Milan, Italy – Has fashion returned to normal? Almost.
At least that was the impression I got during the Paris men’s fashion week that ended yesterday. I mean this in a completely positive way: the commitment to creativity in the face of Covid-19 was inspiring. Almost everyone had a collection ready to be exhibited, a great achievement. The truth was that by the time the lockdown came, men’s design studios were already buzzing with their initial ideas. But turning these ideas into clothing was no easy task. Necessity is the mother of the invention, as they say.
However, these were not normal collections. Designers are people, not emotionless machines. Fear, uncertainty, fear … these feelings affected everyone during the difficult months of incarceration. They actually still do that. For this reason, most labels, as well as practical business considerations, repeated their basic aesthetic codes. This was not a season of breaks or unprecedented twists. No explosion of madness to make up for the grimness that is out there. Designers clung to their guns and cartridges, releasing new versions of successful styles while adding something new here and there.
It worked. If the current crisis has taught us anything, it is that new because of the new is just a PR stunt; that the urge for meaningless change is a toxic marketing ploy. Good ideas stand the test of time and are the most powerful source of sustainability, despite the blaze on environmental responsibility of brands pushing new, new, new at the same time.
The best collections looked quite familiar, had a twist and as such had a calming effect. They were the same, but different. The season did indeed have the feel of a charming déjà vu, van Yohji Yamamotothe sweltering mauvais garçon deconstruction to Hermès’ five-star luxury nonchalance; from the complex versatility of Y-Project to Rick Owensmix of broad shoulders customization, slinky knitwear, hard lines and grungy sleaze; from Lanvin’s sharp yet soulful romance to Mihara Yasuhiro’s beautiful chaos; from the multicultural clash of athletics and elegance of GmbH to Botter’s playful precision. At Kolor, Junichi Abe even went so far as to replicate the atmosphere of a collection he did in 2011 and to adapt it to this moment. On the many virtual catwalks, it was like seeing an old friend, discovering that the friend has not changed and, well, is still a good friend.
In terms of fashion, there was not much to register. Kiko Kostadinov was the exception that confirms the rule: the collection was crazier than usual and charming in its costume-like references. But elsewhere, in its freewheeling and trendless variety, menswear turned out to be liquid, urban, unaffected and somewhat tailor-made, in a street-worthy way, as it has been the past seasons.
But this was a fashion week that took place in virtual form, on a website, through videos. As such, it was an interesting experiment in how fashion and film, as creative media, can coincide or perhaps collide to enhance, lead and expand the fashionable content, sometimes by focusing almost pornographically on the clothes, sometimes by virtual erasing in favor of a vote or story. In a way, the format was democratic: all designers, big or small, had to play the video game and sometimes a smaller production turned out to be better than a big one.
Since Nick Knight launched SHOWstudio in 2000, we witnessed the emergence of fashion films, a medium promoted by social media. But unlike fashion photography, fashion films have been found far from a rulebook or a defined shape, which makes the area very exciting to explore. From a commercial slide show to a purely atmospheric vignette, anything and everything can work, and all the better for it. And yet, evaluating an animated lookbook like Yohji Yamamoto’s and considering the images of an appropriate à la Rick Owens are completely different activities. Ditto to enjoy the blotchy psychedelics of a man playing imaginary drums offered by Dries Van Noten. The medium really matters here. And yet as a critic I sometimes found it difficult to adjust my parameters to what I saw.
Should I evaluate the video or the clothes? The two were usually served together, and sometimes the videos worked to emphasize fashion. An animated runway show shone KidSuper’s vision in the most gripping ways. Other times they were alone. GmbH made a different kind of statement, with a video by artist Lars Laumann: Season of Migration to the North.
The lack of any visible fashion content amid the super eye-catching, fun animations in the Louis Vuitton ‘message in a bottle’ extravaganza actually made for one of the Virgil AblohBest efforts for the French luxury behemoth to date: one that was faithful to the youthful, inclusive reinvention and Abloh’s ability to create a mood rather than design groundbreaking pieces. It was all very funky and very charming, and the rest are shown with wandering mini shows all over the world. On the same wavelength – video mood board, something striking – there were many, big and small, from Aldo Maria Camillo to Davi Paris.
What frankly did not work were videos with shows without an audience: too cold and frankly too boring. And yet clothes must be seen in motion, on foot. There’s a reason the runway has strengthened its appeal as the way to showcase new styles in recent decades. But how do you translate this into a dynamic and narrative form on video?
Kudos to Études, who worked with director Gregoire Dyer on one of the season’s best visual experiments. It was a fashion show, but not a fashion show: a cinéma verité style, seamless long shot where the camera followed a bunch of characters as they strolled through the 20th arrondissement of Paris. Each character was the protagonist for a while, until the camera turned smoothly to follow another. It was an original piece of filmmaking. Juun J and Sulvam both chose their cities – Seoul and Tokyo, respectively – as the backdrop for their videos, but somehow the stylistic choices felt a little more predictable. And at Hermès, the idea of filming the backstage action was energetic. It captured the chaos and transformed it into pure fuel, emphasizing the collection’s required lightness.
The season’s dominant story was definitely centered around the process, and it’s not hard to see why: showing the process satisfies curiosity and creates an intimate bond with the viewer. At Dior, Kim Jones offered it literally in twin videos that focused in the first part on the Viennese Ghanaian painter Amoako Boafo and in the second part in the collection inflected by Boako. And yet the colorful and emotional intensity of the artist’s paintings made for a little formal, if impeccably executed, clothing.
At Loewe, Jonathan Anderson also focused on the process, which he served in an archive box – the most analogous yet tactile solutions – delivered straight to the door of each “participant.” The ‘show in a box’ concept was more mini-museum than the theater de la mode and was definitely the highlight of the season in terms of format: as bright non-digital yet as captivating as it gets. Of course, it was accompanied by 24 hours of interviews, lectures and concerts on the Internet, but the truth is that the fashion was revealed exclusively through the box and it was a pleasure. Boxed silhouettes, color charts, texture charts and even a pattern, plus silhouettes of team members, all brilliant elements that fit a collection. It was like being on a show while still at home, creating the kind of connection we all really miss.
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