Can fashion still shock? – The New York Times


PARIS — What’s shocking now?

There are many possible answers to this question, though few of them likely have to do with fashion. Reality has long since taken precedence over cupboards as a source of perpetual astonishment.

Yet, from the facade of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs du Louvre as the first full season of couture shows since 2020 has begun, a call rings out: “Shocking! The surreal world of Elsa Schiaparelli.

It was the announcement of a new exhibition as well as a reminder that in the past, clothing had the power to confuse.

That fashion used to be able to shake viewers out of their torpor or cynicism; challenge convention; make them blink and blink again with a mere flash of flesh, an amazing build, a seemingly absurd idea about the body and what goes on it.

Yet in a world of increasing extremes, where truth is a fungible concept and crisis is beginning to appear as the norm, this time seems practically antiquated: a museum piece, in more ways than one.

Even in couture, this laboratory of designers frees itself from commercial constraints because it is made to order for a very small number.

So what’s shocking now? Daniel Roseberry, the creative director of Schiaparelli, had a kind of response: “beautiful things”. Sometimes, in the face of overwhelming externalities and an unrelenting gloom, he suggested, it’s enough to dazzle with joy; offer a reminder of the ability to dream. Even if it is a little overinflated. It’s not about day clothes, baby.

This is a hat that looks like an entire field of golden wheat (but was actually burnt ostrich feathers); a black velvet evening dress on which twinkling tulips grow or swirl under a storm of satin; a dress entirely composed of necklaces adorned with jewels. It’s a question of dialogue: with the creators who preceded him, like Christian Lacroix, who relaunched Schiaparelli in 2013.

Dialogue! Imagine that. It’s actually kind of a radical suggestion. (More radical, anyway, than the bare breasts that Mr. Roseberry also sprinkled throughout his show, which at this point seems both mundane and gratuitous.) And it has to start somewhere.

It’s escapism with a very subtle benefit: not just for those who can buy it, but for those who can see it – which, thanks to the digital world, is pretty much everyone. Come for the visual fantasy and stay for the reminder of our nature’s finest angels.

Although, as with the feathers, frills and rhinestone extravaganzas of Giambattista Valli, which seemed to evoke Elvis and Priscilla Presley dressing for a 1960s gala at the Villa Borghese in Rome, the expression foams sometimes a little too much.

“At a time when our hearts are strained / by current affairs and obscurantism / we must remain raw and real”, writes Pieter Mulier d’Alaïa in a kind of pre-show prose poem left on each seat (Alaïa not being a couture brand but an adjacent couture brand). “Rough and real” in the current collection, largely referring to the tactility of materials and the feel of the hand.

Presented in a raw space that will one day become an Alaïa store, the collection was built on the bodysuit – in layers of stretch silk and knit, sometimes rolled up at the waist with an internal scarf serving as a skirt and extravagant dangling fringes – on which came squirts of whipped cream skirts and “shelter here” cocoon coats.

There were rough-edged leathers, crisp white shirts (with hoods) and, at the end, a skirt that hung from the waist to the hood around the hips, plunging low enough in the back to expose two slices of bare bottom beneath the body cut. high on the thigh. Cheeky. And perhaps the way forward for a home that has been weighed down by inheritance.

It turns out that Mr. Mulier had brought his entire workshop to attend the parade, which is becoming a trend in couture. The designers recognize that they don’t do it alone – zounds. Another kind of shocking development

Indeed, said Maria Grazia Chiuri in a preview before her Dior show, “fashion has this great opportunity to build bridges between people and to support each other and to be connected and open. It’s a big platform, and we have to use it.

She increasingly uses it to broaden the definition and ethos of couture, linking it to the traditions of global craftsmanship – this season via the work of Ukrainian artist Olesia Trofymenko, whose designs combine the techniques classics of cross stitch and painting. Beginning with Ms. Trofymenko’s “Tree of Life,” Ms. Chiuri wove them, quite literally, into her own designs, incorporating them into governess dresses and swaddling bathrobe coats, square-skirted suits and wedding dresses. lady of the lace mansion.

If Marie-Antoinette had traded the dress of a shepherdess for folklore at the Petit Trianon and self-indulgence for the sharing of power, this is what she could have worn. The colors were subtle (ecru, white, black, a little red) and so was the suggestion. This does not make it less sharp, nor the results less pretty.

It was Iris van Herpen, however, celebrating her brand’s 15th anniversary and returning to a live show for the first time in two years, who hit the nail on the head. Connection is also at the heart of her work, but her subject is the past and the future: how to take the ancient art of sewing and make it relevant for tomorrow; how you find the point of congruence between nature and technology.

She called her collection Meta Morphism, referencing both metaverse, the latest fashion crush, and Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” the stories of Daphne and Narcissus. The result was proof positive that if ever a designer was going to free us from the confines of the physical world and show us how to dress in a digital dimension (where, perhaps, couture wouldn’t just be something for the masses to watch , but something to wear), it’s Mrs. van Herpen.

She works in a completely different language than any other designer, and with entirely different tools, including 3D printers and laser cutters, so her clothes look like clothes (mostly) but also like life forms. organic: butterflies and Venus Flytraps extruding filaments that quiver and float around the body with the breeze of a gesture, mixed with a touch of ancient mythology, with faces appearing in three-dimensional ribbons on coats and dresses to throw a curious and amazed look. They rewrite the physics of clothing and reimagine the body without erasing it, not in a caricatural way but in a completely convincing way.

And that creates hope for what might happen next. In the real world as well as in the virtual world. Which may be the most genuinely shocking thing of all.

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