the social network
At the spring/summer 17 men’s shows in Paris, Rei Kawakubo questioned the values of a social media-centric fashion landscape at Comme des Garçons.
Much has been said this men's show season about the changes faced by these fashion weeks. The victims of brands merging their men's shows with their women's shows or just cancelling them altogether, choppy schedules in London and Milan left show-goers worried that this could be the beginning of the end, while in Florence, guest designers Raf Simons and Gosha Rubchinskiy drew in more guests than ever. The message: if the designer has a big enough following, people are willing to travel for their shows. It'll certainly be the case on July 3rd when Vetements present their co-ed collection at haute couture week, followed by Justin O'Shea's Brioni debut the day after—and if Yeezy, Supreme, Palace or Off-White did the same, they'd hardly have a problem filling the seats, either. Alongside Simons and Rubchinskiy, these brands share a common denominator rooted in social media culture where hype generated by young generations more in-the-know than ever before has given them a power not previously seen in fashion. They are cult designers with fan bases similar to pop stars, and it's reflected in an approach to design focused on giving the people what they want, from slogan t-shirts to limited edition collaborations with sportswear megabrands and all-important cool-factor artists and photographers. Love it or hate it, they represent a new era of fashion where designer garments have become fan merchandise—whether intentionally or not.
Rei Kawakubo invented fashion street cred. No designer or brand can match the elusive, avant-garde aura of Comme des Garçons, and in that respect Kawakubo's star status can't be compared to the designers, who rule the world of social media. She carries and nurtures many of them at her store, Dover Street Market, but as a designer's designer she's in a category of her own. Fashion's fiercest commentator, Kawakubo's work constantly reflects what's going on around her - in her industry and the world - and on Friday in Paris, her Comme des Garçons Homme Plus collection seemed to reflect this brave new world of fashion where the values of design have shifted. It ticked all the boxes needed for guaranteed social media hype: an awesome trainer collaboration with Nike, great graphic prints featuring the artwork of 30s' surrealist Piero Fornasetti, and a decidedly sporty streetwear vibe employed throughout. This was Kawakubo mastering the art of giving the kids what they want - a walk in the park for her, really - and she wasn't going to make it that easy. As the show progressed, fabrics were increasingly replaced with transparent plastic, revealing more and more skin on the models, whose hair was styled like crowns. "The king is naked," a slogan on a see-through plastic coat suddenly read, an instant nod to The Emperor's New Clothes. "Beauty is in the eye," read another plastic number. "It's my fashion. Shout out aloud."
Her slogans didn't just tick another box in the recipe for Instagram fame. They also appeared to be commenting on a fashion world in evolution where the pure creation Kawakubo has always stood for - next to hers and husband Adrian Joffe's retail talent, which is reflected in their many diffusion lines that are far more commercial than mainline Comme des Garçons - is being de-prioritised in favour of easier exposure and the sales it generates. Only, at the hand of Kawakubo it wasn't that. It was a cheeky wink at the consumer, a sly underhand if you will, and a reminder that fashion isn't only about commerciality. The irony was, of course, that you found yourself instantly wanting those transparent slogan coats, the Nike trainers, and the Fornasetti suits. The collection was a totally brilliant fusion of the best of Kawakubo's world and the internet fashion world by which you can't help but be affected as a consumer—or as a journalist, for that matter. There aren't many thinkers and quiet poets left in fashion. Kawakubo is one of them, Ann Demeulemeester was another. While she still reigned over her house her shows were some of the most moving in fashion. After a phase of sportswear elements, on Friday in Paris her successor Sébastien Meunier steered the ship back to the elegance and dark romanticism that should always define a garment with Ann Demeulemeester's name on it.
Her beloved feathers were back alongside intricate garments that still bore Meunier's slightly glam rock handwriting, but captured the spirit of Queen Ann much more than his previous seasons—even if the Instagram kids still had to be satisfied with a slogan in the shape of the words "I am red with love" splashed across some of the pieces. Sportswear duties on the Friday of Paris shows were instead left to Riccardo Tisci, whose urban Givenchy collection mixed camouflage with dollar bill motifs in a print, and flexed Tisci's sporty muscle in hiking details such as oversized pockets, harnesses, and backpacks. In an age of social media, there were surprisingly few elements in the collection aimed at such exposure, although those money prints should go down a dream with the much-followed rappers of Instagram. One look was photographed more than any other, however: social media princess Bella Hadid in a black ball gown shown as part of the Givenchy haute couture show, which now immediately follows its men's show and contributes to the shifting up of that fashion schedule in evolution where couture now pops up at the men's shows, ready-to-wear and menswear are infiltrating haute couture week, and everything in between is occupied by a cruise collection. This new world of ours isn't just brave, it's busy, too.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Mitchell Sams