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It’s been a mixed bag, this past month or so of menswear fashion shows. We’ve seen men in black leather and pink satin, toting suitcases and watering cans and red balloons, wandering through wooded glades and village squares, wearing high-heels and dresses and hospital scrubs and bits of kites. How to reconcile those fractured, polarising images of men as children, men as warriors, men as victims, men as women — or, at least, wearing clothes generally more described as “feminine” than “masculine”? The unifying theme was escape. From actuality, reality, from one place to another. The Spring/Summer 2020 menswear season was a flee-for-all.
The opener came courtesy of Saint Laurent and Prada, whose turnovers exceed the GDP of small countries and who employed vast populations to shift their menswear shows to opposite corners of the globe (at the same time). Saint Laurent’s was staged on the edge of the world in LA, against the spread of the Pacific in Paradise Cove; Prada’s was in a concrete silo on the Bund in Shanghai. Neither are escapes in the way that the comparatively small but still mighty Jacquemus staged its surreal, unreal show (for men and women) on a strip of magenta in a vast lavender field about 60 miles outside Marseille. It smelled like a dream and kind of felt like one too. But they were all three an escape from the chug — both physical, for attendees, and aesthetic, for anyone following the season — between one show and the next. Moreover, they were an escape for brands, an escape from sharing the stage with anyone else.
Showing away from the main fashion weeks comes with benefits and drawbacks: no one else steals the limelight from what you’re trying to say, but it risks isolating a designer, removing your aesthetic statement from the general conversation and reducing it to a monologue. Some people — plenty of politicians, for instance — like that notion. And some brands — Prada — are strong enough to not only warrant that, but even gain from it. It feels like a long time since Miuccia Prada said her show was about optimism, evoked through pastel colours and youth. These became the dominant themes of the season, executed in her shadow. Which seems something no one wants to escape.
The idea of travel feels allied to fashion: tourism is often coupled with luxury spending, and fashion is increasingly crease-free, lightweight and ready to be packed into an expensive suitcase. The latter appeared on the Dior catwalk — a collaboration with Rimowa, another LVMH brand favoured by the private jet-set. And the notion of escape is a natural reaction to the state of our world — matters environmental and political are jolting against fashion, denting its profit margins, even reshaping it. Sustainability is a watchword that has become a clarion call — just this week, Prada announced a range of recycled nylon, with the aim of converting all nylon production to sustainably sourced by 2021.
The spectre of environmental disaster hung heavy in the air. At Marni, it was literally overhead in the form of an installation of crushed plastic, as if the show was submerged under a litter-littered ocean surface. The waste will be recycled next show, apparently. About a fifth of the Ermenegildo Zegna Couture show fabrics were recycled.
It’s slightly less easy to reflect uneasiness about US-China tariffs, or instability around Brexit, or the impact of Italy’s debt load on the catwalk. All are impacting the industry however, and raising the pressure for designers to react.
Most proposed bolting from those harsh climes into a seductive, idyllic alternative — another place, rather than another time, although the locations were hazy at best. Fendi coupled with the Italian director Luca Guadagnino to stage a cinematic show of models clad in gardening gear winding their way around an Elysian landscape.
A similar idea was reiterated by Virgil Abloh for his own label Off-White and at Louis Vuitton. He presented Off-White in a flower-strewn field; the second in an LV-ified Paris square with branded cafés and crêperies and café-crèmes. It was an idealised present, but there were also references to childhood — the benches were hiked-up so the audience’s legs swung free, there were balloons, and the kite-like constructions at the end had a pure innocence, both in their reference material and, maybe, in Abloh thinking anyone would wear them.
Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garçons Homme Plus was filled with pinafores over ruffled blouses, tiered skirt-like tails and frock coats (emphasis on the frock). It drew from Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, an idea set to carry over to her womenswear, though it wasn’t so much about slipstreaming between genders as the notion of “transformation and liberation through time”.
And time did obsess some designers — the best of them wanted us to travel not just across the world but, it felt, between them. Prada looked towards the near future — circa tomorrow, when China is expected to overtake the US in terms of luxury apparel sales. Kim Jones looked further, his Dior show was created in collaboration with the artist Daniel Arsham, whose idea of “Future Relics” links with what every fashion designer wants to create, and what every fashion house would like to devise: items with longevity. These Dior men walked through an alien landscape of pink sand, littered with monuments to the house’s past greatness, while showing some great stuff of Jones’ own. It was a bold, positive vision of a future — rose tinted, still dressed in luxury, a utopia.
With utopia comes dystopia — Raf Simons’ vision of the future was post-apocalyptic, scorched and peopled with men dressed in fragments of outfits, printed with random text, in a concrete silo with violet earth. It was a forward-looking vision that managed to express both pessimism and optimism, fear and longing, love and hate — between Simons’ relationship with fashion, the world and big business, which now seem so tied up. And there’s no escaping that.
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