It’s the end of the world as we know it, and fashion is trying to cope. This season, from New York to Paris, designers largely pondered the past (there’s comfort in nostalgia) and apocalyptic or Space-Age futures. In New York, we were immediately transported back to the’80s and ’90s thanks to Jeremy Scott and Adam Selman. “I always start from a place of nostalgia,” said Selman of his Fall 2018 collection, which, inspired by artist Cheyco Leidmann, was a playful, sexed-up blast of vivid colors and photo prints. “I am a daydreamer, and daydreaming of a different time or place comes naturally to me. I don’t think it’s intentional,” he continued. “Probably more instinct than anything else. And the way the system in both the industry and the world is right now, we could all use a little escapism.” No kidding. The reality of 2018 is often too much to bear, with its senseless tragedy, terror, political idiocy, and general disregard for the well-being of other humans. For 12 short minutes though, during Selman’s show at Spring Studios, everything was sunny and bright.
Back in 2014, when we thought things were bad but actually had no idea, I spoke to Jeremy Scott about this very topic for the late Style.com.“Everywhere you turn, you’re hearing about all these awful, awful things,” said Scott then. “So I’ve always tried to make my shows an escape.” He stayed true to form this season, with a retro-futuristic show comprising ’80s excess, Jetsons-esque metallic looks, techno-colored bobs, and thigh-high Moon Boots. It was silly and over-the-top without a pang of dark reality.
There were other forms of escape, too. At Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld sought solace in nature—the woods, to be specific. Jacquemus fled to a warm, sensuous Morocco, and, in his debut runway show, Noir’s Kei Ninomiya journeyed to another planet entirely, one where fabric and flowers bloom in tandem. Joseph Altuzarra, meanwhile, looked to his youth in Paris in the ’80s and the women he saw during that time. Wouldn’t it be nice to retreat back to childhood?
Many designers, however, confronted the impending apocalypse head on and, instead of proposing a happy-go-lucky reprieve, offered sartorial solutions for the end of days. Raf Simons’ popcorn-filled Calvin Klein outing at the American Stock Exchange Building was perhaps the most frightening (and powerful) example of this. To Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” his models trudged through drifts of snow-white kernels in protective rubber boots, metallic foil coats, and, in some cases, relics from a more innocent past, like destroyed Looney Tunes sweaters or diaphanous dresses with a Quaker-quilt print. Survival in a bleak, barren future, the perils of consumerism, mindless consumption of goods and pabulum were all elegantly addressed in Simons’ stark Fall dystopia.
In Milan, the apocalypse began with Gucci, if only because of the dragons and models carrying their own severed heads. Was that stunt meant to represent the death of humanity? Was it the result, as so many on social media have suggested, of a marijuana-induced epiphany? Was it Instagram bait dreamt up by a team of millennial marketing experts? We may never know. Miuccia Prada’s take was more poignant. With nylon fabrics (a throwback to the ’80s and ’90s, so some nostalgia there too) and electric hues, her Fall 2018 collection was a veritable neon rave. If we’re going to go out, we might as well party.
Then, Paris, where things became positively Orwellian. It started with newcomer and 2017 LVMH Prize winner Marine Serre, who presented “FutureWear” like hooded, nylon body stockings, orb bags, garments made of repurposed scarves, and plastic coats. The latter material was a pervading theme throughout the season, popping up in every city in one form or another, and recalling the Futurism embraced by ’60s design icons like Paco Rabanne and Courrèges. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a major show that didn’t include plastic-coated something or other (à la Calvin Klein’s plastic-wrapped yellow fur from Fall 2017, which was spotted daily on the street style circuit), plastic paillettes, plastic dresses, plastic trenches, plastic accessories (Chanel’s clear plastic Spring 2018 rain hats were also street style stars this season) …you get the idea. All these manmade synthetics are wholly unsustainable, which makes one wonder whether designers were creatively commenting on the world’s demise, or actively trying to bring it about. Also everywhere? Holographic (aka iridescent) clothes—sometimes rendered in plastic, sometimes not—which were at the core of Maison Margiela’s sci-fi-fuelled Fall 2018 collection. Exploring man’s (or, in this case, woman’s) fusion with the machines, creative director John Galliano’s clothes were protective (giant coats, helmets, caged shoes), deconstructed, and delirious, at once recognizing our dangerous future and completely denying it with a celebratory palette, glitter-infused makeup, and a parade of reflective metallics.
At Balmain, Olivier Rousteing imagined the house in 2050, employing plastic (prepare the landfill!), latex, PVC, and iridescent everything in a lineup of Blade Runner-tinged woman power. Backstage, Rousteing noted, “After seven years [as Balmain’s creative director], it’s all about the future, and that’s what this collection was about.” With that in mind, this romp felt to be more about his future than the world’s, but there was certainly something very Barbarella about it.
Rei Kawakubo had the last word on the topic, though her Comme des Garçons collection was more about preserving and furthering humanity than its destruction. Echoing the delirium of Margiela with circus music, glitter galore, and explosions of fabric, the show was inspired by Susan Sontag’s essay, “Notes on ‘Camp.’” “Camp is not something horribly exaggerated, out of the ordinary, unserious, or in bad taste. This collection came out of the feeling that, on the contrary, camp is really and truly something deep and new and represents a value we need. For example, there are many so-called styles such as punk that have lost their original rebel spirit today. I think camp can express something deeper and can give birth to progress,” said Kawakubo in her seasonal notes to press. The show ended with models taking the runway while holding hands. It sent a message of joy, unity, and unfettered happiness.
Doom and gloom permeate the headlines, and it’s only natural that the dark global mood would infiltrate the runways. But perhaps, if we all saw things a bit more like Kawakubo, the end of the world wouldn’t seem quite so near.