As Always, It’s Perfect. Lemaire SS21

I don’t know how Christophe Lemaire and Sarah Linh Tran do it, but their collections always reasonate with me the most in terms of ready-to-wear. I can be obsessed with the most over-the-top dress and feel inspired by the most thoroughly planned visual production. But in terms of clothes, my heart belongs to Lemaire. Their spring-summer 2021 presentation, of course audience-less, is co-ed, as the designers depart from men’s and women’s division. Also, from now on, we will see their collections twice a year, during men’s fashion weeks. “We’ve been frustrated for a while by the timing of the schedule,” said Lemaire. “You know, showing the pre-collection for women together with the men’s and then waiting two months to show the second half of the women’s collection. For many different reasons it was complicated and frustrating for production and also buyers. So it’s obvious that this was an opportunity to show everything together, even though it was a big challenge for the team to develop the collection in time.” Well, it’s as effortlessly refined as usual – no marks of backstage rush visible. One of the ways they met that challenge, said Tran, was by working more closely than ever before. She added: “The men’s team and the women’s team worked hand-in-hand, choosing fabrics and colors in common… we focused on what was common between the man and the woman, and then we added more specifically women’s volumes and more specific men’s volumes.” The result was a highly coherent collection in which that commonality was evident but resulted in subtle gradations and hints of contrast, rather than the monotony of a monogamously unisex collection. As evinced in the lookbook shots where womenswear and menswear looks are shown in the same frame, a close affinity looks like complementary dressing rather than couple-coupling. There was a stirring marine green, a palest of yellow, a dash of denim. Many of the garments were in a kaleidoscope of neutrals – shades of clay, ochre, wheat – whose delicate differences became apparent and increasingly rich the more attention you paid to them. Men wore smocks and women boxy suiting either plain or in a beautiful Martin Ramirez landscape print. Tran concluded: “we build the collection as a wardrobe. The idea of being able to enrich the wardrobe is very pertinent to us.” Lemaire’s newly co-ed articulation shows that the designers do what they realy feel like is the most suitable for them – and this even more strenghtens mine – and other fans’ – love for the Parisian label.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Men’s – Kim Meets Amoako. Dior SS21

While the digital fashion month of men’s spring-summer 2020 collections is full of sleepy look-books, there are some line-ups that make my heart skip a beat. I was quite on fence with Kim Jones‘ menswear at Dior, but the new collection is brilliant. And it redefines the word “collaboration” in 2020. Jones invited the 36-year-old Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo, whose stunning huge-scale portraits of Black subjects – partly richly finger-painted – have a skyrocketing reputation in the contemporary art world. “It’s a portrait of an artist who I greatly admire,” Jones said. “[The gallerist] Mera Rubell introduced me to Amoako last year in Miami. I really loved his work and wanted to work with him because of my own links to Africa. He lives between Vienna, where he studied, Ghana, and Chicago. So we sat down and discussed.” The first results – a collection fusing Boafo’s art with Dior artisanship, a look book, and a documentary film shot at the artist’s studio in Accra and at Jones’ home in London- are launched in a more intimate, in-depth and intelligent way than could possibly have come across in front of the usual roar of the crowd and show hustle of the Paris collections. In the video, Boafo is in his studio in Ghana as he paints and describes how he captures friends and family, “and people who create spaces for others to exist.” He speaks about the flat colors he uses to silhouette his figures, and, he explains, “how fashion inspires my work. I tend to look at characters who have that sense of style.” Friends hanging at Boafo’s place are wearing pieces from the collection, and the artist is working in a faded wallpaper print Dior Men shirt, whose pattern has bounced back in a creative arc from portrait to garment. The collection is smaller and more edited than it would have been – which actually works better than nearly 100 looks shows Dior has every season. Jones was working out of his Notting Hill house with a small team and long distance with Dior ateliers in France to get it done over the past months. The result: clothes saturated with uplifting color and print, which pinpoint Boafo’s signatures within the language the designer has established for a Dior man. Celebrating and platforming Boafo’s work for a luxury fashion market meant, among other things, transferring the tactile energy of his finger-painted heads into two intensely embroidered sweaters. The pattern from a semi-sheer fil coupé jacquard shirt sprang from a close-up Jones had taken of Boafo’s brush work. He also lifted subtle inspiration from haute couture – the gray taffeta blouson being a renewed, more youthful and summery iteration of the opera coat which opened his last show.

Still, even without the Black Lives Matter uprising which is fundamentally changing the way all institutions are being interrogated now, a collaboration like this was always going to demand detailed explanation. This one is tooled differently from the usual artist-brand collab. Behind it is an exchange with Dior which was stipulated by Boafo. “He said he didn’t want a royalty [for himself], but help to build a foundation for young artists in Accra,” Jones said. A donation made by Christian Dior (the sum was not specified) backs up Boafo’s activism. In using the leverage of his market power to lift up African art and artists, he is one of the new generation of Black artists who believe in the transformative empowerment of cultural education. In May, Boafo raised $190,000 (three times the estimate) with an online auction of his painting, Aurore Iradukunda, to benefit the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. The initiative will consist of a building that will host Boafo’s studio, a residence, and an artist-run gallery, supporting young artists in Ghana and their studio practice. “The change needed right now is to support young people through college and training to give everyone equal opportunities,” Jones said. The focus of this project is close to his heart, and, he says, to part of his own upbringing as the son of a hydrogeologist who worked throughout the continent. “We moved to Ethiopia when I was around three years old, spent time living there, and then moved around east Africa and then Botswana. I’ve kept going back for the rest of my life.” Underlying his motivation – using Dior’s fashion broadcasting capabilities to enlighten a broad audience about the vitality of contemporary African art, as well as facilitating a project with cash – is a quieter salute to Jones’s father, who recently passed away. “The fact that we are working with Amoako Boafo, from Ghana, which was one of my father’s favorite African countries is,” he said, “a fitting tribute to the man who introduced me to Africa and the world.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki; artworks by Amoako Boafo.

Men’s – Humanity and Craft. Loewe SS21

What Jonathan Anderson orchestrated yesterday around the launch of Loewe’s men’s spring-summer 2021 collection (and women’s pre-collection) felt like a long-needed quantum leap into the new world of open-ended possibilities. Where would a designer who’s always talked about Loewe as ‘a cultural brand’ and his links with artists and artisans go? How can the truth of tactility and emotion be felt when digital is the only option? On one level, what he came up with felt like dipping into a 24-hour Jonathan Anderson-curated worldwide live summer festival of arts, crafts, and conversations on Loewe’s Instagram page and website. “My whole thing is to do something in each time zone,” he told Vogue from his London home via Zoom. The program rolled from Beijing time onwards, connecting with (amongst others) crafts-collaborators Kayo Ando, who showed the art of Shibori, paper artist Shin Tanaka from Japan and the basketweave artist Idoia Cuesta in Galicia, Spain. There was music curated by Adam Bainbridge (aka Kindness), who showcased a calming ‘medley’ comprising different versions of Finnish musician Pekka Pohjola’s Madness Subsides, performed by Park Jiha in Korea, performer and producer Starchild, French-Malagasy pianist and bandleader Mathis Picard, and American harpist Ahya Simone. Lots more roved through live chats between Anderson and the actor Josh O’Connor, and, later, a conversation with contemporary textile artists Igshaan Adams, Diedrick Brackens, Anne Low, and Josh Fraught. And on another level, there was the Loewe Show-in-a-Box, a cache of paper-art discoveries delivered as a tactile substitute runway experience to the doorsteps of the industry insiders (it was a grander follow-up to the JW Anderson show-box he sent around last week). Inside was a pop-up show set, a flip-book of photos of the clothes on mannequins, a paper-pattern of one of the garments, print-outs of sunglasses to try on, textile samples, a set of paper pineapple bags and looks to stick together to make your own 3D ‘models,’ and a pamphlet listing Anderson’s art history inspirations. Slipped alongside was a packet of cut-out paper portrait silhouettes he’d had made of Loewe staff members. “I like that they’re kind of immortalized in this moment,” he said.

What about the collection? With their sculptural volumes, twisting, looping, and wrapping forms, the line-up read as Anderson’s push to convey the 3D presence of garments through the limitations of a flat, 2D medium of communication. Some of his references had been taken from El Greco and Velázquez, and his absorption of high Spanish art in the Prado in Madrid; others from his admiration of Issey Miyake’s pleats, and from wanting to showcase the painstaking handcrafts his collaborators bring. The leather-workers helped him evolve a basket-weave top and a soft, suspended bag that folds itself around one side of the body like an apron. The Japanese Shibori print radiates from the side of a tunic.“I have actually really enjoyed this process. It has made me be way more humble about who I am in this industry,” he concluded. “If I look at before the pandemic, I was slightly struggling. I was going out to prove that we are doing something. I think what’s been good about doing this is that I’m closer to the people who make the bags, to the pattern cutter.” Holding it all together in the digital space is turning out to mean more sharing of the glory, less behind-closed-doors mystique, more proof of the humanity, time and ingenuity that goes into making things, he believes. “I think that fashion now has to get rid of all the layers and just say, ‘This is what this brand does, and we’re going to do it with conviction.’ It has to be real. I think it’s bigger than the collection. I’m really proud of it because it’s very honest, it’s our humility. And it’s actually about finding that I love what I do.”

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Stay Curious. JW Anderson Resort 2021 + Men’s SS21

From all the resort and men’s collections we’ve seen so far this summer, it’s JW Anderson‘s take on a fashion show presentation in the times of COVID-19 that feels most different and somewhat suited for the current circumstances. Is it possible to convey feeling and tactility without being physically at the show? Of course yes – just see those marvelous press-kits that Jonathan Anderson has sent out to all the press and friends of the label. He also tells the entire logic behind them in this video. Created with available resources in rather limited conditions, men’s spring-summer and women’s resort 2021 are a playful celebration of what being restricted can mean and spawn in creative terms. The divide between wardrobes is intentionally blurry, but still present. What in menswear takes a slouchy feel in womenswear gets a classic sense of poise and elegance (something Anderson examined so masterfully in his show last February). Presented on fictional characters – enlarged personalities with heads illustrated by the super talented Pol Anglada or masked by Bertjan Pot – the collection juxtaposes notions of pragmatism and playfulness within a context of cozy domesticity. Volumes are round and enveloping, or elongated and sleepy, with blown-up details that keep their function in off-kilter scale, and unexpected touches providing jolly, frivolous diversions. Dresses, capes, pillow sweaters, cropped trousers, elongated jumpers and loafer mules reiterate and recon-textualize tropes of the brand’s DNA. Patchworked jockey coats sprout patch pockets as roomy as bags. Sleeves get excessively long, trailing to the floor. Military capes spawn an excess of buttons. Long knits have an home-spun immediacy and a cozy intimacy. Slits create movement on tailored pieces. Pompoms (!) draw the giddy contours of a plain sleeveless jumper. Blanket stitching underlines the addition and accumulation of elements. Texture, either real or suggested by way of print on fabric as well as knit, adds another layer to the story: brocade impressions, tapestry motifs, targets, stripes, flowers, Anglada’s erotic, blown-up faces. A sentiment of youthful, care-free amusement is here – and that’s we all really need right now.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

New Reality. Y/Project Resort 2021 + Men’s SS21

Business really isn’t as usual in the times of COVID-19 (and even in the “post” moment that’s now in Europe). Traditionally, end of June and beginning of July is the the moment for all the resort and men’s collections, and in general this time of the year is a sort of “summer September” of fashion. But not entirely in 2020. Showroom visits for the press and buyers are done via Zoom only. Majority of collections feel very safe and are based on the brand’s signatures. Still, some of the line-ups impress, and moreover, appear to be some of the best work coming from the designer in a while. Glenn MartensY/Project is a great example of how crisis and chaos can bring new ideas and trigger a kind of brand evolution. Martens’ innovatively constructed, apparently woozily skewed garments whose conventional templates are drawn from across the demographic landscape of womenswear and menswear, are brain-bending at first glimpse, and often only make sense upon second look. “Obviously, these looks are distorted, and that is part of the fun of the brand. But most of them you can wear calmed down. Have you seen the video?”, he told Vogue. This season, instead of holding a menswear fashion show, Martens worked to create a video show-and-tell for Y/Project newbies that he said was partially inspired from the opening scene of Dangerous Liaisons, in which Glenn Close is laboriously installed into her pannier dress. Here Martens and two colleagues show how looks from these jointly digitally presented collections can be worn; take a fitted, ruched-body womenswear jacket, pull a drawstring, and – ta-da! – you have a full-length dress. Or reach into the innards of a louchely cut suit and – voilà! – you have a double-layered look with a new denim foundation. Martens concluded: “It’s a kind of lava lamp of looks… showing how you can personalize your clothes and how you can make it look as crazy as you want or you can tone it down as much as you want.” The collections here are around a third the size of a normal-times Y/Project offering, and Martens said that the restrictions of lockdown meant that many of the pieces were hewn from deadstock. The collection includes past designs that have been redesigned and upgraded to be even more twisty the second time around. This is a virtue, as is that distorted adaptability that is at the core of Martens’s work – for what could be more sustainable than a single garment that you can wear in a multitude of ways? Also, as the press was informed, Martens discussed Evergreen, which is the title of a new all-sustainable collection of core Y/Project pieces that will start with a launch of 16 pieces online in September, and then be added to going forward. “It’s a selection of garments, which I believe can go into your wardrobe forever. And we also decided to only make them in the most basic materials which are not at all oriented to a season, so it’s really black, white, and denim.” These garments are not “basics” – the initial lineup includes Y/Project’s much-socialed, super-skimpy, jean/panty “janty” hybrid – and bear all the usual twisty codes of Martens’s design-eye, including rotating-collar shirts and hoiked-shoulder blazers. Looking forward to see it!

Collages 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.

Men’s – Corto Maltese. Lanvin AW20

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Bruno Sialelli seems to finally find his ground at Lanvin – even though I’m not sure if the customer is ready to come back to the brand’s stores. For the men’s autumn-winter 2020 collection, the designer took creative license from Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese series of comics. Corto Maltese began in the 1960s and it charted the progress of a tough but tender maritime adventurer who encounters some of the early 20th century’s most important figures and is a bit like one of Joseph Conrad’s questing captain protagonists. Sialelli likes seasonal graphics, and he incorporated this character on shirting and outerwear. It looks good, but I don’t see any connection to Lanvin. And we already have a bunch of designers who do eclectic, random style. While most of the garments were quite unamusing, they were helped by accessories (think beanies covered in sequins and necklaces with faux shark teeth). The one area in which this collection was somehow really attractive was the 1990s skate culture influences that included super oversized sneakers and voluminous silhouettes. Taking a look at women’s pre-fall, which was also present in the line-up, I have an impression that designers this season think that if they have Bella and Gigi Hadid as the models, the job is done.

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Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Men’s – Intuition. Sacai AW20

Chitose Abe doesn’t have a formula for her signature hybrids; it’s mainly intuition, she insisted after her autumn-winter 2020 men’s Sacai show (and women’s pre-fall 2020 presentation). It turns out that the man who invented what is arguably the world’s most famous and universal formula, E=mc², was also a big believer in intuition, so Abe made his words her latest motto (and the line-up’s t-shirt that will sell like hot buns). Saca and Einstein is a genius remix. Backstage, she was wearing a T-shirt that read “common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18” – a quote commonly attributed to him. In her work, Chitose allows an arbitrary inspiration to motivate a shift in layers and volumes or a shakeup in color or pattern; but you don’t get the sense she sets out to radically alter her repertoire. Instead, she experiments, innovates and taps into a topical subject or feeling. This began with women’s looks consisting of suit jackets counterintuitively worn atop military layers that gave way to a fluid skirt and punk-ish platform boots. The men’s outfits included a few Mod-inflected ensembles, sweaters that unzipped up the torso and total looks in pink that corresponded to the romantic spirit of the season. Across both collections, the usual toggling of utility and fluidity played out in animal spots and cosmic-themed bandana sketches by the tattoo artist Dr. Woo. Elsewhere, Abe relied on denim, tweed, tartan, and fleece. A goodie!

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Men’s – Whimsy. Bode AW20

One of New York’s biggest menswear talents, Emily Bode, charmed the Paris audience with her autumn-winter 2020 line-up. The Education Of Benjamin Bloomstein sounds like a title straight out of a Wes Anderson film; and in aesthetic terms the director and Bode’s designer create similarly winsome worlds. Years before Bloomstein and the designer became friends and collaborators (through his design studio, Green River Project LLC), he had an idiosyncratic upbringing that made him an obvious protagonist for the ongoing Bode narrative. Briefly, as related in the collection text, he attended schools in a former Shaker village and on a biodynamic farm; he wrote poetry and immersed himself in agriculture; and perhaps most pertinent, he figured out how to alter his school clothes so that they would feel more comfortable. In adapting Bloomstein’s memories to her exploration of craft methods and sustainable values, Bode delivered a beautiful and whimsy collection. Her sentimental nods to the past included a quilted jacket and matching mittens that signaled outerwear from pre-duvet times; outfits covered in deadstock souvenir and achievement patches; shirts embroidered with farm animals and vintage athletic jerseys; delicate seed bead ornaments and necklaces strung with hand-blown marbles. Four years into her brand, Emily navigates the trap of historical costume by shaking up how she presents her repurposed and reproduced textiles and trims (be it the equine blankets that were the basis for the opening tailored look or the golden Appenzeller Gurt charms adorning various looks as well as the label’s new line of slip-ons). Big love.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.