Anatomy of Tailoring. Alexander McQueen AW23

Alexander McQueen is back on the Paris Fashion Week schedule. Last time when Sarah Burton presented her fashion show in the city, Europe was at the verge of full-scale pandemic. This season, the designer chose to remind the fashion audience about the sharpness and excellence of her tailoring, and the expression of a darkly explosive imagination that is well and alive in the McQueen ateliers in London. “It was looking at anatomy, the anatomy of tailoring,” Burton said backstage. “Almost back to the beginnings of McQueen on Savile Row. It was a progression, which starts very kind of straight and structured. And then it begins to flash and twist and turn upside down. It’s like how you begin with a garment – you have to know that there’s a way to construct it, the bones of it, before you can dissect it and subvert it.” Naomi Campbell, in a black jumpsuit with a swooping corseted bustier, led out a march of impeccable black suits, white shirts and black ties, and pinstripes cut into jackets and morphing into tailored strapless dresses. Strictness and pulled-together uniform have been surfacing as a theme this season; here, there was a precision and controlled tension of kinkiness where nothing was quite what it seemed. Burton partly put that down to having watched the stunning Cate Blanchett in the Oscar-nominated film TÁR: “That part where you see the tailors making their chalk-marks on the cloth.” The broken lines she had woven into the pinstripes vibed on that process. Her idea about dressing and studying the body led her to the anatomical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci. Once you knew that, the peeled-back sections of knitwear dresses, incised on the hips, took on a new, sinister context. Surreptitious references to blood and guts were transformed and sublimated into asymmetric frills and prints which looked like giant orchids at some points, and drawings of dissected cadavers at others. In calling up the past and reconnecting with the earliest days she’d worked with McQueen, Sarah Burton projected this collection right into the here and now. It had drama and strength, and many options for all genders to dress very differently than the over-blown theatrical costume that has passed for event-wear these past few years.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Vivienne Westwood Forever

I’m lost for words. Our culture has lost another legend, the ultimate DAME, the truest punk, the Queen of British fashion, one of the most caring souls in this industry, a real activist who never cared about the establishment, the one and only Vivienne Westwood. Thank you for teaching us that fashion can be absolutely something more than just clothes, it can speak volumes and be political. Rest in Peace, Rest in Power. You will forever stay in our hearts, and your work and contribution will keep on inspiring. Deepest condolences to Andreas Kronthaler, her loving life-partner, and her family.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Otherwordly. Balenciaga AW22 Couture

To be honest with you, this haute couture season didn’t really start for me until Balenciaga happened. The 51st Balenciaga haute couture collection. And the second coming from Demna. Nobody knew what to expect, the anticipation had the fashion insiders on an ecstatic high on a mid-week morning, and in the end, he didn’t dissapoint. To the sound of a love poem voiced by AI, a breed of haute couture humanoids encased in black neoprene, their faces uniformly erased in high-tech reflective face shields, stalked the Balenciaga haute couture salon. It looked like an invasion by a sinister breed marching on their spiked, chiseled space boots, ready to take over the earth once humanity has wiped itself out. This was Demna’s dystopian introduction to his latest couture collection for the house, which he shows annually. “This year I decided that I needed to put more of myself into it, and kind of find a new future, you know?” he said afterwards. “This is why the lineup started with very otherworldly, almost futuristic neoprene looks, which was my idea of interpreting gazar in 2022.” Invention, and taking time over it, is central to moving the art of couture forward. Famously, gazar was the sculptural silk which Cristobal Balenciaga invented with the fabric manufacturer Abrahams in 1958, in order to create the magnificently voluminous gowns he became known for. Demna’s equivalent – shaped into these wickedly kinky hyper-molded second-skin scuba dresses and tailored jackets – was engineered with a new kind of neoprene, made in collaboration with a sustainably-oriented Japanese manufacturer.

In the second half of the show, where faces were revealed, Demna’s friends, muses, and brand ambassadors walked. Kim Kardashian in a deep-plunge corset and draped skirt. Demna’s musician husband BFRND in opera gloves and a couture tank-top. Nicole Kidman in a silver gown. Dua Lipa and Bella Hadid in draped pops of colour. Eliza Douglas in the most perfect hourglass coat. Renata Litvinova in an all-black feather-mad cocktail dress. Naomi Campbell was the ultimate Balenciaga Maleficent. But back to his motivation for a minute. Last season, Demna caused a sensation by dealing with the stark, tailored elegance of the Balenciaga couture aesthetic. Now, he was putting himself first – owning an haute couture version of the streetwear that he has been responsible for elevating to designer fashion status. Hoodies, sweatshirts, worn-out denim, and parkas – some made of upcycled originals, others shot with aluminium to create crinkled couture-like volumes – followed the dystopian Balenciaga neoprene tribe. The commercial conundrum he faces is finding a way to connect couture with the following that is his main, democratically-based youth constituency – represented by all the outside spectators whose cheers poured in through the salon windows as the sidewalk turned into a celebrity-spotting event.

To square that circle, a new Balenciaga couture shop had opened on the Avenue Georges V, where certain limited edition items, like the upcycled pieces, Balenciaga souvenir porcelain figurines, and the ‘Speaker’ bag toted in the show can be bought. “There are items that will be ready to buy already. After the last show, people started to ask me, ‘how do we buy it?’ People, especially from the younger generation of maybe up-and-coming couture customers, don’t know, and we want to establish the dialogue. Create some kind of an entry to the salon.” But in a sense, Demna was also meeting Cristobal coming back. The arc of the show, he said, “was going from future into the past.” Thus the hyper-extravagance and drama of the vast crinolines and slinky, draped, train-trailing of his celebrity-walked finale. It’s still a debate whether the bride who couldn’t walk through the doors and struggled a lot to move in her heavily embellished dress was an art performance or an actual runway casualty. I’m fine with both versions of the story.

If it was more personal this season, there was a touching reason behind it. Explaining the AI-voiced poem at the opening of the show, Demna said they were the words of a love poem he’d written to his husband. “Because je t’aime is the most beautiful word in the language to me. I realized that couture, what I do, is the only thing I love doing and I want to be doing. And somehow this was a love letter to the person I love most in my life, and to the work, the art that I do. Both.

Collages by Edward Kanarecki.


Timelessness. Michael Kors AW21

I might not be a Michael Kors fan, but his latest collection (celebratin the brand’s 40th anniversary) is so great. It’s the old, good Kors of the late 1980s and early 90s, adapted to contemporary times (well, maybe specifically the re-emergence times that will come sooner or later). How do you sum up a four-decade career in 63 looks during a pandemy? In an audienceless show, you’ve got Naomi Campbell, Helena Christensen, Carolyn Murphy, and Shalom Harlow vamping down New York’s 45th Street in evening sequins and double-face cashmere. The designer told Vogue that in the downtime of the pandemic, he’d gone searching for the “connective threads” of 40 years. “Certainly timelessness is something we’ve always prided ourselves in, something that I think our customers really appreciate.” One season he gives his runway a timely Mad Men gloss, another it gets a Studio 54 spin, but his collections are always optimistic, always unshakably him. Much of what he did first, American fashion now takes for granted. Bare legs in winter. The unexpected combination of a rhinestone-encrusted cocktail dress and a man’s topcoat. A city-country mix. An evening number with streamlined athleticism, a maillot with leather straps and matching heels. “Extremes of opulence and glamour with simplicity and ease” is how he summed up his approach. In a year when the Costume Institute is showcasing American fashion for the first time in decades it seems important to recognize that much of what we think of as American sportswear is Kors-ian sportswear. Considering our collective experience of the last 13 months, back on 45th Street Kors put the emphasis on opulence and glamour. “People are going to want to step out, get dressed up – in certain instances get overdressed. Girls are going out for a hamburger in cocktail dresses and high heels.” This was his bid to clothe them for those reemergence moments. Maybe in a red patent leather balmacaan, a “cotton ball of a shearling coat,” or a glossy black puffer cape. Or perhaps in a hand-sequined silk jersey gown in gold under a pavement-sweeping camel cashmere coat. And always with a spiky pump or slingback.

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Focus On: Kenneth Ize

In support for the Black community, I continue celebrating and highlighting the talented individuals that shape fashion today. Take notes! Kenneth Ize made his official debut at Paris fashion week this season, though his eponymous label has been making waves on the international circuit for the past few seasons. The Austrian-Nigerian designer was an LVMH prize finalist this past September, having first caught the world’s attention at Lagos Fashion Week a few months earlier. Images of Naomi Campbell and Imaan Hammam striding down Ize’s runway in his signature handwoven checks, a traditional Nigerian fabric known as asoke, caused a global social media frenzy within minutes. Both super-models were present at his autumn-winter 2020 show – Hammam opened, while Campbell closed what was a truly impressive first outing for Ize. The designer is best known for his men’s tailoring, though he kicked things off on a distinctly feminine note with a quilted striped miniskirt and matching funnel-neck zippered jacket. Ize is also inspired by workwear – think carpenter pants spun from silk and fringed at the hem. Adwoa Aboah looked especially striking in one of his quilted boilersuits. Ize has been working with a small circle of asoke weavers in Nigeria with the hopes of preserving the centuries-old craft from the brink of extinction. For autumn-winter 2020, he expanded on that commitment to local artisanship by collaborating with Austrian lace-makers in Vienna where he was born and raised. The green and orange lace tunics and suiting were a nod to Ize’s mother, who, like many West African women, would source Viennese lace to make custom outfits for special occasions. The collection was largely inspired by her meticulous approach to Sunday best in particular; the devil was in the details here, with matching fringed bucket bags and clutches made in collaboration with Austrian accessories label Sagan. It’s exquisite transcultural fashion experiments like these that will make Ize’s brand stand out in the fashion crowd. Discover more of Kenneth’s work here!

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.