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.

Eccentric Girl. Chanel AW20 Couture

Things started looking up for this unusual, digital haute couture season the moment Chanel revealed its gorgeous collection by Virginie Viard. No pointless mega-productions with special effects, just a short video and a proper look-book shot by Mikael Jansson starring Adut Akech and Rianne Van Rompaey. The focus is on the clothes, which are a delight. “I was thinking about eccentric girls,” Virginie Viard said of her autumn-winter 2020 couture line-up. In particular, Viard was remembering Karl Lagerfeld heading off to parties with his sometime muse, the madcap Princess Diane de Beauvau-Craon, who as a teenage debutante got herself an American crewcut to give some punk edge to the pretty but detested pink dress her mother had chosen for her coming-out ball. “Life with her around is the ideal for me,” Lagerfeld said of de Beauvau-Craon when he spoke with Vogue, “because life must never be flat. She gives a light spirit, yet she is deeply spiritual.” Viard wanted to swing to some escapist opulence after last season’s soulful austerity – and because we all need the dream of a grand party right now! Viard was thinking of “things that maybe I would not do in a show – punk hair, fine jewelry.” Those Chanel haute bijoux included yellow diamond lions (Chanel herself was a Leo) and tiaras. The de Beauvau-Craon touch erupts in the form of a short frothy taffeta dress and faille ball skirts or a full-skirted retro cocktail dress of flowering black and white lace spliced with lacquered pink lace – and in punk feather mohawk bangs worn in the hair, and the lace-up court shoes that would have been perfect for dancing the night away in the great 1980s Parisian nightspots Les Bain Douches and Le Palace. As usual in her work, Virginie looks towards the essence of Chanel. Tweed figures large in the collection for day and night: a knee-length tunic worn over boot-leg pants, for instance, or a minidress with the traditional Chanel braid trim reworked in rhinestones. There is more amazing trompe l’oeil in the allover Lesage embroidery of a lean jacket worn with an ankle-length skirt, or in the Emmanuelle Vernoux–embroidered sleeves of a decorous wool ball gown, or the Montex sequin and wool tufts of an off-the-shoulder minidress. Viard provides subtle elegance too –  which I always adore the most in her collections – in pieces that include a sheath of inky faille with bishop sleeves or a solemn evening gown of steel gray silk velvet (my favourite), discreetly dusted with embroidery at the waist and cuff, and jackets with midriffs defined by hand smocking. Viard aptly describes the looks as “casual and grand” – and this is what I call relevant couture.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Théâtre de la Mode. Dior AW20 Couture

Yesterday was the first day of the autumn-winter 2020 haute couture “week”, digitally streamed from Paris due to confinement reasons. To be honest, I had a huge dilemma with it. After seeing all the look-books and pretentious, confusing videos, I felt like everybody would be completely fine with skipping this season entirely – designers the most. Schiaparelli released a look-book featuring Daniel Roseberry’s sketches, just to have a brief moment going on on Instagram. Illustrations are beautiful and all, but the execution of this concept felt completely empty. Olivier Theyskens couldn’t imagine a worse timing with his Azzaro debut – the blurry music video the label released tells nothing about his vision for the brand, and it would be simply best if they postponed it. But the fashion industry seems to still not know that word: “postpone”. Everything must be immediate, even if there’s nothing to show.

Maria Grazia Chiuri‘s Dior collection, clothes-wise, was surprisingly good. And they really, really could just leave it the way it is, a proper look-book photos of mannequins wearing couture and a well-written press release. Unfortunately, the brand decided to start with a visual, where everything went wrong. I’m talking about the film directed by Matteo Gerrone, which I found cheesy in production and, well, so, so ignorant towards current events going on in the world. As if Black Lives Matters never happened, an all white cast without a single model of colour held it all back to the maximum. And having models of colour in a casting is the easiest way for a brand to confront the term “diversity” – something Chiuri used to say was so important to her, with all her “feminist” themes… – and believe it or not, Dior failed with it. Which is sad and frustrating. Ok… lets go back to the collection. The film showed mermaids, nymphs, a live Venus statue and a travelling trunk of dresses (a nod to Théâtre de la Mode, the tour of miniature gowns on dolls in 1945-46 to revive the French fashion industry post-war) exploding into the woods in an Ancient dreamscape, and all that lead us to a collection filled with references of Greek mythology, fairytales and pre-Raphaelite times. Maria Grazia Chiuri name-checked the likes of Lee Miller, Dora Maar, Leonor Fini and Jacqueline Lamba – 20th-century women who are often remembered by history for their beauty or for their famous lovers and husbands, but in fact did important work of their own as artists. With a surrealist twist, that was a line-up of delightful diaphanous gowns and voluminous New Look-inspired coats, all kept in neutral colours. The bondage details in some of the dresses made me think of Man Ray and Lee Miller’s work, were kinky merged into sensual. At some points it all looked overly historical, even theatrical. Not sure if it’s relevant couture, like the one Virginie Viard does at Chanel. But if any sort of MET Gala is coming up in 2020, those dresses will perfectly match the About Time: Fashion and Duration theme.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Focus On: Nicholas Daley

In support for the Black community, I continue celebrating and highlighting the talented individuals that shape fashion today. Take notes! Nicholas Daley’s keen sense for fashion is matched by his taste in music. After spring-summer 2020’s live jazz performance, he upped the ante for the autumn-winter 2020 line-up with a fashion show that kicked off an entire night of events at Earth, the landmark East London venue. His musician girlfriend Nabihah Iqbal came up with the title of the new collection, “The Abstract Truth,” and shared billing with U.K. dub legend Mala among other artists at the after-party. “I like my shows to be about community, it’s always a friends and family affair,” said Daley speaking backstage between sets. To warm up the crowd for the fashion portion of the evening, he enlisted a trio of young South London musicians – Rago Foot, Kwake Bass and Wu-Lu – to perform a live score. Borrowing from the world of experimental jazz and psychedelic rock, the music gave song to the wide-ranging references in the new collection, including afro-futurism and the black abstract art movement of the 1970s. He was particularly drawn to the work of Frank Bowler whose first major retrospective opened at the Tate this time last year. The Guyanese-born artist’s vibrant “pour paintings” came through most vividly in a show-stopping hooded poncho. Daley has a knack for spinning utility clothing with a sense of specialness. In place of camo, he used a handsome khaki green jacquard patterned with hand-drawn lines to elevate his fishing-style vests and Crombie coats. The designer’s commitment to supporting local craftspeople is ongoing. In addition to working with an English mill on the custom jacquard, he dug into the archives of Scottish tartan maker Loch Carron, unearthing two particularly striking mohair checks, both of which added a rich hand to slouchy button-down jackets and peg-leg pants. Those traditional British tropes were remixed with handfuls of neo-boho accessories – coin-trimmed necklaces and scarves, knitted crossbody bags and berets – and that magpie eclecticism felt fresh and contemporary. With models sporting Jimi Hendrix–inspired coifs, the groovier elements of the collection were nicely amplified. The musicians looked just as cool, dressed in all black and with Daley’s new oversize baker boy hats and genius coin-trimmed sneakers both made in partnership with Adidas.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

The Look – Glemaud AW20

In support for the Black community, I continue celebrating and highlighting the talented individuals that shape fashion today. Take notes! If you haven’t read my post on the Glemaud, the most exciting, New York-based knitwear label, take a look here. In the above collage, the simple, yet strikingly elegant purple knitted dress looks even more divine in Arthur Mitchell’s legendary Dance Theater of Harlem – here photographed by Lord Snowdon (and starring the one and only Iman!).

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Focus On: Thebe Magugu

In support for the Black community, I continue celebrating and highlighting the talented individuals that shape fashion today. Take notes! Thebe Magugu staged his debut presentation at Paris fashion week after scooping the prestigious LVMH prize last autumn. The first African designer to win in the competition’s seven-year history, Magugu paid homage to his homeland with a photo exhibition entitled Ipopeng Ext, after an area in Kimberley, South Africa, the city in which he grew up. Fittingly, the name itself translates as “to beautify oneself.” Elegant and evocative portraits of Magugu’s local community lined the walls of the museum; they had been captured by two of the continent’s most celebrated young image makers: South African photographer Kristin-Lee Moolman and Sierra Leone–born stylist Ib Kamara. “These people and places were my earliest references,” said Magugu gesturing to a picture of his cousin Smangaliso posing in his neighborhood church wearing a fluffy light blue sweaterdress. Exquisite reminders of Magugu’s childhood were threaded throughout the collection, including a photoprint of his aunt’s iron roof that was abstracted to look like distressed denim on a marabou-feather-trimmed button-down with matching pants. Inspired by a retro tablecloth, the carnation-print trench coat had a characterful charm that was just as striking. Magugu’s uncle Nephtaly was pictured on a motorcycle dressed in a collared shirt that was covered in an illustration of two black women consoling each other by the Johannesburg-based artist Phathu Nembilwi. Beyond telling a very personal story, Magugu’s clothes are often a form of social commentary, particularly as it pertains to women’s rights in South Africa. As the designer explained, the print was a subtle political statement on the country’s rising femicide rate. Perhaps equally radical is Magugu’s unwavering commitment to producing in South Africa. The new logo satchel was handcrafted by artisans in Johannesburg, while his latest knitwear offerings were all made in Cape Town. Magugu is poised to export his special made-in-Africa vision across the globe.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki, photos courtesy of Thebe Magugu.

The Look – Christopher John Rogers AW20

In support for the Black community, I continue celebrating and highlighting the talented individuals that shape fashion today. I wrote about Christopher John Rogers not a while ago right here, and I must admit: I’m obsessed with his work! Here’s this gorgeous finale gown from the Brooklyn-based designer’s autumn-winter 2020 collection to brighten up your Tuesday.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Focus On: Kenneth Ize

In support for the Black community, I continue celebrating and highlighting the talented individuals that shape fashion today. Take notes! Kenneth Ize made his official debut at Paris fashion week this season, though his eponymous label has been making waves on the international circuit for the past few seasons. The Austrian-Nigerian designer was an LVMH prize finalist this past September, having first caught the world’s attention at Lagos Fashion Week a few months earlier. Images of Naomi Campbell and Imaan Hammam striding down Ize’s runway in his signature handwoven checks, a traditional Nigerian fabric known as asoke, caused a global social media frenzy within minutes. Both super-models were present at his autumn-winter 2020 show – Hammam opened, while Campbell closed what was a truly impressive first outing for Ize. The designer is best known for his men’s tailoring, though he kicked things off on a distinctly feminine note with a quilted striped miniskirt and matching funnel-neck zippered jacket. Ize is also inspired by workwear – think carpenter pants spun from silk and fringed at the hem. Adwoa Aboah looked especially striking in one of his quilted boilersuits. Ize has been working with a small circle of asoke weavers in Nigeria with the hopes of preserving the centuries-old craft from the brink of extinction. For autumn-winter 2020, he expanded on that commitment to local artisanship by collaborating with Austrian lace-makers in Vienna where he was born and raised. The green and orange lace tunics and suiting were a nod to Ize’s mother, who, like many West African women, would source Viennese lace to make custom outfits for special occasions. The collection was largely inspired by her meticulous approach to Sunday best in particular; the devil was in the details here, with matching fringed bucket bags and clutches made in collaboration with Austrian accessories label Sagan. It’s exquisite transcultural fashion experiments like these that will make Ize’s brand stand out in the fashion crowd. Discover more of Kenneth’s work here!

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.