Thursday, March 22, 2018

Saint Laurent // Fall 2018 //

In a predominately sexless season, Anthony Vaccarello’s latest instalment for the house of Saint Laurent didn’t just serve a soupçon of sex, the clothes exuded it. Abbreviated hemlines, skimpy shorts and plunging necklines galore. It was a flesh-bearing extravaganza, taking place in a large box by the Eiffel Tower, which conveniently flickered in the Parisian night sky as the guests exited the venue post-show.

Vaccarello pays close attention to scale. 87 looks. Vast show space. His Saint Laurent is about directing the business on its upward trajectory. His task isn’t to revitalise rather to extend the longevity of its commercial success. His predecessor Hedi Slimane (now Céline-bound) ushered the house to its status as a $1 billion company. Vaccarello’s placement isn’t that surprising. His sultry urban sensibilities and attentiveness to the glamour of rock music is an aesthetic not too dissimilar to Slimane’s.
Consistency is one word that springs to mind. Vaccarello, like Slimane, stuffs his runway with countless variations of the same idea. The first 58 looks, almost all black, almost all mini dresses or shorts, didn’t hammer home the idea of seduction but it bludgeoned it into the viewer’s mind. But it wasn’t entirely captivating, fourteen in and one grew tired. 29 looks at the end were floral embellished minis. It became numbingly repetitive.
He observantly resurrected archival pieces in order exploit the everlasting desire for vintage. His flashbacks conflated the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, when the late Yves Saint Laurent was designing. There was the ‘Beat’ collection he did for Christian Dior (Fall 1960); glimpses of ‘Russian collection’ (Fall 1976); odes to signatures that underscored shows in 1986 and 1989. Extravagant, wide-brimmed hats; graphic silhouettes and ample décolletage, Vaccarello’s referencing is decisive and manages to modernise it somewhat. 
There was menswear on show too. Unsurprisingly, the boys were suited and booted, mostly in slick evening wear and some casual options too. Their looks were punctuated by scarves, hats and hoods, which felt pertinent given that the show was presented during the Beast from the East, when temperatures plummeted. The men were ready for the subzero conditions. As for their female counterparts? 

Vaccarello is lobbying for party dressing in fashion, at one of the most noteworthy houses, in a season when most have turned their backs—and noses—to the trend. However fabulously fierce they looked, how long would they last in the bitter cold? Certainly not as long as that cape-boasting, sweater-touting, jeans-covered male counterpart who breezed through collection’s midpoint.
All images Vogue Runway

Monday, March 19, 2018

Neil Barrett // Fall 2018 // Menswear

Neil Barrett’s soundtrack for his Fall 2018 joint menswear and womenswear show, at his Milanese headquarters, consisted of The Human League’s ‘The Things That Dreams Are Made Of’ and The Verve’s ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony.’ The 1980s and 1990s are resurgent. Big shoulders, corporate dressing, kitschy sportswear, block colours dominated the runways from January to March.

Neil Barrett is a proprietor of minimalist menswear, a Central Saint Martins and Royal College of Art graduate with a background in tailoring—his father and grandfather were master tailors in Devon, the southwestern English county. His expertise brought him to Gucci where he worked as senior men’s designer, before joining Prada. Mrs. Prada’s work is often readily apparent in Barrett’s oeuvre, this season in the form of his nylon pieces.

The nylon pieces were examples of reconstituted luxury, taking a fabric that doesn’t necessarily have connotations with luxury and making it that. It’s what Demna Gvasalia does, deftly, at Vetements and it’s what skyrocketed him to success: subverted luxury. Barrett’s rendition wasn’t as successful in that his clothing isn’t that exciting, it’s menswear meat and potatoes.
The use of those songs this season was perhaps the most interesting part of the show because it got you thinking. Materialism, wealth, excess are significant in the context of modern luxury and similar themes are expressed in those songs. On his runway there were expensive clothing, they looked as much. There was precision tailoring, leather detailing, shearling accents. There was a subtle richness to proceedings but the militant touches was the main message in this show. With nods to the popular theme of clothing as a means of protection—from the schizophrenic weather, political leaders or political turmoil. He rendered it in the form of militaristic workwear.

Alexander Wang tried to do the same for his womenswear in New York a few weeks later. He channeled a similar dominance. Perhaps he was taking cues from Barrett, who was taking cues from Helmut Lang and Miuccia Prada. Neither succeeded in contributing something new to the dialogue—neither did Mrs. Prada at her menswear show in January—but that’s fashion nowadays.

It was a give and take process. Barrett had the symbolism of his soundtrack, reflecting the materialistic 21st century society and precision tailoring, but he sorely lacked any groundbreaking addition to a preexisting narrative. It bought too much into the current preoccupation of 1990s corporate dressing, and not enough its own story, which could’ve been far more interesting had he elaborated. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Simone Rocha // Fall 2018 //

Simone Rocha is fond of the grittiness of women’s lives. The blood, sweat and tears. One of her recent collections preoccupied itself with postpartum life, with the colours and surface decoration inspired by dripping blood, the hair and makeup taking cues from the messiness of motherhood. Conflating grit and vulnerability, her designs whisk women away to another world, where the interplay between saccharinity and strength is the spoken language. She creates frothy tulle dresses. She designs comfortable fur coats. Trousers, albeit rarely sighted, are generously proportioned, suitable for all conditions. There is nothing but respect in every stitch. And it’s all poetic, implicit. 

For Fall 2018, ensconcing her audience within the grandiosity of the ballroom at Goldsmith’s Hall, walking distance from St. Paul’s Cathedral, she looked at Victorian landscapes, chiefly those painted by John Constable in the early 17th century. She situated her woman within these landscapes, configuring the modern interpretation of dress in Georgian and Victorian England. Her florals were rendered in a genteel pastels, washed out like aged frescos. There was a utilitarian air to her apron dress and those smocks over shirts, the glossy leather coats, or embossed jacquards. It was evocative of a rich splendour which matched the venue. 

She expanded her vocabulary of graphics this season with tartan which evoked the countercultural revival in the 1980s, a degree of toughness which felt pertinent in the current sociopolitical climate. Red and black were juxtaposed traditionally and Rocha’s addition of bows added a distinctive playfully feminine slant on things.

Nothing struck one as groundbreaking but that’s not what this brand is about. Simone Rocha’s mission statement could be about supporting and respecting through making covetable clothing. For those reliable, timeless dresses with enough frill and fanciness to captivate, with subtle touches of ostentation but never obnoxious doses. 

She deserves the utmost respect for what she’s managed to cultivate with her business. An independent, family-run operation, in London. A story on Mount Street in London’s tony Mayfair neighbourhood and an expansive retail outpost on New York’s cobbled Wooster Street. It’s going from strength to strength as far as all that is concerned and the fashion press and buyers are out in droves to support the Irish wunderkind. Undoubtedly, she flies the flag for Irish design with aplomb. 

But things don’t really change. The aesthetics haven’t shifted much in recent years. When she started out there was a minimalist inclination which developed into a subverted femininity which has become her signature. There was the much-reported season where she delved into militaristic territory but she seems to only have dipped her toes into those waters. Here, she returns to a default; as delectable and delightful as it is, one can’t help but wonder what else is on the cards for the Simone Rocha woman.Would Rocha rather push her aesthetic towards new beginnings, flexing her creative muscle, or will she continue to propose similar, slightly modified options. In an increasingly fickle fashion industry, is adaption a greater asset than consistency, or vice versa?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Phoebe English // Fall 2018 //

Oftentimes I find graduate collections explore grief and death—specifically among Irish students, could be the Catholic upbringing—in order to capture an emotional response. It’s a default in a way. Loss is a delicate subject and if the designer has the ability to wring tears out of their audience with a powerful expression, then they have succeeded in creating a moment. I think of Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garçons ‘Ceremony of Separation’ collection in 2014 which was a tearful experience for many attendees. Phoebe English’s narrative has always been something personal or political, she’s looked at Brexit in fine detail, and other times she’s looked at the people in her life. Fall 2018 was another foray into personal territory.
In 2017, English’s grandparents passed away and she spent time at funerals. Her show notes comprised of six snappy lines: “gaps”, “parts that are missing”, “passing over”, “absence”, “scattered individuals”, “monochrome”. English’s selective use of words is something I have long been fascinated with. In her work it is easy to investigate the clothing and match up the words with a look. 

She likened it to a visual poem—“different manifestations of loss”—and it was bereft of pretension. Black and white garments reflected the theme in their structure. She reworked classic items like shirting, dress and trousers and spun them in entirely new ways. They were asymmetric, disjointed, torn. Was this the spiral out of control, in the aftermath of loss, or was it the mending process, the resourceful response to new normality? It could be either. Fabrics were distressed, in solemn monochrome. 

Fashion criticism broaching personal subjects is tricky territory to negotiate. Who is the critic to call out falseness and question a designer’s experience or expression? But what can happen is that the critic can be moved—or not—by the work. There was an alarming sense that your own personal experiences were unfolding before your eyes. In the Crypt on the Green, an underground events space at St. James’s Church, Clerkenwell, it was as if we implicated in a burial process, an examination of grief and entombment of ones loss. It was moving.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

steventai // Fall 2018 //

Steven Tai situated his Fall 2018 collection at Durbar Court, a much-Instagrammed architectural feature in the Foreign and Commonwealth Offices in Whitehall during London Fashion Week. The setting was indicative of a wider exclamation: the fashion industry generates £28 billion to the UK economy—a point which was stressed by Her Royal Highness Elizabeth II at the Richard Quinn show on the final day of LFW—and supports approximately 880,000 jobs. 

It was also fitting that he show there because this was about going back to Macau, the autonomous region in southern China. Although Tai grew up in Canada, and currently resides in London, he was born in the former Portuguese colony. His manufacturing, run by his mother, takes place there. Pitched on the stage were a group of elders playing boardgames. On the other side there was a food market. The models trickled out in groups, carrying shopping bags with the newspaper, groceries and takeaway cartons.
Never one to shy away from flirtatious playfulness, Tai opted to progress his aesthetic in a more grown up manner. It was a delight to see. For Fall his nerdy video-game addict has blossomed into a finely dressed young woman, fond of graphic prints and delicate touches which permeate a sense of youthful vivacity. The multi-coloured, layered thread jackets were standout pieces, bridging the gap between the childlike sensibilities that dominated his work prior and the new direction in which he is headed. 

There was also a collaboration between London College of Fashion’s Fashion Innovation Agency and ILMxLAB creating an immersive fashion showcase using LiveCGX technology, with a discussion held after the presentation for those who wished to discuss the relationship between fashion and technology. A large screen served as the backdrop and projected an image of steventai’s work, with a live model controlling the movements. This augmented reality pushed the boundaries of fashion presentation, in an age when Instagram has redefined what it is to create spectacle. Sadly, the scaffolding took away from the clothes and the hordes of people shuffling around the room stifled his clarity, something which separates him from so many other designers. It’s a magnificent resource: technology, and it’s even greater to see an emerging talent like Tai to engage with these developments, but the effect was lost on this critic.

The clothes didn’t need the background noise. They were his best to date—which is a repetitive statement where he is concerned. Watching him go from strength to strength has been the highlight of my LFW for the past two years.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Paula Knorr // Fall 2018 //

Visceral is the word one would use to describe Paula Knorr’s presentations. The German-born, London-based designer has enriched the London Fashion Week schedule with her designs which tap into the female psyche to convey themes of female sensuality and power. Knorr’s work feels especially relevant in the #MeToo climate, where allegations surrounding sexual misconduct have shifted the landscape in terms of how women are viewed and presented in cultural spheres. It has been the overriding message this season, underscoring New York, London, Milan and Paris. Sexuality is no longer overt—the subject is interpreted subtly, with an increased focus on the more cerebral sensuality.
When you read a press release which professes its alliance to “pushing the boundaries of evening wear with distinct female power” one asks oneself, how will this be achieved? Words are great in a verbose press releases—enriching. even—but how can they be channelled into garments? Knorr answers this question by first setting the scene: Experimental jazz musician Laura Tottenhagen provided an astounding yet mellow aural landscape; the cast of models belonged to different ethnic backgrounds and age groups. She then swathed her models in stretchy fabrics, pooling sequin trousers and short dresses in velvet tulle. It wasn’t an objectified viewpoint, it presented women in a glamorous and sensual light. 
There is a 1970s glamour at the core of Ms. Knorr’s work. It reverts to the era of the disco diva, reinventing the codes of that time, rejecting the “extreme nudity and demure precision”, cultivating an identifiable centre point between the two. An exciting aspect to Paula Knorr is the commercial appeal and the consistency threading each of her collections—these are familiar ideas she’s conjecturing, ones that are pertinent in the current sociopolitical climate. Her cascading ruffles, fluid silhouettes and body conscious cutting are the tenets of her work. She has shifted from the bolder printed works she did in the beginning. In lieu of that there is increased surface decoration, but not to the detriment of the work—it’s centred on a tactile approach to design. 
The interplay between feminism and fashion is notably a muddy area. Questions are flagged immediately if designers are presenting t-shirts reading ‘We Should All Be Feminists’, which do nothing but support the capitalist establishment which sells them. Paula Knorr’s angle is different: she is mindful of the female form and representing women of different backgrounds, without compromising fun. Her work is equal parts cerebral and obviously glamorous. You walk away with a deeper understanding of the engagement between fashion and feminism. It says a lot more than dour interpretations of female artists and feminist manifestos which project a veneer of intellectualism and a drive to meet sales requirements. Honesty is the word of the day.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Mother of Pearl // Spring 2018 //

Amy Powney’s Mother of Pearl was the recipient of £100,000 from the British Fashion Council/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund in 2017. The brand’s win should come as no surprise. It has quietly carved a place for itself on the London Fashion Week schedule, notwithstanding its inception in the early 2000s.

The artist David Hockney, a Yorkshireman, was the chief inspiration for Spring 2018 (the brand is one of the remaining see-now/buy-now converts), lending a playful nature to the clothes. (Perhaps Powney took cues from the recent retrospective which received record sales at the Tate Britain, before travelling to the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.) The Yorkshire landscape provided a fountain of inspiration but it was less Wuthering Heights, it was more the personal style of mismatched patterns, woollen knitwear and standout accessories. She cited A Room with a View’s Lucy Honeychurch and Far From the Madding Crowd’s Bathsheba Everdene—both of these belong in rural south England. Her references didn’t stop there, with Powney marching on with references to Martin Parr photography and Simon Armitage’s poetry. It was loaded with motifs of British culture which on paper sounds overwrought but there was a commercialist simplicity to the clothes that compounded all of it quite well.
The North of England often finds itself a bedfellow of fashion. Northern identity was explored by Lou Stoppard and Adam Murray, first at the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool, before launching a recently-closed stint at Somerset House in London. It featured work from Raf Simons, Alasdair McLellan and Virgil Abloh. It investigated the stereotypes which shape perspectives and lives. The class system and sociopolitical affairs wildly differ to those in cities like London. 
One pondered the intent of overt Britishness. It wasn’t nationalistic, it was too romantic for that. However, as the Brexit proceedings are still unclear, perhaps she thought it was time to evaluate the codes of British identity. What does it mean to be British? She uplifted the cultural touchstones which define British culture, a nod to protecting the creative industries, which will face difficulty in the aftermath of Brexit.
There was room for more tongue-in-cheek responses to Northern culture—think of her take on the puffer jacket which opened the show, finished with epaulettes and pearl wristbands, or the newspaper-carrying model bedecked in autumnal florals. There’s always trouble in glamourising working class culture but Powney veered in a different direction, imbuing the clothing with enough of the house’s DNA to avoid such claims. It was artful and perhaps her strongest outing to date. Better yet, it found a home in the Newport Street Gallery without looking like it belonged there. Newcastle or Newport Street, her formula is tried and tested.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Ghesquière's Guiding Light // Fall 2018 //

There was much talk last year about the symbolism of the woods. Taylor Swift's lyrics, Hillary Clinton's post-election walks in Chappaqua as a means of finding solace. Quadruple Pulitzer laureate Robert Frost is famously fond of the American pastoral. The Chanel show, first thing yesterday morning at the Grand Palais, featured a vast set piece, a theatrical display of an oak-lined, detritus-strewn wood. 

To say the codes of Chanel are as engrained in culture as, say, Coca Cola wouldn’t be going too far astray. Bouclé suits, tweed and quilting are three signifiers of the brand and for fall they were given minor adjustments. Sweeping coats bore similarities to Red Riding Hood, albeit the Chanel-imagined version, with hoods and floor-sweeping capabilities. It was a show heavy on pattern and surface decoration but the effect of this progression was virtually absent, the brown leaves and tall oaks suffocating the life out of the show. If the woods is meant to symbolise clarity and the streamlining of thought, there was no sign of that here. If anything, it appeared Mr. Lagerfeld had once again found himself lost in the woods, unclear of which path to take.

It was a fashion fairytale of sorts but that seems rather outdated in this current climate. As did most of the clothes, which were weighed down by an extravagant set piece. One is wistful, thinking about the perfection of his musings on the state of France, that polished and pristine collection that took place beneath a model of the Eiffel Tower—the simplicity of it all, notwithstanding the towering structure. He’s found balance before, he should search for it again.

Who will lead us out of the woods? 
The answer came in the form of Nicolas Ghesquière’s closing comment on fashion month with his Louis Vuitton show (possibly his last, some say) at the Louvre. His set consisted of a spaceship and his alternative spin on workwear was clean, cohesive and clear. The French bourgeoise was on his mind but it wasn’t in any way anachronistic, it’s something he rebels against. His work last season was more in line with this statement but there were flecks of it here. He wasn’t entrapped by the familiar sheen of the stereotype, rather he chose to impart it with historical qualities. He added embellished waistcoats, he lobbied for button-up camisoles and sportswear-inspired blouses. Other blouses were transformed into swishy, sumptuous day dress, buttoned asymmetrically and branded with the updated logo. Structurally he created contrasts with colours and fabrications, extending the foray into the realm of garment hybridisation. Leathers urbanised the aesthetic and it was offset again the expertly precision tailoring. Disco pants were styled with an argyle patterned sweater.

His work remains manages to remain dynamic and seductive without tapping too much into youth culture. He’s a noted fan of sci-fi films and television, namely Stranger Things and Tron. Others this season have been desperately pandering to the demographic—either with sloganeering or nostalgic references to films like The Matrix—all resulting in varying degrees of success. 

That was Miuccia Prada’s gambit. Miu Miu’s panache and verve were thrown off-course this season with a rare misstep. Perhaps it is down to the fact the collection is whipped up in ten days, a fact she repeatedly states in interviews. She went for a similar 80s youth-quake inspiration as Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior and while she did it in a feminist fashion, it was without the jargon which acts as a propulsive force for contrived territory. Mrs. Prada has always been a staunch women’s rights advocate and her work, especially of late, has taken a stance on women’s place in society. This season she utilised the tropes of 80s fashion—big hair, big shoulders—to convey an empowered, rebellious spirit but it was cliché. That’s the thing about looking back, you have to be prepared to bring it forward. 
It is an inborn skill of Mr. Ghesquière’s. He splices together the past, present and future in his work and it’s the reason why he conquered both Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton, captivating audiences and shaping the fashion landscape. Step foot inside any high street store today, walk down any street— Mr. Ghesquière is one of the few designers who has shaped contemporary fashion so profoundly that men and women worldwide dress themselves based on his visions, knowingly or unknowingly. It’s all down to the lucidity of his expression. 

It isn’t a wonder he received a standing ovation at the end. It was a breath of fresh air.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Alternative Feminist Gestures // Fall 2018 //

It’s been a season where designers have forced themselves to respond to women’s lives as authentically as possible. In October 2017 when it was reported in the New York Times detailing the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations scandal, global industry realised that the time was up, and things had to change. The #MeToo movement heralded this change particularly in the film and fashion industries where years of sexual misconduct allegations were unearthed by men and women who were ready to stand up and voice their experiences. 

The fashion industry has coupled with the shifting landscapes in interesting ways this season. Whether its unabashed joyful expressions of femininity or support of political movements, some responses were greater than others. It’s no longer sufficient to use sloganeering as a viable method of communication. A brand like Christian Dior has stuffed their runway with empty sloganeering and laced proceedings with feminist references, producing work that isn’t really feminist. After all, it’s a brand that uses retouching on their campaigns, has Patrick Demarchelier and Karl Templer to work on them, and has Johnny Depp face them. 

Other designers have succeed in simpler gestures, such as using comfortable footwear or generous silhouettes. (Atlein, Victoria Beckham, The Row, Tom Ford and Paula Knorr achieved great things with this in mind.) 

It was evident on the penultimate day of Paris Fashion Week that Stella McCartney and Chitose Abe’s Sacai would continue to do what they have done for years, present women with options that would endure trend cycles and positively influence their sartorial inclinations. For them, honestly reflecting the modern woman isn't a new proposition. 

Stella McCartney is committed to sustainable fashion and is continually exploring the parameters of conscious fashion. A sustainable future has always been the plan with her and, increasingly, the industry is leaning this way. Givenchy, Tom Ford, Mary Katrantzou and Marc Jacobs all used faux furs in their collections. The tireless anti-fur protestors were plonked outside shows across all four cities, protesting the questionable ethics of the industry, demanding the governing institutions implement bans on furs. They would rejoice at Ms. McCartney’s stylish use of faux leather and wool.

There was a sense that she paid closer attention to creativity this season as proceedings can often drift into prosaic territory. Deconstruction created a sense of lightness, as did her romantic use of lace. Aran sweaters were patterned in an off-kilter manner, and trompe l’œil fabrication injected spirit and zest. Her patchwork knits were decorative and delightful and by far the best of the season. She showed that sometimes it’s easier to create a broad range of good quality product than to overload your work with shallow references. 
Chitose Abe’s Sacai works similarly to Ms. McCartney’s oeuvre in that it doesn’t require feminist pretext to inhabit feminist territory. Her motives are simple: hybridising outwear. The intent? To present her customer with something nobody else will have. There exists something unique and singular about her vision, which is in part due to Ms. Abe’s boundless creativity, and also her clear understanding of the female psyche.

As Sarah Mower pointed out in her review for Vogue Runway, the season has been punctuated by hybridised garments but it is Ms. Abe who the style originates from. On every second runway, there were garments spliced together, fabrics alchemised, a new answer to outerwear. Sacai-inspired. The placement of Sacai on the schedule, on the penultimate day, is no disadvantage. She was the first to fuse outerwear. She had the first word. She’ll have the last. Women could take cues from her mastery and continue to lead, perhaps while wearing her work. 

Three types of jacket in one. Two different styles of shirting. Gloss and sheen, softness and delicacy. Those statements weren’t applicable to the overall mood of the show, but to the individual looks which it comprised of. There were no verbose musings on an individual inspiration, there was no historical touchstones interwoven in the garments. The complexity of her permutations were truer reflections of women today than any of that stuff could be. Fabrics were melded deftly, producing rich juxtapositions. It’s true to say tactility is integral to the brand. And a note on the colours: punchy shades of emerald, fuchsia, ink blue, turmeric and cayenne—they were truly sublime. 

In its polished excellence, Chitose Abe delivered one of the most well-styled collections of the season. But it wasn’t just a lesson in styling, it was a schooling in expanding the visual language of fashion. Few compare.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Good Taste, Bad Taste // Fall 2018 //

That wasn’t a croquembouche, mille-feuille or a life-sized sherbet shade petit four travelling towards the photographers’ pit at snail’s pace, it was the phantasmagoric post-fashion that Ms. Rei Kawakubo transported her audience to at her seasonal Comme des Garçons show on Saturday evening. In 16 looks she did what most designers can’t in 40, 50, or 60: she translated a message cohesively to a—narrow—runway. An orchestral score built tension as the models shuffled past each other in their oddly shaped silhouettes.

My interpretation was that Ms. Kawakubo was analysing the wastefulness of the industry she finds herself operating in. The aforementioned Napoleon cake ‘dress’ stratified hundreds of layers of fabric, obscuring all the model’s figure. The tulle skirt that exploded from beneath these strata, too, was elaborately compiled. Blue velvet encased pastel shades in another look which resembled rosebuds, the skirt of this fashioned from many pieces of discarded lingerie. Perhaps she was nodding to the superfluity of fashion, the overconsumption of contemporary culture, the overabundance of fabric in the industry. Perhaps she deemed it fit to use Marie Antoinette-style shapes to convey this—there was a vaguely 18th century feel to it all. There was a dramatic, perverse and saccharine regality to it, chiefly in the opening look of a white layered organza jacket over a dress which resembled cashew shells pieces together. “Let them eat cake,” the Queen consort once said.

And for the first time in recent memory there was supplementary information provided alongside the collection, to clarify her intentions. An email revealed Ms. Kawakubo was looking at Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay ‘Notes on “Camp”’, which is available for perusal online. Camp is a sensibility, that considers the boundaries between seriousness and frivolity, explores the concept of taste and concerns itself with exaggeration and artifice. 
Upon scanning the essay something stuck out as readily applicable to the Comme des Garçons show and wider universe. “Camp taste turns its back on the good-bad axis of ordinary aesthetic judgment. Camp doesn't reverse things. It doesn't argue that the good is bad, or the bad is good. What it does is to offer for art (and life) a different—a supplementary—set of standards.” Ms. Kawakubo’s career has fundamentally returned to this idea, proposing difference and newness, that tows the line between exaggeration and artifice, seriousness and artifice. One doesn’t leave a Comme show without forming an opinion, often driven by emotion, on what Ms. Kawakubo could possibly be conjecturing. Perhaps it’s why the Metropolitan Museum of Art called the exhibition ‘The Art of the In Between’.

Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga iteration also blurs the lines between good and bad taste. His mood was about snowboarding this season although his graffiti-plastered set piece resembled Salvation Mountain in the Colorado Desert, the “manmade mountain 28 years in the making, covered in half a million gallons of latex paint” by Leonard Knight. But his winter sport references became more apparent as the show kicked off. There was menswear, with men clad in neon bodysuits. Some slinky wrap dresses resembled figure skaters’ outfits. Maybe he’d seen Academy Award nominee Margot Robbie taking a turn as Tonya Harding in I, Tonya? Exhibiting the precision of a sportsman, his the cloth he cut from was tailored sublimely, sharply. His double-breasted 3-D tailored jackets and coats (for men and women) were technical feats which stood out among the technical faults of fashion week, and they honoured the couture beginnings of the house. 

What constitutes luxury, anyway? That is the benchmark of modern day fashion and a cornerstone to the Georgian designer’s work. Foam velvet, rubber skirts, bonded fabrics. Hoodies on the runway. 80s-inspired psychedelic hues as workwear. Mr. Gvasalia is a talented designer but he’s a genius marketeer. The quality of his merchandise is estimable and the work he’s been producing since the advent of Vetements has shaped the fashion industry’s vernacular (he’s endlessly copied, after all, just check the Instagram @DietPrada—but he copies as much as others steal) and the zeitgeist. The ugly shoe moment; the hourglass blazer; the sock-shoe; the return of oversized tailoring—contemporary culture is indebted to this man. 

The greatest styling trick on this runway was the opera coat over puffer over over bomber anorak over raincoat over trench over blazer. Stylist Lotta Volkova piled on the clothing. Many drew comparisons to Joey from Friends and that episode where he stormed in dressed in layers upon layers of shirts. Others joked it was like reducing the weight of suitcases at Heathrow. But he too is aware of the wastefulness of the fashion industry and it could be why he hosted January’s hyper-layered Vetements show in a vintage market.

The cult around his universe and how quickly he’s attracted followers is fascinating. For the foreseeable future, mainstream culture will be following his lead as Zara, H&M and other high street retailers will duplicate his aesthetic at a lower price-point. Fashion needs more leaders because there are too many followers.
Yiqing Yin’s much-anticipated restoration of Poiret, the storied French house took place after Balenciaga. Fashion history lesson: he was one of the select few to free women from corsetry in the early-20th century, he invented the hobble skirt and harem pants. This brand revival didn’t propose much newness but it did show a fine example of modernising an opera coat, for the uber-rich woman. Other than that, one couldn’t decipher the meaning behind the revival. It bore similarities to Haider Ackermann which is insulting to the legacy of the late founder, if anything.
At present Claire Waight-Keller is a leader, for she has been tasked with reshaping the historic house of Givenchy, but her work doesn’t profess this loudly. In her show notes, for her second ready-to-wear outing, she spoke of “grit and glamour.” Good and bad taste, again. “Reels of film noir flicker in the dark, the air thick with sleaze and danger.” The twilight bathed hall was an ode to the founder, Hubert de Givenchy and how the house’s heritage is rooted in the silver screen. The most famous example of this is Mr. Givenchy’s working relationship with Audrey Hepburn. It is Ms. Waight-Keller’s intention to restore the house to the old world glamour without losing touch with her predecessor Riccardo Tisci’s seductive tendencies. 

Givenchy, in its current iteration, is the pinnacle of luxury. Everything about it is slick, polished and sublime. This season, that was partially problematic. Let me explain. While it endeavoured to look sleazy, it just looked cheap. Aesthetically successful, one supposes but does the Givenchy customer want to buy into this narrative? One reckons they’d be satisfied with the exemplary tailoring in the collection or the extravagant faux furs used. They were still shaded with the 1930s Berlin “brutalist blaze” but were more covetable.

A co-ed presentation, she compared her man and woman to “star-crossed outlaws.” There is still work to be done as far as her menswear is concerned. It’s redolent of Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent. Perhaps she should model it off the womenswear, and take the romantic Old Hollywood tropes and tailor them for men’s needs. Her womenswear, obviously given her pedigree and womanhood, is far more captivating, even if her ready-to-wear cannot compete with her impressive couture. 

The finale look was an oil-slick-black pleated cocktail dress, slung over one shoulder, that flounced with every step. It resembled film reel, bouncing along as the model hurtled down the runway. It was a masterful effort, conveying the mood with aplomb. It had grit and glamour. It captured a darker side to Hollywood. Pertinent. And shown in the Palais de Justice, a former prison. Metaphors aplenty.