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Kanye Co-opts Paris Fashion Week

Perennial media magnet Kanye West may know how to attract attention by staging a surprise show, but Thom Browne and Sacai’s Chitose Abe reminded us of the true quirk, strangeness and charm of fashion, writes Tim Blanks.
Ye, the artist formerly known as Kanye West, during Paris Fashion Week.
Ye, the artist formerly known as Kanye West, during Paris Fashion Week. (Getty)

PARIS — It’s unfortunate but inescapable that Monday in Paris was dominated by Kanye West’s cuckoo-chick crashing of fashion’s hermetic little nest. Unfortunate because there were other designers whose dedication to the creation and presentation of their new work was crushed by Kanye’s self-absorbed co-opting of the schedule (i.e. his presentation ran 90 minutes late). Inescapable because the man is a media magnet. As late as the show was, the only people who left their seats were Anna Wintour and her companions John Galliano and Hamish Bowles. And who’s to say they weren’t spirited away to some sort of special preview, because West has clearly always been acutely sensitive to the opinion of the fashion media. He said as much in a pre-presentation preamble (ok, shelve the politesse — it was a rant) about the way past judgements of his shows have hinged on their timekeeping to the detriment of their intrinsic influential genius. I’m sure I heard him declare that he had changed the look of fashion over the last ten years: “I am a leader.” I wonder what Rick Owens would have to say about that. West courted such speculation when Owens’s wife Michelle Lamy walked in his show, wearing a look that was Owens-lite.

Hood by Air’s formerly resident genius Shayne Oliver is the latest in the revolving door of designers who have been brought in to help West realise his fashion vision, and, to his credit, there was a hint of the wayward sexuality that made HBA such a provocative outlier in American fashion. I’m talking about the cut-outs that bared hipbones. They were more interesting than the body stockings, and less familiar that the puffa jackets that echoed West’s Balenciaga/GAP collab.

We already know West is partial to a mask. The bag over the head was a logical but eerie extension. Not quite so logical: the WHITE LIVES MATTER message on the back of sweats and tees that celebrated the arch-conservative Pope John Paul II. Nothing about such items made any sense at all. “You can’t manage me,” West declared, even as he wondered whether Elvis Presley would have able to free himself of managerial restrictions if he’d had access to Instagram. Actually a valid question, although it was entirely irrelevant to present circumstances. Elvis is dead. Kanye is still waging his war.

In other news, if the weekend brought Japan’s finest back to the catwalk in Paris, one of them held out till Monday. Chitose Abe, another Comme des Garçons alumnus, has always taken a very different route from her mentor Mme. Kawakubo, more physical, more sensual, though her challenging collages of clothing have occasionally required as much of a roadmap as Rei’s. Not so on Monday. The degree of construction that was required by the combination of a tuxedo jacket and its accompanying pleated white shirt wasn’t visible. The whole thing was pleated into one single, striking entity, then paired with pipe-stem pants that flared at the ankle. That was the central conceit of the collection: combine, pleat, flare. It peaked with an MA1 jacket, one of the foundational garments of contemporary Japanese fashion. Abe elongated and pleated it, flared the waist, gave a purely functional garment a surpassing elegance. That has always been her alchemical skill.

Alchemy is also the root of Thom Browne’s fashion sensibility. He takes the raw material of human being and turns them into some gorgeous/ghastly mutation of human becoming. And for his return to Paris, he chose as his inspiration the archetypal transformation tale: Cinderella. In typically laconic style, he insisted that was because the production his chosen venue was hosting at the time he scouted it was Massenet’s “Cinderella.”

That venue was the Opera Garnier. Perhaps the Phantom of the Opera is still pumping his organ somewhere in the bowels of the building, because such a notion would certainly match the operatic fantasia Browne offered on Monday. The majestic Gwendoline Christie swanned in to launch the show with a preamble that was less self-serving than Kanye’s, though it promised more, in the form of her as Prince Charming. Then, because we were in an opera house, twenty opera coats cascaded down the catwalk. Many of them were candy-coloured, all of them were numbered like a varsity jacket. There were saddle shoes. It was prom night, in an parallel dimension.

Cinderella, remember? The ball. A fairy godmother in college whites. Ugly stepsisters punked up in their party dresses (Bella Hadid as an ugly stepsister? No one could ever say that Thom Browne lacks a sense of humour). Then everyone came back minus opera coats in polka-dotted tailoring (Damien Hirst’s dot paintings come to exuberant life) and Cinderella was united with her prince in a pink tulle Cadillac to the tune of Aretha’s “Freeway of Love.” All boys, all girls, everyone fit into the giant shoe at the end of the catwalk. “I want to design for everybody,” said Browne.

His artisanship has always been undeniable. He described the work that went into his intarsia-ed polka dots as “insane,” and he would be so happy if his audience acknowledged the technique. In their defence, they were distracted by a long and complicated scenario — I did say operatic — whose climax unfolded around a giant glass slipper far, far away. The number of Browne-clad acolytes in the audience suggest his business will be untroubled by that disconnect.

Further Reading

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