#SuzyPFW New Attitudes To Women: Valentino, Givenchy And Thom Browne
Escapism has been the driving force of the Spring/Summer 2019 collections. But no longer. Three powerful designers – for Valentino, Givenchy and at Thom Browne – came forward with their gentle, aggressive and transgressive visions of women.
Valentino: Let there be light
Pierpaolo Piccioli admires, respects and loves women and he made that evident from top to toe: from a girlish, outsize straw hat above a silken, pleated scarlet dress down to the dead flat sandals wafting their fine feathers beneath every look. And that graceful, appreciative message especially came across in the 14 utterly different black dresses that opened the show.
Each could fit into the comfort zone of a closet, whether it was a vast bunch of fabric exposing nothing but neck and shoulders, a cute, short dress with a gentle flare or the pleats that the designer used throughout to open or close the body shape as it moved.
Inspired by the free-spirited, early 20th-century Maverick artists’ colony in Woodstock, New York, Pierpaolo said, “Today you have to be free, to be yourself in your place. You don’t have to escape… beautiful means a diversity of expressions of yourself.”
He described extravagance in modern terms as “freedom to be who you are” and explained his flat shoes and voluminous shapes cut for movement by saying, “I wanted to create pieces that are not ordinary and basic, so with the memory of couture but for contemporary life.”
“Simplicity is not the starting point but the arrival point,” explained the designer. “For me, when you solve complexity you arrive at simplicity.”
Beforehand, looking up-close at the clothes that appeared on the runway in a huge, transparent tent letting light pour in, I had understood that complexity of cut, stitching and decoration. But the final result was all about ease and absolute freedom of the body, even though there might be ruffles blown up to delirious proportions. Dare we say that the body beneath might have been naked? That was the spirit the ultra-light fabric suggested.
The show was also about pattern – especially reiterations of art as in the Tahitian colours of a Gauguin painting: green, yellow, purple, sky blue, pink and scarlet in a single dress.
The thread holding different elements together was the concept that lightness is all. A better example of art and craft serving to embellish a modern woman would be hard to find.
Givenchy: A dual sexuality?
The female, male and androgynous figures rushing across the runway floor at Givenchy looked like they were in a war of the fashion worlds.
Cropped hair, skinny athletic bodies, a man in a lavender suit, a woman in a coat swooping open over her flat chest – artistic director Clare Waight Keller had something to say.
Backstage the designer revealed her vision that “casting was paramount”.
“There was a mix between the boys and girls that was so undefinable between them,” she continued. “In terms of the face and the character it was a really important thread to bring into the strength story.”
The muse behind the new Givenchy woman was not the same as for the elegant figures on a summer lawn in July’s haute couture show which came after Meghan Markle’s dress for the British royal wedding had introduced the designer to the wide world – and was surely behind an influx this season of front row celebrities such as Anne Hathaway and Rooney Mara.
Instead, it was Annemarie Schwarzenbach, a Swiss writer and journalist a century ago who was one of the earliest women openly to challenge gender norms of dress and behaviour.
For the designer, it was not the historical figure herself who inspired the collection, but the idea of making “codes and cultures align”.
“Was it a sense of power?” she mused. “A sense of authority of being both able in your life to be very much more limber? Or a play between the two – a sense of femininity being such a powerful strength of a woman. There’s a modesty in that too. It was about the reveal and the not-reveal: they all wear thick tights and urban sandals, there’s this idea of it being something quite alluring actually.”
But haven’t those male/female issues and dual sexuality been hanging around for at least two generations? Do women really want to be part of what Waight Keller called “a genderless union”?
Androgyny seemed an unnecessary way to introduce well cut and often appealing clothes – not to mention that they only stayed on the catwalk for around 30 seconds.
The designer can be admired for emphasising that there is more to Givenchy than a one-off royal wedding. Even though Megan would look good in most of it.
Thom Browne: Tailoring with an uncomfortable twist
What exactly was Thom Browne thinking when he opened his show with a figure (female at a guess) wearing a striped bikini over a transparent stretch bodysuit peppered with boats and anchors? Only a face mask suggested something uncomfortable in this waterfront setting, complete with beach huts and a palm tree painted in sugary colours.
This was an important moment for the American designer and master tailor 85 per cent of whose company has been bought by Italian menswear group Ermenegildo Zegna. But with a show that included misogynistic gestures (and in the period of #MeToo), the presentation left a sour taste.
There was nothing wrong with the seaside symbols themselves – nor with the excellent tailoring. But faces masked, lips stitched, platform shoes clearly agonising for the models and even arms tied to the body suggested fetishism that was not in any way funny.
Backstage, the designer, apparently unaware of an incoming maelstrom of criticism from the audience, chatted about the set based on Nantucket on the northeast coast of America.
“It started with the preppy attitudes of the embroideries, the ginghams, seersuckers and the colours – and then I took it in a different direction,” said the designer.
And how! From sunshine beaches come darkest thoughts seemed to be the message. Which was a great pity. So much of the show was good: the brightened-up pastels, linking yellow and green or blue and pink; or there were just sky-blue and cloud-white checks with whales swimming between. Without the sadomasochistic insinuation, the effect was of bright and breezy summer clothes.
Gildo Zegna, CEO of the Italian company, said that he was “happy with the tailoring”.
But for many in the audience – Browne hit a nerve that screamed “No!”