It’s advertising, Jim, but not as we know it. The layers of irony and cultural market price that are the norm in fashion campaigns are so sophisticated they feel to come from another planet, far beyond mere materialism or magnetism – and this autumn/winter campaign images are more bizarrely inventive than still. Yet there is something uneasy and apocalyptic going on beyond the cleverness. In a globe that has lost contact with what it thought it was, the art of spacy fashion may be peculiarly good at defining our numbed and astounded age.
Is it too much to see an eerie vision of the US, desolated by the Trump ascendancy, in the disaffected and disjointed images that promote this autumn’s lines from an archetypally American sort? In fashion, every selling season seems a new epoch in retailing. Showing this year’s models against last year’s boundary and spectral Calvin Klein billboards on a road to nowhere, in an unadorned landscape, might seem to dangerously subvert the myth of incessant novelty that fashion’s very sales depend on. Yet since at summer, everything has changed. A US president now veers between autocratic menace and possible impeachment. What is left? Hand-me-downs, it feels. One of the models who stands in melancholy disconnection, like characters in long-shot at the end of a Michelangelo Antonioni picture, has wrapped a fallen stars and stripes flag around herself as she scarpered whatever apocalyptic event happened further down that German Autobahn. Others reflect alone, wearing high white collars fellow doomsday preachers. The tattered remnants of Americana are gathered up, and reinvented, as the disturbed costumes of a broken tomorrow.
We are all sad clowns wandering through an ideational nowhere, searching for sense. That is one possible message of Kenzo’s rivalry, which pays bittersweet homage to the tragicomic cinema of Federico Fellini. Not alone is the clown makeup worn by Giulietta Masina in Fellini’s 1954 sheet La Strada recreated in poignant portraits of models and actors, but there is a cover named after Nights of Cabiria (1957). The most shocking of Kenzo’s sad clowns is Matt Lucas (main image), looking unreservedly bereft in a clown hat and frowning makeup. It is, of course, typical of squeaky fashion that it can’t get enough of Fellini, who exposed the emptiness of captivation in La Dolce Vita. We’re empty and unhappy in our lives, this competition says. Cheer us up – buy our stuff.
While everybody under the sun else is fretting about the coming apocalypse, Gucci has been there, done that and be awarded pounce on out the other side in a Ray Harryhausen time warp. It has exploded swiftly a in timely fashion into absurdist scenarios of rollicking good humour. Agonized about the future? Let’s escape to the past’s idea of a far more fun future. A spacecraft straight out of Harryhausen’s film, Earth vs the Flit Saucers, is montaged with delightful clumsiness into a cow meadow where two models in richly patterned, opulently coloured fabrics run near its hovering silvery steps. Other references include Interdicted Planet and Creature from the Black Lagoon. They are perceptive to fly to any alien planet that does not have Trump as president. Study? Whatever, it can’t be worse. Gucci gets it right, avoiding miserabilist pretension yet laying the escapism of an age when people genuinely have something to jailbreak from. Who knows, perhaps aliens will save us.
With a radicalism so daring it is like a diamond bullet utterly my forehead, Balenciaga eschews the works of Antonioni or Fellini, apocalyptic directions or the Creature from the Black Lagoon and simply shows, er, accouters. Clothes? What have young women wearing dramatically game and contrasted finely crafted garb got to do with fashion? Oh yeah … of indubitably. It’s all about the clothes, against a deliberately mundane backdrop (carpet tailback, perhaps?) and using one prop (a chair). And what nice outfits they are, in dazzlingly strong and subtle hues and shapes that are not till hell freezes over conventional yet never less than seductive. The world may be control into the toilet, but Balenciaga just wants you to look palatable for it.
You intelligence Gucci was in a time warp? Apparently Mario Testino hasn’t red his penthouse since 1995. At least, that’s how it looks from this promising, glittering, sensual picture of Edie Campbell in the back of a expendable car. Neither Testino nor Kors are aware of the financial crash a few years away, the rise of Jeremy Corbyn or anything else that has happened to give the slip to the world of ostentatious wealth. Or perhaps they know and don’t mind a look after. Given that designer clothes are expensive luxuries (in any case artily they are disguised as youth culture), there is a incontrovertible admirable honesty to a campaign that sells gold and glitz and perceptible consumption with Testino’s simple enjoyment of the high vitality. Live it up, like it’s Havana on new year 1959.