POV on Fashion Weeks, a column by Alexandra Hildreth
In Milan, the runways focused on the present, but the future was nowhere to be found.
On Milan AW24 Womenswear Fashion Week
Milan was a blur—as most of the collections presented echoed similar ideas of sparsity and commercialism, with many questioning if we saw any fashion from the summation of the week’s shows. At first, quiet luxury seemed like fashion’s breath of fresh air to unwearable and overthought design, and what was once a light breeze has settled into a stifling, stagnant heat. Some lamented that the runways screamed recession—but what does the runway’s reflection of the economic climate offer us if we can’t help it in return? Brands may be struggling to find their footing commercially as much as the consumer is personally, but why would a consumer then turn around and invest upwards of thousands of euros on a single, plain piece that doesn’t provide the fantasy of reprieve? Instead of distracting us from our personal hardships, lately, the runways have soberly commiserated the end of fashion’s illusion without offering a new proposal for what comes next. Instead of longing for the past, as we all complained about fashion’s pension for being too self-referential just two years ago, we have become cemented in the present with nowhere to go. No other city, so far, has exemplified this wave of hyper-contemporary design more than Milan, especially when comparing certain houses to the legacies of designers’ past.
Adrian Appiolaza’s debut collection at Moschino immediately comes to mind. No one is saying houses can’t and, more importantly, shouldn’t change, and Appiolaza has a great opportunity to mould the house with a fresh start because of how distinct his predecessor’s designs were. The FW24 collection was certainly recognizably Moschino with nods to the iconic question mark, Italian flag motif, and another iteration of the Baguette Bag, whose price has already endured one round of ridicule from fashion fans. The suits and scarf-cum-glove accessories all felt like fresher, more wearable (and shoppable) versions of the brand’s past, but is it too wearable? Are we witnessing the commercialization of a historically bold and unapologetically campy brand, or is this simply the new direction under Appiolaza? If the latter, it’s enjoyable, and many are excited to see more, especially in comparison to the drastic change at Gucci. Designer Sabato De Sarno seems to be doubling down on his vision of producing for the “real” woman as opposed to romancing a vintage idea of glamour. To De Sarno, that reality means barely-there lace slips and thigh-high boots. Maybe the real fantasy all along is the existence of the woman that he’s referencing.
Not all designers who quiet luxury are lost. Bally has found their stride, offering us a no-frills vision of what a fashionable person today could be instead of doubling down on what they already are. Clean and interestingly shaped outwear, punctuated by exciting bags (paired with my favourite from the collection–the fur skirt), represented a freshness against a city of collections dying on the hill of chicness! The same can be said for Bottega Venetta, arguably the supreme usher of today’s current quiet luxury movement. Matthieu Blazy’s Bottega remains superior at its own trend because of a consistent push for new accessories and textile innovation. Much like Marni’s use of Impasto painted jackets and Glenn Martens’ Diesel, which wowed the runway this season with denim frayed “faux fur coats”, Blazy’s use of leather, be it braided or manipulated into appearing as other textiles, is always an exciting touch that reminds us of how successful design, even when ultra-contemporary will always have one eye on the future, anticipating what comes next.
Prada, usually a future-forward brand, instead this season surveyed the vault of history and used emotion to draw from historical silhouettes and dislocate them from their original context. Where the men’s collection referenced almost Popeye-esque sailors, the women’s combined softer elements like lace from the Victorian era with 1950s military jackets and feathered captain’s hats to match. Prada’s and Simons’ ahistorical point of view leads me to question the privilege of memory– who can view the past so fondly without intellectual examination, and how do we use these silhouettes in a modern context to alter them for the future? But at least, in a week filled with sparsity and a lack of analysis of the present, we still have designers who are posing questions as such.
From New York To London: In Defense of Independent Designers
On New York and London AW24 Fashion shows
Following suit with the literal interpretations we saw from Menswear and couture, Helmut Lang kicked off New York Fashion Week with Peter Do’s sophomore collection from the brand. His debut was received with hesitation and rocky reviews, with many quoting that it felt like a too literally referenced and commercially sterilized version of the once-downtown-it-factor brand (but has it even been that in the last decade? And who bears responsibility for its revival?). To me, Peter Do’s FW24 collection reflected the attitude we met him with last season: hesitation. Again, steeped in references from the brand’s archive, including bubble vests and tartan. Again, we saw a clean-cut idea of what Helmut Lang has been but not necessarily what it could be. In contrast, Willy Chavarria demonstrated his ability to answer the sartorial questions that he posed through each collection. Chavarria’s oversized suits and boxy shoulders use his Mexican American upbringing to reinvent the answers to questions that other contemporary designers have yet to ask themselves about their own traditions.
Both Chavarria and Luar have proved themselves to be the wonder kids of NYFW against the funeral bells that fellow New Yorkers seem so intent on ringing. The best part of Luar, beyond the Beyonce of it all, is his brashness and ability to design for what he thinks the future holds, while so many designers’ literalist fantasies only keep the contemporary consumer in mind. Fur stoles and oversized mittens paired with Naomi Yasuda’s couture nails dreamt of the newer cool kid—the one that no one’s dressing like just yet. The ones who believe that wealth comes from culture, not the other way around. Also rebuffing against the plentiful contemporary commercialism of the week, Wiederhoeft brought balance to his brand and his collection. Wiederhoeft is no stranger to performance, not as a crutch but as an enhancer, which is rare these days. However, this season, he presented in a more typical runway format, allowing his separates, like a fabulous pair of camel felt pants and an as-usual pristine corset, to shine against the more couture pieces.
Consistency is not necessarily a bad thing in the face of a fashion week that is viewed with such an unstable lens. Proenza Schouler had fashion fans and editors alike lined up on a brisk Saturday in Chelsea to observe another season of the design duo’s chicness. Something about the Proenza’s consistency–and smart styling like hidden collars with sheer overlays, seasonally refreshed accessories and enviable red boots, exempts the brand from the silent wealth discourse that has plagued fashion writing and the runways as of late. The same can be said for Eckhaus Latta, which again this season singularly dominated its funky-knitwear-denim lane, leaving little to be desired elsewhere. In terms of fresh and contemporary clothing that was refreshing, younger brands Tattao and Diotoma filled the gaps that brand like Sies Marjan and Cushnie have since left.
As Margiela capped off a varied couture week with boundless fantasy rooted in Galliano-tinted nostalgia, Thom Browne signalled a haunting finale to NYFW with his latest collection inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s infamous poem, The Raven. Unlike Poe and much of New York, Browne didn’t ring his funeral bell and offered us a childlike and wondrous experience against the poem’s darker backdrop. Children rang out from petticoats, and the shadows of ravens danced across golden petticoats, offering relief and romance to a week plagued by doubts.
Also following suit from couture, Simone Rocha completed her trilogy of design that passed through her SS24, Jean Paul Gaultier Couture Collaboration and FW24 collections. While couture was a fine-tuned exemplification of Rocha’s rose and lace-laden artistry, the FW24 collection, much like SS24, presented an even softer touch to the house’s design codes. Fur collars, another prominent theme this season, adorned mesh and pinstripe suits; meanwhile, her usually ornate dresses took a quieter approach, like many other designers this season, and allowed the bejewelled makeup and pussybows to take the stage. When appreciating this season’s finer-tuned details, JW Anderson tested our discerning eyes, crafting a collection filled with subtle details and references. Not for the impatient, the muted colour palette excitingly hides and subdues the effect of the twisted knot sweaters and exaggerated proportions. At the same time, ribbon-day-inspired skirts poked fun at the idea of trophy wives amongst Gen-Z meme culture.
When designers like Simone Rocha and JW Anderson were playing with the volume of their subtleties, brands like Chet Lo, Connor Yves and KNWLS refined their visions in clear and commercial manners in the midst of plenty of chatter on just what makes a brand sell, potentially hoping to appeal to wider audiences who may only see each designer as their respective niche: bubble shirts, T-shirt dresses, and abstract print bandage sets. Aaron Esh, all the meanwhile, remained steadfast, using his sophomore runway collection to concisely demonstrate what indie sleaze really was as we begged for his cummerbunds paired with metallic skinny jeans to save us from the TikTok teens who never really walk-of-shamed in 2013.
Realists punctuated by a jaunt fantasy, that is the theme so far this season as Dilara Findikoglu offered to London what Thom Browne and Margiela provided to New York and Paris. After taking an off-season to spare the funding, Findikoglu’s return did not disappoint. It’s easy to compare the young designer to Mcqueen and clear to see the inspiration, but doing so ignores the terrifyingly fresh ideas she brings to the forefront of our imaginations as she wraps full and dapper suits in tulle alongside bone-bending corsetry and wind-swept gowns that stick in fashion’s mind as the crowd tumbles from one city to the next.
From Menswear to Couture, Nothing Was Left Up For Interpretation.
On Milan and Paris AW24 Menswear shows
Elegant, sophisticated, timeless, quiet luxury. Those are the words we have tossed around about collections for over a year now, praising their repetitiveness and lamenting the absence of fantasy. In a world as unstable as ours, designers from Ready To Wear and Couture appear to be wary of misinterpretation or, even worse, labelled as a gimmick. This past FW24 season battened down the hatches for yet another cycle of youthful but sophisticated clothing that, across the board, brought one word to mind: literalism. Designers unabashedly, and often successfully, promoted slim suiting and oversized bags paired with clear messaging and succinct show notes.
Sebato De Sarno reflected his debut womenswear collection this FW24 season, reinterpreting complimentary looks across both collections. Clean cut and commercial, Gucci strikes a vein in people who aspire to dress effortlessly well and effortlessly simple. Standout details included the pressed wrinkles across the elbows and jacket breasts, and the colour-coordinated gloves and Jackie Bag left no fantasy of creative directors past to be found, or maybe even desired. DSQUARED2 is as DSQUARED2 does, presenting a fun riff on twins “transforming” them in a photocopy scanner down the runway in a quintessentially high-fashion muffler hat type of way, even featuring Dean and Dan do their own spin through the scan machine. Each of these runways clearly represents a different degree of entertainment, one for the IRL and one for the digital girls, but leave little to the imagination about the person behind the curtain, or in our case, the Hollywood glamour black finale gown.
Miuccia Prada took us to work, this time quite literally inside a corporate office-cum-terrarium. Simons and Prada gave us a gaggle of skinny-suited boys who strut through the bio-organic office pairing slacks with scuba cabs. Meanwhile, Popeye’s shearling coat, sailor-inspired caps, and exciting pops of primary colours served as a reminder of how the collection transparently navigates the tension between corporate and organic matter. JW Anderson played with a similar dichotomy at Loewe this season as well. While the stained glass windows on the runway walls may be transparent, the digital personas Anderson toyed with are not when the screen fades to dark. While brand ambassadors and muses achieved sainthood on the stained glass above, the collection represented the online and fashionable enthusiasts, scouring online identities through layers, unbuckled belts, and sliding-off-the-shoulder button-downs, who look back up at them.
Kidsuper has never shied away from graphics on his clothes nor has he from spectacle on the runway. This season, titled “String Theory”, demonstrated a more sophisticated side of Colm Dillane’s vision, pairing his signature streetwear with more monochrome looks and high-end gowns tying the “string” between Men’s Week and the impending couture. The final look was a baggy, tonal white suit with a black crochet overlay, which unravelled to reveal the suit as the model reached the end of the runway. We see unravelling as a symbolic act with a literal meaning as the final look unshrouds the mystery between RTW and couture. Once we jumped over the wall from Menswear to couture, we saw unravelling in a more haunting context at Robert Wun’s FW24 show. The model came down the crimson-red runway in a highly sculptural red dress to match with a shadow-like demon pulling a corset thread from the model’s shoulder. The faceless figure tears on the corset, daring the wearer to look back at its darker shadow. Wun’s imagination understands no bounds, and his surrealist interpretations often lead to fantastic and clear inspiration on the runway, including looks like the broken glass and bloodied bride, the charcoal-stained gown, and the divine interpretation of crystal raindrops sliding down black couture overcoats. Wun’s skill lies in his ability to take the surrealist world inside his head and translate it down the runway with a clear and thoughtful vision that balances the fantasy of an umbrella cap and literal motifs like raindrops and flames.
When we discuss surrealism, we must discuss the reigning popular supreme, Schiaparelli. While still inspired by classic Elsa silhouettes, Daniel Roseberry, as he said after the show, also dipped into Alaia’s personal archive for inspiration with earthly tones and gravity-defying draping. The collection’s pleasantries took a more literal turn when a cyborg baby and matching motherboard dress made of smashed cell phones and four-function calculators came down the catwalk. Representative of defunct technologies, much like rare fabrics sourced specifically for couture. Instead of offering a vision of the future, Roseberry smashed and presented the contemporary past, laying bare the remnants of the audience’s technologies in favor of reserved and breathful looks. Similarly, Simone Rocha x Jean Paul Gaultier Couture offered a breath of fantasy airy femininity to Gaultier’s wide library of glamazon and fembot designs. Rocha’s interpretations remained pretty on the mark for both designers with bejewelled makeup and sailor hats while adding hints of innovative details like the horn-shaped bras and bustiers. Overall, across many designers during couture, we saw literal interpretations of each house, reinventing referenced images or surrealist ideas in straightforward manners. That is, of course, besides the glorious and instantly infamous fantasy world that was Margiela, and for that, we cannot group it with the literalism seen everywhere else this season.
Looking toward womenswear, we’ve already seen an inkling of the same–Jacquemus absorbed and translated Giacometti’s sculptures into the streamlined and signature brand image. While this season’s literalism could be seen as hesitancy to dabble in fantasy once again, the clothing’s lack of ambiguity at least provides us a specter of stability within our shrinking, expanding, amorphous world.