Upcycled & Defiant. Marine Serre AW22

Marine Serre‘s dynamic autumn-winter 2022 collection made me realise she would do great at rejuvenating the Vivienne Westwood brand. Why? First, her devotion to upcycling, which has inspired the entire industry, goes in line with Westwood’s sustainability ethos. Second, the Parisian designer has that rough, defiant style that is real and keeps evolving with every season. And third: the way Serre used tartan checks (all from upcycled scarves and deadstock materials!) this season makes me think of some of the greatest 1990s collections coming from Vivienne.

Now back to Marine’s latest line-up. The serenity of the Marine Serre show photographs completely belie the mayhem of what was happening two floors below. Suffice it to say that young people in Paris will scramble and wait, packed uncomfortably together, to witness whatever Serre will do. It felt almost like a throwback to the hysteria of the underground French fashion scene that swirled around the likes of Jean-Paul Gaultier, Martin Margiela and Xuly.Bët two decades ago. If Serre is a female inheritor of what male designers did to deconstruct and democratize Paris fashion once upon a time, the big difference is how she delves far deeper into cultural and environmental ethics. Challenging the form of the fashion show is part of that. “What was important was to open the boundaries,” she said. “To show a different way to do a show. It was important to me that it was in a museum, to have something that shows the collective imagination. And to have something where people weren’t sure if there were going to be people walking, or where to sit or look.” The “museum” was a gallery of re-mastered old masters on the top floor. Each of them variously redirected, decolonized and replaced the original iconography to link up with Serre’s work. The first looks of the show were series of black and white lozenge and crescent-moon patterned recycled wool jacquard tailoring – they looked chic and polished. More themes came through: the above mentioned tartan scarves patchworked into tweed coats, collaged upcycled knits. Toile de Jouy quilted bed clothes and camouflage prints were turned into neatly-finished, attractive clothing. Serre is clearly focused on proving there’s nothing rough-and-ready about the second life she’s giving to pieces of defunct garments or deadstock. She’s intent on sharing how she does this. The need for transparency and education are other parts of her impressive worldview and drive to accelerate change in her generation. On the first floor of the building she had installed an atelier with members of her teams of sorters, cutters and sewers at work, demonstrating how her pieces are made. “I feel I have a responsibility to give access to this savoir faire,” she said, preternaturally calm in the eye of the swirling storm of guests. All weekend, she was planning to open the doors of the installations and exhibition to the public. “For free, you know?

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

NET-A-PORTER Limited

There Is Hope. Acne Studios AW22

This was one of Acne Studios‘ strongest collections in a while. It had some very surprising turns (eveningwear!), it had an inspiring sustainability factor, and it somehow captured what fashion can be in turbulent times. But lets start from the beginning. When Jonny Johansson was a teenager still at school he lobbied his mother to get him some Levi’s 501s. Mrs. Johansson resisted, bought Swedish, and came back with two pairs of denim pants that she’d snagged from H&M for the same price as one pair of red tags. “She said this is the best choice,” Johansson sighed backstage. At the same time, however, Mrs. J also picked up a jacket which Jonny initially was not into – but which he decided to have a go at turning into something he liked. “It needed to be shortened and then I added a belt. I went into school wearing it, not knowing if people would notice it, or notice that it was home-made – which was not cool,” he said today. None of Johansson’s schoolmates reacted either way. Well, just look at him now. This collection leaned into Acne’s denim heritage in front of an influence-loaded audience with great effect. Upcycled patched denim paperbag skirts, an upcycled patched denim crini dress, and the opening look, a wide-leg garment dyed denim skirt, all paid homage to the single medium that was chiefly responsible for this multi-hyphenate success. Against this he played denim’s natural co-conspirator, leather, via a series of double-breasted trench coats reduced to slit-skirted armless dresses, sometimes also overdyed. Other notable elements included tuft-lined and sometimes-quilted regal blanket dresses in grandma florals, crystal embedded rib-kit socks over shoes, grungily faded jersey separates, layered fringed curtain dresses, and repeated returns to the post-Talking Heads boxy blazer in overdyed leather that was another early Acne signature. As tattered and ragged in its delivery as it was complete in its conception, this was an Acne collection that seemed more comfortable with itself than some of Johansson’s previous ventures. The show was accompanied by an original live performance by musician and composer Suzanne Ciani, a pioneer of electronic music who embraced the liberating technologies of synth to transform the way we listen to music today. As a last-minute change, the finale soundtrack reminded one of a war battleground rattle. The nomadic silhouettes walking on the elevated runway with these disturbing sound sensations in the background felt like a hopeful vision: in the end, the good overcomes the evil.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

The Collinas. Collina Strada AW22

New York Fashion Week would make no sense without the energy of the city’s new-gen designers who fully embrace inclusivity, community and sustainability. This season, Collina Strada‘s Hillary Taymour showcased her exuberant and lively autumn-winter 2022 collection with a digital presentation, inviting the fashion set to experience its version of The Hills, entitled The Collinas. In the spoof, actor Tommy Dorfman makes her fashion week debut playing a twenty-something moving to New York City for a fashion internship at Collina Strada. Dorfman’s star turn was complemented by a large supporting cast: Rowan Blanchard, Marni’s Francesco Risso, Chloe Wise, Lynette Nylander, Jazzelle Zanaughtti, Ruby Aldridge, and Vogue’s Liana Satenstein – all friends of the brand. While the main character is rather clueless on how to actually do her job properly, she’s lovable with great taste – an aspect her peers can’t get enough of. The campy reality-TV pastiche wasn’t only entertaining and hilarious; it was a great background for Strada’s fabulous pleats, crushed velvet and metallic fabrics. Flashy colours and graphics inspired by 1970s psychedelic rock were mixed with genderless prom dresses and cargo pants made from upcycled materials. This season, Taymour evidentely entered her 2000s phase, and it’s working. Some ideas from spring 2022 carry over, like the Angel-printed tee and meshy layering pieces that have long been a staple. There is a low vibrating cake theme as well – Zanaughtti poses in a pageant ribbon top holding a pink cake; a pair of jeans were dyed using melted sprinkles. Chiffon is shredded to evoke feathers and studio detritus is cut into fringe. The eclecticism of Taymour’s earliest collections persists, and here we are with dozens of wearable and wantable garments that reflect the brand’s spirit.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Earthy. Gabriela Hearst AW22

The runways have become a platform for the questioning of gender that has long occupied LGBTQIA+ communities. This has happened at the fringes for decades, but with a new wave of trans and androgynous models recasting our notions of beauty, the project is going more mainstream. Gabriela Hearst credits her teenage daughters for advancing her own thinking; their conceptions of gender are at odds with the more static understanding that her generation grew up with. “Kids want to be free,” she said at a preview. “For them, gender is an imposition.” As a designer, she makes few distinctions between her women’s and men’s collections. On the autumn-winter 2022 runway, colors, materials, and silhouettes were shared across them. If you are familiar with Hearst’s work, then you know how truly important sustainability is for her – at her brand, there’s no place for greenwashing. This season, the collection’s aesthetic is close to nature as well. The luscious citrine and watermelon colors of her Manos del Uruguay–knitted chunky cashmere sweaters were achieved via botanical dyes. The print on the cashmere-silk knit poncho that was a focal point of the collection was taken from the artist Ana Martinez Orizondo’s painting of a tree. And the crochet motif on a sleeveless dress and a long-sleeve top and midiskirt was inspired by a peacock’s tail feathers. Safe to say Hearst is the earthiest luxury designer around. But she can do worldly too. Amber Valletta closed the show in a double-breasted suit made from sportswear wool whose sharpness belied its comfort factor. Trenches were finished with storm flaps made from panels of woven leather and silk crepe de chine that Hearst likened to armor. She was equally proud to point out that the elaborate pleating on the bodice and sleeves of a flower-print dress was done in New York’s garment district.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Real Sustainable Answers. Chloé Pre-Fall 2022

It’s nearly a year since Gabriela Hearst took Chloé under her wings, and it’s quite unbelievable how many sustainability goals the designer has already achieved. And those aren’t just words – numbers and statistics don’t lie. “To give you the exact facts, 70% of the product offer since I came in became lower impact. Compared to my first collection, (what) we did is up 40%”, she summed up. Women who are living under a cloud of post-COP26 anxiety might take some cheer from how openly Hearst is tackling the environmental and social problems inflicted by the workings of the fashion industry. The way she speaks of it, implementing the changes that lie within her power is as much her purpose as the mission to dress women in Chloé clothes. “Empathy, collaboration, lower impact – the right values need to come to the forefront. Collectively we at Chloé are working toward weaving that into the DNA of the company.” The clarity of style she’s brought to the house has become completely visible four seasons in. It’s streamlined and slick, a grown-up boho look infused with classic Chloé-isms and her own handcrafted, macraméd, whipstitched energy. She’s carefully corralled all the legacies that women designers have imprinted on the brand for decades: the reputation for a boot-cut, ’70s-ish pantsuit that Stella McCartney laid down; the balloon-y broderie anglaise sleeves that Phoebe Philo played with; and Chloé founder Gaby Aghion’s scalloped edges and taste for pinkish orange, the color of the Egyptian desert of her childhood. Meanwhile Chloé’s horsey heritage is a natural for Hearst, who brings her own Uruguayan ranch upbringing to her feeling for caped coats, French-style riding boots, and the thick leather girth strap she’s turned into a belt. “I love this buckle that I found in the archive from Hannah MacGibbon’s time,” she said. “We oversized it.” It all looks a lot like Hearst herself: tall, strong silhouettes; a practical modern vigor; a touch of the hippie sophisticate. Yet the main imprint she’s stamping on Chloé is in becoming one of the very few luxury fashion creative directors who are making it impossible to detach the conversation about pretty clothes from talking about what’s in them and how they are made. Moving rapidly along the vectors of transparent reporting, partnerships with women’s employment projects, environmental certifications, Chloé’s freshly acquired B Corp status, and new membership in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (which champions circularity) – and shining a light onto the multitude of fashion’s hidden processes – is a business that continually brings up more questions.

Hearst is happy to point to several achievements in this collection. Botanical dyes are part of it—like the shade of Gaby Aghion pinkish orange in the merino wool skirt-and-sweater set. There’s also biodegradable denim, which Hearst cut into a pair of high-waist flares and a matching jacket. “This is the third season we’ve been working with Adriano Goldschmied [the legendary denim expert] on this project to resolve circular denim, following the Jeans Redesign Guidelines published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation,” she said. The production of the new Chloé jeans eliminates rivets, which never break down, and the fabric is a mix of 70% recycled cotton and 30% hemp, “which is grown in France. Hemp and linen cultivation emit less greenhouse gases and require less water compared to cotton,” she noted. But to vegan and vegetarian customers – and anyone who’s read recent reports about fashion’s links with cattle farming and deforestation in Brazil – the noticeable amount of leather in the collection will raise eyebrows. “From the point of view of sustainability, I have a very specific position about leather,” argues Hearst. “Leather is biowaste of the meat industry. I am very against industrialization of meat – I’m really against the way livestock is being industrialized. I don’t think we can afford eating a high-meat-protein diet, and definitely don’t recommend it.” But while she accepts that moving toward plant-based diets “is better for the environment,” from her perspective, “the truth is nobody’s killing the animal for the leather. The price of leather is going down and people are wasting it.” That in itself creates an environmental disposal situation. “What are we going to do with the leather, other than just use it?

The Chloé press release states how the sourcing of the Chloé leathers is certified by the Leather Working Group, which is “an international organization made up of stakeholders across the leather supply chain, working to promote environmental best practice within leather manufacturing and related industries.” The organization looks into the operations of tanneries, “meaning that the leather process is done properly, meaning not wasting water and not using harsh chemicals,” as Hearst puts it. Around 75% of the leather handbag offering is sourced from Leather Working Group–certified tanneries. Nevertheless, there is always further to look into. A report in The Guardian on November 29 spotlighted research by Stand.earth, a supply-chain research company partnered by the Slow Factory and Model Activist, showing that the Leather Working Group’s remit stops at capturing what happens in tanneries and slaughterhouses. Its visibility doesn’t reach back to what happens at the farm level, and therefore “does not ascertain whether hides are linked to deforestation.” Under normal practice, hides come into tanneries from multiple sources and are often mixed up, meaning that fashion brands – across luxury and mass manufacturing alike – are “at risk” of unknowingly buying into the destruction of the Amazon rain forest with the finished product. “As many Amazon leaders have warned,” the Slow Factory writes on its Instagram page, “this is a human rights/climate/biodiversity/public health crisis with consequences for the entire world.” That’s a much vaster issue than Chloé. It spreads across the entire industry and puts question marks over every leather bag, shoe, and coat we buy (it’s also an issue in the auto industry, which is the second-largest user of leather after fashion.) Only diligent and widespread normalization of tracing and labeling, and the development of sounder alternatives, can solve this. Knowing Gabriela Hearst, she’ll be among the first to step up to working on finding those answers.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.