After so many years of anticipating seasons to stay ahead of the fashion game, it doesn’t bother me to flip through hundreds of fall & winter catwalk looks in August. Time stands still in the scorching heat, while I cool myself down absentmindedly with a large vintage hand fan, received from my dad too many summers ago. One eccentric runway report after another, I search for evidence of fashion cycles, new patterns, fads, and trends, with the diligence of a major crime scene investigation. A tall, chilled gin and tonic nearby (alright, make it two or three) comes in handier than a loaded gun. With time, I got used, also, to the nostalgia that inevitably infuses the cold season fashion research. No matter how much the summer spirit lingers in the golden styles of autumn, I know the end of the year is close. Another one. And the temptation of introspection and recaps is suddenly as intense as the summoning of new expectations and hopes.
Sometimes, the fashion news about what the upcoming cold season has up its sleeve is disappointing. It mirrors too much the societal disarray, our fears and cowardice, the compromises we accept, the sudden demise of beautiful aspirations, or our more recent plan B of settling for less. The fall-winter styles line up then lusterless, without personality or structure, revisiting old ideas that have been staged much better the first time around. Other times, though – fashion takes us by surprise, soaring above the ugly challenges and deeply flawed ordinariness of our lives, with incredible courage and beauty.
When I did the Fall-Winter 2022-23 collections research, the Balenciaga controversy was in full bloom so I was pissed off with fashion, to begin with. At the time, the House was thriving in the turmoil created by the launch of its $1,790 calfskin leather trash bag, which pushed all the political correctness buttons and caused quite a distasteful hullabaloo.
The Trash Pouch, as they named the marketed item, was a new statement accessory that looked like a large garbage bag, featured firstly in the Maison’s fall-winter 2022-23 fashion show, in March. Echoing the war in Ukraine, Balenciaga’s artistic director Demna Gvasalia, well-known for his provocative and unconventional style, presented its collection in an artificial snowstorm that was so strong the models could hardly walk properly. They were carrying, presumably symbolically, the (in)famous black trash bags.
“I couldn’t miss an opportunity to make the most expensive trash bag in the world because who doesn’t love a fashion scandal?” declared the artistic director to WWD magazine when premiering the Balenciaga collection. I had a prompt answer to this frivolous question and an impulse to smack the guy on the head to make myself clearer. This was not the case with Balenciaga’s hideous $850 high heeled crocs of years ago, which made one wonder if the House’s fashion designers had fallen off their bikes without a helmet on. It wasn’t even the case of asking yourself who pays for these things and wears them by choice. Russia’s war in Ukraine has pushed global displacement figures to record levels of a tragic milestone. More than 5 million Ukrainian refugees have been recorded across Europe since Russia’s invasion. Globally, as of 2022 fall, more than 100 million people have been forced to flee their homes for their safety or survival, which is more than 1 percent of humanity. Hard to fathom.
So, you understand how, as a person born and raised in the Eastern Bloc, with Russia’s threat perpetually on the doorstep, who witnessed the waves of refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine flooding the border crossing points into Romania, I had no patience or understanding for Balenciaga’s ‘creative reinterpretation’ of reality, or whatever they called their tone-deaf trolling. I was busy filling real trash bags with donated items we could collect for the refugee centers in Bucharest. In the months following the invasion, we saw countless times people carrying, in real trash bags, whatever they could salvage from their lives in a few hours, trying to explain through gestures, in train stations where nobody spoke their language, that they were hungry, sick, lost, looking for a place to rest. I couldn’t think of the Balenciaga stunt without cringing.
What infuriated me the most was that people everywhere spent so much time and effort to police each little transgression that could be perceived as politically incorrect, even when the situation was obviously unintended or exaggerated, and the reaction was ridiculous, borderline stupid. Yet we were ready to applaud, pay heftily for it, and accept as a bold statement Balenciaga’s $1,790 trash bags unblinkingly, not thinking for even one minute how hurtful and insensitive the idea may be perceived by those who had been, unwillingly, its inspiration.
Fortunately, the Fall-Winter 2022-23 fashion surprised me with saving grace, as it returns to its first love, both soothing and inspiring. Faced with the global multifaceted crisis, designers worldwide walked the fine line between carefree and careless to initiate a true return to the fundamentals of style. In terms of fashion trends, four distinct moods define our mindset in the following months: the vibe of a bygone era of emotional elegance; the Y2K’s on-the-go energy and spirit; the contemporary dominatrix femininity; and the schoolgirl at heart blithe.
First, classic is restored, with extra style instilled into our essentials. What we see is an immaculate surface, beneath which pulsates the complex world of human desire and seduction. Things are always much more than they seem, in fashion as in life, but the change we notice in fashion is one for the better. Silhouettes are refined, markedly linear and tailored, narrowly languid, with covered arms, and subtly strict use of color – turning a corner away from the blatant sexiness of the first post-pandemic seasons. Away from too much flash and flesh, the style features moments of self-assured and fierce feminine exuberance, through an enormous sleeve or a color reveal at a hem.
Fashion’s obsession with white marches on, but the items abandon any casual accents for the absolute, fluid chic, omnipresent from tank-tops to floor-length turtle-neck T-shirt dresses and everything in between. Faux fur creates enveloping volumes and elegantly nonchalant cocoon-back profiles with étoiles, coats, and bombers, as well as evening jackets of the ’30s or ’80s glory, with big bands of faux fur running around them.
Art Deco accents, boas, and glittering details; eveningwear looks at the height of elegance; floor-trailing coats and amazing overcoats with (not too) big shoulders; thin slip dresses and corset tops, tuxedo-style suits and dresses revive the glamourous era of the ‘20s, with the regretful premonition of another Great Depression. It looks like we envision the fall of our consumer-oriented economy and of mass entertainment, which surged to glory in the Roaring Twenties. Vague echoes of the call to enjoy what it is before life comes crashing down around us send a chill down our spine, pushing fashion designers across the world to finally tap into their hard-earned creative maturity.
With motocross wardrobe, biker jackets, ultra-low waistlines, nano multi-pocket skirts, total denim looks, gloves, and trompe l’œil visible lingerie, we extend the pandemic symptoms with the Y2K fever. The early 2000s aesthetic provides that level of escapism that seems to be just what people need right now. Confronted with a deteriorating global economic outlook and facing the gravest threats to international peace and security in decades, people feel nostalgic for old, spirited, hopeful, and much happier times. Can you blame them?
Total leather or vinyl looks, dresses, boots, latex, and corsets also dominated the runways. Dominatrix turned Catwoman, as second-skin fashionable catsuits, sleek and futuristic, stole the shows. Little black leather dresses took a backseat to delicately detailed, even knitted, catsuits. Corseted ballgowns, with strong, technical corsets keeping in check the fluid sensuality of a princess silhouette, illustrate newborn contemporary femininity. Patchwork-style tartan, dark leather looks, and edgy metal buckles recall the sharp lines of the punk trend. A powerful, luscious flame-red, the proper color of a temptress, is a key color this season, playing up the volumes and adding flair to the shoulders of (in)flaming seductive silhouettes.
Finally, another mood that will help us navigate the long upcoming days is that of a schoolgirl at heart, and I mean the proper and preppy one, with the white shirt, the tie, the skirt, the blazer, and the trousers. Remember how good it felt? The mix of sweet and spicy, the sporty chic, the simplistic jeans-and-a-white-T-shirt outfit, the academic bows? There’s nothing like youth, as the poet said. Surely, ‘youth has a kingdom waiting for it.’
We don’t know exactly what’s waiting for the rest of us in the coming months – the tired, the worried, the exhausted, the scared, and scarred adults we have become. We contemplate another year’s ending at a complete loss about how to remedy the world mess we helped so diligently create.
From what fashion is suggesting so far, I guess that The Great Gatsby was right – ‘we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’ Depressing or uplifting, your pick. Which one do you go with?