The Secret of Life is in Art. JW Anderson SS21

This is one of those JW Anderson collections that need no special explanations or expansive moodboards. It’s just so, so distinct to Jonathan Anderson‘s edgy style codes, that you can’t mistake it with anything else, really. Instead of a livestreamed fashion show, the press received a package wrapped in Oscar Wilde quotes: a book of papers and prints, and artful photographs all screwed together – and an enclosed gold coin, embossed with another Wilde quote (“the secret of life is in art”). Wilde proved both the literal and metaphorical means to unlock this collection, because, according to Anderson, “he was able to criticise the world but embrace the poetic reason within it; to look at the political, artistic, environmental landscape of his time and have a dialogue with it”. Equally, the writer’s affinity for the one-liner, he continued, felt particularly resonant during a period when that mode of communication reigns supreme. “This government has come up with so many – and I thought, how radical Wilde would be now with his ability to summarise a moment. Right now, people’s attention spans are very short, so things need to be very concise. And the clothing had to read like that, too: something easily digestible like a tuxedo, but with a puffball skirt belted onto it.” This collection was, essentially, an array of JW Anderson one-liners – not basic, but signature. “You know the look and you know that this girl belongs in this house,” he said of a loose-fitted pleated suede top layered over a panelled handkerchief skirt, or a white satin peplum blazer paired with matching cargo shorts. There was jewellery – enormous oversized earrings based on birdcage mirrors, or bejewelled brooches – which could transform almost anything into the spirit of the season and a wealth of easy-to-wear sophistication. But, alongside the fluid cuts likely to be required throughout spring-summer 2021, there was some exceptional tailoring, too. “It was important to grab onto that, onto things like the way in which we’ve explored tuxedos over the past five years, and really nurture it”, Anderson continued. Goodie!

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

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.

A Fresh Take On The Parisian. Patou AW20

Finally, there’s someone in Paris with a fresh take on the Parisian. It’s easy to imagine Guillaume Henry‘s Patou as a bit of a friendly girl’s club now. It has fun-silly signatures like sailor caps topped with pom-poms and ’80s pumps with rabbit-ear bows on the toes. But there’s nothing gimmicky about it. It’s a brand Henry wants people to rely on, for a great peacoat, a striped marinere sweater – and for really useful dresses. The point for Henry is that this is a brand that has been reimagined as relatable, very French – “Well, I am French!” – not insanely priced, and also set up to be as transparent and mindful about sourcing as it can be as it goes along. For instance, the wool and taffeta is upcycled, cotton is organic, and the company takes care to explain certifications and its supply chain to customers. Now a bit about the pleasing autumn-winter 2020 offering, which is all about comfortable, yet chic daywear (and eveningwear). The designer explained how Jean Patou had set up his company a century ago, with his new menthality for a French brand at the time. “He had a bar in his store so people could relax and have a drink, and his in-house shows would turn into parties after. And he was one of the first to design for the weekend, when everyone started going to Deauville and Biarritz and all that.” This sort of laid-back mood is perceivable in the collection and its fun styling. The JP logo, with its Art Deco 1920s feel is embroidered or knitted into sweaters. And then, of course, there’s the Jean Patou of the 1980s. “Christian Lacroix was here! And Karl Lagerfeld too. It was his first job!” Henry’s taffeta puffball skirts and Provençal lace blouses nod to Lacroix’s period, which is a witty thing to do.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

For The Champions. Lacoste AW20

Louise Trotter‘s take on Lacoste gets better and better with every season. Golf bags, kiltie loafers, and signature green crocodile logo were all over the autumn-winter 2020 – Trotter knows that a brand like this needs its codes to be nurtured continously – but there were other additions. The designer has not abandoned the brand’s tennis heritage for its neighboring sport at the country club – through these golf-inspired pieces, she is paying homage to René Lacoste’s wife, Simone de la Chaume, a champion golfer whose legacy has been overshadowed by her husband’s embroidered gator. In De la Chaume’s heyday in the 1920s, shin-grazing pleated skirts and deep-V knitwear constituted the on-green look for women; here, Trotter refigured these silhouettes to be lighter, breezier, and in flashes of pastel colors. Styled as total looks – according to stylist Suzanne Koller’s own wardrobe rules – these golfing ensembles had a quirkily modern feel without veering too far into costume. The colour palette of the collection was definitely one of the most inspiring this season. I think buyers and editors aren’t really taking the new Lacoste seriously. And they actually should: it’s great.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Past, Present, Future. Louis Vuitton AW20

This season, Louis Vuitton‘s Nicolas Ghesquière enlisted the costume designer Milena Canonero, a frequent collaborator of Stanley Kubrick’s, to create a monumental backdrop of 200 choral singers, each one clothed in historical garb dating from the 15th century to 1950. It was a mammoth undertaking, and a truly beautiful one. “I wanted a group of characters that represent different countries, different cultures, different times,” Ghesquière explained beforehand. “I love this interaction between the people seated in the audience, the girls walking, and the past looking at them—these three visions mixed together.” The time-collapsing sensation was heightened by the fact that the chorus performed was a composition by Woodkid and Bryce Dessner based on the work of Nicolas de Grigny, a contemporary of Bach’s. All of today’s fashion is a synthesis of the past, but Ghesquière makes a closer study of it than most. He’s compelled by the anachronous. A few seasons ago he clashed 18th-century frock coats and the high-tech trainers, creating a look as full of contrasts as the times we live in. For autumn-winter 2020, he offers even more time clashes: jewel-encrusted boleros (I can already see Rosalia performing in one of those) meet parachute pants, buoyant petticoats are paired with fitted tops whose designs looked cribbed from robotics, bourgeois tailoring is layered over sports jerseys. My favourite look of the collection – a sheer tulle dress with latex finishings worn over a leather motocross body – carried the quintessence of Ghesquière’s concept. The collection comes perfectly in time with the upcoming Met Gala (which is scheduled for the beginning of May and isn’t surrendering to coronavirus – for now) and its theme. Nicolas is the cohost of the gala, and Louis Vuitton is sponsoring the Costume Institute exhibition, “About Time: Fashion and Duration”. Just as in the exhibition’s idea, the collection says it out loud: fashion is a mirror of the present moment, built from the past. And it has future, as well.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Toying With Elegance. Miu Miu AW20

Miu Miu‘s autumn-winter 2020 collection didn’t entirely click for me. Maybe it was the uncomfortable looking, 1940s-inspred hair. Or the suffocating retro feeling that feels completely cut from reality. Or it’s the current, global circumstances that just don’t really match the collection’s early 20th century party girl mood. “Toying With Elegance” was the title of the line-up, an allusion to the childlike joy that comes with getting dressed to the nines. Miuccia Prada had the show opened with a charming cameo: Storm Reid, the 16-year-old actor of Euphoria fame, who wore a persimmon crushed-satin dress and tweed overcoat. The rest of the collection rotated around the idea of matching a festive dress with a big coat. Extra-long proportions lent a sense of irreverence to the sweet empire-line dresses in saccharine shades that were replete with bows and crystal embellishments. The most convincing pieces were the leg-baring little black dresses that had frothy taffeta sleeves and colorful nipped waistbands – they made you think of Miu Miu’s archival “girl”. Especially spring-summer 2008, which was all about that easy, flirty look. The rest was kind of forced.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Essentials. Xuly.Bët AW20

Lamine Kouyaté‘s Xuly.Bët is back on track – with a location switch from New York to Paris, where his family and children are. Born in Mali and raised largely in France, the designer launched his Xuly.Bët (a Wolof/Senegalese expression that means “keep your eyes open”) label in 1989. His guerrilla approach to shows complemented his bricolage technique and use of salvaged and repurposed materials – so yes, everything’s that’s rightly trending in the emerging times of sustainable fashion. Lamina’s comeback collection was staged in a charity shop in Paris’ 2nd arrondissement. Showing in Paris also meant some of his longest-term collaborators, like Rossy de Palma and Michelle Elie, were there, bopping down the catwalk between the 1970s office decor and bins of baby onesies. The autumn-winter 2020 line-up offers smart, yet properly odd take on everyday wardrobe. Those are essentials that stun with their functionality and sophistication. A little black dress made of a fractured pieces of stretch jersey and red seaming, paired with a veil that holds a tiny baby inside. Jeans cut precisely large and with clunky buttons. Trench coat made from 100% recycled materials. Wool blazers with hand-printed letters in gold. After the groovy show, Kouyaté was asked how it felt to be the first to be upcycling all the way back in the ’90s. He demurred, saying he wasn’t the founder of the movement, but he was certainly one of its earliest supporters. “It says something positive,” he said of upcycling textiles. “We have to.” Stores like Dover Street Market or Matches, place orders at Xuly.Bët’s.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Liberated. Chanel AW20

Many critics are really tough on Virginie Viard. Ok, sometimes some of the styling sucks. There’s too much of CC logo on her designs. But then, I can’t remember the time when the Chanel woman felt so liberated. Viard creates intimate, personal fashion for a brand with a format this big that sometimes her vision gets trapped or misunderstood. However, her autumn-winter 2020 collection was her most confident outing yet. “Freedom!” declared the designer backstage. Viard explained that she was talking about the sort of wind-in-the-hair freedom that a horse rider feels as their steed bounds through the landscape. That idea of liberation translated into a collection of unforced, woman-friendly pieces that embraced the house codes at the same time that they reinforced Viard’s own pragmatic instincts for comfortable, no-nonsense glamour. Viard took her inspiration from a 1980s photograph of Karl Lagerfeld and his sometime muse Anna Piaggi, both dressed in the height of Edwardian-revival finery. In that image, Piaggi is shrouded in a veiled Death in Venice hat, and Lagerfeld wears a morning-dress-stripe jacket and vest, a floppy black silk cravat, jodhpurs, and a pair of sturdy riding boots – an image that for Viard represents “strong romance.” Viard reinterpreted Lagerfeld’s chunky-heel boot and styled it with every single outfit in the collection, from a thickly knit cardigan worn with a cropped white cotton evening dickey and micro shorts to liquid black velvet evening gowns. The collection didn’t have 100+ looks (which was a big relief), the setting was minimal, and it all felt consistent, yet easy. Some girls came out in pairs or groups of three, and it was refreshing to see them smiling and chatting to each other like friends, wearing unpretentious clothes that seemed to have stepped right out of their wardrobes to make sense for modern lives.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Beauty and Strength. Alexander McQueen AW20

I usually don’t mind for Sarah Burton‘s Alexander McQueen. But this season, I felt a spark about her work. The  collection opened with the sound of birdsong and echoing children’s voices. Then, the McQueen warrior women marched relentlessly on, in sharply tailored frock coats and slim-leg pantsuits gripped by belts jangled with jewels that included tiny silver hip flasks and metal-bound notebooks. For the closing, a finale of fairy-tale evening dresses of frothing net and embroidery suggestive of medieval folk tales. “What do you talk about in a time when there’s so much noise?” queried Burton during a press talk. “I wanted this collection to be really grounded, bold, and heroic,” she answered herself. “I feel like you need to be heroic.” Burton’s poetic adventure for autumn-winter 2020 began with a visit to Wales, the storied Celtic land of myths and creativity. At St. Fagans National Museum of History in the capital city of Cardiff, the first thing that caught her eye was the Wrexham Tailor’s Quilt, fashioned at night over a 10-year period from 1842 by a tailor using recycled scraps of the woolen cloths he had used to craft the uniforms he made by day. With its scenes from the Bible and allusions to the Industrial Revolution that was threatening the very idea of handcraft at the time, it is a powerful object, “a narrative of someone’s life,” as Burton said. Taking her cue from this inspirational starting point, she worked on sharp-seamed, graphic tailoring that incorporated upcycled wool flannels from previous McQueen seasons woven in British mills and set in dramatic geometric blocks that suggested flags or heraldic pennants. The Victorian tailor’s startlingly contemporary imagery was reflected in prints and complex intarsia treatments. Alexander McQueen himself used antique patchworks as a source for some textile treatments in his spring 2004 “Deliverance” collection, and Burton and her team found further quilt inspiration in the collection of the dealer Jen Jones, including more examples made from scraps of traditional men’s fabrics and others in soft blush pinks also used for the elaborately stitched but unseen petticoats that Welsh women once wore to buoy up their plain, utilitarian skirts. That complex handwork was replicated in dimensional jacquard weaves used for a coat with the allure of a 1940s diva’s dressing robe, or as a deep border to counterpoint the severe tailoring of a shapely black jacket. Fabric innovations also included dégradé treatments that changed from solid to sheer (taffeta to chiffon, or dense to spiderweb fine-gauge knit), suggesting strength and fragility in one garment. The famed Welsh blankets, meanwhile, represented for Burton the idea of “protection and wrapping and caring and kindness”. The idea was powerfully suggested in a surprisingly tender 1930s photograph Burton had pinned to her inspiration board, depicting three Welsh miners in their formal Sunday-best suits, with their respective infant children held by blankets wrapped around them and improvised into papooses “so that they had their hands free to work,” as Burton pointed out. Summing up: it’s a line-up of beauty dressed in confidence and strength.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.