TRANSMISSIONS: The Road of Trials
Read the first part of “Transmissions: The Hero's Journey” HERE.
After New York, London, and Milan, the fashion month audience’s interest and attention is dim. Vaquera is the reenergizing bump we need to keep going. The brand’s designer Patric DiCaprio has told me that some editors and influencers miss the Vaquera show because they arrive to Paris later in the week, for bigger brands’ shows. It makes sense—and with a recession looming, many Condé Nast editors were missing in Milan. No-shows at Vaquera were definitely not missed in the very crowded 35-37 Comme des Garçon owned venue. Arriving late, I had to kick out several people squatting my seat. I love that Paris fashion week kicks off with the New Yorkers—and in Virgil’s sacred old time slot. There is a certain creative vitality to the youngish NYC designers that even the pluckiest Parisian upstarts can’t match. The new Vaquera collection opens surprisingly, in a more restrained manner than previous seasons. The signature Vaquera frenetic runway sprint of the past has been replaced by something more sultry, I hear from Vaquera fave model Born. All the better for being able to study the clothes as they pass by, and they are deserving of the attention. Since starting to show Paris in still a very Vaquera way, the collections have become more polished, all while maintaining a certain Zoomer cusp punk DIY sensibility. The merchandising has become substantial, no doubt influenced by their working with Comme des Garçons, which knows a thing or two about making a business out of the avantgarde. Black faded denim, leather, shearling, screws, army surplus nylon, and clear plastic are the primary materials this season. My favorite look—a gown that comes out toward the end of the show—belongs on the Oscars’ red carpet. Possibly on former Vaquera intern Hunter Schafer, who I interviewed about the experience for the star’s 032c Issue #42 cover story. The look reminds me instantly of the hot pink Chanel Haute couture dress donned by Gwyneth Paltrow in a Vogue editorial by Mario Testino that I tore out of the magazine at the time. That’s Vaquera’s genius: fashion references, including the Westwoodish bras in this outing, that are too intentionally obvious to call out. This tiny label sets the bar high for the mega brands that will come later this week, from Rick Owens to Loewe to Miu Miu.
Every Nepo Supermodel and Chanteuse on the Planet
André Courrèges was an assistant to Cristóbal Balenciaga before branching out to start his namesake label in 1961. It’s interesting to think of these two heritage houses in dialogue again this week, especially as Balenciaga sees if it can recover from scandal. If it can’t, Courrèges is perfectly poised to take its place. Nicolas Di Felice’s rise at Courrèges has been a slow burn—in part due to starting during the pandemic—but the designer has emerged as one of the strongest talents in Paris (previously he worked under Nicolas Ghesquière at both Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton). That’s after two attempts of rebooting the brand, first from Yolanda Zobel and then with couple Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant, who after leaving Courrèges went back to their Coperni brand. In other words, the once cutting-edge futurist maison was all but condemned when Nicolas was handed the keys. But, alongside stylist Marie Chaix, Nicolas has rehabilitated this sleeping beauty. He laid the foundation by bringing back the shiny vinyl looks that Yolanda did away with hoping to greenwash the brand into relevancy. Then came a brilliant surf-inspired collection and quicksand installation, and an “it” item in the form of a motorcycle jacket worn by every nepo supermodel and chanteuse on the planet. The course for the new Courrèges being masterfully set, this season it’s time to shine bright.
While waiting for the show to start an editor spills her coffee on the pristine cream carpet runway. Freaked out production assistants scrub the stain, to no avail. Seconds later a strong scent of bleach pervades the room. I spy Avril Lavigne, who I already knew would be attending—the brand’s head of VIP mentioned it the night before. My phone flashes with an Instagram notification: @i_d is going live, which means the show is about to start. White mist fills the small cubic venue. The first model walks out, face illuminated by an iPhone glow, strutting while typing as though totally unaware of her surroundings. Egotistically, I question if I was the inspiration for this runway gesture. It’s exactly how I move through fashion week from show to show, writing my column in the Notes app of my iPhone 7, miraculously never being hit by a bus or Lime scooter. The next model materializes through the mist, also iPhone in hand, wearing the newest take on the now signature Courrèges biker jacket. Dresses and jumpsuits with holes exposing models’ belly buttons—pierced with logo jewelry—are right on trend. Triple-threat influencer/model/podcaster Emily Ratajkowski appears in a black cropped turtleneck and long skirt. I had met Emily the day before while accompanying a musician friend to the Courrèges fitting. In Milano, I eat many meals at Specialista, where the specialty is an Emrata pizza named after the star, topped with a layer of prosciutto and sploodge of burrata right in the center.
For the show’s finale, the lights fade and spotlights shine on models, all wearing round mirror accessories as part of their looks. The light reflects back onto the audience. It’s a beautiful effect. Vittoria, in her white sequin strapless top and skirt, has literally never glowed more. The crowd begins fiercely cheering in unison, even before the last look.
Motley Leather and Latex Crew
Because of the ongoing war, there is still no gas heating the outside of Cafe Flore. As a result, I have made the upstairs my new digs, enjoying the privacy. Before a fashion dinner, I meet up at the cafe with 032c fashion director Ras Bartram, artist Ben Lallier, my friend Peri Rosenweig, and her new boy. I sip a Pastis and chat with Ras about my cover ideas for the next issue. Peri also pitches some story idea about big brands customizing accessories into weapons. The problem with sitting upstairs is that, technically, you’re not allowed to smoke. Preferring to smoke where it’s prohibited, I casually light up anyways. After a couple minutes the Maitre D’ finally remembers us and comes up to check in. I hold the cigarette under the table and pray he walks away before getting a whiff. I watch his face as his expression shifts. He looks like he’s about to have a stroke. I feign ignorance, pleading not to know that you can’t smoke inside in France. I try to put the cigarette out in one of the half empty wine glasses, but our host freaks out even more. When he runs off to get something else, I pass the cigarette around so we can each take a hard, final drag. He returns with a saucer and I dab it out repeatedly. He makes a big show of opening the windows to air out the room. Still upset, he wants to reprimand us further, but seeing our motley leather and latex crew he seems to conclude we might be important indie rockstars and moves on.
After spending the night in the DJ booth at the Courrèges party, I wake up in the afternoon with a painful ear infection. Soon I’m at Rick Owens, where I’m seated under one of the speakers. After the 8th look, the pounding soundtrack feels like torture. I jump up and find a quieter corner. Rick continues his recent strong streak this season. Backstage at the Palais de Tokyo, Juergen Teller meets Tommy Cash for the first time. Tommy’s hair is braided in corn rows, he’s wearing a wife beater with the words “sue me” on it and no pants, revealing his fuzzy “vagina.” I post a censored version to stories and dozens write me requesting his nudes. Meanwhile, I catch up with Kristina Nagel about her upcoming exhibition at Fragile in Berlin. The very Berlin group I’m chatting with discusses Lukas Heerich’s incredible sonic sculpture in a concrete tower in Lichtenberg. I write myself a reminder to search Google Flights for tickets to Berlin for after fashion week. In the corner of my eye, I notice influencers the Clermont Twins posing for selfies with Fecal Matter.
The Purple Magazine x Givenchy event becomes almost dangerously overcrowded. In the smoking room, Matt Williams talks about his love for the rapper Jay-Z. The last time I saw Matt was on the runway of a Paris fashion show by another rapper. Randoms push and shove everywhere I go in the subterranean club. My fight or flight instincts kick in: I have to get the fuck out of Silencio. Running out I hear someone scream, “stop stop stop!” I turn around to find a woman’s long black hair is somehow caught around the button of my nylon trench coat. I carefully step back as she detangles her shiny mane and I walk out of the club, in shock. That could have been an even bigger disaster than some of the collections presented that day. Tobias Spichtig is still hungry after the Purple dinner, so I accompany him across the street to McDonald’s.
Happy Nouilles And ChatGPT
Feeling not the absolute best I meet my friend Esben Weile Kjær at Happy Nouilles. Their filet de porc haché au miso aux lamens is better than medicine. Last season, Happy Nouilles became my new Flore. I first took Esben there when he was performing at the Pompidou during Paris Plus. It is also where I came for solace following the disastrous Yeezy Season 9 show, along with several Ye collaborators. I remember sitting in near silence eating my tofu à la sauce mapo. Very uncharacteristically, there was no immediate acerbic hot take. I was shocked silent.
I wake up Sunday morning a few hours before the Balenciaga show. This will be the first outing for the brand since its controversy. It would be too dull to write out a history of the events that mired the brand in scandal. I decide to try out ChatGPT instead, typing in: “write a column in the style of Jordan Richman's 032c Transmissions on the Balenciaga teddy bear bondage bag scandal.” Line by line, the bot pens the following:
“Balenciaga's recent teddy bear bondage bag scandal has once again sparked a heated debate on the boundaries of fashion and cultural appropriation.
The luxury fashion house's latest offering, a $2,145 bag shaped like a teddy bear wearing BDSM gear, has been met with swift backlash on social media for being tone-deaf and insensitive to the BDSM community.
While the fashion industry has long been known for pushing the boundaries of taste and cultural norms, this latest move by Balenciaga raises serious questions about the appropriateness of using BDSM imagery in a high-end fashion context.
Critics argue that the teddy bear BDSM bag is a clear example of the fashion industry's tendency to commodify and trivialize marginalized communities, turning their experiences and identities into profit-making objects.
Balenciaga's move is particularly concerning given the history of BDSM as a subculture that has faced ongoing stigma and discrimination. The fetishization of BDSM imagery not only undermines the agency and autonomy of those who engage in BDSM practices, but also perpetuates harmful stereotypes about the community.”
In the car to Balenciaga I take my Orthomol immune. The traffic is backed all the way up Rue de Rivoli. I get out and start hoofing it to the Carousel du Louvre in my new Balenciaga Technoclogs, purchased with a friend’s steep discount at the Avenue Montaigne store. Inside the mall I’m cat-called and turn back to see Franziska Bachofen-Echt the casting director. We walk into the show together. Looking around the runway I see Anna Wintour in a pleated floral Balenciaga dress sipping from her clear coffee cup next to Balenciaga CEO Cédric Charbait. He, along with the rest of the Balenciaga front of house, attempts his best poker face. But everyone knows just what is at stake. Absent this season are the many celebrities normally lining the front rows, and Loic Prigent filming them. I take my seat behind Demna’s parents in the front row. The brother, Guram, joins seconds before the show starts. I can imagine a future where Demna does not continue at Balenciaga and mythologically returns to Vetements, restoring the brand he built. A note card on the seat from Demna says something about the collection being inspired by “pants.” The strumming soundtrack is certainly a departure. Demna’s husband wrote it, prodigiously, when he was just 12 years old. Eliza Douglas opens in a suit with four legged trousers, and the next dozen looks are similarly Margielaesque. The inflated silhouettes use the same technology developed for motorcyclists and skiers to protect them from crashes. It’s an edgy elegy. Everyone watching the finale—a stunning black long-sleeved gown with rounded shoulders—couldn’t-help-but-wonder if this would be Demna’s final design for the house. Right after the show, friends from the extended Balenciaga universe anxiously anticipating the pending press reactions ask for my professional opinion. I tell them I think it was a very appropriate show.
Having wrapped the Balenciaga show Martina Tiefenthaler has a dozen friends over for a lovely cocktail at her home overlooking the jardin. Later, Tobias Spichtig and I head to Le Chop for the Ottolinger dinner and afterparty. Ursina Gysi watches us hobble across the street to the bar wearing our outrageous Balenciaga footwear, Tobi in the steroid boots and me in my technoclogs. Ursina quips, “He walks the runway, I walk the right way,” quoting the Azealia Banks track produced for Ottolinger several seasons ago.
The Degradation of The Living
Needing a reprieve from the runways, I meet my friend Agnes Gryczkowska at Au-delà, an exhibition she has curated at Anticipations Lafayette including artists Korakrit Arunanondchai, Romeo Castellucci, Eva Hesse, Kali Malone, Christelle Oyiri, and Tobias Spichtig, among others. Evoking rituals old and new, pagan and divine, the museum becomes a sacred space. Sentimentally, Agnes has dedicated the show to her mother, Jolanta Gryczkowska. Agnes and I first met years ago, randomly, when she was visiting LA for a studio visit with Robert Irwin. She was post-Serpentine but pre- Schinkel, where her blockbuster HR Giger x Mire Lee show set a new record for visitor numbers last year. The premise of the Paris show: “While the world becomes increasingly wounded and desecrated and people seem more detached from the magic and power of the earth, the desire to invent and reinvent rituals and languages which would enable us to reach the sacred can be seen as a reaction to the degradation of the living, a counterculture responding to the general profanity of life.” I ask Agnes if she has heard the one about how the Paris fashion world is run by a sinister cabal of satanists?
The spectre of Martin Margiela is haunting the Paris collections this season, and Demna isn’t the only one conjuring it. Loewe’s Jonathan Anderson, who chose to show at a chateau an hour outside of town, references Margiela in trompe l’oeil dresses with blurred prints of garments overlayed. Following the Dries show, hushed rumors abound that van Noten’s fellow Antwerp 6 alum Margiela actually worked on the collection. Everything, everywhere, from the silhouettes to the garments to the styling, whispers “Margiela.” I asked several from the Dries team about the rumor and got only the response back “Hmm, haven’t heard on our end, but that would be a fun spin.”
I slept through Junya Watanabe’s 9:30 am time slot this season. I was supposed to attend with Peri Rosenzweig, who I have a tradition spending the day with, going to all the Comme des Garçons group shows. When I watch it a couple days later on YouTube, I am disappointed to have missed it IRL. It’s definitely where the hardcore missing from Balenciaga pops up this season.
I find it increasingly interesting to ponder how the founders of fashion houses would feel about their predecessors. During Balenciaga’s scandal, which involved accusations of sexualizing children, I saw repeatedly across social media claims that founder Cristobal would be ashamed of how Demna has steered his namesake brand. I imagine Nicolas Ghesquière must feel a bit of Schadenfreude over the Balenciaga controversy. After departing the brand, the designer was involved in long, protracted litigation with parent company Kering. Demna and several others from his team had previously worked under Nicolas at Louis Vuitton, before starting Vetements and revolutionizing Balenciaga from the legacy Nicolas had established.
With Balenciaga showing in a white box this season, Louis Vuitton is the show with the conceptual set everyone marveled over. The backdrop is the Musée d’Orsay, and Nicolas tapped the brilliant French artist Philippe Parreno to work on the mise-en-scene. Ironically, just last season, the artist had a blockbuster exhibition at the Kering family-owned Bourse de Commerce. The set design inspiration for Kering’s rival’s namesake Vuitton: the current state of modern Paris, its ghosts, and the vibration of this moment in the City of Lights.
What Would Mrs. Prada Think?
On the final day of fashion month there is a workers strike in Paris. The trains and buses are not running, demonstrations are organized through the boulevards, and the French government pleads with its citizens to stay home. Everyone is incredibly stressed the morning of. We’re still out at an afterparty celebrating our Hunter Schafer as the new face of Mugler perfumes. I’m fortunate enough to secure a car and I wait—and wait—for it to pick me up on Rue de Grenelle. After 15 minutes I see the car is unable to move even two blocks. Reluctantly I search the Lime app for the nearest scooter and unlock the vehicle. Arriving at Rue du Four, I encounter the protest’s processions. Crossing the street on my almost toy-like scooter I feel like a scab. And for what, another Miu Miu show? What would communist Mrs. Prada think? Having slept less than two hours, I was uncertain how I would function, but the ride in the cold air through the busy arcades is exhilarating.
Mia Goth opens the Miu Miu show in a grey sweater set and white polka dot skirt. But wait—is her cardigan tucked into her tights and hair a bit messy? After a few more looks, all with similar messed up ‘dos, it’s clear that it’s intentional. Chatting with Lotta after the show I ask what would she call the show’s hair style. She fills me in on all the details. After painstakingly styling the coifs, Guido rubs a balloon against the models’ heads, making the hairs stand up from static electricity. With this collection, Mrs. Prada and Lotta really outshine their peers, with Mrs. Prada referencing her past glory when she was a one-person show, and Lotta calling back to the subversive clerical style she established with Demna, first at Vetements then Balenciaga.
My final show of the season is Y-Project. Watching its slow parade of conceptual streetwear, I think about the impact of Demna’s stumble on his peers. Were these clothes only just debuting at Y-Project already démodé? And what does this mean for my generation of creatives? With each sea change in fashion, there is an extraordinary amount of waste—the packaging and tags without the new serif logo, the metal shop signs with a superfluous accent aigu, etc. Almost comical quantities of trash are piling high across the streets of Paris, as the workers remain on strike. On the Rive Droite I pass a mountain of garbage with dozens of rats herding around it. But on my street, the Rue de Grenelle, there is mysteriously no visible refuge. Even the bins in my courtyard are nearly empty. I meet my friend Caroline Heinzmann, director of Cahiers d’Art, for lunch at a charming restaurant around the corner from the gallery in the sixth. I signal to Caroline to look behind her, asking “is that Brigitte Macron?” Indeed, it is. France’s first lady appears very pleasant to the other diners and staff requesting pictures. Brigitte smiles at me before her eyes move down to my shiny black Balenciaga clogs. The strikes and protests escalate throughout Paris. The trash bags littering the streets are now flambé. This is all in response to President Macron raising the retirement age from 62 to 64. I get dressed to join one of the demonstrations, ditching my platform clogs for a favorite pair of On Running x Loewe shoes. The people have gathered in front of the Galeries Lafayette. Walking up Rue Scribe, I pass Le Grand Hotel, where Christophe Decarnin had those fantastique Balmain shows a decade ago. As I get closer, my eyes begin to tear up from the gas. The protestors shout en français, “We decapitated Louis XVI. We will do it again Macron.”