5 August 2014

The Spectacle

Spring/Summer 2015

Spring/Summer 2015

As the dust of another Fashion Week settles, I am struck by the fact that the two designers with the most recognisably dressed followers had by far the most theatrical shows of the season - Thom Browne and Rick Owens. Thom Browne's influence is hard to miss, with the ubiquity of grey ankle-baring suits, suit shorts, and pebble-grained brogues with no socks. Rick Owens on the other hand is currently enjoying unparalleled success - you can see copies of his work everywhere you care to turn. Having already created one of the most recognisable womenswear uniforms of the past decade, it now seems that streetwear brands, eager to cash in on the all-black-everything hip hop trend spawned from a fusion of Owens and Tisci's work, are popping up quicker than you count them. The ongoing trainer collaboration with Adidas further emphasizes Rick's acknowledgement of the new audience he has gained (thus far them seem to be getting less interesting with each new design). 

Many hardcore Owens' fans lament the appropriation and reconfiguration of his work by the streetwear community, and the birth of (hopefully forgettable) brands such as Pyrex and Hood By Air. But it seems to my mind a natural progression for an aesthetic, lest we forget, originally inspired in part by hip hop culture (the baggy drop-crotch shorts, the elongated tank tops, the chunky basketball trainers, etc.). Indeed whilst Owens has created and refined his own clear aesthetic, these various diluted off-shoots are actually a testament to the power of his influence. Although we may currently be seeing a million and one streetwear brands ready to make a quick buck with their pleather and tacky printed t-shirts, the market is simply at saturation point. The very fact that it is everywhere means that it is by definition no longer a fashion, it is rather a diluted trend. Trends come, trends go, and thus, whilst waiting for the current vogue to boil over, I find myself wondering what will be next. The Rick fans will endure, but the majority will move on to something new, and it is that ebb and flow that fascinates me. 

As diverse as Rick and Thom's work is, there are still a number of recognisable uniforms to their canon - you can spot a head-to-toe Rick or Thom look a mile away. That is not to even mention the strict uniforms the designers themselves don. So how do catwalk shows, as both designers showed for Spring/Summer 2015, fit into this aesthetic framework? Thom Browne has long since figured that the catwalk is the place to make viewers think and to constantly examine the way we dress and consider masculinity. His work is artistic, it is creative, and although you can order some of the pieces, it is, for the most parts, unwearable costume. It is not the creative weirdness of Comme des Garçons, designed entirely to be worn, but rather an exercise in artistic expression (albeit still made with the same attention to detail and impeccable tailoring of the consumer clothing). After all, the designer sells the same suits season after season, so why not push the limits on the catwalk?

I do wonder whether Rick Owens is reaching the same point in his career. The staples sell season after season - at this point it would seem to be a leather jacket and trainer brand. For those who have been buying Rick for a number of years, they already have a perfectly serviceable wardrobe that does not really need frequent additions past restocking basics. So how do you get those consumers to buy more? Well Rick's answer would seem to be by continuing to sell the staples but introducing new colours - hence the likes of passport (dark blue). Of course the more complex pieces are still there for those requiring them, but in refining the basics with the introduction of new shades I think Rick is doing something quite clever. The very fact that he has such a defined range of basics means that he can go back to the use of colours in his earlier collections and reintroduce them to a newer audience who have only ever known him for creating in black. Spring/Summer 2015 was a prime example, with Rick pushing the boat with multiple colours, whilst looking back to older work, and thus shocking the newer audience (and of course it will be interesting to see how the streetwear communities react).

This self-referential style of design is central to Rick's approach (after all he is the designer who said that each collection is merely the continuation of the same story), but also one that I think is gaining traction amongst a number of designers in the contemporary sphere. With the rise of defined fashion tribes, propagated by the immediacy and prevalence of social media, it is no wonder that designers are beginning to look inwards. You already know that whatever you design will end up in H&M and Zara next week, so rather than starting from some external point, why not go back and refine? I personally think it is a far better way of designing, because in revisiting and rethinking, you create a coherent thread that allows you to pursue some idea of perfecting your aesthetic for the current moment. Self-reflexivity inherently allows for the formation of a clearly defined voice, and that is necessary for any designer wishing to be at their best (the difference between Lagerfeld and Saint Laurent being that Yves actually had a voice of his own, Karl never has done - I know I say this all the time, but Karl Lagerfeld is not a fashion designer, he is a stylist).   

The idea of a clearly defined voice returns us to considering the staples and uniforms. It is this that interests me most when it comes to my own relationship with fashion and dress. Although I am absolutely fascinated by the ebbs and flows of the fashion cycle, and the birth and evolution of trends, when it comes to what I myself wear, it does not really factor into things. Both designers provide ample choice for the creation and refinement of a small capsule wardrobe, and it is this idea that drives me - because in keeping my wardrobe intentionally small I am better able to examine my relationship with dress. The idea of having less may seem paradoxical to an interest in fashion, but I think it is actually intrinsic to my interest in fashion and dress. It is about constantly questioning and exploring the relationship we have, not only with the material object that constitutes dress, but with the idea of self-representation and social identity itself. In owning less it is easier to ask the numerous questions I have, because if it takes me two years to look for and buy a single white shirt, I am hardly wanting for more time to explore. But it is not simply enough to own less, you have to want less. Collections like these make me happy, because they force us to ask questions. But at the same time, you know you will see the usual variations of a uniform on the rails, and whilst that may bore others, I love seeing such focused design.  



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