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The Biggest and Best from Milan Fashion Week AW 2020

Muscularity. This is what makes Milan different from the other seasonal style stops. Where London is strictly business with a dose of anarchic spray paint; where New York cruises under the awnings of its own uptown lifestyle; where Paris simply rules the roost, Milan – wrongly positioned outside the medal table – is actually a credible, incredible one stop shop, if heavy doses of Italian styling are your thing.

AW 2020 in Milan was a great week. It needed to be after the polemics and politics that threatened to spoil everyone’s fun in September. Here are some highlights from this season’s run of shows. Starting with the biggest, most vibrant show in town.

Moschino

Moschino was all about fun – raucous colour, wide hips (ala pre-revolutionary Paris), anime-inspired imprints and cosplay-esque street smarts. Jeremy Scott was keen to let the clothes do the talking. Not a language everyone speaks, but clear enough to grab the attention of hardened fashion cynics. Like, where HAD the fun gone?  OK, so the wide dresses may not fit in the taxi, but dressed like that, you’ll probably want to walk anyway.

Gucci

A show that was ALL about the show, but that (literally) placed the clothes centre circle. Procedings kicked off to the sight of a swinging metronome and the strains of Ravel’s Bolero. To grasp the fascist implications of Gucci’s heritage goes a long way to getting the ‘weight’ of the look, and the anomalies Alessandro Michele crafts – pieces that go against the grain, and that had heavy religious implications. The revolving presentation alluded to the circus, a childlike fun house to which we’re all invited, and therefore implicit. 

Versace

Mixing maximist values with some new era trends (Kendall in a rugby sweater anyone?) Donatella Versace is willing to ring certain changes (men and women sharing the runway for the first time) while adhering to a policy that only the very beautiful will do, and that they should be dressed (sportily or formally) to run things. A severity of mainstream style that you won’t find West of the Alps. That’s what makes Versace uniquely Milanese. 

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Colour Coded – 7 Colours for NY F/W

“Nothing. Absolutely nothing beats Tokyo.” So States Tomoki, 23; Japanese fashion connoisseur, boutique owner and driver of modified Toyota transit with two sets of additional wing mirrors and an aerofoil ripped from a Porsche monster truck. 

Alas, this is New York City and Tomoki is sidewalk-tied whilst dishing out promotional freebies at Japan Fest 2019, while discussing his own burgeoning clothes line. But Tokyo, by the admittance of Tomoki in a (jovially) resigned voice, is losing in the fashion stakes right now, which is what we’re trading views on. 

That comes as something of a surprise, seeing as it’s Asia that – by most retailers and economists’ calculations – is currently pushing the financial and fashion envelope, and that New York went hyper-conservative at Fashion week last fall. 

But the Big A, like Japan’s shopping metropolis, can never be assessed solely on the state of its retailers. The most ethnically diverse populace in the world, where – it could be argued – America meets Europe in the capital in all but name, where African-American culture was cultivated, designated, packaged and curated, and where hyper-opposing views on everything from gun control to insider trading to immigration papers share head space amongst joggers, financers, grocers and rabbis – the look is, to say the least, diverse. And yet you know its New York, because it works. And you know it works, because people tell you.

“It works for two reasons,” says Naomi, Brooklyn resident and Tribeca logistics operator, “African American culture has come into its own in terms of the African part. 

“I think you see more people willing to step out their apartment thinking, “I’m American but I’m also African.” That and the queer scene, which is so influential to how young people dress in New York – that attitude of “Okay I’m not Mika Schneider. I’m not super thin or paid to be a model, but I’m going to act like I am. And I’m gonna pull it off.” 

 

And colour – the absolute essence of all things dyed African or painted with the rainbow sign – is a sure sign that you’re dressing best. It’s why the big apple bit makes sense – red and green and, as we’ll see, a whole rainbow worth more. Starting with a base color.

BROWN

 

Think mid-forties gangster – sharp as blades zoot or demob heavy suit (shopping accrued to one fist and Starbucks/phone locked to the other)- has New York as its spiritual ma: Big band jinks or Sicilian decorum to thank for its corner table mythology via Supreme. Make it a pastel tone and complementary accessories to hang at the back entrance running numbers or texting Uber. 

YELLOW

Whatever you say about white-powder-fuelled paranoia exiting onto those pretty iffy side streets, it’s the seventies hip tail-spin into the eighties from which New York generates a colour wheel – Flash Gordon, Phantom of the Paradise, Talking Heads and The Warriors are manic riffs on NYC’s pre-digital chicanery – Africana, ROCK, lightning rods and percussion, screeching subways, megalomaniacs and fame-bound rejects. The look is pure orphan child, and like its British pal Punk is at its best when making a righteous din.

GOLD

New York was once a frighteningly dark place to lose your soul: the origins of its fashion re-awakening owe much to a cult obsession with colourful cubist signs and yes, Central and Western Africa is the much ripped source here. But for a Nile-bound reading of that lower Manhattan must (jewels with your furs) – we look to our feline friend: high-snobriety, Deco grandeur and languid look downs on all things dingy in Chanel cat eye sunglasses and – colour wise – lux black-gold takes the Cairo-bound train cabin class.

BLACK

Whatever you say about post punk’s power lines, or Francis Ha’s Woody-chrome-fixation, New York’s obsession with monochrome gentrification is often a furtive way to brag about your Givenchy suit or to have your clothes match your chauffeur’s. If that’s your obsession, drinks at Bemelmen’s. The point is this – with black there is only so far you can go and – once you’ve gone there – you’ve gone, so you better go well baby. 

BLUE

While nothing quite matches the dark art’s knack for making you look serious, it can be a form of shutting down to speak up. Try a different dialect by putting some metallic blue sunglasses on it, or deep blue Chanel sling- backs or a pair of Toga Pulla blue leather and snake-skin sandals.

BLACK and BROWN

 

Vogue might say it’s a Fendi hangup, and the Italian art of near-tan with matt black is a hard and steep fetish. A trick to enliven, exoticism is one path by mixing your death black underlay with some faux furs. Brown Leather overlay is a safe entrance but for a dare try tan sweater with black pants and some aviators if you’re shy of perfection.

RED

Ahhh and we were having such a dark time. For Jessica Rabbits with an atom bomb read on sex appeal, all-out rouge leaves six tables floored by their own tongues. By the bench across the street, we’re inclined to red’s autumnal heritage: Start with brown slacks and red socks or code switch between red pants and a bold blue sweat. If you’re still drawing attention to your bloodshot eyes, start over.

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Paris Fashion Week S/S 2020

Saint Laurent S/S 2020

The week Paris disappoints will probably signal the end of all fashion. Thankfully, despite Greta Thunberg/Extinction Rebellion’s efforts and the retail-focused events in London and New York respectively, that didn’t happen. Contrary to popular opinion, events like these don’t suffer because of prevalent socio-political issues, not even – as was the case in London – if the issues in question are directly related to (Brexit and the economy, inequality) and/or are tring to bring the whole house crashing down (sustainability/the environment).

As mentioned previously, it’s retail’s responsibility to confront and fix these problems – sweatshops, fast fashion’s wastefulness and lack of opportunities for minorities are largely the result of globalism, greed at the opportunities and concern with – primarily Asian – competition.

Other factors tempered events: two radical labels (Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen) didn’t show in London at all. New York was wowed by a new delivery model from (always conservative) Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfigger, who may theme future shows in the Asian ‘experiential’ mould.

But fashion at its very best has always been about the transcendence of socio-political issues; couture arguably the transcendence of the practicalities of retail.

To Paris then: Dior began proceedings proper on Tuesday with a changement de baton from Dolce and Gabana’s Milan show. D&G had fruitfully and (perhaps intentionally) parodied Destiny’s Child’s Survivor video with its nod to rainforest adventure (see also Junya Watanabe’s Khaki theme). Dior borrowed some of D&G’s staging for a look inspired by ‘the environment’ and ‘botany’  but were indepted also to the horror film Midsommer. Here, at least, were lines that focused on the clothes alone.

Character and costume were allowed precedence (where polemics and thematics had overshadowed New York and London) – proper realizations of the contents of designer’s minds to create Hammer-Esque fete des monstres, with the showier elements either muted – morosely dressed blood suckers (Uma Wang) and ruffled, crippled peacocks (Dries Van Noten), starved cheekbones and sleep deprived eyes barred behind tea-coloured shades – or the heavy 60s/70s theme flouncily extending to Guy Laroche’s Sci Fi, Celine and Paco Rabanne.

Only Ann Demeulemeester wrestled with the zeitgeist: apology or defiance (?) via stripped and bared slims; likewise Yohji Yamamoto tugged away the bust and hip to make the central knot/pivot a prettier affirmation of a post-patriarchal world.

Amidst greasy rain, the apogee of all this, Saint Laurent showed that London and New York were worth forgetting. Hot but anorexic-looking models; clothes the usual pitch-velvet blend of Swarovski-lounge chic; a spotlit black catwalk with the Eiffel Tower as god-like relief. It was – aside from an adrenalin shot to a supposedly dying form – an indication that where fashion can die alongside more important matters, Paris kills.

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…et Paris?

Extinction Rebellion

New York, London and Milan provided constrasting spectacles this September. Each separately highlighted (for better or worse) pertinent trends in the world of fashion and business.

In New York, large scale events by big designers upstaged the humble catwalk shows, pandering to milenials in the west and Asia who crave ‘experience’ over product. Many critics were left pondering the runway’s future as it gives way to these lavish, all inclusive events. Some of these events (Thom Browne, Pyer Moss) even expressed explicit or implicit socio-political themes.

London was even more political: sustainability was the buzzword in positive (Christopher Kane’s Eco-Sex collection), ambiguous (Vivienne Westwood’s absence in support of sustainability) and negative (Extinction Rebellion being the one performance nobody enjoyed but that nobody criticized) senses.

Prada in Milan fused high-end luxury with subtle understatement stripped of any hypebeast/fast-fashion excesses and Gucci went completely carbon free. It was as though they’d both taken note of the need to turn it up (New York) and down (London).

At the heart of all these shifts were economical and political anxieties and collective guilt over equality and diversity, the environment and sustainability. The West is also concerned about Asia.

What was surprising (and disappointing) was the reluctance of brands to confront any one of these complexities in an aesthetic sense. There were representatives from the windrush generation wearing ‘compensation not detention’ t-shirts and gospel choirs forwarding the black lives matter movement; subtle understatement that acknolwedged austerity of spirit (not wallet) and flashes of colour that avoided making a noise.

But there were no middle fingers, absurdities; no running for broke from within. The tendency to assimilate – more than climate change, sustainability or inclusion – was style’s biggest threat, detracting from the individualism and ecentricism that make fashion week so potent, and that gives designers the license to come out and deal with these issues on their own terms.

In this sense Vivienne Westwood (who knows a thing or two about making a valid political statement and making it interesting?) was sorely missed in London. Thankfully she’s showing in Paris, a place where politics and asthetics can lock horns in ways that are parts ugly and beautiful, tempestous, frequently essential and sometimes completely meaningless.

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New York Fashion Week S/S 2020 – Are you Experienced?

As highlighted in Vogue – social media, influencers, the cult of celebrity and an increasingly relevant focus on the ‘experience economy‘ have all led to New York Fashion Week shifting its approach. It’s not just (or even primarily) about the runway shows anymore. 

The catwalk – always the bread and butter of the couture world, and always intentionally exclusivist – has lost the ‘special’ tag due to public access online, and the democratic attitude this engenders. In response, designers have upped the ante, turning runways into fantastical stages more akin to movie sets.  

Selling a more ‘experiential’ package to millenials takes brand appeal beyond the catwalk, although it’s not exactly new. Ralph Lauren and Nike are expert at selling a lifestyle as well as a product and many brands pitch exclusive members clubs as upstairs buy-ins for loyal customers. In some sense we’re all buying into a ‘world’ when we purchase our label of choice.

NYFW this September was an example of this phenomenon writ large; an indication of the public’s desire to get more than they can access via shopping sites or nyfwallaccesss.com, as well as an acknowledgement of the demands and buying power of the new, young (largely Asian) ‘experiential’ generation.

Ralph’s Club experience at a New York ballroom featuring Janelle Monet was a natural extension of the (now multinational) Polo ideal. Tomo Koizumi‘s surprise success on Friday owed as much to the performance of Ariel Nicholson as the fashion-as-costume creations, and Zendaya’s collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger was ALL about the Harlem 70’s lights/cameras/action vibe.  

Tomo Koizumi's 'fashion as costume'

These kind of events can quickly slip into a form of high-conceptualization that – in their way – are just as exclusivist as the runway shows they transcend. Thom Browne and Pyer Moss engaged socio-political issues that (some would argue) are at odds with fashion’s expensive/exclusive image. Others would say these shows are a diversion from the job of appraising what’s actually being worn. But fashion for most designers (especially at the couture end) has always been about impact. Creating an experience that enhances this impact also augments our conceptualization of the clothes, their context and the minds of those who makes them.

For relatively unknown (and many Asian) designers who do not garner instant customer recognition, a shift towards the experiential creates a new set of expectations. Koizumi’s success was warranted because the dresses were a colourful explosion in a largely conservative week, but she and others (Tadashi Shoji and the designers showcased in China Day and Indonesian Diversity) don’t have the budget to close down parts of Manhattan or hire concert halls and stars to promote their wares.

This is not to say fashion shouldn’t be glamming it up by whatever means possible. Of course, in a perfect world the clothes should talk for themselves regardless of the stage, which is exactly what Vietnamese label Cong Tri managed – one statement dress after another at Gallery 1 Spring Studios off Sixth Avenue...