Did Couture Give You FOMO?
The same old parties are back along with some new stuff to get excited about.
Back Row is back after a vacation. Was Back Row in Paris witnessing the debut of couture Balenciaga jeans? Of course not. Back Row was eating s’mores on the beach.
FOMO seems like the word of last week given the couture shows felt like the most normal grouping of events since the pandemic started, designed to make all of us who weren’t there feel like complete losers. People sat shoulder to shoulder in small rooms to look at expensive clothes, then attended dinners celebrating said clothes and other things you wouldn’t think to hold dinners for, i.e. Frank Gehry designing a perfume bottle.
That’s right – table settings are back! And if all those tiny knives don’t give you FOMO, perhaps the runway footage will:
Or, you know, not?
The shows were fashion’s way of reminding us that the pandemic has started to feel like a thing of the past (albeit only in some of the most privileged parts of the world). But there’s also something anticlimactic about it, like we had all that time to think about what the fashion industry should do when we reach this moment and we ended up with… the same pre-pandemic showboating we’ve always had.
There was one important exception, though, and that was Pyer Moss couture, so let’s start there. But first, if you haven’t yet, please subscribe:
Pyer Moss Was Rained Out, Then Closed Couture Week with a Wonderful Show
Kerby Jean-Raymond postponed his Pyer Moss couture show after pouring rain and lightning on Thursday over Irvington, New York, prompted him to reschedule, with the French Chambre de Syndicale de la Haute Couture agreeing to extend couture week through Saturday for him. The show was in Irvington instead of Paris because it took place at Villa-Lewaro, where one of America’s earliest Black female millionaires Madam C.J. Walker lived. Walker was born in 1867 to enslaved parents, orphaned at age 7, then sold her hair care products door-to-door, building a business that employed thousands. From the AP:
“Madam C.J. Walker’s wealth was more than money,” Jean-Raymond wrote in the show notes. “Black prosperity begins in the mind, in the spirit and in each other. She knew that no dollar amount could ever satisfy the price tag of freedom — that green sheets of paper & copper coins could never mend souls, heal hearts or undo the evil we’ve endured.”
Jean-Raymond, the first Black American designer to be invited to show couture, decided to invite the general public to the rescheduled show, which is unheard of in itself for a crappy run-of-the-mill fashion week show, much less couture.
But this is just one reason why Jean-Raymond is an exciting designer. He uses his collections to make a point about culture and society, with both the fashion and his messages equally at the fore of what he’s doing. How much of a statement are you making if the only people who are there to witness it and disseminate it are the same group of fashion people who go to every other fashion thing?
The rescheduled Saturday show included a cookout, allowing guests to enjoy potato salad and macaroni and cheese. Before the couture came out, former Black Panthers leader Elaine Brown spoke. Each look in the collection that followed was meant “to highlight inventions by Black people and show them in a nontraditional way,” Jean-Raymond told the AP. “We started with a completely different concept. Then the team went out to Joshua Tree and did ayahuasca together. And then we came back with this concept.”
Essence has a great recap of the looks and their inspiration, ranging from ice cream, which Augustus Jackson introduced to America, to a lock, which was patented by W.A. Martin, to a traffic light, which Garrett Morgan invented.
You could dismiss the fashion as silliness and camp, but it’s brilliant in that there are traditional red-carpet dresses here (the lock dress, for instance) but also plenty you could see displayed in Met’s Costume Institute or resurrected decades from now by artists performing at the Grammys.
It’s also brilliant in that it was different. Like we came back to couture, but we came back to its fresh, post-pandemic iteration, instead of being another marketing gimmick for mascara and handbags, or a storefront for the world’s wealthiest people.
Will “Major” Be Your Knee-jerk Exclamation for Balenciaga Couture?
Demna Gvasalia presented the first couture collection for the house of Balenciaga in 53 years in Paris and it was capital “F” Fashion. Gvasalia has been designing at Balenciaga for six years now. He has made the masses covet those shoes “that look like socks” per Cardi B, evening dresses with matching leggings, and, when he was designing Vetements, DHL T-shirts. He also normalized and perfected so-called “street casting,” the term for hiring models that look like random people pulled off the street instead of those who are beautiful by profession.
He staged the collection in a recreation of Cristóbal Balenciaga’s couture salons as though untouched from when he retired in 1968, complete with water damage:
Over at the New York Times, Vanessa Friedman wrote, “Sitting on one of the gold ballroom chairs, where a single crimson carnation had been placed precisely on the diagonal on each seat, it was hard not to think: The walls are probably freaking out.”
Well, if the walls weren’t freaking out, the audience was, reporting on it afterward with a rare, extreme form of breathlessness. Sarah Mower wrote for Vogue.com, “Facing the biggest test of his career, Gvasalia brought a heightened dignity to his own revolutionary vision of 21st-century people while simultaneously honoring the greatest couturier of the 20th century. Hence, the audible gasps.” (The show was, mind you, staged in silence. I don’t doubt the gasps but I’m also not ruling out Darth Vader-like pandemic mask breathing.)
GQ.com described it as “all classic Gvasalia, from the urinal-is-a-fountain fashion play—a couture bathrobe?!—to the mind-bending trompe l'oeil materiality, like the leather robes.” Speaking of “materiality,” there were fake feathers and something called, Friedman reported, “micro-knifed leather.” Because, as the industry has pretty well-established by now, real fur and feathers are a relic of a past, less socially conscious age. Leather ought to go soon, once the hyper-realistic imitation stuff they make in vats becomes mass-produced.
Models included Ella Emhoff, represented by IMG, who is Kamala Harris’s stepdaughter and one of the coolest people you could book to wear six-figure clothing for a sashay at the feet of Anna Wintour and Edward Enninful.
Gvasalia’s collection included jeans and a T-shirt, which is an unusual idea for couture, the most wealth-flaunting species of clothes. “I suffered for three months for that T-shirt,” he told the Times after the show. “It’s much easier to make a ballroom dress.”
Topping off the show’s zeitgeistiness was Kanye West, who attended in a full face covering. Everyone assumed he was there to shill his Gap line, which he appeared to be wearing, the floppy trash bag-esque lines of that jacket – kind of like Balenciaga’s exaggerated silhouettes – more or less unmistakable. Which ultimately is what this fashion show stuff is all about, right? Kanye West showing up and selling us something.
Victor & Rolf Also Warrants a Gander
One could read deeply into Victor & Rolf’s royals couture collection – this must be forcibly connected to Oprah’s Meghan and Harry interview! – or one could look at the pictures and simply enjoy the absolute hell out of it. “It’s like a play on queens or royals. We wanted to be uplifting and joyful and—fun is not the right word—but colorful, sparkling, positive. You are your own creation,” Viktor Horsting told Vogue.com. The crowns are plastic. The sashes are sassy, with phrases like, “Royal Pain in the Ass,” “Don’t Be a Drag Just Be a Queen,” “*Queen of the Night*,” and, on the finale look, traditionally a wedding dress in couture shows, “Princess? No Bitch, Queen!” Which is frankly a brilliant message to send to all your brand-new in-laws on your first day in the family.
Elsewhere in the Post-Pandemic Fashionscape: Cannes
It’s hard not to enjoy the photos from the Cannes red carpet this year. Here’s Bella Hadid wearing Schiaparelli:
Don’t mistake her necklace for branches – that is actually a representation of lungs. Cute!
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