Friday, June 16, 2017

BEAUTY: Clothing--Off-White SS'18

As we move south from London, the next stop on the fashion calendar is the Pitti Uomo trade show which has been, over the years, adding more and more runway shows and presentations to its line-up. This year there were three guest designers: J.W. Anderson, HUGO, and Off White (Virgil Abloh). Of these, the standout show was Off-White.

As we saw in London, the dire state of the world is on every freethinking and feeling person's mind and Abloh made a powerful, bold statement in his show as well as in the garments in his Spring Summer '18 collection.

First, he teamed with renowned multimedia artist Jenny Holzer who is known for her political word signs and light projections. Holzer gathered poetry from Anna Swirszcynska, written during the Warsaw uprising of 1944, as well as contemporary poets such as Omid Shams, Ghayath Almadhoun, Osama Alomar, and others, who are writing about events happening right now in Syria and Palestine.
These poems and quotes were projected in staggeringly large letters on the building in the Pitti Palace courtyard where the show took place.

Second, Abloh, an American with immigrant parents from Ghana, started his lifestyle and clothing brand Off-White in 2014 in Milan. Both of these areas resonate deeply with Abloh who has seen, living in Italy, the migrant crisis unfold over the last several years with refugees from the deadly regimes and wars of Syria and Africa trying to cross the Mediterranean for safety in Italy. As the world has watched these refugees attempt to make the crossing, the international community has watched in horror as migrants' boats capsize, sink, or lose course. Many, many people have risked death at sea rather than face the nightmare, and inevitable death, of living in their home country.

Before the show, invitees had been sent orange tee shirts whose front illustrated how to put on a life jacket while the back of the shirt featured a single, haunting line--à la Jenny Holzer--from the poet Omid Shams: "I'll never forgive the ocean."

Some guests at the Off-White Spring Summer '18 show chose to wear their orange shirts before the show.

It was this idea of life vests and the kind of clothing worn by rescue workers that inspired Abloh. “I was zeroing in on a life raft, the colors, the warnings, the plastic,” he said. "In this climate, coming off recent elections, I have a voice. In my work, I react." Indeed, the clothing, shown in near-darkness for the projections, seems to be beside the point. But garments featured allusions to the aforementioned orange life rafts, small LED displays on coats that read out lines from Holzer's projections, and plastic pieces that recall ponchos handed out to those rescued. In an enigmatic touch, shirts are bisected in half with an invisible zipper. In fact, in the show notes, Abloh wrote, "The clothes themselves are deconstructed, intellectualized garments that subvert the expectation and become blank canvases upon which the context of the wearer can be projected."

I know there are some who say that fashion is too superficial a medium to make political statements, and that it has no place doing so. But when I look at these models walking the runway, so incredibly tiny next to Holzer's breathtakingly large projections, and contemplate Abloh and his background, intelligence, and artistic expression, I know that he is not demeaning the plight of refugees or demeaning their suffering. I think Vivienne Westwood has shown us that even though one may be a clothing designer, one can still have concerns and hopes and wishes for the good of the world and express those concerns and hopes. When one understands that clothing at this level is an artistic expression, one understands Abloh has just as much right to make a political statement as has Jenny Holzer. She works in words and projections and signs. He works with cloth and material. Both are protesting and resisting...holding up that mirror to our culture and showing us who and what we are.

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