The experience of watching the Spring 2019 fashion shows was indelibly linked with the Supreme Court nomination hearings of Brett Kavanaugh and the accusations of sexual assault leveled against him. Much more is at stake than a justice with a clear lack of judicial temperament, though. A Kavanaugh victory will put women’s rights to control their own bodies in jeopardy. Years from now, when we cast our eyes over these collections, the dire context may be lost, but the overarching themes will remain evocative of our embittered, divided, and deeply troubling times.
Of course, we’re all looking for escape routes. At Chanel and Etro, respectively, Karl Lagerfeld and Veronica Etro found serenity at the beach, while Paco Rabanne’s Julien Dossena magicked what many of us felt was the show of the season from souvenir textiles, delicate lace, and the house-signature chain mail. Best of all, Dossena made his neo-boho assemblages look easy. Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga and Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton considered our virtual reality futures, proposing uniforms of sleekly minimal tailoring for a post-age, post-gender world.
Of course, we’ve got politics on our minds. Presenting at the Weeksville Heritage Center, on the site of one of America’s first free black communities, Pyer Moss’s Kerby Jean-Raymond asked, “What would the African-American experience look like without the constant threat of racism?” It was a collection of uplift and emotion—and terrific caftan dresses. In Paris, Rick Owens problematized the patriarchy, with a lineup of “Brutalist lace,” singed American flag capes, and models carrying torches around a Palais de Tokyo funeral pyre. On the day of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, the symbolism was impossible to miss.
Of course, we’re taking comfort and succor in craft. With so much of fashion feeling corporatized and industrialized (and cold), the homespun and handmade is taking on special resonance. Nowhere was the human touch more in evidence—or more luxe—than at Loewe and Marni, though the punkish spirit of the British upstart Matty Bovan made our list, too.
And of course, we’re seeking beauty. Rodarte, Simone Rocha, Dries Van Noten, Valentino—each of these Spring 2019 collections was timeless, trend-agnostic, and irresistible, and the attraction of their exquisite dresses was magnetic.
Welcome back! It wasn’t just the Rodarte duo’s talent for spectacle that made this show such a treat. As Laura Mulleavy said afterward, she and her sister have been watching the pace of fashion pick up, and their response has been to slow down and insist upon the specialness of the clothes they produce. As frothy as the Rodarte aesthetic can be, it is quite durable in its own way. What stood out in this particular collection were the looks that found the Mulleavys making strong statements with color and silhouette. Their ruffled leather garments were sui generis—girly, yes, but quite muscular—and the striped crocheted frocks and ones with fluttering stripes of silk had a similar quality, feminine in all their elements but graphic on impact. —Maya Singer
In a moment when even the most ordinary aspects of black life seem under constant threat—when a black man or woman innocently barbecuing in their own backyard has been known to elicit an armed police response—Kerby Jean-Raymond’s clothes presented a radical counterpoint to a narrative of sensationalism and tragedy porn, speaking volumes more than a political slogan tee. —Chioma Nnadi
Bovan’s collection was a celebration of something quite deep in the rebellious British psyche: When backs are against the wall—Brexit, austerity, and social inequalities roiling as they are now—creativity will come out fighting. In Bovan’s press release he stated it: “I have a lot of conflicting thoughts, a lot of unrest about the political climate we live in. A lot of people do. The only thing I can do in response to that is bang a drum, hard, for the idea of being yourself.” The worry with Bovan is that his shows thus far could have been categorized as all scene and styling, a cover for a raw prodigious talent that might not result in much commercial potential. But with this one, something else came through. Looking at the slim, multi-pattern, multicolored jersey dresses and sweaters—after all, that was his specialty at Central Saint Martins—you could clearly see what he can sell. —Sarah Mower
Simone Rocha invoked something rich, delicate, and somber on her carpeted runway at Lancaster House tonight. Broad-brimmed hats dripping with chiffon lace–trimmed veils; prints of antique paintings of Tang dynasty beauties; crazily chic shoes sprouting feathers: This time, in her allusive, nonlinear way, she was exploring the Chinese side of herself. “I was also thinking about Qingming, the Chinese equivalent of the Day of the Dead, when everyone goes up the mountain in Hong Kong to clean their family’s gravestones. I was there this Easter when we went up to visit our grandparents,” said Rocha. The matters of this world and the next, intimations of spirituality and the supernatural: Somehow these concerns have started to filter into the imagery of fashion. In the case of Rocha’s Spring collection, it created a hauntingly resonant moment that won’t be forgotten. —S.M.
Oh, the longing for the value of the human touch in fashion! Francesco Risso put his finger on the beauty of the handmade and the happy accidents that happen when a collection is made in a creative studio rather than on computer screens. “It started with the processes of the work in the studio, and thinking of it as a painter’s canvas, which keeps changing and modifying in the trials and mistakes—suddenly that becomes the work itself,” said the designer. The painter’s blank canvas is very similar to the toile designers use, and the process of 3-D draping of fabric on the body to judge what looks right is a sculptural one. This collection captured the vitality of work in progress—the spontaneous moment when a tacked- and pinned-together assemblage of material suddenly comes together and looks lovely just as it is. It had the same feeling as when an artist instinctively knows when a painting is finished. The skill is in the decision to stop before tidying up and overthinking ruins it all. —S.M.
There’s always a place in fashion for the bohemian, culturally eclectic vibe that began with hippie dropout countercultures in the mid-1960s. In the 21st century, it’s been reborn in the mainstream wellness and meditation movement—the modern ideal of a sound mind in a superhot athletic body, clad in an accidentally pretty print dress. Etro is the Italian stylistic epicenter for the luxurious version of all that—the torch held aloft in the second generation of the business by Veronica Etro. She was well at home weaving happy, easy-to-wear vibes into a rich tapestry of a collection that spanned everything from glam tiered dresses to pajama suits, swimwear, hats, jewelry, towels, and homewares. The first look out epitomized it: a multi-pattern patchwork blanket thrown over the shoulders of a girl wearing a full-length paisley-print dress, a cowrie shell pendant nestling in her cleavage. —S.M.
Julien Dossena’s superb collection for Paco Rabanne would make an exemplary study of climate on creative fashion intelligence: how skillfully a talented designer captured the universal impulse to get away from cities, took on the mix-match hippy-souvenir aesthetic, and modernized it. It was obvious that Dossena did not spend all summer lounging on a beach, because there was so much sophisticated work, thought, and variety in the long, slim, deftly layered silhouettes. It was an amazing composite of slip dresses, narrow sarongs, fine Lurex T-shirts, dresses over skinny trousers, and checked tailoring. —S.M.
Valentino tonight was just utterly, lusciously, all-round gorgeous. In a season when there’s been so much talk about the appreciation of couture dressmaking and craft skills, Pierpaolo Piccioli just took it to the ultimate. It was as accomplished, as complexly cut, and as simple as that. —S.M.
Jonathan Anderson had his models walk among works by three disparate contemporary artists in a landmark UNESCO Heritage building. It’s his seasonal curatorial practice, part of the subliminal flattery in being invited here. Ergo: You are now entering a zone in which you will be treated as if you have an intelligent art-attuned mind, and then I am going to tempt you to death with a beautifully made assembly of clothes and accessories handmade for the person you are. —S.M.
Possibly what has been missed in [Demna] Gvasalia’s career so far—what with the way he’s been responsible for the rise of hoodies and dad trainers, and the new wave of ironic logomania—is that he’s also an innovator in cut and pragmatic problem solving. With this collection, the emphasis was far more on creating new silhouettes—squared shoulders, a different iteration of the C-line, creating a pulled-back cocoon cut with collars shooting forward to cover the face. Yes, there was a smattering of logos to keep the Balenciaga market for that ticking over. But far more interesting was Gvasalia’s consideration of how to cut and drape a red dress out of a single four-meter piece of silk, and the way he came up with two-piece evening suits in the shape of a shirt and a sarong skirt. —S.M.
Dries Van Noten
Ears backstage have become so inured to designers nattering on about the importance of capturing millennials and Gen Z that to hear someone considering how a modern woman might enjoy her clothes sounds almost radically avant-garde. Dries Van Noten discussed just that today, in relation to a collection that was extra specially on point. No wonder the designer’s well-wishers were wreathed in smiles backstage. It was his best collection in quite a while. And grateful smiles of self-recognition among grown-ups runway-side are a rare thing these days. —S.M.
Flanged collars, peeling shoulders, and exuberant cuffs turned jackets into impenetrable carapaces. Like the metal scaffolding of the headpieces and arm cuffs that qualified as jewelry here, those jackets looked designed to ward off predators. Rick Owens’s laser-cut and paneled cloaks conjured goddesses and superheroines. Sometimes the models even carried torches. Other elements were weaponized in different ways. Minidresses aswirl with silk fringe, for example, looked un-reconstructedly sexy. All of this was as sui generis as it gets, including his new Birkenstock sandals and boots. —Nicole Phelps
Who wouldn’t kill to be at the C-side right now? Karl Lagerfeld’s invitation to a tropical beach, complete with fake waves, gave Chanel’s global audience an uplifting mini break. For all the insane illusionary grandeur of the set, it was a show of real and relatable fashion—a blissfully easy trip bringing us back to the heart of Parisian chic. Lagerfeld’s show sur la plage reconnected us with all the solutions that Coco Chanel first invented to boost female social confidence. There has been a lot of avant-garde-ish discussion about designing around bourgeois classics this season—beige, ladylike suits; silk dresses; chain bags; logos. Mademoiselle Chanel had a hand in writing those rules. Lagerfeld—who keeps young people around him constantly—intuited exactly how to work that to full advantage. —S.M.
In a season of solutions dressing, in which designers have been emphasizing the real-world applications of their clothes, Nicolas Ghesquière was in a world of his own tonight—starting with his set, a space-age anachronism set down in the courtyard of the centuries-old Louvre. He said he was interested in the edge between the virtual reality we experience through our social media streams and real life. That played out via 1980s callbacks (the decade’s exaggerated silhouettes are recurrent motifs in his work), high-tech fabrications like molded rubber, space suit sleeves, Memphis Group prints, and the Parisian savoir faire of sculptural dresses in sequin-embroidered mesh. —N.P.