What Was All That?
SS24 was an augury of a new industry — one that’s more commercialized, caustic, and afraid to look at itself in the mirror.
IT’S FINALLY ABOUT CLOTHING AGAIN, ISN’T IT? I predicted a placid season, and my instincts were correct — as long as you replace placidity with intentional equivocation. After a decade of capital i-t Important Theatrics, from faux severed heads to grocery stores to Copernian robots, all delicately arranged to make Important Statements about Important Issues, the 2020s have ushered in a new, unopinionated era in fashion performance. Creative directors are tired of debate; time to make pretty dresses again.
A double-edged sword, no doubt about that; for all of the interesting (though occasionally aggravating) navel-gazing that came from what I call Issue Collections — like last year’s Imitation of Christ, for example — garment construction became secondary to theatre, event production, dry ice at the ankles. When designers get lost in the footlights, we get unstudied collections, and, in turn, we become unstudied viewers. But when designers become fully apolitical, we also lose the one thing fashion has always been good at — a glimmer of the unexpected.
That glimmer was gone this season, from New York to Paris and beyond. While there were a few collections that sussed it out and marshaled the magic into something skillful, the rest opted for measured indifference. Gucci and Loewe et al presented deeply commercial collections, removing any wisp of imagination in trade for happy returns (both brands are owned by Kering and LVMH, respectively). Amid that controversial profitmaking, other brands announced disappearances: CD Sarah Burton was out at Alexander McQueen, and CD Nicola Brognano was out at Blumarine. Burton’s replacement was announced as Seán McGirr, an ex-JW Anderson menswear designer — a move by Kering to increase profits and decrease creative potential.
With that in mind, SS24 is somewhat of an augury of a new industry — one that’s more commercialized, caustic, and afraid to look at itself in the mirror.
While I can’t cover every single show (even the ones I loved!), here’s my final score, influenced by the shows that made the biggest impression on me and other audiences alike.
I wrote about Velez in-depth earlier this month — but her über-contentious collection, hosted in a mud pit, was my absolute favorite of the season. Velez is a sly, unapologetic garmentista who understands, however intuitively, that the best theatrics come from debauchery, not polemics.
Set to the soundtrack of Wim Wenders' 1987 film Wings of Desire — and influenced by the German pseudo-surrealist painter Neo Rauch — models glissaded down the runway in gauzy robin’s egg blouses, slightly sheer suits, and structural naked dresses lit from within, whipping femininity into a subtle, sensual blush. There is such a gift in seeing a designer making their best work, at exactly the best time, with the exact measurements of genius and grace. Thank god, indeed, for Jun Takahashi.
Hermès does not set trends — nor do they follow them. Instead, the brand, led by CD Nadège Vanhe, shepherds luxury as an abiding, impregnable soul-god, one that cannot be created or destroyed, only changed. That steadiness is what keeps each collection refined and relieving in equal measure, and is often mistaken for drabness. Here, Vanhe blocks out the noise and does what she does best — garments, beautiful and unobtrusive, that speak for themselves.
The hyper-Y2K schtick was not creatively sustainable and frequently got on my nerves, but this gorgeous, gilded collection was a glimpse of a young designer finally coming into his own. Axing Brognano at the beginning of his blossoming? That’s a decision that’ll no doubt haunt Blumarine for years to come. But I’m glad he got to go out with the angels.
Don’t call it a comeback — if you’re Demna Gvasalia, last year’s teddy bear media circus is nothing but a boring, blasé memory. Poxed with sibling rivalries, glorious trenches, and an appearance by fashion critic-legend Cathy Horyn, the show was the one thing that I’d been so desperately craving: actual, unironic fun.
There’s a certain disease that can infect a brand that I call T.J. Maxx Death (though I am a dearly devoted Maxxinista). Diffusion lines from the likes of Michael Kors and Kate Spade get slapped between racks of H&M rip-offs, and the entire cachet of the brand begins to crumble. I’ll admit it: I thought Burch was headed for that same fate. But her past few seasons have been so sexy and surprising that I am very happy she’s having a renaissance, especially as one of the few female designers getting major billing.
It was only a short time before influencer-association would become a blight on a brand, not an asset. It truly is unfortunate that a brand as rising and romantic as Mirror Palais has become patient zero. Cheap fabrics, bizarre soundtracks, front rows filled with influencers, throwing the only plus-size models they’ve got in unassuming baby tees — this is a major misstep for the brand, but I think (and hope) they can bounce back.
Peter Do’s long-awaited collection was beautiful in theory: a love letter to New York, braced by contributions from poet Ocean Vuong and legendary textual artist Jenny Holzer — and a re-examination of the European brand’s eternal, carefully-tailored tether to the sensual American spirit. Sadly, though, theory is no replacement for the real thing. Do didn’t quite understand what made Lang so revolutionary in the 1990s. Here are cotton t-shirts and jeans, Uniqloian button-downs, boring ribbons swaddling suits. You can’t be angry about a collection with such a deep lack of identity — only sad.
Disappointing, as Dior is one of the few brands I would put in my all-star firmament. But, in the words of Horyn, we’re seeing a poverty of imagination, here, influenced too hard by archives and too little by modern proclivities. These are not ugly or ill-constructed pieces, not at all, but Chiuri’s emphasis on nostalgia-necromancy weighs every garment down. Looking at these cobwebby looks en masse, it’s hard not to feel like you are trapped at an endless wake, each “Remember when?” a barb in your side.
WHO FUCKING KNOWS
I wrote about Gucci’s Gucciness Quotient earlier this month, too — what happens when a brand resists interpretation and forces you into intellectual acquiescence? You get Sabato de Sarno’s new Gucci, replacing former CD and ringleader Alessandro Michele. Here is Gucci at its most relentlessly professional, serene but soulless, following the likes of brands like Bottega Veneta into the quiet luxury (sorry) market. Weeks later, I still don’t know how I feel about de Sarno or the new Gucci — but, to be fair, I don’t think he does, either.
Louis Vuitton is the tidy encapsulation of Who fucking knows… but in a good way. I will say that a runway has no business being orange, so I asked our darling web editor to change the backdrops. It’s my house and I live here! Anyways — Louis Vuitton has spent the past few years being unilaterally ugly, so it was a welcome shock to be kicked out of stasis. These layered fabrics and tartans are undeniably gorgeous, presented with a wink. While there are some blunders (skinny jeans?), I feel like Ghesquière finally knows what he wants out of Louis Vuitton, and that’s more than fine with me.
Another good (I think?) entry into Who fucking knows. For the first time in what feels like a long span, Virginie Viard has embraced the spirit of the young woman instead of trying to corral it into assumed, prim maturity. Suddenly, these tweeds do not skew grandma or reek of mothballs and Esteé Lauder dusting powder. You can imagine the Chanel girl on a St. Tropez yacht; thrifting vintage rings; getting a table easy at Carbone. While Viard reverts to some of the aesthetics that have never worked — the monogram logo feels too garish, now, in comparison to the brand’s contemporaries — modernity is, at last, ready for re-appraisal.
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have always known what The Row is: cool, disaffected minimalism, though not hard or inured to bliss. In that, I’ve never had to second-guess or distrust their choices — though maybe that should’ve been a red flag, in retrospect. I didn’t hate this collection, I didn’t love this collection, and I really didn’t know how to feel about it at all. I found the bedroom slippers and spa-like ambiance dastardly chic, but the drowsiness was abundant. Any slip at hope is blanketed by thick ponchos, long hoodies, head-covering bucket hats. This is The Row entering the 2020s in gummy depression, and I hope that, by spring, they can find their breeziness again. 🌀