When the global epidemic hit, it became obvious that fashion could not stay stagnant, pretending nothing happened – it had to adapt to stay afloat. In the first months of the global health crisis, we saw the industry having its own kind of crisis, not only economic, but also creative. “What is relevant now?” seemed to be the million-dollar question. This sort of uncertainty was reflected in the idea of a fashion space. Some brands attempted to put on socially distanced physical shows (like Jacquemus’ line-up, presented on a picturesque wheat field in the French Vexin Regional National Park (Isaac-Goizé 2020)), but this felt out of place at a time when people all around the world were suffering from lockdowns and unprecedented isolation. Others resorted to plain, tedious look-books that ultimately failed to catch the attention of the viewer – accept it or not, but fashion is more than clothes, there must be the slightest element of entertainment present. A video – or an entire ‘fashion film’ – of walking models? This did not entirely work either, unless you were able to have Gus Van Sant as the director (as in the case of Gucci (Phelps 2020)) to make it feel even slightly gripping.
It seems that only now, one year into the pandemic, has the fashion industry found its new ground in showing fashion. This has much to do with the ‘forced’ democratisation of fashion shows. In current circumstances, the traditional fashion audience (such as celebrities and editors) doesn’t have the privilege of being the first to see the collections. Hundreds or even thousands of fashion enthusiasts, thanks to very polished and quality-improved livestreams (mostly taking place on Instagram), are able to experience the fashion show on the same level as the industry vanguard. The autumn-winter 2021 season delivered bold examples of fashion shows that managed to present the garments in a clear way, simultaneously conveying their Benjamin-esque aura (McLaverty-Robinson 2013), and contributed to the creation of new kinds of fashion spaces, that are paradoxically physical on one side of the smartphone, and completely digital on the other (Ermenegildo Zegna’s Alessandro Sartoti coined the term ‘phygital’ for this phenomenon (Leitch 2021)). Below, I will outline the five fashion spaces I have observed this fashion month that I found to be not just the most common, but also the most convincing and effective in their function.
This is the most abstract kind of fashion space I have noticed this season. It seems to be both indoors and outdoors, both physical and digital, and both somewhere and nowhere specific – as if it is in another dimension, Matrix-style. Constructed for an audience-less show, such an environment creates a sort of isolated reality, which not only sharply showcases the clothes, but also reflects their mood and conveys their tactility. This is the case for Prada’s fashion space. In the show’s video, the models march through an artificial landscape, a three-dimensional patchwork made from colourful faux fur and marble, created in collaboration with Rem Koolhaas and AMO (Prada 2021) The space’s unusual colour-clashes (Yves Klein blue, mint green, cotton-candy pink) and contrasting materials (polished stone and fluffy texture) perfectly highlighted the new season’s garments by Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons, which were also all about unobvious combinations. It is worth noting the sustainability aspect of the space – the utilised materials will be upcycled and used in upcoming Prada events, installations and pop-ups around the world, and, after the season ends, they will be donated to Meta, a circular economy project based in Milan, which works in collaboration with La Réserve Des Arts (Prada 2021). Another example of a “somewhere” fashion space was presented in Milan, by Versace. Donatella Versace’s brand new La Greca monogram, which covered everything from clothes to accessories had been also transformed into a huge wooden structure – a sort of multi-chambered building – that framed the show. In the video, the viewer sees the business-ready Gigi Hadid stomping in her platform heels, while in another room, Bella Hadid, Mica Arganaraz and Rianne Van Rompaey are getting ready for a party. The space looks like a full-blown, living habitat (a busy beehive comes to mind, for instance). Both Prada and Versace’s fashion spaces are intriguing places that make the viewer question their physical existence – who knows, maybe they are actually drifting somewhere in the digital void?
Nature being converted into a fashion space is nothing new, yet in the midst of world-wide confinement, this choice for showing fashion has acquired a new context. As the audience longs to be able to go out and breathe fresh air, and more people consider leaving the urban life behind due to ongoing socio-economic turmoil (Tavernise & Mervosh 2020), presenting a collection in a natural environment checks boxes on many levels. Miu Miu came up with an audience-less show in Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Dolomites, with a backdrop of snowy mountains and dense forests. The location was Miuccia Prada’s personal choice, as she herself feels deep affection for the mountains. “Nature is the one thing that heals you”, she told Vogue Runway (Christian Madsen 2021), and she admitted that the alpine surroundings were her favourite during her childhood. As the models walked up and down the slopes wearing their candy-coloured puffer jackets, knitted balaclavas and crotcheted dresses (all styled by Lotta Volkova), the collection’s video depicts their final destination as a ritualistic, night-time bonfire. On the way to their meeting, we see the only actual ‘human’ intervention in the landscape: rows of flagged wooden boards featuring the brand’s logo, created by the design studio M/M Paris. Another stark example of nature being a crucial part of a fashion space this season is Rick Owens’ presentation, staged on one of the concrete piers of Venice’s Lido beach. The pre-filmed show presents quite an unusual scene: fully masked, elongated silhouettes (even “extraterrestrial” (Phelps 2021), as the designer called it) march towards the rough, cold sea. Near the end of the pier, the brand had placed a number of flickering LED lights on the ground and a mist generator, and, as the models marched towards the area, they also participated in a sort of pagan assembly, with rave-party elements. Whether it’s the sunny, snow-white mountains or the breezy sea as the main component of a fashion space, nature is understood here as an escape, a shelter, or even an asylum, where current human problems are non-existent. Plus, it also provides a highly photogenic backdrop for charismatic, statement-making garments.
As Shakespeare once wrote, “all the world’s a stage”. This season, several designers took their collections to the stage. One of them was Dries Van Noten. Photographed and filmed by Caspar Sejersen in the darkened ‘Red Room’ of the Single Theatre in Antwerp, a troupe of 47 performers (including dancers from Belgian dance companies and Opéra National de Paris, and a few professional models, including Mariacarla Boscono) moved, bounced and danced emotionally to Massive Attack’s “Angel” wearing Van Noten’s collection (full of trompe l’oeil prints, striking Almodóvar red, night-time embellishments and masculine tailoring) (Van Noten 2021). At Valentino, the show’s space was Piccolo Teatro’s stage in Milan. The brand’s creative director, Pierpaolo Piccioli, chose this place as a gesture of love and support towards cultural institutions that are having a tough time due to lockdowns and limitations. The new season’s offering wasn’t exactly theatrical, but the dramatic lighting elevated the ready-to-wear silhouettes (Kanarecki 2021). In Paris, Koché took its models to Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, where the energetic line-up of athleticwear-inspired dresses, sweatpants and outerwear was modelled by a diverse cast of part-time models and part-time dancers. Choosing a literal stage for a fashion space this season was not just intended to elevate the garments – it was more than that. Read it as a statement of supporting (and preserving) culture in today’s COVID reality.
With the rise of ‘work-from-home’ and ‘stay-at-home’ style, it is no wonder that brands depict domestic spaces in their new season presentations. Altuzarra’s autumn-winter 2021 offering was shot and filmed in a chic Manhattan townhouse: models lounge on velvet sofas wearing layered knits, sit on a bed in silk pleated dresses, and relax on windowsills while looking sophisticated in their refined, leather outerwear. Julien Dossena’s party-ready girls at Paco Rabanne made you think of the 1980s Guy Bourdin models wearing their chainmail dresses and faux-fur coats (of course with red lipstick!), and the retro floral-wallpapered walls in the background help to convey a certain nostalgia for those carefree afternoon hours of dressing up and getting ready for a crazy night out with friends. Francesco Risso’s Marni collection was presented in a modern-day Alice-In-Wonderland-kind-of home (actually, it was the designer’s apartment in Milan, redecorated for the Zoom-streamed event), where the kitchen received the Jumanji treatment and the living room was drowned in the brand’s deadstock clothes. The collection, focused on haute couture silhouettes made in the D.I.Y. style, fitted well in this trippy, fantasy space. Meanwhile, Batsheva and Marine Serre stood up for reality. The first had the brand’s muses, like Nicky Hilton, Maude Apatow and Amy Fine Collins, cook in their own New York kitchens while wearing Batsheva Hay’s signature prairie dresses for the look-book lensed by the designer’s husband, Alexei. The latter filmed the entire collection worn by her friends and collaborators while running errands, playing games with kids, gardening and dining at their homes. In all of the above examples, designers presented their collections in domestic environments that related to the clothes – whether it was an elegant, yet comfortable wardrobe in dialogue with a luxurious, uptown interior, garments with more utilitarian purposes that were ready to be worn all day long, or maybe even a pretty dress that would be more than perfect for a pyjama party.
Fashion meeting art is a timeless theme, and, as most museums and art galleries around the world are under COVID restrictions, it comes as no surprise that this season’s fashion spaces became creative outlets for artists. Dior’s autumn-winter 2021 collection wasn’t just filmed in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles – it was also accompanied by Silvia Giambrone’s artworks. Her mirrors – waxed, to obscure the reflection and stitched with thorns – matched the idea behind Maria Grazia Chiuri’s ‘Disturbing Beauty’ line-up very well. “She sees the relationship we have with the mirror as an attraction, but at the same time, repulsion”, the designer told Vogue Runway (Christan Madsen 2021). Alongside the models in the runway video, performers choreographed by Sharon Eyal engaged in dialogues with Giambrone’s disturbing artworks. “It’s as if she advises the young girls on the runway: ‘If you want to build your identity, don’t look yourself in the mirror’”, Chiuri continued (Christian Madsen 2021). At Louis Vuitton, Nicolas Ghesquière returned to his favourite show venue, the Louvre, and chose to show his collection in the Denon wing, where most of the ancient Greek and Roman sculptures are located. Models wearing over-sized varsity jackets, tulle skirts and heavily embellished dresses walked casually by the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Hellenistic masterpiece created in about the 2nd century BC, to the groovy beat of Daft Punk. The entire livestreamed event was additionally lit by Dan Flavin-like LED installations, bringinga sense of modernity into the place. As a result, the fashion space imbued with art conveyed the designer’s ongoing obsession with time, clashing past, present and future tenses. In his Fendi ready-to-wear debut, Kim Jones presented his collection among museum-like, F-shaped glass vitrines that showcased ancient architectural artefacts. The idea was consistent with Jones’ classic take on the Roman brand. Art can also be understood as time-consuming, traditional craftsmanship: in his look-book, Kenneth Ize, the Lagos/Paris-based designer, photographed his new season’s offering in front of sheets of asoke fabric, which were handwoven by Nigerian artisans. This beautiful background embraced the local community’s heritage, and helped the designer communicate his label’s vision of a multi-faceted dialogue between Nigerian and European cultures.
Edward Kanarecki is a Poznań-based collage artist and the author of www.designandculturebyed.com. He is also an art history student at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland. He is self-taught in his collage practice. He has chosen collage as his medium to convey his interests in fashion industry, using various references to art, film and anything that inspires him. Edward’s works have been featured by Vogue Turkey, Les Temps Suisse and Madame Germany, and he has collaborated with brands, fashion creatives and initiatives such as F Is For Fendi, Song Of Style, Brown Thomas, Rosie Assoulin, Area NYC, Asai, and a number of Polish labels.
Images used for the collages Courtesy of Altuzarra, Dior, Dries Van Noten, Koché, Miu Miu, Prada
Collages by Edward Kanarecki
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