The fashion world has a short attention span, but when the spotlight is on a designer (or photographer, stylist or model), no light shines brighter or brighter. And perhaps because this sphere is a place of great obsession, there is only room for a few at a time. This means that the same handful of brands are usually driving all the conversations. Catwalks are rarely more divisive, and the designers everyone seems to be talking about at some point almost always work with the same palette of key ideas. It can be hard to remember that outside of the fashion world (and even within it) there are brands that don’t dress all the right celebrities and whip up it-bags with fans and followers.
Yohji Yamamoto, of course, is the classic example of a designer reaching out to a client outside of that fashion bubble. In the 1990s and early 2000s, he was one of those star stars, but even then his clothes, which can be complicated and demanding on the wearer, had cult appeal. And most designers, even peers like Rei Kawakubo and Miuccia Prada, have taken over the digital world and even created clothes to match it. But at the Yamamoto show on Friday, I realized how special it is that no one else shows up like Yamamoto anymore (if they ever did to begin with). I only started attending fashion shows in the 2010s, when most collections were already streamlined for maximum social media impact, but Yamamoto happily floated above it all. His shows are always intense, languorous tales of fabrics and shapes, which demand and reward patience, relaxation and quiet attention.
A Yamamoto show is a cinematic experience of technical finesse. The collection opened with stark, crisp denim jackets on shimmering silks and wools, then morphed into watery silk wools and evolved into larger, more bulbous shapes that wobbled and wiggled. Looks and fabrics became more intricate, more sophisticated, evolving into vast expanses of bundled, draped silks and patchwork lace a la Jeanne Lanvin—”it’s vintage!” Yamamoto joked me behind the scenes – some worn with slightly fitted wool jackets with sky-high lapels and asymmetrical double back slits. In the middle were large dress length jackets – the classic Yamamoto, and as the greatest living master of slicing and dicing he is welcome on the showboat – which were superb manipulations of thick wool in big crested shoulders and the 1930s plunging collar of a screen siren. Minutes later, a model walked up the runway from the elevated platform looking like she was wearing a 1930s Marlene Dietrich fur coat, complete with giant bell sleeves, but the piece was actually a chunky puffer jacket. The last two looks were huge yarn sculptures, with umbrella-shaped hats sprouting long, flowing pieces of yarn like jellyfish tentacles fluttering over chunky knit sweaters and bouncy, bulging bloomers. Yamamoto took his bow with his two jellyfish, then gently pushed them down the track, like a father asking his strange little children to run free.
Backstage, Yamamoto was smiling and cheerful. I asked why he wanted to incorporate so much movement, especially bouncing, into his clothes. “We need it now,” he said. “The world feels very bad because of COVID-19 and the war. Lots of sad things. So I just wanted to make people happy,” he added, scribbling the last three words like an incantation.
Yamamoto is already seeing a resurgence in the world of menswear, where his bomber jackets with pin-up images and classic outerwear are selling for thousands of dollars on sites ranging from 1st Dibs to Instagram stockists like Constant Practice. His womenswear is perhaps too mystifying to speak to the younger generation propelling the archival fashion movement into women’s fashion – like wine, jazz or bubble-free baths, he’s better enjoyed by adults, at least. in the world of today. In addition, it requires a certain patience on the part of its wearer – one does not put on Yamamoto to be speechless, as one might be with Comme des Garçons, but rather to feel both powerful and hidden, in control. and of an imperious elegance. Women’s fashion, even the most avant-garde, has emphasized wearability and comfort over the past five years, as politics and lifestyle changes have demanded simpler clothing. But oddly, Yamamoto was one of the biggest muses of the week – Yamamoto-inspired fabric pieces were clearly on the moodboard for The Row and Rick Owens, and I picked up on his dashing attitude at the womenswear shows. by Loewe and Kiko Kostadinov. This suggests that women might be ready to approach dressing as a complex alliance between fabric, body and identity. I don’t know if it will ever go mainstream, but it probably shouldn’t; it would be nice if some fashionable cult was, finally, cultivated. Fashion would do well to be more atomized, more interspersed with personal tastes and obsessions rather than dominated by the hunt for the same few ideas.
Speaking of atomized creators: Marine Serre has a whole community around her. I haven’t been to a Serre show since 2019, and a massive group of young people created a crush at the door to get into his show, most of them wearing some of his upcycled gear, from leather jackets to embossed moon print and jeans, her floral print popcorn tops and masterfully reconstructed old t-shirts into va-va-voom dresses.
Serre is the designer most responsible for making upcycling a current buzzword, and she leaps forward in her processes with each collection, working with factories and her production team to enhance the sophistication of her garments. and lower the prices of its luxury clothes. I don’t know if people appreciate how difficult it is to recycle clothes, especially if you plan to sell a number of pieces: she doesn’t start her collection with a mood or a concept for the season, but by seeing what materials are available for its trouser, skirt and dress forms. This season, she found a few blue Provençal floral bedspreads, but only had to make a few dozen pieces, like a corset top and a Cristobal Balenciaga-style hooded top; on the other hand, there was a ton of tartan, so the first third of the show featured variations on fringed plaid skirts, kilts, jackets and dresses.
Our sense of French culture, especially in fashion, is not really something underground or alternative; “French girl style” clichés still dominate. But Serre has demonstrated, with her clothes and her growing legion of fans, that an authentic fashion and style subculture exists here and has the potential for global reach. His vision of our world isn’t as nihilistic as Vetements or as dystopian as Balenciaga, but has a sweetness, a kind of loyal and fearless spark, that elevates him into something. As the notes from his Galeries Lafayette exhibition say, “This is not an invitation to dream or escape, but rather to reunite with the here and now with empathy, awareness and joy.” If other brands that recycle, or even consider themselves sustainable, seek to polish the contours of a difficult world by creating something effortless that pushes back the unnecessary horrors of the world, Serre’s philosophical approach demands that we sit down with our reality and waste it. has created, turning it into something that can give us hope.
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