Monday, March 4, 2019

Powerful fashion at Balenciaga, Valentino, Comme des Garçons and Thom Browne

On Sunday morning, on the outskirts of Paris, in a show space that smelled of tar, and with pulsating strobe lights, Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia did what he does best: he introduced the shapes of the season, the silhouettes which will define the year. 

The fabric on jackets appears as if its pulled up, creating a cocoon-like shape over the body. Is it a shrug? Or is it something to protect yourself from the outside? The latter would be an apt metaphor for the political system and the unrelenting news cycle nowadays if it was the case. But, as is the case with Gvasalia, one must be cautious with their interpretations. One thing is for certain, this shape, in its oddness and freshness, will be copied to the umpteenth degree. 
Moreover, Gvasalia advocated for wide round neck, hovering around the body like Saturn’s ring. It’s futuristic. Cocoon-like jackets with edges jutting upwards and extravagant, ditto. Blazers with pointed shoulders and Count Dracula-esqe collars on silk and lurex blouses too. It sounds juvenile but it was rather stunning. This could be the future.
Ultimately, for all his innovations, Gvasalia has to compensate with some easy, commercial propositions.  After all, he designs at Balenciaga, one of Kering’s fastest growing luxury houses, so designing sellable garments is imperative.  He did it with aplomb again with cocoon-like jackets, a deep V-neckline twist on the double-breasted coat, oversized shirts in block colours and check patterns, velour tracksuits, and ankle-length trench coats. There was something for everybody in the audience with the show spanning more than 100 looks. 

Most models were laden down with handbags, some even with shopping backs. The latter, perhaps, an artistic representation of capitalism. A tongue-in-cheek, self-mocking one, of course. 

Thom Browne uses sardonic wit to his advantage. In fashion, save for the late Karl Lagerfeld, few designers can master the art of wry humour in fashion without turning into slapstick. Browne is one of them. This season, his set comprised of a desk-lined office space. The first eleven models emerged in a procession of grey, cropped tailoring and beige coats, accessorising with monocles and briefcases. His women were ready to get down to business. 
Thom Browne
This fed into a portion of the show where his trompe l’ceil mastery was on full display. Every other spin on the tailored suit—with rose-embroideries, fur accents, appliqué details—was accompanied by an identical trompe l’ceil iteration. The subtext was unmistakable. Browne was using facsimile to emphasise the theme of appearance versus reality, a duality which has underpinned the autumn/winter collections from New York to Paris. Nothing is as it seems anymore. US politics is a fraught landscape following Michael Cohen’s congressional hearings and the collapse of the North Korean nuclear negotiation summit. Designers are aware of what’s happening but only some, like Browne, choose to reflect that on their runway—with the most beautiful craftsmanship, it should be noted. 

Rei Kawakubo, a creative genius has produced some of the most thought-provoking fashion in recent memory, has always been in touch with the political climate and its interrelation with fashion. For her Comme des Garçons show, designed by the incomparable Rei Kawakubo, whose. Kawakubo’s fashion, belonging to a world different from conventional clothing, engages with the world. Her husband, and spokesperson, Adrian Joffe conveyed, “she reads the news, she knows what’s happening.” And this season’s title? “A gathering of the shadows.” 
Comme des Garçons
Alongside bulbous forms and protruding shapes, Kawakubo juxtaposed harsh elements with romantic ones. She decorated her models in leather, detachable bodices, harnesses, and hoods (armour?), deconstructed outerwear, as well as loosely-Victorian dresses which were rather pretty. (A lot of it—once you remove the accoutrements—was wearable; maybe she’s getting back into clothes.) It was dramatic, an accentuation of styles and shapes we have yet to acquaint ourselves with, backed up with a pathos that only Kawakubo can imbue her garments with. In the show’s denouement, the models entered seance mode. They gathered in a circle, under a spotlight. From darkness into light, female strength will lead us, Kawakubo is possibly saying.

At Valentino, creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli captured something similar. He was in the mood for love to combat the negativity that consumes the world.

A pamphlet of poetry was placed on every seat featuring words from Greta Bellamacina, Mustafa the Poet, Yrsa Daley-Ward, and Robert Montgomery. “These poems were inspired by Pierpaolo’s creations, which celebrate the daily search for love, the broken light behind each day. The reminder that love has the enduring power to bring hope, like a butterfly in an abandoned heaven,” reads Bellamacina’s introduction in the booklet. 

Piccioli, like a fauvist painter, expresses himself through the medium of colour. This is his poetry and it’s his greatest skill. He uses it to communicate messages about daily life and the ways in which clothes are designed to Although there were glimpses of Valentino from a few years ago in this collection—fluttering tulle princess dresses with the delicacy of an agile ballerina—he has shifted the house’s codes to be in line with a more regal stature, suitable for a mature woman and her younger counterparts. In essence, this is a sign of Piccioli’s respect for the client. In shades ranging from hot pink to forest green, aubergine to canary yellow, he issued a flirtatious stance on the romance of clothing. 
There was dancing feather embroideries, layers of sheer tulle, swishy silhouettes billowing like smoke as the model glided down the runway. The show included more graphics than ever: scenes of lovers embracing; a glistening constellation in the shape of a rose, with the line ‘There’s a forever beyond the sky. I think we should go there tonight.’ It gave the collection a contemporary if predictable, verve.

The show might’ve benefited from a sharper edit but Piccioli succeeded in his motive: these were romantic clothes, ones that possibly, in their frenetic nature, captured the rush of falling in love.

The most powerful fashion is emotive. It makes you think about the world around you. Whether it comes in the form of Demna Gvaslia or Thom Browne’s questioning of established norms in terms of cut, silhouette, or surface decoration, Rei Kawakubo or Pierpaolo Piccioli’s musings on the current political climate—fashion’s singular power to make you feel and think is what makes it such an important medium, crucial to our understanding of the world and others. 

Photo Credit: Vogue Runway

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