Transmissions: The Hero’s Journey

Jordan Richman


TRANSMISSIONS is a communicable and speculative sociological research column by JORDAN RICHMAN. Traversing the globe and immersing himself into perceived moments of relevance, Richman mines the fields of fashion and culture – extracting with you his thoughts, encounters, and societal foreshadowing.

This installment steps back from the hot takes and coinages and enters 2023 with a meditation on myth-building. Between the runways and the raves, Richman chases not just rumor but historical narrative, in an industry where legacy is everything, newness is elusive, and brands trade designers like professional athletes in the league of luxury.

Or are fashion’s pundits and prodigies more like Jungian archetypes on a Hero’s Journey à la Joseph Campbell?

Find out in this two-part TRANSMISSIONS, where our columnist finds electricity at Miu Miu and futurism at Bottega Veneta, and talks cancel culture with Paul McCarthy and Balenciaga with ChatGPT as Demna prepares his post-scandal return. Friendship and Café Flore fuel his invite-only marathon through the latest season in fashion, complete with cameos from Cicciolina to Tommy Cash, Martin Margiela to Brigitte Macron.

After not having published a column in months, I hear the fashion world’s call to adventure. I psychologically prepare for a hero’s journey with the month of Autumn/Winter 2023 shows ahead.

New York Fashion Week starts awkwardly with a show featuring animal cosplay that according to whispers backstage the models find humiliating. Bella’s spray spectacle at the Coperni show last season has left every brand clamoring for their own “infinite impressions” moment. Scrolling through Instagram, I see Dese Escobar correctly post that the real fashion girls go to Frieze LA anyway. The art fair has been in schedule conflict with NYFW and LFW since it launched in 2019. Dese for me is the truest fashion barometer. With her persistent posting (I follow the insta and finstas) I don’t bother with any ego affirming second rate trend reports or theory pieces from online minted magazines. We have the receipts. Dese was the earliest adopter carrying Balenciaga’s now prehistoric Le Cagole bag—and the first to praise Hedi’s renaissance at Celine while all the wannabe creative directors were still wearing reissued Rammstein t-shirts and 3,000 dollars JNCO jeans.

A note to PRs: move Ms. Escobar to the top of seeding lists, and watch your impressions rack up. (But don’t sleep on it, because Celine is about to have Dese DJ their fashion show at Le Palace in Paris.)

I attend the shows of friends’ brands Dion Lee and Eckhaus Latta. Dion throws a party at the Boom Boom Room. After scanning the club I finally find my friend WNBA star Liz Cambage—who is hard to miss at 6’9”—as Azealia Banks begins to perform. My last show in New York is Puppets Puppets. This season continues the labels’ cute baroque aesthetic. Backstage, I take photos with new bags destined to be hits. My favorite is the tiny, crystal-adorned crescent number with a lifelike banana handle. Later, on the tarmac at Newark waiting to take off for LA, I notice a story by a New York designer that shows a look from a collection I just saw next to a similar one from one of his previous seasons. I find this type of critique oddly old school. It was only a few years ago that I was rushing to the defense of the same NY brand in the comments section of a scathing Diet Prada post.


Champagne Infinity

I arrive to LAX, where my friend Anna Frost generously picks me up in her champagne Infinity, since we’ll have to drive out West again hours later for the Frieze LA opening party at the Getty Villa, thrown in partnership with the Loewe Foundation. Anna’s car is an important piece of ephemera for the LA artworld—and Los Angeles itself. There isn’t a mega-famous European artist, curator in town for an exhibition, or rising LA star who has not been driven around in this vehicle from lavish estates to taco stands across the city. The Infinity is where I first met my friend and collaborator Sean Monahan, who DJ’ed a perfectly curated set of Madonna songs. If Anna ever retires the vehicle, it belongs in the stacks of the Getty Research Institute or on permanent display at MMK. In the evening driving back West on Sunset Boulevard during rush hour traffic we pull up behind a Black Tesla with the license plate “ZIZEK”.


At the Frieze party I’m dressed in a black button-down shirt and matching baggy trousers, accessorized with the Loewe bracelet bag in gold—a Middle East-exclusive colorway that I picked up in Qatar. The bag is starting its ascent to it-bag status à la Le Cagole. The next night, Kiko Kostadinov raves over the item, which Stewart Uoo had spotted on both me and David Toro at Eckhaus Latta only a few days before. (Stewart had insisted that we “dock them,” using the flat metal hardware of the bags to pair them together. It reminded him of some super hero thing, but I just think about one of those dumb “two bottoms in bed” memes.) Many friends are at the Getty Villa, including Calla Henkel, Max Pitegoff, Leilah Weinraub, Jon Rafman, and Polina Dubik. In the courtyard Polina drinks my martini and kills my watermelon ice vape. I don’t mind, though. It is her first night out since giving birth. I find Sylvie Fleury and Esben Weile Kjaer, who have collaborated on an inflatable sculpture for the “other” LA art fair, Felix, displayed in that pool famously painted by David Hockney. An Italian artist explains how the Getty Villa is modeled on the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum, which was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Sylvie and I catch up, and the topic inevitably goes to Balenciaga. She and I originally met, ages ago, at the Beverly Hills Balenciaga boutique. We chat about a work she’s still finishing for the fair, and she asks which LA fashion brands are the hippest because she wants to use one of their shopping bags for the piece. I tell her there are none and suggest she get a bag from Erewhon given the cult that has risen up around the grocery store.

Anne Imhof’s Emo is the most anticipated show of Frieze week, but the opening night performance seems to have been planned maybe a week in advance. Walking up to Sprüth Magers’ midcentury LA headquarters I see a Ford truck crashed into the building. Later that night at the gallery dinner I hear that the car is a rental and will be leaving Sunday along with all the international guests here for the fair. The talk of the town is that Anne’s next ambition, since she has conquered the art world, is to direct a Hollywood motion picture. It’s like the Madonna lyric: “Everybody wants to come to Hollywood.” Not cynically, I think it’s the perfect move for the artist. At the “dinner” I stand around eating vegan cheeseburgers with Alex Hunter (née Jäger) of Balenciaga. Full and freezing—many of the Frieze week events take place outdoors—we take off with Martina Tiefenthaler and Nina Pohl for a super straight Supreme party at the Chateau, before a stop-in at the Pin-Up party and the long trek out to Anne’s afterparty at Sofi Stadium. Desiring a level of exclusivity, they have invited very few guests, not wanting the sort of spectacle that have plagued Anne’s other openings. Those in the know are anxious to schlep out all the way to Inglewood. So the biggest stadium in America is reserved for maybe 100 or so friends. Cosponsored by Kendal Jenner’s tequila brand, Martina and I take swigs from an infinity/number 8 shaped bottle. Ashland plays the wildest set, which reverberates through the coliseum. Above are enormous monitors displaying Anne’s videos. As we’re leaving, a remixed Dido song starts to play.


Sunrise Tower

I have a sunrise swim back at Sunset Tower with Jakob Eilinghoff, who appeared in Anne’s performance 12 hours ago, along with Jonas Wendelin and gallerist André Schlechtriem. I do perfect underwater handstands that no one can match. Freezing, we jump out of the water and rush to the terrace restaurant and sit around in braindead silence waiting for the kitchen to open at 7am. It’s 7:10 and still no one has come to take our order. André does a fantastic Meryl Streep Miranda Priestly impression. “Why is no one ready?”


I don’t care about the Frieze fair at the far-away Santa Monica airport hangar. I mostly came to LA for the weather, see friends’ shows, and to talk to Paul McCarthy about his opus White Snow, which has been sitting in an east LA warehouse ever since debuting at the Park Avenue Armory a decade ago. It’s hard to remember that far back, but I was there, before Instagram and 5G literally changed the frequencies of society. In the warehouse I notice aspects of the exhibition my 23 year old self missed. Like the Snow White character singing “each man kills the thing he loves,” which is what Jeanne Moreau sings in Fassbinder’s adaptation of Querelle. (The song also appears, sung by a fantastic looking Isabelle Adjani, in Francois Ozon’s quasi Fassbinder biopic Peter Von Kant.) Ten years wiser, I greet Paul and, once I extricate him from a curator’s grasp, he shows me around the exhibition. He talks to me about his uncertainty for the future of this Gesamtkunstwerk. “We probably dismantle it and throw a lot of it away,” he tells me. “I don't know whether I keep the trees, the base of it. And we can keep the flowers, they can go in a container in the house, maybe we could keep that and the rest we throw away. It just doesn't have a home at this point. I would virtually give it away. But nobody can store it. Nobody wants it. How are they going to? It's how it feels right now. And it feels like, more than anything in the world, the art world has changed.” It’s hard for me to imagine Hauser and Wirth not having some old industrial factory somewhere in Switzerland where the work could reside. Paul has always been one of the great artist provocateurs in a society where provocation has become perilous. Does the 77-year-old worry about being cancelled? “If you can't discuss fascism or racism in metaphorical ways in an art language, then that itself becomes a form of fascism,” he says. “So it's a dangerous thing when people begin to stop things without understanding how language or art works.”


A Gay of The Prep Generation

Flying to Milan I catchup on Daniel Lee’s London Burberry debut, which I find a little underwhelming. Reading Sarah Mower’s review in Vogue, I develop a deeper appreciation for this style of non-review review, which spares the industry of rightful criticism—we are in a massive recession, after all—and instead focuses on atmospheric details such as the color of the blankets on guests’ seats.

Diesel’s new sustainability strategy is making their entire new collection out of recycled condoms. Not really, though. Upon receiving my invitation, which came with a condom box, I did wonder why Martens, a gay of the Prep generation, would make the item so central to the brand messaging this season. The condom is not very shocking, even in a Catholic country. Diesel’s DNA is built on controversy, so the brand must be in a worrisome place in this post-Balenciaga scandal world. For some reason the fashion world is still obsessed with White Lotus even though the finale was back in early December. Diesel is here to troll and invites Jennifer Coolidge, decked out in metallic denim, to their show for the first time. Except it isn’t Jennifer Coolidge but drag artist Alexis Stone in character as the comedienne. The older Italian journalists have absolutely no clue, especially with “Jennifer” seated next to her “castmate,” the style-incendiary Haley Lu Richardson.


Similarly, Y2K inspired the Blumarine show, designed by Nicola Brognano and styled by Lotta Volkova. I’m thrilled that Lotta has established herself with new brands, finding an equal platform that she previously held with Balenciaga. A few weeks ago, I posted story photos of Christophe Decarnin’s exquisite collections from his 2007-2010 tenure at Balmain, asking if anyone thinks about him anymore. I received dozens of loving responses. With this Joan of Arc collection for Blumarine, Nicola has already established himself as Christophe’s heir apparent, making clothes that make you want to say “that’s hot”—forgive the Paris Hilton parlance—but that are also hazardously fashionable.

In Every Dream Home A Heartache

The last several seasons I’ve found sitting at Fondazione Prada eerie. This time, it doesn’t help that I might have accidentally dropped something at 3am. In this fashion arena, my already highly sensitive senses are on overdrive. Tik Tokers prance up and down the rows in sheer white Prada-inspired lingerie looks. The music starts and the low ceiling in the room rises revealing orange columns covered in white flowers. Every moody pulse of the sound system playing In Every Dream Home A Heartache by Roxy Music sends shivers up my spine—a pedestrian turn of phrase I would never use, except it is literally true. The show opens with several silhouettes of adorned white skirts that resemble repurposed wedding dresses. The collection is beautiful. My most favorite looks are the duvet pieces, shown as a jacket and long skirt, miniskirt, and shorts. Seeing them walk down the runway, I’m reminded of the tremendous regret I have over not buying the Margiela duvet coat ten years ago at the H&M in Silicon Valley even though it was 90 percent off. The culture was so different back then, when avantgarde clothes from Comme des Garçons lingered on the sale racks at Neiman Marcus, and rappers were still using the word “faggot.” Now they praise Raf Simons. Later that night I’m back in the same space at Fondazione Prada for a rave. I dance behind the DJ, Clara 3000. The ceiling rises revealing the flowers from the show still suspended above us. Suddenly I’m allergic. I sneeze like 20 times in a row then run to the terrace for fresh air and a cigarette.


Scrolling through Instagram on my final day in Milan, I stop on a post by Butt Dick and Pussy. It’s a pic of me and Martina from the Pin-Up party last week in LA. I am quite surprised at how feral I look. Desiring to grow out my beard to be the longest in fashion, I might have neglected my overall grooming. Now my hair is too grown-out, with curls approaching my chin. I wander around my neighborhood seeking a salon where I can have it cut before my last show of the week: New New Bottega. I stumble into one, where they ask me if I have an appointment before saying nothing is available. I walk to another that according to Google maps is open, but alas they’re closed. Finally, across from my favorite pasteria, I find a classic Milanese barbershop. I pass through the beautiful building entryway, which I think I recognize from Karl Kolbitz’s book on the subject, Ingressi di Milano. Inside, the shop walls are painted in rich dark brown, leather-bound tomes line the shelves, and there is a bar with dozens of whiskeys to choose from. All the staff wear black skinny suits—very Mastroianni.


Cicciolina—The Person, Not the Party

Entering the Bottega Veneta space, I greet an influencer I met previously on a press trip. He looks as if someone has just told him his entire family had been murdered. He’s unable to speak, but another influencer explains for him: he’s lost his phone. I almost understand the devastation. This is a person who posted a “how many hours until the Bottega Veneta show” countdown earlier in the week. Tensions are high between editors and influencers this season. Feeling referred to pejoratively as an “influencer” in a tweet by Vanessa Friedman from the Gucci show, one such digital content creator takes to social media, venting to their social swarm and calling for vengeance. I see Joerg and we catch up. He rightfully asks when will my next column be ready and tells me I need to do another mega story for the next issue. I have some ideas but we decide it’s better not to discuss them here, in front of all the other unoriginal eavesdropping editors. I finally find my seat in the second row, near Pinault and Salma Hayek. An entourage of a dozen escorts a celebrity I can’t see through the handlers and seats him in the same letter section. (It turns out it’s BTS’ RM). I’m more intrigued by a mature blonde whose entrance makes the pit photographers roar. It’s Cicciolina—the person, not the party. Porn star, politician, ex-wife of Jeff Koons, and Made In Heaven costar. Apparently, it is Cicciolina’s second time attending the Bottega Veneta show. Thankfully this time a certain New York based editor and TikTok personality is present, and ensnares the 71-year-old star for his content stream, ensuring maximum exposure.


The show opens with a white dress and sock boots followed by an oversized white shirt and boxers. These seemingly cotton pieces this season are all made of leather. The same goes for the Joseph Beuysian wool felt-like fabrics. These trompe l’oeil details, I adore. The direction feels right for the brand, appealing to discerning clients in the tradition of an Hermes.

Watching the show live, I’m surprised by the variety from one exit to another. An aquamarine synthetic fur coat is followed by a very well-cut grey suit. “Exotics” mimicking crocodile and ostrich are so well-crafted they look richer than the real thing. One of my favorite looks is a dark green “ostrich” coat. Backstage, I can barely resist asking to try on in front of everyone. There are a handful of elevated red-carpet gowns, which I don’t remember being such a strong offering by the brand previously under Daniel Lee. I’m usually more a fan of chic precision, however Matthieu Blazy’s breakthrough collection immediately feels like the future of fashion. Apropos, that Italian futurist Umberto Boccioni was an inspiration for the season, and one of his sculptures, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, was front and center on the runway, on loan to the brand from a museum. I think about the Italian brand’s unique continuity – and what Blazy’s next move will be on his own hero’s journey – as I pack my bags for Paris.

Read the second part of “Transmissions: The Road of Trials” HERE.