Like Penrose’s staircase, the fashion industry continues its ever more confusing journey. Hedi Slimane’s Helmut Newton–worthy show of ’80s party dresses—staged like old-school couture, sans music and with Saint Laurent veteran Bénédicte de Ginestous announcing the run of show—turned out to be his Saint Laurent swan song. Three weeks after his presentation, the designer made good on the rumors, departing the house after four years, reportedly over control issues concerning the brand’s beauty advertising. He was quickly replaced by Belgian designer Anthony Vaccarello, who has been showing his own label in Paris since January 2009 and serving as creative director of Versus Versace for the last four seasons. That followed the appointment of Bouchra Jarrar at Lanvin, taking over the top spot vacated by Alber Elbaz. (Both Vaccarello and Jarrar will temporarily suspend their own labels.) Dior has yet to announce a replacement for Raf Simons, who left the storied atelier last fall—the brand’s fall show was designed by the in-house team of Lucie Meier and Serge Ruffieux.
But this season, even the endless speculation about who is in and who is out is secondary to a more consuming debate: Should fashion shift to a “see now/buy now” show schedule that would make what’s on the runway immediately available in stores? In September, Burberry will combine its men’s and women’s lines into a “seasonless” show of clothes that will be immediately available for sale. Ultimately, the goal is stream now/buy now—order your must-haves as you watch them trot down the runway in real time—but in the meantime, luxury labels are revving up to give fast-fashion companies a run for their money, making the real thing available before the knock-offs.
In the U.S., Tom Ford canceled his February runway show and announced he would instead present his fall line to the public in September, and Tommy Hilfiger declared that he would move to a see now/buy now model in spring 2017. But the shift has so far been met with a resounding non! by most European designers. “The notion of see now/wear now, or sell now, is a negation of dreaming, of desire,” Kering chairman and CEO François-Henri Pinault—who holds the reins at Gucci, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, and Bottega Veneta—told WWD. He was joined in his rebuke by Ralph Toledano—president of Puig’s fashion division, which owns Paco Rabanne, and head of the Fédération Française de la Couture, the governing body for French fashion—who instead called for the in-between seasons known as prefall and resort, which account for many brands’ highest percentage of sales, to be added to the official show calendar.
Even newcomer Demna Gvasalia, who received rave reviews for his fall 2016 debut as artistic director at Balenciaga, has said that his and his brother Guram’s lauded indie label, Vetements, will present both women’s wear and menswear together during the men’s show weeks in January and June; they want to make their collection available one month after the runway show. That gender-fluid shift was then echoed by Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele—he, too, will now show both men’s and women’s together come 2017, but hasn’t yet decided whether it will be during women’s or men’s fashion week.
Brands like Prada and Alexander Wang already make a few of their bags available hot off the catwalk. And within days of New York Fashion Week, Bergdorf Goodman held a series of “Right Off the Runway” in-store events. Customers could cherry-pick a selection of runway items to preorder from Joseph Altuzarra, Jason Wu, Michael Kors, Prabal Gurung, and more. (Kors also put a capsule line of fall ready-to-wear and accessories up for sale on his website immediately following his February runway show.)
All of this sartorial chicanery reflects a genuine attempt to bring fashion up to speed in light of lagging sales, the fire-sale retail tactics that started with the 2008 financial crisis, and the advent of social and mobile advances in retail. The good news is, in terms of the clothes, confusion seems to be a boon for creativity. Streetwear of the ’80s and ’90s continues to be a major influence. Valentino designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli channeled boundary-pushing, experimental dancers Martha Graham and Karole Armitage for their jersey gowns and tulle dresses, while at Alexander McQueen, Sarah Burton sent out tulle minis and leather biker jackets over bustiers, along with sleeveless coatdresses embellished with surrealist clocks and butterflies. Punk and biker chic also reared their rebel heads, with fashion agitprop—along the likes of Katharine Hamnett’s slogan T-shirts from the ’80s—at Alexander Wang, whose grunge-inspired clothes broadcast words like STRICT and TENDER.
The ’60s made a comeback in Dion Lee’s cutouts, miniskirts, and graphic hardware, and in J.W.Anderson’s coil-trimmed or satiny track tops and pouf skirts. Calvin Klein’s Francisco Costa took a more psychedelic approach; his agate-adorned photo-print dresses complemented more menswear-oriented offerings accoutered with utilitarian belts and straps.
Indeed, menswear is a huge trend for fall: Witness big-shouldered, wide-legged pantsuits not seen since the days of Claude Montana and Thierry Mugler. Gvasalia did hunch-shouldered velvet and tweed jackets at Vetements and über-size puffer coats—another trend, along with tweed, brocade, and leopard prints—at Balenciaga featuring portrait collars; Rick Owens’s puffers came full-length as dresses and tops.
At Rodarte, Laura and Kate Mulleavy’s exquisitely wrought lace dresses—inspired, they said, by San Francisco and Art Nouveau—were trimmed with leather ruffles and sometimes shown beneath Yeti-like multicolor goat-hair coats. Equally extravagant was Miuccia Prada’s pastiche rendering of what she called the many facets of a woman’s personality—an idea born out of her men’s show collaboration with artist Christophe Chemin—which paired sailor caps and corsets (another big comeback) with argyle knits, floral blouses, brocade, and velvet capelets. The notion of complexity took on Gothic overtones at Marc Jacobs; he cast Lady Gaga, no less, and achieved an almost Lynchian dream state with surreal embroideries, crochet collars, and voluminous shapes.
While some designers are rushing to cash in on the Internet, many seem to be beating a hasty retreat into the furthest recesses of their imaginations. Even critics of Kayne West’s Vanessa Beecroft–staged Yeezy show at Madison Square Garden could not slight him for a lack of imagination. The designer/musician surely thinks big, and his show to celebrate the launch of his latest album, The Life of Pablo, logged 20 million viewers on Jay-Z’s music-streaming service, Tidal (of which West owns a piece), while tickets to the event, not to mention merchandise sales, cost between $50 and $135. Talk about art and commerce.