Let’s talk a moment today about perception. It’s everything in fashion. Which brands are cool, which designers are most likely to land the next big post at a major house, who’s seated where at a runway show, who gets invited, it all comes down to the prevailing wisdom among the fashion elite, but increasingly, too, among the world at large.
How a designer like Demna Gvasalia, the ringleader of a collective called Vetements, became the toast of Paris is a great example of this. His show on Thursday night, just after Lanvin, drew an impressive crowd to a large Chinese restaurant in a sketchy neighborhood, where models in vastly oversized dress shirts, logoed sweatshirts, and prairie dresses split up the back, ran-walked the runway in an energetic performance that truly felt like something to see (pictured, top). Never mind that we’ve seen it all before. The spring collection was not really that different than the fall collection, or the spring collection before that, but it was just so cool that, perhaps unsurprisingly, several people mentioned Gvasalia that night as a candidate to take over Balenciaga, where Alexander Wang is preparing to depart. (Long odds, to be sure.)
I love the energy of the Kanye West-endorsed Vetements clothes, but many of the ideas are the same ones that Miguel Adrover had more than a decade ago, down to appropriating corporate logos in the work (the spring collection included a sweatshirt with the word POLO and the Champion logo embroidered on it, and a T-shirt bearing the label of DHL), and look at what became of Adrover (who provoked the ire of Burberry and Ralph Lauren), a meteoric success followed by a phenomenal crash.
Will history repeat itself?
Fashion needs its wild cards, so it will be an interesting case study to see what becomes of this one, particularly in the Instagram age, which makes it possible for designers to directly and immediately connect with a broader audience, who can actually buy the clothes online, as well as to maintain that dynamic flash. There was so much to learn about this show, from the unusual casting of a Russian streetwear designer to the stylist who walked in the show, that a smart designer could really use the momentum and make a go of it.
Olivier Rousteing of Balmain is a case in point. He has parlayed a fairly narrow concept of extremely ornate luxury into a fashion movement (complete with a “Balmain army,” as he describes his legions of fans), largely through social media and savvy connections with Instastars, like the Jenners, Hadids, Kardashians, etc. Not long ago, it would have been natural to sniff at the idea of a fashion striver, but perceptions change, and Rousteing is instead viewed as a fashion leader. Just wait until his H&M collaboration hits stores next month. And thankfully, the public has elected one who is a positive role model when it comes to embracing diversity, at least in his model castings, if not always in his collections. (For spring, your options are long beaded latticework skintight dresses, or short beaded latticework skintight dresses.)
In fact, it may be Balmain’s example that has set so many other designers on a quest for social media friendly clothing. Extensive use of logos and label names appearing on clothing appeared in both the collections of Lanvin by Alber Elbaz and Loewe by Jonathan Anderson, both of whom approached the challenge of branding in a modern age with elegance, if not restraint.
The Lanvin collection was beautiful, even though many of the designs looked hastily sketched and completed, almost like cartoon versions of Lanvin. A sequined blazer appeared was nearly threadbare at the edges, as if the decorations had worn off, with satin bows and crystal trims affixed almost at random (pictured, below). Other dresses appeared to consist of draped fabrics affixed to the neat underpinnings of a tailor’s bastings. And many came with name and address of Lanvin scrawled against them, the Elbaz version of street graffiti.
At Loewe, Anderson affixed large mirrored broaches in the shapes of geese to his lineup, which also included a dress covered in the cracked up pieces of a mirror, bags painted with squirrels (or cats, hard to tell), and lots of looks bearing repetitions of the Loewe name. There was more conventional elegance to be found in the crocodile trousers and suede pieces that commanded attention all on their own.
This morning, I received an e-mail from Tom Ford, which included a link to view his spring collection, presented this season in a short video starring Lady Gaga in place of a runway show. It had been promoted in the previous weeks with teasers online. Ford, of course, is the designer who once famously staged a runway show with a ban on social media and Instacoverage, so for the designer to take a 180-degree turn on this subject was newsworthy, to say the least. In his e-mail, he wrote, “Having a runway show has become so much about the creation of imagery for online and social media and watching a filmed fashion show can be like watching a filmed play (which is never very satisfying).” So he tried something new, and it worked very well.
The video, now on tomford.com, features Gaga singing a cover of “I Want Your Love,” and models dancing in his spring looks, with super metallic blazers, flirty ruffle dresses, and some naughty lingerie, along with a base of a stretchy LBD (pictured, below). I think it was as effective as a runway show, at least if the primary objective is to get people talking about you.
But by this score, Rick Owens was once again the victor. His show included several outsider models who literally wore other models, almost as accessories, but imbued with far more meaning. The women, coming in pairs, were attached to one another with harnesses so that backs, fronts, legs, necks, and trunks, were transformed into mysterious creatures (pictured, below). Although Owens, in press notes, said it was intended to suggest women supporting other women, there was so much more to read into this (and I’m not talking about a ploy for likes) about bodies, perception, and all of fashion. In a sense, we all carry around an incredible burden in our daily lives, just trying to make sense of everything. These women did so with mesmerizing style.