Like a Bird. Lee Mathews Resort 2021

If you still don’t know Lee Mathews, the Sydney-based designer making some of the most summer-perfect clothes out there, here’s a catch-up on her gorgeous resort 2021 collection. Birdwatching has become the unofficial hobby of lockdown era. Thanks to reduced air traffic, the trees outside of Mathews’s studio have become wildly populated with birds. There are no literal avians in her spring collection though – instead, the creative director followed their path to a sense of freedom, joy, and movement. Mathews’s structured dresses have even fuller skirts and poufier sleeves as a result. Pants have added legroom, too, from a jodhpur-like cargo pant to silky, wide-leg options. The danceability of these clothes was put to the test in a performance choreographed by Eliza Cooper and filmed by Martyn Thompson. Thompson, a photographer based in New York, is a longtime friend of Mathews’s. “The experience reconnected me with people I’ve known for a long time,” said Mathews of isolating in Sydney, “and something new is coming from it.” That willingness to collaborate and try something new is the best possible outcome of a world isolated and apart. “Having to collaborate outside your usual sphere to make things that resonate more is what will propel fashion forward,” Mathews told Vogue over a Zoom call. Brands much larger than hers should take note.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Colour, Volume & Fun. Bottega Veneta Resort 2021

From everything we’ve seen from Daniel Lee‘s Bottega Veneta, the resort 2021 collection is the most fun one. Was it the lockdown madness that let the designer take a more playful route? Lee has grasped that the world has changed dramatically and that the way we will want to dress has too. Hence the comfort and familiarity of that cotton and an emphasis on surprisingly homey knits, which represent an evolution of his thinking about all the stretch materials he used on his last runway. But there was no retreat into recuts or the safety of recent successes. “In the darkest moments creativity is so key,” Lee said. “It’s about making clothes you can’t find in other stores. Otherwise what’s the point?” Lee’s exploration of silhouette led him in a couple of different directions. His tailored jackets are sculptural in proportion with those full-legged pants, featuring nipped waists and a V-shaped construction in back that accentuates their shapeliness. Some of the garments look quite cumbersome, even if that exaggeration was intentional. But for all the emphasis on over-sized volumes, Lee also likes a lean, abbreviated look for women: say, a knitted top and matching fringed above-the-knee straight skirt, or a narrow minidress with one of the portrait necklines he’s made a signature. These leggy pieces have a straightforward sexiness, one that’s likely to be influential as designers and the women they dress search for the new post-crisis. But Lee undercuts the sexiness in these pictures with substantial lug-soled, lace-up boots whose vibe is cool and young. Another thing that won’t go unnoticed about this collection is its gorgeous, expressive, bold color palette, which seems to be taken straight out of Dario Argento’s Suspiria or an Almodóvar film. Lee matched a vibrant jade pair of his voluminous pants with a red tech mesh shirt, adding acid yellow pointy loafers and a chocolate brown bag for good measure. Then there’s the electric lilac hue of an A-line shearling coat, a color that reappears on a knit skirt suit and matching cardigan in what crafting circles would call the popcorn stitch, and the bubble gum pink of patent glove leather pumps with glittery acrylic heels. Fashion, at its most compelling, brings pleasure because it paints a vision of the future that looks fresh and new. If Lee’s playful printed dress in an intrecciato print of naked human bodies and the pouch bag in car seat cover wood beads the model carries with it become souvenirs of this strange lockdown season, it’s because they’re totems of a design team having fun. Who doesn’t want more of that in this moment?

All collages by Edward Kanarecki.

Limitless. Valentino AW20 Couture

And again, Valentino‘s Pierpaolo Piccioli is the king of haute couture, even after months of confinement that could basically cancel the entire season. Entitled “The Performance: of Grace and Light, a dialogue between Pierpaolo Piccioli and Nick Knight,” the presentation played as a hybrid digital / physical event staged in a darkened void on the famed Cinecitta movie lot in Rome for local press and friends of the house. In a Zoom press conference, Piccioli explained he’d conceptualized the 16-look collection as “an extreme response” to the tough circumstances of lockdown; a determination to overcome the technical problems of socially-distanced working in the Valentino atelier and the impossibility of creating prints and lavish embroideries. “I didn’t want to feel the limitations. Couture is made for emotions, dreams,” he said. “It was super-emotional for us all to be here together to win this challenge. A moment I will never forget.” First came a pre-recorded screening of an artily glitchy video by Knight, in which projections of flowers and feathers played over meters-long dresses worn by women who appeared to hover in an aerial circus scenario. Cut to real time: curtains drew back to reveal the models, standing perched on ladders in a static tableau, their dresses – some of Pierpaolo’s biggest couture hits, elongated to the extremes, and revealed to be all-white – cascading to the floor, videoed live. INCREDIBLE. The idea of taking the show to Cinecitta, Rome’s “factory of dreams,” led the designer to add the concept of “the magic of early cinema,” evoking the silent movie imagery of with silver sequins and waterfalls of glittering fringe. To make it even more ethereal, Piccioli commissioned recordings from FKA twigs – her extraordinary voice soared poignantly as the models swung from trapezes and floated through Knight’s digital performance. Fashion communication on multi-platform formats has taken surreal twists and turns as designers have tried to conquer the dreadful problems of the pandemic. In Piccioli’s case, the surrealism was right there, embodied in the theatrical form of some of the most gorgeous dresses the world has ever seen.

Collages by Edward Kanarecki.

Team Work. The Elder Statesman Resort 2021

It’s interesting how two brands, of different scales and formats, emphasized the topic of team work in times of confinement. At Gucci, the resort 2021 collection reveal was an entire, 12-hour long social media event, where Alessandro Michele’s design team, no longer anonymous, modelled the clothes they have designed for not only the look-book, but the advertising campaign. At the same time, we’ve got The Elder Statesman from Los Angeles, where Greg Chait, the founder of the tie-dyed cashmere heaven, presented the collection on his team. But here, it wasn’t just about the studio designers. The whole The Elder Statesman family was here, wearing their garments in context of their work at the brand (from crotcheting to dyeing) and personal passions (farming!). The family aspect was even more clear once you take a glance at the clothes. The pen-and-ink artwork prints come from Greg’s grandmother, Thelma Chait, a prolific artist not acknowledged in her day. Chait and his cousin unearthed a storeroom full of Thelma’s drawings, books, and writings last year, with the designer planning on using them as a foundation for a collection since. The messages of unity, humanity, and love in her illustrations would feel right for any time – she produced much of her art in the groovy and turbulent ’60s and ’70s – but they weave into this collection for 2021 like a soothing balm. Her stick figure of a human, arms circled about its head like a halo, appears on a sweater, as a button, and as a brooch, while her rainbow pen strokes are interpreted as a tie-dye. A map shows fields, cities, deserts, and forests in a sacred geometric pattern on the back of a cardigan worn with ombré cashmere sweats. Making these pieces feel all the more beautiful is the way they were put together and photographed. Knitting, Chait told Vogue, was permissible during California’s lockdowns as a form of manufacturing at home. He and his team drove around Southern California delivering yarns, looms, and ideas for weeks. Already close, the team found a new camaraderie, he explained, and so it was obvious that Thelma’s collection should be represented on the people who made it. Benjamin, a senior knitter, opens the look book in a cashmere sweater with orange trimming, his loom in hand. Chait described him as “a legend,” and went on discussing the importance – both corporately and personally – of each of his colleagues. China, the brand’s VP of sales, models a matching knit set inspired by Thelma’s line. Ariel, the head of dyeing, poses in an ombré of her own design alongside buckets of dye and her dog. Jo, who did the collection’s hand-crocheted flowers, is shown in a gingham shirt-jacket mid-stitch. Chris, a sales associate from the West Hollywood store, wears a jacket made of the new “Cloud” fabric, a paper-thin 100% organic cotton. For the first time, Chait’s own daughter, Dorothy Sue, appears in the collection in a rainbow set made from a Japanese fabric that is 93% cotton and 7% cashmere. No offense Gucci, but my heart is utterly stolen by The Elder Statesman.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Gucci Team. Gucci Resort 2021

Last February, days before the coronavirus crisis broke out near Milan, Alessandro Michele staged a Gucci show in the round that was spectacular and intimate at once. In retrospect, it looks rather prescient: in inviting the audience behind the scenes and exposing the backstage goings-on of the hair and makeup crews and model dressers Michele was celebrating the very things that we’re all missing so badly in COVID-19-time: human interaction, collaboration, being part of a receptive audience. “Fashion is not just what we decide to show,” Michele said on a WhatsApp video call earlier this week. “The idea that a campaign is just a piece of paper? No, there is another show in the show.” The concept for the 12-hour livestream the brand produced for resort 2021, which the designer named “Epilogue,” and staged at the glorious Renaissance-era Palazzo Sacchetti in Rome with a natural soundtrack of cicadas, is to document the advertising campaign, to capture that “show within the show.” Only this time, Michele explained, “it’s less theater. This one will be more dirty. It’s a few cameras in a very Andy Warhol way, maybe they’re looking at nothing interesting. The experiment doesn’t work if I plan too much.” The Gucci designers working in his studio modelled the resort looks they worked on. On the WhatsApp call, he remembered a time as a young designer when a piece he was making was pulled for a show or a shoot and he didn’t see it again. “It was like someone tried to take from you your son.” Spotlighting his colleagues was “something beautiful,” he said, “they were so happy.” As for the clothes themselves, Michele called them “a celebration of my point of view, things that I did in the past, pieces that belong to my aesthetic.” That aesthetic is as singular and idiosyncratic as ever. Min Yu Park, a men’s ready-to-wear designer wears a beaded floral jacket, a floral lace dress, and a turquoise necklace that matches her Jackie bag. Alexandra Muller, an embroidery designer, models a long filmy floral-print ruffled dress with clear sequins that pick up the light. David Ring, a celebrities designer, sports an embroidered velvet blazer, a striped tee, logo flares, and sneakers. Just taking a glace at the clothes tells you right away: Gucci. Back in May Michele announced Gucci’s reduced show schedule. This may be the brand’s last resort collection, but the name “Epilogue” might be a misnomer. The learnings of lockdown – the importance of his team, the value of feeling – will stick with him, he thinks. “It’s not just a way to close, but to say what we’ve done and put seeds of what will be in the next chapter. Yes, it could also be a beginning.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

L’Amour. Jacquemus SS21

After weeks of digital presentations, Jacquemus‘ spring-summer 2021 IRL show was a truly heart-warming sight. An audience of 100 guests – mainly French press, house friends and family of Simon Porte Jacquemus – were ferried to a gently rolling wheat field near Us in the French Vexin Regional National Park, about an hour outside Paris. After hundreds of Instagram posts, you surely know what the venue looked like. It was a visual dream, a bit like a more sober sister of last year’s lavender field fantasy. Before the lockdown hit France, the designer had been in touch with the dancer Alexander Ekman. Needless to say, everything changed at that point, but the reference remained. During a pre-show interview, Jacquemus said he wanted his collection to talk of love and celebration, “like a simple country wedding or a harvest festival.” Ultimately, he named the collection “L’Amour,” a declaration of love for his team and updated it with Provençal references such as hand-made ceramics, grandmother’s tablecloth and berry picking (actual strawberries were inside Aaron Altaras’ basket-bag). The collection itself was quintessentially Jacquemus: a variety of dresses that channel the Southern French girl, made in all sizes; for boys, Picasso-meet-Miro motifs and cut-out hearts on over-sized tailoring. A toned, sun-washed  palette of clay and ecru looked summer-perfect, although I must admit I love Jacquemus most when he’s induldging in bolder colours. As usual, accessories are the sure best-sellers: fun earrings (a bar of Marseille soap!), leather accessories like a harness for a single plate, or the new Chiquito Noeud, a variation on the house bestseller. Last year, Simon dialed down to two shows per year, and this decision was definitely a good one. It’s not only a sustainable step, but it also lets the designer execute his vision to the fullest. And a live show is a live show, after all. “For me, the runway can’t be a video. It’s at the heart of what we do; it’s not superficial. It’s important to all of us to continue, just like a restaurant that reopens. It’s like a movie of a summer day. It’s our life.” That’s an inspiring dose of optimism for the uncertain times.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Back To Office (Someday). Louis Vuitton Resort 2021

For many people still working from home, the word “office” sounds abstract. Tailoring isn’t a novelty in the resort 2021 collections, but only the Louis Vuitton line-up by Nicholas Ghesquière makes you think that some day, the “business” dress-code will come back to our lives and replace the lazy Zoom homewear. Emphasizing the more everyday, less editorial aspect of his ready-to-wear, the look-book was shot on location in Louis Vuitton’s Paris headquarters. A photocopier stands at attention in the opening shot, and exit signs and fire doors appear in the background of others. The promise of gorgeous hourglass blazers and chic silk blouses makes the longing for “back to life” life even more intense… but this wasn’t the only aspect of the collection (which, by the way, was good without any far-fetched venue location). “I looked somewhere that has been calling out to me for a long time, somewhere I hadn’t taken the time to go back to. It was like a reset to uncover one inspiration after another, to imagine the next steps and how to create and work within this new context. I took the time to explore my creative identity and prepare the future.” Confronted with the unknowns of the coronavirus and the crushing recession it precipitated, designers have been revisiting their past successes. Nicolas Ghesquière is among them, though the search for lost time is not only a quarantine pursuit for him. On his autumn-winter 2020 runway, with the then as-yet uncanceled Met Gala and its theme of “Fashion and Duration” still on the horizon, Ghesquière held up a mirror to his own work. For this resort collection, he followed similar guidelines – lifting cargo pants from one collection and frilly rococo collars from another, and reuniting with the blouson shapes of the 1980s he likes – with results that read more easier than his runway outings typically do. Additionally, running through the collection is a playing-card leitmotif. When asked, Ghesquière claimed “the tarot” as his favorite card game, “because it can be used in many different ways. And the cards are full of symbols.” Nonetheless, he made effective use of the clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades of the playing-card deck. They bear more than a passing resemblance to the elements of the Louis Vuitton monogram, which Ghesquière made the most of by hybridizing them and then either adding them as decorative details on bags, or supersizing them as color-blocked patterns on streamlined mini and maxi dresses.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Sustainable Practice. Gabriela Hearst Resort 2021

With every season, I’m enjoying Gabriela Hearst‘s collections more and more – and the entire process of sustainability that occurs backstage of every single garment she produces makes the brand even more worth of you attention. Hearst sent over a resort 2021 box to the press with about 35 fabric swatches, one more sumptuous than the next, and many of them recovered from deadstock supplies. Hearst’s plan is to prove the mutual compatibility of luxury and sustainability, the thinking being that the more you normalize the likes of repurposed silk cotton voile and recycled stretch polyester, the more you problematize materials such as standard issue cotton and polyester, which require obscene amounts of water to grow, and virgin plastic to manufacture, repsectively. That said, there’s nothing normal in the least about Hearst’s materials. You need only brush your hand against the multi-ply of her handknit cashmere sweaters or take a longing glance at the fiery tie-dyed cashmere flannel of a coat. The designer produced a short Zoe Ghertner-lensed video for the collection in the California desert in which she appears alongside her sister, riding a horse bareback. On the voiceover Hearst says, “my sustainable practice is exactly what that word is: it’s a practice. You never achieve perfection, but you have to start. We don’t have an option.” The spring line-up’s ultimate stars are a black leather trench with hand-painted white leather lace “stripes” down its back, and another coat in that fire tie-dye, with a spectacular matching blanket shawl. Rounding it out is Hearst’s minimalist tailoring, made a little less minimal this season with a knotting detail on the lapel, and dresses and separates in cotton voile and denim-look linen with elevating metal-trimmed leather collar details and belts. Her new boots come with metal toe caps that took her seasons to get right. It’s a wardrobe for some good times ahead. “We have to dream,” she says.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Honesty and Intelligence. Prada Resort 2021 + Men’s SS21

In her last solo “show”, before Raf Simons enters the role of co-creative designer in the September collection (I really, really, really can’t wait for this match to finally happen!), Miuccia Prada delivered a collection that was absolutely 100% Prada vocabulary. “As times become increasingly complex, clothes become straightforward, unostentatious, machines for living and tools for action and activity.” So said the press notes for The Show That Never Happened, which was a digitally delivered group installation of five Prada-facing films by Willy Vanderperre, Juergen Teller, Joanna Piotrowska, Martine Syms, and Terence Nance. They were all made at the Fondazione Prada, the company’s museum of contemporary art collection and the place of all Prada events. The film – which ran consecutively with the addition of a quick final walk at the end before Mrs. Prada’s usual fleeting, half-lateral bow – came to 11 minutes, the ideal duration of a live fashion show. The collection was all about pure elegance, simplicity and a sort of detox from fashion noise. Many looks were identical to Miuccia’s autumn-winter 1995 show, which forever became the image of 90s Prada. Architectural, 1950s silhouettes mixed with a touch of feminine cliché (of course, done in Prada’s ugly chic manner) for resort, and smart, business ready tailoring with a touch of nylon for men’s summer – ta-da, a collection that really got me obsessed in the last few weeks of digital presentations. The press release continued with more food for thought chez Miuccia: “I think that our job as fashion designers is to create clothes for people, that is the honesty of it. That is really the value of our job – to create beautiful, intelligent clothes. This season, we focused on that idea: It is about clothes, about giving value to pieces. The clothes are simple, but with the concept of simplicity as an antidote to useless complication. This is a moment that requires some seriousness, a moment to think and to reflect on things. What do we do, what is fashion for, what are we here for? What can fashion contribute to a community?” As Prada and her peers (plus Raf Simons, of course!) work to anticipate how change alters the specifications of taste and clothes it will be fascinating to watch the architecture of fashion change too.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.