Text by Adam Lehrer
Demna Gvasalia is the newly minted king of Paris. Showing FW 2016 collections for both Vetements and his first ever for Balenciaga, Gvasalia proved that he has a concrete vision for how he thinks people should dress. At Balenciaga, he has already impressed his vision upon the house in a manner that Alexander Wang never was able to. Why is that? Most likely this is because Demna understands desirability of products, turning something as standard as a denim jacket into a contorted silhouette that looks totally unique. Wang is a marketer and a brand builder, but seldom do people hunger for his products the way that the fashion crowds have been hungering for the designs of Demna. Kering deserves wild applause for the hiring of the Vetements chief; it was a truly inspired and modern decision for a brand that saw its visibility wane under its previous creative director.
Other big stories were Dior and Lanvin that had to show their FW 2016 collections sans creative directors after the departures of Raf Simons and Alber Elbaz, respectively. Dior did ok, with its atelier coming through with a collection that at least looked like a Dior collection, though without the distinct ideas of Raf. Still though, I think I prefer it like this, considering Raf’s Raf Simons FW 2016 menswear collection was his best in seasons and I need cash flow so I can buy all of it. Elbaz was sorely missed from the schedule, and Lanvin fell absolutely flat without the man’s subtly poetic designs. If Lanvin doesn’t want him though, they should really start courting Haider Ackermann. His vision of fashion and his ideal customer is perfectly in line with the house.
Elsewhere, it was Paris as usual. The good stuff was great, the boring stuff was boring, there were Kardashians and Kanye, and Faith Connexion proved itself to be the newly buzzed about design team with a line of vintage grungewear taken to the highest degree of luxury (personally, I have no desire to buy my huge flannel shirts anywhere other than my local thrift, but I can see the appeal).
I already knew that Demna Gvasalia was a perfect choice for Balenciaga for no other reason than that he is the most talked-about designer in Paris right now. But I could not have anticipated how well Demna was able to bend Balenciaga to his will. The avant-garde shaped denim, the gigantic double-breasted trench coats, and other Vetements favorites all were jacked up to Balenciaga quality for the magnificent FW 2016 Balenciaga. With Demna asking, “How do you persuade a woman to wear a two-piece suit who is not the German chancellor?” He answered by exaggerating proportion and silhouette thereby infusing luxury with a simultaneously more relaxed and striking visual appeal. Demna clearly had fun with the variety of fabrics now available to him as head of the house, making abstract sculptures out of puffer jackets, slicing shearling coats in half and reattaching them at odd angles, doing the same with a biker jacket (the best leather jacket of this season), and then allowing floral boho dresses to wave their freak flags. Best collection of the week; modernity incarnate.
Jun Takahashi is probably still thought of as a menswear designer first, and Undercover a menswear brand. But the past few Undercover womenswear collections have been excellent, and this was a pinnacle. Setting the FW 2016 shows to Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day,’ Takahashi sought to make “relaxed wear for all ages.” To Takahashi, relaxed wear meant the obvious in print sweatshirts and relaxed trousers to the completely fucking bonkers in a gold printed dress with a wide-as-fuck skirt. Indulging his avant-garde whimsy, Takahashi also sent much of his models down the runways with headpieces that looked like the set design of Carcosa in True Detective’s first season (i.e. good season). I love how Takahashi is able to delineate between spectacle and products. He certainly has a flair for showmanship, but the indulgent demonstration never distracts from the desirability of the clothes. He’s the rare designer who is equal parts artist and product manager, trés Japanese indeed.
I wasn’t as into this Vetements show as much as I was the Balenciaga show, but Demna Gvasalia’s design collective is at peak undeniability at this point. The brand’s superbly shaped oversized print hoodies were the most recognizable pieces on the streets this season, and the brand has certainly won over the fashion crowd in a way that seems more genuine than in past cases when something like the HBA logo was all over the place. Why is that? I’m not sure, but I think it’s because Vetements speaks to the modern fashion buyer more than other buzzy labels. You aren’t just buying into a logo; you’re buying a piece of creativity. Fashion is in a weird place now because everyone is making less money these days than they were 15 years ago. So, the women and men who get good paying jobs are probably too responsible and rational thinking to even consider buying a $700 hoodie. The fashion obsessives are mostly young artists and creative types; kids that can’t afford to buy everything but are style-obsessed enough to buy a product that they believe will make them look cool as fuck. Let’s face it: Vetements products do indeed look cool as fuck. Though I didn’t love FW 2016 as much as the previous two seasons, this stuff was still mostly amazing. Especially exciting was the menswear actually cut for men, such as the oversized western rodeo shirt and matching pants (I want one), the gold velvet unstructured suit, and a belted trench coat in camel. Demna incorporated some bondage looks into the womenswear, with a fantastic skin tight black leather jumpsuit and bombers with attached hanging chains that sort of collided into one another. There were riffs on Hot Topic outfits that looked awesome: punk, metal, rave, goth, and more. Demna is a connoisseur of all the disaffected youth cultures. The collection was shown in a church, because Demna said he was in a “dark place” designing this collection (maybe the prints reading “Sexual Fantasies were the reason for this, but I imagine the newly minted creative director of Balenciaga can’t be having much trouble getting laid regardless of preference). If that’s true, is it awful that I hope Demna stays in this dark place?
Side note: Veronique Hyland of The Cut pointed out the casting problems of the Vetements show. She is right; a brand that prides itself on being revolutionary should be casting diverse models. I don’t buy the excuse that they are casting friends of the label; surely they could find some non-white people to join their army. That is the same excuse Raf Simons used in his earlier collections, that he was casting the street-punk Antwerp youths that inspired him. But in his wiser age, his shows have grown more diverse and they have only made his brand more desirable. Kanye West and Rihanna are partly responsible for putting Vetements on the map. Diversify the cast and Vetements will undeniably be the coolest high fashion brand on the planet.
Noir Kei Ninomiya
I’ve been trying to limit my roundups to one Comme des Garcons-affiliated brand. And though Rei Kawakubo’s acid warped Victorian gowns were some fascinating art works and Chitose Abe’s Sacai collection had some decadent ornamentation, it was Kawakubo disciple Kei Ninomiya that I felt best exemplified his particular fashion philosophy with his Noir FW 2016 collection. Using all black of course, he had six models change outfits numerous times in an open space utterly devoid of any noise. Ninomiya is an expert at using details to convert wardrobe staples into avant-garde rebel statements: biker jackets, summer dresses, jacket and trousers, and Macintosh coats were all prominently featured in the collection, but appeared brutal, sharp, and unignorable. Ninomiya left his studies at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts to be a patternmaker for Kawakubo, and Kawakubo’s influence is undeniable. However, Ninomiya is still concerned with building a brand and innovating products that customers still want to wear. Now that Kawakubo has more or less made Comme des Garcons womenswear shows a display for pure creation while selling more conventional products to build revenue, it is Ninomiya that is best balancing concept and retail. He is constantly shifting form and structure, but these clothes would also look undeniably great day-to-day.
Of the big luxury houses, I think Givenchy is definitely my favorite. I loved Lanvin, but they are without a creative director. Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent Paris has been fun to watch him re-brand the label, but I am still irked by the idea of Saint Laurent selling cut-off denim skirts. Raf left Dior and Kris Van Assche has never really cut it for me on the menswear side of things. So there’s Givenchy, a label that is now as much the brainchild of creative director Ricardo Tisci as it is the brand’s founder Hubert de Givenchy. Yes, I’m arguing that Tisci is as important to Givenchy’s history as Givenchy himself.
At the time of Tisci’s appointment in 2005, the label was floundering. Alexander McQueen’s tenure as creative director didn’t work and Julien Macdonald’s was poorly received. Tisci made Givenchy culture-relevant again, noting the brand’s importance to a multi-cultural audience. He has a specific taste, and that taste has resonated with everyone from Park Avenue women to hypebeasts (those Air Force Ones he did were fucking uggo though, no? doesn’t matter).
Though it will be hard to forget the dark but soft romantic flourishes of Givenchy’s SS 2016 show that took place in New York last summer, the FW 2016 show back in Paris gave it a run for its money. Tisci’s last show was extremely tasteful, with soft fabrics, minimal details, and utter commitment to craftsmanship and quality of materials. FW 2016 feels more opulent, but was actually expressing Tisci’s newfound interest in Egyptian mysticism. The curiosity resulted in wild psychedelic prints, like mandala-decorated blouses and dresses that were not all that unlike Anne Spalter’s recent exhibit at Spring Break Art Show. There were the usual streetwear looks, but also extreme experiments in military tailoring with coats that outlined every sinew in the models’ bodies. Tisci doesn’t shy away from opulence, but he also doesn’t exploit it. What can I say? I’m a fan.
Few designers have stayed as committed to their truest design visions as Ann Demeulemeester. So when Ann retired two years ago, it was hard to imagine her brand remaining relevant, and yet her protégé Sebastien Meunier has been so good as her successor that it doesn’t even feel like she ever left. Some would say that Meunier doesn’t have a vision of his own, but I tend to believe that Meunier is just a kindred spirit. Romanticism was the key word for his FW 2016 collection. But as opposed to the elation of romance, Meunier focused on the pain of love, emphasized by a raucous soundtrack of Swans’ ‘Screen Shot’ (is it just me or does it seem like Swans is becoming a fashion show staple? Yang Li and Siki Im have used the apocalyptic boogie of Michael Gira in recent shows as well) and a cover of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ as well as a reminder of the brand’s unique relationship to rare fabrics. The clothes were mostly black, and largely devoid of skirting, instead opting for Meunier’s singular approach to trousers. The best look in the collection was a three-piece suit, patterned in black and white with the sleeves of the jacket running well past fingertips and the trousers sitting up at the calves. For some reason I thought of the buzzy but decidedly excellent UK-based post-punk band Savages while looking at this collection, or perhaps just thought it would be amazing to see the band dress in these clothes.
We might as well just give Rick his own column because the man never ever disappoints. FW 2016 was different than his last three years or so of collections. There were no grandiose displays of showmanship. There were no black sorority line dancers, European metal bands, models wearing models, or cocks. There were structure, lines, silhouette, and virtuosic displays of draping. We all know that Rick is a master pattern cutter, but his products have more or less stayed the same for years. He has created so many garments that he could live off them for centuries. But Rick has been thinking about wastefulness. How can he infuse a product with enough of himself that people would never want to let it go? He did so by draping every garment until they were contorted into wonderful pieces or architecture. So even though the garments are going to be recreated, they will be done so with the exact lines cut by Rick himself. Who would ever throw away a piece of clothing that Rick had his hands on? Exactly.
It must be weird for fashion editors that have been doing this thing for decades. That means they have been writing about Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel collections since 1982. It’s hard to find new ways to write about the brand, let alone for the 82-year-old Lagerfeld to come up with new ideas. And yet new ideas he comes up with indeed: airports, casinos, supermarkets, art fairs, Zen gardens and more are all recent Lagerfeld dreams made Chanel realities. Perhaps a little exhausted by the pressure to consistently come up with the world’s biggest fashion show, Lagerfeld focused on the clothes for Chanel FW 2016, 93 looks worth of clothes. Classic Chanel going on here, with feminine elegance as in the selection of pink dresses and delicate masculinity with Lagerfeld’s eternal takes on Coco Chanel’s power suits.
Dries Van Noten
Dries Van Notes has one of the most vibrant imaginations in fashion. He always has a specific story in mind, and fiction or non-fiction, he vividly bring those stories to life in garments. For FW 2016, his imagination swayed towards the love affair between early 20th Century poet, journalist, playwright, and World War 1 soldier Gabriele D’Annunzio and Italian heiress, muse, and patroness of the arts Luisa Casati. And despite this very succinct explanation, Dries still manages to never over-indulge his ideas in any way that would result in his collections coming off as kitsch. Casati’s pet leapords were exemplified by leapord prints scarves, trousers, and over-coats, but they looked smart and clean. As did the rest of the collection, with pin-striped jump suits, brown polka dot blazers clinging to the hips military-style, and a dragon-printed black dress. Dries is an artist, but he isn’t Leigh Bowery. He manages to find the art in fashion design while not allowing the art to rule over the need to make beautiful products that will be worn by his worldly and sophisticated customers. Between this and his FW 2016 menswear collection, it appears that Dries is back at the top of his game. God Bless Belgium.
Unlike Ricardo Tisci who has utterly re-defined Givenchy, Nicolas Ghesquire works within a Louis Vuitton code but has re-interpreted it into his forward-leaning futurist vision. Ghesquiere’s Lou V collections keep getting better too. His SS 2016 collection was my favorite that he had done at the house so far, but FW 2016 is even better. His penchant for futurism was indulged here to the max with Louis Vuitton quality sportswear defining the collection. The mesh color-blocked jumpsuit and dress were the most adventurous pieces of this collection, and possibly of Ghesquiere’s tenure at Louis Vuitton. They absolutely worked too, and it was hard not to imagine Ghesquiere muses like Grimes and K-Pop star (and undeniable smoking hot beauty) CL wearing them. Ghesquiere has not steered Louis Vuitton away from luxury, he has modernized conceptions of luxury. Instead of just designing clothes for massively wealthy French women, he seems to very much revere the success of millennial artists. Bjork could totally wear this.
Virgil Abloh is nothing if not self-aware of the prejudices that define the fashion industry and the people carrying those prejudices trying to hold him back. And yet, he has emerged as an undeniably fresh talent with a voice that the fashion industry desperately needs. His Off-White FW 2016 collection used a custom-made neon sign quoting the rude salesclerk in ‘Pretty Woman:’ “You’re obviously in the wrong place.” As a result, Abloh makes his own place, mixing streetwear and conceptual garments into a definable whole. Iris Van Herpen proved that fashion can be surreal by staging a truly remarkable show with models performing in front of optical light screens that acted as both mirror and window. Utilizing choreography by filmmaker and dancer Blanca Li, the models’ experimental movements emphasized the experimental nature of the garments: two dresses were made with 3D printing and some were made in collaboration with architect Phillip Beesley. Van Herpen seems to be the only designer around solely driven by a need to push the medium of fashion beyond expectations. Saint Lauren Paris FW 2016, possibly Hedi Slimane’s last for the label, did what the label did best: ultra luxurious clothes for rocker girls. But, the shows are starting to feel ever more predictable season-by-season. Maybe it is time for a change. JW Anderson’s work for Loewe is starting to make much more sense, as evidenced by FW 2016. As opposed to creating theatre pieces that merely draw attention to accessories, the clothes were extremely luxurious, such as an all tan leather look. Bernard Wilhelm continues to be underrated, and his FW 2016 presentation showing off menswear and womenswear looks drew upon African garb but made it palatable to a fashion-savvy audience. And the gods of Japanese fashion design, Yohji Yammamoto and Rei Kawakubo, didn’t disappoint (as if they could). Yohji indulged his love of goth, shaping dresses and jumpsuits as coffins, and the black lip-gloss emphasized the “death beauty” appeal. Rei Kawakubo imagined “punks in the 18th century” at Comme des Garcons and disregarded all worries about selling. Her designs reached peak decadence with abstract royal gowns that towered over their models like pillars.
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