Harbor of Fineness. The Row AW23

The Row‘s intensely refined autumn-winter 2023 read-to-wear collection matched the couture ambience of the last week. Mary-Kate Olsen and Ashley Olsen didn’t show in Paris, but dropping a new collection in such specific time-frame speaks for itself. The craft, the tailoring, the materials, the silhouettes. The ultra-luxurious and elegantly-understated vision of the The Row woman (and man) is absolutely haute. The new season offering sees the Olsens’ timeless regulars (masculine boxy suits, cashmere coats with shawl-like capes, over-sized crisp cotton shirts – very Lydia Tár!) combined with an ease of flowing shapes (see the floor-sweeping black skirt styled with a boyish blazer) and chic, Armani-like narrowings at the waist. The colors are all about earthy neutrals – another The Row favorite. Trends come and go, but The Row is a peaceful harbor of eternal fineness.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Intimacy. Alaïa AW23

Azzedine Alaïa used to present his collections on 7 Rue de Moussy in Paris, the legendary address which wasn’t only the studio and flagship Alaïa store, but also his home. After the shows – or even on regular days – he invited his guests, from friends to models, to his kitchen, where he served his favorite dishes. This feeling of family-like community was fundamental for the designer and his independent brand. For autumn-winter 2023, Pieter Mulier took that notion to heart, and held his latest fashion show in his and his partner’s (Matthieu Blazy, Bottega Veneta’s creative director) apartment in Antwerp. The group of guests was small: a pack of fashion’s finest critics, the brand’s muses (like Tina Kunakey) and Mulier’s friends (think Raf Simons, Gaia Repossi and Dries Van Noten). The 1972 Brutalist landmark home was a fitting backdrop for the designer’s fourth collection for the brand: sophisticated, somber, very Antwerp. With that gesture, Mulier wanted “to share something of who I am” by pulling Alaïa’s culture onto his own territory. “It’s actually very simple. I didn’t want to do a big show – I didn’t want cold, distant glamour. I want to do something very intimate, small as Azzedine liked it,” he explained. His models had performed their long-leggedy Alaïa strides around his apartment in a collection that showed, in close-up, how the clothes fit to the body (rounded in the shoulder, wrapped, draped). The architecture, and the quality of the Flemish light has an effect on how Mulier sees and shapes his design, he said. “We work here on the beginning of every collection on the ground floor studio with the Alaïa team”, he revealed. “When I start, I always work in the kitchen. And when I’m in the kitchen, I look up to the cathedral, over there.” The conversation with his surroundings began a pursuit of a sculpted roundness, he said. “In our house, everything is geometric. In Alaia, everything is about the two extremes of masculine and feminine, and basically our house is very masculine. You put a feminine silhouette in it and it changes completely. Everything was sculpted on the body so everything is round; all the drapes are cut in circles.” Rounded shoulders, sculpted torso, narrowed hips, elongated silhouette: the beginning, in dense immaculately-fitted dark brown jersey, introduced it. There were bodysuits, jackets, bustiers, and flipped-out skating skirts. Eyes zoomed in to figure out the lines of glinting silver that were running down the backs of sleeves and undulating over hips. They were conceptual ‘pins’ – part homage to the dressmaking and fitting process, part perverse play on piercing; sharpness versus softness. Also a nod to a dress Alaïa once made.

But where was the Belgian identity of Mulier beginning to be apparent? “The tailoring is very minimal. I told the team, I want it to be as minimal as possible, with the maximum effect. But it needs to be sensual, where all the drapes are circles,” he said. “There’s a white dress where we just cut it, draped, attached it – and that was it. So on that level it’s very Antwerp.Very simple.” The white dress, with its scarf over the head, serendipitously evoked the drape of the North African hoods Alaïa often referenced. But there was surely the hint of other Belgian street vibes going on. There was another kind of bomber-hoodie and a distinct echo of an army-surplus parka; then, Mulier’s choice of faded denim rather than Alaïa’s classic rigid version. Moving toward evening, Mulier’s drapes in black cotton were whipped around the body in a dynamic caught between sophistication and romance. Back views mattered: one dress had a low-down half-moon cutout that reverbed sexily from the showstopper Mulier sent out last season. He is not one to rush, but nevertheless, in his logical, emotional Belgian manner of doing things, Mulier is gradually putting his own stamp on the brand. Maybe this collection wasn’t as ferocious and bold as his first line-ups for the brand, but it certainly was the most emotionally-charged.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Bodies, Bodies, Bodies. Mugler AW23

Back in the 80s and 90s, nobody did a (fashion) show like Thierry Mugler. In 2023, Mugler, the brand, lead by Casey Cadwallader, delivers an equal level of showmanship. “We’re showing during couture week because we’re bad. At Mugler we do whatever we want,” the designer stated before the choreographed mayhem kicked off. “We’re quite an outlier in the way we do things,” he added. What went down: a runway frenzy that idolized the talents and bodies of models and friends of the house simultaneously merged with live-captured dolly footage of said models and friends, which was consumed on a vast screen erected at the top of a set of stairs. And all over the internet, obviously. Crews of men on movie dollies slid on tracks filming the wildly whooped-at cast: Arca, Ziwe, Mariacarla Boscono, Shalom Harlow, Eva Herzigova, just to name few. There was hair swishing galore. A synchronized handbag-swinging lace-bodysuited dance troupe occupied some center steps. Then one by one, each Mugler supermodel climbed aboard another dolly, on which they could pose around a pole for the return journey. This second crew had a low-down camera which zoomed up crotch-wards, deploying a technique which might be termed up-skirting – had there been any skirts in evidence. Magnified on the monolithic screen, these oooh-aaah fragments were flashed in a live-streamed mix. What about the fashion content? Categorizing it as a collection of leather and lace doesn’t quite cover it. One thing to be said: Whether manifesting as baggy-topped leather chaps suspended under a hip-grazing heavy-duty chrome-zippered bodysuit, or a bisected one-leg, one-sleeve motorcycle suit, or indeed anything Cadwallader did with stretch black lace – it all miraculously stayed in place. And that is quite a technical achievement. It’s tricky to compare Cadwallader’s Mugler with Manfred Thierry Mugler’s original haute couture extravaganzas. In 2023, as far as being inclusive to bodies and identities, Cadwallader for sure outdoes the master. But Mugler was the outlier in his time: the man who foresaw fashion shows as cinematic spectacles. It’s a great continuation of the legacy.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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An Ode To Punk. Maison Margiela AW23

The world became a sadder place without the Dame and the Queen of punk, Vivienne Westwood, who passed away just a couple of days before the New Year. Who else could create a more authentic and vivid tribute to Westwood’s work – and the entire subculture she helped create and kept leading – than John Galliano? His co-ed autumn-winter 2023 collection for Maison Margiela, one of the best ready-to-wear collections he’s done for the brand in a while, makes you believe punk isn’t dead. Galliano brought up the term ‘Rorschach test’ for the subjective seeing of different things when we look at fashion. Through these eyes, it looked very like a fierce, urgent reveling in the subcultural spirit of the 1970s and early ’80s in London – Galliano’s youth, but brought forward, mashed up for today. “You might see some familiar figures in it,” he suggested. “Jordan on the King’s Road; the fishnets; Johnny Rotten, maybe.” He’d sent out crude collaged photocopied flyers with his invitations – like fanzines and invites to underground gigs, the way kids navigated nightlife long before mobile phones. A couple of models were clutching them with their handbags as they lurched down the runway, as if in a hurry to get somewhere. In some of their hats, fancifully collaged from trash bags and scraps of tulle, were cockades made from chopped-up flyers. The plaids didn’t look like punk tartan – Westwood’s eternally favorite fabric—but then again, it almost did. And, to these eyes at least, there she was, almost personified in the girls who were dashing along in Galliano’s ingeniously wrapped pencil skirts – the sexy ’50s rocker style that Vivienne always spoke about as the first clothes she loved making for herself as a teenager. If that really was a salute to the late designer, it was also mixed up in the layers and layers of Galliano’s spins on 1950s tulle ballgowns, his huge, swinging opera coats, and chopped-up Americana. There were also Western-type jackets with Mickey Mouse plackets, Hawaiian prints, all seen through a punk, D-I-Y filter. Beautiful and emotionally moving.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Just Drive. Marine Serre AW23

Nothing is created. Everything is transformed. To love is to repair. It must be simple. We are repaired, we are reused… We are restitched, we are re-embroidered…”. So went the poem – written by Marine Serre – at the beginning of her public-facing autumn-winter 2023 fashion show. In the heavily light-produced outing, Serre systematically set about showing what she could do with deadstock materials. The first eight looks or so were crafted from the totes, and included the cropped jacket silhouette that would ricochet across the collection. The next set was denim, and featured Caroline Issa who wore a siren silhouette denim dress with Serre’s new moon breast inserts. Other looks featured jewelry fashioned from upcycled cutlery. Then we pivoted to motorcycling gear, recycled. Although the motocross trend is widespread (all thanks to Rosalia’s seismic success of Motomami), Serre is a designer who owns that aesthetic, regardless if it’s trending or not. Next we hit knit: Look 20, on a proudly body-positive model, featured a patchwork “lozenge” knit fashioned from 15 or so pullovers. After that were upcycled or chemical-free processed leather looks which sometimes came with some pulled-pile knit trims that understandably set their models in unplanned directions when used as face coverings. A series of sophisticatedly faux-sophisticated moon monograph pieces followed. We were getting to the climax now, building tension with a swathe of house moiré looks interspersed with tapestry topped couture shapes and reclaimed upholstery fabrics. Then a series of pieces fashioned from strips of material, specifically scarfs, that were amongst the most compelling here. This was another highly effective and affecting collection from Serre.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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