Saturday, March 3, 2018

In Paris, it's (Almost) All Questions, No Answers // Fall 2018 //

To contend with the zenith of social media, Jonathan Anderson’s latest Loewe collection took a more mindful approach issuing copies of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. The hardback, fabric-bound books feature sleeves photographed by Steven Meisel. At first it appeared as a marketing ploy, one destined for Instagram and dust collection on bookshelves. (17th to 19th century literature is not to be scoffed at.) But on the morning of the show at the UNESCO headquarters at Place de Fontenoy on Friday morning, it became apparent that the message was extending to the clothes. His romantic vision of luxury fashion was in search of something soulful.

His bricolage approach to luxury bears childlike sensibilities but it also echoes a resourcefulness that crystallises his aesthetic. It’s playfully stern, as oxymoronic as that is. Take for example a staid greyscale outfit: swishy trousers, a loose shirt but enriched with a polka-dot scarf utilised as a tie. Or a grandfather shirtdress with a black mesh skirt and animal-skin accessories. (It should be noted how he skilfully imbues subtle perversities into the work here.) Houndstooth suits with pockets and brown leather accents aplenty and pleated trenches stood out as signifiers of subverted luxury. He crafted a dialogue between polish and ease and it was rivetingly luxe from beginning to end. He provided solutions for women’s winter wardrobes, undoubtedly. 
It contrasted with the master marketeer Virgil Abloh’s fashion week outing. His latest Off-White show was mobbed by alacritous teenage fans clamouring for a chance to get inside the Pavillon Cambon Capucines. It’s remarkable what the man stands for: a black Chicagoan showing at Paris Fashion Week, inspirational. However, what does the brand stand for? Luxury streetwear? There was no signs of that on the runway and as every collection passes by his vision becomes more and more muddled. At this rate, Off-White will be surviving on hype but for how long more will that equate to profitability? Judging by the size of the crowds outside the show, which resulted in top editors being crushed by crowds, the answer is: another while. 

Where he should consider excelling is in his design principles. He understands that “the consumer is more important than the gatekeeper; that’s why streetwear has become so popular even in high fashion,” as he told Anja Aronowsky Cronberg in the latest issue of Vestoj. He also comprehends that their is a balance to be struck: between the consumer and the critic. It’s probably why he finds himself on the Paris schedule in the first place. But I don’t think the permutations he presented will satisfy either. At least most of it won’t. 

The invite was the first clue to the equestrian influences. ‘On Grey Tick’ by Sir Alfred Munnings was printed on it, with the usual quotations-enclosed caption overlaying it. His muse apparently lives in the West Village, New York City, attends SoulCycle during the week and decamps to Westchester for the weekend. There was a vaguely aristocratic air to it, with the oversized pashminas and frothy tulle ball gowns. (Instagram account @DietPrada recently called him a copycat of Molly Goddard’s confections.) But then he ricocheted through the usual streetwear tropes that that sent things into aesthetic overload. Where should one direct one’s gaze? “What is Virgil Abloh?” That was the question posed by the latest System magazine. Is he a modern day Warhol? Or is he just a fraud, plainly and simply? 
It’s one thing to call Olivier Theyskens a Prince of Darkness. That he is. His darkly-skewed romantic glamour has punctuated his career; he has a way with femininity that edges on the dark side. There’s also no questioning his skill at creating good quality clothing. The ones that were at his show on Friday afternoon will retail for thousands of euros and they’re probably worth it, if that’s your thing. However, when looking at the imagery you couldn’t help but ask yourself, “why?” What does this contribute to the fashion conversation? Would he speak louder if he spoke directly to the consumer and if he has nothing groundbreaking to say? 
What Mr. Theyskens cultivated at Nina Ricci was the golden age of the brand. Guillaume Henry, formerly of Carven, is now spearheading that operation. His Nina Ricci is far less captivating. (It was reported by WWD this show was his last.) His has been a shoddy romp through French classicism and his play on proportion this season was rather awkward. He tried to capture a grown up flirtatiousness in earnest, but fell short of the task. Those veiled caps, extravagant belts and glossy leather coats riffed too closely on ersatz fashion, without the kink—the blueprints were there, things just weren’t exacted. You found yourself asking for a strong reminder of the brand’s core values. What are they again? They certainly weren’t that evident on this runway. 
The same dilemma was present at Mr. Henry’s former stomping grounds, Carven, where ex-Christian Dior placeholder Serge Ruffieux has assumed the reins. (Alexis Martial and Adrien Caillaudaud, the previous creative directors, left in October 2016. Mr. Ruffieux joined in January 2017.) The Swiss designer struggled to transmogrify the house into something wholly desirable. In parts, his amalgamation of fabrics wrung boredom. It’s unclear yet who he wants his Carven woman to be, but he shouldn’t try to have her be something to everyone—it was clear that won’t work. Notwithstanding this, it was good to see that he has an identity as a fashion designer, a discernible handwriting, with some pieces reminiscent of the work he did—albeit briefly, and with Lucie Meier—at Dior. Will it be possible for him to balance the house’s core values with his own?

It’s all questions and no answers. 
Pictures: Vogue Runway

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