To a certain extent, every designer is also a prognosticator; a seer, looking six months or even a year into the future and predicting what we will want to wear. Which really means: Who will we be? What costume will we need to define us?
This part of the job is only more crucial in a period like the present, when what happens next feels both urgent — we are desperate to get there — and difficult to imagine. You can understand how Joseph Altuzarra and Luke and Lucie Meier of Jil Sander ended up with butterfly prints in their collections. If the metaphor is not exactly subtle, it still looked awfully pretty, suggesting we will emerge from our current cocoons in either a glorious splash of color (Altuzarra) or of delicate, swishy movement (Sander).
But either way, it seems, most designers have agreed on one thing: By the time these clothes hit stores, we will be ready to take wing. (See the feathery poufs at Lanvin.) And we’re going to want to dress for the moment.
“I’m determined we will be wearing clothing,” said Jonathan Anderson, which sounds ridiculous — no one thinks we’re going to become nudists when social isolation ends — but he meant capital-C Clothing: clothes that announce their presence in a room; clothes in unapologetically bright, Play-Doh color combinations and curvaceous, sculptural shapes; clothes decorated with plate-size buckles and iridescent fringed plastrons. Clothes that celebrate the sheer fun and playfulness of getting dressed up to show up.
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Clothes shown not via video or livestream but rather in the form of a Loewe 63-page broadsheet newspaper. (No one has been smarter about creating artifacts of the pandemic than Anderson.) The headline read, aptly enough, “The Loewe Show Has Been Canceled,” but a more apt title may have been “Get Ready for the Party.”
The point being, if you’ve got out — out of the house, that is — flaunt it, which was also the conclusion, apparently, of Donatella Versace, who took logo-a-gogo to a new level with … yup, a new logo.
Called La Greca, it was a mélange of deconstructed Greek key slashes with “Versace” sprinkled inside, and she printed it all over pretty much everything for both men and women. There were skinny cigarette-shaped (and toned) trousers and knitwear, sharp-shouldered jacquard coats and faux furs, chunky loafers and ultra-mini whips of chain mail. Even on tights under SBDs (sheer black dresses), the monogram powered through, as if to say enough with discretion already.
There were, of course, those who begged to disagree (there always are), most notably Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski at Hermès, whose triptych of a show offered movement and ambition in more ways than one. It traveled across the world via videos of two different modern dance troupes, one in Shanghai, one in New York, performing in Hermès-orange environments, while in Paris the collection was revealed.
But whose garments remained reticent as always. Built on supple skins, silk scarves and dark denim, touched with fringe, the big news of the collection was … rectangles, etched out on trouser suits and via contrasting textures.
Still, she was the exception that proved the rule — or where the rule was going — as otherwise expressed by the romantic fripperies of Giambattista Valli, and the extravagant imagination of Thom Browne, which cooked up a “Wizard of Oz”-inspired story set in a snowy mountain far, far away, populated by living stick figures and Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn. There we found her on a quest to schuss home, which she did in high style and black tie, zipping past a variety of guards who marked the path in evermore extraordinary combinations of tuxedos and winter sportswear. “Extreme skiing meets extreme tailoring” was how Browne characterized it in a Zoom call.
Indeed, these down puffers were not the down puffers of our current hibernation. They were, rather, category-defying constructions of corsetry and cable knit; bustles, big bows and bow ties; trains and tulle and tongue-in-cheek details, like bejeweled mitten fringe and those little stick figures reproduced in lace.
When not in action, Vonn appeared in a gold gown with a gold puffer train over a tuxedo, the only non-black-and-white outfit in the collection and a mashup of gender stereotype and fairy-tale fantasy that went fully over the rainbow. It was a winner — and a direct riposte to the whole idea of dressing down.
As, in a very different way, was Matthew Williams’ Givenchy collection. His official “show” debut, after a low-key presentation last season, was also largely black and white, with dashes of lipstick red, lavender and smoky orange. Filmed in a cavernous arena with a flooded floor, it was high in aggression and attitude, rife with extreme accessories that will probably become viral hits, clear in its vocabulary (and complete with its own soundtrack, courtesy of Robert Hood, a godfather of minimal techno), but not exactly original.
Exaggerated fur chubbies, big-shouldered bomber jackets and razor-tailored jackets were whittled down to tight little waists, the silhouette weighted at the neck with heavy metal chain-link necklaces, at the hands with yeti-mittens and at the feet with hooflike block platforms (the kind awfully reminiscent of Alexander McQueen). Hemlines were given spiky, asymmetric cuts and slithery lace gowns were shredded to expose what was underneath. Atop it all came bat-eared knit balaclavas and Jughead bandanna crowns. Imagine what you might want to wear if you went to a gold-knuckled fight club, and this would be it.
While such luxury hard-core, haute-street territory has been mined before, by designers such as Riccardo Tisci, one of Williams’ Givenchy predecessors, as well as Williams’ former employer, Kanye West (in his pre-Yeezy fashion incarnation), an argument could be made that each generation should get to experiment with it anew. At least until the bare breasts in little triangles of bra tops minus the actual fabric appeared.
Once upon a time, back in the days of Yves Saint Laurent and early Helmut Newton, this could have qualified as provocative and edgy. On a call, Williams said that for him it was about female empowerment. But at this particular moment in time — post-MeToo, with the first female vice president in office in America, in the same month as International Women’s Day for goodness sake — it’s impossible to see flashing a female nipple on a runway as anything other than stale and wrongheaded.
Even before the pandemic, that was a look that had had its day. Williams may want to take another look into his crystal ball.
(Author: Vanessa Friedman )/(c.2021 The New York Times Company)