For the 10th anniversary of Alexander Wang’s eponymous brand, the designer stayed true to his niche and delivered a collection of impeccable, American sportswear. Many of the looks from S/S 2010, which brought Wang’s work first into the fore, could be described as poetry in jersey. There was some of the same graceful manipulation here, too, in grey pieces worn as relaxed, side slit-maxi skirts. As usual, Wang’s women weren’t so much androgynous as cool girls aloofly toying with drag — isn’t all fashion, to varying degrees, just this?. The masculine found itself heavily influencing the structural aspects, even when there were suggestions of corsetry, silhouettes bore marks of a manly tailoring which hung away from the “natural” female shape. White mesh worn, beneath a dress and then as t-shirts and tank tops which gaped loudly to reveal skin, expressed a kind of subversiveness, a nod towards the tawdry. Perhaps most evident in this collection was Wang’s ability to adopt disparate elements from our cultural vocabulary, written in fabric, displayed on screens, and to work them into a unity. The fusion of, say, California skater culture and the image of a distinguished woman in repose; these are the sorts of antagonisms that Wang is best able to exploit, creating sleek packages just referential enough to have a smudge of artfulness or “authenticity,” but refined in their quality, and the distance from the inspirational source material because it takes an outsider to appropriate, after all.
For a brand so celebrated for its online presence and social media savvy, with clothing seen more on Instagram than on the streets, Opening Ceremony’s (OC) show this season was surprisingly down-to-earth. Codesigners Carol Lim and Humberto Leon cited Frank Lloyd Wright’s modernist architecture as their principle inspiration. Moreso than in other recent collections, this season’s clothes were marked by restraint — a trait immediately evident in the show’s head-to-toe beige opener, made up of a long silk raglan embroidered with what almost looks like a bonsai, and loose pants. The relaxed silhouette was sustained throughout, even when the designers entertained bouts of whimsy — pom-pom embellished sweaters and skirts; kooky sunglasses. Overall, it gestured toward a design space somewhere between a mid-century daydream of the utopian future and the ‘90s understated minimalism — a combination sure to satisfy OC’s committed following.
There might not have been an opening look which communicated more than the sporty, balloon-armed jacket and pant paired with a bright blue veil at 3.1 Phillip Lim, which altogether represented the bulk of Lim’s ideas stewing this season — his ideas involved angular florals and disruptive beauty were two hallmarks of a collection defined by shapes that didn’t adhere so much to a womanly form, but rather asked us to reconsider the role of the silhouette. Just as there was something almost upsetting about the flip-flop-toed sandal boots, there was something strange about veils dyed neon blue and green.
With design choices like these, Lim challenges the codes of fashion vocabulary and reminds us that our reactions are all side effects of doctrine. Though it may not seem so important when discussing footwear, a designer’s choice to emphasize the viewer’s inclinations becomes political when we react to “unnatural” silhouettes, like the ones shown at Lim’s show that seem purposefully to dodge the lines of the body, evading gender-based conventions. Perhaps what we see in the brand of “cool” emerging now is the inevitable influence of a queer and gender liberationist movement moving to unshackle gender from the body. Since identity politics and Commes de Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo, high fashion clothing has been liberated to follow a new architecture — one which seems to have no qualms meddling with the codes we once learned to read as “feminine”. It’s debatable how far this openness extends, and whether it means anything in the wider context of luxury fashion as an industry driven equally by profit as creativity, but still, the shift is encouraging — and hopefully we’ll find it the signal of a sea of change.