In his collections, the designer often borrowed the colours and embellishments of the Indian tradition, mixing them with futuristic graphic motifs, creating in this way extremely modern visions that seemed to come out of cyberpunk novels.
Many collections for the next season moved from this sort of mix between traditions and modernity, taking it to the extreme, suggesting a new approach that combines anthropology, geography, culture and fashion.
Scholars often claim that culture cannot be understood without studying and understanding the space it inhabits.
Yet such space is strictly connected with other issues such as identity, class and race.
Quite a few designers tried to find for the next season a new geography, destroying cultural barriers and social differences, embracing in this way an innovative fashion representation based on multiplicity and on the dichotomic contrasts between country/city and rural/urban.
The main result generated by such fashion representation is a new hybrid global identity, based on the issue of transnationality.
If our garments reveal our gender, sub-cultural affiliation, class and age, allowing other people to identify where we come from and who we are, mixing our clothes with accessories from different countries can help us defying space, geography and history, becoming part of a collective, multicultural identity.
This was the concept behind Jean Paul Gaultier’s Autumn/Winter 2010 collection.
Even the invitation to his catwalk show - a collage of different countries – from China to Mexico, passing through Greece, Morocco, India and Russia – hinted at the cultural and geographic mix the designer had in mind for the next season.
The ensembles on his runway confirmed the multicultural identity of Gaultier’s inspiration.
There were red dresses incorporating the French designer’s iconic corsets matched with traditional Greek hats; tailored pinstriped suits decorated with colourful details from Tibetan costumes worn with Mongolian headdresses and accessorised with tribal neck rings in the fashion of giraffe women, while Gaultier’s legendary sailor striped shirts were worn with African turbans.
Multiple mini-skirts that called to mind the traditional Slovak dress were matched instead with dark blue double breasted sailor jackets and embroidered ulaanbaatar boots and a multicoloured Mexican blanket like skirt with a Día de los Muertos skull print was matched with a pair of black and white gingham harem pants.
The most successful experiments were the ones in which the designer perfectly managed to create new hybrids moving from his most classic pieces: corsets were integrated into knee-length qipao dresses; trench coats were embellished with reversible Chinese silk lining, knits were embellished with metallic studs and decorations that echoed Yemenite costumes.
Also the footwear went through the same treatment: traditional geta sandals were turned into high heeled shoes worn with punched leather trousers and brightly coloured Chinese slippers were incorporated into architecturally modern sandals.
Yet the message behind the collection was one: we live in a globalised world and the key to create a new identity and eventually survive is to infinitely mix and combine our traditions, garments and accessories.
There was a similar message behind John Galliano’s A/W 10 collection, though the designer mainly attempted a combination of prêt-à-porter and haute couture, taking inspiration from a fantastic journey that touched only a few countries.
While Gaultier saw the entire world as a source of inspiration, Galliano mainly travelled through Afghanistan, Mongolia and Uzbekistan, stopping in each place, absorbing the traditions and costumes and then re-elaborating them.
The results were cumbersome and cocooning coats embellished with decorations and Swarovski elements, quite beautiful gold brocade short coats, fitted tweed or fur jackets.
Rather than mixing styles from different countries one with the other, Galliano layered them all, thinking about nomadic women wearing waistcoats on top of Mongolian fur jackets, woollen dresses on chiffon trousers and ethereally light yellow or white dresses with intricate gold and bronze embroidered sleeves on woollen leggings.
Accessories – among them hybrid round toe hiking boots with stiletto heels, feathered crowns and three tiered belts – contributed to create this layered look of excess characterised by a grey palette with just a few splashes of fuchsia and red mainly employed for the chiffon dresses with fur and feather inserts.
There were also some tribal inspirations behind Galliano’s collection, especially in the evening dresses with fur inserts matched with extravagant crowns that called to mind Italia Almirante-Manzini’s look as Sophonisba in Giovanni Pastrone's Cabiria.
These looks introduce us to the second part of this post, tackling tribal attires.
Some collections attempted for example comparisons between fashion and tribal inspirations à la Avatar.
Yet it's undeniable that most designers connect the "tribal" word to a strong image of warrior woman or a sort of Amazon witch, a crossover between Medea and a post-Apocalypse barbarian princess.
Alber Elbaz at Lanvin employed draping and pleating techniques to create quite striking looks, effortless dresses in which the emphasis was on voluminous structured shoulders or on architectural or geometrical elements used to create interesting motifs on just one arm.
While the oversized double face cashmere red men’s coats broke with the rest of the collection, the stark and minimalist yet desirably timeless day looks such as the short black togas and the over-embellished bejewelled evening dresses in gold and green lame decorated with exotic marabou feathers had an almost hieratic edge about them and conjured up visions of dark haired barbaric priestesses from a secret cult.
The accessories such as the oversized amulets hanging from the tribal necklaces and bangles that included leather strips, metallic plates, wooden elements and rock crystals, reinforced this impression.
The models at Ann Demeulemeester’s catwalk show looked as if they had come out of Hitchcock’s The Birds, but, rather than running away from the enraged birds, they looked as if they had turned upon them, ripped them to bits and pieces and fashioned out of their feathered relics an endless series of jackets and gloves.
Demeulemeester favoured a clean look, with no transnational contamination, but relied quite heavily on the power of tribal attire that she achieved through fierce tailoring, braided whipcord necklaces, feather embellishments and striking blood red jackets.
Astrakhan fur gave a touch of luxury to the collection, but the main impression was that of an army of stylishly gothic Maenads, populating a dark and oppressive world and ready to tear animals (and human beings...) to pieces and devour their flash.
It will be exciting to see in which ways issues of transnational identities will be developed further and if tribal inspirations will keep on conjuring up powerful images of fierce women.
In the meantime, moving from such themes why don't you try fashioning your own transnational or tribal look?
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