The title of Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard’s latest exhibition, “The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment,” is not what caused me to take a brief detour from Fashion Week on Tuesday afternoon. It was the tantalizing promise of what was inside his show (or one element of his show) in a work called “The Purge” that lasted for three hours at Red Bull Arts New York.
In a raw Chelsea space that used to be a Barneys Co-op store, Melgaard had dumped masses of his own designer clothes, all of which the artist was giving away free to the public. He called it “multilevel psycho-pathological department store.” The only catch was that guests were allowed into the space for only three minutes at a time, in groups of 50, and you had to stuff whatever you could grab into a red garbage bag.
We all buy too many clothes, but Melgaard’s stash of logo Ts and street wear was indeed exceptionally excessive – indefensibly so in the his words. This is a sentiment many of us can relate to midway through Fashion Week, when we begin to grow bored and start asking existential questions about the point of encouraging such rampant consumerism in the face of so many clothes. The runways, at times, can seem pointless. Do we really need more?
And yet, at Melgaard’s show, which also included demented looking mannequins wearing his own collection-cum-art-statement, there was a line of anxious acquirers stretching nearly halfway around an entire city block. And here I was, with a garbage bag in hand, as a computerize voice announced the start of my three-minutes, caught up in the excitement. I am not the kind of person who ever shops vintage, and I have an overwhelming fear of bedbugs, and yet I snatched a T-shirt and a pair of rainbow-crotch sweatpants without really looking at them and stuffed them in my bag.
Before I knew it, time was up and I was being ushered out onto the street, wondering what it all meant. This was art? And then, suddenly, I understood, as I watched a very skinny young man unpacking his bag, holding up a pink ringer T the size of a flag that said, “I hate Rihanna.”
The look on this man’s face captured perfectly what Melgaard must have intended by demonstrating the ability of fashion to simultaneously create desire and disillusionment. We strive so hard to be a part of fashion – we acquire to be in style – and yet, all I got was this lousy T-shirt.
This thought stayed with me, as I sat at Brandon Maxwell’s show that night, with my garbage bag beneath my seat, and observed the fantastic attitude of the women who walked his runway, including Riley Montana, Imaam Hamam, Bella Hadid, and especially Joan Smalls. They create desire, yes, but so do the clothes.
Maxwell is a great example of designer who understands the traps of illusion – “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey played on his soundtrack – and responds by creating clothing with purpose, and perhaps even soul. There is a sense of bygone glamour brought back to his inky black dresses and jackets, which this season were crafted with multi-layered collars and fanned out skirts. Here an emerald green fur that recalled Saint Laurent’s famous chubby jacket, there a sexy raspberry halter dress that brought to mind Halston, a touchstone for Maxwell – these are clothes that are meant to be kept, of a moment, yes, but also timeless.
Narciso Rodriguez similarly is a designer for the ages. His chicly tailored dresses and coats do not change drastically with the seasons, but their effect grows subtler or bolder depending on the colors and construction, or even his mood. And his fall collection had more energy, and motion, as seen in a captivating tank dress made of a very cool material that looked like a second skin of shiny black paillettes.
The collections of Michael Kors, meanwhile, will always be about luxury and, let’s face it, conspicuous consumption. There is no fur too luxurious, no cashmere too soft, no sandal too strappy to find a place in his collection, which for fall was so sparkling it looked as if it had been rinsed in stardust, or, more likely, processed through a diamond filter on Snapchat. What’s more, Kors’s runway featured a live orchestra performing a medley of “Sweet Dreams” and “Papa Don’t Preach.”
And let me tell you, you have not lived until you have heard Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons” performed by symphony.