the Fashion Week Noise
Since the early 1980s, designers have been coming to Paris to communicate their feelings. True, Paris has been the capital of fashion for much longer — at least a couple of centuries — but it wasn’t until the arrival of Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto, from Tokyo, that fashion acquired explicit symbolism. Kawakubo’s 1982 all-black “Destroy” collection in particular featured ragged garments that some observers took as an allusion to Hiroshima. By the end of the decade, more and more designers were carving out their avant-garde space — the Austrian minimalist Helmut Lang, the Belgian conceptualist Martin Margiela, and, of course, the Paris bad boy, Jean Paul Gaultier. Everyone, it seemed, had something to say.
Nowadays, thanks to a saturation of brands, a host of economic factors, and — not least — a lack of courageous talent on par with Kawakubo’s, the situation is quite muddled. Many young designers seem to recognize that digital technology has led to an explosion of images and words, and that this has shattered thought processes and forms. In fact, that has become the standard explanation for a lot of shows — the “fusion” of disparate elements, the “hybridization” of styles and genders. But it also could be a way to sugarcoat half-baked ideas.
That’s how I read the Jacquemus and Maison Margiela shows. Last season, Simon Porte Jacquemus, a winner of the LVMH Prize for new talent, gave an affecting presentation that involved a child dressed in an adult’s white shirt pushing an enormous ball of fabric across a semi-dark space. Jacquemus’s twisted shirts and partially assembled suit jackets measured up to that charm and innocence. This time, though, the collection looked cartoonish, and in a way that suggested that Jacquemus was struggling to advance his childlike methods of construction. The opening look was an oversize blazer, almost as square and flat as SpongeBob. It was followed by skirts whipped up from irregular bits of fabric, camisoles that looked injection-molded so that the straps rose several inches above the models’ bare shoulders, and coats done in a blue plaid fabric that mimicked the woven plastic carryalls you find in discount shops. As if to stress the disjointedness of the collection, the music kept stopping, like there was a bug in the sound system. You wanted to put your face in your hands and cry in agony.
Jacquemus obviously wants to create in an unfettered way, but maybe it’s time to question his methods in a grown-up fashion, because the results were careless.
Margiela looked good last season, and there are some winners in John Galliano’s fall lineup, especially sweaters in a blend of three or four vintage patterns and a fabulous gunmetal evening slip with a floor-length cape in dark-emerald-green chiffon and what seemed to be burnt velvet. But in other ways the show was a cheat sheet of styling effects — the khaki army jacket daubed with cheesy ruffles and cinched with a Paul Bunyan–size belt, the buffalo-plaid skirt and schoolgirl top packaged with a saucy apron, the big platforms. There’s little chance that Margiela will ever recoup its conceptual magic — fine. Few things last in fashion. But Galliano is better than this, and you can’t help wondering if the effort to fuse two styles under the Margiela name hasn’t led Galliano and his assistants to rely too heavily on old tricks — perhaps on the theory that you can get away with anything today since nobody is paying very close attention.
Kunihiko Morinaga has been sensitive to the uses and effects of technology for a long time, and he rather ingeniously embeds them into his label Anrealage. This time he had his models enter a large cube walled in clear plastic, so that the audience was viewing them through a screen — as we do many things today. Working with a computer programmer and artist named Toru Urakawa, he used a technique he called “visual cryptography.” Think of it as code in the form of checks and flowers transferred to different weaves and jacquards. At first, an off-white dress or a coat looked plain — what Morinaga termed a “snow noise pattern.” But as a model stepped up to a clear wall, the coded flower or checked pattern of her outfit became visible. As he said in his show notes: “In the noise, it becomes meaningless. Code the noise, it makes meaningful.” You could also say of Morinaga’s work that he is striving toward the singular in fashion.
Sometimes it takes a poet to break through the noise. That’s how I felt about Dries Van Noten’s exceptional show. There’s no doubt that a dark, decadent vibe with a strong dose of masculine fashion serves Van Noten better than the scattered hippie attitude he sometimes gravitates toward. The early-20th-century affair between the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio and the heiress Marchesa Casati gave him an imaginative entrée into a world of slinky, self-involved women who quickly run through a fortune. Almost every outfit held something of interest — the washed, vintage-style blouses, the authentic English club jackets with crests, the leopard-print pants and coats, the plain and elegant chemises, dressing gowns done as wrap coats, a gray crewneck sweater with a broken necklace of pearls. For fans of Van Noten, this collection is one for the ages.
Perhaps the strongest urge in any creative field is the desire to communicate your feelings or ideas. For the great Kawakubo, it was — is — a powerful thing. Last night, while meeting most of the 23 finalists for this year’s LVMH Prize, for which I am a judge, I was struck by how deep that need still is. But the messages do seem smaller than those in the '80s and '90s — or are they just more particular? — and they have to fight for attention in a much more crowded world.
Each finalist showed a small presentation in a booth. Yuko Koike, in her second season, does marvelous crochet and fur pieces in an intense crush of flowers. Vejas Kruszewski, based in Toronto, with no formal training, has a knack for making familiar items like leather bombers seem unfamiliar. He’s also good at accessories with a DIY feel — strips of fleece turned into belts and cuffs.
In his booth, Moto Guo, from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, said that as far he was concerned a designer was just another office “pencil pusher,” destined to deal with unfeeling corporate bosses. But he had an answer, he said, and, in what seemed a well-practiced move, he showed me a blazer in colorful fabric. The buttons on the breast pockets could be made into an eye-roll, while a pink necktie popped through a hole low in the front and completed the universal expression of disgust.