A#20 curator Pierpaolo Piccioli incited a monumental artistic dialogue for the Valentino Haute Couture AW2021-22 collection, inviting 15 artists to create garments directly linked with works of contemporary art.
Undercover’s Sixth Sense
by Jun Takahashi
Anyone who has ever attended (or watched) one of Jun Takahashi’s physical Undercover shows can attest to the grandiose spectacle that occurs when lights are dimmed and models appear in the Japanese designer’s creations. Personally, I’ll never forget when the acclaimed British fashion critic Sarah Mower snuck me into the designer’s AW 2017 Paris show: Nothing but utter silence could be heard from the audience as models paraded in long feathered bustles and grand, accordion-pleated boleros representing kings and queens of old.
For his Women’s Spring Summer 2021 collection, Takahashi orchestrated no fashion show, yet the spectacle remained nonetheless. Entitled ‘The Sixth Sense’, it was conceived as a narrative of six distinct groups that illustrate the plurality of UNDERCOVER. Whilst the designer often observes uniforms within social groups (be those royal, religious or military), here his women’s collection is the sort of creep to the skin that viewers often experience at his physical presentations: a dip into the Undercover world, distilled to its most potent ends. In the first scenario titled ‘Pablo’ and pictured above, Takahashi took inspiration from the painter Pablo Picasso’s early 20th century ‘Blue Period’, exploring the links with his own artistic practice by showing his own oil paintings transferred onto utilitarian uniforms. In these images photographed by Katsuhide Morimoto, the models embody both the artist and the works of art, a copy of the original painting within spitting distance of each model. The hair took on an asymmetrical bob and was layered in crimp and topped with a soft felt bicorn hat, much like those of Picasso’s harlequin boy clowns of the 1910s and 1920s.
The ‘006’ chapter embodies female empowerment, with a group of six women taking control of their psychic abilities. Generating laser beams with their eyes or perhaps fireballs in the palm of their hands, their tiered black garments come veiled in black tulle and tie together with ribbons, buckles or feathers, as the sorceresses explore their six senses and earth’s four elements of earth, fire, air and water.
Takahashi’s six-way narrative continues with a tribute to punk legend Patti Smith, an all-time muse for the former member of the punk band The Tokyo Sex Pistols. The clothes here are baggy and oversized, layered over each other with tie backs, thin scarves and cowboy boots à la nostalgic rocker. Part-real, part-fantasy, these independent scenarios weave a thread between past, present and future.
The third tableau, entitled ‘Cute & Madness’ sees the designer refer to his past collaboration with Hello Kitty in loungewear pieces carried out by an eerie fantasia of printed pyjamas and floral robes worthy of the Wizard of Oz, featuring some of Sanrio’s best-known characters in topsy-turvy interiors.
Titled ‘Coexistence’, Takahashi’s 5th chapter is a far more timeless and serene vision than the previous anime affair. No more is the collection about girlhood and youth, rather a cast of all ages are joined by a family of ‘Grace’ dolls, the imaginary creature that Takahashi created years ago and featured in a special series in his issue of A Magazine (2006). Against spectacular sea views, these nostalgic sailor women wears relaxed cargo pants and pastel blush worker-jackets topped with cotton toque hats.
The final section, ‘The Royal Family of the Basement’ is as neo-Tenenbaums as it sounds, featuring smiling youth in bedazzled sweatsuits worn with sashes, tiaras and chandelier earrings, in the deserted venue that becomes their aristocratic playground.
Words by Alexandra Castle
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