On Saturday afternoon, a small audience descended two flights of marble stairs inside the rehabilitated Credit Lyonnais headquarters (now the office building Le Centorial), leaving its slick facade for a small basement gallery with an exposed concrete ceiling and black steel beams. It would have been much easier to stage a show upstairs — which would have accommodated far more than the roughly 100 guests invited — but this isn't how it's done at Comme des Garçons.
It was unusually warm day in Paris, and the temperature in the basement felt more like the intense heat wave we remember from the men's shows in late June. What one would make of the 15 intricate outfits of deep and icy blues, black and white velvets and cascades of marabou feathers would ultimately depend very much on how one experiences the show. The voluminous garments – a black large coat with white cotton ruffles running down the front, a black shiny velvet coat tied on the sides like old curtains, a pleated black wool and velvet coatdress with sections of plumes dissecting the garment or the bluish velvet dress with enormous cinched sleeves – offered the idea that clothes can be a refuge in times of crisis, that we can safely bury ourselves underneath all those layers and volumes to be safe from any perceived threats.
But the high temperature inside the small cavern, perhaps not deliberate, made me think of the current crisis of global warming, where the earth is getting hotter and the atmosphere is getting thinner due to man-made pollution. What is fashion's response to this crisis? One way is moving towards supposedly greener means of production, if that's even possible. (Even so-called organic cotton uses more water and consumes more resources despite being branded as more sustainable.) The other way is perhaps more catastrophic — building a cocoon as a means to save oneself from impending disaster, knowing that this protection is short-lived. Perhaps the heavy handiness of the garments is a deliberate attempt to get us to concentrate on the role of fashion instead of view the creative endeavor as simply in the service of tweeted and Instagrammed images.
Each of these 15 garments employed the best of couture craftsmanship. An ice blue and navy dress with exaggerated sleeves, rolls of feathers and half-circle velvet rings testified to the immensely complicated process of construction and handiwork that goes into the making of these garments.
This is fashion's last resistance to the onslaught of the Instagram era, where designers are obligated to make the kinds of clothes that will be most "liked" in the fleeting moments captured and transmitted to small screens, rather than questioning the role of fashion and the design process. So far in Paris, that has been the primary consideration of designers. Surface satisfaction has long replaced depth and a sense of innovation and experimentation in fashion. It is nothing short of a marvel that a show of clothes can still move an audience satiated and virtually immune to the sort of stimulation runway shows these days provide. Each of us will have a different opinion of this show according to how we each experience what we saw. Isn't that the real magic of fashion?
Long Nguyen is the co-founder and style director of Flaunt.
Homepage photo: Imaxtree