Monday, January 18, 2016

BEAUTY: Clothing--Vivienne Westwood

Well, we have London Collections: Men and the Pitti Uomo trade show behind us. We move on to Milano Moda Uomo...

The name of Dame Vivienne Westwood's FW '16-'17 menswear collection is "Be Specific" and her video explanation of the show is, as usual, inspired by her activism. Westwood has always been an outspoken proponent of what is right and fair, and her concern about climate change is of utmost importance. She says it's pointless to talk about fashion if there will be no human beings left in an uninhabitable world to wear clothes. Can't argue with her there. Of course climate change is very real and our topmost threat to the planet as a whole.

But in the meantime, this collection was both classic Westwood with her own singular take on cut (especially suiting with asymmetrical plackets and zippers) but it was also a mix of a new, freer direction that must come from her husband and designer of the brand menswear branch, Andreas Kronthaler. There has been much talk about gender in clothing recently and the conversation is continuing at Milano Moda Uomo. In case you missed it, the conversation in a nutshell: designers are putting men in women's clothing. Make no mistake, this been happening for a long while now, but this idea has really come to the fore in the last few seasons. On the surface, such a cultural movement appears to be about the feminization of men's clothing, but on a much deeper level, it has everything to do with fighting a stereotypical vision of masculinity that is entwined with misogyny and homophobia, twin manifestations of the same sickness: the pathological fear of anything perceived as feminine or weak ("weak" as seen from the masculine perspective). And that is directly connected to people waking up to the idea that our world is being destroyed by the masculine ideal: war, subjugation, dominionism, hierarchy whether in gender or race or religion or class, power through aggressive wealth, and a dedication to an insane idea of using up all resources because we can. Perhaps it's time for a real change, a true shift in psychology. This is how we are going to save the planet.

The suiting for the "Be Specific" collection is, as always with Westwood, wonderfully off-kilter...classic yet enigmatic. But the other elements seem more important and, dare I say, vital: knit tops cut very low to reveal chest and nipples or slit up the back, one-shouldered togas, dresses, skirts, plump phallic necklaces, knee-high multi-colored boots, and some astounding high-heeled platform creepers! I have said it before, but it certainly bears repeating: sex organs may be biological but the trappings around "gender" are only constructs. What is seen as "masculine" or "feminine" are only ideas expressed for that moment in time by the culture. In our culture now, men do not wear make-up or have long hair. Yet hundreds of years ago, men in Europe wore high heels, may have worn a bit of rouge, and wore long, curly hair (often wigs!). On a similar note, I read a great science fiction book a few years ago where a race of people on another planet reasoned, exactly like our moment in time, that women are more pleasing without body hair on areas like underarms or legs...but they reasoned further that women with completely smooth, shaved heads were the ultimate in beauty. Only men had hair, long or short. And finally, there are of course ideas about how men and women should dress and behave right now on our planet in other indigenous cultures that have nothing to do with how we in the Western world perceive gender. For example, the Wodaabe of Africa believe that men should have the whitest eyes, the whitest teeth, and sharp aquiline noses...they paint their faces with floral designs, wear dark lip color, and dress up in feathers and jewelry, all to win the favor of women. So what is seen as feminine or masculine is subjective; seen from a distance, gender constructs are completely arbitrary. Fabric has no gender, a garment has no gender, no matter which sex it is for. A piece of clothing is an inanimate object, but is also, in the hands of the right designer, a work of art. And like any work of art, it carries with it ideas and concepts much larger than itself.

As an aside, I must say I like seeing one of my favorite models, Olivier Langhendries, walking for Westwood--he's the one with the big ginger beard, most notably in the pink suit with fire-engine red lace-up work boots!

And since we are still in mourning for him, the show opened with a brief snippet of David Bowie's song "Warszawa" from his "Low" album and closed with an extended period of darkness while he sang "Starman.". This touching gesture was two-fold: it served as a tribute to Bowie, but the lyrics for "Starman" also served to reinforce the idea that this world is worth saving:

"There's a starman waiting in the sky
He'd like to come and meet us
But he thinks he'd blow our minds
There's a starman waiting in the sky
He's told us not to blow it
'Cause he knows it's all worthwhile"

Unfortunately, this darkened tribute was edited out of the final video below.

Now, let's take an instant replay look at the platforms and suede boots. I love how the platform on the creepers looks like tooled leather.

Take a look at the video to see the platform creepers in action! Westwood platforms have brought down many an experienced model on the runway and we have to hand it to these guys...not a single one wobbled or fell. Well done, fellows!

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