This is one of these The Row collections that are just… perfect. And extremely relevant. Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen have never been the type to discuss the deeper meaning of their collections, and they’re not about to start now, but the opening look of their pre-fall 2022 offering definitely meets the turbulence of our current moment. It’s a grain de poudre jacket worn backwards, its single button fastened mid-spine and its lapels framing the shoulder blades. “Adaptability” is definitely one of their running themes here. Other tailored jackets can be worn inside-out, and on the accessories front there are reversible tote bags and cotton voile “protectors” for leather styles. After a season of more oversized, relaxed shapes, the waist has come back into focus for the Olsens. Their elongated and slightly nipped jackets cut an elegant line, and many of the looks are accessorized with leather belts featuring useful add-ons for cell phones and ear buds. Elsewhere, there are generous, pillowing volumes, as in the red nylon cellophane top and skirt of look two, which are cut with bubble hems to accentuate their material’s airy lightness. Extending a newfound interest in color, they showed metallic viscose knit separates in bright lilac or red worn layered and even wrapped around the head like scarves, and a trench in a crimped aqua tulle, shown with a matching bag. They also embraced humor. A couple of shrunken T-shirts (paired with excellent boned-waist trousers) are scribbled with children’s drawings; officially they’re part of The Row’s kid’s line, but they’ll be sold in women’s sizes too. The final look is the other side of that reversed jacket. It’s a back-to-front world, but The Row can help you hold it together.
Rosie Assoulin is back. Well, not that she was actually absent – her delicious wine project, Vivanterre, keeps on growing, and her clothing line continuously keeps on delivering the wittiest eveningwear in New York – but spring-summer 2022 line-up is the first full-blown collection coming from the designer since the pandemic has started. Assoulin hasn’t shown a new collection since the eeriest March of 2020. That brilliant autumn-winter 2020 collection made it to Paris, but she and her husband Max, the brand’s CEO, made the wise choice to stay in New York as the virus descended on Europe. Eighteen months later, she was back in Paris working double-duty: taking IRL appointments in a courtyard showroom and Zooming with editors. She and her husband have been busy on the business side of things, too: In May, they formed a partnership with HIM Co. to scale the label in Europe and Asia. The most noticeable change for spring 2022 was the expansion into vegan leather shoes, like a preppy new sneaker, and new unisex sweaters intarsia’d with the brand’s graphic logo. What stands out most is the collection’s surprising anchor motif – a timeless symbol. Several looks feature bandeau tops hand-knitted in the curvy shape of an anchor, while a crisp white dress had one cut away at the ribcage. Other pieces came in watercolor anchor prints or with beaded fishing lures dangling from the sleeves; in a subtler twist, a white cotton gown had an oversized sailor collar fanning down the back. These summer-perfect pieces felt light and charming, delicate yet quirky, polished but with plenty of humor. There’s always a story behind Rosie’s curiosities, too: the sailing idea came from her kids’ favorite book, Amos and Boris. It got her thinking about going on a far-flung, care-free adventure again. The looks that captured that feeling best had a DIY feeling about them, in that you could twist and style them multiple ways. An ivory evening coat was cut with sashes in the front, to be left loose or tied in a bow, while a glittery one-shouldered gown was shown over black trousers, Assoulin’s signature twist on black tie. Other looks got more inventive: for instance, the skirt of that white cotton gown could be removed to become a shorter day dress. A shimmery coral bustier dress came with an attached matching shirt, inspired by the best-selling “one thousand ways” sweater Assoulin launched last year, which merged a cable-knit camisole and shrug. As for the dress, you could wear the shirt open, tie the sleeves around your waist or loop them around your shoulders, or remove the shirt entirely. It’s at least five looks in one. As the pandemic situation seems to calm down, smaller labels start to gradually re-emerge. Rosie Assoulin takes us on a dreamy sea cruise – I’m hopping in!
The big three names from Japan – Rei Kawakubo, Junya Watanabe and Kei Ninomiya – again skipped Paris Fashion Week, and they will probably do so until the pandemic completely winds up. From Tokyo, Watanabe treated the internet with a charming collection filled with gilded draping, filmy fabrics, disrupted tailoring and printed collaborations with Japanese, Chinese, Nepalese, and Thai contemporary artists. He called it “Eastern Reminiscence,” his term for his reminiscences of pre-pandemic travel. Looking through a collection of photojournalism that Jamie Hawkesworth, the British photographer captured in 2019 in Bhutan, India, and Kashmir, Watanabe “became nostalgic for Asia” and “the pure heart of people” he saw there. It was all there to read in the intersections of his gently-elegant folds, layers of glimmering asymmetric drapery, brocades and the fragments of biker jackets, kilts, and men’s tailored jackets. First up: a white dress printed with a skull artwork – part punk, part Chinese porcelain – by the Chinese artist Jacky Tsai, based in London. Watanabe had Japanese heroes working with him too: black-on-flesh-colored patterns in semi-translucent dresses almost as fine as second-skins were by the tattoo artist Nissaco, renowned for his geometric work. A dress with a psychedelic artwork of goldfish and stylized women’s heads came from a 1975 animation by Keiichi Tanaami, the legendary pop artist who has been working his hallucinatory visions since the ’60s. Powerful hand-drawn black calligraphy by Wang Dongling, director of the Modern Calligraphy Study Center at the China National Academy of Arts, scrolled a Tang Dynasty poem over white dresses. Ang Tsherin Sherpa, a Tibetan artist based in California, creator of modern artworks based on traditional Tibetan thangka iconography, collaborated in orange-blue-green grid patterns sliding sideways over a draped dress. A vivid orange smock emblazoned with flowers and a painted dragon is a Thai fantasia dreamed up for Watanabe by the Bangkok-based illustrator Phannapast Taychamaythakool. It’s obvious how much mutual respect Watanabe enjoys with his creative peers who are all exploring traditions and crafts in free-wheeling, sometimes surreal parallel. The fantastically textured metallic series of evening pieces beautifully related to Jamie Hawkesworth’s photographs of golden female temple deities. This was definitely one of Junya Watanabe’s most inspired collection for a long time.
Livestreamed from Tokyo, Rei Kawakubo went for her signature giant portable Comme Des Garçons sculptures this season, imprinted with exaggerated flowers, leaves and bows. There were huge shapes, which meant models had to squeeze or shuffle sideways to emerge through a door onto a set. It didn’t feel like one of Kawakubo’s dystopian, apocalyptic moments in which she has seemed to sound a warning about bad things coming. Was her popping-out scenario closer to suggesting a feeling of rebirth, re-emergence, maybe? If so, it’s into a world where – as other fashion designers have been saying – nothing makes sense. Randomness, surrealism and absurdity are registering as part of the mood of 2021. Kawakubo, in confronting her “present state of mind” went large, very, very large, occupying space in ways that no women is meant to (though to be honest, vast art-fashion structures have been her safe space for experimenting for years). She certainly met her own criterion of avoiding making clothes. Comme “dresses” were presented as abstract perambulating 3-D fabric structures, topped off with pastiches of plastic cartoon girly wigs by Gary Card. Some of them had a sort of curved prow; several had net-filled cones spurting from their backs; some were ovoid, another was a 3-D black trashbag flower. Eventually there was an impression of the weight of furnishing fabric and swishing curtain swags. In the end there was a piece that seemed to have entirely merged a woman with a comfy black and white upholstered armchair. Paris Fashion Week missed having the Comme de Garçons show to contemplate at a time when fashion needs fearless innovators to take it forward. Kawakubo sets an example for all: a designer who has been independent for a lifetime and is still pushing.
The last evening of Paris Fashion Week was an extraordinary celebration of a fashion genius who left us too early. “Love Brings Love” was a characteristically optimistic mantra of Alber Elbaz, the brilliant and widely beloved designer whose death at 59 from Covid-19 in April of this year devastated the international fashion community. And so it was fitting that under this banner and before a crowd of the designer’s family, friends, colleagues, and peers, including Dries van Noten, Rick Owens, Pierpaolo Piccioli, Jean Paul Gaultier – and France’s First Lady Brigitte Macron – Paris Fashion Week drew to a deeply poignant, but joyful close. For the show, 45 designers and Elbaz’s design team at AZ Factory came together in celebration of his talent, personality, and design legacy, and many were present in the audience that night. “We wanted to find a way to celebrate Alber’s spirit,” explained Elbaz’s long term partner Alex Koo during a preview of the clothes that the contributing designers had created in tribute, “It is beautiful to see how each designer revealed a different aspect of Alber. It really was a labor of love.” Koo explained that Elbaz had long cherished the idea of recreating the Théâtre de la Mode, an extraordinary 1945 project that brought together Paris’s 60 preeminent haute couture designers, as well as milliners, hairdressers, and accessory designers, to dress a series of doll sized figures that were then arranged in vignettes suggesting fashionable Parisian life – a walk in the Palais Royal, for instance, or a night at the Opéra. The dolls and their decors traveled the world, vividly demonstrating to an enraptured public that the arts of Paris fashion had survived the hardships of the German Occupation and continued to set the bar for technique and imagination. Alber’s dream, as Koo explained in the moving voice-over that introduced the show, was to echo this initiative and “bring together the best talents of the industry in celebration of love, beauty, and hope.”
Some of the designers went for biography: South Africa’s Thebe Magugu, for instance, was inspired by a fall 1997 dress that Elbaz has designed during his two year tenure at Guy Laroche, whilst Alaia’s Pieter Muller had imagined a scarlet sheath dress, translucent but for some sinuous and strategically placed opaque hearts, that suggested the work of Geoffrey Beene for whom Alber, newly arrived from his native Israel, worked for seven years and who he acknowledged as an inspirational master. Coordinated by Elbaz’s long term stylist Babeth Dijan, the clothes were shown in alphabetical order. Unsurprisingly, hearts were a leitmotif: Jean Paul Gaultier, citing Elbaz’s “coeur a l’ouvrage” (roughly translating as putting his whole heart into his work) offered a couture dress composed of layered, three-dimensional, ruby red hearts; Alessandro Michele’s purple gown was suspended from a double heart-shaped brassiere, while Viktor & Rolf’s magisterial white trench coat ballgown was framed by graduated hearts arranged on the sleeves and skirts in an ombre of reds and pinks. Others chose to immortalize Alber’s own iconic look, and his playful dress sense that evoked a silent movie comic with his trademark bowtie, barrel-shaped jackets, and shortened pants. Dries van Noten, whose look was my favourite from the tributes, had developed an elaborate intarsia portrait that decorated the front of his scarlet evening coat. Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing depicted Elbaz on the bodice of his liquid white satin evening dress, and Lanvin’s Bruno Sialelli evoked a billowing Lanvin dress of parachute silk, hem buoyed with a ruffle, from spring 2008 with a giant portrait of the designer on the back that floated on air as the model made her circuit around the Carreau du Temple. Rosie Assoulin, meanwhile, who interned for Elbaz, designed a clever look that came together to create a trompe l’oeil Elbaz, his jacket as a skirt, his television-frame glasses a bodice. Hermes’s Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski revisited a 2014 scarf with a print originally designed by artist Dimitri Rybaltchenko that depicted Elbaz at the window of the storied Lanvin flagship building, the Hermès’s neighbor on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore where he worked for 15 years from 2001. Many tapped into Elbaz’s inventory of signature designs—Donatella Versace looked to his draped sleeves; Schiaparelli’s Daniel Roseberry celebrated his “particular affinity for bijoux” and “joy in explosive volumes;” Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia did the same with his hot pink nylon taffeta opera coat “creating maximal volume using minimal seams” whilst the ruffles that Elbaz loved were evoked by Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli in a magnificent ballgown of hot pink volutes and by Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton in a short embroidered coat dress.
The show closed with the AZ Factory design collective’s powerful tribute of their own, again riffing on the founder’s impactful signature looks, and Amber Valletta embodied the man himself in a jacket cut from the same pattern as the one his team had originally created for him, its hem embroidered with images of his unforgettable clothes. For the finale, the backdrop curtain opened to reveal the models in a three-tier-high scaffolding grid, framing a portrait of Elbaz and grooving to the O’Jays’s feel-good 1972 classic “Love Train.” There were torrents of heart-shaped confetti and there were torrents of tears.