Images courtesy of Balenciaga.
A veteran fashion designer recently told me that either you’re the hottest brand in the world or you’re failing. Kind of a disappointment, isn’t it? If you don’t have the best bag and the best collabs and the coolest show, you’re just not in the conversation. And if you care about brands that aren’t part of that popular little group of girls—which I definitely do—you may feel like you’re not following the right conversations. I think it’s partly because of the fashion hive mind, but also because there are so many brands and so many runways that it’s easier if we all agree to lend pay attention to the same things.
This Couture runway season was gently suggesting an alternate reality, and not just because of couture’s more limited scale. I watched it all from afar – on my laptop, between meetings and deadlines – and ended the week feeling refreshed and feeling that originality and even provocation are alive in art. of the confection. Two shows in particular – Maison Margiela and Balenciaga – offered an invitation to dream, a respite to contemplate and appreciate beauty and, most impressively, an opportunity to reflect. You can watch these two shows over and over again and get different and deeper impressions each time.
Maison Margiela is doing great, and cool kids of all generations seem to have the house’s Tabi boots, but John Galliano seems more content to do his own thing than something that seems hyper-relevant or “right now.” Her gender-fluid approach to fashion, while grounded in her own youthful experimentations, can feel a bit dated, for example. But this week, for his Artisanal 2022 show, he staged a play and the audience watched the filming of the play, so the production itself became part of the performance. It was a love story, called “Cinema Inferno”, resembling born killers Where true romance: loving step-siblings on the run “into the dark, poetic heartland of America” after killing their abusive parents.
The meta nature of the project made me think of Irma Vepthe late 90s triumph of Olivier Assayas which the filmmaker remade as an HBO miniseries, and Joanna Hogg Memory, the two-part film about the filmmaker’s stumbling creative awakening. Both are monumentally self-indulgent projects, statements that the personal is essential and even triumphant, making for utterly sublime works of art. What Cinema Inferno and these two works share is a sense that many great artists don’t reinvent themselves à la David Bowie, but return to the same themes over and over again, tweaking and reworking them according to their moment or mood. We have seen the rubbery bonnets, the satin dresses, the Galliano cowboys…Incredibles, and messy tulle dresses before, and I suspect, given Galliano’s savantism, that there are details and innovations to be appreciated up close, and that the public in person or visitors to the workshop can best enjoy than those of us who just watch the movie. But I was so infected by his sense of originality and dedication to creation (and also a little titillated by the politically incorrectness of the story) that a search for novelty seems out of place.
Which of course brings us to Demna, which is so delightfully original and weird that it makes me happy to be alive in 2022. (Now there is a feat!) It’s only been a year since he reintroduced couture at Balenciaga, and already many ready-to-wear houses in New York, London and Paris are already full of collections with faux-couture or couture-lite gestures , doubling down on greatness and intense emotion as a ripple effect. This Fall 2022 collection appeared in two parts, a SciFi (or not?), with black wetsuits covering the whole body, including the hands and face, and a human (or not?). Celebrities like Nicole Kidman, Kim Kardashian and Dua Lipa strolled the Balenciaga lounge in huge dresses that echoed classic couture shapes. The bulbous dresses towards the end of the show, which were reminiscent of dresses from her Spring 2020 ready-to-wear collection, were both awe-inspiring and ridiculous (the final bride kept tripping over her hemline), and looked like they could eat you alive, or at least crush you and leave you flat. The meticulously draped dresses, like a silver one-strap dress worn by Nicole Kidman, or the fitted bodice and waterfall skirt worn by Bella Hadid, almost looked like stereotypical couture dresses that a normie sees when she closes her eyes and think old-fashioned, almost like a bathroom sign for luxury handmade dresses. The colors themselves, like the overly grassy green of Hadid’s dress, or the cloying pink of a stiff dress with a fin-like back, were disconcerting, as if too attached to the tastes of another era. . The silhouettes and colors struck me as bold, stubbornly retrograde, in a provocative way. Everyone talks about how to “modernize” couture and give it the values of today (inclusiveness, accessibility, technological advancements and feminism, for example), and although Demna does some of these things, by opening a couture boutique where anyone can shop, for example, and arm their models with bags of Bang & Olufsen speakers playing the menacing soundtrack, he’s also just as interested in what has l looks old and therefore quirky. Demna, of course, still has a completely different conversation to everyone in fashion and increasingly, it seems, he has the most relevant.
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