PARIS, France — Vintage clothing is fashion’s greatest resource, but there aren’t many designers who use it as anarchically as Sacai’s Chitose Abe. The collection she showed on Monday reworked the basest elements — souvenir scarves, old bandanas and cardigans — as pell-mell prints and densely textured embroideries, distorted almost beyond recognition (was that really an upside-down woolly mammoth we saw on a wrapped skirt?).
But distortion was the key to the collection. If Sacai’s signature has always been the hybrid — formal and casual, hard and soft — Abe pushed it here, so that garments tumbled into glorious disarray, necklines and waistbands giving way with gay abandon. Front-on catwalk photography will never do them justice, because it was out back that the most extraordinary effects were achieved. Outfits switched personalities from behind, the way a blue sweater, for instance, sprouted chiffon wings, or a slip dress flipped sides, inside to out.
Abe wore a Paradise Garage t-shirt backstage. The early-80s New York club is a gay nightlife legend. It inspired her last collection for men. The sensual chaos it represented for her was explored in the laser-cut, gold-embroidered pieces that closed the show. They looked a little like lace, but they had a harder edge, which went with the hip=slung gold lamé skirt and the pointy patent shoes and fishnet socks. Sex isn’t often something that comes up in discussions of Japanese fashion. The life of the mind is a more frequent reference point. But, Abe’s collection hit hard — and delightfully so — below the belt. Simultaneously hyper-sophisticated and fiercely physical, it was the turn-on of the season in Paris.