Talk about fortuitous timing. Rick Owen’s show last Thursday was forcefully powerful with warrior-like models clad in neutral-hued Brutalist/sculptural designs encircling a pyramid-shaped tower that menacingly caught on fire. Just as it was getting underway, a groundbreaking, historic day was playing out in Washington D.C. Many American show attendees were transfixed to their phones as Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, his first public accuser, were set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Each of their accounts, given under penalty of perjury, would be at odds, conflicting, and diametrically opposed. The same can be said about the often diametrically opposed and conflicting messages put forth by designers on the spring 2019 runways; a season that just came to an end on Tuesday.
While it might seem like a real stretch to equate something as frippery as fashion with politics and somber world events, fashion is nonetheless a reflection of the culture and our times. It’s also a powerful tool for identity and self-expression, and with the rules governing sex and gender ever changing in this #METOO era, fashion remains an outward manifestation of both. Thankfully there are some designers, like Rick Owens, who consistently pay homage to strong, powerful women. Women like Miuccia Prada, Maria Grazia Chiuri, and Rei Kawakubo have been leaders of the pack (Rei’s most recent Comme des Garcons show, a treatise on womanhood, birth, creation, and aging, was her most personal to date). Dries Van Noten and Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli are among those who consistently choose to embolden women with clothes that are elegant, beautiful, and wearable and never mock or poke fun.
Of course, there are also a few (Eric Schlosberg comes to mind) who objectivity women. If his intention is not necessarily to demean them, let’s just say he is hardly advancing their cause either. It’s easy to see why some women might feel uncomfortable with a designer who uses an “a trampy gal who delights in her own sexual gratification” as his muse.
Speaking about feeling uncomfortable, Thom Browne is known to push the envelope and take artistic liberties. His imagination knows no bounds and showing in Paris these past few seasons has undeniably inspired him to up his game even more. After all, this is a guy who put models in coffins, turned them into pill taking zombies in a mental institution, and nuns in a Catholic Church as a way to present his past collections, so suffice it to say, he is no stranger to controversy. But what he most likely had not anticipated was the storm of criticism over what some perceived as misogynist this season. His models’ faces were masked, their lips were stitched, their arms were tied to the body, and they wore unwieldy vertiginous platform shoes. It is hardly the first time he has employed these styling ‘tricks’ on a runway. But still, the vision of a parade of women who are unable to speak, to move, or to walk might be seen as disturbing or insensitive especially given the moment we’re in with women (and one in particular) coming forward with their stories of sexual assault.
Indeed, It’s been impossible not to notice the ongoing push and pull between fantasy and reality, good taste and bad taste, masculine and feminine, traditional and non-traditional, old and new, hard and soft, retro and futuristic, minimal and maximal, high and low, street and couture, etc. If there is one point of agreement, it’s been to disagree AND the seemingly wholehearted embrace of water and the beach. Swimwear and scuba wear were prevalent themes running through the month-long shows and water prominently served as backdrops for several runway shows.
For Thom Browne, whose namesake label was recently acquired by Ermenegildo Zegna Group, the largest menswear brand in the world, life is a ‘beach’ and he is having a ‘whale’ of a good time, if his whale, lobster, crab, anchor, sailboat, starfish prints, and his beach-like runway complete with lifeguards, chic cabanas, and a golden mermaid are any indication. Karl Lagerfeld similarly turned the Grand Palais into a beach with real water, sand dunes, and lifeguards on duty as a way to present his Chanel spring show. There was seemingly water everywhere at Calvin Klein although menacingly: Raf Simons cited the movie “Jaws” as his jumping off point. At Saint Laurent, models, and creative director Anthony Vaccarello dramatically ‘walked’ on water in full view of the Eiffel Tower.
But the bottom line is that there may be several overarching themes and trends each season, but there will always be contradictions, wide variances, and flip sides to the fashion coin, some, wildly shifting from one extreme to the other in some cases, all within the same collection. Miuccia Prada admitted that her spring collection was a self-conscious study in extremes: extreme power and extreme femininity and Demna Gvasalia convincingly proposed a little bit of everything during his highly dramatic Balenciaga show.
These are some fashion bi polarities that jumped out at me from the spring 2019 runway shows:
|Dior women on pedestal deified & woman objectified by Philipp Plein|
|Richard Quinn head to toe black & A F Vandervorst head to toe white|
|Carolina Herrera florals that make you smile & Comme des Garcons florals that makes you think|
|Burberry the lady & Eric Schlosberg the tramp|
|Jacquemus baby doll & Discount Universe not your baby|
|Celine Borrowed from the boys & Vaquera borrowed from the gals|
|VFiles a cacophony of pattern and color & Tibi quietly nude|
|Gucci highly idiosyncratic & Fear of God unapologetic Normcore|
|Jacquemus bags that are humongous & bags that are teeny tiny|
|Burberry The scarf as an accent & Marine Serre scarfs make a statement|
|Chanel blue jeans & as Junya Watanabe sees them|
|Thom Browne fantasy & Giambattista Vali reality|
|Rodarte pretty & Rick Owens pretty powerful|
|Celine young & Collina Strada old|
“He Said, She Said, They Said”. The designers have spoken, but they can only propose. They give us the raw materials; the fun part is ruthlessly editing, selecting what works best and personalizing it to make your own. Maybe you stumbled across items this past month that rock your world. If not, there’s always your own closet. As I have said previously, sometimes the biggest takeaway from the collections, more than the clothes themselves, is a styling trick (a color combination, a proportion, an accessory) that you can apply to what you already have, that changes it all and makes it sing.
While the above examples may have illustrated the extremes, needless to say, there are also happy mediums (but they’re not as interesting to photograph lol). The bottom line is there is a wide variety and literally something for everyone; unless of course, you are strapped for cash — because none of this will come cheap. Then again, there’s a way around that too. Keep posted for my “Cheap Thrills” columns!
– Marilyn Kirschner