Despite the mostly warranted local criticism of its wafer-thin models, Sydney Fashion Week (aka Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia) quite literally punched above its weight this year. Here are three picks from the week...
A near 15-year veteran of the Australian fashion scene, eveningwear specialist Toni Maticevski took an opulent, feminine-edged sledgehammer to polite society. The designer flashed Sydney the bird in more ways than one, presenting a collection that segued from tailored, top-end-of-town gowns with soft, fluid edges to a casual sweatshirt depicting a subtle yet discernible middle finger. The attitude readjustment worked; Maticevksi’s show was widely acknowledged by local cognescenti as the collection of the week.
Fresh-faced Sydney designer Haryono Setiadi disproved Oscar Wilde’s maxim that ‘Youth is wasted on the young’ with a gorgeously delicate and sunny origami-style collection. Cropped jackets and soft, well-constructed, short-of-length dresses made from bundles of organza were artfully presented with big swooshes of optimistic color. The soft-spoken designer proved he's no longer just one to watch.
Shown off-site, off schedule and definitely off the charts was irreverent and wacky-liscous Melbourne-based label Di$count (short for Di$count Universe). In their first solo show, designers Nadia Napreychikov and Cami James went big with bejewelled and voluptuous sequins that put the di$co in Di$count.
It would've been impossible for Nicolas Ghesquière to arrive at Louis Vuitton and deliver a fully formed debut collection, the forward-pushing, prophetic kind he consistently brought to Balenciaga. It will take several seasons and countless tweaks to come to an aesthetic that blends the designer's quietly radical experiments in proportion and fabrication with the brand's own DNA, still so closely associated with Marc Jacobs.
A natural compulsion to compare the two designers may have been the reason Ghesquière wrote a touching note placed on each seat. It read, in part: "Today is a new day. A big day. You are about to witness my first fashion show for Louis Vuitton...I salute the work of Marc Jacobs, whose legacy I wholeheartedly hope to honour." All of which is to say, Ghesquière's first foray was a very pared-down affair, sans sweeping conceptual statements. But while there were no great ideological leaps, the mere cracking of the door is marvelous enough.
Marc Jacobs was known for his elaborate sets for Vuitton — carousels, escalators, a real steamtrain. But Ghesquière kept the setting at the Louvre’s Cour Carrée stark and simple, utilizing only the space's blinds, which were fully open to allow a flood of sunlight onto the runway — emphasizing that this was a fresh start, a clean slate.
The clothes, too, were relatively undramatic and straight-forward, keeping mostly to a silhouette of high-waisted mid-thigh skirts paired with long-sleeve snug tops or tanks. Leather and suede were the materials of choice — a nod to the house's long heritage as a luxury luggage purveyor — and they were often cut, at times imperceptibly, in unconventional ways yet in conventionally autumnal colors. The most winning of the bags, and there were a lot, ended up being the smallest, a minaudière shaped like a trunk and, of course, monogrammed.
Leathers and fabrics were cut in diagonal and oblong shapes that were pieced together to create cohesive looks, like a leather dress with a side zip or knockout knit skirts with panels of fringe or feathers cascading down the front and back. Those alone are enough of a starting point for future collections.
Certain Ghesquière-isms did make the inter-house transition, most notably flouncy bat sleeves, subtly flared pencil skirts, and moto-esque skinny pants. But for the most part this was cautious nudging in a new direction. The jury is still out as to whether the new Louis Vuitton will be a laboratory of explosive ideas or a factory of beautifully safe ideas. We suspect the former, or certainly hope for it. Ghesquière has said he felt stymied at his previous employer by a resistance to invest in his more inventive (and costly) notions. It's hard to imagine the same scenario playing out at Louis Vuitton, with its vast resources and capital.
The highly collectible invitation — a booklet, really — was the only clue as to what we'd see at Saint Laurent. It pointed to a collaboration with John Baldessari. The conceptual artist is renowned for his seminal 1970s work reappropriating found imagery and many saw this as the perfect partner for Slimane, whose infamous reappropriation and distillation of 'cool' has been the bedrock of his work at the house. But it was, as ever, not that simple.
Baldessari reappropriates and recontextualizes, making something startlingly new in the process, and Slimane does the same. He increasingly perfects his vision for the new Saint Laurent, evident in the recent ‘le Smoking’ domination of the Oscars, and fall 2014 saw another evolution, a subtle shift from modern L.A. to London. The girls looked every bit the iconic Jean Shrimpton from 60s Swinging London. Heavy bangs, natural hair, smoky eyes, and enough sex and mini hemlines to steal a rockstar’s heart. And steal they did, as The Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner grinned his way throughout the show.
Slimane’s men's casting is full of future rockstars, and his womenswear shows are full of their leggy supermodel counterparts. The cut was flawless and the finish couture-like, particularly the embellished pieces, while the effortless styling appealed to every girl in the room. In fact, it became clear as the show progressed that Baldessari’s 60s text work, art-referencing-art, was at play, as fashion-referencing-fashion: Baldessari’s mid-60s ironic piece Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell could easily have been Slimane’s Tips for Fashion Designers Who Want to Sell.
According to the minimal show notes, three “John Baldessari couture dresses" are a limited and numbered edition of 10 — a hint that Slimane may be gearing to step into full couture. Or perhaps he’s just teasing us. Either way, Slimane seems to know exactly where he's taking Saint Laurent — and the ride is not to be missed.
Jean Paul Gaultier knows how to work a theme, and he went all out for his latest presentation, Rosbifs in Space — a sly dig at the English in typically cheeky French style. The venue was the incredible, futuristic Communist Party headquarters, designed by Oscar Niemeyer. We sat in the main conference room bathed in green light, along with Rihanna and Beth Ditto, and it felt like we were in an actual spaceship. The staff wore uniform white boiler suits with the tagline ‘Gravity liberty cup of tea."
Our journey began with an outrageous air hostess telling us to fasten our seat belts, and joking "last call for frocks, they’re always boarding late" (they were) and "can the French please refrain from smoking in the cabin?" The theatrics were of Hollywood proportions, and the scene was set for a grand performance, as the first two models took the place of the check-in desk at the airport. All of the exits followed suit, dutifully handing over tickets before being let on the runway through the audience, with the occasional body check, demands to look in bags, pockets, or open the many zips on the clothes.
It was tremendous fun, and we were transported into the designer's universe on Starship Gaultier. The first section of the show was gray and silver, retro futuristic, with transparent hoods, oversize piping, plastics, safety belts, and silver leather to the sounds of Kraftwerk. Then the soundtrack switched to the Sex Pistols and the 'English' came out. Stereotypical 70’s punk styles, with classic tartans and bondage straps, union jacks, mohawks, and zips aplenty. The models were the most eclectic we’ve seen on the Paris runways, spanning all colors and ages.
It was a statement of universality, simply: we can all enter into the Gaultier spirit, no matter our age or background.
Vivienne Westwood took her strong woman a step further for fall, as fierce, face-painted models swaddled in crushed velvet and bold brocades stomped confidently down the runway.
An anti-establishment aesthetic resonates with the British Dame and queen of punk. It's no wonder that the silhouettes, fabrics and prints were mashed together in a harmoniously haphazard way. In fact, from plaid to stripes, flouncy midis to harem pants, nearly all possible silhouettes were accounted for. Yet, there were a couple of strong design elements that held the collection together: Westwood’s signature mutton sleeve, ruffled collars and endless layering, just to name a few.
Furthermore, those waiting for show-stopping eveningwear were not disappointed. Westwood closed the show as strongly as it started, with taffeta and organza gowns. Her bride was a warrior princess ensconced in white tulle.
Many scour the collections in search of standout statement accessories. And though some might have spotted an occasional act of brilliance this Fashion Week, those present at Acne Studio’s show were fortuitous enough to witness a jumbo safari-beanie hat hybrid. In fact, creative director Jonny Johansson put a safari stamp on the entire collection.
If the oversized headgear didn’t hook you, the stylized animal prints sure did. The Swedish fashion house’s offerings included relaxed-fit separates, splashed with bursts of pastel colors. Muted gray shift dresses featured hints of mint or coral swirls, and 70s-style welt and patch pockets were just as prominent as the oversized accessories toted down the runway.
Acne is no stranger mixing classic tailoring and eclectic touches. This credo was evident in everything from the precise felted wool wraps to the spherical neck jewelry — perfect for any urban jungle.
For fall, the Viktor & Rolf's play on optical illusions had spectators wondering exactly what was true and what was a brilliant hoax.
The collection opened with contorted jersey dresses in gray, before evolving into a textured, trompe l'oeil paradise. The cable knit was the star of the show — chunky in some garments and ironed flat on others. Then, cleverly, the knit was turned into a print, which was showcased on paper-thin wool tunics and ankle-grazing maxi dresses. Soon, knits and prints were tossed around like a well-dressed salad, much to the baffled awe of show-goers.
A literal bright spot was came in the form of Swarovski crystals, woven into chunky knits. Though the collection had a more than sufficient level of wow-factor, these sparkles added glam to shift dresses and billowing tops.
I joked with a friend before the Yohji show about the ticket looking like a little cut-out doll, and we guessed that he might be hinting at something like the famous cut-outs of Comme des Garçons’ fall 2012. Of course, it was nothing like that — the little dolls we held in our hands were more silhouettes of the voluminous form that was to come, and a hint at an underlying folk theme.
Yohji definitely had volume on his mind, and it was so deftly handled it seemed to defy gravity. The huge forms swept around the models like duvets full of air, bouncing and floating their way down the runway to the Celtic strains of Clannad’s Siuil a Run and what sounded like a piano-led instrumental version of Danny Boy. He collaborated again with Yasuto Sasada, who gave us the eye-popping prints for the fall 2014 men's collection. Here the artist explored the synthesis, as he says, of “ being ancient yet modern” — this idea of living in the computer age but yearning for the folkloric rituals of the past. He really let loose, with Japanese ogres and donuts, eyeballs and pills, pieces of machinery and body parts, and all manner of swirling psychedelia.
The puffed-up forms felt functional, yet hugely exaggerated, and were technically brilliant. Yohji redefined the ubiquitous down jacket, making it both more chic and more street than ever before. There was no sexiness here, only pure unbridled experimentation of form and content.