As the fashion circus leaves town for another season it’s a moment to reflect. The fall-out surrounding Kanye West’s Spring Summer 2016 Yeezy presentation during New York Fashion Week in September has prompted me to once again comment on catwalk capers. Where to start?
While I have to admit that I am not particularly a fan of Mr West or indeed his wife Kim Kardashian, whether we like it or not, the pair do represent their time with as much accuracy as say Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. Together, like McLaren and Westwood, they have changed the way we look at life.
Fashion, at it’s best, needs to be open minded. Sadly, many of it’s followers are blinkered.
Much of the criticism aimed at Mr West questions his credentials as designer. Yet what qualities are now required of creative directors at many of the leading fashion houses/labels? The term itself being a modern day moniker by which to describe an ever evolving role. Any fashion fan who has seen the film Dior and I will know that Raf Simons, who is hailed as fashion’s leading light, does not design in a conventional manner. Something that is echoed by the cohorts of next generation designers studying at top ranked fashion colleges around the world. Few now sketch out a design, instead they collage together an idea, build a mood made up from printouts and photo copies as they remake and remodel fashion’s future. Indeed in some hallowed halls there are no expectations for the students to fashion actual garments. While this might not be to everyone’s liking (I am still very much an advocate of pen and paper to capture the immediacy of an idea and believe that to understand the makings of a garment can only add to your creative arsenal), the definition of fashion designer has changed much since Yves Saint Laurent sat down to sketch a pea-coat, a utilitarian garment that the designer himself appropriated from a working wardrobe.
Are Mr West’s designs new? Fashion has always found inspiration in pre-existing clothes, with designers taking the most basic items of clothing and turning it into fashion. From Coco Chanel and her fisherman’s sweaters transported from coast to Rue Cambon to Jean Paul Gaultier’s club kid street fashion reimagined on his Parisian catwalk only to be reworked over again on nightclub dance floors from London to New York. In the Nineties Calvin Klein offered slips of dresses while Helmut Lang’s riffed on vest dressing and reworked a T-shirt in tulle. What of Vetement’s simple sizing up of a flight jacket et al that is earning them rave reviews all round? And Slimane’s Saint Laurent?
Look around you and what do you see? The world is wearing a hoodie from the trendy young fellow who teams it with a neat shirt and tie, skinny trews and solid Brogue shoes to the silver haired grandmother who wears hers with her jeggings. I rather like Mr West’s clothes. At first sighting his collection had a utilitarian familiarity that made me think of the work of Katharine Hamnett, back in the 1980s (I have since been informed that Ms Hamnett has given Mr West personal access to her archive). Their desirability is based on the same ethos. They are the kind of clothes that you believe that you might already own. They resemble precious Army Surplus or flea market finds. Although I am guessing Mr West’s customers, just as Ms Hamnett’s before, have neither the the inclination nor the nous to search for such. This version of fashion offers utility chic for the rich folks.
Snides aside, the collection itself is tightly focussed in it’s colour palette, from pale Germolene pink to dark umber and was subtly styled to purposefully echo the diverse skin tones of the model casting. A palette that actually reminded me of Crayola’s Multicultural Wax Crayons. A modern approach (by both Mr West and Crayola) that deserves celebrating. The attention to detail appears first rate. The purposefully wrunkled zips, the overlong ribbed cuffs, flapping velcro tabs and pockets poking out below the hems.
Mr West’s collection certainly looks to the future, a future. It shares silhouette and styling comparisons with the garb of the Factionless as featured in the dystopian sci-fi Divergent film franchise, something that surely (for anyone that is familiar with the movie’s exploration of tribes and outcasts), offers an interesting commentary between the seams, raw or otherwise. The second-skin basics layered up with oversized outerwear are a no-brainer for 21st century living.
And what of the accusation that Mr West’s new collection looks the same as his last one? Well, when did a designer’s efforts to create and develop a signature silhouette become a bad thing? The press do much damage in their demands for new, new, new, be it a retail system that is fast-tracking out of control to a legion of bright young things left for dead in the pursuit of the Next Big Thing. Personally, I have always preferred an Ann Demeulemeester or Christian Lacroix (odd bedfellows I agree), over a designer who switches up their look each season just to pleasure the front row critics.
I guess if anything else, Mr West and now his detractors are a symbol that the so-called democracy of fashion we hear so much about truly exists. However, while that democratisation offers a freedom from the designer dictats and editorial edicts of yesteryear, it cuts both ways and there will always be them that does not like what that means. But now they too can have their say on Facebook, Twitter and the like. Today, everyone’s a critic and anyone, it seems, can be a designer…
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