Do you hear that sound? It’s a sigh of relief pulsing from the phone camera rolls of fashion show attendees worldwide. Menswear month SS20 is behind us! GQ has already heralded the ‘new age of sexy menswear’, due to a heightened infusion of womenswear codes into the latest spring collections. Will the industry continue to hammer the nail of limitless gender expression until it trickles down into the high street? Or will rigid dress codes swing us right back into reactionary territories come AW24? What cannot be looked away from right now, however, is the ever-expanding global attention awarded to menswear shows - magnetised by LVMH supernovas such as Virgil Abloh. If the French luxury conglomerate keeps making these sweeping moves and high Richter-scale appointments (hi Fenty) - which they will, as LVMH chairman and centibillionaire Bernard Arnault just told the FT: “We are still small. We’re just getting started. This is very fun.” - it will be an interesting arms race for professionals and consumers to track. But who loses the most when fashion houses become too big to fail? And divination aside, what will we be lobbing our hard-earned coins at next spring?
“Big lie / Media America / Corporate America / Fascist America”, mused the soundtrack at SS20 Raf Simons in Paris. So much for pulling punches. Well and truly over it (‘it’ being the Atlantic Ocean), Simons returned to ‘My Own Private Antwerp’ with a high-impact collection of instant-recognition Raf silhouettes. Emblazoned with ‘Stoned America’ prints, the angry tar-streaked tunic tops, goose-stepping boots and flimsy long coats wafted through rows of vinyl-clad show seats with ambition and verve. Elegant yet clinical shifts and coats were skewered by oversized pins. Flashes of purple and virulent green set off beautifully against the violet floor while knitted vests and shredded jeans revealed deeper, underlying layers (a good thing, as Raf himself was not available to elaborate on this collection). Rolled up bloomer-like white trousers met Davy Crockett-style raccoon keychain pendants, heavy-duty gloves and stark leather mackintoshes and biker jackets – ending in strong peak lapel suit jackets. These final coats were black and white, the shades of Raf’s psyche are not. It appears the only way out of this nightmare is through.
Dazzling slashes of of colour, out-of-this-world proportions and a moving underlying message? It could only be Walter Van Beirendonck’s ‘Witblitz’. As we gleaned from the show notes – penned by our very own Dominique Nzeyimana, which is v. casual and not causing me to stan ceaselessly – Walter went on an intergalactic exploration of his mind, guided by old friends (Puk-Puk!) and new ones alike. Buoyed by Giddy Up/Giddy collab sneakers (pre-registration just started), the models/cast of characters came out in space-fit garments of the now - ranging from bubble plastic protective spheres to fishnet layering, gorgeously graphic leggings and bike tops as well as ruched, contorted patches and spherical sleeves. Further choosing to eschew the aesthetically vintage mood of today, Walter Van Beirendonck has also announced a partnership with London store House of Liza and Farfetch, selling 122 hand-picked personal archive pieces from 1990 onwards. In with the not-so-new-but-forever-radical. Real or alien vintage, this SS20 collection’s South African power phrasing (from ‘Skattebol’ or ‘sweetheart’, to ‘Welcome Buiteaards’, meaning ‘ welcome otherworldly’) is the main story: no matter where you’re coming or fleeing from, you are welcome here.
A wig snatch, both literally and figuratively. Dauntless designer Martine Rose presented exquisite satire on contemporary British politics, via 80s club and business culture codes. With cartoon clowns and the slogan ‘Promising Britain’, Rose directly took aim at the UK’s prevaricating and infuriatingly bumbling politicians ‘handling’ the Brexit crisis. Hairdresser Gary Gill styled outlandish wigs with each look, their absurdness mixed with the throwback office attire referencing businesses leaving Britain due to the current climate. The collection reads as “playful but sinister”, according to Martine Rose, and stood out via reversible fleeces with EU-inspired stars, dye and bleach effects rippling like ocean waves on jeans and western fringe shirts. Rose’s signature disturbed proportions met exaggerated flares and bootcut jeans, dad sandals, velours cargo trousers and block-toe footwear. The “I’m Booboo The Fool” tees alternated with satin chinoiserie shirts and Hybrid kimono-cum-tracksuit looks, offset by smudged red lips. Pins brandishing lines such as ‘So Fit So Poor So Cheap’, ‘Tell Us About That Time’ and ‘Got Sparkle Got Life’ hinted at the mental place Martine Rose is currently at. “I’m an optimist. I think, in the end, whatever happens, there are always people. I believe in our relationships. And that’s why I put on my badge ‘Magic Things Ahead’”, Rose shared with Vogue.
London designer Samuel Ross is riding high. Fresh off of winning the prestigious £150,000 British Fashion Council/GQ Designer Menswear Fund prize, Ross presented his SS20 runway installation ‘A Material Study for Social Architecture’ on the same day. The A-Cold-Wall creator has been lighting the path for young Black British creatives for quite some time now and even donated a previous prize to former ACW intern, Eastwood Danso, to found his own line. Walking that walk. The latest A-Cold-Wall collection references the act of constructing something new, evidenced by models dusted with concrete ashes wearing shades of cement and glossy teal – exposed wiring careening throughout. Sporting blotted petri dish prints and rain-slicked faces in the brand’s signature high-tech fabrics, models also wore lead headpieces designed by Ross’ father – the only Black academically trained stained glass artist in England. A standout show from a fascinating original. “I wanted to ensure that there wasn’t this conservative division that is often associated with bourgeois fashion—that didn’t seem very liberal to me”, Ross stated after the show. The label’s many, and I mean many, devoted young fans been knew. A-Cold-Wall is no flash in the pan, it’s the whole kitchen.
An era has drawn to a close. SS20 marked Humberto Leon and Carol Lim’s last Kenzo show after eight years, serenaded by a siren we praise by the name of Solange and accompanied by dancers decked out in classic Lim/Leon Kenzo designs. There’s no denying the pair behind Opening Ceremony completely reinvigorated the house Mr Kenzo Takada built. To a crowd of 7,000 guests - including friends of the house such as Miss Fame and Logan Browning - their last fanfare was a dip into Kenzo’s Atlantis. Inspired by Japanese female free divers, suits were constructed from neoprene and marine references ran the gamut. From fishnet bags and mermaid intarsia knits to K-Wave sea sandals, ikat and sea urchin prints aplenty. Salty brine on the mouth was represented by a frosty lipstick as the colour scheme lingered in shades of blue. Having brought Kenzo back from the brink, every concerned party’s next step will be a voyage worth embarking on.
Kris Van Assche has hit cruising altitude at Berluti. For his sophomore collection at the house, Van Assche set out to amp up the seductiveness and sex appeal. With founder Alessandro Berluti starting out as a ‘bottier’ in 1895, footwear will always be of prime importance. The shoes were literally multi-faceted, as proven by the cap-toe boots steeped in KVA modernity. The clothing followed suit. (Sleeveless suits mostly.) Focusing on bursts of zesty colours and sharp-then-loose cuts, the co-ed collection drew its main inspiration from the maison’s Italian ateliers, more specifically the artisans and the marks they leave achieving the classic Berluti patina on their marble workspaces. It seems Team Berluti, complemented by fellow Antwerp Academy alum and tailoring maven Wujic Jo plus stylist Mauricio Nardi, has firmly locked in on a direction. Where to next?
A crystal-flecked three-piece suit opened Celine by Hedi Slimane SS20 and yes, my mind wandered straight to Slimane’s SS06 Dior Homme glitter jeans that now fetch up to $3K on Grailed. Only this time, the model seemed quite comfortable in Celine’s slouched and looser fit. It reminded me how singular the codes are that Hedi Slimane has established for himself over the past decade(s). “I’m my own worst enemy”, one of the tops in the 51-look collection read, and there’s no better way to spell it out. Being uncompromising is a rare and unenviable trait in an age of global accountability, and these 70s louche rock royalty garments didn’t stray as much as an inch from the classic Slimane recipe. You could go down the rabbit hole and argue the ways in which this is all problematic (such as the monotonous casting). We should. Yet alternatively, you could opt to lean into this aesthetic vice grip and look for the wonder in the choices that were made. Which way to go is best? Time will tell.
Sex and death are the key components some of the most successful Versace outings have had in common and SS20 very much tapped into that vein. With Gianni Versace’s name scribbled on neck ties and vintage fragrance ad prints sprawled across T-shirts and jeans, it seems Donatella and co. are sitting comfortably at the top of their game. The collection’s bleach-ravaged knits and neon hairstyles as well as the soundtrack presented a tribute to late legend and The Prodigy frontman Keith Flint, amico di casa. Slinky lurex leopard print trousers, sports car motifs and signature baroque frescoes harkened back to Donatella’s wild joyride-filled nights with her brother Gianni. Cowboy fringe, a recurring theme across fashion cities, swung to and fro with reckless abandon. Non me ne frega niente, it’s Versace.
Never one to back down from a bold print, Dries Van Noten went full steam ahead for his latest menswear offering. Teensy tan line-bearing shorts, navel-grazing bib shirts and mesh tank tops ran riot against an explosion of floral prints and embroideries (from the micro to the macro). The result, a kaleidoscope of colour and sexuality. Tailoring ran bragadociously 80s Wall Street broad up top, only to be cinched defiantly around the waist. Naming ‘archi-fluidity’ as the main theme, Team Van Noten played archetypes of masculinity (army print, pinstripe suits) against classic queer cinematic motifs from James Bidgood’s 1971 film ‘Pink Narcissus’ and Rainer Fassbinder’s final picture, ‘Querelle’. Restraint versus superfluousness: this is true DVN territory and clothing longtime fans will lap up when the drop date nears.
For Bulgarian-born London designer Kiko Kostadinov, inspiration from his eighth collection titled ‘Tulcea 189/965’ came from a surprising place: jockeys. Psychedelic Camper collaboration colour-block riding boots, inspired by the Kentucky derby, alternated with an all-new Asics sneaker silhouette. Modern collage panels made of satin clashed deliriously with faux-historic wigs consisting of finger waves and dangling braids and twists, created by hair artist Kiyoko Odo. Mud-sprayed faces and overdyed chiffon prints on recycled fabric suits tied together a strong collection coming from a designer on a path to longevity.
In Belgium, there’s this kids’ game that goes “I’m going on a trip and I’m bringing along...” You’re supposed to list one item you’d take with you while travelling, remember the ones the other players said and name them one by one from memory as the game progresses. It seems Virgil Abloh was in the mood for such play with his SS20 collection for Louis Vuitton – sometimes literally piling on suitcases, bags and other travel items by strapping them to his models, sometimes referencing child’s play and bewilderment. This season, we’re laying in the French fields, flying kites and looking at LV logo-shaped clouds while toting around hype-heavy triangular bags. We’re draped in the softest sorbet shades of dusty rose and baby blue, drawstring sun hats and harnesses pinned with bulbous flowers. We’re donning streaked and distressed patterns while wearing daisy chain necklaces. In 2020, we’re stepping out in hot fuchsia of a dialed-up saturation that I haven’t quite seen since Italo Zuchelli’s standout SS09 Calvin Klein neon collection - or perhaps Jil Sander SS11, Kenzo SS12 and Mugler SS13. Judo drawstrings, as popularized by Craig Green, were recurring items and Abloh mindfully presented pleated jackets and accordeon bags on a diverse cast of friends including Keiynan Lonsdale, Min-Ho Song, Alton Mason, Evan Mock, Arsenal player Héctor Bellerín, Octavian, Lucien Clarke and Dev Hynes as they took to the terraced Place Dauphine stage. The dream continues.
All images: (c) Vogue