Stick Fashion Generation
The opening days of the Paris collections have always been slow; time to shop, sleep, or pretend to be a Parisian. But the LVMH Prize, now in its second year, has disrupted things by introducing a bunch of new names who showed early. Among them are Simon Porte Jacquemus, Virgil Abloh of the label Off-White, and Sebastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant of Coperni Femme. They were all finalists this year, with Jacquemus taking home an honorable mention award.
What’s also different this season is that there’s little talk about the major job opening of the moment: who will replace Alexander Wang at Balenciaga, whose last show is on Friday. You almost have to remind yourself that Balenciaga is one of the greatest names in fashion. But maybe the lack of buzz around Wang’s successor is a sign that despite the endless hype around new talent, there’s a dearth of genuinely qualified creative directors. In some cases, the labors of these new designers suggest the problem, too.
In the tradition of the Paris avant-garde, Jacquemus drew his audience to a large, bleak space in a remote neighborhood and seated everyone in a circle. Presently a small child, barefoot and wearing a man’s white dress shirt, emerged with a red ball of fabric twice his size and began pushing it across the floor. A red ball, a circle, a child: a womb, birth, the toils of creation? Then the models, often in pairs, appeared in Jacquemus’s signature broken-apart garments — blazers reduced to mere flaps that were attached by strings to form a minidress, skirts that barely can be called skirts. Many of the garments incorporated a white cotton shirt. At moments, in the colors of the republic, the unconstructed outfits evoked a revolutionary attitude — if you were costuming a modern play about the French Terror. Later Jacquemus himself appeared in the circle, leading a sway-back white horse that looked as if it had taken a few turns around the circus ring.
When asked about the horse and other symbols, Jacquemus, his face a mask of tears, said, “It was a poesy about what happened to me this summer.” He had been ill, he explained, adding, “I don’t want to speak about clothes.” A friend and fellow journalist told me later he found the show pretentious. I did not. The desire to escape the confines of fashion — to imply a feeling or attitude, rather than use literal references — is great; just ask Rei Kawakubo, or look at some of Alexander McQueen’s more ambitious shows. But Jacquemus needs to marshal more thought to his process. The work lacks scope, and too often comes across as an array of self-indulgent gestures. He would do better, I think, to reject some of his ideas and learn how to really control what he wants to say.
I rarely get the impression that young designers want to live up to the achievements of previous generations — the way, say, that Raf Simons did of Helmut Lang and Martin Margiela, or Nicolas Ghesquière did of Jean Paul Gaultier (for whom he worked) and, of course, Balenciaga. Ghesquière successfully revitalized Balenciaga 15 years ago because his eyes were on the street, he was immensely curious, and he knew enough fashion history to move in and out of the past with ease. For those reasons, he was — is — a great creative director. But all too often today’s young talent seems to approach fashion with a selfie stick thrust in front of them. Their feelings dominate the frame, and they apparently don’t feel the need to go below the surface of the things they happen to fancy.
Meyer and Vaillant were probably wise to put their Coperni label on hold and focus on Courreges, the '60s label, which was offered to them in May by its new owners, two former Paris advertising executives. Showing just 15 styles, in 15 different materials, the designers did modest but well-executed renditions of Courreges’s blocky jackets (in crinkled patent leather and geometric patterns) and pert minis. Time will tell if the owners can make a real case for yet another brand revival. Many — Carven, Rochas, Vionnet, to name some — don’t merit our attention.
Virgil Abloh leaves you with a sense of confidence. I’m a huge fan. His sportswear relates to what’s happening in the street, and takes you just a step or two beyond. His collection had a lot of denim — ripped, patched, in ultra-wide shapes — topped off with beautiful, eccentric white shirts and tunics.
Denim is turning up in a lot of collections — as wide-leg trousers in a vintage Dries Van Noten show, in dark-blue, bleach-speckled cut-offs and flounced dresses at Chloé. Clare Waight Keller’s new looks for Chloé seemed to spring from a Ryan McGinley portfolio. The collection was flavored with a sullen, music-festival charm and included long dresses in pleated gauze and a bounty of peasant tops that will look great with all that denim. But it was too free-spirited for its own good: A lot of those floaty tops and boho knits looked like the sort of thing Topshop does, or will soon do. Thank you, Chloé.
Women love a uniform, and Bouchra Jarrar knows that better than anyone. Her ready-to-wear has evolved into a more relaxed attitude, with her boy trousers, versatile tops, and lovely coats in '40s-era viscose. She used a lot of black lace, but, backed in a soft shade of pink or mixed with other fabrics in a top, it gains a rougher, masculine edge that shows off Jarrar’s skills.
Carine Roitfeld also designs a uniform, in her sexy fashion. Carine Roitfeld’s 30-piece collection for Uniqlo, in stores October 30, is everything the Paris fashion editor likes: the just-at-the-knee pencil skirt, the T-shirt, the (fake) fur chubby. “I’m not a designer, but I’m friends with a lot of designers,” she said at a presentation. Roitfeld might, this once, be selling herself short: These accessible looks, which include fitted blazers and an animal-print plush coat (about $150), will sell like crazy.
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