The Business of Fashion
Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.
Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.
PARIS — Since Vladimir Putin’s flex of his fascist muscles began in Ukraine just over a week ago, fashion has been wrestling with the challenge of the appropriate response. It’s not the first time there’s been a war while fashion weeks unspooled — Armand Hadida of L’Eclaireur reminded me that I first interviewed him during the Gulf War of 1990, and we were wondering then what the future held for fashion — but there is something so vicious and untethered about Putin’s attack that this one feels particularly ominous. How can you sit in fashion shows?, friends from outside the industry have been asking, as though it was the least appropriate activity they could imagine. And what must it feel like for the designers themselves, months of work culminating in a celebratory moment that is now hopelessly shadowed, fashion now seeming even more ephemeral in light of the human catastrophe that is unfolding a few hours to the east?
Still, the shows go on in Paris, as they did here after 9/11. But it’s hard not to see subtexts that wouldn’t have been detectable even two weeks ago. Rick Owens showed one of the best collections of his career. He said he’d designed it months ago to be deliberately “pretty”, maybe to acknowledge the slow lifting of spirits as the pandemic gradually released its grip on the world. Even with the news last week, that intention still looked right to him. “During heartbreak, beauty is one of the things that can bring us hope. I really think that was what this was about.”
“Pretty” Owens-style meant long, languid goddess dresses, swathed in folds of sequins, which masterfully evoked the era of Old Hollywood that has long been one of his touchstones. There were alpaca felt capes and hoods in delicate shades of apricot, peach and pink, and figures in slender white columns moving through the thick, scented clouds that swirled from the mini-fog machines some of the models were carrying. “Brutalist thuribles,” Owens called them, delighting in the new word he’d learned.
There is always a rich seam of the outré in any Owens show. Here, a huge coil of python wreathed a torso. Patchworked shearlings were prettily coloured in mint, pink and taupe but their seams were shaggy with goat fur. Jackets boasted sky-high pagoda shoulders. And latticed boots reached high on the thigh, where they almost met denim stubbies. Exaggeration is an Owens signature, part of the defiant spirit that has defined his work, but defiance takes on different tones when the world turns as it has.
That much was obvious from his show’s soundtrack. Owens usually creates it as he’s working on the collection. This season, it was going to be Eprom. “Violent, ominous, creepy dubstep, and all a sudden, I could hear all this artillery fire in the percussion and I was like, ‘Oh fuck, I can’t use this’. Then I decided I’ll use Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, the most maudlin, sentimental kitsch, so manipulative and so emotional, but for now, it just struck the right note. There is a yearning for hope in that music that just seemed so suitable for the moment.”
“Violent, ominous, creepy” is already another time. Try as he might to soft-pedal it, the melancholy romance of Mahler’s music elevated Owens’s show to new heights for the designer.
In a way, Jonathan Anderson was already primed for upset. Even if he had no idea that he would be launching his Autumn/Winter collection for Loewe as a Russian dictator went rogue, his spring show had already made discombobulation its foundation, with two years of a pandemic as its starting point. That collection was rooted in Surrealism and its wayward offshoot Dada, which were originally responses to the chaos and brutality of the First World War, and Anderson continued on the same path with his new collection. Plague giving way to war — the irrationality wouldn’t have surprised the Dadaists.
In fact, “irrational” and “nonsensical” were words Anderson used to describe his latest work, in particular strapless sheaths that enveloped toy cars, in the vein of a Dada “readymade”. (“Use a Rembrandt as an ironing board,” advised Dada guru Marcel Duchamp.) Another dress had high heels trapped under its surface. Latex balloons burst through drapes of fabric as though they too were trapped. They formed bra tops, their necks turned into cartoon nipples. And “trapped” was also the word Anderson used to describe the simple leather T-shirt dresses that opened the show, in this case, moulded “as though trapped by the wind.”
“I wanted something primal,” Anderson announced to media gathered after the show. In the next breath, he mentioned the Industrial Revolution and the idea of technology advancing as the show progressed, from stripped back to ever more complex. Surrealistic flourishes abounded: a bodice of huge red lips that looked like the couch Salvador Dali modelled on Mae West’s lips, or maybe the disembodied mouth from Rocky Horror; a trompe l’oeil caftan with a naked pin-up that might have been Marilyn Monroe; an elongated tank dress snaked with long, black arms with eerily red-taloned fingers; a strapless cocktail dress with a hank of shearling randomly attached. A sheer top rising from a shearling bottom looked like the model was trying to shimmy out of a pantomime bear suit. Anderson’s embrace of disorder hinted at disturbing undercurrents.
The show space was studded with giant leather pumpkins, created by Loewe for artist Anthea Hamilton for her retrospective in Belgium. Lynda Benglis was another of Anderson’s favourite artists who made it into the texture of the show. But the most haunting visitation was the voice of Sylvia Plath reading her poem “Fever 103°” on the soundtrack. It embodied the tension that Anderson felt was a defining quality of his collection (all those balloons about to burst!). Quite what it all will mean to the Loewe customer is a mystery. But perhaps that was the point. “The last show was incredibly optimistic, a renaissance, a new golden age,” Anderson offered. “I feel this one is about ‘unknowingness’.” And he was thinking these thoughts before Putin invaded Ukraine.
Gabriela Hearst is not troubled by “unknowing”. Her radiant certainty is a force of nature, a wave which carries you along on its proselytising energy. “I am a vessel for love,” she declared unabashedly as we reviewed her run of show before the Chloé show on Thursday.
Everyone’s invitation included a stone. Mine was amethyst, “the stone of witches”, Hearst hooted. Her family farm in Uruguay rests on a bed of basalt, “the biggest amethyst you’ve ever seen”. She was raised in the energy from that land, and now she feels she has truly begun to manifest it. “Since I was a kid, if something gives me anxiety, I write the opposite in my wish list,” she said. “We can all picture quite graphically what the climate crisis looks like. Now we need to start visualising climate success.”
The prospect of a nuclear war is one kind of crisis management for the fashion industry. “I arrived a week ago when the invasion started, and it’s a weird time to be doing a show,” Hearst acknowledged, “But I’m like, it’s not about me, it’s about our collective work, and we need to showcase the work.” And, with her new collection, that work remained resolutely in the service of the environment.
The theme of the collection was “Rewilding”. Working with one of her partners Conservation International, Hearst produced three dresses in cashmere intarsia that offered a front-and-back vision: on the front, nature degraded, on the back nature regenerated. The glaciers were the trickiest. (“I’m not sure how they’re going to be fixed.”) I also wondered at her implacable faith that people would get beyond the downbeat front of the dresses if they only experienced the collection in the two dimensions of conventional fashion coverage. That is one peril of clothing with a message. So much easier if the message is conveyed by something as dynamic as the fabulous quilted coat made with the women of Gee’s Bend in Alabama, whose quilts are now celebrated as apogees of modern African- American art. Or even the knit dress with the insets of jasper, tiger onyx and red jasper, the power of the stones translating to the look itself.
Hearst’s Chloé is a powerful proposition. In the new collection, trenchcoats were “winged”, like Nike, the Goddess of Victory in the Louvre, she explained. The show opened with a black leather biker dress, followed by a black leather shirt, jeans and cowboy boots. Then, a black leather scoop-necked, puff-sleeved dress, a silhouette she felt was “regal”. But it was tough too, and there was little softening in the 30 or so looks that followed. Even the poncho that is Hearst’s (extremely desirable) signature piece looks more suited to curling up under the stars on the plains of Uruguay than trolling down the Rue St Honoré. That militancy is something new for the quintessentially Parisian house of Chloé, and I imagine there may still be some adjusting to do. But Hearst is a woman on a mission, and her commitment, at least, should be an inspiration to us all.