Joviality. Jil Sander Resort 2022

This collection is really about individuality, about the uniqueness of the person – we really cared about the human [aspect],” said Luke Meier on a Zoom call with Vogue. What we experienced in quarantine, he explained, was “the feeling of longing for special people in our lives, the interesting characters we missed, the importance of interaction.” The dialogue between fashion and art, “how they fit together,” as Meier said, isn’t just an important conceptual component in his and his wife Lucie’s fashion practice; it’s also one of the central topics of their course at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, where they head the fashion department. “For us it’s always about how good design can enhance the individual life of a person and the beauty that surrounds that person. It shouldn’t be just about making an object that’s beautiful,” said Luke. “In everything artistic there should be something functional, and it has to be at the service of the person,” chimed Lucie. Given this line of thought, “the ideas and philosophy behind the Bauhaus movement became relevant references for us,” she said. Resort was about harmonizing artistic gestures of decoration with the clarity of design and purpose they’ve brought to Jil Sander. Each piece was given an individual character, in a sort of syncopated yet quite cohesive narrative. What tied the eclectic offering together was a sense of soft playfulness, smoothing the edges of sculptural silhouettes inspired by the graphic lines of Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet costumes. Undulating ruffles, fringed tassels, feathers, studwork, and statement jewelry gave grace to neat, elegant shapes. A dramatic sleeveless black-top-and-round-skirt ensemble in guipure lace, a chic strapless trapeze dress in off-white silk gazar, and a sleek pantsuit with a detachable round capelet also in silk gazar – one of the collection’s main fabrics, “as it holds the shape beautifully” – all looked like they came out of a couture atelier. Lucie’s work at Dior as co–creative director after Raf Simons’s departure in 2015 seemed to gently resurface. “There are elements of couture,” she said, “but I like to keep them light and playful, with a more casual, lighthearted attitude.” The Meiers’ flair for the artisanal, which they integrate into their equal fondness for rigor, was in evidence in a deep-dyed multicolored summer dress with brushstrokes across the bodice. It signaled a more lively use of color and patterns elsewhere, as in a slim leather overcoat printed with a figurative motif of dancing women, painted by an illustrator friend. “It’s stark but jovial,” joked Luke. It was a rather accurate summing up of the collection’s mood – the joviality certainly induced also by the recent arrival in the Meier family of little Ella Rose, who made a sleepy cameo appearance at the end of the Zoom call.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Curated Wardrobe. Maryam Nassir Zadeh Resort 2022

Contemporary, New York chic? It’s Maryam Nassir Zadeh‘s brand. The designer comes at her collections from multiple vantage points: as a designer, as a retailer (her Lower East Side store is set to reopen soon), and as a true lover of clothes. She has an epic personal archive filled with labels she discovered early on – Nassir Zadeh was one of the first New York stores to sell Jacquemus and Eckhaus Latta – as well as designer treasures and vintage finds she’s collected over the years. As for her brand’s archive, she’s been busy revisiting and editing every piece she’s ever made, plus dozens of prototypes and one-offs, to get it to a place that reflects her tastes today. Post-pandemic, she’s leaning more minimal, but not in a stark or staid way; there’s a delicateness to it, even in the menswear.  For resort 2022, she tried on almost every piece she’s kept, one by one, and re-cut the best ones to create the ultimate “curated” MNZ wardrobe. Her past few collections have followed a similar approach, initially due to the constraints of the pandemic; in 2020, her team didn’t have the resources to create brand-new samples with brand-new fabrics. But Zadeh didn’t think that resort would have turned out “better” if it was entirely new stuff. The time and care she put into hand-selecting the clothes – and occasionally redoing them in different colors or fabrics – amounted to a collection heartfelt and personal. Diehard fans might spot a few of her “greatest hits,” but Zadeh and her stylist, Thistle Brown, re-styled each piece so they’re hardly recognizable. Several dresses were transformed into skirts thanks to artful knots or belt bags around the waist, while a neon orange midi dress was shown with a full skirt underneath, sort of like a petticoat. Beyond showing you how to wear the new pieces, Zadeh hopes it will inspire her entire community to get more creative with their MNZ favorites at home. A few looks were styled with bikinis, now a brand signature, or asymmetrical bodysuits in mushroom-y colors. They lent an undone, balletic feeling to the skirts, sort of like a Lower East Side spin on a dancer’s uniform.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Higher Forces. Maison Margiela AW21 Couture

The idea of how we all felt through this pandemic, and being brought to our knees by the power of mother nature.” That’s a succinct clip from a long conversation with John Galliano about the making of his Maison Margiela Arstisanal collection, which he scripted into the epic film, A Folk Horror Tale, that had its premiere in a Paris cinema this week. The comment seemed emblematic. A romantic, mysteriously troubling struggle with the elements was on Galliano’s mind as he designed and crafted clothes and moving pictures with the French Oscar-winning director-producer Olivier Dahan. “The effect of the weather, the sea, the moon, the elements, started to play on my psychology.” Galliano has been a story-teller, a stream-of-consciousness creator since his very beginnings as a student who made his first historically-inspired French Revolution collection, Les Incroyables, in 1984. Images and self-imagined characters who connect the past with the present have stimulated and preoccupied him for his entire career. In 2021, finally, he’s seized the opportunity to bring those ideas alive through a medium that reaches far beyond the limitations of the catwalk formula. Even the lookbook of his collection breaks with standard conventions. In what is probably the most personal of all the collections he has done for the hand-made Artisanal line – the house equivalent of haute couture – it’s a triumph of emotionally-driven material experimentation. He said it “came out of hours and hours of dialogue” in his studio, giving form to the conversations with the young group of house models – his ‘Muses’ – who take part in his process of making clothes on their bodies; and who eventually act out their meaning.

That’s how he reached into a gothic, time-traveling manifestation of weather-beaten, tattered, ancient-looking clothes set around the idea of an isolated community of fisher-people battling for survival against the sea. His first historical reference-point was early photographs of Dutch fishermen – the specific traditional lines of their tiny jackets, voluminous trousers, Guernsey sweaters, and wooden clogs. Another, the legend of King Canute, whose people forced him to command the tide to retreat, and who surrendered them his crown when he failed; saying that only God is in charge. A smashed-mirror crown played a recurring part, found and refound in scenes conjuring a sinister medieval ritual playing over centuries. The idea of people living at the mercy of uncontrollable forces tuned into the conversations he’d been having with the young people in his studio: “Talking about mental health issues, trans issues around the table with my muses, listening to some of them describe how they were feeling and acting,” during the troubles of lockdown. He has empathy for them. “I don’t profess to be a therapist, but I’ve done some hardcore rehab myself, and I recognize myself and a lot of what they’re saying or doing. And all I was saying was, you know, the best thing is to talk about it.” As an older and wiser person, he said, “there was a privilege and a joy in sharing.” As he put it in his introduction to the film, “it’s about the fast-wash of anxiety, the power of nature – and when faced with that, how helpless we are.” That idea took literal form in the way he processed his fabrics, treating them with enzyme washes and stone-washing to remove color; shrinking and wringing them out in a technique he calls “Essorage.” In many ways, his methodology appears to be the complete opposite of the traditional formalities of haute couture, but represents his break away into an equally intense study of how clothing can be transformed from vintage and found materials in the modern world. He described how garments were graded up six or 12 times, and then shrunk to fit. How linings of skirts and suits were turned inside out and converted into dresses. How he attacked denim jackets and loden coats and a 19th century woman’s corset jacket, unpicking and revealing their original colors in the seams when the washing and wringing was done. There was a beautiful sweeping blue-and-white patchworked coat made from chopped-up charity-shop finds. Delft tile-patterns were crocheted together in a sweater. The artist Celia Pym darned a blue Guernsey with newspaper reports of the death of King George V.

Galliano is always pushing for progress, experimentation. Nevetherless, with their little cotton Netherlandish hats and kerchiefs, their tabi-clog waders, and their romantic, shredded piratical looks, the Margiela Muses looked more purely Galliano than they have done for many a year. “The narrative of the story is make- believe,” he said, “which is always what I want with a collection, anyway.” With so much at his fingertips it’s almost as if John Galliano has gone back to rediscover the primal power of who he always was from the beginning.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Here Comes The Light. Fendi AW21 Couture

Kim Jones‘ second haute couture collection for Fendi was captured in an emotive film, which saw the likes of Kate Moss, Christy Turlington, Malgosia Bela and Amber Valletta gaze enigmatically into the camera as they wafted around a Roman theater set in dresses evocative of the stone and statues of the Eternal City. It was shot by Luca Guadagnino and scored by Max Richter. In the age of social media when big, beautiful dresses go viral, the direction Jones is setting for Fendi epitomizes a popular understanding of haute couture as something the eye can easily identify: bold ballroom silhouettes, sumptuous surface decoration and (very) famous faces. “It’s being optimistic about being able to socialize properly. I thought it was a nice moment to say that,” he said. Couture clients, Jones pointed out, “go to Fendi for something extravagant.” Two seasons into his tenure, his couture expression is manifesting itself in decoration and fabrication above all. His glamorous evening dresses serve as canvases for this finery, like the mother-of-pearl embellishment and recycled fur mosaic work that graced this collection. Watching it unfold, it feels like a formative process, as if all that intarsia and all those embroideries have been locked inside him for so long, waiting for the day when they could burst out into bona fide couture. Comparing to his heavy, over-worked January show, this one radiates with lightness and elegance that isn’t forced. To me, it felt like the mesmerising ambience of Rome. The film was inspired by Pasolini’s neorealistic Roman cinema, every architectural era of the city visible on its mock horizon. The fabrics and textures were informed by the buildings and pavements of Rome, some employed in statuesque lines that underscored the theme. Jones’s evolving exercise in the decorative aspects of haute couture made for eye-catching effects like the allover petal work of Moss’s oversized dress, or the marbling of Valletta’s swathing gown. Most compelling were the silhouettes that really took form, like the hypnotizing construction of a mosaic bolero jacket that resculpted the body through the volume-specific grammar of haute couture, or the dress worn by Mica Argañaraz, which demonstrated a similar idea in flou. “We had a lot more time to work on this one. We’ve actually had a full season. So, it’s a lot more worked into, and I think people will see a lot of difference in it. The people here, when they see what we’ve been doing, they can’t believe it’s the second one I’ve done. They say it’s a lifetime’s worth of understanding,” Jones concluded.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Elevation. Balenciaga AW21 Couture

18 months were worth the wait. Demna Gvasalia‘s first (and the maison‘s 50th) haute couture collection for Balenciaga is one of the best things I’ve seen in fashion… in years. Yesterday, a fierce and noble elegance for our new age stalked through the couture salons of Balenciaga at 10 Avenue Georges V. The sound of the gasps of fashion journalists and clients was heard again for the first time in the 53 years since Cristóbal Balenciaga closed his couture house. Monsieur Balenciaga showed in silence to focus the audience on the line, cut, and presence of his clothes. So did Gvasalia. Facing the biggest test of his career, the designer brought a heightened dignity to his own revolutionary vision of 21st-century people while simultaneously honoring the greatest couturier of the 20th century. “It was my minute of silence to the heritage of Cristóbal Balenciaga but also a moment of silence to just shut up for a minute,” he said. “The pandemic made me take that minute of silence – or few months of silence – and really understand what I like in this ‘metier,’ as Cristóbal used to call it,” he said. “And I realized it’s not about fashion – actually, I love clothes. I’ve been talking about clothes, clothes, clothes rather than fashion.”

His couture debut had rigorous black tailoring, sober and austere; expansively extravagant gestures of taffeta; swathed stoles; gorgeous flowered embroideries; and the offhand drama of set-back collars. And haute couture jeans – hand-made on original American looms bought by Japanese manufacturers and commissioned there. To the point: the feat he managed with this ultra-aspirational collection was not to turn his back on the aesthetics of the street and underground but to give the inclusive values of a generation a sensational elevation. Confidence, grandeur, ease: His focus was on how to imbue these clothes with “couture allure, posture, and attitude,” he said. How to give equal value to a black turtleneck, pair of jeans, utility jacket, or T-shirt as to a grand ball gown or skirt suit? “People put me in the box of someone who designs hoodies and sneakers – and that’s not really who I am. I really wanted to show who I am as a designer, considering the legacy [of the house] that I’m lucky enough to have here,” he explained. “It was a challenge to find a balance between the fusion of the architectural legacy, the history, and what I stand for.” We witnessed Gvasalia resolving all that, upgrading everything that he’s liked and tried out and established as his language at speed at Balenciaga over the past few years. All his giant tailoring, oversized shirts, bathrobes, jeans, T-shirts, and utility jackets, perfected and carried off by his diverse (though still mainly mono-size) cast of models. “I don’t like standardized beauty. I don’t know why it’s supposed to be beauty if someone told you that,” he said. Cristóbal Balenciaga was the original couturier who had no time for designing for anyone other than the individual client. His house models were routinely described as monstrously ugly by the press. In his own way, in all kinds of different contexts, across a ridiculously long time gap, Gvasalia found a connection in that.

In his return to the physical, real-time, human, hand-stitched present of the presentation, there was something here that felt more radical than anything. “We cannot only look into the future. We have to look into the past to see where we’re going,” he said. “Clothes have a psychological impact on me. I realized they make me happy- and I realized that’s the purpose of fashion. It’s not about the frenzy and buzz – and the white noise, I call it, of the digital mayhem we’re living through. The essence of it is my passion and the tools. I realized that couture is the best way to manifest it. And this is what really turns me on.”

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.