These autumn/winter 2018 shows are turning into a season of questions. Why stage a fashion show? If one is staged, what should be shown? How? At the Pitti Uomo trade fair in Florence, some answered these questions well. Others, less so.
Japanese brand Undercover held a rare menswear show, even though designer Jun Takahashi has been creating excellent men’s fashion for more than 20 years. His womenswear shows are a sweet spot of experimentation on the Paris schedule. Usually, if you want to see his menswear, you have to flick through it on a rail.
It deserves a catwalk. At the end of a long converted railway shed was a black shiny monolith, lit from behind. Guess the inspiration? HAL! You know — the malignant computer from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the beginning, it wasn’t so blatant. Just some jackets printed with the words “Hal laboratories” on the back, or “computer malfunction” across a hoodie. Other looks, like sweaters worn with long flowing kilts, had simple serenity.
But then the 2001 message was rammed home. A sweatshirt came printed with an image of HAL itself. A padded zip-up bomber was printed with an image from the inside of a spaceship. Then came the finale procession of five spacesuits. Wait, they were actually padded zip-up jackets, with hoods like space helmets lit from inside.
It was great stuff, all benefiting from being seen on humans. Takahashi is a taut designer, cutting a tense line in his technical outerwear, or selecting choice dystopian words or images to decorate cloth.
Undercover shared this show with The Soloist, the latest label from Takahiro Miyashita, who made his name with Number (N)ine. His work is more impenetrable, with models bound up in padded jackets and tailoring worn as backpacks, the models faces mostly obscured. At the end, models from both shows walked out with faces revealed, many topless. All but one of the 80 models was white, many of them worryingly thin. It left a nasty taste.
Earlier in the day, at the Pitti Uomo trade fair, Brunello Cucinelli was on his stand, slumped in a chair. He was acting out ‘otium’, the Latin word for creative idleness. “This is idleness,” he said, his chin propped up by his hand, resting on the arm of the chair. “You’re just sitting there, thinking.”
Cucinelli is said to be worth around $1.5 billion. He has just raised €100m for his philanthropic foundation by selling a stake in the clothes. During a 16-minute conversation, he didn’t mention clothing once. Instead, he was interested in Heraclitus, Voltaire, the importance of stillness and thought. “Einstein once said, human beings can only be focused for five hours in a row a day,” he said.
Of course, there is method in his ways. Cucinelli’s brand is built on the comforts of success. His casual tailored garments are about a removal from anxiety. Afterwards, I asked his PR to talk me through the collection. What else am I going to do, review Cucinelli’s opinion of John Ruskin?
Corduroy came in wales of different sizes. A fine wale suit in cabernet red was one of the few tailored looks where the top matched the bottom. Prince of Wales check blazers were of soft construction. A double-sided cashmere and wool coat was hand-stitched. A dust-pink ribbed sweater was particularly fine. This season’s sneakers were like running trainers. It is no longer a surprise for a luxury brand to show sneakers.
Remember “see now, buy now”? Before the current fad for co-ed shows, “see now, buy now” was the fashion industry’s last big thing. This was the thought process: social media was leading to a hunger for instant gratification. Why make consumers wait? Let them buy straight from the catwalk!
In reality, consumers didn’t bite. The “see now, buy now” model works for very few brands. One such brand is 032c, the fashion label inspired by the excellent German magazine of the same name. Four years ago, Maria and Joerg Koch, the magazine’s co-owners, started to produce branded garments. They now have 60 stockists worldwide. They staged their first show at Pitti.
But which season to show? Afterwards, Joerg Koch said they’d get bored waiting for an autumn collection to reach stores. So they showed spring/summer, which will arrive in stores in a couple of weeks. It was their first time doing head-to-toe looks, like an excellent blue twill workers jacket and pants. Also strong were quilted jackets that sat shrugged off the shoulder, and some high-belted broad-cut chinos.
Afterwards, the Kochs said the starting point was Black Mountain College, a mid-20th century American institution where those teaching or studying included Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Josef and Anni Albers, Merce Cunningham and John Cage.
“It was a very inspiring moment,” said Joerg Koch. “Young people coming together in the mountains of North Carolina, a really tight-knit community, and they all had sex during the night.”
“Instead of intellectual dialogue,” said Maria Koch.
They have wanted to do a feature on the college in the magazine, but have never found the right way. “This is insight into the process of how we work,” said Joerg. “The magazine operates as a research think-tank for the fashion department.”
032c, as both a magazine and a brand, are a great example of how to navigate the post-print social media era. They follow their instincts, take risks and gleefully trample down the boundaries of what a media company — or fashion house — should do.
The night before, a 200th-anniversary show by Brooks Brothers showed the limitations of tailoring on the catwalk. Sure, much of the product was fine, with a contemporary sensibility. But one model was sent out with his jacket hitched open, which revealed that his trousers were held up by braces. The effect was immediate artifice, and things got trickier. A female model had the misfortune of walking in a tailored look with a tie as a belt. Another model had a cable-knit sweater placed over their suit jacket. Just what everyone wants. It was so self-defeating, it seemed potentially alienating to those who would shop at the brand. With tailoring, there’s only so many ways to ice that cake.