The art of parties and beyond

Encens, Walter Van Beirendonck

JANUARY 18, 2008

The night is young. Or is it old? Rebecca Voight finds out...

The evening began circa 1980 with a cocktail at Maria Luisa to celebrate issue 21 of cult French magazine Encens. Marc Jacobs, a recent convert, was so anxious to get his hands on a copy that he sent a messenger 150 kilometers outside of Paris to Epernay, in the heart of France’s champagne country, to pick one up hot off the press. Six years old, Encens isn't new, but it has reached critical mass. "Ah, when was the last time you saw a magazine that dared to talk about fashion, and nothing but fashion from cover to cover?" sighed proprietress Maria Luisa Poumaillou as she sipped on bubbly. Flipping through the issue, I tried to think of the last time I'd seen so many men dressed elegantly oversized, notably designer Christophe Lemaire in a sweeping herringbone overcoat. Sybille Walter and Samuel Drira, Encens' founders and principal collaborators, photograph and style most of the shoots and write the text themselves, with additional photo contributions from designer Bruno Pieters and the talented Miguel Villalobos, styling by Paris PR prince Kuki de Salvertes and English translations by the unruly Bruce Benderson. The result is about as close to a style time machine back to the elegant Parisian 1980s as one could hope for. A shoot of Jean Paul Gaultier's current spring collection melds seamlessly with a personal selection from his archives (house ads from 1984 with Claudia Huidobro in a fez and baggy pajama jacket, and tomboy Leslie Winer looking very Querelle in sailor stripes in another ad from 1983). Drira is passionate about vintage Marie Claire, when Claude Brouet and Catherine Lardeur were at the helm of the French magazine, both of whom were at the party. "We want to make an old magazine today," he says. "What we’re doing is like curating a show." The citation from Donna Karan in American Vogue from 1975—"I was working with a soft look”—sets the mood for an oversized shoot by Sybille Walter, featuring Number (N)ine, Haider Ackermann, Matthew Ames and Véronique Branquinho. So it’s everything old is new again ad infinitum.

Rejoining the present tense at the Maison de Verre in Paris' 11th for Walter Van Beirendonck's "Skin King" show, I found myself in the best seat in the house, directly in front of the lazy Susan on the runway. Tight pants with padded back pockets are one very effective way to enhance the gluteus maximus and Van Beirendonck is obviously convinced that everyone should have a pair for fall. Grass green, taxi yellow and lots of bubblegum pink are not for the retiring male, nor are rubber socks and leggings in flesh tones with painted toenails. Milliner Stephen Jones' "face frames" balsa-wood cut outs of the birds and the bees, as well as hands, feet, Walter and his willie, had a Hopi Indian-meets-Disney look that is so Van Beirendonck. But the best was saved for last when a hoard of sweaters with face masks led up to a finale of ruffled organza baby-doll dresses worn as burkas and topped with totemic wooden Walter heads. Backstage after the show, and before heading off to the after-party at l’Eclaireur, I caught up with Van Beirendonck, who cleared everything up. Sporting one the of collection’s "Sick of Easy Fashion T-shirts," he said an old song by Adam and the Ants had inspired him: “It's too easy today to dress in cheap copies from mass stores. I want to bring back a sense of couture." Or as Adam Ant once screamed:

I'm the dandy highwayman who you're too scared to mention
I spend my cash on looking flash and grabbing your attention
the devil take your stereo and your record collection!
the way you look you'll qualify for next year's old age pension!

—Rebecca Voight

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