This was the problem when designers Humberto Leon and Carol Lim presented their Opening Ceremony collection in New York this month. The clothes were costumes for a dance performance written and directed by Spike Jonze, choreographed by Ryan Heffington, and starring Mia Wasikowska and Lakeith Stansfield. That’s a lot of creative energy on stage and the pre-spring 2018 clothes, of which there weren’t many, got lost in all the whirling and warring couple angst.
The performance, “Changers, A Dance Story,” was also an hour-long affair plunked into the latter half of a day filled with fashion shows. For an overtaxed audience oozing anxiety about getting to the next show on time, the entire evening was an exercise in stress rather than pleasure.
By the time Lim and Leon presented their Kenzo collection here Wednesday as a two-act play with a runway show serving as intermission, they had wisely claimed a spot as the last show of the night — and also upped the amount of clothing on display.
Still, who could look at denim when there were dragons on stage?
In its continuing celebration of the house’s history, the designers explored the brand’s merging of traditional Japanese silhouettes with Western fabrics, cutting kimonos out of denim, turning worksheets into wildly printed camp shirts and matching them with workman trousers.
They also turned to Kagura, a Japanese theatrical dance, as a vibrant mise-en-scene. Drummers pounded away upstage while wildly colorful giant dragons twirled and undulated downstage. A warrior appeared wielding a sword. Dragons were felled. The drummers thundered away.
Can a denim-bedecked model compete with dancing dragons and swordplay? Not really. The clothes are a bit of a blur. But one of the dragon’s glowing eyes made quite an impression.
But in this case, the performance was more about the brand itself than the clothes. It underscored the Japanese roots of Kenzo and, as the designers said in the show notes, it highlighted their Asian-American heritage at a time when they believe diversity is being undervalued. The show put fashion into a broader story about modern culture, history and social shifts. And sometimes that’s more important than offering an audience an up-close look at French seams.
For Yang Li, presenting his collection to live music spoke to his own interest in performance, gave his moody collection a sense of place and gave vivid evidence of his clothes’ ability to exist beyond the artificial environment of a runway.
A single musician, Swans founder Michael Gira, sat at the center of a stage with his guitar. The models walked out slowly and confidently. Their hair was plastered to their skull, their mouth painted with nearly black lipstick, wearing long pleated skirts in white and fuchsia. Floor-sweeping dresses in dusty aqua had military-like fanny packs strapped across a shoulder. Black dresses and skirts were photo-printed with faces that glowed orange from some unseen light source.
The presentation was a look inside the designer’s world, a peek at what inspires him and motivates him. And with only the solo voice of Gira offering a soundtrack, the clothes were the stars of the evening. And they delivered a beautiful performance.
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