age of reason: comme des garçons and andreas kronthaler for vivienne westwood
In an autumn/winter 17 season that’s celebrated maturity, designers from Comme des Garçons to Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood turned up the age on the Saturday of shows in Paris.
Comme des Garçons fall/winter 17
Maturity has been the most rejuvenating theme at the autumn/winter 17 shows. Simone Rocha set the tone in London with a cast of classic mannequins including 72-year-old Jan de Villeneuve, 73-year-old Benedetta Barzini, 50-year-old Cecilia Chancellor and Audrey Marnay, who, at 36, is still fifteen years older than most models presently roaming the runways. Eva Herzigová (43) opened Bottega Veneta in Milan, while Amber Valetta (also 43) closed Versace. She continued her stride for Dries Van Noten here in Paris, but the 58-year-old designer - who was celebrating his 100th show - didn't stop there. He flew in over fifty of the models he's employed since his first show in 1992, from Kristina de Conninck, who opened that show, to Alek Wek, Carolyn Murphy, Tasha Tilberg, Trish Goff, Guinevere van Seenus, Hannelore Knuts, Anne Catherine Lacroix, Nadja Auermann and many more. Most of them are in their forties, but they looked as natural on the runway as their teenage successors, if not more confident—more charismatic. Age will do that to a person.
On Saturday in Paris, Dame Vivienne Westwood (75) modelled looks 11 and 67 in the show that now bears her designer husband's name, Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood. She didn't open the show or close it, because her cameo was no gimmick. It was a reflection of the contemplations Kronthaler had made over the season, being faced with clearing his childhood home in Austria of its possessions. For the 52-year-old designer, the nostalgia triggered musings on his roots and life, and the parts of history that shaped the Austria he was born in: "The First World War, which began a period of hope and peace—and then the danger of things we once knew slipping away," he said in self-penned show notes. "History interests me because it throws light on the now." Set in the gilded ballroom of Le Grand and scored with violins like something out of the Vienna Konzerthaus, Kronthaler's collection was a feast of the ages: a lavish, hyper-historicist take on the spirit of punk Westwood created in the 70s, but which existed namelessly through centuries before that.
With an almost haute couture hand, Kronthaler brilliantly exercised his cross-sexual, cross-cultural, cross-historical Austro-English opulence in an entrancing reflection of the wisdom that comes with maturity. "I don't dislike any body shape. There is too much emphasis put on it nowadays. I like the eyes and the face, and I love hands and feet," he wrote. "Men and women in suits! It adds formality to our relationships." Kronthaler also puts men in dresses, and both create a look of unity, a theme John Galliano highlighted earlier this week at Maison Margiela. What designers are saying in an autumn/winter 17 season affected by a reactionary 2016 - Trump, Brexit etc. - is that age breeds experience and experience should prevents us from repeating past mistakes. "If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain," is a quote popularly - but falsely - attributed to Winston Churchill.
Cynical and untrue, applied to the sentiment made by designers this season, its core value nonetheless resonates: youth will always be impassionated, but it's up to the elders to be responsible; take action. For the 56-year-old Junya Watanabe, that sentiment was likewise embodied in punk, and you had to interpret his collection - which approached the aesthetic entirely literally - as a call for uprising in times where mainstream politics actively goes against the liberal values that fuel the fashion industry and its inhabitants. Sometimes a simple statement will suffice. And sometimes, you need an afternoon dose of Rei Kawakubo wisdom to get you thinking. She said her Comme des Garçons show, which continued the mammoth shapes she's worked with in recent years, was "the future of silhouette". But there was nothing futuristic about the materials from which her mastodons were spun—rather, they were decidedly analogue: felt, foil, paper. At least that's what it looked like.
And so, Kawakubo's statement suddenly felt a little apocalyptic. (It's been the word of the season since the New York Times' Vanessa Friedman used it about the biblical flood at the Saint Laurent show and Anthony Vaccarello started hash-tagging it in his Instagram posts.) Was the Comme des Garçons designer trying to say that the digital evolution will leave us in a back-to-basics, Planet of the Apes-like futuristic Stone Age? Not necessarily, but echoing the autumn/winter 17 season this, too, was about the ageing process, about maturity and the inevitable contrast between the excitement of the future and the biological disintegration that inescapably joins us on that trip. On the first Monday in May, Kawakubo will be the subject of the Costume Institute's annual fashion exhibition at The Met in New York, a milestone, which must have prompted its fair share of personal reflection on the designer's part. In that light, her collection Saturday afternoon ignited a series of indications.
At 74, Kawakubo was born in 1942 and spent her twenties in the 60s, a time of opportunity, possibility and optimism. On that backdrop, her metal wired hair and shiny silver foil creations - joined by the very analogue feel of her fabrics - suddenly had a Kubrickian thing about them: that very particular look of the Space Age when small steps for man made giant leaps for mankind, and the future was represented in spaceships and spacesuits that literally looked like Major Tom and his floating tin can. (This idea, by the way, fuelled by the Chanel invitation that arrived this morning with a rocket on it.) Taking her archives to New York, could it be that Kawakubo had been feeling the reactionary waves of a conformist present-day America, and thought back to a liberal Kennedy era when that nation was at the forefront of evolution, excitement, and a worldview based on expansion rather than contraction?
Come May, when she exhibits her four decades of fashion, Kawakubo's work won't simply be a reflection of her own life but of the times which she continuously reflects and affects. And nothing could be a better advertisement for age and maturity, and the wisdom it brings.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Mitchell Sams