Trying to be a well-dressed work horse, as opposed to glitzy show pony has become my mantra ever since my friend Isabelle OC offered me some sound encouragement after that whole “Circus of Fashion” debacle (I recently re-read my own Sad Clown post and got a bit emosh about it). But a few of the key shows of S/S 14 have been bringing out everyone, including my own inner show pony. One of the apparent themes of the season was that everything was really surface-driven. Clothes glinted, shimmied and sparkled, or they were printed with memorable motifs, seemingly begging to be shared, Tweeted, Insta-ed and ultimately look great front-on on a flat screen. Some interpreted as a fine riposte to the accusations of fashion week becoming an odious circus – if everyone is peacocking, parading or clowning around, let them do it in the finest razzle dazzle there is.
And yet, trust me to read a little too much into all those pretty surfaces. The thing that makes a facade alluring is just that – what lies beneath the facade just makes the clothes all the more evocative, beyond the kudos of something that will get you onto the popular page of Instagram. You could say I’m trying to justify the “Look at Me, Look at Me” (said in the way that Julia Stiles did in 10 Things I Hate About You) effect these clothes inevitably garner. The subtext might be irrelevant for most but it is a satisfying feeling to dig deeper into these “all that glitters” collections.
Let’s talk Prada then. I’ve left it late but it is finally dripping into stores now, and I’ve been prowling around the collection quietly, wondering what I could financially get away with buying without compromising my mortgage payments. That’s normally par for course for Prada, but this one in particular, got to me in an ultra obvious way. The artists themselves commissioned by Prada weren’t as significant as the central motif of the female faces featured on the dresses and on the murals of the set – pitting cute and doll-like against sinister and mysterious. They stared at you intently from all angles. Pitted together with the consistent drumming in of a Prada uniform – a repetition of bust-centric sporty silhouettes and hockey socks – and you had yourself the sparkliest of girl gangs, one that everyone wanted to join in on. In the show and afterward in the showroom, it was incredible that elements were repeated over and over again across forty-one looks and yet nothing looked throwaway or unnecessary. Yes to the bejewelled bustiers in five different colours. Yes to the painted n’ prim hand bags. Yes to the pool sliders in all their colourway combos (I’m hoping the flat bejewelled ones go into production). Yes to the gemstone cuffs and Prada-branded elastic bracelets, worn like a membership badge. Roll up, join up and unite in Prada worship. Just as we’re pledging allegiance to brands through logos once again, Prada’s collection that is unified, instantly recognisable and seared into people’s memories, invite their own kind of devotees. By donning these screaming-out-loud clothes, you’ll be listened to and in the ongoing gender fight where there STILL isn’t enough of that listening thing going on, it’s a strong message. Of course, it’s likely Miuccia will volte-face on herself and say that quiet can also be powerful the next season. For now though, we’re invited to make like banshees and screech away.
On a personal wearing note, Anna Dello Russo has already cornered in on a few of my favourite and possibly loudest key looks- she can be the shouty head girl, and I’ll happily step back as the slightly quieter banshee in one of the simpler (and err…vaguely more pocket friendly) portrait shift dresses, that I’m eyeing up in store.
In a Miu Miu show that dove-tailed neatly onto older sister Prada’s vibes, the finale show of Paris had us traversing through the Folies Bergère by way of a Courrèges-attired prim girls school. Showgirls and schoolgirls, said Miuccia. In some ways, it was Miuccia referencing her own vast archive of ugly/chic tropes – she’s one of the few who can get away with copying herself. Add in some art nouveau lines, some kitsch cute animals (CATS! BIRDS! An Etsy crafting community’s wet dream surely…) and a melange of off-beat pastel shades and you haves yourself pretty surfaces all round. As with many Miu Miu collections, it doesn’t invite you to read too deep into it but by its very nature of at-odds combos – such as provocative showgirl bugle bead fringing and school girly knitted tights – it makes you naturally think of female oddballs, who you can align yourself with. Pretty but weird. Odd but nice. Sweet n’ sour. You know my dealio with those contrasts – it’s no wonder I’m drawn to this collection’s surfaces with substance and feisty facades.
Maison Martin Margiela articulated showgirls through a masculine tailored filter and it hit a high for people that aren’t normally Margiela aficionados. Most have moved on from that sob-sob “Oh the man Martin Margiela is no longer there!” phase and now the maison is getting back into their groove, turning out both intriguing Artisinal and ready to wear collections with interesting collabs on the side. I know you’re not supposed to talk about who is behind the house, but having a small bit of inside knowledge of the team there, I can say that it’s not surprising the brand is swerving back into a critically-acclaimed path once more. Showgirl corsets that you might find in Angels’ costume archives are left undone and trailing with chiffon as they’re paired with deconstructed jackets and mannish trews and shirts. It’s a simple loud-quiet contrast tricked out well and one that you can see people doing on a creative shoestring if MMM showpieces are out of reach. Cue manic searches on eBay for showgirl costumes and my digging out dad’s old trousers. Still, it would be hard to top the real shebang – showgirls and power dressing might seem at odds with each other but the Margiela team blend the two together so that it looks seamless. I suspect donning a spangly corset over a man’s shirt isn’t going to quite cut it.
Finally, there’s the Adieu! showgirl. Yes, Marc Jacob’s final collection for Louis Vuitton is more a symbolic gesture than garment reality. Still, I left the show thinking about the clothes rather than Marc Jacobs’ departure (which was previously reported as imminent anyway). Despite all the funereal black, you weren’t invited to mourn, nor was there any negative feeling as the parting by all accounts was mutual. Instead, we joyfully celebrated that “showgirl in all of us” (his parting quote on the press notes). Lavish jet black beading, embroidery and feathers looking magnificent and glorious, and yet, supremely cool when worn with blue boyfriend jeans. It’s a collection that sealed a seasonal tone that showgirls aren’t just to sepia-tinged photos and Dita Von Teese – it’s a spirit that can live and breathe in our own realities – whatever that may be. Setting tones for seasons is exactly what Marc Jacobs has been doing for the best part of the last two decades both at his own label and at Louis Vuitton. Should he make another maison power move or just carry on growing his own empire, I don’t doubt that he’ll be doing even more season-shaking. With this particular collection, and many previous ones, Jacobs shows you why revelling in outré showiness can be so rewarding.