Front-row people love to argue about what’s new. Not cool; that’s momentary and snobbish. But new, the way that Martin Margiela’s recycled and deconstructed garments were new, or Helmut Lang’s minimalism, or Rei Kawakubo’s so-called “bag-lady chic.” Their ideas were original and confounding, and of course they continue to influence designers today. That’s one standard. But maybe a simpler way of judging a fashion show is to ask whether it takes you completely by surprise.
That was the effect of Shayne Oliver’s Hood by Air show on Sunday. From the first outfit, a zippered jumpsuit with the model’s entire bare backside left exposed, to the last, you never knew what to expect. That’s actually hard to pull off, because everybody has seen everything. The fashion world knows a con. But Oliver and his team attacked every preconception about how to do deconstruction and post-punk slashing; and, frankly, I’m not sure that was necessarily their goal. This was a much more free-form, explosive statement, done by people who have their own vision for a sort of anti-fashion that’s sourced from the street rather than the history of luxury labels. Hood by Air isn’t asking you to buy into a complete look, but rather presenting an almost-random series of pieces that you can work into what you already have.
Hood by Air’s indifference to gender, and its casting of atypical models, has been well commented on. But what I really like about Oliver’s clothes — and, yes, his odd, post-Tenenbaum family of misfit models who somehow fit together — is that they feel like a fist in your face. He’s not interested in what was in fashion, or whether the department stores will like it, or if he’s building his accessory line. At one point, a model came out in a broken-down white cotton shirt with slashed pink pants. She was wearing white goggle sunglasses with portal rims and carrying a backpack in the shape of a tufted, frill-edged pillow. She took a seat with some other models, crossed her legs, and assumed a facial expression that seemed to say, Fuck you. This is my world. Many designers can make compelling fashion, but very few can create a distinct world, and even fewer have Oliver’s quality of contentiousness. It seems to goad him, and it produces, almost deliriously, things you don’t expect.
And clearly Oliver’s clothes speak to something larger than the need for more individuality in fashion. The business is currently stuck in a cycle of overhyping newbies while constraining veterans. Everywhere this Fashion Week, I hear complaints about the reluctance of department stores to innovate: Nobody has figured out how to harness the engine of the internet, and the massively diverse forms of self-expression it enables. Oliver isn’t there yet, but his clothes speak to the desire for things that are not merely special but personal and customized, and for an authority that doesn’t come from editors or high-end retailers.
Among the other captivating shows yesterday were Thakoon, in particular the bleached, tie-dyed denim separates and subtly tie-dyed knits, and Derek Lam, for his almost moody, contemplative sportswear that included many bell-shaped cuffs, high-priestess dresses, and side-slit knits or suede pieces that could be worn in layers. (The documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? was Lam’s inspiration.) The Public School show disappointed — too many long and drab pieces that seemed a cross between Go Silk and Rag & Bone.
Some 30 monks from Tibet and Nepal, assembled with the help of the Dalai Lama, opened Prabal Gurung’s lovely show. Their chanting was in thanks to the fashion industry for contributing aid to victims of this year’s earthquake in Nepal. In its golden yellows and oranges, in its intense reds and gold, the clothes were an ode to Gurung’s native country. The opening silk dresses, with abstract patterns that were both woven and printed, were based on work by the Nepalese artist Laxman Shreshtha. Leaving the show, someone told me that Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy had wanted more monks in his show — he had at least one — but that there was a shortage. The story may be apocryphal, but it’s funny to think of the luxury business being short of monks.
Could the crush of young women standing at the Diane von Furstenberg show have been more besotted each time a star model came out? I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Oh, I glanced at the vibrant prints in the show (“celebrating truth, nature and freedom,” the press notes said). But the faces of the girl spectators, frozen with delight at the sight of Karlie and Kendall, said it all. Only when Gigi Hadid appeared in a gold-embroidered black dress with cheetah heels, closing the show, did their gum-chewing mouths fall shut.