Fashion, what’s next? With the uncertainty resulting from the pandemic situation, haute couture must prove that it is not just a game of abstractions

Words by: Gilda Bruno and Gianmarco Gronchi

For brief moments, fashion made everything appear ‘normal’ again when ‘normal’ had long lost its meaning. It seemed as if the sorrows and sufferings of recent years — or better, those of 2020 and 2021 — were now a thing to be left behind. The joie de vivre appeared to have staged its comeback.

Many times, over the last few months, we thought about what we could do once out of the health emergency. We pre-tasted the excitement of attending physical shows again, the never-ending series of international Fashion Weeks fast approaching. We looked forward to reappropriating a material sphere that is not a mere mundane ritual, but an opportunity for emotional discovery to be experienced far from the aseptic screens of electronic devices. We thought we could go back to live fashion inside and outside the showrooms and ateliers, in the street, in the city, where it was born and used to nourish.

Instead, just a few days before the start of the presentations of the new Men’s Collections, the pandemic is back to strike as hard as it had in a long time. A confrontation, rather than a clash, with Covid, that forces us to rethink our priorities and rhythms. At a time when there seems to be no “light at the end of the tunnel,” or that it is at any rate very distant and shrouded in uncertainties linked to the variants of the virus, we go back with our mind to Ennio Flaiano‘s bitter irony, when he said “Courage! The best is over.”

Recent news reveal JW Anderson’s decision to cancel his debut on Milan’s catwalks. A resolution agreed upon by the likes of Armani, Gucci, Brunello Cucinelli and Ann Demeulemeester, as the calendars of Pitti Uomo and Milan Fashion Week become more and more tinged with red crosses and renunciations.

With contagion and death toll rising for the umpteenth time in nearly two years, what is the point of talking about fashion? Whose clothes are those we see on the world’s most-coveted runways? Who gets to wear them today?

Perhaps it is at the height of the crisis that lightness is needed. The presentations and events that will take place over the next few weeks, from Milan to Paris, from London to New York, should maybe be just that: a moment of airiness, which is not synonymous with superficiality. It would be a mistake to ask fashion for answers that no one in the current situation is able to provide. It is likely, however, that this is not even its task. Instead, it is legitimate for it to pose further questions, to open up new areas for reflection, new moments of investigation. Because it is in uncertainty and doubt that one acquires the tools for greater awareness of one’s own identity and the possibilities of relating to the world.

Calvino wrote that it is foolish to think you can overcome labyrinths by escaping their difficulty. Consequently, it will be the next appointments with fashion, with the creativity that underlies it, that will help us not to crumble the walls of the labyrinth — this is not possible at the moment — but rather to trace variable geographies to orient ourselves within an elusive present.

There is still life, passion beyond the surface. Today you cannot see it, but you can feel it with your senses. Perhaps we should trust our senses, because those garments that today seem to us like amorphous matter, extraneous to reality, concern us all. They speak of us, of our contemporary reality, of our lives and even of our deaths. Creative reflections that we hope will open up renewed mental vistas, speaking to us and to everyone.

As we wait for fashion to bloom again against all odds, here’s a quick recap of what haute couture offered us over the last 12 months.

Milan Fashion Week kicks off with We Are Made in Italy 

Relying on the prestigious stage of MFW to raise their voices against systemic violence and racism, designers Gisèle Claudia NtsamaFabiola Manirakiza, Joy Ijeoma Meribe, Karim Daoudi and Macodou Fall opened Milan’s Fall Winter 2021/2022 digital event with collections showcasing their sense of belonging to the Bel Paese.

Titled We Are Made in Italy, the live-streamed presentation started off with short clips portraying the designers at work in their studios. With a soulful R&B soundtrack setting the pace for the models’ iconic catwalks, the focus shifted onto the creations of the talented bunch in a touching, highly-anticipated moment that went down in history. Merging African cultural influences with the excellence of Italian craftsmanship, We Are Made in Italy proved that BIPOC creatives must have a say in the evolution of the Italian fashion industry.

Daniel Del Core debuts at Milan Fashion Week

The presentation of Women’s Collection Fall/Winter 2021/2022 started with a real boom as Daniel Del Core, former VIP designer for Gucci, graced its opening with one of the few IRL fashion shows of this edition. Drawing inspiration from a Master of Fashion, no one else than Pierre Cardin, Del Core mesmerised the audience with a play of volumes, textures and colourways that reminded us of the need for physical fashion runways.

JW Anderson proves that fashion can be more than… glamorous fashion runways 

Anticipating the variety of declinations in which fashion would unveil itself throughout 2021, JW Anderson opted for an almost analog way of introducing the international audience to their newest Women’s line. Featuring 19 double-sided posters and a video message from the brand’s Founder and Creative Director Jonathan Anderson, the brand’s Women’s Fall/Winter 2021 collection was described by Anderson himself as “one of the most personal projects he has ever done,” and as an attempt to “boil everything down to beauty, silhouette and pose.”

The fashion house’s AW 21 garments embodied the researched curation and juxtaposition of Anderson’s two passions: art and fashion. Alongside the nineteen looks were images of two artists and their works, including limited-edition blankets that they co-produced with JW Anderson. Jonathan first met artist and ceramicist Dame Magdalene Odundo while curating the Disobedient Bodies exhibition for the Hepworth Wakefield in 2017. In June 2020, during a brief relaxation of lockdown rules in the UK, Jonathan saw the work of American-born artist Shawanda Corbett at the Corvi-Mora Gallery in London. Both artists agreed to join forces with JW Anderson to develop a series of limited-edition blankets based on three works each, for a total of six unique styles.

The portraits of Magdalene and Shawanda, the photographs of their incredible ceramics, the blanket collaboration and the JW Anderson collection were all revealed to the public simultaneously in sixty-one images shot by photographer Juergen Teller.

Balmain reminds us of the emotion of boarding an aircraft

Who said we can’t board on aircraft because of COVID-19 was totally wrong or, at least, this didn’t seem to apply to Balmain’s creative director Olivier Rousteing. Literally set in an airport, the fashion brand’s FW 21 digital runway made us feel nostalgic about the good old times where we could have our feet up in the air travelling to all sorts of destinations. At Paris Fashion Week, Balmain presented the public with models rocking their outfits walking in and out of aircraft as well as on top of their wings. “I don’t know where we’re going, but I do know that we are going somewhere. The point is not the destination but the actual going; the journey, the leaving—and the escape,” Rousteing said in a statement attached to the live-streamed presentation; words that undoubtedly resonated with most of us.

Burberry stages a fashionable rave 

In Burberry Spring Summer 2022, Tisci’s inspiration from the post-punk and rave subculture of the early ‘90s was clear; the digital presentation showed models with orange hair and piercings on their face gathering at a rave party. On this occasion, the creative director crafted pieces through which everyone could express their own individuality while also acknowledging the collective identity of the group they belonged to.

Marni covers us in flowers

For Spring Summer 2022, Marni offered Milan a great moment of fashion communion. In his “collection of rebirth,” the designer played around two overarching themes: “Stripes that multiply everywhere, give meaning, connect” and daisies which “emerge resiliently to disconnect and reconnect.” In addition to the models, the Maison’s employees, technicians and seamstresses, but also the artists taking part in the show, special guests, stars and friends of the brand, not to mention the journalists, all wore cotton jackets, trousers or overcoats, salvaged from Marni’s stock and each repainted by hand with large vertical-coloured stripes. Each garment was marked with a large label saying “Marniphermalia.” The cherry on top of the cake? Live performances by Francesco Risso, Babak Radboy, Mykki Blanco and Zsela.

Maximilian goes viral at London Fashion Week

August 2021 saw one of the most memorable fashion shows of the year and we hope you didn’t miss it. A Fashion East’s recruit on the verge of success, Manchester-born Maximilian Davis channeled the essence of Trinidad Carnival and Black Liberation through audacious looks that celebrate the authenticity of his cultural heritage while setting the premises for a real fashion revolution. Playing with contrasting cuts, textures, and fabrics, from reflecting vinyls to silk, leather and semi-transparent organza, the collection of the 25-year-old designer of Afro-Caribbean descent embodied his desire to reconnect with his roots as a means of communicating and honouring Black elegance across the world.

Miuccia Prada makes miniskirts cool again

A clean, sharp cut, like a wound or a solution with no return: it is a reaction to the overcrowded reality of the product that leads Miuccia Prada to think of Miu Miu as being made from clothes that already existed which, with a stroke of scissors, she cut cleanly, transforming them into something new. Trousers became miniskirts and jackets rediscovered Philip Garner‘s half-suit in a SS22 collection where there was no space for “frivolous invention.”

The fashion world pays tribute to Alber Elbaz

A heartfelt homage to Alber Elbaz wrapped up the Spring Summer 2022 edition of Paris Fashion Week. Set at Carreau Du Temple, the show saw 45 designers reinterpret the creative and human legacy of the late designer. Among the participants, just to name a few, Jean-Paul GaultierRick OwensTomo KoizumiRaf Simons, and Virgil Abloh, as well as the great Maisons: from Gucci, with Alessandro Michele, to Fendi with Kim Jones, passing through Dior of Maria Grazia Chiuri and more.

Louis Vuitton remembers visionary creative director Virgil Abloh

Virgil Abloh, Off-White’s founder and Louis Vuitton’s creative director, left us last November 28 aged 41 for a rare form of cancer. His unexpected passing stormed the world of fashion in its entirety, leaving a profound wound yet to be mended as a reminder of his genius and premature departure. In Virgil was here, the French Maison attempts to capture Abloh’s game-changing talent through a collection of some of the most iconic fashion shows of his career.

“Virgil was driven by his dedication to his craft and to his mission to open doors for others and create pathways for greater equality in art and design,” said his wife, Shannon Abloh, on the day of his death. “He often said, ‘Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself,’ believing deeply in the power of art to inspire future generations.”

“I’ve been on this focus, in terms of my art and creativity, of getting adults to behave like children again. That they go back into this sense of wonderment. They start to stop using their mind, and they start using their imagination,” says Abloh’s recorded voice at the beginning of Louis Vuitton‘s tribute.

Even at the end of his earthly journey, Virgil Abloh succeeded in leaving us with yet another lesson. Perhaps, the most important one: that of living and thinking as if we were children again. One thing is for certain: not only will he always be missed, but his child-like, passionate vision will permeate the runways of the fashion seasons that are yet to come. And we can’t wait to see it.