Seven Designers in Seven Looks
A sneak peak into the high fashion world of elegance, class and ingenuity. Below is a thorough summary of what we cite as the most iconic designers at present and a glimpse into some of their most distinctive works.
I have loved Rei Kawakubo since I was old enough to understand that “in order for something to be beautiful it doesn’t have to be pretty”. Her words. Comme des Garçons is a global brand when it has One Direction sitting front row, and fine fucking art when she sends out models who inhabit what is more a spectacle than mere clothes. She is arguably the most copied designer. If you’ve ever considered wearing all black, frayed hems, deconstructed and oversized silhouette, then you are familiar with the world of Comme des Garcons.
Rei Kawakubo studied Fine Art and Literature and worked briefly as a stylist before starting a costume shop called Comme des Garcons, french for ‘like some boys’ and meaning something just as elliptical.
I plead with you to consider the beauty, wit and bravery of these ten collections.
Spring 1997: Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body. “It’s our job to question convention… If we don’t take risks, then who will?” Oversized and deformed clothes usurp the status quo.
Fall 1997: Adult Punk. Strangely luxurious patterns meet deconstructive designs. Pat McGrath’s makeup and mohawks subverse the standard of ‘prettiness’.
Spring 2004: Just skirts. Literally No shoes in sight. Bareness protrudes and stares you in the face as models are endowed with what you’d hardly classify as tops (very sheer).
Spring 2005: Motorcycle Ballerinas. Tutus were juxtaposed with hard leather, a visual commentary on the contemporary woman’s tough resourcefulness.
Fall 2006: Androgyny. Masculinity, femininity, and the performance that is choosing one’s wardrobe are conceptualised in a mesh of the delicate and the deadly.
Spring 2007: Patriotism. A giant red spot symbolises the Japanese flag in an unaggressive way.
Spring 2014: Every Girl has her own song. Inundated with creativity, a series of objects that may be worn on the body are presented on a platter for us to feast our eyes on. Forget fashion formulas and pragmatism, this is an eye roll to all who dare to adhere to norms.
Every look is a provocation and every turn on the runway is a question. She loves Yves Saint Laurent. A designer known for catalysing revolutions in taste, he didn’t invent a new kind of sleeve but he did make women in tuxedos sexy. Prada, too, is more interested in the progression of attitudes towards beauty and sexuality. In fact she starts most collections with something she hates.
After studying for a PhD in Political science, she trained as a mime before eventually taking over the family business. She began designing clothes with the encouragement of her husband. She has since become one of the fashion industry’s most respected and has created some of the most memorable looks.
The entirety of Prada’s career has been focused on a single artistic thesis: that fashion is a language and beauty is linguistic in nature. We exchange information by what we wear. Each collection is focused on exploring a particular exchange. The themes are innocence, lace and costumes. Many of her collections begin with uniforms, the most overt example of her thesis. If a uniform is a symbol, a dress is a poem. And the 7 following poems are my favourite.
Spring 1997: Good girl lightness and strategic sheer embroideries.
Spring 2000: A ‘casual’ office look complete with very transparent materials.
Spring 2004: Nostalgic, holiday looks that are miles away from cliché.
Fall 2006 Menswear: Helmets and animal printed fur reminiscent of scooters or war; or both.
Fall 2009: Flashes of long leg amidst seas of tweed coats scream muffled sounds of “feminine empowerment.”
Fall 2011: “I want to challenge their passion.” For this collection her aim was simple: to take the fashion clichés that read sex and make them innocent. Leather, sequins and fur. The colour pink too. With some help from 20s boyish silhouette, she made fur coats girlish and sequinned dresses that make one think of mermaids. And with the pilot hat or swimming cap (covered in fur), I will always remember this as the mermaid collection.
Fall 2017: She sneaks politics into art. This season was sparked by the Federico Fellini movie ‘City of Women’.The self-reflective progress and setbacks that women simultaneously face in this era is documented by a medley of skirts, t-shirts and flesh coloured lingerie nylon. Quintiessentially crystalised with multi-coloured fringe, “they are so glamorous… but they have guns.” After all, a girl is a gun.
The outrageousness of his collections appeal to the romantic and extrovert bubbling within me. There is so much to play with at hand, merely by glancing at the materialisation of his imagination in product form. His creativity plunges into controversy and there seems to be no end to his whimsy.
“There’s room for the Gap but the joy of dressing is an art.” He inadvertently admits that practicality is not at the forefront of his mind. But make no mistake, he makes no apologies for it.
The inspiration for his debut collection was The French Revolution, naming it ‘Les Incroyables’. As controversial as he is creative, he made his return to fashion with de la Renta’s aid. “I am able to create. I am ready to create… and I hope through my atonement I’ll be given a second chance.”
Spring 1995: Pinups.Boudoir lingerie stopped traffic-metaphorically- as 90s icons traipsed past a vintage automobile. Slip dresses and confectionary style corsets were at the forefront.
Spring 2000: ‘Homeless chic’. Inspired by Paris’ homeless population, this screamed controversy and influenced elements of the film ‘Zoolander’. Excessive glamour was swept away by tears and newspaper.
Fall 2005: Dita Von Teese made a well lacquered cameo amongst the gleaming blazers and layers of eye makeup.
Christian Dior Spring 2007: Geisha.Inspired by “Pinkerton’s affair with Cio-Cio San, “Madame Butterfly”, it featured kimonos, obis, and geisha makeup. A plethora of theatrical and over the top looks.
Spring 2010 Menswear: Exotic is my word of choice. Turbans and Tarzan look-alikes, bronzed and bare chested, were wound in multi-coloured fabrics.
Spring 2013 : Black bandeaus and simply formed dresses mesmerise under Gaytten’s eye.
Fall 2016 Ready to Wear : Stylishness and flattery splattered across dark colours, once in the case of a 3D floral embelishment.
He was offered his own label practically at first sight of his polka dots and sketches, which were “a little preppy, a little grungy, a little couture”.
Every season is an innovation yet retains a certain playfulness at its heart that appeals to the ‘it girl’ crown, specifically the hippest and swankiest of them all, Kate Moss. He transformed Louis Vuitton and has spent thirty years building his own label.
The belief that “fashion has to have irony right now” has become an active intention.
Perry Ellis Spring 1993: The Grunge Collection that got him the boot from Perry Ellis yet launched his career as the flannel shirts, printed granny dresses, Dr. Martens and knitted skullcaps were not perceived as “ghastly” by those other than Suzy Menkes. It was a cultural stamp, modern and savvy, as his own label has become. The show that made this man a fashion legacy.
Fall 2013 Menswear: Italian made tailoring married to suave New York punk.
Louis Vuitton Spring 2014: Models laden with beads, crystals and jet black feathers grace the carousels, fountains and escalators on the stage, deliberately alluding to Jacobs’ sixteen-year tenure at the LVMH-owned house. “Jacobs dedicated the collection to the many women who’ve touched or influenced him during his decade and a half in Paris, including designer muses Coco Chanel, Rei Kawakubo, and Miuccia Prada.” (Vogue) And, of course, ‘to the showgirl in all of us.’
Fall 2014: Fresh, soft, pure. But clearly not minimalistic. The looks become progressively more lavish and 1960s.
Fall 2016: Gothic black liner and charcoal lipstick bedewed on models wearing what ranges from band tees to Edwardian-esque couture dresses.
Spring 2017: The controversy concerning cultural appropriation (of dreadlocks) is now drowned out by outfits fit for Barbie dolls, baby dolls, or perhaps an illicit rave. ‘Loud’ is the key word here.
Fall 2017: Polished, youth culture street style. Very upper East Side New York with plenty of personality. Lesson 100: there is no limit to corduroy.
Based in Tokyo and Paris, Yohji delves into avant garde tailoring and his fashion philosophy is heavily influenced by the Japanese cultural aesthetic. He was interested in making some kind of “mannish” clothing for women in rejection of the typically feminine ideal that is ever-present in mainstream designs that are intended to feed the consumerist culture. He topped this look off with monochromatic designs, to avoid “disturbing” people’s eyes with overpowering colours, and an asymmetric appeal that was far from the social standard of beauty, especially in Europe where his creations were berated by the public as “ugly” and even “dirty”.
He derides the superficial pursuit of beauty and urges youngsters to clamour towards originality and excitement instead, much in the same way as Rei Kawakubo, his former girlfriend and another iconic Japanese designer.
Recently, his y-3 collaboration with Adidas has wedged him further in the eye of the media and perhaps closer to the hands of the average consumer.
Jean Paul Gaultier Spring 1994: Les Tautouages. “A startling vision of cross-cultural harmony.” (Vogue) Piercings, tattoo motifs and men in skirts ooze wildness and rebellion.
Spring 1999: The Brides and Widows collection. A runway-spanning bridal hat that required four attendants, each of them carrying bamboo poles in Spring 1999 ( the previous year) was phenomenally topped by this year’s show. It included models removing one dress, only to reveal another, and then another. “Behind the wedding dress there must be many stories.”
Fall 2002: Sports meet couture meets military drab. Is this what inspired the Instagram ‘baddie’, donning a cap and long tailored coat, trend?
Spring 2005: While the first look is reminiscent of a mad-scientist turned bohemian chic, the collection also dips into both bodices and baggy pantsuits.
Spring 2006 Menswear: All-American baseball is a tremendous motif- accompanied by little-leaguers (child models in baseball getups).
Spring/ Summer 2013: Yamamoto commissioned bright, graphic prints from Chikami Hayashi, the imperial print maker to the Japanese royal family, who designed the hibiscus prints. He focused on “walking backward into the future” and imaging the next decade rather than getting caught up in the past.
Fall 2014 : McGrath worked with the image of “powerful dolls”. Unwavering, painted eyes complimented the voluminous silhouettes.
Plucked from anonymity, he began by designing wedding and funeral dresses. He was thus hurtled into infamy.
Initially, he transformed Balenciaga into a renowned fashion house, an inspiration to countless of admirers.
Now he is building a budding relationship with Louis Vuitton.
“Louis Vuitton has always incarnated for me the symbol of ultimate luxury, innovation and exploration. I am very honoured of the mission that I am entrusted with, and proud to join the history of this great maison.”
Spring 1998: Ethereal and modest, comprising mostly of black.
Fall 2001: Exaggerated hips, lace up corsets, fitted trousers, ruffles and mini skirts (a colourful range) put Balenciaga back on the map.
Spring 2007: Sleek and futuristic yet almost ancient Greek in a timeless toga piece (above). “I was thinking of robotic articulation. Car parts. Droids. A boyish silhouette…”
Fall 2007: “It’s like in your room, on campus. It’s about how girls become themselves”. Something I can relate to, dearly. Tweeds alluding to Chanel mixed with a college girl vibe struck a chord with young and old alike.
Fall 2008: Modernity, high tech sex appeal and shiny surfaces collide with sharply sliced thigh high slits.
Pre Fall 2012: The first look whispers ‘Bowie’. The new corporate woman is presented in the 70s and early 80s with patchworks of silk and stripped back accessories. Statement earrings are a must.
Spring/Summer 2013: Spanish flamenco shapes were retouched by a monochromatic palette.
He designed costumes for movies, pop stars and even, yes, the circus. So the aggrandised embroideries are a given. I would give my whole wardrobe just to take a single picture in one of these explosive masterpieces. He has proven himself a legend to both fashion and fragrance, exceeding in both aspects of the industry with gold stars and flying colours as bright and bold as his designs.
Although he shies away, and practically shrivels, from the word ‘avant garde’, Mugler embraces his comparison to Peter Pan almost boyishly. “It’s true that I had a period where I dressed like Peter Pan in tights and the same type of shoes. I like his naivety, his ability to fly away and be free.
Spring 1992: The Western themed show was filled with pop culture; a male porn star, Ivana Trump and Beyonce’s attention. This structured, extreme sihlouette was something Bey was willing to pay for, waist contorting bustier and all.
Fall 1995: Absolutely sensational. Aerodynamic details and a cyborg getup suggest a psychic feel for the technology obsessed decade to come.
Spring 1998 : Silvery cyborg get-ups and fascinating dark colours shone while James Brown performed in the background of the show. The connection between humans and machines was questioned.
Spring 1999: Ethereal, unique and billowy. Some of these dresses look softer than dew as they are replete with airy material.
Fall 2012: A mix of body-loving cuts and paper white cashmere looks.
Spring 2015 : Optimally clean and minimal; perhaps less distinctive than past collections, but hardly less phenomenal.
Pre Fall 2017: Hourglass shapes were present in tight waistlines as well as wide, tapered shoulders. Beautiful jackets and jumpsuits veered on androgyny but were also femininely balanced by extreme hip to waist ratios.
-Vogue.com (archive of runway collections)
Maya Kokerov (featuring commentary from Ada Osman)