His & Hers. The Row AW21

Seeing both The Row womenswear and menswear in one collection makes so much sense. Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsens‘ autumn-winter 2021 collection is like the full picture of their luxe minimalism world, now shared by her and him. The designers decided to modify their showing schedule, skipping New York Fashion Week altogether and showing in January and June. One of the reasons is logistics and sustainability. Both the women’s and men’s collections are rooted in minimal tailoring and they share materials across them; these include the double-felted wool of outerwear, wool flannel for suits, and a textural knit that they call fur cashmere, all of them subtly luxurious. Of course, the collection is delightful – and feels like detoxicating palette cleanse after all the couture fantasy we’ve experienced last week. Their autumn suiting is strong across both genders. The women’s jackets come with removable shoulder pads, as does a mock-neck, midi-length cashmere dress. Alongside the tailoring, they showed wrapped shapes, emphasizing comfort and warmth. A male model looks practically cocooned in a three-piece fur cashmere set. Amid the oversized proportions and the swaddled forms, a button-down with short three-quarter-length sleeves worn with washed linen wool pants that taper at the ankles stands out. On the accessories front sturdy burnished-leather rain boots in a range of lengths look like top sellers in the making. They’ve also added a nylon tote to their handbag offering. Comfort and practicality have become important talking points in the last year as the pandemic has impacted the industry in so many ways. The Olsens are taking on those conversations – and the one about collection timing, too – but they’re doing so in their usual elegant, refined way.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Feeling is Luxury. Lemaire AW21

I love Lemaire and I will acknowledge this a hundred times. I just don’t know how Christophe Lemaire and Sarah Linh Tran do it every single time. This level of goodness should be illegal. The co-ed autumn-winter 2021 collection is a dream, from the clothes (drooling over each garment, really) to the model casting. Partially as a result of confinement, the designers framed the development of this collection according to shifted criteria of demand: feel was as important as look, and adaptability inside and outside our front door paramount. The result was a hierarchy of layerable garments that began with a base of pajama-like pieces in cotton, silk and fine knits, in typically evocative earthy tones. These were arranged under mid-layers of Mod inspired tailoring and workwear sourced pieces, softly rendered but structured in appearance, plus Shetland knits and turtle-necks that were themselves contained within a protective carapace of excellent outerwear choices. These included a supremely livable-in reversible shearling, and greatcoats worthy of the name. Parkas and Afghans came trimmed in Mongolian wool (those pieces are delightful…); trenches and macs featured beautiful abstract marbled print; billowing robe-coats in down or alpaca were enveloping and arresting. Tran noted her favored heel height had been reduced in slouchy uppered boots as a result of her appetite for walking as much as possible when the opportunity presented itself, while men’s footwear included commando-soled slippers and the usual impeccable boot. Bags had a pouch cut like a mitten for double usage. Tran said: “during the confinement we were fantasizing about going out into the streets of Paris, and we were inspired by the idea of the flâneur from Baudelaire; going in the street with no special agenda in mind.” Taking pleasure in a purposeless saunter is a purpose in itself, and this was a collection beautifully built to enhance mindful loitering in every milieu. Added Lemaire: “Luxury is more about how you feel in the clothes than the image you project to others: this we have always been convinced of. And it’s more relevant than ever today… the changes in the rhythm of life and our habits have encouraged us to be even more attentive.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Men’s – Familial Affection. Jil Sander AW21

Lucie and Luke Meiers‘ soft minimalism also applies to their menswear collections at Jil Sander. This time, however, the designers seem to be a bit more serious than usual. Between their enveloping wool coats, elongated tailoring, roomy knitwear, fluid overshirts and comforting knitted collars, a more abstract interpretation of our wardrobe mindset than mere ‘comfort-wear’ took shape. Clinical wellies in dusty tonal colors evoked those worn with quarantine suits in science fiction and leather sashes easily conjured visions of spaceship uniforms. Most expressive of the feeling were woven metal necklaces and breastplates, and primitive pendants that spelled out “Mother.” References aside, the pieces spelled out the emotions of solitude and loss of familial contact the designers perceived over the time. “The letter forms are very simple. It’s the feeling he could have just found the metal and made it himself. But it’s very close on his body,” Lucie said. Sewn onto coats and knitwear were panels of frayed canvas printed with photographic portraits of flamboyant young female art students at the Bauhaus shot by Florence Henri in the 1920s. Worn by the un-eccentric young men that made up the cast, the effect wasn’t camp but very human; the male idea, perhaps, of missing a formidable female family member or friend. “It’s a show of familial affection,” Luke noted. The Meiers’ earnest design practice can feel stark or cold, but between its muted colors and themes of loneliness and longing there was an expressed emotional core to this collection that gave it warmth. “There’s a certain personal approach here. I try most of the things on, and I wear most of the pieces,” Luke said.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Men’s – Eclectic, Curated, Sustainable. Loewe AW21

Jonathan Anderson‘s Loewe universe is a wonderland of eclectic, curated – and sustainable! – things. And the autumn-winter 2021 collection for men is like a treasure chest of details, curiosities, textures, crafts prints and colours. But to organize what we’ve got: this Loewe lookbook actually feautures two collections, and the one at the bottom is produce from the company’s Eye/Loewe/Nature sustainable-practice department. This time, the communication came as a show-in-a-book, wrapped up in a coffee-table sized monograph on the queer New York artist Joe Brainard, and as a show-on-a-shirt – a huge T-shirt printed with all the sustainable-practice pictures. Why Brainard? “I remember zines he’d done in the ’70s. We remade a book on him which we’ll be selling in bookshops, and the proceeds will go to the charity we work with all the time, Visual Aids, to help artists who have suffered from AIDS,” says Jonathan Anderson. “I felt like Brainard is so important. He was part of a huge movement, with his writing and his pansy collages – his work is now at MOMA and the Pompidou. I like his writing, it has huge optimism, questions sexuality and things like that. But he’s one of those underground figures.” Anderson talks through the collection in an open-access video on the Loewe website, where it’s easy to see the assembly of charming pansy patterns made into big cardigans, or vast rectangular trousers, or inset as leather marquetry on Loewe Puzzle bags. You also get to understand how the panels of a patchwork shearling are pieced together from reproductions of Brainard’s canvases. And how a tote bag is decorated with the artist’s painting of a whippet on a green background. It’s all adorable and completely wantable. And the extra kick to the feel-good sensation of buying it is that your money is also going to do some good in the world. “I think the whole thing now is about clothing and something else,” says Anderson. “I think the customer wants more than just the clothing now. They want to make sure you have a unique viewpoint and, at the same time, a moral viewpoint.” A joyful vision and a bit of a mad-creative take on fashion are also rare luxuries to enjoy vicariously these days, what Anderson calls “being imaginative with clothing.” His current work on extreme trouser shapes delivers all that. Besides the multi-strapped leather and grommeted punk trousers, the pieces that might read as maxi-skirts actually turn out to be pants too. “I did a lot of wide, wide, super-wide trousers. Kind of performance trousers – this idea of being in your bedroom and dancing on your own.” Which we know is an actual social phenomenon in these days of lockdown.

Amongst the collection is also a huge, cosy multi-patterned Shetland-cum-Norwegian type sweater, knitted together from upcycled yarns. It links directly into the work on sustainable research that’s been going on for four years with the Eye/Loewe/Nature collection. It’s much more than an isolated side-project, Anderson explains. “We set it up as an incubator inside Loewe to try to work out a long-term solution to sustainability. It’s where the entire design process is monitored from start to finish. Every year we try to chip away at something – buttons, zips, hardware, plastic clips – so that what was a problem becomes less of a problem. Because it then means that your supply chain can deal with it, manufacturing know how to deal with it, and the design team knows how to design within that framework,” he says. “And from those learnings, working with suppliers, we can disseminate elements into the bigger workings of Loewe.” In practical terms, it’s meant “buying a huge bulk of used knit sweaters, or denim, and working them into garments. The great thing is that the whole company is involved. What I like about the industrial side is the idea of talking to suppliers like YKK about a problem – and actually making it not a problem. The trouble is when you’re impatient, like me, you want to be completely sustainable tomorrow – but you have to realize it takes time. It means turning an industrial revolution into a new eco revolution. Ultimately, the big picture is, we all have to do it,” he says. “It’ll probably be an ongoing thing throughout my entire career.” If luxury goods companies ever worried that customers would baulk at buying products made of upcycled or non-traditional materials, then the testing ground of the Eye/Loewe/ Nature collection is beginning to prove them wrong. “This is the third collection now,” says Anderson. “And, you know, it’s becoming very, very popular.

Collages by Edward Kanarecki.

Men’s – Outsider Intellectual. Wales Bonner AW21

Grace Wales Bonner is one of the most convincing (and educational!) story-tellers in today’s fashion industry. Her latest collection showcased the final chapter in a trilogy, begun last January, which explores the cultural and sartorial threads that interlink Britain and the Caribbean. “This subject is the starting point for why I’m interested in creating,” said the designer, who is British born but of Jamaican heritage. “During this time I feel like I’ve really been grounding myself in this framework, and refining myself within it. These collections are about consolidating and reinforcing what is timeless to me; representing the breadth of what Wales Bonner is, and can be.” Thus far in the series the designer has looked to the second-generation Jamaicans who established London’s 1970s Lovers Rock scene to inform her designs, and then the dress of Jamaica’s dancehall and reggae stars. Here she started by exploring the wardrobes of Britain’s Black scholars in the 1980s: those who traveled from across the world to study at the likes of Oxford and Cambridge. There was a reimagining of their academic attire – of tweed blazers and knitted scarves, well-worn chinos and striped jumpers – but within that historicism, “I was thinking about how in certain spaces people create a language for themselves,” reflected the designer. “About how you might disrupt an institution from inside.” It’s a subject that has long fascinated Wales Bonner, whose brand was established with the intention of disrupting the luxury perspective, redirecting it from its often singular focus on Eurocentricity. So poets like the Barbadian Kamau Brathwaite and the Saint Lucian Derek Walcott appeared as more than just aesthetic character studies; rather, they were catalysts for considering a post-colonial movement that explored “what it is to be in another place, or from another place.” The resonant words of Braithwaite, who left Bridgetown to study at the University of Cambridge, were spoken over the immersive film directed by Jeano Edwards which accompanied the collection: “You had not come to England / You were home.” In terms of clothing, Wales Bonner imagined what she termed the wardrobe of the “outsider intellectual,” considering the structure of British traditions and wondering “within that framework, how do you create something new?” She found her answer by imbuing her distinct take on sartorial eclecticism with a gently liberated, multicultural sensibility. The designer worked with Savile Row tailors at Anderson & Sheppard on tuxedo suiting inflected with Afro-Atlantic flair and elsewhere she softened Oxford shirting, printing cotton cashmere with Jamaican “flowers of resistance” from the photograms of artist Joy Gregory. Boating striped overshirts simultaneously channeled Oxbridge classicism and West African dashikis; brushed denim was cut into crisp suits. A sense of ease was injected into even the most traditional tailoring. Woodblock prints and Indian embroidery drew on the diasporic nature of her research, and a deliberate diversity was instilled throughout. “What I was trying to connect with is a sense of expansiveness and possibility,” said Wales Bonner. “For example, in Derek Walcott’s The Gulf, he has a poem about different Indian gods. You think you’re looking at Caribbean thought, but then there are all these other influences. Once you start researching anything, you realize that nothing is simple. Nothing is one thing. So I didn’t want to make anything too neat.” That expansive notion was echoed, too, in the latest iteration of Wales Bonner’s Adidas collaboration – a partnership that has recently taken fashion by storm. “I was trying to imagine a fictional university that is a lot more multicultural,” she said of its new evolution. “Maybe what their team kits for a track program might look like.” Referring to “the origins of sportswear – when it was made in a beautiful, crafty way which feels almost tailored,” Wales Bonner leaned into Adidas’ technical resources to revive specific fabrications like ’60s jerseys and lived-in wools “to make things feel authentic,” she said. A T-shirt printed with the emblem for “Wales Bonner Adidas Originals Literary Academy” offered a tongue-in-cheek nod to the extensive footnotes which typically accompany each of the designer’s collections. But what has been proven by the sell-out success of her tracksuits and trainers is that, even without related reading, there is something uniquely compelling about Wales Bonner’s designs: the heavy-duty weight of her research injects something intangibly compelling into her clothes.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.