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.

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