Serious Style

4 Big Ideas From The Spring/Summer 2020 Collections

Politics, the environment, glamour, and essentialism: here are the takeaways you need fresh off the Spring/Summer 2020 fashion show runways.

4 Big Ideas From The Spring/Summer 2020 Collections

This fashion week was significant because the shows represented a new decade. Moving forward, these collections are what will bookend and define the next 10 years. It was thus gratifying to see major designers and houses rise to the occasion and set clear agendas, whether they be stylistic zeitgeists or political priorities. Here are 4 key ideas from Spring/Summer 2020.

01 | Drama!

It’s been mounting for a while now, but the sense of an about face from minimal austerity was full bore on the Spring 2020 catwalks. It burst onto the catwalk at Dries Van Noten’s collection, a love letter to the exuberance of the 80s designed in collaboration with that icon of pouf, colour and print, the couturier Christian Lacroix. You saw it also at Saint Laurent when Anthony Vaccarello closed his show — a blockbuster production of moving arc lights across the Eiffel Tower — with a series of variations on the Le Smoking tuxedo. Whether cropped, slouchy, or sequinned, these outfits had serious sex appeal and proved that glamour today is more than just an overlarge dress.

If dresses aren’t to be big, however, Versace made a strong case for the return of tiny freakum dresses geared for nighttime seduction. Donatella, in this collection, finally looked forward and moved on from the long shadow of her brother. She’s a talented designer in her own right — and what better way than to bring out, at the end of the show, Jennifer Lopez in that Versace jungle dress that practically birthed Google Images?

02 | Essential Wardrobing

If minimalism, at its apogee, was oppressively prescriptive, then thank goodness for the more humanist pragmatism that designers have landed on this season. At Proenza Schouler, the designers were inspired by the realism that comes with ageing, specifically from the women that work in their studios and offices. The designers themselves are something of an American institution now, and the newly sharp tailoring and precisely-draped dresses had a chic maturity and confidence. This was the case, too, at Hermès. The designer, Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski presented a masterful collection of sporty daywear that demonstrated her assurance now with the house’s codes and possibilities. A motif she explored was that of the leather apron, sublimated into vests with criss-crossed racer backs, paneled dresses threaded together with fine suede piping. Even casual separates, like tank tops in silk knit or cargo trousers made from perforated lambskin, had an aspirational ease.

You might also consider the everyday blue jean: in either a nonchalant 70s bootcut from Celine, or cut up and stitched anew from Givenchy. Otherwise, Prada has rebooted its 90s ethos of perfected wardrobe essentials. Miuccia Prada’s change of mood from visual richness was welcome for those seeking good clothing, period, without pretensions or gimmicks. To her credit, this winning simplicity was updated with a more expansive lexicon of fabrics and textures – seashells! embroidery! wicker! – that she has experimented with in the two decades since she helped define minimalist fashion.

03 | The Environment

Fashion can seem like frivolous excess, especially in the face of 16 year-old Greta Thunberg — quite rightly — pointing the finger back at world leaders for their indifference to climate change. Stella McCartney, ever the industry’s poster child of environmentalism, sent out her most eco-friendly collection to date, with more than three quarters made from sustainable materials. The fashion itself was standard for the brand: easy daywear for a contemporary woman informed by Philo-era Céline.

McCartney’s impact, however, was more crucial as a sustainability advisor to the LVMH group after it purchased a minority stake in the brand. That might have been why at Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri decided to construct a forest of trees to present a collection inspired, apparently, by Christian Dior’s sister Catherine Dior. She was a wartime resistance fighter — feminist, check — and a botanist — seasonal theme, check. The brand’s environmental contribution was a promise to plant the trees used for the show in the city of Paris.

Christopher Kane’s collection, titled Eco-Sexual, also had tree huggers of a sort in mind. Although in Kane’s case, his penchant for subversion and taboo gave the clothes visual polish and wit. For Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen, her take on a sustainable approach saw her visit British mills. There, she discovered hand-wrought fabric treatments from companies that used to be the backbone of the English tailoring industry. These were applied to designs in her Edwardian and Elizabethan-inspired handwriting, although notably pared back and simplified — and the more beautiful for it. The idea was that something skillfully made, applied to timeless design, might become fashion that lasts.

04 | Political Messaging

Top to bottom blue — curtains, carpeting, seats — laid out in a spiral obviously riffing off the European Parliament’s hemicycle arrangement and colour. Demna Gvasalia’s physical setup for his Balenciaga collection was far from figurative. The clothes were a wry and brilliant analysis of power, which is today a fascinating word. As power structures are changing — or in many cases also, not — who wields power and what that looks like are questions worth probing. Gvasalia did so by making caricatures of the suit, that masculine uniform of authority, dressing it in iterations of oversized sloppiness.

Dresses cut with linebacker shoulders (whalebone, removable) felt like a pointed comment on female power dressing. More dresses, printed this time with literal product from the brand’s past seasons, felt like a nihilistic joke about capitalism. Then the closing ball gowns with their massive skirts, first in gold and silver lurex, then red, blue and black velvet: money and power. How you view those, I suppose, depends on where you draw your political lines.

If there is one line John Galliano is, however, determined to cross, it’s that of gender. His collection for Maison Margiela continued in its co-ed fashion, casting trans and cisgender models alike and placing them in clothes that for the most part could flout a simple binary. The real strength was in Galliano’s return to narrative. Drawing from the stylistic archetypes of World War II (nurses, airmen, sailors), the collection seemed a timely reminder of how casually we conjure up images of wartime and how fraught that comfort we live in might be. Quite grim in theory, but the collection’s whimsy and camp ensured that the arching emotion was optimism — in championing progress even as we learn from the past.

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