Luckily for the fashion world, Jean Paul Gaultier is back. And his new, collaborative take on couture makes his brand feel fresh and relevant. Sacai’s Chitose Abe is known for her genius for grafting two different garments together to create a sui generis ensemble, so the idea of grafting her sensibility onto that of Jean Paul Gaultier – a designer that she has long admired – seemed like the basis for an exciting dialogue. It was one that Gaultier himself suggested as part of his elegant disruption strategy following his “retirement” from the conventional fashion system. “It was a very intimate, more friendly proposal,” recalled Abe backstage before the unveiling of her Gaultier takeover, “an invitation to come over for tea. It didn’t feel like two companies coming together, but instead like two people.” Haute couture wasn’t something that Sacai had necessarily thought about before, but she acknowledged that it was “a really spectacular experience. The level of perfection is something that Jean Paul and I share,” she explained, “and it made the process so smooth.” Her couture touches included the hidden luxury of dozens of tiny ruffled flounces buoying up the inside of a skirt, and the stripes of Gaultier’s iconic blue and white matelot sweater worked with insertions of satin organza, or seeming to evaporate into wisps of chiffon. Abe knows Gaultier’s work so well that she admitted she didn’t even have to consult the archives. “I didn’t want to take the archives too literally,” she added, “but to make it Sacai and very, very up to date.” So for look number one, Gaultier’s iconic autumn 1984 conical bra emerged from a deconstructed man’s navy pinstripe suit reimagined as a corset and overskirt, and worn over the tattoo print mesh second-skin pieces that reappeared throughout the collection and represented a collaboration with the tattoo artist Dr. Woo. It helps, of course, that there are some shared codes between Gaultier and Abe that she worked into the collection like a love for tartan, a refined take on punk, the co-opting of traditional men’s suiting fabrics, and the reimagining of the trench coat and Aran sweater. That tartan was redone as a sophisticated assemblage of chiffon pieces worked into a fluttering dress, and those pinstripes were reinvented as a high waisted dress crafted as though it was made from an enormous pair of trousers, the abundance of fabric pleated into fullness. The trench coat was re-conceived as a skirt with the volumes of an Elizabethan farthingale, and samples of different ivory Aran knits were patched onto a chiffon dress. On close inspection, the military braid turned out to have been embroidered from safety pins. Gaultier joined Abe for the finale runway walk and delighted the crowds on the street outside when he joined her on the balcony of his imposing Belle Epoque HQ with the models crowding the windows around them. Can’t wait to see who Jean Paul invites next season.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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.