Thursday, June 21, 2018

BEAUTY: Clothing--Walter Van Beirendonck

I think one of the things I like about clothing at this level is the possibility for symbology. I have written before that fashion at this level, and in the hands of designers who function as sculptors or performance artists, can serve as a kind of visual shorthand, as a way to convey an idea or a concept.

Belgian designer Walter Van Beirendonck (one of the original Antwerp Six, along with other notables Dries Van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester) has always created work that is layered and complex while being wild and colorful. His talent lies in not sacrificing either the cerebral or the visceral. Oblique references to other cultures and ways of being abounded in his earlier work.

Yet for several seasons now, Van Beirendonck has been incorporating protest and activism into his collections, and rightly so. The world is a tighter, uglier, more volatile place than it was, say, even five years ago. Daily atrocities abound in ways sadly expected but still shocking when they happen. His FW '15-'16 collection (here) was shown shortly after the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris and is about terrorism and the concept of censorship, featuring the phrase "STOP TERRORISING OUR WORLD." "Crossed Crocodiles Growl", his Fall-Winter '14-'15 collection (here) addressed diversity and racism. His targets are clear and the wrongs targeted are easily identified.

But for his Spring Summer '19 collection called "Wild Is The Wind" (versions of the classic song by Nina Simone, David Bowie, and George Michael were played during the show), the anger and activism is there but the targets are not as clear as they have been. The oblique layering is back and that is not a bad thing. Slogans and phrases abound in this collection: "It's only a story, it's not real, don't worry, there is a happy ENDING," "Loving the alien" (a possible reference to Bowie's song of the same name from his sixteenth album, "Tonight"--Van Beirendonck is a Bowie fan and incorporated him into his '14 SS "Home Sweet Home" collection here), "riot," and "Create your own idol" showing a polka-dotted character puzzlingly holding a shamrock. But more outright references to politics show up in the phrase "HELL TO THE LIARS" (hmm, who is the biggest liar of them all right now, maybe a certain egomaniacal con-man running one of the super powers of the planet?) and, more importantly, a recurring motif of a donkey along with the simple word "hope." Now, I know Van Beirendonck lives in Belgium, a long way away from the politics of the United States...and I certainly don't mean to insinuate that ours are the only problems in the world right now, but who could have foreseen that The Monster-In-Chief would have had such a destabilizing effect on the entire world. I mean, we knew he was going to make the United States into a sh*t show, but we have seen how his withdrawing from accords and treaties and how he has started tanking the global economy with tarrifs means trouble for us all. Perhaps what Van Beirendonck is suggesting is that the only hope in this situation is with the donkeys, the symbol for the Democratic party. Because someone needs to overthrow the Fascists in charge right now.

Aside from the messages and politics, the collection also featured some dark ideas in the form of structure and silhouette. There were outright skeletal references on lycra running suits and a dangling skeleton earring, but the rest of the collection referenced the idea of a skeleton or the underlying structure of any object in bands of webbing that reminded me so much of Milla Jovovich's Leeloo wearing those wide white bandages and later an orange thong-suspender set in "The Fifth Element." We can see the bare webbing by itself (covered with patches) or peeking out from under deconstructed suits like seeing a rib cage visible under removed flesh. Also present in this collection is the idea of volume. Many of the garments are cut wide and roomy. I would say loose but the ultimate presentation is simply as something over-sized and boxy, giving the impression of padding or protection...which actually does play into the skeletal structure idea too: seeing the bones on the inside is a privilege since we normally don't get to see inside others in that way...we only see the protective outer shell. Of course these physical manifestations are stand-ins for psychological states. Even the shoes are chunky--check out the amazing clogs made in collaboration with René van den Berg (please look at his amazing work at his site here). And look closely at the shark clogs in image 13.

While the direct slogans and pleas for sanity are toned down, the anger is still present as is the earnest yearning for a better world.

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