Big Things. Diesel SS23

The energy at Diesel‘s spring-summer 2023 fashion show was… big. The brand’s creative director, Glenn Martens, claimed that the four inflatable human figures that straddled both each other and the middle of the monumental runway had been certified by Guinness World Records as the largest ever recorded. It was difficult to get an overview, but from my angle they appeared erotically intertwined. That Martens’s invitation came for the second season in a row accompanied by a sex toy – this time a big glass butt plug – further stimulated suspicion that this was their position. Another big statement was the number of people who could attend the show: about 3,000 people had bagged their free tickets online, while a further 1,600 were reserved for students. Most of the 200-ish remaining were there to work or influence. Since his first season at Diesel, Martens has been charged with revitalizing and democratizing Diesel. Fittingly enough, this is partially driven by Renzo Rosso’s ambition to take his company public. Whatever the motivation, this stadium show was powerful evidence of Diesel’s new audience.

Martens said the collection was divided into four chapters: denim, utilitywear, “pop,” and “extravaganza.” He added: “This is my recipe for Diesel; the four ingredients that I insist upon. Because this is only my second show here, and I think we need to keep showing it.” He said one overlying characteristic of the collection was distress: “All of the pieces are ‘imperfect’ through treatment and design. This is something I like, but it also goes back to that democratic instinct. We know Diesel is a brand for anyone who wants to relate, whoever they are, however they feel; everyone is individual and no two people are the same. Plus the piece is supposed to look ‘broken’ so that you can live with it forever – it is unbreakable.” Diesel’s denim expertise was on full display in this offering. It came layered in tulle, interwoven with lace and organza, or spliced into corsetry. The washes and treatments were manifold: Encrusted with croc-print overlays, reverse-sun-faded, garment-dyed into multiple colors. There was denim jersey and knit denim and flocked denim and fringed denim. Utilitywear included a two-tone olive bomber-and-pants menswear look and a long washed cargo dress, plus a series of nomadically postindustrial ragtag jersey ensembles – streetwear for the postapocalypse. Pop delivered acid-toned racer-back or spaghetti-strap minidresses sometimes garlanded with florals and contrast-colored lace. There was a hilarious black leather moto ensemble that seemed like it had previously been made to fit two wearers at once – back to those conjoined figures – before the second wearer had cut himself free to escape. Martens’s Velcro-fastened strap miniskirt returned in silver, as risky as before. A frayed logo jersey tank top and boob tube – both logo-printed and worn over some trompe l’oeil double-bonded denim pieces in black – signaled the extravaganza. This included two exploded bouclé coats made from torn and tufted Diesel-print fabric and a final, triumphantly tattered house-logo-print skirt south of a trucker.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Empowerment. Gabriela Hearst SS23

The runway photos tell only part of the story about Gabriela Hearst’s spring-summer 2023 show. Just beyond the picture frame, the runway was lined with members of the Resistance Revival Chorus. They sang “This Joy,” a gospel song written by Pastor Shirley Caesar. Joy has been the buzzword of the week; few designers have failed to mention it. But only Hearst booked this choir, and the singers more than delivered on the song’s promise. It was a feel-great moment, made more so by the diverse group of friends that Hearst cast, from the former president of Planned Parenthood Cecile Richards to the young climate activist Xiye Bastida to the anti-toxic shock syndrome advocate Lauren Wasser. Hearst has woven female empowerment into her brand DNA. She likes being a connector, hooking up one woman on a mission with another, and in the process side-stepping the male dominated systems that disadvantage us. This season she made those intentions more explicit in the clothes. The opening series of dresses were constructed of black jersey fixed with molded gold leather whose ruffled raw edges extended beyond the shape of the torso. These nodded in the direction of the Yves Saint Laurent gold breastplates made by Claude Lalanne, but the vibe here was more Athena, goddess of wisdom and war. Later on came a pair of knit pieces inset with crocheted segments in fiery shades of red and orange, and these too conjured thoughts of warrior women who dared to approach the flame. Heart’s friend Cecile Richards’s book is called Make Trouble, don’t forget.

The collection was a showcase for similarly fine handicrafts. Soft ruched leather for a pair of looks worn by the ’90s stars Kirsty Hume and Carolyn Murphy; three-dimensional gold thread embroideries on an ivory dress and well-tailored suit; silk ladder stitch knit dresses as gossamer as spiderwebs. A gold version worn with a matching poncho was especially striking. Hearst came out for her bow wearing a cap stitched with the logo of Sound Future. Her friend Brandy Schultz, who walked in the show, is the co-founder of the non-profit, which seeks to “measure, discover, and deploy meaningful environmental solutions for the live event industry.” Fashion is in need of a meaningful environmental solution. It’s a long way from positive intent to measurable change, but Hearst is making the right connections.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Fly Like A Butterfly. Collina Strada SS23

At Collina Strada, Hillary Taymour was in a celebratory mood (like many designers in New York seem to be). Hari Nef opened the show, wearing a dainty, lace-trimmed slip over wide-leg plaid trousers, her arms fluttering up and down like so many butterfly wings. Bedazzled on the front was the phrase “Got milkweed?,” an environmentally friendly take on the classic Got Milk? ad campaign of the ’90s, which also happened to be the name of the collection. Milkweed is the only plant monarch caterpillars will eat. Fittingly, the show took place at Brooklyn Greenway, a former cemetery turned monarch butterfly preserve that’s not open to the public. Taymour’s signature playfulness and Y2K influence were certainly present, but there was also a tender touch (some of the models wore extra-long braids that dragged on the floor behind them as they walked, like a Rapunzel that never had to cut her hair off to find freedom) and a mix of romanticism that resulted in some truly elegant eveningwear options. A floral lace–crocheted long-sleeve gown was worn underneath a structured bustier minidress with an exaggerated balloon skirt—a fantastic continuation of the exploration of panniers and bustles that Taymour has embarked on for the past few seasons. “I just feel like now that we’re a ‘trend,’ I really wanted to push it and be like, ‘We’re not just [sportswear],’” said Taymour after the show. “I can make these dresses for you and elevate it.” A carnation pink dress made from deadstock chiffon that hung from bent-wire flowers that attached to matching airbrushed pink breasts and nipples proved she could do both. She added, “I just wanted to push myself to do that.” Big cargos came in hand-drawn floral prints, crushed velvet, and even organza. Decorated jeans were part of a collaboration with Unspun, a company that 3D-scans the body in order to create made-to-order denim. She also debuted a collaboration with Virón featuring shoes made of upcycled materials, including ruffled velvet oxfords and chunky silver metallic boots, and a collaboration with Melissa on supercool and weird puffy sandals, which she paired with tiny satin ballerina-style socks that perfectly encapsulated the spirit of the collection. In the show notes, Taymour describes being inspired by “the butterfly’s symbolic cycle of life, death, and rebirth,” but with clothes like these, Collina Strada will thrive forever.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Tabula Rasa. Chloé Resort 2023

To create a responsible brand in the 2020s entails more than choosing sustainable materials and cutting down on manufacturing and shipping costs. As Gabriela Hearst, the creative director of Chloé sees it, building awareness into the marketing plan is part of the process. “The problems fashion has are the problems that all industries have,” she said. “The world’s energy supply is 85% from fossil fuels, and if we don’t eliminate that situation we’re really walking into suicide. All these alternate energy sources – wind power, solar panels – don’t have the capacity.” Fusion, Hearst explained, could make up the difference as we wean ourselves off of oil. “In a nutshell,” she said, “fusion is how stars are made. It’s the energy that moves the universe.” She promised “a much bigger experience of it,” at the Paris show in September. Here, the fusion lesson consisted of broderie anglaise and laser cut leather in the form of stars and a night sky palette of strictly black and white, save for a single red dress with a scoop neck and full poet sleeves. She credited Joel Cohen’s recent adaptation of The Tragedy of Macbeth for the corset shape of dresses accented with knotted leatherwork evocative of medieval chainmail, and leather jackets and vests patchwork paneled like armor. The novelties this season were twofold. First, she collaborated with Barbour, the British outerwear company renowned for its waxed jackets, on a trench ruffles details and on a poncho, a shape she has a soft spot for. The denim corset dress, duster coat, button-front vest, and a-line skirt are the results of a project Hearst dreamed up with the California jeans expert Adriano Goldschmeid. They’re composed of 87% recycled cotton and 13% hemp; that’s an earth-friendly equation. The only thing that Heart could work on – and that’s something she started last season – is her aesthetical direction for Chloé. Should this brand really be all about minimalism? Monastic and prim? There’s no need for another Jil Sander or The Row.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

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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.

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