A fresh skin begins to surface as the world emerges from a forced hibernation, bringing with it hopes for a greener, more sustainable future.
Over the last year, we’ve seen markets, scenes, communities and sectors from all creative fields adapt to suit the new world, the ‘new normal’, a headline perpetually thrown in our faces. This period has ushered in a new form of political correctness, thrusted down throats by mainstream media and a circus of orange-faced clowns. The international community has been ordered to shapeshift to satisfy new surroundings, mentalities and needs. Perhaps a positive to have emerged from this disaster is the world being compelled, for once, to band together and attack environmental, racial and sociopolitical injustices head-on, re-instilling that the basic necessity for our species to flourish is real, meaningful connection. With Sir Attenborough’s latest statement in mind, our environmental disaster has surfaced once again, and after a year of distractions it was a firm reminder for some to enhance our plight for a more sustainable world. Over the last year, the fashion industry has drastically adapted too, shifting its focus to make sustainable design the only way forward.
Though the fashion industry is a constantly evolving machine, it has never experienced anything to the likes of this year’s events. A redesign of its structures has been initiated, paving avenues to view fashion in more meaningful, artistic and narrative-driven ways through the guise of cinematic storytelling. Themes of science fiction are not new to fashion, however this year’s events in fashion - throughout the US to Europe and the UK - seemed innately less speculative, and more existentially relevant than ever, featuring themes of global warming, the seemingly impending apocalypse, human dis/connection and the undeniable need for sustainability in every facet of existence. Though it was a stark reminder of the potential demise of our planet, many designers this year gave us hope for positive change.
Collections like Rick Owens’ SS21 featured ideas from biblical mythology, with the title of his collection being Phlegethon, the name of a river in Dante’s Inferno, a river of fire that boiled souls. His collection featured garments that appeared almost as battle armour made for an apocalyptic war; models glided down the fog infested runway wearing thigh-high platform boots that he named ‘waders’, perhaps alluding to Venice sinking or a metaphor for wading the Phlegethon. He also featured draped one to two-sided shoulder pads complemented with leather mini shorts, ‘belts with handy pockets’ as Rick calls them, made of recycled plastics in bubblegum pink and of course black, cinematically reminiscent of the Fifth Element. His collection has by many in the fashion community been seen as preparation in adapting to environmental warfare and by others viewed as a response to the hellscape of the current series of global events - a pandemic, global warming, and U.S. politics - the new allusory signs of the end of the world?
This season, designers were also forced to take into consideration the metaphysical element that the pandemic brought with it. Instead of runways, many designers created narrative-driven fashion stories, presented in video format. This was an interesting adaptation to the current situation and has been regarded as a revolutionary move in fashion show history. Even John Galliano mentioned in a Vogue interview, upon discussing the SS21 Maison Margiela film, “This [film] is a show! We’re just not creating a runway show. What I want to message now is that this is just the best medium. The thought of doing a runway show now is just, really?”
A designer who set the bar for this was Marine Serre, taking a similar apocalyptic stance to Owens’ with her SS21 collection featuring an upcycled array of dystopian themed second-skin face-shielding bodysuits, sharply delineated tailoring rendered in a new version of her leitmotif crescent moon, accompanied with sapphire and cobalt blue utility jackets and cargo pants. Serre has been known for her speculative storytelling in her past collections, however, this was one of her most realistic speculations yet. In contrast to Owens’ Collection, which seemed to suggest that we learn to co-exist with the incoming new world, Serre’s collection appeared to be more of an ominous warning sign.
Shifting from apocalypse-themed collections to a celebration of life was the LVMH prize-winning British designer Wales Bonner, exploring Jamaican dance-hall culture for her SS21 collection, Essence, with colours of the Jamaican flag upon floor-length crocheted dresses, two-piece leisure suits as well as deep-pleated trousers and skirts cut from indigo and plum-colored denim. Like Marine Serre, Wales Bonner too accompanied her collection with a fashion film, Thinkin’ Home by Jeano Edwards, filmed in Jamaica, tracking the passage of eight young men as they move towards their personal destinations, against a soundscape of 80s dancehall, gospel and spoken word. A celebration of the coming of age, Jamaican music, landscape, and culture.
“Where is the best place to watch the sunrise? Well, for me, it’s probably my home ‘cause I live on a hill and I love to wake up early in the morning and watch the sunrise before the city becomes what it becomes.” Selah Mchale, in Thinkin’ Home
Spotlighted as one of London's newest gems was Maximillian Davis, exploring and enhancing black elegance guided by his Trinidadian roots. Captured in a video directed by Akinola Davis, the Manchester-born designer featured garments reminiscent of a Trinidadian carnival, he says, once known for having enslaved people to perform for their enslavers. Now Davis saw his chance to communicate his personal perspective on his history, as he mentioned in a Vogue interview: “Right now, people are more open than ever before to talking about race, and being educated about the ways that they can work to be anti-racist,” he told them. “This collection is offering a starting point for me to be vocal in that conversation. For so long, Black people haven’t been in charge of their own narratives or, during lockdown, with the shootings, have been seen so one-dimensionally. I want to show people of colour in a different light.” On the same note, he also sought to present themes in his new collection that empowered women with tailored, skin revealing silhouettes that emanate elegance, grace and finesse.
Wrapping it up, I think this year has been one of the most existentially confronting of them all. We saw moments of creativity flourish, and communities band together. I could go on about the milestones we reached this year in fashion, from sustainable design to radiation of black power and resilience, but I’ll save that for the next entry.