A Fashion Show Epilogue. Or Was It an Elegy?

A Fashion Show Epilogue. Or Was It an Elegy?

A Fashion Show Epilogue. Or Was It an Elegy?

A Fashion Show Epilogue. Or Was It an Elegy?

In 1964 Andy Warhol trained a camera on the Empire State Building for about six and a half hours, in a meditation on the nature of monuments, thought and perception.

On Friday, Alessandro Michele of Gucci trained a camera — actually a few — on a Gucci campaign shoot for 12 hours in a livestream about the nature of creation, identity and dress.

Also, in both cases, boredom, and the way it can free the mind.

Mr. Michele has, in the five years he has been the creative director of Gucci, mostly cloaked his increasingly hyperbolic and oversaturated shows in the dense erudition of relatively obscure philosophers like Giorgio Agamben, Gilles Deleuze and Johann Joachim Winckelmann, but it turns out that Warhol makes for much better source material.

As a comment on the experience of lockdown and what it meant — to fashion, but also to those stuck at home in that unsettling nether land of suspended animation where the life of the mind continued while the life of the body was restrained — it turned out to be surprisingly effective. Verdant, in every sense. If also occasionally tedious.

And it made for a fitting ending to what has been an olio of a digital fashion week: a random stew of lines including men’s, women’s, couture, ready-to-wear, resort and “Flash” (the name for an interstitial collection created to generate excitement), all of it packaged as brand promos, designer musings and high-concept creative collaboration that favored concept over clothes to an unfortunate extent.

The challenge in the current digital reality has always been combining a chance to actually see the stuff with the more abstract suggestion of the idea behind them, and the way it connects to our own lived experience. It’s proven harder than most expected.

Watching AJ Tracey, the British rapper introduce his new song at the Versace headquarters while models writhing in what were mostly beaded faux snakeskin crop tops and hip-slung trousers (along with some very Versace silk print shorts-and-shirts combos) was fun. But it didn’t go very far in answering the question of what we are supposed to wear next; who we are supposed to be.

Perhaps that’s why a number of designers took the coronavirus-be-damned route and went back to live shows (Etro, Jacquemus) with a limited, masked audience.

It proved hard to focus on the fashion, however, when you kept being worried about an outbreak. Even though, in the case of Jacquemus, the audience was socially distanced around an enormous wheat field, through which the models meandered in sunlit slip dresses, beachy trousers and bra tops.

So what worked best, not just as a visual experience, not just as a historical record of a very complex moment, not just as actual shirts and dresses and coats you may want to wear, but as all of the above?

Loewe’s do-it-yourself show in a box, complete with swatches, pop-up backdrop and dress cards, as a counterpart to the filmed musings of the designer Jonathan Anderson, and the 360-degree view of selected mannequins, where the rigorous — and ingenious — splicing of extreme 18th-century volumes and austere outerwear could be seen in the round.

Maison Margiela’s 50-minute docudrama about the making of the Artisanal collection in the weeks after lockdown in France, directed by Nick Knight, recorded by GoPros, drones and iPhones, was compelling in its insight.

It traversed the leaps and swirls of the designer John Galliano’s mind as it ranged along a pathway that connected the fragile drapery of Greek statuary to the Blitz club kids of 1980s London to James Baldwin quotations; caught the close-knit glee with which Mr. Galliano’s studio, and muses like the model Leon Dame, cooked it up into reality; and cozied up to the technique that goes into his work.

Especially the “wet drape” of gossamer white muslins cut along a circular line and suppressed by a sheer overstocking, to mimic the crushed marble drapery of the Three Graces. Or the use of a projector to add words to reflective embroidery atop a blood red and black tulle gown.

Then, speaking of endings, there was Miuccia Prada’s last Prada show as lone creative director. As of September, Raf Simons will be joining her.

Perhaps as a result, she returned to first principles, stripping away the fuss to get at the essence of a black nylon dress, full-skirted, empire-waisted, strapless or sleeveless, with that tiny black Prada triangle at the breastbone — the bag-as-party-frock. Also leather suiting and single-breasted clutch coats, knit polo shirts and shorts.

All of them effectively offered an easy to wear, and easy to imagine, transition. Not so much between seasons or systems, or even designers, but between how to dress for home and how to dress for the potential return to public life that is dangling so tantalizingly (and nerve-rackingly) in the future.

To frame it, Mrs. Prada enlisted five creatives, including Juergen Teller, Joanna Piotrowska and Terence Nance, each of them offering two-minute snippets of their own point of view, in acknowledgment that when we see a designer’s work it is always through our own lens. The result was called “The Show That Never Happened” — just as Mr. Michele’s was called “Epilogue.”

In both cases, they were an acknowledgment of what all of this experimentation in form and function signifies, at least in theory: the last gasp of the old system and tentative steps toward the new.

Thus Mr. Michele offered up what was essentially an ode to the grandmother’s trunk approach he has made his signature. He loaded on the prints and pieces, the reference and nostalgia in 76 looks: florals and fringe and sequins and turbans and housedresses; brocade gowns and cutoff bluejean shorts and nerdy knee socks and bangles; Disney and Liberty of London and Ken Scott. Pull ’em apart if you have the patience and there’s something for everyone.

He did it in the Palazzo Sacchetti in Rome, against a backdrop of old master paintings and elaborate marquetry, and a manicured courtyard garden (with a trampoline), with staff in face masks and plastic face shields and 35 models who weren’t models but members of the atelier.

He did it with, in other words, with the people who made the clothes they were wearing; people of different ages and shapes and skin colors; all identified by name and job and given their due — in a palpably human display of thumb twiddling, awkward posing and kinship.

And he did it with final look book photos layered atop video of the shoot, juxtaposed against references that ranged from antique dolls to root vegetables, the process of grappling with identity and aesthetics laid bare.

It was, Mr. Michele gabbled during the video, “The end of the beginning of an experiment.” He was right. Now, onward.

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