THE UGLY TRUTH Fashion today is so bad, it’s good
Fashion is deep in the throes of a love affair with ugly. What started out as a risqué flirtation with the mundane (laundrybag-inspired separates for Céline fall/winter 2013) and the strictly off-limits (Christopher Kane’s furry-trim/jewelen encrusted Crocs) has blossomed into a fully-fledged movement th that is revolutionising the very notion of luxury. Cue fall/winter 20 2018’s ultimate accessory: A prosthetic head à la Gucci; Vetements’ Litt Little Edie-goes-grunge mash-ups, and Jonathan Anderson’s crafty dissonance dis both at his eponymous label and Loewe.
“I som sometimes think to myself, ‘Are designers taking the piss?’” says Kathleen B Buscema, Womenswear Buyer at Harrolds, a luxury department store in Au Australia. “But it’s cool—fashion is just having a laugh.” How else would you explain the industry’s ongoing obsession with the disposable carrier bag as a luxury accessory (this season it appeared in clear and baby blue plastic at Burberry); the fugly shoe (more abo about that in a bit) and the kind of outfits that look as if they’ve been put together t in a kilo sale? “The shift to the absurd or weird or ‘ugly’ is more relatable to the millennial generation’s idea of street cool,” Buscema continues. “It’s con a zone they feel comfortable in. It’s their protest. It’s their anarc anarchy.”
Indeed, if you scratch the surface of theses art or rial shenanigans, you’ll find a serious commentary on the difficult fficult questions relating to current protest movements, such as:What What does it mean to be sexy in the era of #MeToo?; what do we consider real beauty in a social-mediascape saturated with retouched and filtered imagery?; and what can be trusted d in a post-truth world in which the boundary between fact and fiction is blurred to buggery?
“Fashion’s current celebration of the ‘ugly’ comes partly tly from our desire for authenticity—there’s nothing more real eal than ugly—and partly as a reaction ion against outdated beauty standards that have failed to o take diversity into consideration,” says Darren Black, the London-based photographer whose Instagram account, count, @darren_ black, has become a showcase for fashion’s most provocative new faces.“It’s about the he freedom to be ‘ugly’ and to be celebrated for or it. ‘Ugly’ faces and ‘ugly’ bodies wearing ‘ugly’ ly’ clothes all put together in this bricolage style tyle that we have seen championed at Gucci cci and Burberry—when all these ingredients edients are mixed together, they create a new way of being and seeing for a generation neration hell-bent on redefining gender and beauty.”
Buscema agrees: “No rules means eans that it’s no longer a case of ‘this is for men’ and ‘that is for women.’ The ‘ugly’ gly’ trend is genderless. And the fact that there here are no rules is exciting—our clients ts get to have fun creating their own version of themselves any which h way they feel comfortable.”
For millennials exploring fashion’s hion’s dressing-up box, this means a revival of clothing othing previously relegated to the naughty step: Chavtastic Burberry baseball eball caps, ’80s-style sportswear, dad-fit jeans, bumbags (am I the only one who can’t bring themselves to call them “fanny ny packs” like they do in the U.S.?) and clodhopper shoes; all wrapped up with ad-hoc styling references to other er youthquake moments such as punk and hip-hop. “The themes mes of youth and subculture are a rich seam of inspiration for many designers this season,” says Natalie Kingham, Fashion ion and Buying Director at MatchesFashion.com. “We saw Calvin vin Klein, Gucci and Marine Serre embrace this trend with the he clash of cultures, textures and colours. It’s all about confidently y mixing fabrics and moods, and embracing colour and print with self-assurance. It should all be worn with conviction for a luxe take on rule-breaking.” Of course, the easiest way to brave any challenging fashion trend (and ugly, by its very nature, will always be challenging) is to start with a shoe. “The so-called ‘ugly sneaker’ has already influenced the chunkier, Buffalo-style shoe that was a major trend on n the fall/winter 2018 runways,” Kingham assures us. “Some e of the best were at Junya Watanabe and Vetements.” (Any ny doubters out there as to the viability of Demna Gvasalia’s ia’s latest offering—Michelin Man sneakers on steroids—would ould do well to remember that his US$1,100 triple-decker Crocs ocs for Balenciaga sold out in New York before they were even released an and that Balenciaga’s Triple S “dad trainers” have quickly a assimilated into mainstream footwear.)
But leave it to Christopher Kane to take things to the n next level.Teaming up with orthopaedic footwear brand Z Z-Coil, Kane this season took shoes known for their sprung he heels (which act as shock absorbers) and gave them a dusting o of crystals.“I don’t follow trends—we create trends, and that’s p part of being in the luxury market,” says Kane, who has always cha challenged the boundary between good and bad taste.“I don’t want to be putting something out there that’s ‘on-trend’...You want to pprodu produce something people don’t know they want... And put som something methin out that’s like,‘What the f**k is that?’”
Whic W Which is what we all thought when we saw those shoes. T The simple si truth is whenever something radically different comes along, , it requires re equires a period peri of adjustment. “Newness is often very uncomfortable u uncomfortable,” says Angela Radcliffe, the Auckland-born model turned personal stylist who, as one half of Radcliffe & Sciamma, takes t fashion’s more extreme trends and makes them work for fo a discerning luxury clientele.“Look at any radical designer d who has changed the way we dress, from P Paul Poiret and Coco Chanel to Pierre Cardin and V Vivienne Westwood:They all faced criticism beca because they were ahead of their time. Rei Kaw Kawakubo [of Comme des Garçons] and Miuccia Pra Prada have built their careers on constantly cha challenging the status quo and continue to push us in into uncomfortable fashion territory.” In many ways, Prada is the mother of the new ugly, her signature clash of 1950s bourgeoisie pris prissiness and hi-tech, man-made fabrics providing a fr framework within which she conducts an on ongoing conversation about feminism and fem femininity. (Her first collection, in 1988, was slamm slammed by critics for being ugly and drab.) “I have never, ever done something I didn’t believe inn in or to mak make people look silly. I am respectful to the cuustomer customer and people,” Mrs Prada told me a few years back, muusing musing on th the point at which ugly becomes beautiful or beeautiful beautiful bec becomes ugly.“In fact, I think that everything I doo do should be functional and make sense. I like my work wwhen when there is i a connection to reality. Fashion should be wear wearable—after all, it is fashion, not art.”
For fall/winter 2018, Mrs P. sent out graffiti-effect coc cocktail dresses and acid-flecked tweeds all worn with pro protective fluorescent drawstring gaiters at the shin and sho shown against a nocturnal cityscape backdrop with neon Pr Prada signs that were equal parts Las Vegas and The Fifth
Element. E As the last look trotted by—a shocking-pink sl sleeveless padded anorak— I couldn’t help but think of D DianaVreeland, the onetime BAZAAR editrix who was fo fond both of that particular hue and that silhouette, which ha had echoes of Balenciaga’s sack dresses.“A little bad taste is like li a nice splash of paprika.We all need a splash of bad taste taste—it’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s physical,” she famously quipp quipped. “I think we could use more of it. No taste is what I’m against.” ag ■
Clockwise from left: Prada fall/winter 2018. Gucci fall/ winter 2018. Comme des Garçons fall/winter 2018
From top: Marine Serre fall/winter 2018. Vetements fall/winter 2018. Calvin Klein 205W 205W39NYC fall/winter 2018. Comme des Garçons fall/winter 2018