‘Is It Theater or Is It Real?’

‘Is It Theater or Is It Real?’

In May, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art unveiled its mega Costume Institute show, “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” Jeremy Scott, creative director of Moschino and founder of his own line, was the single most represented name in the show. It featured 15 or so of his pieces, including a prosciutto dress from early in his career and the TV-dinner gown from the Moschino show last season — and that, in its train/tray, beef-’n’-mash glory, became a talking point for almost anyone who went to the museum, whether or not she had ever paid attention to the fashion show.

And it was hard not to wonder this season: How could he possibly top that? At a moment when all of life seems like a high camp performance, from Boris Johnson’s hair to Billy Porter’s various entrances, how would Mr. Scott assume the mantle as the bard of the absurd?

Instead of going low, he went high.

Eschewing his usual pop culture punning — McDonald’s, paper dolls, TV game shows — his riff was on Picasso: the artist’s muses, his most famous paintings, his passion for bullfighting. All given Mr. Scott’s signature made-for-the-small-screen treatment: Cubist portraits mocked up in bright colors on a minidress; a black and white body sketched onto a canvas with its own semiportable baroque frame; multiple versions of the artist’s “Guitar;” a harlequin bodysuit (plus a few wearable derivations, to remind you this was a commercial venture, including shifts speckled with naïf flowers and a draped sheath dress with a picture frame pin at the shoulder).

A handbag in the shape of a hand was kind of funny. And playing “Guess the Painting” was fun, if a little pretentious. But when a Guernica bullhead appeared, it was hard to see the humor.

If you are going to turn violence and pain into a joke, it better be done at the service of a greater point, not just a one-liner. Mr. Scott’s ability to do this — to use humor to make needle-sharp observations about social media and consumption — has long been his most potent accessory. Not this time. This time, the clothes-play just seemed calculated to set off a thousand memes. It’s too bad, because goodness knows we could use some levity these days.

Instead we’re getting — Mr. Scott aside — “reality.”

Not the gritty, wrestle-with-where-we-are-going kind. The airbrushed, neutral, just-get-me-through-the-day kind.

“I don’t call it ‘ready-to-wear,’ I call it ‘real-to-wear,’” Silvia Venturini Fendi said backstage before her first solo women’s — well, ready-to-wear — collection since Karl Lagerfeld’s death. Then she announced that her theme was summer. The fun of jumping in a swimming pool whenever the chance arose (which actually sounds more like fantasy).

She offered up bright Hawaiian prints in sporty nylon married to shearling in boxy jackets and miniskirts; pastel quilted shorts and trousers reminiscent of blankets you snuggle under in the evening; swim shorts and tops worn under basket-weave leather dresses to let the air flow through; and shower curtain slipdresses.

Meanwhile, “real clothes, clothes to live in,” quoth Daniel Lee at Bottega Veneta after the show, of his oversize, assertive leather anoraks and trench coats, basketball shorts and matching blouson tops — there was bigness for both men and women — and stiff painters pants.

(Indeed, there was almost more leather than there was at Tod’s, another house focused on “real” clothes. “T is for Tod’s, tradition, touch,” a Tod’s executive chortled before its show of haute bourgeois buttery nappa separates, with some animal prints and silk slipdresses thrown in for variety).

Among the Bottega skins, however, were also skinny knits with an asymmetric weave across the bust, crystal cowled disco dresses and slick one-shouldered sheaths that curve off-center around the lower back. Plus a cheeky money print on a silk scarf top. Mr. Lee has some self-awareness.

After all, though these clothes may qualify as real for a select few, Ms. Fendi’s buffalo-plaid mink bathrobe coats are not exactly everyday wear, and those ’80s volumes at Bottega will be challenging for most (the baggy shorts and elongated power jackets on top tend to squash the silhouette, rather than extend it). And that doesn’t even begin to take account of the fact that reality is a lot more ragged than perfectly hemmed.

“Real accessories” is probably a more accurate term. The inflated basket-weave pouch bags and woven slides and mules featured last season in Mr. Lee’s debut at the brand were being modeled by a large percentage of the front row, to an extent that has not been seen since the Gucci sneaker and fur-lined shower slipper snowed the style world a few seasons ago.

“The greatest thing about this job is to see the work in real life. When you see people in the street with the product, in Instagram, in social, I feel really grateful,” said Mr. Lee when one of his interlocutors brought up the ubiquity post-show. Which reflected the debate, whispered among attendees, of whether everyone wearing Bottega had bought Bottega, or if it had been seeded around the influencers and editors on purpose, as has long been fashion’s wont, to create the image of desire — and whether it mattered, anyway, since reportedly the products had all sold out in stores.

“Is it theater or is it real life?” read the show description of Margherita Missoni’s M Missoni presentation, featuring a tram that went round and round a limited route, picking up street-cast models in M Missoni as it went.

It’s a good question.

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