Lush, overgrown rain forest lures with the promise of adventure and likely danger. Every so often huge, vibrant jungle flowers sprout out of nowhere, shocks of colorful respite from the dense darkness. Then, a blur here and there, and this projected landscape grows hazy, morphing into one urban reality and then another and back and forth, from flora and fauna to ancient ruin to imposing steel structure, each locale at once beautiful and threatening. How should a girl citizen of this ever-changing, dangerous world prepare to take on such varied, threatening terrain? According to Miuccia Prada, by suiting up in regalia all as lush and savage as her surroundings. Thus her fearless fall brigade wore aggressive, brashly chic pilings of clothes with roots in Japanese, sports and medieval warrior motifs, as they stomped past Rem Koolhaas’ stunning projections.
“It’s time to go back to the streets of the world, showing anger and being a little bit savage,” Prada said after the presentation at her house’s vast headquarters. “I’m tired of all that passive, sweet femininity that tries to appeal to everybody. We women should go back to some strength.”
In a Milan minute, one of the industry’s mega influencers articulated the need for a major change in fashion, while setting forth her bold proposal. So arrivederci, passive femininity; ciao bella, a whole new generation of tough chic. Fashion’s turn toward bleak started last fall with, most notably, Marc Jacobs’ Violet Incredible collection, Prada’s own, gentler sobriety and Olivier Theyskens’ titillating melancholy for Rochas, as well as various other designers’ sojourns to the dark side. Yet having thus set sail, some abandoned ship almost immediately; for spring Prada herself reverted to a toned-down variation of the girlish artsiness that has been her most recent forte.
Now, however, the hesitation some may have had—perhaps fear of going abruptly dark and heavy for spring after so many seasons of fluffery—seems a thing of the past, as fashion’s best and brightest are reveling in dramatic sobriety, often to very different effects. Leading the charge along with Prada, Jacobs and Theyskens are John Galliano, both at Dior and his own house; Jean Paul Gaultier, and even girly-girl Donatella Versace. No less a deity than Karl Lagerfeld made his splashy New York debut with a gutsy collection of all Goth—with considerable Belgian, Japanese and Helmut Lang references—all the time. And speaking of those geographic stereotypes—a fashion reality, and not without validity—the references were everywhere, raising the possibility of a Belgian renaissance after a long stint on the fringe. As for the Japanese, the Comme des Garçons trio—Kawakubo, Watanabe and Tao Kurihara—all had hits. Sadly, however, given the ubiquity of Yamamoto chords all over fashion, some of the most woeful—the bad kind, not the perfectly chic and on-trend kind—were from Yohji himself.
Is fashion’s new dark era a political reaction to worldwide upheaval? Prada’s words certainly have a rallying ring. Conversely, Jacobs takes a less grandiose view of his own sober mood: full-on grunge in New York, luxed-up Ellis Island for Louis Vuitton. “These clothes are for winter,” he mused. “It’s cold.”
But politics exists on multiple levels—even in fashion, which has long needed a new movement. The redundant reality is that, lately, postshow conversation has centered far less on the clothes—the once-upon-a-time point of all this madness—than on all of the surrounding hoopla, a situation exacerbated by our relentless celebrity obsession. When Prada referred to getting away from “pretty little things that appeal to everybody,” she might well have been inspired by her latest perusal of Us Weekly; Jacobs addressed the issue directly a while back when he took issue with the flimsy top-miniskirt approach to dressing, arguing that real fashion should have something more to it.
Now, after this wonderfully dramatic fall collections season, it does. As a result, guess what the fashion world has been buzzing about? Not the celebrities, although all varieties—A, B and C list—turned out once again. Not the lousy venues, crummy weather or overpriced hotels. Not even the assorted show shtick, though there were some memorable moments, including Viktor & Rolf’s “heirloom” show, for which the designers dipped clothes in silver, as one would a baby’s shoe, and techno-obsessed Lagerfeld’s live Podcast in New York. On the not-according-to-script side, Gaultier’s ghost-themed show, complete with real animals, raised eyebrows when one poor pooch was too spooked to make it down the runway. And then there was Alexander McQueen’s show for the ages, dubbed The Widows of Culloden and set in the same bleak terrain as his infamous 1995 Highland Rape collection. His current masterpiece closed with Kate Moss, who turned out to be a hologram, her lifelike presence evaporating into thin air. His audience was captivated by the spectacle, yes, but also by his spectacular clothes that more than lived up to the showmanship. “It’s very Macbeth,” McQueen said.
Which is the biggest, best news of this glorious season. Finally—dare one say definitively?—something is afoot in fashion. Granny and her tired-looking old stuff are finally back in the attic, replaced by wonderful, substantive collections, wild in their attire, as Banquo said of Macbeth’s caldron-stirring witches. Yet those who might be scared off shouldn’t be, as this is a wildness to celebrate—at times aggressive, heavy, grungy, cozy, melancholy, sporty, butch—but ultrachic and, best of all, new.
This article appeared in WWD The Magazine, a special publication to WWD available to subscribers.