“What just happened here?” was pretty much my first reaction as I walked back home after the last show of the very last day of Paris Fashion Week. In many ways, this season felt different and unfathomable. In many ways, it also felt off.
Thom Browne Spring/Summer 2018 ready-to-wear show in Paris. Photo by Anna Palermo for NOWFASHION.
Fashion folks love to obsess, be it over a new superfood or exercise routine, Kenzo’s latest Sakamoto intarsia sweater, or – maybe most of all – concepts. And it's usually during fashion week, with its atmosphere of semi-collective hysteria, that those obsessions thrive the most. Each season we discover a new monomania around which to build all our pre-show, post-show, and in-between shows conversations. The last three seasons, for instance, have been respectively known as “the see-now-buy-now" season, the “anti-Trump” season, and the “diversity in fashion” season. This time, though, nothing came to mind. The industry, it seemed, had totally dropped the ball on protest and social comment. I’m not saying fashion should always comment on society. As a discipline existing somewhere between art and commerce, it is independent of morality issues. Art can be used to comment on social justice, but it owes nothing to it. Commerce even less so, especially in our hyper-capitalist world. Escapism is always a perfectly legitimate option, and it was beautifully used in some of this week’s collections, namely by Thom Browne in his fairy tale-inspired, semi-couture show, where some editors even shed a tear when looking at the finale’s white tulle unicorn advancing to the soundtrack of The Little Mermaid. However, most of what we saw couldn’t even be described as escapism, but more as a sort of “look, I just can’t be bothered anymore” statement. In the same week as the worst massacre shooting in the USA, Spain’s political crisis with Catalonia, and Puerto Rico’s humanitarian disaster in the aftermath of two hurricanes were happening, Paris was – as Angelo Flaccavento brilliantly put it in his latest piece for Business of Fashion – “flooded with a ton of lifeless clothing created on auto-pilot by tired design teams.” What’s the matter with us, then – are we tired of fighting over our ideals and constantly feeling like we are losing the battle? Or are we just giving up pretending we care? Are we simply sick and tired Morrissey style, too sick and tired to even feign the slightest bit of awe when we enter the Grand Palais to discover that Chanel has recreated a whole waterfall in it? After all, the season was mostly about cynicism. A few seasons after causing a stir with its so-called “eco-couture,” Chanel presented a collection where plastic was the star material. Suck on that, climate change. Dior, for its part, continued turning feminism into a series of empty slogans (the natural evolution of “we should all be feminists”? Well, “why have there been no great female artists?”, naturally). They might dumb down the whole movement but, boy, will they sell 600 € t-shirts.
Chanel Spring/Summer 2018 ready-to-wear show in Paris. Photo by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.
There were exceptions, of course. In his show, Yohji Yamamoto revealed most of his models’ backs, decorating them with stickers that alternated the usual self-derisive messages (“Love Yohji Sex”) with universal truths (“people are suffering”), acknowledging his clothes would not solve anything in a typically serene Yohji fashion. The Japanese designer shares a vision with Rick Owens who, in a deliciously refined way, observes the state the world is in, choosing to fight hate with an elevated sense of civilisation and finding joy in imperfection. His latest show – like the ones before that – felt almost spiritual and yet movingly down-to-earth. “Fashion is a reflection of the way we live. I wanted this feeling that something dangerous is going to happen,” said Demna Gvasalia backstage after his Balenciaga show, justifying a collection that systematically dipped its toes – sometimes even loudly stomping – across the appropriation line. Not only of Martin Margiela, as usual. This time the designer also took cues from John Galliano’s newspaper prints and Christopher Kane’s embellished Crocs, all tried and true best-sellers. Gvasalia regularly gets slammed for his appropriative modus operandi, but the truth is he is a scapegoat for a practice that is becoming more and more common. Clare Waight Keller’s first men’s and women’s collection for Givenchy looked like Anthony Vaccarello via Hedi Slimane, while Vaccarello’s Saint Laurent looked like Isabel Marant with (surprise) a bit of Hedi Slimane thrown in for good measure. Elsewhere, it was even more blatant: Paco Rabanne looked like Atlein which looked like Natacha Ramsay-Levi’s Chloé which looked like Vuitton.
Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2018 ready-to-wear show in Paris. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.
The bottom line is this is boring for everyone, not just exhausted and blasé editors and buyers, but also for design teams and ultimately – I’m convinced of it – for customers. Today, no one wants or needs this kind of pantagruelian soulless consumption. That’s not what real fashion is, but mostly – even in today’s extreme political, economical, and ecological climate – we are still not getting the memo. What kind of wake up call will we need to realize that, ultimately, it’s all about authenticity?