Perusing the international fashion collections from the safety of lockdown, it’s exciting to see designers burst forth with renewed creativity – a result, no doubt, of having some time to reflect and re-imagine fashion amidst difficult times.
Two designers knocked it out of the park for me. Virgil Abloh’s Spring 2022 menswear show for Louis Vuitton, and Marc Jacobs Fall 2021 ready to wear, both dazzed with a well-balanced sense of drama and, conversely, practicality, where haute couture meets a sweeping puffer coat with a protective hood.
For most people who are not especially interested in fashion, collections as bold these can just look nutty and unwearable, with lots of pearl clutching about the idiocy of “men in skirts”. But in these two shows, if you spend time to break them down, they are in fact completely reflective of life right now.
Jacobs played with exaggerated proportions, layering puffers over knee length tunics and wide, wide pants, with chunky rubber soled boots and shoes. The real art was in the giant padded rain hoods or ‘capuche’, the enormous mufflers, the oversized fake-fur stoles that trailed to ground.
If you separated out pieces, they were incredibly wearable and comfortable, everything we are looking for in clothes right now as we lurch nervously in and out of lockdowns – a roomy parka, padded duster coat, funnel neck sweaters that covered mouth, and funky elongated beanies in fab colour pairings of caramel and daffodil yellow, slate grey and ice blue, pink and scarlet.
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But it was the hoods, the peaked caps and the mufflers, so huge that the face was barely peeking out, that spoke volumes about the need protection, redolent of the type of covering that would be worn by a beekeeper, or indeed a scientist or epidemiologist.
Abloh pushed the boundaries further in his menswear show, which opened featuring very elegant, Cary Grant-style belted suits, first in black and then moving into electric colour.
He also explored the area of tailored skirts, long, sweeping and short, silhouettes that no longer seem quite so revolutionary as the world is beginning to question why we thought fashion needed to be so gender specific. Some of his models sported coloured rhinestone button earrings, which could equally have been sparkly Airpods.
That’s what the great designers do: provide possibilities, options, new ways of seeing.
Abloh also infused the collection with details no doubt influenced by the pandemic. Most looks were sent out with massive industrial anti-contamination gloves, while wide straps on backpacks were studded with pockets and wallets so the wearer can stride out, hands free and self-sufficient.
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One look was covered in a thin, gauze coverall, another reference to the protective clothing worn by frontline workers.
Along with these somewhat ominous references there were elements of joy and optimism in the bright futuristic colours, the cheerful sneakers, the kooky hats.
If there is a positive of the fashion world during this global health challenge, it’s that it seems to be inspiring concepts that are thoughtful and practical, with an eye on the future. The best of all worlds.