Themes of suffering ran through Sean Suen’s presentation, which drew inspiration from Friedrich Nietzsche’s “The Birth of Tragedy.” He turned to the book during the coronavirus quarantine, he explained, speaking from Beijing on a Zoom call — still unable to travel to Europe. We’re living in a moment when people can use help understanding deep feelings, as he noted.
The book carries references to Ancient Greece, and the god Dionysus, and the designer borrowed the white gowns of the era, reconstructing them into long, ivory coats that envelop the body, made of Italian cotton with drawstring hems at the bottom, and adding a hood. He also rebuilt suits as protective layers, stripping them of their collars, instead delineating them through stitching in trompe l’oeil patterns. Fitting the seasonal trend, the sleeves are removable — attached with simple ties. Other suits became wraparound coats, with a broad panel to cover the front. Another was worn backward, like a doctor’s smock, as Suen pointed out, holding up a coat from the rack behind him.
A statuesque head of Dionysus appears in white on an ivory coat, and decorating a shirt, printed starkly in black. Offering further shields of protection, a smock with a drawstring neck and matching hood — worn like a scarf — were drawn up in leather. Bondage references cropped up, too, and one shirt was tightly wound around the body with straps hanging off the back.
The film opens with a quote from the book: “We are to recognize that everything which comes into being must be ready for painful destruction.” Then off it goes, on a spin through dystopia, the clothes worn by a gathering of ominous, camera-wielding figures filming a writhing dancer who moves to an anxiety-inducing electronic soundtrack. Like the designer’s clothing, the film is executed with precision — with much the opposite effect. His inventive silhouettes always bring delight; the film leaves a chill.