And other forms of exhilarating self-expression from Undercover and Comme des Garçons, with a dose of the dominatrix at Hermès and a little latex at Nina Ricci.
Sometimes during fashion week you just have to throw your hands up in the air and accept the fact that it doesn’t make sense. Why should it? Nothing else really does.
Look over there: Italy’s going to the polls and Silvio Berlusconi may be back as a behind-the-scenes force; look over here and at Comme des Garçons, Rei Kawakubo has managed to make Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay, “Notes On ‘Camp’ ” into a mission statement in clothes. Look over there and President Trump is maybe, possibly, starting a trade war; look over here and Julie de Libran has reunited Bananarama for the Sonia Rykiel 50th anniversary.
Look over there and people are putting odds on the Academy Awards; look over here and Jun Takahashi has Sadie Sink from “Stranger Things” on his runway and is busy turning the street wear/luxury relationship into the upside down for Undercover.
It’s an intense, chaotic period. Designers are finally living up to it. You can give up or you can get inspired. The usual choice these days.
It made Ms. Kawakubo, the Yoda of fashion, veritably verbose. (She has a tendency to utter a single not-quite-sentence of description backstage after a show via her husband, Adrian Joffe — also chief executive of Comme des Garçons International.)
Not only did she issue a lengthy clarification about her long-term sense of identity with Ms. Sontag’s essay, noting: “Camp is not something horribly exaggerated, out of the ordinary, unserious or in bad taste. This collection came out of the feeling that, on the contrary, camp is really and truly something deep and new and represents a value we need,” but then she clarified what, exactly, that value was: “creation and free expression.” This from a woman who hates to explain herself.
She did it in mille-feuilles of tulle and lace, and swirling collages of what looked like supersized silken pastel eye masks. In a giant, face-framing flower and deconstructed Betty Boop sweater; with a little lilac leopard-print riding hood and sequined slip dresses carried along on the cruise ship of a raspberry crinoline. With gold foil in parade-float proportions. And everyone else did it by hooting with joy. Catharsis through camp. It’s one way to go about it.
Another would be the what-you-think-you-see-is-not-what-you-get genius at Undercover, where Mr. Takahashi took the current obsession with millennials and the street wear they supposedly love into a whole different dimension. Not by catering or condescending to it but by transforming it, so what you thought you saw (denim; schoolgirl uniforms complete with striped blazers; varsity jackets; Prince of Wales check) was almost never what you got. Because what you were really seeing was, mostly, sweats.
What appeared to be khakis with a navy polo shirt turned out to be a onesie (instead of the polo pony there was a slice of pie over the left breast); a puffer over an untucked shirt over a chino skirt turned out to be a single coat in three layers. Macs that seemed to be blowing in the wind were molded permanently into shape, a moment frozen forever with metallic threads; a bomber jacket in jade satin had a party peplum and puffed sleeves. It subverted assumptions about adult luxury, the adolescent tendency to under dress, and the multitude of possibilities in between.
And it just looked really comfortable to wear. Black hoodie tails-and-morning suit striped sweats. Nifty.
The thing that unites these designers is their complete and total zest for their ideas. They aren’t trying to make clothes for everyone, or every part of a woman’s life (what she wears to run out for the milk/drop the kids at school/go to the office/meet colleagues for a drink etc. etc.). They know the mythic “she” is perfectly capable of figuring it out for herself.
What they are doing is demonstrating part of what Ms. Sontag said defined the concept of camp, which is a sensibility that “converts the serious into the frivolous” (which would be, to many, fashion). They aren’t namby-pamby about it. They are all in.
So, mostly, is Junya Watanabe, who spliced oversized suit jackets to trenches to knits to parkas, most of it over chintz floral leggings or shirtdresses. Also Haider Ackermann, who is ever-refining his odes to high-voltage decay via a singular silhouette — the strong, square shoulder, nipped-in waist and lean leg; the flowing bias dress — remade in materials of a lavish sheen.
It’s this commitment that was missing from an otherwise polished show by Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski at Hermès, where an intriguingly dominatrix start in black leather gave way to more polite, classic outerwear — the kind perfectly suited for very rich women on a road trip (diamond necklace included). Also Ms. de Libran’s Sonia Rykiel, despite a dutiful, though sometimes appealing, embrace of the house’s Mongolian lamb and zippered moto jackets, plaid and marabou heritage. And Joseph Altuzarra’s free spirit-grows-up-and-goes-to-work wardrobe of peasant blouses under tailored suits, chunky cable knits and smocked dresses sparkling with grommets.
They all suffer from the same bugaboo: too much respect, either for the brand or the consumer.
This is not the problem of Nina Ricci’s Guillaume Henry, however. He has a bigger one. Witness the “Doctor Zhivago” coats, the wide ’80s belts with rhinestone buckles, steel head teacher latex shirt dresses and cone bra bodices made purposely too big, so they semi-collapsed to reveal there was barely anything inside (a symbol if there ever was one). They were not camp, they were just in bad taste.
There’s a difference.