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Designer/Brand Focus Fashion Philosophy

Ambush as Art – The Consumer and Post-Covid Fashion

Ambush – The Shibuya-based label – gets that art and controlled artifice in fashion are the main thrust of a strong social media presence. 

The lifestyle-cum-streetwear brand is now managed by the same group who  oversee Off-White, and Ambush – in the same covert-cool way – is becoming synonymous amongst fashion’s intelligencia as a brand to get to know before …

Like most lifestyle-meets-couture concerns, there is a fine line to tread between the promotion of street credibility and the refinement of an aura of exclusivity. Take a look at Ambush’s website – you’ll note their preference lies more heavily in the latter camp.

Two major influences on 21st Century culture (the disappearance of the mainstream and the related technologization of society) have led to the promotion of those with design expertise into the higher reaches of the zeitgeist. I use the word ‘design’ in the technological/industrial sense, not as it applies to fashion where the ability to experiment can more readily influence the finished product.

Experimentation is especially important in the digital era, where fashion is often presented to us (as it used be exclusively in Vogue) through images and by influencers that distill what a product may and may not be. 

This is a time to take stock of that process.On the limits that fashion advertising and social media has placed on the consumer, and the need for a creative response from designers and consumers.

A lot of 21st Century fashion has been determined not by utility but by ideals. Ideals about what the postmodern world might look like, the kind of environments we would like to inhabit and the garments we would like to wear when traversing these spaces. It has assumed an autonomy and an eternal spiralling towards its ideals

In seclusion and with the time afforded, we can question those ideals and whether they matter. We can ask good questions about how we should dress, how important dressing well actually is, and decide how creative we want to be.

Ambush and the like make some very cool clothes. But rather than being wowed by their websites, I now have time to ask questions about the purpose and utility of their products; to push back where they once led us based on marketing assumption that used to be true.

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Designer/Brand Focus Fashion Philosophy

Tae Ashida Fall 2020 – Risk and Momentum

Tae Ashida doesn’t meet the prototypical profile of a hip Japanese fashion designer; at least not one who’ll be successful in Europe, where Japan and Tokyo – partly erroneously – are synonymous with a vibrant but somewhat disparate street scene, and designers/labels who have graduated this scene to either calcify its tendencies (Undercover) or inflate them (Comme des Garcons). 

Neither does she fit in easily with the likes of Chitose Abe at Sacai – Japan’s most important contemporary designer – who has succeeded in seguing Japanese ‘tendencies’ (costumization through layered ‘non-disclosure’ being her primary trait) to create complex garments that lead the way in gender fluidity and work/street realignment; or the likes of Hiroko or Junko Koshino – traditionalists for sure, who haven’t flown the nest, but create exsquisite clothes more solidly rooted in Japan’s conservative past, for conservative customers.

Ashida – both ancenstrally (her father, Jun Ashida, was a designer for the Japanese Royal Family) and also in outlook, is a traditionalist in the only way it matters in fashion design: she embodies formal silhouettes specific to Japanese fashion (as have the Koshinos); to adhere to a seriousness of taste (as does Abe-san) in creating very stringent models of western style (Abe riffs more freely).

Rock n’ Roll and modern art are the things that influence Ashida, but what she’s saying about them hasn’t always been that clear. There are clear lifestyle elements to her designs (unlike Sacai) that in the Spring/Summer 2020 collection was ocassionally permeated with surprising colours in artistic shades. These mimicked the art she acknowledged in the collection, and revealed a relaxed approach that was intentional and intelligent: a second layer of thought and interpretation that – although not explicit – meant her designs sometimes transcended the lifestyle form. 

A favourable comparison is with Yasuko Furuta, the designer of Toga, whose work on the European runway is more youthful and layered, but has a weightedness matched by Ashida’s Fall line. Furuta began making women’s clothes for women long before the male gaze was an issue. Previously, Ashida’s collections were creative, artistic, even daring (she asked genuinely interesting questions about materials and colours) but retracted for those consumers who wouldn’t tolerate risk.

Fall 2020 is the first time she’s pitched forward. Not only asking questions, but giving, over the whole collection,  specific answers (to the issue of heritage as it relates to modernity; on reasons for weightedness that Milan might agree with) to the questions she posed. More importantly, like Sacai, she has given thought to those who will never buy her clothes, that they might want to look like the people wearing them.

Tae Ashida Fall 2020
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Designer/Brand Focus

Balmain – The cost of Beauty

The first rule of Balmain – one which is highlighted during the winter months, and which holds to founder Pierre Balmain’s architectural aesthetic: symbiosis. Current creative lead Olivier Rousteing expounds this mandate in creations whose consolidating and containing qualities (necessary traits of all good design) overpower the expressive ones.

Balmain Spring 2019 Couture

Roustein seeks consolidation of a highly sensualised form through symmetrical shapes (both in dress design and in adornment) as found in nature and reproduced (naturally) in design generally and his designs. 

This is the role of a young designer working for and interpreting the legacy of an established label. But rather than use the platform to emphasize and expand the principles, he consolidates into ever more concentrated version of the ideal: the confinement of the female form within these natural devices with the wearers’ role one of service to them. 

This form of objectification creates – it could be argued – a regression of feminist values  into diverse but highly specific and commodified (by the designer) simulcra. In other words, you’re not really yourself when you wear a Balmain, you’re a Balmain. 

Alternately it could argued that by focusing on such a highly conceptualised and fully realised form of beauty, the wearer is made beautiful, or that only the beautiful can wear them. Rousteing values beauty above all else and – regardless of what that does to the subject – it’s probably worth the cost. 

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Designer/Brand Focus

Louis Vuitton Beats the Future

Many designers at Paris Fashion Week last September were inspired by 1970s era science fiction – idealised visions of a future/past are a logical muse as fashion attempts to banish real world concerns through the illusion of altered realities, spaces beyond the critics gaze where strange alien forms can co-create equally and diversly.

part of what makes fashion great (and not great) is the battle for current relevance. Science fiction on the other hand, is susceptible to ideological fatigue –  Jettisoned of its grounding in the present it either has the tendency to shoot off into asbtractionism or it dates.

Attempts to return to the seventies in Paris by the likes of Celine, Guy Laroche and Paco Rabanne then reflected the times only as a form of conscious escapism that had – if truth be told – been features of the original decade:  the desire to shine, to embolden, enliven and live counter to the (de)pressing concerns of the moment via the fantasy elements of disco lights, flared trousers and roller skates.

Thankfully for Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton (currently the world’s best clothes designer) it wasn’t simply enough to revisit. 

Last season he’d already shown how the eighties should be tackled – via the Centre Pompidou, cultural melting pot in a pre-digitized Latin Quarter Paris. The results spoke of everything we’d forgotten of that era: the narrowness of trousers, single-symbol statements and pastel-romanticism created a hard politik – a version of a time through re-imagining not referencing.

Referencing is the modus operandi of all fashion these days. From the (beautiful) anime or military inspired cuts of Sacai to high street collaborations and labels, style is an acknowledgement of the known as opposed to a journey into the unknown. Obviously a completed jettisoning of the past is impossible without falling into the kind of naivety of … but for his S/S 2020 collection …