This season, designers have been inspired by ceramics, astrological signs, English heritage, Irish hunters, buying less, ’90s restraint, and the climate crisis. And that annoying thing on your computer where “most processes interrupted by a notification ‘You Are Out of Storage!’” Also that moment when “ALL THAT REMAINED OF THE NYMPH ECHO WAS HER VOICE.” And don’t forget “that microphysics of powers that permeates our existences”!
These are excerpts from fashion collection show notes—typically disseminated to the show’s attendees, and shortly after the show repackaged and sent out to media as press releases—which this season have found themselves atypically in the spotlight. Typically, show notes are a mere formality for editors and journalists, providing a gloss on a collection’s themes and motifs, and often, a numbered breakdown of each look (“Midnight gabardine yada-yada, burnt chartreuse whatevers, blah-blah-who-cares-they’re-shoes”). Show notes are usually written in such a specific soft, stale language—take a shot every time you read “ethereal,” “romance,” and “dystopian Americana” and you’ll be lost in the sauce within three shows—that they become fodder for front row jokes in the minutes before a show begin. If they are read at all, of course: the scene after almost any fashion show is an evacuated room whose floor is scattered with white papers, like the plush office of an accounting firm whose staff just decided they can’t even.
A few designers are bucking the cliches. That microphysics quote came from Gucci, which created a stir on social media during its Sunday show with its brief, almost inscrutably dense press release. It also name-dropped the French social theorist Michel Foucault and proposed fashion as a tool of self-expression—a tool “to let people walk through fields of possibilities, giving hints and evoking openness, cultivating promises of beauty, offering testimonies and prophecies, sacralizing every form of diversity, feeding indispensable self-determination skills.” The militant intellectual, it seems, is the new influencer.
Why the long thoughts? The Gucci collection was an about-face from designer Alessandro Michele’s usual accessory-saturated super-maximalism, injected with silhouettes and attitudes from Tom Ford’s sex-sells era of Gucci (who, we should remember, was then Michele’s boss). The notes were the work of Michele’s partner, Giovanni Attili, an urban planning professor at a university in Rome, for whom the lingua academia is perhaps more natural. Nonetheless, the idea that a fashion designer might be inspired by Foucault seemed too faux-serious for some. (Although...what else do people expect a designer who pulls from Renaissance portraits and the Imperial Roman Army to do in preparation for his next collection? Go to the mall and check out what teens buy?) In a show crammed with ideas, including an opener featuring models on a moving walkway in white canvas suits with straightjacket motifs, the notes encouraged a deeper engagement than a fashion show might typical elicit, providing a brainy addendum to the show’s pop cerebralness. Even the press release wears Gucci.
Earlier in Milan Fashion Week, it was Armani that had show attendees amusedly scratching their heads. In a triumphantly swooning all-caps note, Armani wrote that the legend of the nymph is “A METAPHOR OF FEMININITY, BUT ALSO THE REPRESENTATION OF A GRADUAL LIGHTENING.” It noted that the collection’s transparent shoes were a reflection of “THE SEARCH FOR A NATURAL FEMININITY,” and that “THE LONG DRESSES SWAY LIKE HALOES OF MIST, UNTIL THEY RISE IN THE GENTLE, POLYCHROME SPARKLE OF THE LONG EVENING CLOAK GOWNS, SWATHED IN EMBROIDERED DETAILS.” Imagine Tilda Swinton in I Am Love reading it and you’ve basically got yourself a nice afternoon of Italian bourgeois ASMR.
New York’s Vaquera also uses their show notes to plant the stakes of its seasonal agenda in the ground—this season was framed as an exploration of New York heartbreak: “NEW YORK CITY DIES ON RUNWAY,” read the headline for the mocked-up obituary. (Vaquera’s show notes are written by friend of the house and i-D editor Jack Sunnucks.) And then there’s Eckhaus Latta, whose designers, Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta, pulled fragments from their emails to make a kind of poem:
Subject: You Are Out of Storage
Subject: vulgar voyage
Subject: weathered frame, yeast
—and so on. Eckhaus and Latta always write their own show notes, their publicist confirmed, and these were, indeed, pulled from real emails. I can’t say it decoded their show like a cipher, but it certainly told us what Eckhaus Latta was up to this season: they may be more commercial than ever, but things are still as intimate, still for and by their friends-slash-fans, as ever.
This is a season where designers are clearly fed up with the old way of making and buying stuff, and are working against the old tropes—both ones they’ve made for themselves (like Gucci’s signature extra-ocity) and ones that have engulfed the industry, like the prominence of “experiences” over more straightforward fashion shows, and the influence Instagram has had on the way designers make clothing. By yoking attention to words instead of images, these types of show notes provide background on a story that perhaps isn’t otherwise obvious in the clothes themselves, or strengthens our sense of focus. They’re like little manifestos: a call to action, even if that action is...paying attention.