Warn­ing Signs

Fashion (Canada) - - The Draw -

Fash­ion is the ar­mour to sur­vive the re­al­ity of ev­ery­day life,” remarked Bill Cun­ning­ham, the leg­endary pho­tog­ra­pher who doc­u­mented the sa­cred and pro­fane of New York City street style un­til his death in 2016. His words seem all the more poignant in these un­hinged times where fake news is abun­dant and sense­less acts of vi­o­lence, like the Toronto van attack, ap­pear to be on the rise.

The fash­ion scribes at Vogue.com even coined the ne­ol­o­gism “war­core” to cap­ture the apoc­a­lyp­tic mood that in­spired de­sign­ers to cre­ate haz­mat gear, bal­a­clavas and army fa­tigues. But while some la­bels, like Neek Lurk’s Anti So­cial So­cial Club, have taken to pro­duc­ing riot shields, oth­ers are find­ing in­spi­ra­tion in the un­tamed world of preda­tor-prey in­ter­ac­tions.

The denizens of the an­i­mal king­dom have evolved a myr­iad of freaky bod­ily func­tions to ward off wouldbe at­tack­ers: In the avian world, young Eurasian rollers vomit a foul-smelling orange fluid onto them­selves when they be­come fright­ened. Golden poi­son frogs advertise their nox­ious qual­i­ties via con­spic­u­ous colour­ing, a trait sci­en­tists re­fer to as “apose­ma­tism.” Though hu­mans are tech­ni­cally clas­si­fied as “su­per­preda­tors,” the only phys­i­cal method we have of ward­ing off at­tack­ers—bar­ring brute force and ac­tual weapons—is our clothes.

“Preda­tor and prey dy­nam­ics are ubiq­ui­tous,” says Dr. Matt McEl­roy, a post-doc­toral re­searcher study­ing evo­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­ogy at Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley. “Be­sides ele­phants, there aren’t a lot of an­i­mals that don’t have to deal with be­ing a preda­tor or be­ing a prey item or both. It’s a re­ally im­por­tant thing that pretty much all or­gan­isms have to deal with.” It’s that pro­tec­tive and apose­matic in­stinct that de­sign­ers seem to be tap­ping into in re­sponse to the cur­rent dystopian mind­set.

At Al­berta Ferretti, hard gold studs min­gled with im­pen­e­tra­ble leather to cul­ti­vate the tough, bar­ri­er­like ex­te­rior of a pan­golin or an ar­madillo. When asked to de­scribe the col­lec­tion, Ferretti told Vogue Run­way: “Women to­day have changed, and fash­ion needs to speak in a dif­fer­ent way. It shouldn’t be so cor­rect; it should show per­son­al­ity.”

At Alexan­der McQueen, two large pink puffs emerged from the shoul­ders of a suit jacket-dress hy­brid, mim­ick­ing the ag­gres­sive man­tle of a frilled lizard, an oth­er­wise in­con­spic­u­ous rep­tile na­tive to Aus­tralia. The col­lec­tion also fea­tured plenty of Bate­sian mimicry—the term for when species as­sume the vis­ual char­ac­ter­is­tics of more toxic vari­ants—in the highly styl­ized but­ter­fly pat­terns splashed on dresses and skirts. »

“De­sign­ers ap­pear to have as­sumed a fight-or-flight re­sponse to these un­cer­tain times, which, to some—es­pe­cially those with a flair for the dra­matic—look a lot like the end of days,” writes critic Alexan­der Fury, chief fash­ion cor­re­spon­dent for The New York Times’s T Mag­a­zine.

Pneu­matic blaz­ers and denim puf­fer jack­ets at Ba­len­ci­aga as well as the gar­gan­tuan out­er­wear at Marc Ja­cobs as­sumed the billowing pro­por­tions of the puf­fer fish, a sea crea­ture that swal­lows co­pi­ous amounts of wa­ter to in­flate its body like a he­lium bal­loon so it’s harder to eat. “Fash­ion is a re­flec­tion of the way we live. I wanted to cre­ate a feel­ing that some­thing dan­ger­ous was go­ing to hap­pen,” de­signer Demna Gvasalia told T Mag­a­zine when asked to de­scribe his in­spi­ra­tion.

That dark and fore­bod­ing mood was also felt at Prada, Mis­soni and Calvin Klein, where the guile of night and its po­ten­tial lurk­ing dan­gers were never far from mind. Mi­uc­cia Prada de­scribed her col­lec­tion—a mix of sci-fi work­wear with preda­tor-warn­ing flu­oro ac­cents—as a fem­i­nist state­ment. “My dream is for women to be able to go out in the street and not be afraid,” she said. “I wanted to have the free­dom ex­ag­ger­ated.”

Mis­soni held its show in an old ware­house lit with omi­nous red laser beams. The mod­els sashayed down a dark and flooded cracked-con­crete cat­walk, boldly drag­ging their over­sized knit pieces through pud­dles. Their in­sou­ciant mood—and the tal­is­mans on their wrists—tele­graphed a “take back the night” de­fi­ance.

There was a sim­i­lar vibe at Mai­son Margiela, where trans­par­ent PVC hel­mets formed a pro­tec­tive bub­ble around mod­els’ heads, rem­i­nis­cent of the mu­cous shield that par­rot­fish emit to pro­tect them­selves from par­a­sites. The end-of-the-world aes­thetic was also echoed in Margiela’s cou­ture col­lec­tion, where mod­els were swad­dled in tulle sheaths and pro­tec­tive plas­tic shells. John Gal­liano said he was drawn to the idea of “cre­at­ing your own world within a world that’s very trou­bled at the mo­ment.”

It’s clear that the frothy es­capism of sea­sons past has come to a star­tling halt. Clothes that chal­lenge the no­tion of con­ven­tional at­trac­tive­ness have long been the province of avant-garde la­bels like Comme des Garçons, whose 1997 “lumps and bumps” col­lec­tion used pad­ding to form un­sightly tu­mour-like growths, or Mai­son Margiela, whose cloven-hoofed tabi boots, first in­tro­duced in 1989, have si­mul­ta­ne­ously en­tranced and re­pulsed the fash­ion crowd for three decades.

But this sea­son, the in­her­ent ug­li­ness is less a re­jec­tion of sex and more a de­pic­tion of out­right hos­til­ity. De­sign­ers are on an ap­par­ent mass mis­sion to make women look as im­pos­ing as pos­si­ble, demon­strat­ing that fab­ric, shapes and colours can be an­tag­o­nis­tic. Clothes are no longer a maraschino cherry gar­nish for the fem­i­nine body but rather a po­ten­tial weapon or block­ade. They are, in essence, the new ar­mour.

“The world is full of hos­tile ex­ploiters try­ing to take full ad­van­tage of their re­sources,” be­gins a chap­ter in the evo­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­ogy book In­di­vid­ual Be­hav­iour and Com­mu­nity Dy­nam­ics. The sen­ti­ment is meant to de­scribe the com­pet­i­tive world of preda­tor-prey in­ter­ac­tions, but it could just as well serve as an ac­cu­rate de­scrip­tion of the world to­day. Ac­cord­ing to com­mon wis­dom, preda­tors prey on weaker species, but hos­tile hu­man ex­ploiters might be in for a big sur­prise.


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