Sunday, September 29, 2019

The quest for beauty is never easy. At PFW, some designers make it look that way.

In Paris, the quest for beauty is front and centre for spring/summer 2020. For the city’s designers, finding answers, and a way forward is central to their practice. As the season comes to a close, it became clear that the quest for beauty is never easy but some designers manage to make it look that way. 

Junya Watanabe curbed his punkish affinities for something lighter. In neutral tones with bursts of neon and the occasional tonal black, the Japanese designer expressed himself through the art of deconstruction. Trenches became pinafore dresses, full-length skirts, and blazers. Blazers and white shirts became shirt dresses. Denim jackets became bustiers atop white shirts. This was a masterclass in how to make do with little, how to muster creativity with limited resources. Adding, ‘there is no theme for the spring/summer 2020 Junya Watanabe show,’ it looked all the more effortless. One doesn’t need a theme if their technical whiz can speak for itself. 

Ditto, Haider Ackermann’s darkly romantic proclivities. The pale grey tuxedo sported by wonder-boy Timothée Chalamet at the Venice Film Festival appeared, in multiple variations, followed by the Belgian designer’s singular elegant vision with rockabilly twists. He balanced sharp tailoring with street-ready leather. Less easy, and less convincing, were the bandeau elements. Melded with the glamour of eveningwear polish, Ackermann’s attempt at making plissé-detailed gowns look chic was merely out of place amidst the otherwise polished suiting and sensual undertones.  

(Joseph Altuzarra negotiated the quest for beauty in straightforward terms too with a lovely line-up of pretty scarf dresses, 70s tailoring, and shimmering embellishment. Pretty and inoffensive. Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski’s latest Hermès collection was delightful as ever, demonstrating the beauty of luxury fashion—timeless perfection has currency over trends at this house. With smatterings of sexy, open backs, sheer panels, full leather looks, and abbreviated shorts. More interesting.) 

Nothing was simple about Noir Kei Ninomiya but that’s what was so brilliant about the whole thing. The Comme des Garçons-backed Japanese designer is a master craftsman, one of the few designers, save for the likes of Rei Kawakubo or Rick Owens, who can imbue feeling into abstract forms. The ones that make the fashion agnostic scratch their heads in confusion as they try to comprehend the deeper meaning of globules of smocked tulle bouncing against the body, framed by a black leather harness. 

Throughout there were clouds of tulle, patchworked stars, layer-cakes of white fluff (also tulle), tiers of gossamer etched with intricate floral illustrations. It evolved into a more angular section which captured Ninomiya’s Gothic sensibilities consisting of leather moto-jackets elaborated as feminine dresses, and gowns with fetishistic belt fastenings binding tulle. It culminated in what can only be likened to human foliage, bursts of green in every shade imaginable, bouncing with a spring in their step. You say shrub, Ninomiya says a manifestation of new beginnings. 

‘It was a beginning. Actually, I wanted to focus on creation… back to the basic mind of creation... I want to make something new and start something new,’ he told Vogue. Spring has sprung on this runway, in all its glory. Few could convey the crisp, dewy mornings of early March through fashion. But here it was in the underpass of Pont Alexandre III, floating down a strip of the catwalk in a state of poetic ecstasy.

Yet, the designs were given earthly bearings with leather harnesses but carrying the otherworldly grace of Azuma Makoto-designed topiary headpieces. Sparing no expense for beauty, 

It was at Comme des Garçons that Rei Kawakubo posited on the mood of the next season. How will she play her cards this season? After all, she’s been playing fashion at its own game since anti-fashion’s nascence in the 1980s—carving a niche corner which allows her to deliver unfettered creativity while maintaining a sensible business operation. 

What did she have to say? This womenswear show was Act II of III. Kawakubo designed the costumes for Olga Neuwirth’s opera adaptation of Orlando at the Vienna State Opera in Austria, in December. (It was preceded by the men’s show in June, Act I.) Orlando by Virginia Woolf is a satirical exploration of gender through history, with elements of exaggeration, grotesque and the absurd. It would appear there is no better match than Kawakubo, someone versed in the sum total of the above. Few can do what she did, melding disparate aspects of Elizabethan Court dress with glam rock, camp, and a wink to modern branding with Comme des Garçons-logos interspersed hither and thither. 

In a press release about her adaptation, Neuwirth said, it’s ‘about refusing to be patronised and treated in a condescending manner – something that continually happens to women, with no end in sight.’ On Kawakubo’s runway, there were sugary pinks, vampy reds, glam rock shades, and extravagant florals, colours and patterns often predisposed to the female sex. As far as gender relations are concerned, Kawakubo rebuked conventional notions—a glimpse of a dress? A flash of a blazer? Is that supposed to be…? What exactly is this shape? Your guess is as good as mine.

It’s unbelievable but you want to believe in it. Such is the appeal of a beautiful Comme collection. 

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