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.