The Runway: A Platform For Sociopolitical Commentary
“When you have a voice, you should use it,” Raf Simons said in an interview with The Business of Fashion, post his Autumn/Winter 2017-’18 menswear show in New York. His words hit home. The collective cacophony knitted by strands of what we call our individual expressions, aka our personal social media handles, is mostly a web of white noise. Strain out the hashtagged nebula and we are left with a tiny extract — real voices that have something genuine to say, their words somewhat lost within the soothing drone of warm and fuzzy self-promotion that we have grown accustomed to for a decade. This insta-hygge of short-term memory is the foundation of the virtual millennial dream that was incepted in the post-recession psyche.
The sociopolitical events of 2016 gently questioned our six-figure validated existence. But 2017 has been more hard-hitting. And when times are cloudy, we tend to look to our past for illumination. In the complex relationship between ideology and commerce, more often than not, the latter is dominant. But every once in a while, there is an inevitable role reversal. The recently concluded AW 2017-’18 womenswear shows at the style capitals witnessed the return of an old-school philosophy: expression with a point of view. The runways were nostalgically revisited as a platform for sartorial commentary — their subtle undertones grew bolder. Several designers delivered their individual messages; the combined ethos was emotionally electric. This time, the focus shifted from ‘what’ was showcased to the ‘why’ of it. It was more about the story: the journey of the idea to its artistic translation. It was the cause that was the effect.
It is no surprise that in this age of uncertainty, we are lured once again towards our one big love — the blatant, unapologetic ’80s that still symbolise invincibility to us romantics. The air is tinted with the aroma of fresh anarchy cooking at a distance. The rebellious statements of Westwood, Galliano, the Antwerp Six and the Japanese trinity from back in the day fuelled the inspiration boards. Normcore took a backseat as theatrical sightings energised the front rows like power drugs. Models on a mission conveyed the messages with clarity, but the beauty of fashion is that the subtext is always left to interpretation.
Alexander Wang’s off-site presentation opened with a booming chant of ‘Power!’ as his black-clad party-punk army marched to a thundering bass in a setting that was reminiscent of an underground rave from the delirious decade. Versus Versace had a similar vibe, teaming glammed-up fitness gear with outdoorsy bombers and capping things off with a mullet mash. Burberry’s Spring/Summer 2017 (as per their same season showcasing policy since 2016) show interpreted the sculptural lines of Henry Moore to the guitar-charged tunes of singer Anna Calvi, beginning with the words, ‘Are we the night?’ The backstage briefing at Preen was the New Romantics club scene from the early ’80s. Gareth Pugh notched up his subversive aesthetic by offering a close encounter that was downright intimidating, complete with blown-up ‘trash bag’ parachute coats and spider lashes.
Deconstruction, distortion and mismatched panelling appeared in heavy doses at Burberry, J. W. Anderson and Christopher Kane. Maison Margiela featured big, rough cutouts that meant unfinished business. The power shoulder was the highlight at Saint Laurent, Mugler and Jil Sander, also emerging fleetingly at Gucci. Leather, latex, ripped tees and fishnets were seen in plenty across the meccas, as were iridescent coated textiles that looked almost flammable. Clear plastic made a comeback at Raf Simons’ first show for Calvin Klein. Big coats were everywhere: it was all about donning the cloak of visibility at Delpozo, Simone Rocha and Sander. Balenciaga’s ‘skewed’ bulk was the focal point of the line; winter is coming with an announcement. Boxy jackets, bombers, heavy quilting and exaggerated details ruled the runways — Salvatore Ferragamo presented sculptural collars, while Prada’s stylised fur hoods were a Technicolor rendition of Eskimo chic. In stark contrast to the immense outerwear shapes were the figure-hugging, stretch numbers that reminded us of the ’80s obsession with fitness, clubbing and aerobics. The star and lightning shaped cuts at Mugler chanelled David Bowie and Kiss. We are entering a phase with a synth-pop, post-punk and new wave background score.
Fashion’s turn from exclusivity towards inclusivity has been apparent in the previous seasons, but post the Syrian crisis, women’s marches, immigration controversies, anti-Semitic views and Islamophobia, the undercurrents rose to the surface. There were shows that made us read between the lines, and others that took a more literal route. Textual consent was asserted at Ashish with sequinned fonts spelling out ‘Nasty Woman’, ‘Love Knows No Colour’, ‘Unity in Diversity’ and more such direct messages that required no interpretation. Wang’s ‘No After Party’ became an anthem of sorts post his show. Versace boldly placed ‘Love’, ‘Courage’ and ‘Equality’ on beanies, mufflers and sleeves. Prabal Gurung’s final line-up had slogan tees; a couple of ripped tanks with text prints showed up at Gucci. The boots at Off-White chorused Nancy Sinatra and stated their purpose: ‘For Walking’. No prose, no metaphors. Just good old-fashioned punchlines.
Voicing similar thoughts were Dolce & Gabbana, Michael Kors and Prabal Gurung, who presented models of varied ethnicities and body shapes. Marc Jacobs took inspiration from ’70s hip-hop in New York, with a strong black cast. Colour on runways was not about Pantone. Parallel to the shows, Diesel released their fashion film which targeted the proposed US-Mexico wall and homophobia. The Business of Fashion started their Tied Together initiative and saw several industry leaders knot white bandanas on their wrists in solidarity. W Magazine’s ‘I Am an Immigrant’ video featuring the fashion elite went viral. The current pulse is laced with some kind of contradictive adrenaline — the more reality checks it gets, the more fantastical the get-up becomes. Case and point being Alessandro Michele’s myriad universe at Gucci — no definition, no convention, no explanation required. Burberry’s gender-fluid options on both men and women were the talk of the town. Simone Rocha’s line-up included a silver-haired 73-year-old. David Bowie’s This Is Not America was the track to Simons’ primary-hued translation of Americana for Calvin Klein. At Emilio Pucci, lengths of swirling fabric moved with the sensuality of Middle Eastern abayas and jalebiyas; a strong Islamic influence was apparent. Hijab-wearing model Halima Aden fronted the Yeezy and Alberta Ferretti catwalks. Dries Van Noten put up his 100th show with a retrospective of his best-known prints: a heady concoction inspired by the indigenous textiles and crafts from the corners of the globe. Nicolas Ghesquière’s presentation for Louis Vuitton at the Louvre was his ode to Paris, a city of ‘foreigners’ who made it the cultural capital of the world. Community, ethnicity and humanity seemed to be the trending preamble of the creative vigilante.
For the millennial edition of feminism, designers resurrected the non-conformist, tough girl from several eras through a sartorial time-lapse narrative — it was almost like a history lesson through the last couple of centuries, but with the current hashtags. Unlike the marchers with placards at Chanel last year, this season’s protagonists (not muses) were more superhero, less doll; more self, less selfie. It was about characters as hard as nails, not their manicures. Chanel’s space odyssey at PFW had the liberated essence of Coco from the ’20s and Mary Quant from the ’60s — instrumental in creating the midi and mini skirts respectively. Preen’s adaptation of the 1890s suffragette movement was a not-so-gentle reminder of generations of sacrifices, aimed at our current entitled existence. Junya Watanabe’s reconstruction of punk was reinforced with architectural origami, almost like futuristic battle armour. Balmain’s moulded, studded, laced-up leather fabrications encased a tribe of medieval mutants. Alexander McQueen’s gang of Boho bikers revved up the runway. Pringle of Scotland’s Highland heroines magnified their presence in blanketed layers of fleece, cable knits and chequered wools. Yohji Yamamoto reasserted the left-lobe gothic sensibility from his early days; the intimidatingly oversized ruffles were anything but sweet. Givenchy painted the town red — literally — using only a single shade of screaming scarlet throughout the capsule line that was the opposite of sultry; the impact of colour was deep.
Girls wore the pants at Giorgio Armani, Dior, Marc Jacobs, The Row and Victoria Beckham. The power suit was re-explored as an oversized, square structure with extended shoulders: Grace Jones was the vibe at Jil Sander, Max Mara and Marques’ Almeida. Military inspirations echoed through Simone Rocha; her show seemed like a quieter extension of the women’s marches that had preceded the fashion weeks. Felines were the spirit animals across catwalks: tigers, cheetahs, leopards and jaguars prowled Salvatore Ferragamo, Roberto Cavalli, Dolce & Gabbana and Etro. Always true to the Italian familia, Dolce & Gabbana sent out men holding babies and women of varying ages wearing furs and crowns, like neo-queens, honouring the modern-day, multitasking matriarchs. The internet is overflowing with validating tags like #BossLady and #empower, but for the fashion family, the Autumn/Winter 2017-18 woman is a leader who cannot be slotted into categories like sexy, strong, intellectual, assertive or compassionate. She is everything. And she is aware. She has a voice and uses it. Fashion is just the punctuation, not the matter. But she truly appreciates the support. While Prabal Gurung took ‘The Future is Female’ route, Donatella Versace summed it up more succinctly: ‘Women are emancipated, it’s impossible to go back’. #Word.