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. Don’t forget to follow Design & Culture by Ed on Instagram!
Finally, a delightful dash of refinement appears on the Polish fashion scene. Meet Jan / F / Chodorowicz, the womenswear designer and recent graduate of Central Saint Martins MA course, and his brilliant SOCIALI/S/TE collection. Chodorowicz’s debut line-up introduces the audience to his two favourite meeting-points: the codes of haute couture and workwear. For the collection, Jan was simultaneously inspired by the glamorous Truman-Capote-kind-of-women, and photographs of working women in socialist Poland – visions of strikingly contrasting femininity that collided at one point in history, when Jackie Kennedy and Lee Radziwill came to Warsaw in 1970. The collection is a capsule wardrobe for a contemporary, charismatic and business-ready woman, a modern-day lady who is in control of her narrative and expresses her confidence through uncompromising total looks. The dominating, deep tone of blue is a reference to classic workwear, which is combined with fine wools in windowpane and houndstooth patterns, all fully bonded with silk satin to create a chic, couture-ish silhouette. Every outfit has a matching pair of gloves and tights that convey the dynamic blue lines that run through the entire collection, making the looks not only feel lady-like, but surprisingly also utilitarian. Keep Jan on your radar – for more of his works, follow the designer right here.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki. Look-book: photography by Łukasz Kuś, make up by Marianna Yurkiewicz, styling by Marcela Stanczyk & special thanks to Krystyna Engelmayer Urbańska and Jula Strużycka.
I’ve slept on most of Emilia Wickstead‘s career – majority of her collections felt too preppy, too controlled for me – but the autumn-winter 2021 line-up is quite something. This season, I feel like most brands and designer lean on styling too much, and in case of Wickstead, we see actual clothes, which are proof of excellent cut and tailoring. From the caped coats and suits to wonderfully refined eveningwear filled with couture-ish, lady-like silhouttes for day and evening, this is a regal, yet contemporary wardrobe for a modern-day dame. You know, that kind of Agatha Christie character, but living in social media times. And really, that woman doesn’t have a single pair of sweats on her racks. She will wear one of those shoulder-revealing dresses, in classy black or timeless florals, to a Zoom meeting (or a socially distanced five o’clock). I sense some Prada influences here and there, like the cut-out, pleated skirts especially, and that sort of elegant strictness, but those are equally signatures original to Wickstead.
I knew I would end up being obsessed with the newPrada, co-designed by Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons. The nylon wrap-coats from the show (which we’ve all seen live-streamed from Milan back in September), with utilitarian, triangle-shaped pocket on the back, yet draped and cut in a lady-like, statuesque silhouette, are the definition of contemporary elegance and a sharp exercise in refinement.
Who would have ever known, that during confinement, when our clothes were all about lazy-wear, one could come up with such beautiful refinement? Richard Malone, the Irish designer, brought back elegance to London Fashion Week, done in his signature, sustainable way. It was those months which became the genesis for the spring-summer 2021 collection, a period when, even without a team or regular resources at his disposal, he had the luxury of time: the opportunity to rifle through deadstock materials and hand-dye them in his bathtub, or tie them with twine and run them through his washing machine to achieve the right crinkled effect. “Because my language is very much making, perhaps lockdown wasn’t so bad for me,” he noted. “I could just do whatever I wanted in my studio. It was a distraction.” DIY as it was, the luxurious feeling that Malone came up with is just so refreshing: velvets dramatically draped into floor-sweeping Grecian numbers; discarded theater curtains cut into body-con glamour or gathered around padded bustles. “They’re fabrics that lend themselves to lounging—the velour is like Juicy Couture tracksuit material,” he smiles. “It’s comfortable; it’s loungewear.” He was clearly going for a sense of comfort in the armor of sutured breastplates and the padding of cushioned hips. “It wasn’t intentional but I was trying everything on as I designed it and I suppose it was in response to the moment,” he reflects (Malone has always worked as his own fit model in the formative stages of his collections). “I hadn’t worn shoes for three months. Everything, the very idea of clothes, felt abstract.” The abundant historical allusions, too, were instinctual rather than referential. Without access to research libraries, “I was reliant on the guise of memory,” he says. “And I read a lot of books about time: Iain Reid, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Ali Smith… I was interested in the idea of how all these different time periods can somehow exist at once.” Cropped and gathered matador boleros, their shoulders warped into shrugs, evolved from the idea that “everything’s sort of fucked, so you shrug and you move on” rather than the usual archival imagery; corseted lace-up backs from the simple fact that Malone was having to somehow strap himself into the more elaborate numbers. Sometimes, the simplicity of an accident brings the most spectacular effects.