By the time this autumn’s fashion shows were drawing to a close I was getting pretty sick of them. After three weeks in three cities I’d seen a great deal of uninteresting clothing, a fair number of ugly items and a few redeemingly beautiful ones. Life was one long parade of catwalk models after another, their expressions neutral (some bordering on miserable) so as not to distract from the clothes. Until, one morning at a former municipal morgue in the 19th arrondissement in Paris, I saw a show that raised me from my dead funk to see the fun in fashion again.
As the show started I happened to look upwards. There I saw four transparent hoops suspended from the roof, each of which contained a stretched circle of colourful material. Suspecting something, I lifted my phone and pressed record. Just at that moment, the hoop-stretched pieces of fabric – which were in fact dresses pulled taut – descended from the roof onto models waiting on the runway below with arms raised up. Once this coup de théâtre had been completed, a catchy Afrobeat track started playing.
As the models jumped around to the music their pleated dresses bounced up and down against the movement of their wearers, like Slinky springs tumbling down a flight of stairs. At other points in the show the women on the catwalk formed giddy human circles, skateboarded and pirouetted. The event closed with the models running from one side of the catwalk to the other in front of us, wildly whooping.
This was the first show by Satoshi Kondo since he was appointed head designer at Issey Miyake. He wanted, he said, to illustrate “the joy that can be found in this ritual of getting dressed every day”.
And he did. In a world where even fashion – perhaps especially fashion – has become obsessed with making political or social statements, here was someone reminding us of the real importance of clothes: the sheer pleasure in wearing things you love. I left the morgue feeling like a teenager in a nightclub, alive to wonder and the sense of freedom and possibility ahead of me.
So much fashion is predicated on exclusivity. It’s a club to which entry is granted only to those who are willing to pay both enough cash and attention. There is a sense that there are rules to be followed, which most of us know about only because we don’t understand them. I often see clothes and other fashion accoutrements in which the wearer seems to be unimportant, a subsidiary element of a formula devised primarily to allow a designer to show off his or her creative ego through convoluted concoctions on blank-faced mannequins.
That approach seems increasingly old-fashioned. The video of whirling dresses I shot at the morgue has been watched more than 5m times on Instagram since the final days of Paris Fashion Week. So much of what people spread online – in the fashion world and elsewhere – delights in the negative, snarky and mocking. But those springing models were a reminder that the most powerful force of all in fashion is not pretension and exclusivity, but the joy of inhabiting beautiful things. Clothes really can make us happy.•