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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Think Pink. Valentino AW22

This season’s Valentino collection was entirely pink and black, which at first might sound like a banal thing to do. “I was fascinated by the idea of having this moment of reflection and digging deeper, Pierpaolo Piccioli said during a preview. Presented in a huge space painted to match the exact pink of the collection, his idea was to intensify the senses and make us look at the details of each garment – the silhouette, the neckline, the surface decoration – rather than focusing on “looks”. Ultimately, he said, he wanted the character of each model to stand out, rather than what their appearance represented. “I was reading a book about Fontana [the Italian artist and Spatialist], who used to cut up his work – not in order to destroy it but to build new opportunities; new dimensions,” the designer went on. “You know when you see a book of black and white portraits, after two or three pages you know it’s a black and white portrait book, so you don’t expect to see blonde hair and blue eyes? You go deeper into expressions: wrinkles… I wanted to get that feeling.” Once the eye adjusted to all that pink, the effect did work. You noticed the details of garments, and looked at the models’ faces. For Piccioli, whose work always revolves around the celebration of individuality and diversity, the monochromatism – which is, in essence, uniformity – was meant to draw the observer’s attention to the individual wearing the clothes. To underscore that point, he focused on necklines – what he called “Madonna meets the street” referring to the way the Holy Mother’s face was framed by Renaissance artists – and placed them on a cast including Penelope Tree and Kristen McMenamy. The collection continued Piccioli’s couture-ification of everyday codes, adapted for ready-to-wear. A t-shirt elongated into a draped minidress, a sporty jumpsuit morphed into a formalwear silhouette, and a generational cargo suit was imbued with a glamorous hourglass shape. Menswear dealt in the very oversized, from giant suits to puffer coats and highly embellished transparent evening tops, all of which will be sold in stores in just pink and black, the way it was presented, Piccioli vowed. By the way, this isn’t just a shade of pink. Piccioli’s particular shade of pink will be added to Pantone’s official colour scale under the name of “Pink PP” – a counterpart, perhaps, to Valentino Garavani’s “Valentino Red”. And while he never wears pink himself, Piccoli explained it’s an ongoing fascination. “I always want pink in my collections. It’s a colour I feel you can subvert better, because it already has a lot of meaning. It changed during the centuries: it was the colour of the power of men, then it became girlish… I like to subvert the idea. Today, it means different things.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

NET-A-PORTER Limited

Anatomy Of Couture. Valentino SS22 Couture

And just like that, Pierpaolo Piccioli is the king of spring-summer 2022 haute couture season. The latest Valentino collection is everything a truly phenomenal couture collection should be, and more. You could see the emotion in the eyes of some of the models as they glided through the maison’s Place Vendôme salons to a specially recorded soundtrack by Anohni. “She was told she’d never walk couture,” Pierpaolo Piccioli said of one of. “In couture you never see these bodies. Never.” It is in large part thanks to Piccioli that haute couture is finding relevance in an age set on breaking the constructs of the past. On his mission to make this elitist corner of fashion matter to the generations dubbed “woke,” he has decided to “keep the codes, but change the values”: to give the broad spectrum of humanity the chance to mirror themselves in haute couture, in place of the waify, white, classical beauty ideal of its past. In front of a distanced audience of just 65, he broke with the skinny stigma of that heritage in a collection titled the Anatomy of Couture. “When you do couture, you have the house model. And you apply the body of the house model to 50 or 60 models on the runway. I wanted to break these rules and embrace the idea of different proportions of body, different sizes, different ages. But it was impossible to do this with just one house model. So, I broke the rules and got 10 house models in with differently proportioned bodies,” he explained. The idea of haute couture was always to adapt silhouettes to the client’s body. But those silhouettes are typically dreamt up, fitted and realized on a tall, slim and young physique. This season, Piccioli changed that model, in more than one way. And in the process, he said, “We got to create new silhouettes.” A partly fuller-figured cast than what you normally see on a couture catwalk did change Piccioli’s silhouette. His signature monastic Roman lines and Hellenistic drapery morphed into shapes that registered more dynamic, more mid-century, more glamorous. Through a Hollywood lens, you might call them sexy. But it wasn’t as if his new cast looked shockingly different in size to the runway norm, which was perhaps testament to his method – and skill. “In runway shows, sometimes there are 50 skinny models and one bigger-sized. I feel like you don’t really relate to that. You don’t believe that. You just tick the box,” Piccioli said.

His consistent cast helped to illustrate the power of the craft. The intertwined straps of an ebony velvet gown framed the shoulders of the model and pulled in her waist, the volume of its skirt balancing out the proportions. A chocolate stretch tulle dress covered in two kilos of Venetian glass beads hand-embroidered for three months hugged the body, allowing the beads to shape and support the model’s frame. Piccioli employed his approach to surface decoration, too. A lilac faille gown was adorned with great big bows around the neckline, something that could easily look overwhelming on a fuller figure, but didn’t because of the custom proportions and placements of those bows on that particular neckline. In his couture take on the stretchy body-con favored by the generation who coined slim thicc, Piccioli proposed a neon coral ankle dress, which wasn’t stretch at all, but created through four layers of georgette whose interaction created a natural elasticity that adapted to the body. Throughout, he demonstrated how couture can build a silhouette around the body, and either highlight a person’s shape or manipulate it through dressmaking. It made all the difference, because clothes are construction. One size doesn’t fit all, but one blueprint scaled up or down certainly doesn’t, either. We’ve all seen that in practice on red carpets where people of a different physique to the body that modeled the dress on the runway can end up looking under – or overblown, because the dimensions and adornments of the silhouette don’t take kindly to the scaling process. And then, the confidence goes. “I feel that if you don’t deliver the ideas of power and strength and fierceness with these kinds of shapes, you’re missing the message,” Piccioli said. If body empowerment is something he is sensitive to, it’s also because his own three children are in their teens and twenties: Gen Z-ers raised on social media in an age where body ideals have the added extremity of plastic surgery normalization. “That’s what I share with them,” he said, referring to the connection he felt with his cast through the experiences of being a father to young people today. “This could deliver a strong message for young people who are struggling with something. If she’s beautiful, you can be beautiful,” Piccioli said, gesturing at one of his gorgeous cast members.

For his own generation, the message was the same. “The body modifies with age. They’re still as beautiful but the shape is different. I wanted to capture the beauty of how the body modifies.” Models older than the couture show average – Kristen McMenamy, Marie Sophie Wilson, Lara Stone, Violetta Sanchez, Lynn Koster, Jon Kortajarena – hardly looked out of place. On the contrary, the character that comes with age brought a confidence to their looks. It was never more pronounced than in Piccioli’s most “normal” silhouettes infused with the gestures of haute couture, like Sanchez’s white T-shirt (in silk sablé crêpe) worn with a pearl gray duchesse satin skirt wildly hand-embroidered with silver sequins, or Mariacarla Boscono’s tailored sequinned trousers (silk poplin with hand-embroidery) worn with a dramatic fuchsia stole in faille. Piccioli’s collection was another brick in the legacy he is building for himself as a couturier of change. If used as a laboratory to develop techniques that can inform both the possibilities and values of ready-to-wear, haute couture becomes the most relevant part of a contemporary fashion system. It turns into the think tank of fashion. “Since the Middle Ages, there have always been canons of beauty,” Piccioli said, listing all the body ideals of the times. “Once we’d had enough of all the canons, we discovered that humanity is the only canon that’s valid: freedom; be yourself. That’s the real canon.”

Collages by Edward Kanarecki.

The Choice – Chanel SS96

A few days ago I asked you on my Instagram stories to pick one of your favourite collections ever and I would make a collage with it. Here’s @kalalastrzelbicka’s choice: Karl Lagerfeld‘s spring-summer 1996 collection for Chanel. Months after this collection was shown, Vogue published “Fear of Fridays,” an article that spoke about the tailspin caused by the spread of the casual-Friday concept in business, one that gave rise to a new, more comfortable work uniform built around chinos. Lagerfeld swapped out the preppiness for a laid-back look, added a cropped T-shirt (which was certainly not work appropriate at that time…) and a belt or two, et voilà! Casual chic the Chanel way.

More of your choices are coming in the following days! If you missed the game, you can still write me your favourite collection and I will do the work. Got plenty of time. Culture isn’t cancelled, fashion isn’t cancelled!

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Grunge is Back. Marc Jacobs Resort 2019

When Marc Jacobs presented his now iconic collection for Perry Ellis in 1993, he was rather close to being burned at the stake. Unapologetically grunge-isnpired, the collection went down with the leading critics and editors, except for Grace Goddington, who styled that equally (at the time) risky editorial for Vogue, visibly very obsessed with Jacobs’ bold move. Perry Ellis fired the designer right away, and became what it is today – a boring, apparel-focused brand for men. Quite unsurprisingly, the ‘true’ grunge world hated Jacobs for doing this collection, too, with Courtney Love and Curt Kobain reportedly burning the pile of clothing Marc designed with them in mind. But that’s history.

We’re in 2018, and Courtney Love’s daughter – Frances Bean Cobain – is one of the faces of Marc Jacobs, the brand. Even more ironic is the fact that Coco Gordon Moore, the daughter of Kim Gordon (aka grunge godmother) wears Jacobs’ newest collection called, wait for it: Redux Grunge. For resort 2019, the designer brings back 26 looks he designed for the controversial Grunge collection, now with his tag on them. The looks, shot by Juergen Teller (who used to be Marc’s long-time collaborator for years until 2014 – now might be back doing the ad campaigns!), are a testament to the brazenness and timelessness of the designer’s vision. They are as relevant today as they were revolutionary (or even infamous) 25 years ago. Well, that’s true – if not Jacobs, grunge would die with its subculture and never arrive to the mainstream. Crotchet cardigans, a midriff cutout knit dress as seen first on Kristen McMenamy (now on her daughter, Lily McMenamy), rainbow striped beanies, Dr. Martens boots, a cropped blazer baby Kate Moss would wear down the runway, chokers… well, it’s all pretty much identical. I can’t say it looks fresh – it isn’t the collection’s intention in the first place. But somehow, I like it, I like that free-spirited feeling being revived right now, at this moment. Still, it’s such a stark contrast to Jacobs’ saccharine and dramatic spring-summer 2019 collection… that you might really have problems with realising that one person can both do both, rough and sweet.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki, feauturing different visuals by Juergen Teller.