Stand Together. Comme Des Garçons SS23

A lamentation for the sorrow in the world today / And a feeling of wanting to stand together.” So disclosed the press notes for the return of Comme des Garçons to Paris. Rei Kawakubo is back. And trust Kawakubo to lean against the prevailing winds, then transport us further and in fewer looks because of it. Last season, as Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, fashionland scrambled to be somber, doffing the cap. This season, as that invasion and many other frightening geopolitical scenarios rumble on, normal escapist service has been resumed. But this was anti-fashion. Kawakubo’s process is personal and private: The design and its agenda is her business. Here there were perhaps a few readable clues in a collection whose looks were abstractedly sculptural. The models were their podiums. Was look 4 a worn egg cup or a woman inverted? Was look 16 a flowery doughnut or an ironically framed metaphysical void? But you might say something else entirely about these worn impressions. The only thing we’d all agree upon is that this was not conventional clothing. The level of fabric research was intense and heightened; slickly sheeny lacquered lace and sugary-sweet, color-heaped floral jacquards. On some looks you could see the fossilized traces of “normal” pieces – a biker here, a gown there – but all were distended and distorted and blown up or reduced via twists and aggregations of imagination. Some of the models wore headpieces in folded card flowers or apparently hodgepodge steampunk-ish assemblages, half-helmet, half-crown. Created under a briefing by Gary Card and Valériane Venance, these looked to resemble virgin crants, the maiden’s garlands in which young, prematurely deceased women were buried in pre-Reformation England. They were chilling.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Slatterns and Angels. Andreas Kronthaler Vivienne Westwood SS23

For spring-summer 2023, Andreas Kronthaler was in philosophical form. He reported that until his arrival in Paris a few days ago, he’d not been out of London in more than a year. Instead he had stayed at home and read and designed. The book that hit him hardest was Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne by Katherine Rundell. That text on the great metaphysical poet, who saw lovers’ eyes as hemispheres and clothes as states of mind, helped fire this collection. The ragged tricolored cardigan of look 16 and the soulful accordion on the soundtrack signaled Kronthaler’s enchantment at this Paris return. More broadly we were on an imaginative trip through various characters shaped through clothing. Sibyl Buck was particularly magnificent in her two broad-shoulder, Renaissance-man looks. There were slatterns and angels, monks and harlots, nobles and commoners. The models all wore super-high, Vivienne Westwood-signature platforms that even Donne would have struggled to describe. The only missing element was Westwood herself, whom her husband said was back in London taking part in a wave of protests against the government.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Back To The 1980s. Junya Watanabe SS23

The three Comme Des Garçons brands have finally returned to the Parisian schedule: Junya Watanabe, Noir Kei Ninomiya and CDG itself. Lately, Watanabe loves a theme to stick with for an entire season, so for spring-summer 2023 we went back to 1980s. The familiar flashing camera sounds of Duran Duran’s hit “Girls on Film” kicked in and a pair of New Romantic kids emerged from the side of the runway, their hair crimped into mohawks and wedges and their makeup airbrushed on like a Patrick Nagel portrait. All of that was enriched with Junya’s signature codes, from deconstructed tailoring to the punk-rock badassery of chains and pearls. Those first two looks set the silhouette: wide, very-1980s-shouldered capes and a skinny leg punctuated by a sharp-toed boot dressed up with those chains and pearls. Some of the capes were caught by a belt in the front or cut like a trad two-button blazer, but turn them around and it was a different story: all swagger and sweeping shapes, punctuated by fabric selvedge. Shirting got the Junya treatment too; split personality button-downs were well fit on one side and unstructured on the other, a clutch of pearls holding them in place, while pleated shirtdresses came in Klaus Nomi–ish inverted triangles. About those pearls: they were worn as necklaces and integrated into garments, almost like belts, creating the kind of askew volumes Watanabe likes. He seemed to be making a case for more glamour and more drama, but without disconnecting from the realities of daily life. The jeans, whose upturned cuffs revealed a flash of red tartan, were made with Levi’s, and the color-blocked and patchwork jackets came together with Komine, a Japanese racing-gear maker.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Layers. Victoria Beckham SS23

Spring-summer 2023 collection was Victoria Beckham‘s runway debut in Paris. But also, it was one of the least consistent offerings coming from the designer. This makes me wonder: for whom is this brand for at that very moment? And what does it really stand for? The collection wasn’t bad, but it felt like it tried to check all the current trends. The first look: Rianne Van Rompaey in a medical-pink rigorous, ankle-length dress sheathed over her body, its sleeves slit to the shoulder, its waist stitched at the front and pulled apart with strict ruching. Beckham underpinned it with opera gloves in monogrammed lace the color of the model’s skin, matching tights, and high satin heels with almond-shaped toes. It was pretty twisted, but glamorous. The designer could stay in the orbit of this look. But she decided to experiment further. Draped dresses (some seedily worn over latex tights), deconstructed cami dresses that looked as if they were about to slip off the body, and perversely bias-cut fishtail gowns in more medical pastels. A black dress was adorned in slashes as if it had been clawed into. Next to coats with edges cut to reveal their construction and trompe l’oeil leather jackets with the imprint of lapels, tailored jackets had been deconstructed at the back and reduced to their core frame, exposing the naked body (very Peter Do). Each look put separately seemed intriguing, but in overall, the line-up needed a tighter edit.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Mud Show. Balenciaga SS23

When Balenciaga invited its guests to a “mud show“, they meant it literally. There were tons of mud on the spring-summer 2023 runway, piled up at the sides of the stadium space, and dug out like bomb craters in the center, staged by the Spanish artist Santiago Sierra. The raw odeur of decomposition, a custom-made scent by Sissel Tolaas, blasted in the face. Demna did it yet again: he shook up the fashion industry like no one else, reminding about rising inequality, the return of fascism, wars happening all over the globe, and the very real threat of nuclear war. Kanye West opened the show in a tactical jacket and leather pants with reinforced knees, military garb topped off with a baseball cap and a logo mouthguard. The ragtag band that followed was rough around the edges to say the least, their faces beat-up and their clothes treated to look old and beat-up too (requiring a “couple of days” more than making pristine luxury, Demna said). Some carried bags made from stuffed animals that looked like they’d been through a war. When the 75 models made their circuit on the wet track, dirt splashed their bare ankles and soaked their hems, the 3-D printed Dutch clogs being no match for the mud. Demna has had his own experience of war – he fled Georgia with his family when he was a young boy of 10. Being gay compounded his struggles. “I’ve felt like I’ve been punched in my face for being who I am,” he said, but “you have to stand up and continue walking, kind of like this crusade of discovering who you are and defending that.” He called this a “very me show.” It was heavy on grafitti’d hoodies and ravaged jeans, but there was also evening wear, in clingy T-shirt jersey or glamorous pleats. These were survivors against the odds, a point Demna made by sending out men clutching baby carriers propped with eerily lifelike dolls. “Naturally I’m an optimist, but I cannot be very optimistic right now,” he said. “I think this show actually expresses that very much – the music, the set, it spoke about the moment in which we live.” To finish, Demna sent out a dress made from cut-up parts of black Balenciaga Lariat bags, a make-do-and-mend masterpiece that also pointed up our nasty overconsumption habits. Remember, he sent every last piece through the mud, a “sacrilege” by luxury standards. Using fashion to comment on the crises that plague us is a tricky business. Of course Demna wants us to shop, and of course his bosses do, too. But when it comes time to spend, my money’s on the guy who looks around and is terrified, not the sleepwalkers.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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