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Life On Mars
Amber Valletta for Jil Sander AW 95 campaign, PHOTOGRAPHY Peter Lindbergh.
They wore platform heels. Long hair, teased up high. Pants: tight, metallic and patent. Ensembles borrowed from girlfriends of the scene and found at Salvation Army stores. It was 1972 and the New York Dolls’ namesake city wasn’t quite ready for the band that would go on to inspire the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, Morrissey and so many more. Luckily, it wasn’t given a choice. The Velvet Underground and Nico had by then made their prophetic mark on the city and, across the Atlantic, the UK had made the acquaintance of David Bowie and Roxy Music – avant-garde and androgynous champions of the new wave. But this was different. Raw, real and unapologetic – it wasn’t just a new aesthetic, it was music redefined. With a style retrospectively labelled proto-punk, the Dolls drew a line in the sand between a Woodstock hangover – the dregs of rock ‘n’ roll’s golden age – and a whole new era of hard-hitting sound and style. Back then, the New York Dolls were the future.
“They’re seen as the pioneers of that glam punk style,” says Tali Udovich, director at Sydney’s Blender Gallery, a shrine to rock culture specialising in fine art photography and limited edition prints.
“I think what ended up happening in New York was that whole movement … had come from the youth diverting away from that hippie generation, going for something creative and strong and trying to speak with their own voice.
“The look wasn’t around yet so they created their own. They [were] not fashion-based people. They were putting things together or finding things that they felt represented them. There were some very prominent designers at that time that locked on to that and they all locked together … They all formed this art movement.”
This new mood, born of the underground, marked the beginnings of a greater societal shift, similar to that created by the hippie movement in the previous decade. “In the 60s and 70s – even before [and] even the 80s – it was a total revolution of culture,” says Udovich. “The world was developing in so many different ways … and people reacted to that in terms of music and in terms of fashion.
From left: ACNE STUDIOS SS 16, LOEWE SS 16, ISABEL MARANT SS 16, CHRISTIAN DIOR SS 16.
“For me, grunge ... in the late 80s and early 90s ... was one of the last cultural movements … in the last 30 years that had the social commentary, a political movement and a fashion movement that all goes with it.”
Every era needs a hero. To get the ball rolling. To cut through the haze. A moment, however fleeting, that goes on to define a decade. Fast forward a little more than 40 years from the Dolls’ wild days at the Mercer Arts Center, where the band had a weekly residency, and perhaps this was the sentiment on designers’ minds when they gave light to SS 16 collections heralding a incandescent future. From a place of hippie-era nostalgia emerged something fresh – a new wave for now – as if these inspired minds had grown restless waiting for a revolution and had decided to create one. Super-modern accessories, space-junk textures, reflective surfaces, a plethora of silver pants that seemed to emerge from the psyches of designers the world over, the kind the Dolls would have been proud to wear in their heyday.
Nicolas Ghesquière – the man behind the new-dimensional robotic leggings of SS 07, dreamed up during his residency at Balenciaga – saw it coming from light-years away. In his current incarnation as creative director at Louis Vuitton he began easing us into the future at the house’s SS 15 show with an invitation announced by a choir of male and female voices, to “sit in a place that doesn’t exist for now … a ship that serves as an incubator for creative minds ... to explore the ability to travel to any part of the universe without moving”.
New York Dolls, 1970, GETTY IMAGES.
A year into that ever-shifting tomorrow he was ready to go all-out, this time into the digital realm. For SS 16, Ghesquière’s girls were styled with a manga-esque twist in hardware-heavy creepers and neo-punk clubwear, with sci-fi-meets-past-lives elements inspired by Wong Kar-wai’s 2046 and a soundtrack spliced with vocals from Tron: Legacy. “I kept dreaming of a world I thought I’d never see, and then one day ... I got in,” Jeff Bridges’ vocals rang through the Fondation Louis Vuitton. Indeed, Ghesquière is not here to draw lines between present reality and the projections of his creative vision, but to forge the means of transport. “We’re living in this digital world, but at the same time we have a real life … I don’t look back,” he said after the show. “I’m moving forward, always.”
In his farewell collection for Christian Dior, Raf Simons, too, presented a divination that began in SS 15 inside a mirrored tent in the Louvre’s Cour Carrée. This time, the sentiment was “softly, softly, softly futuristic”, Simons told The Business of Fashion: a predominantly white palette, featherlight fabrics, clean, forward-thinking silhouettes and an air of Victoriana. It was, in Simons’ words, “a fragment of what is to come”, in contrast to Ghesquière’s fully-fledged prediction.
Then came Karl Lagerfeld’s offering on behalf of Chanel. Shown inside a makeshift airport terminal in Paris’ Grand Palais, the outer-space-appropriate elements of his travel wardrobe for SS 16 were found primarily in the accessories. Silver driving, or rather flying, gloves, high-shine sunglasses and glam rock platform heels, built for the stage.
At Loewe, Jonathan Anderson provided a piece-by-piece guide to stepping into the future with wide-legged silver pants in foil-coated leather, and clear ones, too, in fine PVC reminiscent of crinkled cellophane. Combined with fine sweaters, predominantly understated tones and contrasting textures, the looks equated to more of a step than a jump into a bright new time, a believable uniform for the brave and free.
From left: J.W.ANDERSON SS 16, CHANEL SS 16, LOUIS VUITTON SS 16.
Even queen of bohemia Isabel Marant turned reflective in Spring Summer 2016, with skinny cotton pants, short shorts and signature minis coated in a dramatic layer of heavy metal, and gold lamé jumpsuits rolled down and tied at the waist like uniforms at an interplanetary workshop.
According to Laura Hawkins, fashion editor at Farfetch, this collective preoccupation with the future has plenty to do with the present. Just as 1969 heralded humanity’s first landing on the moon, the release of Bowie’s Space Oddity, and the beginning of the end of the hippie era, “in September 2015 [evidence of] flowing water was found on Mars, the same month that NASA astronaut Scott Kelly completed half of his year-long odyssey in space,” notes Hawkins.
Yet this was more than just “a season of Blade Runner-worthy fabrics or space adventure soundtracks,” she reasons. “This was also the season for exploring the frontiers of fashion, and responding to a virtual age with users striving for immediacy.”
It was a united call for a decisive vision in the face of an uncertain future – all the movement needed was a hero. The question was where to find them.
With this in mind, Nicolas Ghesquière enlisted a being from the digital realm – Lightning, from the video game Final Fantasy – to front the Louis Vuitton SS 16 campaign.
Twiggy and David Bowie in Paris, 1973, GETTY IMAGES.
Marc Jacobs took a more personal approach to his SS 16 campaign, which followed a runway show soundtracked by the New York Dolls’ Trash and starring the Gossip frontwoman Beth Ditto. According to footnotes written by Jacobs, the campaign, shot by David Sims, equates to “a personal diary of people who have and continue to inspire me and open my mind to different ways of seeing and thinking”. Among his heroes of the present and future are producer, screenwriter and activist Lana Wachowski (one of the minds behind The Matrix), comedian Sandra Bernhard, actor Christina Ricci and “New Girl”, model Kiki Willems, who Jacobs “instantly fell in love with” when she walked through the doors to his SS 16 presentation wearing a New York Dolls T-shirt as Trash was playing on the stereo. “Needless to say, Kiki’s own love for the Dolls prompted Katie [Grand] and me to dress her in red vinyl jeans, a sequinned argyle sweater, a varsity jacket and glam rock boots,” writes Jacobs, adding that he looks forward to seeing her continue to inspire and create. Granted, model and social media star Bella Hadid also stars in the campaign but, overall, its cult status cast feels like an antidote to the oversaturated ‘influencers’ seen pledging allegiance in the Instagram posts of Jacobs’ peers: a step beyond the mainstream that acknowledges the role of the past in creating a brave and inspiring tomorrow.
According to Udovich, this is where things get interesting. “Everything going mainstream all the time … there’s nothing to discover, there’s nothing new. That underground culture that was happening back then was so new and had so many ideas and different approaches. I hope that something like that would still exist today.”
It could be exactly what the future needs. But chances are, we won’t know until we get there.