It was the best of times, it was the worst of times—or so the saying goes. Take a look around. In Hong Kong, a fight over an extradition bill has led to months-long protests that have escalated into violence. In America, demgoguery and a recession of morals. In Britain, a half-baked exit from the European Union built on decades old-chasms in class and wealth. In the Kasmir region, a nuclear sword of a Damocles situation between two nations vying for territory. In Korea…you get the idea.
Unrest is all around, so it was no wonder that on the runways, fashion designers responded to these events. After all, fashion has always been representative of the times—or what Diana Vreeland once called “the daily air” that “changes all the time, with all the events”. So the gist of the season was this: When faced with these tensions, do you fight or flee?
On a purely aesthetic level, that meant a binary outlook that leaned either towards the militaristic or bohemian. The former is obvious enough: a literal “fight” response, where the idea is to gear up, toughen up, and prepare for the worst. The latter is more escapist—a daydream away from conflict that lines up with fashion fantasy.
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Prepare for trouble
Leading the charge amidst all this turmoil is, without surprise, Miuccia Prada. The designer, who holds a PhD in political science, is not one to shy away from the hard questions of the day, tackling them in her own unique way. This season’s collection was titled “Anatomy of Romance”, which hinted at a deconstruction and assessment of romance. In the show notes, the brand cited an interest in the “interplay between different dichotomies” and of the “suggestion of two lovers meeting”—war and peace are, after all, two sides of the same coin. The silhouette this season was tougher than ever, starting with a strapless dress cut from heavy tailoring fabric that had its drape formed by a hooked D-ring and worn with big black stomping boots with utility pouches strapped on. A coat in the same fabric followed—masculine in line, save for a waist cinched almost brusquely with the same D-ring detail. Then came the overtly militaristic: Fusions of wool greatcoats and puffy nylon bomber jacket sleeves; nylon jackets and overcoats with shearling collars. The shoulders of these looks had a brutal linebacker heft to them.
But, this being Prada, the looks were paired with dense guipure lace. In a stroke of styling genius by Olivier Rizzo, the lace was worn on top, covering the hard military styles with a layer of feminine grace. It gave the guipure a new strength—femininity adding potency to the masculine. The shoes were notable too. The heavy lug soles had details that echoed the foam flooring of the set. They resembled soundproofi ng foam, which made you think you were viewing the collection in an anechoic chamber (a room designed to cancel out noise) that amplified the urgency of these clothes.
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Imagining a future
At Bottega Veneta, new Creative Director Daniel Lee sent shock waves through the industry with his debut runway collection for the house. Far from Tomas Maier’s era of discrete and extreme sophistication, Lee’s vision proved far more experimental and directional—brutal, almost. There was an immediacy to the fashion that shied away from petit bourgeois tropes of luxury. The collection’s strongest conceptual moments were in leather, which came as no surprise given the brand’s expertise with the material. The opening look, a black dress with a strict horizontal neckline, had a simplicity that was both easy and severe. It’s rare when a single article of clothing can contain tension, but it was an energy that Lee seemed to thrive on. You could also sense it in the quilted leather skirts and coats, a blown-up rendition of the house’s intrecciato weave; the fullbody biker suits cut in stiff leather that looked like armour; the tailored coats and jackets with lapels and waists that exaggerated the proportions of classic fit. These had a Blade Runner air to them—as if these were clothes for a world we might not recognise in the decades to come.
Rick Owens is another creative whose work is often called “post-apocalyptic”. The American designer’s ethos is uncompromising, and he’s crafted his own universe with its adherents and acolytes. Owens’ fall collection was titled “Larry” after Larry LeGaspi, a costume designer who made outfits for bands like Kiss and Labelle, artists like Grace Jones and the legendary drag queen Divine. The idea was “grim, determined glamour”—a description that seems particularly apt for both the times and how Owens approached references to couturiers like Charles James and Mariano Fortuny for a post nuclear world. Owens’ great gift is in synthesising these seemingly disparate inspirations through beautifully cut jackets with deliberately boxy or wing-like shoulder lines. They looked like mutations of the jacket archetype, and hinted at an entrancingly grotesque vision of trans-humanism that was reinforced by the body modification prosthetics that drag artist Salvia contributed to the collection.
Make love, not war
Beyond geopolitics, a large part of the zeitgeist’s conversation is that of inclusivity. There is a generational understanding that human connections are the strongest and most fruitful when everyone gets a seat at the table. Visually, that’s been echoed in the season’s collections by designers tapping into the bohemia and free-loving sensibilities of the ’60s and ’70s. This was the MO at Chloé, now confidently a year into Natacha Ramsay-Levi’s tenure. The French house has long traded on a breezy, hippie aesthetic that was established during Karl Lagerfeld’s time at the brand in the ’70s. The flounce and ease of the boho tropes were updated this season by structure from equestrian-inspired tailoring, and more modern silhouettes. Dresses with idyllic toile de jouy prints were, for example, cut with volume in the sleeves and an abbreviated middle-of-the-thigh hemline. It had the same spirit of ease as a flowy sundress but with a more city-ready appeal.
In an interview with W Magazine, Ramsay-Levi named “bohemian” as “one of the adjectives that always has to be present at Chloé”, and explained that her spin on the word was an amalgamation of her predecessors’ work—especially that of Lagerfeld’s designs for the house in the ’70s. The brand paid tribute to the late designer by leaving postcards printed with his key collections on every seat, each featuring choice quotes from him—the most succinct of which summed up the ethos of bohemia: “my dresses are… made to transform everyday life into a fairy tale”. It’s important to note that an old Chloé classic from the early aughts, made a comeback of sorts: The Aby bag, a reissue of the hit Paddington bag from 2004. The new styles are more structured but bear the signature padlock proudly—bringing to mind waiting lists, eBay auctions, and the scramble to get a hold of the It bag of the time. It spoke of simpler times, when such fervour and fun could be had with fashion.
At Jonathan Anderson’s Loewe, his expression of enjoyment and pleasure came from craft—the details of which he zoomed in on for this season. The free-fl owing ease we’ve come to love from Loewe was treated with a macro eye. Heavy gauge knits were embellished with pearls, delicate white lace blended effortlessly into shiny satins, dresses were constructed and patched from pieces of paisley fabric. Anderson’s Loewe has an earthiness to it, and the quality of the human hand—and this collection applied that art and craft attention to detail to louche silhouettes.
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A similar style could be found at Etro, the haute hippie brand that delights in craft and fabric. This season, there was a rich variety of material and print: house signature paisleys on wool jackets; jacquard minidresses; carpet prints on wool coats and knitwear capes; men’s boxer briefs cheekily cut for women from shirting fabric; and silks with scarf prints. There is an old-world kind of joy to be had in wearing such lush clothing designed with the creative possiblities that fabric can offer.
Michael Kors is another designer whose eyes are always fixed on a fantasy. His signature jet-set chic, informed very much by classic American sportswear and luxurious ease, trained its eye on the ’70s heyday of Studio 54. That touch of nostalgia saw Kors summon nighttime glamour—a purple sequinned look a la Diana Ross, spangly party dresses, feathered dresses of the disco divas. These belonged to a kind of bygone dream—the irreverent debauchery of a nightclub era that has long disappeared. And even if that world no longer exists, there’s still fun to be had when one takes style cues from the best of the times.