The 1970s. Underwater life. Japan. Admittedly they sound like simplistic inspirations but SS15 can be distilled thus. These are tropes that have been trundled out in fashion time and time again and that they’ve cropped up this SS15 should have seen our eyes rolling at the predictability of it all. After all a few designers did go in for the straightforward cliches. However, some designers did dig deeper, eking out nuances of those aforementioned themes, especially when combined with their own design language. And it was in Paris where these themes really came to life and felt convincing as seasonal propositions.
In particular, Japonaiserie (as coined by Vincent Van Gogh) or Japonism really took flight in the last leg of fashion month. The theme of next year’s Met Costume Institute exhibition may be China, but Japan to my mind, seems to consistently be the dominant Asian fountain that keeps on giving, in terms of designer inspiration. You could already see hints of obis and kimono shapes edging into many New York collections but when designers were bold enough to go for full on Japonaiserie, openly embracing all the obvious art and cultural associations, it really emphasised the main umbrella theme of the season – beauty for beauty’s sake, where the surface prevailed. No coincidence that the flat surfaces of ukiyo-e (“pictures of the floating world”) woodblock prints, which flourished in the Edo period, were at the root of this wave of Japanica.
Sarah Burton and Alexander McQueen are no strangers to Japan. This S/S 15 collection was a nod to all the trips that Burton had taken throughout her time at Alexander McQueen but it could easily have reminded you of Lee McQueen’s ongoing fascination with Japan. In collections like S/S 2001’s Voss or S/S 05’s It’s Only a Game, Japanese motifs were used to express intense ideas of confronting diversity in beauty and cultural exploitation. Here, Burton explores a much more straightforward interpretation of Japonism. Black lacquered faces recall decorative bento boxes and kabuki masks. The Burton take on the kimono silhouette (reworked time and time again by McQueen in the past) elongated the limbs with stiff black tailoring. Chrysanthemum graphics resembling Japanese family crests were worked in with traditional pulled thread obi weaving techniques. Burton’s trousseau of kimono silks and perhaps her personal love of David Bowie what with the nods to Kansai Yamamoto, gave way to the emboldened graphics which were deliberately in your’ face and the overall result was one of the most “direct” Alexander McQueen collections by Burton.
This was about a pretenseless design inspiration colliding with the height of Burton and her atelier’s skill. Everyone might understand the references loud and clear but it is still Burton’s quest for craft that gives this collection its supreme point of different. In the showroom, the McQueen team were quick to emphasise that almost the entire ready to wear collections was for sale. That’s not to say the collection was any simpler – one look at the inlaid python leather coats with floral motifs put paid to that notion – but that Burton and her team had made a conscious effort to marry concept, craft and commerce into one collection. The ultra intricate showpieces were restricted to sakura dresses made up of black-edged organza petals and ceramic buds flowering on bodices as well as the pieces with hand-sewn pom pom patterns on netting.
This sense of strict control signified a new phase for Burton chez McQueen. If the past was about a dark complexity of ideas colluding with fantastical pieces that will largely be locked away within museum vitrines and admired from afar (and yes, let’s all get excited about what promises to be a BIGGER and BETTER Savage Beauty exhibition at the V&A next year), then the present house of Alexander McQueen is about really going about their business of selling that dream.
Kabuki theatre postcards from Wafu Works
Obi designs from “Design Book , 2nd year of Taisho (1913), 7th volume, Miyake Sei Shoten” photographs from Wafu Works
“Mount Fuji with Cherry Blossoms in Bloom” c. 1800-05 by Katsushika Hokusai
A momentous cha-cha-change at Maison Martin Margiela. John Galliano will make his dramatic comeback to fashion by undertaking creative direction of all Margiela lines – artisinal, women’s and men’s ready to wear. The many articles conjecturing this that or the other are meaningless unless we see something so until January, you won’t hear a peep out of me on the subject. Until then though, let’s take a moment to mourn the departure of Mathieu Blazy. Yes, it was supposed to be all hush hush that Blazy was the man behind Margiela. But seeing as Renzo Rosso has eschewed the idea that the house will be faceless, then we should be free to discuss Blazy’s contribution. His final collection for the house here was a beaut. “Go through your wardrobe, make do and mend,” was the sentiment of the collection. Raking the past to try and make sense of the future is something that Blazy shares with his former employer and friend, Raf Simons. Blazy’s respect for a preloved garment shows here as kimono silks and 1940s tea dresses come together in deliberately discordant fashion. Threads are left fraying, daisies are naively painted on and there are plenty of strings attached for a tied up take on déshabillé. It was at the core of it, one of the more comprehensible and romantic Margiela collections we’ve seen in recent seasons – free of overarching concept and instead we have lovely clothes that you’d want to preserve and pull out of your garde-robe from time to time. I won’t speculate further as to what the future of MMM holds but we should definitely take note of where Blazy ends up.
Kimono silks and cottons from Wafu Works
Photographs from ‘Kimono and Obi’ supplement to Shufunotomo (“Housewife’s Friend’) magazine, November 1960 scanned by Wafu Works
Edo period oshie (pictures made out of kimono fabric scraps) from Wafu Works
Buh-bye Guillaume Henry. After five years of turning Carven into the contemporary fashion cash cow that it is today, with its USP of quirky bon chic, bon genre clothes, Henry is now off to Nina Ricci. His final mark on Carven boldly crossed Formula 1 speed and all its primary colour verve with a dash of Edo period Hokusai and Hiroshige-inspired artworks and just a hint of Japanese shunga. Sweeping landscapes, bathhouse beauties and the old Meiji period naval flag are spliced and partitioned off on sporty graphic zippered dresses and Courrèges-inflected coats. I was sitting across from the Japanese journalists at the show. I wondered whether they were cringing at the litany of Edo references or giving it all the thumbs up. With uncertainty as to who will helm Carven in the future, Henry bid adieu with an uncomplicated easy-to-grasp collection that showed why he was able to give the house its design identity in the first place.
Nicholas Kirkwood eschewed traditional Japanese pondering and looked at the psychedelic work of graphic design king Tadanori Yokoo. It felt like a more free-spirited collection from Kirkwood. Maybe the LVMH majority stake has put a spring in his step (excuse the punning) as he once again delves into sculptural heels with gold bow creates a curvilinear wedge and Yokoo-inspired graphics come together in brightly coloured shoe collages. Yokoo’s unapologetically maximal work is fascinating in the way he mixed 60s acid triply elements with traditional Japanese motifs. That blend is evident in Kirkwood’s own graphics, seen in both the shoes and on a central graphic tree that was created for the presentation in Paris. Kirkwood called this collection “Lucid Plains” – you could also call it an unfamiliar one, where the shoe designer got to expand his horizons.