There are few articles more firmly rooted in fashion history books than this emblem of formality. Rooted in the vernacular of men’s fashion, it was among the first garments to cross gender lines, offering a thrill of sex appeal to a woman who chooses it rather than a flowing ball gown. It has been riffled countless times by so many designers that it would seem impossible to take another form.
And yet, the designer Chitose Abe, in her fall 2020 collection for her Sacai brand, transforms it again. She loosens the pants until they form the floating train of a dress. The white tuxedo shirt is a lace top as delicate as a christening dress. The satin jacket lapels become simple suggestions thanks to the luxurious shine of the fabric.
The collection as a whole explores the relationship between male and female traditions, between structured and nubby fabrics and soft and sensual fabrics. It eliminates the seam of the pants so that they can move as easily as a dress. And there is a structure in the dresses so that they can keep their trapeze shape at rest.
As a designer, Abe exists halfway in an ever-changing aesthetic continuum that ranges from the most familiar and reassuring clothing to the confines of design. She is a constant adventure seeker, always looking to get us out of complacency. It makes us shake our heads in wonder.
The space Abe occupies is perhaps the most difficult of all. Her job requires you to think differently about how basic clothing is defined – to go beyond what you understand clothing and to embrace something that requires you to move around the world differently. But still, she wants you to move with ease and confidence in clothes related to modern life.
This city is full of great ideas – and not a small number of half-baked ideas too. Which brings us to a brief detour to Kanye West, whose Yeezy 8 collection crashed for an outside mosh pit of a show Monday night on the cold, muddy and grassy slopes in front of Espace Niemeyer – the Party headquarters French Communist.
In a glimpse where clothes could be seen up close and where West could explain his thinking, the result was a disconnect between form and intention. The clothes, in beige, beige and chocolate brown, consisted of slim pants and leggings, cropped jackets and vests, wool jackets and tiny knitted bra tops that barely covered the entire breasts models.
This collection, West told a little media fray, was supposed to serve those who work in service – people who work, so to speak. It can be manufactured or not. The confusion over this most basic fact stems from the fact that West answered a question about production with an existential meditation on the number of people on the planet and what constitutes mass production and Gap. So the short answer is probably: don’t hold your breath.
But is there a breathtaking expectation for West fashion? Not Adidas shoes, but clothes? Has there ever been one? His sudden right turn to a kind of more performative than political Trumpism, and his intellectually uninformed monologues on slavery and abortion, made this all the more improbable in an age when everything is connected and heavy.
His new faith influenced this collection because “I think about the way I present the models. I now have daughters. He stopped a bit at this point, but the idea seemed to be that he wanted to be more respectful of women. The fact that he brought the Sunday Service Choir, the gospel group he founded, to play the day before was not directly related to Yeezy’s presentation. He did this to “spread the Holy Ghost,” he said. “It is my job as a Christian.”
In a short time, the show started in the cold, humid air. The models bypassed the building’s glowing dome and the cars honked a soundtrack and the tiny bralets faded under the harsh lights. And we could only shake our heads at this heartbreaking job of astounding absurdity and say: “God bless you”.
Let it remind us that fashion is difficult. Talented designers make it easy.
The theme of designer Junya Watanabe’s collection was “sexy”. There are countless ways to interpret this, but Watanabe, who likes the subversive brutality of punk aesthetics, seemed to get much of his creative energy from his beloved motorcycle jacket, quilted Chanel bag and dynamism. Debbie Harry’s urgent in it. Blondie days. Saturday morning, the models recalled her style with their rough blond hair and their smeared lipstick. They strutted along the runway in cropped leather jackets with a lattice of straps, leather half-skirts that hovered over thick crinoline wedges and skirts that were – literally – assembled from bags by hand.
Sexy does not mean revealing the skin or playing the role of coquette. It was a rough and tumbling version – one rooted in a woman’s deer.
Moving further from clothing and focusing on color and composition, designer Kei Ninomiya de Noir went from creating only black-based to exploring his makeup. He sinks into an idea, repeating a single gesture over and over from a different angle or with greater intensity to see how it changes the end result.
For fall, this idea involved using endless shades of red, slowly stacking them on top of each other, until they combined to form black. On Saturday, his models weren’t always wearing clothes per se. Often they were lost inside what could be described as clouds of wool. They were walking on puffs of unspun yarn. Mountains of surging feathers.
Ninomiya sent out forms, portable sculptures, artistic projects that spoke to the public about her fascination with color, her love of textures and her sense of fantasy. Were these clothes meant to be worn over a cup of coffee? No. But neither were the pajamas. And taken one after the other, they form an instructive aesthetic manual.
For Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons, fashion could well be defined as artificial construction which connects us to each other while isolating us. It’s the tension that makes fashion so personal and confusing. Fashion creates tribes. It delimits individuals. It connects us to his trends and ritual uniforms. He repels people with shocking aggression.
The theme of his Saturday night show was “neo futur”. She asked the question, “Is it not impossible to do something completely and completely new, since we all live in this world?” These Kawakubo missives can be read as aphorisms dispensed by a fortune teller. Or they can land like dense philosophical words. In truth, these are the reflections of a designer who moved away from the creation of clothing and decided to challenge his intelligent imagination by using fashion as a medium.
It is impossible to evoke something that has never been seen if the only thing that inspires you are the things that exist around you. It’s the same inspiration that everyone has access to. New ideas, Kawakubo suggests, come from looking inward, building on the cacophony of ideas that collide in your brain. She therefore turned to the vernacular of Comme des Garçons that she created over the years: the bumps and the bumps, the two-dimensional dress, the layers of texture cakes, the bridal uniform, the totems of color and shape.
It was like seeing the building blocks so carefully crafted over the years move and re-stack. It was a fashion game with the public, in search of a meaning that is really, really, obvious only for Kawakubo. She created a language of her own – recognizable and often imitated language.
For fall, she hasn’t created anything new. But she still created something that we had never seen before.
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