhaps the most important part of the unfashionable fashion, cynical realism debates is whether or not the disembowelment of beauty is acceptable. Isn’t fashion meant to be for dreamers, with heightened and unexpected perceptions of what constitutes beauty? Doesn’t this latest trend defeat the purpose of fashion? Demna Gvasalia certainly thinks it’s acceptable, but even he has his moments. 
Vogue Runway

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Royal College of Art London // Graduate Fashion Show 2017 //

On the eve of the snap election called seven weeks previous by Prime Minister Theresa May, the Royal College of Art graduates were presenting their MA collections to the fashion press. It was the unofficial start to London Fashion Week Men’s. Many of the shows were, expectedly, politically charged. There were poetic nods to the atrocities in Manchester, to identity politics—students’ relationship with their race, religion, sexuality—and anti-consumerism. There were 40 collections shown over a three hour period. 

I reached out to four graduates, the ones whose vision and presentation struck me the most. There’s the eclectic ebullience of Rose Danford-Phillips’ Modern Baroque, the poignant exploration of black masculinity from Bianca Saunders, a sportswear-infused youth explosion from Charlotte McDonald, and the surreal disco-dancer in Colin Horgan’s jubilant work. 

I posed the same five questions to each aspiring designer and there were recurring themes in their answers. I probed them on their inspirations, their status as graduates, politics and the future. It is an interesting read, hearing the voices of four impressive students whose stamp I hope to see across the world in years to come.  


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As I often am, with Rose Danford-Phillips’ work I was drawn to her colouration. Her inclination to work predominately with bright hues caught my eye amidst the sea of subdued colours. It might be considered typical of a graduate to work with bold, arresting colours so to demand the attention of the magpie-like fashion press but I was mostly intrigued by the way she matches colouration with fabrication.

What inspired the collection?

I grew up surrounded by both cultivated and wild nature (my parents are gardeners), and so my collection is inspired by my fascination with nature; an interpretation of the complexity and unrestrained beauty of nature, which I express through layering unusual materials, colour and a maximalist aesthetic that takes joy in abundance and opulence. 

I create my own ecosystems of layered and built fabrics in knit, print and unconventional embroidery. My clothes are in a state of re-wilding - I infect the silhouettes with rich colourful textiles, giving them life. I grow my embroideries over graphic and sculptural silhouettes to emphasise and contrast the organic and the built landscape.

What is the hardest part of being a graduate today?

I’ve only done it for 2 weeks! I suppose not knowing what’s next. There could be jobs, or there mightn’t be and you just have to soldier on. It’s a weird combination of exhilarating and terrifying. I’m also really going to miss the facilities to make whatever I want immediately and very cheaply, 

Do you feel obligated to reflect your political opinions in your work?

I think the most important thing for someone to show in their work is their personality, some kind of essence - which could span so many concepts and aesthetics, let alone anything political. 

I think that all good designers show off some sort of political opinion in their work, usually identity politics, but I don’t think we are obliged to show them - fashion doesn’t need to be so overt that a political opinion is obvious. 

I don’t think you can really see a lot of my political opinions in my work… perhaps a belief in environmentalism. I do see a sense of hope, joy surrealism and a sense of humour in my work though… it’s not overtly political, but to me it’s important. 

Do you think it is increasingly hard to decide between launching an eponymous label and joining the ranks at a luxury conglomerate?

It’s not a difficult decision if you aren’t rich! It’s almost impossible to start a label without some money, and I don’t have any so I don’t find it to be a difficult decision, especially because I love making clothes that would be really really expensive and I don’t think many people could afford them! I would much rather to continue learning by working for an few interesting businesses, and collaborating with different people. I’ll definitely keep making stuff putting it out there, but I don’t feel the need to have my own big thing. 

What does fashion mean to you?

To me fashion is an applied art - one of the most challenging and complex ways of delivering a concept or aesthetic, because of the ways it unique touches identity, culture and history. It’s exciting and innovative and I love the way it stretches to encapsulate so many ideas and expressions. I think the general understanding of fashion is a really sad, neutered, capitalistic view of the beautiful fabulous thing fashion can be. 
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Perhaps you’ve already heard of Bianca Saunders… the virtuoso has already been profiled in Dazed and i-D, two publications that most graduates dream to be featured in. Her work comments on black masculinity and chiefly she used interviews with her male friends about masculinity and their relationship to the clothing. Hence, ‘Personal Politics’ was born: a collection and an accompanying short film. 

What inspired this collection?

My friends and conversations I was having around the time I started the collection. I selectively chose to interview male friends that challenge the stereotypes of hyper-masculinity and how that is internalised. The interview features Kareem Reid who has become a big part of my collection; what he had to say in his interview was really powerful  and gave me a lot to think about when it comes to black masculinity. I found it interesting how the other characters in my research film reacted to being questioned—it showed signs of vulnerability. I used the reactions to the questions to title the collection ‘Personal Politics’, as it’s about these personal conversations about black masculinity in reaction to their personal style that leads these characters to be challenged from having feminine nuances. 

What is the hardest part of being a graduate today?

It’s too early to say—so far so good. It has been great.

Do you feel obliged to reflect your political opinions in your work?

I don’t but I believe it’s my duty to be as authentic as possible. If it happens to come across political, so be it.  

Do you think it is increasingly hard to decide between launching an eponymous label and joining the ranks at a luxury conglomerate?

Yes, it is! To be fair when has it been easy? London is really expensive so having your own label is difficult.
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Like Ms Saunders, I was enamoured by the way Charlotte McDonald’s personal approach to fashion design. She sought inspiration from her family’s military enlistment history and studied the explosion of youth into adulthood and that uneasy time. Her clothes were marked by a sporty indifference and thrust is well into the 90s. 

What inspired this collection? 

When I design it's not necessarily a theme or a main inspiration. I'm susceptible to my surroundings and those around me - so it is very instinctive. Having always had an interest and having built an archive surrounding masculinity and the pretences we have of young men today (my younger brother and members of family are in the Army)  I conducted interviews, and took images which led to my MA 'interference' collection. It's the idea of order and disorder coming together in a moment of glitch and youth in between boy and man. In terms of material, I became infatuated with stickers and the tactility of these against the skin -  I developed a process called RF welding which is normally a hidden process often used in inflatables and high tech sportswear for its durability - I explored exposing this through using a range of fabrics under this method, denim, silks, rubber and satin nylon. The physical process of this is almost like a mechanical stamp - irreversible and using electromagnetic current. 

What is the hardest part of being a graduate today?

I don't necessarily think it is 'hard' being a graduate today, I think it's your attitude towards things. For me, I felt more than ready. When you do an MA you are so engulfed by your own line of enquiry and process that it doesn't feel like education in that sense, your doing this for you. So graduating isn't really like the end of an era - it's when a new one is beginning. 

Do you feel obliged to reflect your political opinions in your work?

It is natural that our beliefs and opinions manifests itself into our creative work, so it's not an obligation it just happens. For me, with everything I do there is context and a whole other world of personal primary research and references behind my work. The sketchbooks, photographs and films that came through the collection work are endless. It doesn't necessarily have to be brash for a designer to express their opinions on society when sometimes it may be the subtle nods that are most powerful.

Do you think it is increasingly hard to decide between launching an eponymous label and joining the ranks at a luxury conglomerate?

Do what you want to do, for you.

What does fashion mean to you?


Emotion. And where all disciplines collide and explode: art, photography, film, sculpture, painting.
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Colin Horgan’s work reminded me, fundamentally, of Rick Owens latest menswear collection. For him, fashion is about transporting the wearer or the audience to a fantasy world and, moreover, the catwalk show is intrinsic to his brand. I recalled Owens’ show as it too was preoccupied with detracting from political turmoil and establishing itself in a distant surreality—Horgan’s one was dazzling-coloured and efficiently exacted. It is easy to imagine his work in the pages of Love magazine or something of that kind… in months to come perhaps we’ll see him there.

What inspired this collection?

My inspiration came from the idea of 'Second Mothers' or what I associate it as 'Temporary Mothers'. My influences are a combination of physical and virtual women growing up. Kim Betts who played ‘Lightning’ on the television series ‘Gladiators’ became a major influence in both my life and work. From the virtual realm I was fascinated by a character called Nina Williams from the video game ‘Tekken’. I wanted my collection to be a celebration of bringing these women onto an equal platform where fixation and highlights are represented in new and manmade materials. The draped parts represent the organic, flesh and blood women while the heavily technical aspects echo the technological women in my life. Each of these characters are unique however they share one interest and that is their natural gravitation to danger.

What is the hardest part of being a graduate today?

I think the hardest part of being a fashion graduate today is being original. The industry today is so saturated with the new that I think as a graduate it’s very hard to make your own stamp without people having an opinion or associating it to something that’s already familiar. I think the key with my work that makes it new and fresh is the approach to finishing. I wanted to create something that is 100% me in the finishing. I had taken my own steps and research ways into a new way of finishing the fabric selection I had made to make the most out of its possibilities. I didn't have buckets of money to get the highest end fabric but I think what I created gives a feeling of somewhat high end even though the original composition of the material before treated is quite cheap.

Do you feel obliged to reflect your political opinions in your work?

To be honest I think the internet and papers have enough political opinions already out there - this is my own place where I think I rather focus on fantasy then reality. I don't have a problem with people that do though - if its genuine and honest then of course I'd support it but for my work it doesn’t make sense.

Do you think it is increasingly hard to decide between launching an eponymous label and joining the ranks at a luxury conglomerate?

Definitely today it is increasingly hard to take the jump to do my own thing. The annoying thing is that I really want to but I don't have the cash to do so. If I do my own brand I want to make sure that I have enough cash to cover a good few seasons and production as I don't want to be in trouble only 3 seasons in. I don't have a problem working for someone else but I know it’s not forever. But then again if I do work for someone and get the freedom I want then it’s better to spend someone else's cash then my own.

What does fashion mean to you?

Fashion, to me is my way of communicating my mind. I think I don't get enough from seeing it on paper or seeing it in a photo - I think it’s definitely the show. I'm a huge supporter of showmanship as long as there is substance to the work behind it. I think nothing beats a show and for me and if I have a brand, the show is a major part of it. I will decide the clothes, the shoes, the earrings, the models, the walk, the music, all the bells and whistles that come with it. To me, fashion is about the whole experience - and people want to be a part of it.
 



Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Rick Owens // Spring 2018 // Menswear

Darkness into light: Rick Owens exchanged his subterranean show space at his Spring 2018 menswear show at Paris Fashion Week for a défile en plein air. A scaffolded maze was erected outdoors at the Palais de Tokyo on a sweltering early summer’s day for his models to commandeer. The sheer scale of the venue reflected something Owens wanted to achieve in his collection—he wanted heroism, might and power.

This show of heightened poeticism was rendered in a characteristically limited colour palette and questioned the basis of his brutalist aesthetic. (Oftentimes his work is interpreted as ostentatious and frighteningly standoffish but, conversely, it’s rather poignant and gentle.) This was a marked departure from the outset, what with the outdoor production where models walked godlike over water. 

Owens insistence on anti-normality has been the cornerstone of his success. His catwalk collections are the antithesis of normality and pride themselves on an avant-garde, abstract expressionist methodologies; it’s one founded on a gestural approach to the body. Not readily apparent here, one recalls last season’s menswear when his models were gloomily engulfed in puffer jacket contortions and besieged by billowing bottoms or layers upon layers of organza for Spring 2017—it’s a recent phenomenon in his design process but in its artistic inclination, it is determinable as wildly original and assertive in its worldly proclamations. The aim for Spring 2018 was to respond to the chaotic epoch we find ourselves in. There were some intriguingly odd shapes that defied standard notions of what we expect our bodies to be encased in. They were subtly supple but generously welcoming—generally, they can be registered as intimidating but these were totally pleasant.

Elsewhere, Owens removed the element of the bomber jacket—the signature menswear staple—and replaced it with blazers and cropped sleeveless jackets. The designer is always spotted taking his bow at the end of his show in a sleeveless vest. There were plenty of tailoring options here. Personally, I was drawn to the beautiful sleeveless biker jackets that captured an effortlessly endless summer style and inspiring insouciance reserved for film, photography and literature—timeless fashion, a positive introduction.

Although practicality was on his mind—this was certainly his most instantly sellable to date—there were some perversities. Fetishism was visible in those tiny shorts styled with luxurious leathers, the deconstructed t-shirts which resembled bondage items; lustrous leathers were almost slimy in the sunlight, an Owens-ian fusion of discomfort and luxury. 

Despite their inclusion, fetish wasn’t the most interesting part of the show. Its strength was in its confident delivery. Owens’ mastery of a designer isn’t lost on us: it never will. He believes in balancing the avant-garde and ‘wearability’—the most banal term in fashion, but ’twill suffice—and without his invaluable contribution the industry would rapidly stagnate. Instead, he slows down the process. Whether he’s being overtly political as in recent seasons or transporting us to somewhere removed from the global conversation, his vision is unmatched and his mark indelible. Why can’t there be more like Rick Owens in the world?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Versace // Spring 2018 // Menswear

It’s an interesting year for the house of Versace. The brand is performing well, the sister line Versus is also expanding efforts with a collaboration with Zayn Malik. Next month marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Gianni Versace who was murdered in July 1997. The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story is a television series set to premiere later this year on FX in the US. Donatella Versace, the brand’s overseer, decided to show the Spring 2018 menswear show at the Versace house on via Gesu at Milan Fashion Week last weekend; it was a homecoming—the brand has favoured industrial spaces of late but this was a reexamination of the house codes, the fundamentals and the stylistic presence.

There were familiar items: pinstripe suiting, rococo printing which has been counterfeited to death at this stage, sumptuous silks. It entered heritage brand territory but, needless to say, that doesn’t mean it has to be trite—Donatella simply wouldn’t let it become that. Her prerogative was to inject the classics with newness, transposing the datedness of the aesthetic to something contemporary. 
The virility of the Versace man is often off-putting but Donatella infused this show with a certain campiness that has been absent for some time, hitherto. A baby blue tracksuit and 80s-inspired club outfit consisting of a branded t-shirt and wide-leg trousers; similar looks in baby pink emerged—a pink tracksuit? It was a submergence into days gone by and it was delightfully amusing. A printed silk pyjama combination and white trainers? Ostentation reached peak levels and the richness of the look risked being an eyesore, however, it’s memorability forgave it. A gold tracksuit with a crown emblazoning… “fabulosity”, one presumes, is something Donatella wanted to achieve. Favoloso.

However, that’s not to say she entirely ruled out the fearless machismo: the opening half of the show conveyed the focus and tailoring prowess of the house. In a turn of events, they were slightly dressed down—shirts were untucked, some were missing ties, trousers were slashed at the knee creating sporty shorts. The addition of baseball caps and adidas ‘Superstar’-esqe trainers contributed to the sporty effectiveness of the show.

Furthermore, this show was an ode to Donatella’s late brother. The cornerstones of his menswear, and womenswear, efforts were all present in the show. It subverted the house’s heritage and it packed a punch, it had character, it was distinctly on-brand. It’s the year of Versace… but to the woman at the head of the house every year is the year of Versace. 
Vogue Runway

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Marni // Spring 2018 // Menswear

When Consuelo Castiglioni announced she was stepping down from the brand she founded, Marni, shockwaves reverberated around the industry. The brand which prided itself on intellectualising fashion with its experimentalist perspective saw the exiting of Castiglioni, her husband and cofounder Gianni Castiglioni and their two children in an unexpected turn of events. To replace Consuelo, Renzo Rosso appointed Prada-trained Francesco Risso who made his debut in the menswear season fall 2017, in January at Milan Fashion Week. His debut was satisfactory, albeit pastiche—his over-reliance on his previous employer’s aesthetic was visible; this is especially problematic given the implicit competition between the artistry of the two Milanese brands.

Transversely, Risso’s Marni was geared towards a younger consumer. Castiglioni was preoccupied with spotlighting the necessity for individuality for her women. Risso’s reconfiguration is a tricky one, based on business obligations rather than creative propositions. This, perhaps, is where the complications arise. It is a poisoned chalice, empathy is advised. Replacing a storied, much-loved fashion designer at a storied house is no small feat. There is a bounty out on Risso’s creativity. There is industry-wide scepticism and bitterness and the current creative director is faced with the runt of that. Critics search for opportunities to dismantle his aesthetic, highlight and castigate minor faults. It’s unfair but characteristic of the fashion industry. These things take time and Risso deserves a chance to prove himself, even if it is difficult to watch in parts. 

His Spring 2018 menswear show was another cityscape exploration. One presumed it was the end of the day, the styling was insistent on insouciant charm, with untucked shirts and wrinkled jackets. Shirts were unbuttoned and ties were loosened, the Marni man was homeward bound. Risso shed the rigidity in tailoring that Castiglioni favoured. Here, the man was influenced by casual tendencies—the recurring motif in spring 2018 collections, the mergence between casual clothing and workwear. There were the usual Marni idiosyncrasies, shown in odd, slightly unappealing colours. A blue and green striped suit were typical of the Marni aesthetic—the emphasis on something perverse, ugly.  

He endeavoured to bring more originality to this collection but there were still notions of recent Prada collections—and Thom Browne too, with the swimwear-inspired pieces. One couldn’t help but register the meretricious nature of the clothing. They were decidedly shallow and Marni has never been thus. Perhaps he needs to pay greater attention to the brand codes: “irreverent and emotional.” He has the irreverence down but what is irreverence if it doesn’t have emotion? 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Markus Lupfer // Fall 2017 //

If I had a dime for every time I read “masculinity meets femininity”, or something to that effect, I would be aboard a Sunseeker yacht, cruising along the French Riviera. It’s become a trope in fashion show press releases—everyone is interested in the conversation between masculinity and femininity and how the two relate to one another, how one can be informed by the other. German-born, London-based Markus Lupfer, who presented his Fall 2017 show at the Blue Fin Building in Southwark, is the latest designer to join the bandwagon. His recent collection spoke about borrowing menswear styling tricks, adding pieces from a man’s wardrobe to enliven one’s outfit.

Lupfer, for all intents and purposes, is a high-end trend translator in the way Topshop or H&M are low-end translators. His function in the industry is to dilute the currents trends and present them to the customer in their simplest form. Here, Lupfer simplifies the conversation around gender and the wider cultural shift to accept gender ambiguity—albeit his way is conventionally, distinctly feminine. It possibly began with J.W. Anderson’s pioneering Fall 2013 menswear show where he displayed a perverse vision of masculinity; at the time, the show was slated but four years later and the discussion is ever-evolving. Evolution is intrinsic to the narrative. The primary question that should be asked about Lupfer’s collection is did it, in any way, advance the dialogue? Perhaps the designer missed the mark on that one but the menswear-inspired pieces were smashing efforts. The form and fit of his check suiting, the innate functionality and effortless cool of bomber jackets—undeniably, they were beautiful items of clothing. 

To extend the collection, and his vision of the city-slicker, Lupfer introduced sportswear… or would it be best labelled as athleisure, the thrilling outdated concept that continually inspires. Metallic tracksuit pants were styled with tracksuit pants, interestingly. It was a heightened version of reality. Generally, on the bus or underground, one is exposed to black or navy tight-wearing commuters but the fancy take on the commonality of sportswear in a daily wardrobe. Furthermore, Lupfer explored the stylistic concept of layers. A smattering of print, a melange of fabrics, his looks were a melting pot of texture.

It isn’t necessary for Markus Lupfer’s clothes to be swathed in dense layers of subtext—strikingly, they speak for themselves; although they may not be groundbreaking or assisting in a fashion revolution, they have razor-sharp clarity of expression and there’s a lot to be said for that.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Ashley Williams // Fall 2017 //

At the heart of this show—and every Ashley Williams show, it seems—is a party. (Kate Bush is probably playing. A lyric from the seminal British musician was printed atop the press release. “Go into the garden, go under the ivy, under the leaves, away from the party,” from the 1985 song ‘Under the Ivy’.) She electrified her London Fashion Week show with production design courtesy of Tony Hornecker—bursts of foliage, dismantled office equipment. (The set is an important artifice as I often find Williams work can appear quite flat on an empty runway. She roused a laudatory audience last season with her ode to River Phoenix, a story told through an imagined teenage girl’s bedroom.) 

Her party girl however was unorthodoxly presented; she’s the girl who effortlessly rolls out of bed from a thirteen hour Orange is the New Black binge, with only fifteen minutes to get ready and strides confidently through an atmospheric party. It served as an explanation for Julia Sarr-Jamois’ styling which saw the pairing of hoodies and plaid skirts, cropped puffer jackets and A-line skirts, halter-neck tops and sweatpants. 

This season she was looking at Paninaro, a European subculture amongst teenagers who fetishised American culture. America has been on the minds of many fashion designers and creative directors during the fall 2017 womenswear season. President Trump’s ascent to power, chiefly, has inspired this train of thought. The state of the nation is truly lamentable and Williams’ sorrow was palpable in this collection. Sweatshirts reading “MISERY” and “SAVE THE PLANET” were notable standouts, unmistakably referencing the resoundingly felt emotion when thinking of America—pity, sadness, despair. She explored Western influences, which were particularly amusing in the current climate (and they showed up a day later at House of Holland). The preppy sensibility of Ivy League schooling was apparent in her use of check. All of these cornerstones of Americana were the derivation of Williams’ mood board; she was fascinated by the the way Paninaro kids in Milan were obsessed with mainstream culture, how surprising the subcultural movement truly was. 

What I appreciate most about Williams is that I view her as a designer attempting to establish a clear, coherent message within her collections. It isn’t always a successful mission but there are unquestionable levels of effort. She may not be London’s brightest spark but she bubbly, effervescent and badass. She punctuates her aesthetic with bad girl defiance without entering saccharine territory—her woman determined and determinable but she’s not yet fully-fledged. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Off-White // Spring 2018 // Menswear

When asked about which designers inspire him Raf Simons highlighted that Virgil Abloh’s Off-White doesn’t. “He’s a sweet guy. I like him a lot actually. But I’m inspired by people who bring something that I think has not been seen, that is original.” On one hand, you can see where Simons is coming from—banality, the mundanity of the street is emphasised in Abloh’s work. In 2012, he founded Pyrex Vision, a streetwear brand where he screen-printed logos onto Ralph Lauren rugby shirts and Champion t-shirts. He is rather focused on remixing, as opposed to the fabrication of something “new-new” (to use Simons’ words again).

Spring 2018 marked his first guest appearance at Pitti Uomo in Florence. (Off-White is Milan-based with production based in Italy also.) The Palazzo Pitti at night, the audience was enveloped in darkness. Darkness was used to the designer’s advantage; he collaborated with neo-conceptual artist Jenny Holzer who was responsible for the textual projections on the walls of the renaissance building. Poetry was streamed on the walls; guest split their attention between spotlighted models and the words before them—one imagines an intense viewing experience. Syrian and Palestinian conflicts were referenced with the use of this poetry—to date, it was Abloh’s most politically aware show. He sent his guests orange t-shirts with life-preserver instruction graphics on them, a quote reading “I’ll never forgive the ocean” on the back. He was thinking of the plight of the refugees, many of whom drown when traversing the Mediterranean in search of a better quality of life, escaping war-torn areas in Syria and Africa.

Political awareness has never been Abloh’s forte. He prefers to contextualise the street in six months time for millennials. However, this is an important shift. The son of Ghanaian immigrants, the Chicagoan manages to tap into his family history to present this new political iteration. Commenting on the war in Syria, the refugee crisis—as I have discussed in the past—can be highly problematic, depending on your perspective. Many capitalise on the backs of others’ plight. Here, we have a more authentic viewpoint, from a designer who is the offspring of immigrants. His Instagram presence, his position as Kanye West’s creative direction, and his polymathic sensibilities will hopefully raise awareness for these issues. His fusion of fashion and art cement this fact. 

The clothes weren’t as artistically-inclined as the presentation but they were interesting nonetheless. Coats were influenced by life-vests, clearly; fabrication was clinical, chilly almost; notions of protection were at play, as they tend to be in most collections nowadays. Readily apparent in his work are the influences of Japanese designers Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garçons, his critic Raf Simons, Russian star Gosha Rubchinskiy. Although this is the case it links back to Abloh’s affinity for remixing. It doesn’t have to be truly original, so long as it serves a function to appease the Instagram stars that will purchase these clothes… Derivativeness doesn’t deter from the clothing either, some of them are quite fashionable and, more importantly, desirable. 

“Temperature”, the show was entitled. Abloh turned up the heat, finally.

Friday, June 16, 2017

J.W. Anderson // Spring 2018 // Menswear

Designers rarely wear the clothing they design. Mary Katrantzou is regularly seen in black shift dresses; Karl Lagerfeld opts for Dior Homme tailoring; Demna Gvasalia possesses an understated dress code. Irish designer Jonathan Anderson sticks to a navy cashmere sweater and blue jeans, perhaps Converse footwear. There are exceptions to this theory. Jonathan Anderson experimented with something different in his Spring 2018 menswear collection presented days ago at Pitti Uomo in Florence, Italy at the Villa La Pietra. (His absence from the London Fashion Week Men’s calendar was noted.) He described the show as a fantasy of sorts, an imagining of how he likes to dress and present himself in the summer months. It was possibly his most authentic work to date and also his most commercial.

With the stunning backdrop of the renaissance villa, the show began at dusk. His troops: dewy models, roughly aged nineteen proceeded to walk the catwalk in an evocative procession. There were familiar shapes and ideas. He expanded his interest in patchwork, applying it to taupe macintosh jackets; there was a reissuing of his ‘JW’ anchor logo sweatshirt, recognisably the most commercial piece; logo t-shirts, permeating the show with a hint of bad taste—the graphics resembled the iconic Coca Cola logo. Anderson is a master of capturing a mood. Spring and summer of 2018. He avoided the recently popularised trans-seasonal approach, prioritising the season at hand and presenting the archetypal summer wardrobe. 

It evoked thoughts of Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino’s oeuvre—in particular, 2015’s A Bigger Splash and the upcoming Call Me By Your Name, both filmed amidst the spectacular Italian vistas. On the note of Call Me By Your Name, it played on Anderson’s penchant for imbuing his work with homoerotic notes—the film examines a gay relationship between a 17- and 24-year-old. (In the past he’s collaborated with Grindr; most of his handbags are accented with a cock ring detail; his website sells many homoerotic ‘artefacts’, for lack of a better word.) The designer noted the sexuality of Florence, the recurrence of nakedness across the city; he declared it the “most sexual of cities”. 

However, this wasn’t reflected overtly in the collection. The clothing was more influenced by the tourists Anderson speaks of, basing his interpretation of them on his wardrobe. Denims used here were inspired by ones Anderson had in his wardrobe for years, ones we see him wearing at the end of his shows when he takes a victory lap. There was the simplicity of a crisp white t-shirt and beige-coloured shorts, a fringed beach bag in hand; an orange logo t-shirt and denim shorts. Bells and whistles no longer, Anderson stripped everything down to pieces that could be found in anyone’s wardrobe.

Truly, this was a toned down collection. There weren’t many exhilarating delights as there usually is. There were some of the recurring Anderson idiosyncrasies and challenges to stereotypical notions of masculinity, but they were few. It wasn’t gripping but it was beautiful. It was pedestrian, not thrillingly perverse but it did amplify Anderson’s ability to create confident commercial clothing. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Martine Rose // Spring 2018 // Menswear

“Probably the best designer in the world,” confidently reads Martine Rose’s Instagram biography. With such chutzpah one can’t help but explore the reasons why this might be the case. Perhaps it is her ability to draw fashion crowds to distant London locales: last season it was Seven Sisters on a rainy Sunday night, an hour away from central on the day of a tube strike; this season it was the Stronghold Climbing Centre in Tottenham Hale, a forty minute trip from central. Or maybe it is her covert influence on the current state of fashion—Rose consulted for Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga at the time of the roaring success of the exaggerated proportions. It could be how she disappeared from the show schedule for a number of years but her return was feverishly anticipated.

Whatever it may be, Martine Rose is a powerful force in the industry. She’s quietly influential, exerting her energy in unassuming ways and, in doing so, presenting truly wonderful clothing that challenges perceptions; in an interview with Vogue Runway’s Sarah Mower, she declaratively hopes to “[make] the ordinary extraordinary.” Having been previously inspired by American Psycho, here she looked to the photographic oeuvre of Trevor Hughes who lensed the Toronto underground scene of the 80s and 90s.
Undeniably, 80s and 90s sensibilities permeated the show. Increasingly, the portrayal of the convergence between formal workwear and casual clothing becomes a recurring motif this menswear season. It developed last season with the reissuing of suiting and emphasis on tailoring, the notion of extreme normality, where proportions are contested. There were references to MTV—Rose redesigned their logo, replacing the TV with “Rose”. Founded in 1981, the company defined music culture at the time before segueing into questionable territory, programming shows like 16 & Pregnant or Teen Mom. The Martine Rose character may appear as a striking contrast to this but there is undeniable joy in her work. She fetishised normality last season, presenting striking suiting in rich palettes. Here she played with gorpcore, citing “climbing, golfers, bicycle messengers” as inspiration. There were tan shorts fit for the gold course, sturdy footwear from Nike and colourful anoraks; lycra, too, made an appearance.

The wide-shoulders were recognisably Balenciaga staples, also pointedly 80s-related. This should come as no surprise given her recruitment by Gvasalia to consult on his menswear collections where this now signature shape originated from. She has a keen eye. She knows what works and her clothing isn’t overtly cynical. In fact, it’s rather celebratory. It celebrates her sleight of hand, her eye for designing for a modern man—in all his iterations, not just the singular vision of the straight white male. 

What makes Martine Rose so special? Is her self-ingratiating Instagram biography true? Perhaps she isn’t the best designer in the world but she is remarkable. There is something captivating about the simplicity of her work but also her determination and the enchanting spell she has cast on the rapt fashion industry. What she brings to the table is a unique perspective, her vision of how men should dress. It reflects the world around us. (Mostly positive casting contributes to this too.) There are notes of perversion that leave us questioning, what exactly is it Martine Rose trying to achieve? My guess: she’s trying to be the best designer in the world… and she’s succeeding.
 Vogue Runway

Gosha Rubchinskiy // Spring 2018 // Menswear

Gosha Rubchinskiy’s spring 2018 menswear show—one of the first of the season—was presented in a far-flung destination: St Petersburg. As midnight drew closer, the show began. (Meanwhile London Fashion Week Men’s had just began earlier in the day.) The show marked the second of Rubchinskiy’s longterm initiative with Adidas, in the run up to the 2018 World Cup which is to be held in Russia next summer. The idea behind the collaboration is to showcase a bright Russian creative and present him on the world’s stage; principal sponsor Adidas in turn jet editors from around the globe to promote Russian tourism ahead of the event. It’s a win-win for all involved: Adidas flex their business muscle and earn supernormal profits with the willingness of Rubchinskiy’s fanbase; Rubchinskiy’s business continues to blossom, assisted by the sponsorship; Russia, too, benefits from the presence of both.  

We’ve seen Vetements x Juicy Couture. Louis Vuitton x Supreme. Sacai x The North Face. Unsuspecting collaborations are all the rage in the fashion industry currently. Next up? Gosha Rubchinskiy x Burberry. Yes, you read that correctly. The Russian designer and Christopher Bailey crossed paths to create a reinvention of the trademark Burberry check—the print that the brand began to dissociate with in the early 2000s when it connoted to celebrities associated with “chav” culture in the United Kingdom and the proliferation of counterfeits. It isn’t unsurprising for Rubchinskiy to choose this print, a lesser-appreciated, almost inferior, print. After all, his obsession with nostalgia (and the world’s current preoccupation with it) coupled with his love for subverting working class codes brought him to this concept. It came in the form of large shirts and roomy shirts—it conjured an image of a dorky boy on summer holidays. Fetishising working class codes has long been one of Rubchinskiy’s primary motivations—specifically the youthful offsprings in working class families. He targets them with relatively accessible price points, his sporty or skate-influenced aesthetic. It could be considered morally dubious marking up the mundane, but Rubchinskiy does what he does best and he doesn’t appear to be stopping.

A quick Google search will also present one with information on the Burberry check’s association with football; “football hooliganism” led to garments using the print to be banned from certain venues. 

Football is linked closely with this collection, as aforementioned. This season it was total immersion into the football gimmick. Sports kits were designed, the loose-fitting, 80s-inspired jersey top with slinky emerald green bottoms, or a goalkeeper’s vest in a punchy peach; socks were knee height and the shoes were loosely based on studded boots worn on the field by the virtuosic sport stars. 

Youth culture-informed, the sportswear elements to the show cannot be denied as impactful. However, the rave culture aspect to it is where Rubchinskiy intended the focus to be directed. The Mariinsky Theatre was the home to the Russia’s inaugural rave. Fluorescent accents, brightly-coloured trousers and rainbow tie-dye pieces dominated the lineup. I envision Rubchinskiy’s legion of hopelessly devoted fans lining up outside Dover Street Market clamouring to purchase one of the tie-dye pieces, before posting them to Instagram, building the hype—the advent of social media is the reason why his is a successful label. Without the internet, there wouldn’t be endless resources and access to imagery and history of 90s raves. Not only would it be unavailable to the designer, but to the teenage boys who scour Instagram and Tumblr and obsess over this culture.

With the Burberry collaboration, the Adidas initiative and the emphasis on rave culture at play in this collection it was the first time when I truly felt robustness suited Rubchinskiy. There were a lot of talking points and each of them as interesting as the next. It might be considered naive to pander to youths but one has to remember how those in their early twenties and thirties could buy into these clothes also. As I said previously, Rubchinskiy does what he does best and he doesn’t appear to be stopping.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Xander Zhou // Spring 2018 // Menswear

There was a marked difference in the tone of menswear design in January’s instalment of fashion week. In lieu of the Brexit outcome, the election of President Trump, the general mood of the world was darker, more glum. Its influence was pervasive throughout the collections we saw. Martine Rose in London, Raf Simons in New York—the two designers championed the investment banker aesthetic with subverted banality, perverted suiting that reflected the men in suits, the dominant forces in society. It was an abridged exploration of the world around us and was distinctly more appropriate than some of the more eccentric creations present at men’s fashion week.
It appeared Xander Zhou—showing on the opening day of London Fashion Week Men’s, the fifth anniversary of the event—pondered similar concepts. His show space was an office block, replete with makeshift partitioning, the smoothly-carpeted grey floors, the bleak fluorescent overhead lighting built into the ceiling. He was thinking about the men in suits, their effect on the world. After binge-watching the latest House of Cards offering, one can’t resist viewing the state of politics cynically; secondly, the exposure to suiting comes at a time when one regularly considers the appearance of politics and politics of appearance. Many of the looks featured a microphone connection… on first glance I thought it was a wiretapped vessel, a symbol of decaying privacy and increased need for transparency but upon closer inspection it appeared to be a bodyguard of sorts—it was a more pointed stab at the notion of protection but it hadn’t been done before. There are only so many times you can view a collection boasting exaggerated proportions positively. In areas he was overly reliant on preconceived ideas of the banality of suiting, ones we’ve been reintroduced to over the past six months.  

Menswear shunned suiting for a period. For an extended time there wasn’t a tie to be found on a runway from London to New York. However, their resurgence signifies the designers’ disapproval of this epochal shift, where conglomerates rule everything, government officials operate in dubious territories, consumerism is polluting the world. Behind it all? The men in suits. To heighten this visual pursuit, Zhou introduced traditionally urban motifs. The surface of blue trousers were akin to denim; trousers with exposed, stylistically-asymmetric seams gave the impression of what’s beneath, the underbelly of politics; there was also an acid-wash denim jacket with thick black buttons that resembled a traditionally appropriate office attire. 

It’s a poetically bleak way to look at the world, but with the right styling—Xander Zhou had it—one can expect to be visually arrested by the bluntness of it all. This collection had an urban edge which solidified its success.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Sid Neigum // Fall 2017 //

There are certain characteristics that could be universally accepted as ones which, on face-value, would imply a designer’s straight; they are measure and poise. Sid Neigum, Toronto-based fashion designer, exemplifies those attributes. His eponymous label presented its third collection at London Fashion Week in February at Alex Eagle Studio, a retail space in Soho, early on Saturday morning. A minimal space, it reflected his clothing: the crisply cut, pristinely precise poise rarely seen amongst young, emerging designers.

Le Corbusier and mathematical formulas have inspired Neigum in the past. He is interested in certainty, as seen in his tailoring, and the beauty of precision. The golden ratio, a famous geometry concept, is preoccupied with proportion and is fittingly assigned to fashion design. He once explored ideas of geometry, however this season furthered the developed of softer silhouettes as opposed to the rigid hardness of previous seasons. He finally struck lucky with this new balance of lightness and rigour.  For every structured coat there was a slinky dress—a draped dress in a golden hue stood out.

To promote this advancement his colour palette was restricted to black, white, gold (humorously in line with the mathematical concept) and burgundy. The result was beautiful, admittedly. The colours and the shapes, complemented by the setting, emphasised his unobstructed, measured mindset. 

I find myself more interested in the young designers who prioritise craft and endeavour to create a sophisticated vision rather than the explosively imaginative mavericks who challenge our eyes to keep up with their designs. On one hand, Neigum is at an advantage. His clothing is more readily saleable, and as The Bay in Toronto points out, his clothes are purchased by those who also shop for Azzedine Alaïa. Secondly, his aesthetic is widely accessible and pieces can find themselves in any wardrobe. His quiet rebellion could be considered more radical than, say, the Matty Bovans of the world. On the other hand, perhaps it is disadvantaging Neigum to play it safe. Aesthetically, his clothes are mesmerising but they border banality in parts. On the whole they are original, fixated with mathematical concepts as opposed to disinterestedly throwing fabric at a mannequin. It’s hard to know where to stand. 

It all began with a memorable debut last February, at the Insitute of Contemporary Arts, followed by a delightful runway presentation at Brewer Street Car Park. With the BFC’s mentorship and support, Neigum has been catapulted to the world’s stage. With a mathematical approach and intellectual pursuit of superior fashion design, a star was born in London with his arrival. Each season brings greater depth and understanding, a clear vision of the direction he wants to take to satisfy his multiplying customer base but also his design aesthetic—all of this is complete with measure and poise.