Hot Dystopia. Balmain SS23

I might not be a Balmain kind of person, but I can definitely appreciate it, when Olivier Rousteing does something intriguing with it. A lot happened on the spring-summer 2023 runway, from a haute couture capsule offering to Cher closing the event. Over-saturated with prints featuring (very naked) Renaissance painting and a heavy dose of leather weaving and jersey draping, it was clear that Rousteing was still high on his Jean Paul Gaultier collaboration we’ve seen this summer (by the way, I can’t wait to see what Haider Ackermann will cook up for the brand in a couple of months!). But what truly sparked my attention in this Balmain outing was the melancholic, even dystopian mood behind it – and also it’s sustainability aspect. “We all saw climate change this summer. We all saw fires around the world. And coming back with a show in September, thinking about whether our pants are going to be high-waisted or low-waisted – it seems a bit futile to me.” Dressed like a samurai messiah, Rousteing told the press backstage that while he could not claim this collection was 100 per cent sustainable, he’d used fabrics made of paper, of banana, and of wicker (in the couture) to be as much so as possible. He added: “I have friends who tell me they don’t want to have kids, because what will our world be tomorrow? And at the end of the day it’s not about taste. It’s not about aesthetics.” When faced with the hardest proposition – that all fashion is essentially unsustainable for its inherent ephemerality – he convincingly riposted that his ongoing project is to radicalize his supply chain for the better. So props to him.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Crescendo. Dries Van Noten SS23

Dries Van Noten‘s spring-summer 2023 collection was a rather calm return to the womenswear runway. Opening a collection with about 20 all-black looks is quite a surprise move coming from the Belgian designer. Van Noten said he’d been thinking of Malevich’s 1915 painting The Black Square, an infinitely readable and to many terrifying abstract black vacuum. But these looks were no void: by enforcing the rigidly all-black rule we were forced to consider the texture, structure and silhouettes, all highly-designed, that passed us. These started with an oversized jacket in a technical, spongey, meshed material that was fastened with a glass-headed pin to create a furled, succulent gather. Slowly, against this structure, emerged a tentative undergrowth of decorative foliage: a ruffle bag trailing fringe, a floral brocade on a fitted dress with a tendril of ruffled jersey on the right shoulder, a ruffled shoe worn beneath a soft-shouldered jacket with a bomber jacket hem, a fringe-hemmed coat. Then an eruption of fractal, myriad, pleated ruffles encrusted like some dark barnacle on a dress, and at last the first glimpse of color in a strata of indigo paillette on a crop top. Phase two introduced color, mostly pale and washed at first, in rustling paillette pieces, and some extraordinarily embellished cotton jersey T-shirts and skirts. The third phase leading to crescendo came, inevitably by now, with the injection of floral patterns against the previously established color and structure. These patterns were drawn then redrafted from past Van Noten collections and mashed sumptuously against each other. And because of that slow build of all that had preceded it, you could appreciate the composite elements beneath the dazzling pattern. So, to recap, what was that theme again, Dries? “Optimism,” he replied: “Because life can be really beautiful.”

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Unobvious Sensuality. Acne Studios SS23

This season, Acne Studios celebrated 10 years of showing in Paris. But also, the spring-summer 2023 offering suggested a new direction for the brand. “Sexy” and “sensual” aren’t really keywords that affiliate with Acne Studios. Jonny Johansson decided to explore this new territory for the label – but don’t expect anything too obvious. We’re speaking of “sexiness” done the Acne-Studios-way: oddly-fitting, raw, mysterious. The Palais de Tokyo venue was carpeted a light pink, and here and there shell-covered candelabra stood at attention among a maze of beds covered in matching satin duvets and pillows. There was a wedding-slash-honeymoon vibe about it. The ostensible bride wore white embroidered tulle in the shape of an elongated pillow case, the corners creating drama around the shoulders, but Johansson said that he was less interested in the affianced than in the crowd of nearest and dearest that might assemble to celebrate them: the bad brother, the mother who lets the bad brother get away with everything, the tipsy aunt, etc. “Weddings are kind of kitsch,” he pointed out. Surely, the pink satin bed sheet dress qualified. Ditto for the pastel bows trapped between layers of lace and tulle, and the gingham suits with bra tops worn over the jackets, each cup boasting a blooming rosette. All that sweetness met its opposite in thrashed leather blazers trimmed with metal spikes.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Beach Rave. Courrèges SS23

I was on fence with Nicolas di Felice‘s take on Courrèges since his debut collection. But his truly cool spring-summer 2023 offering proved that the designer is capable of making the brand truly his own – without falling down the rabbit hole of Courrèges’ archives. First of all, Di Felice knows how young people want to dress everyday, especially for parties: in body-con separates and dresses that reveal as much as they conceal. His spring show conjured morning-after-a-beach-rave vibes. The set helped tell the story. In an otherwise unremarkable white studio far out of town, a circle of sand had been installed. As the music cued up, more sand began streaming from the ceiling like an hourglass, slowly at first and then faster, so that the accumulating pile started sinking as the models made their slow circuits around it. Having made the house Re-Editions into big sellers, Di Felice is looking beyond the obvious at Courrèges. He dug a vintage scuba jacket out of the archive and used its ergonomic lines to inspire a leather motorcycle coat, for one example, and he’s broken free of the starchy mod shapes so closely linked with the house history. The sensation Di Felice was after for spring was fluidity, thus the surf and scuba motifs, a recurring theme this season, and a “coral” dress made out of silicone. And thus the silhouettes draped and wrapped around the body. Since it was the morning after, models carried their slingbacks in their hands, or wore their jean jackets around their waist like a makeshift shirt (buttons down the back and exterior straps made that possible). Other pieces came with similar built-in straps to make them easy to carry when they come off on the dance floor, on the commute, or at the desert rave.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Languid Elegance. Saint Laurent SS23

Those latest Saint Laurent collections are impeccable. And the spring-summer 2023 offering is to die for. “To me, the body says what words cannot,” Martha Graham, the revered, radical American modern dancer and choreographer once said. It wouldn’t be crazy to think that’s the kind of statement Anthony Vaccarello, Saint Laurent’s creative director, would concur with. His work for the house has always exalted a corporeal glory; his own view of physicality – strong, celebratory, unapologetic – and the legacy of the house merged to be totally in sync. Graham’s and Vaccarello’s orbits surprisingly spun into each other at his remarkable show, which was staged in the almost dream-like Parisian setting of a grand paved garden replete with cascading fountain. The result: a quietly epic examination of what happens when you both reveal and conceal the body – and the frisson you generate when you make your look long, lean and loaded with attitude. Backstage, just before the show, Vaccarello mentioned that he’d been looking at the groundbreaking way that Graham dressed her company in tubular dresses for her 1930 production Lamentation, costuming which audaciously emphasized every bit of physical agility from her dancers. Vaccarello first discovered Graham, he said laughing, by being a fan of Madonna’s in the 1990s, when the Material Girl had been busy singing Graham’s praises to the sky. But for spring Vaccarello looked back a decade earlier to YSL’s past – the mid-’80s days when models strode those old school elevated podiums in Monsieur Saint Laurent’s hooded, draped, capuche dresses. They were visions of languid elegance, dressed to the nines with myriad jeweled accessories, the maquillage as immaculate as the hauteur they were so gifted at projecting. Vaccarello riffed on all the draping and hooding for a slew of beautifully rendered dresses cut from jersey in two different weights, one heavier and opaque, giving a more constructed look; the other lighter and gauzier, gently veiling the body underneath. Some of these dresses were slipped under sweeping great coats and trenches which fell in narrow columnar proportions from big shoulders in leather or tweed or wool, or with more leather in the form of capacious blouson jackets which nipped inwards as their cut moved towards the waist. Vaccarello’s color palette was gloriously muted but definitive, taken from the clothes shot on Polaroid from YSL fittings back in the day: soft browns, purples, camels, olives and taupes, their tones heightened by the substantial jeweled or Claude Lalanne-esque gold cuffs. There were barely-there sandals and satiny pumps with high cut vamps and gleaming metallic shades. Everything came together to create a look that was finished, polished, considered, and done. But what drives Vaccarello is where we are right now. Despite the historical referencing, his push is to always exist in the present. You can trace that from this collection back through his last few women’s runway shows. It’s a thread which takes you from the bold shouldered blazers and latex of winter 2020 to the Belgian-y swaggering coats and floor-trailing skirts he did for autumn, to last night’s glorious offering. Let’s call what Vaccarello is doing empower dressing. It doesn’t rest on the outward gestures – the width of the shoulders, the height of the heels, or the length of the skirts. Instead, it reflects what’s within, unspoken, but undeniably powerful and potent.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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