One in a series on the clothes that had a moment at Paris Fashion Week.
PARIS — Thom Browne’s models moved slowly and deliberately through the Hôtel de Ville to the beat of Madonna’s “Vogue.” For fall 2018, they were dressed in his signature shades of gray and white, and they wore clothes that played with the traditions of masculine and feminine attire, using the vocabulary of France’s highest fashion order: haute couture. It was a gender-blending collection, but not in a manner that drains the vigor and grace out of clothes. He did not offer up the kind of shapeless garments that, while freeing themselves from the constraints of the patriarchy, are also wiped clean of their humanity.
In Browne’s version, tailored gray suits are spliced with hourglass skirts and molded corsets. Man and woman combined. Traditions merged. The trappings of both masculinity and femininity are brought together in all of their formal, buttoned-up, bound-up rigor.
The clothes reflected Browne’s version of history, with references to statuary and goddesses on pedestals. But they were viewed through 21st century eyes and a cheeky sense of humor that included the placement of a bit of bedazzled jewelry where there would otherwise have been a visible nipple.
No one who knows Browne’s work would ever accuse the designer of placing comfort above all else. He’s willing to forgo a shape that’s loose enough to accommodate a full-course Thanksgiving meal (plus seconds) in order to create a line that is as sharp as it is sleek.
What Browne puts on his runway stands out because of the level of detail: the embroidery, the embellishments. They are not what one is accustomed to seeing emerging from the depths of a subway on a busy work day. But then, that’s not what his runway reverie is for. It is to take you outside of that day-to-day monotony.
And yet, the fantasy is always built on a solid foundation of tailoring — close to the shoulder, taking note of the waist, rounding out the hips. In the commercial collection destined for stores, the palette is discreet. Respectable. Serious. The materials are luxurious.
But the clothes come with a wink, an acknowledgment that there is something reassuring about repetition, familiarity. . . consistency. But that can also be stultifying if people aren’t careful. So he offers consistency with creativity.
For Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo, the point is creativity. Creativity set free from any boundaries beyond the material itself. Let’s be clear: Kawakubo does not expect anyone to place a golden minaret on their head and go out into the world wearing a pixelated Betty Boop sweater exploding with layers of cotton, padding and lace
You got that? She. Does. Not. Expect. You. To. Wear. This.
In the same manner that a Ford engineer does not intend for you to drive the concept cars straight out of the auto show, Kawakubo does not believe that these ideas, these concepts are going directly into someone’s closet, unless that (very large) closet is in the temperature-controlled storage facility of a museum.
But fashion needs its laboratories and scientists. It needs those big thinkers who help us move from wearing 1980s power suits to loose-fitting jackets in washed wool with unfinished hems. If you’re wearing an oversized sweater or roomy overcoat that’s big enough for two — well, how do you think the notion of making clothes that don’t directly follow the lines of the body got swept into the fashion vocabulary? And we would still be slouching through the rain in bland khaki trench coats instead of technically advanced anoraks and waterproof windcoats if not for some designer willing to take a risk.
For fall 2018, Kawakubo was intrigued by the idea of “camp” — not the cabin-in-the-woods variety but the aesthetic sensibility that finds something appealing in bad taste and irony. How far does something have to go before it’s perceived as camp? Is there a limit to what fits into the definition?
Can something once considered camp move into the realm of good taste? And ultimately, what exactly is good taste?
What was once considered to be in good taste — bouffants, blue hair, circle skirts and marabou-adorned mules — now reads as camp. Sneakers with your suit? Once camp. Now cool. (Sneakers with flesh tone pantyhose and a boxy C-Span-ready suit? Not cool.)
At Comme des Garçons, there is an opportunity to, perhaps, peer into the future. Or at the least, get a sense of the direction in which the aesthetic winds are blowing.
Also at Paris Fashion Week: