Fashion people are rarely pleased with anything, so it should surprise no one that as soon as the idea coalesced earlier this month that the Fall 2023 fashion season would be about wearable, straightforward clothes, the backlash began. “It’s so conservative,” one friend whined to me on the subway between shows. “Where’s the sense of invention?” Even Cathy Horyn opined, “I think I’ll vomit if I hear the word ‘wardrobe’ one more time.” Noted!
So it’s spicy and exciting that the first day of Milan Fashion Week brings us a little perversion. The feeling bubbled up at London Fashion Week, with designers like Simone Rocha and Matty Bovan—but they’re always feeling naughty over there. The real nips came from the continued Gen Z-ification designer Glenn Martens is spearheading at Diesel, and from, of all brands, Fendi. Kim Jones has ensured during his tenure there so far that the brand is crisp, polished, and ladyline; it has usually looked like luxury in an exacting, global way, with pencil skirts, and beige with punches of color, and hip and hunky handbags. Jones puts buckles and logos on pants and miniskirts, and flippy-dippy-hot slips over trousers and chunky boots, but his woman still looks sporty and in control. (Save for a really nutty show in New York in September, featuring a number of designs by Marc Jacobs, which was streetwise, very young, and superb.)
Today’s show was a pervy new direction. Drawing on the sensibility of Delfina Delettrez Fendi, Jones showed knit cardigans whose ribbed collars were neatly slashed and twisted, a leather mini smock dress over thigh-high lace-up boots with a strange Sci-Fi splice at the knee, pleated skirts layered over trousers, knits that appeared in-medias-yank-off, and knit dresses that came undone or unzipped at the hip or chest. At the close of the collection, he suddenly revolted from his beiges, browns, and blues and clashed hot pink with lipstick red and fiery orange. It was a delectably gnarly finale.
“There’s a little nod to punk,” Jones said in the press release, which is the last thing you’d lump him in with; he’s too good at clothes that look perfect. Even his Vivienne Westwood-y skirts-over-pants looked like the sharp uniform of a woman for whom every door magically opens. It’s more about the attitude he was going for, and the idea that a woman like Delettrez Fendi might want to express, as Jones put it, “a chicness but a perversity” with her style. A lot of us are really dressing out our emotions right now, and many more, I think, want to. We don’t want something that looks streamlined and easy and elegant; we want something that makes us feel closer to the complete chaos of the world around us.
At the heart of all this is really a fundamental question about creating in our ridiculous present. Everything is bad—we can all agree on that, at least!—but significantly, it is also chaotic, and ugly. Disorder and aesthetic displeasure pervade, from streaming media to architecture to fiction. Those qualities reflected not just in the appearance of, or discourse around, these cultural products, but in the execution of the products themselves. There’s a reason why readers are drawn to oddball writers like Ottessa Moshfegh and Patricia Lockwood, or to weird-but-tasty-I-guess? food by chefs like Laila Gohar. Not everyone wants to read fiction or watch TV shows that promise only to cushion slightly the blows of everyday life, or to feel the comfort of food that is expected and expensive. We rely too often on things between placid escapism and a pleasant kind of flattening, maybe, and a cynic might say that wearable clothes are the fashion equivalent of that urge. Then again, there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to little things that make the grind seem less grimy. Let’s not be too hard on ourselves, here—viva la wardrobe, I still say!
But clothing has an added impetus and opportunity, which is that you put it on your body. It becomes a part of what you give off to the world, but it is also your way of participating, of being a citizen, and of offering commentary or adding to the conversation. (Many people have spent the past year or two engaging in “dopamine dressing,” wearing bright colors and prints to energize themselves. Personally, I’ve adapted a highly uncharacteristic wardrobe of beige for what I’m calling “Xanax dressing.”) Clothing that engages with the drama rather than trying to make its wearer hover above it is actually a triumph, especially given how rare it is, especially when it is the very message of a runway show, however sly, sleek, and subdued.
Glenn Martens is also a designer who embraces a bit of bad taste, though he can tolerate much more of it than Jones. His expression is a democratic one, and I’m not talking about the enormous pile of 200,000 condoms that shaped his Diesel runway. His clothing is raw and often a little wrong in a way that tantalizes twenty-somethings; he made little skirt suits, for example, printed with overly-toothy smiles. He makes clothes like a heavy metal mad scientist who’s smoked a bit too much pot, bonding shearling with denim that he then distresses to reveal the denim again (whooaaaa mannnnn). His clothes are technically rad. And in a world that suggests to young people that everything interesting has already been done, Martens’s clothes are technically so right.
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.