Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Designers reconnect with a dying world at Sacai, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen

The planet is dying and the map of the world, the one printed on Chitose Abe’s Sacai runway on Monday morning at Paris Fashion Week, might soon become outdated. Less than a week after Greta Thunberg delivered a damning speech addressed at world leaders, declaring ‘if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you’, comes a UN report warning about accelerated rising sea levels. Coastal regions may soon be underwater.

But there she was, Mother Earth, in all her colourful glory printed on flowy kaftans, pyjama-style separates, and a deconstructed trench, and in black and white, on shirts and dresses enriched with bursts of cascading tassels.

Abe’s message is perfect right now. From the beginning she’s had a utilitarian spirit, how she splices together disparate fabrics, different garments, into one functional body of work is marvellous, resourceful, and when it’s most unexpected, thrilling. Here, she incorporated our world, in its most literal sense, as a catchy print, intercut with her magical sense for fabrication.

Alongside her cartography, it was a mostly sombre affair consisting of tweed suiting, pinstripe tailoring, and deconstructed shirting. Nonetheless, it was pretty. Beauty while we can still appreciate those things.

‘The world is crying out for change and it is our responsibility to act now,’ said Stella McCartney.

This marks McCartney's first collection under the LVMH umbrella. She was also appointed as the conglomerate’s special advisor on sustainability. In a recent press conference, LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault called Greta Thunberg’s speech ‘demoralising’ but that didn’t bother the designer. Her imprint was on the ethos of this collection. ‘The younger generation are standing up and telling us that our house is on fire and that we need to respond like we are in a crisis, because in fact it is a crisis,’ she said.

McCartney concedes, ‘we aren’t perfect, and we recognise that, like all businesses, we are part of the problem, but we are pushing boundaries every day to find solutions that do exist in an industry desperately in need of change.’

She was one of the first to include recycled fabrics, vegan leather, and other environmentally-conscious measures in the design studio before it was fashionable to do so. According to Vogue Runway, her press release notes revealed that spring/summer 2020 used 75% eco-friendly materials.

They were used to produce McCartney’s typical assortment of insouciant tailoring, generously proportioned bohemian dresses (this time in exotic shades of tangerine and aqua), amidst scalloped details, the most interesting of which appeared at the end in black lace and on a geometric floral patterned poncho. Altruistic sustainable gestures to one side, this was a fashion show with some worthy contenders for spring wardrobes.

(Menswear was relegated to a mere few looks but, interestingly, the simplicity of it -- yes, a full-floral look felt refreshingly unfussy when grounded with white trainers -- was one of the show’s strongest points.)

‘We can build a better future together,’ she said. Wishful thinking? Probably not, judging by the hundreds of thousands that have been galvanised by the threat of climate change. With our futures at stake, it’s only fair designers reflect this in their process even if, at the end of the day, they are contributing to the problem by creating new clothes.

At Alexander McQueen, Sarah Burton wanted to try something different. An introspective journey has led her to pastures new with recent shows.

‘I was interested in clarity and paring things down, in the essence of garments,’ she said, adding ‘each look tells its own story,’ said Sarah Burton

It opened with an ivory puff-sleeve dress with contrast feather-stitch detailing and a black leather belt. Beetling is a process that dates back to the early 1700s that involves covering fabric in potato starch before it is pounded on a wood machine for hours, giving the dress its flat but shiny effect. Another technique: the linen is moon-bleached rather than sun-bleached, a traditional Irish method of reaching a silver-white polish.

Burton arrived at these techniques after a team visit to Ireland where they learned about flax farming (how linen is produced), beetling, and damask linen weaving, working with the last remaining weavers the country. This was a celebration of craftsmanship and the human touch.

One example was worn by Stella Tennant. Its pattern, various sketches from a life drawing class, was produced by a cohort of Central Saint Martins MA fashion students. The embroidery, Burton said, could be attributed to the entirety of the McQueen headquarters where every employee took a turn.

‘I love the idea of people having the time to make things together, the time to meet and talk together, the time to reconnect with the world,’ Burton said.

An endearing prospect but perhaps overly quixotic. Until the industrial system deconstructs, people have to save the joy of making for knitting, sewing, or pottery clubs, rendering her viewpoint of humankind is wholly idealistic. But that’s okay for her customers. They’ll appreciate the effort she made to recreate a sense of oneness between the maker and the garment.

The most powerful aspect of her work is the way she straddles the line between the feminine and the masculine. In one collection, Kaia Gerber decorated in a pink feather mini-dress like an angel incarnated, and a black leather tuxedo can believably coexist in the same universe. In ours, they might bewilder the beholder, or beguile them. Chances are its the latter, Burton’s visual poetry is sublime.

And when the forty-second look made its exit, the models did a final lap, and Burton took her bow accompanied by members of the design studio, you got the sense for that moment at least, beauty was enough. In the long-term, however, such luxuries cannot be afforded. As McCartney said, ‘this is the future of fashion, not just a trend.’