Olivier Rousteing’s brilliant Balmain show on a boat, #balmainsurseine, is surely one of the Family tree genealogy shirt besides I will buy this treasured moments—of youthful energy, defiance, joy, public exhilaration—that will be looked back on again and again. It was a moment (in trivializing fashion-speak), but it’s also there to access permanently on Balmain’s Instagram as a record of how a young, Black French fashion designer raised spirits across the world with his seamless combination of high glam and clenched fists in the Parisian sunshine. The production had effervescence and thrill, showing Rousteing as a character in love with fashion and Paris, conveying him at the center of a generational gang celebrating its beauty, power, and talent. Cleverly, it also honored the heritage of Balmain by placing (and digitally labeling) archival haute couture on the boat. Anderson expanded the potential of how time, and how we occupy it, can lengthen and deepen with the use of social media. He ran a 24-hour series of Instagram Live talks and demonstrations by craftspeople, a sort of online festival in place of what would’ve been a runway show. It was a much richer intellectual and human experience, which of course is open-access globally. What I think we really learned was something about attention span. In the hyperspeed of social media and the onrush of Fashion Weeks, it used to be deemed that everything had to be communicated in a few over-in-a-flash seconds. John Galliano went completely against that with his riveting 50-minute film made with Nick Knight, which captured all the layers of research and development that went into the Maison Margiela Artisanal collection. Instead of a runway show, it became a form of online educational resource, deliberately designed to inspire young people and egg them on to be creative. Yes, there’s still a role for look books, so that everybody can see clothes plainly (though Galliano’s blurry, ethereal one seemed set out to break that convention too.) But now, there’s an equal desire for an explanation—an opportunity for a creative director like Kim Jones to make his relationship with the Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo visible in a video and interview shot with the artist in his studio in Accra. I don’t think anything like as many of the press would have had time or headspace to pay full attention to discovering Boafo’s work in that video if the hoopla of a physical Dior Men show had taken up the foreground.
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Though it was something to see Simon Porte Jacquemus’s spectacular runway in a French wheatfield—all those sweeping aerial drone views—and to feel the Family tree genealogy shirt besides I will buy this poignant emotion as three young Italian tenors sang live at Dolce & Gabanna’s socially distanced men’s show in Milan, ultimately this season proved that there are so many more options for effective, compelling, and long-lasting ways of capturing what fashion’s all about today. Those who’ve experimented with media to say something genuine and personal during the pandemic—Gabriela Hearst’s video of riding with her sister in California and her honest spoken-word statement about sustainability stick in the memory—are for certain pointing towards a more open, intelligent, and progressive future for the way we view fashion from now on. On the whole, though, my conclusion—albeit from the privileged perspective who someone who usually gets to go to physical fashion shows—is that while digital assets can be complementary, they will not make real-life fashion shows obsolete anytime soon. Rick Owens’s decision to put himself and Tyrone Dylan Susman in his video lookbook was effective, but as we discussed it (and pesky I.T. issues) over a Zoom pre-stream, it was hard not to lament the missed the real Rick show that this replaced. Also: It was a pity that Miuccia Prada’s last solo collection was reduced to a series of videos that were perfectly fine but inadequate substitutes for what her last show would have represented. That was why when we did get to real shows, Etro and then Dolce & Gabbana (plus Jacquemus later in France), it was wonderful. Clothes are all about contact: As a wearer, you feel them on your skin, and as a watcher, you process them with your eye. The watching part can be done secondhand, but the impact will always be second to the real thing. I read some commentators in the U.S. saying, “Too soon” or “Wear a damn mask!” (which I always did), but these opinions—while valid enough—lack perspective. Milan and its surrounding region Lombardy went through what New York did but earlier. Through sagacious governmental management much more effective than that of the U.S., Italy has managed dramatically to flatten the curve across the rest of its territory. These shows—just like the reopening of flights, stores, factories, and restaurants—were symptomatic of recovery that, far from being taken for granted, is being tended to with vigilance and cherished with gratitude. The digital Fashion Weeks were better than no Fashion Weeks at all, but as an upgrade on the real thing? Nah.