HAUTE HOPE

Tim Blanks on how Obama’s politics charged the runway

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Tim Blanks


 
Tim Blanks

HAUTE HOPE
Tim Blanks on how Obama’s politics charged the runway

THE YEAR CAME TO AN END with a huge Obama boost, a stunning riposte to the bad news that weighed down the world for the rest of 2008. That means we could leave the past 12 months behind with a good reason to be cheerful. And when I think back to the year’s fashion, it’s also optimism I’ll remember, thanks to the collections for Spring 2009.

In more than two decades of covering shows, I can’t remember such fizz on the catwalk. The abundance of flapper fringes may have evoked the manic jazz age that preceded the Wall Street crash in 1929 (an October buzz kill from an earlier era), but the dominant impression was glorious colour. And the hemline index, cooked up by economist George Taylor back in the ’20s to make a connection between lengthening skirts and slowing economies, was shot to hell by all the boob-baring, thigh-skimming looks on parade. If such escalated assets brought to mind Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan’s reference to “irrational exuberance” during the boom years of the ’90s, I felt that fashion’s spring-based optimism wasn’t strictly irrational. It wasn’t simply the prospect of political change; it was also the industry responding to a crisis situation, doing what it does best: offering an incentive to dream in the midst of a deepening global nightmare.

So what exactly did we see? A grab bag of favourite images would include everything that Dries Van Noten and Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz did with draping and the most intense primary colours; the magic of the prints at Alexander McQueen; all the weird-but-wonderful Siamese suffragettes at Marc Jacobs; and Anna Sui’s Mexican-cum-folkloric embroideries. Every one of those presentations offered the fashion dream at its escapist best.

Even Miuccia Prada got with the program. If her sensational lace-based fall collection was a darkly sexy triumph of control and construction, spring’s erotically déshabillé outfits made the models look like they’d been subjected to the steam heat of Stromboli (some behaved that way, too—at least two of them tumbled to the ground during the show). I wondered if this was Miuccia’s way of reminding us that life’s simplest pleasures can compensate for economic trials. (There have certainly been plenty of articles written about how quality of life actually improves when workers are forced out of the rat race.)

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Louis Vuitton, Dries Van Noten, Marni


 
Louis Vuitton, Dries Van Noten, Marni

The most upbeat shows of the season were Marni and Louis Vuitton, both of them orgies of colour, print and texture. It was hard not to smile at the eccentric self-assurance of Consuelo Castiglioni’s and Marc Jacobs’ creations. You know how fashion authorities are always advising you to break up designer looks and make them your own by integrating an item or two into your own wardrobe? Well, what I perversely liked most about Marni and Vuitton was, in both cases, that I felt the clothes would benefit from being worn as a head-to-toe look—shoes, bags and jewelry included. Instant uplift!

Of course, I’m wilfully ignoring the price tag of that uplift come spring, but I’m thinking of these clothes as a diverting entertainment, like Busby Berkeley’s movies in the ’30s. Tomas Maier at Bottega Veneta and Christopher Bailey at Burberry gave us a foretaste of the alternative, with muted, worn-looking, downbeat outfits that had the audiences at their shows talking about Depression chic.

By the way, the new fashion index is apparently the haircut. Markets plunge; hair goes short. Imagine the boulevards crowded with Jean Seberg wannabes as a harbinger of the Second Great Depression. At least things won’t look quite as bad as they are.

RUNWAY PHOTOGRAPHY, ANTHEA SIMMS; EDITOR, ELIO IANNACCI.

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