PARIS — Virginia Woolf is proving one of the more unexpected fashion muses of the moment.
First, the author was announced as the inspiration for the Metropolitan Museum of Arts’ coming Costume Institute blockbuster and gala, “About Time: Fashion and Duration.” Then her book, “Orlando,” formed the basis of a new production at the Vienna State Opera with costumes by Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons (who was also inspired by Woolf in her own men’s and women’s wear collections). And on Tuesday evening she popped up in Paris, name-checked at Clare Waight Keller’s Givenchy couture show.
Or to be specific, the orchard of Woolf’s home in England, Monk’s House, did, as did her relationship with Vita Sackville-West and one of her most famous literary creations, the gender-bending time-traveling character Orlando.
Which is, perhaps, a clue to Woolf’s sudden super-relevance, given the broader conversation around gender, as well as the way digital life has collapsed time, allowing everyone access to almost everything from almost every era at once. As the Givenchy show notes read, “Hours, days and decades melt away.”
That’s a complicated and dissonant reality of contemporary life, one often blamed for any number of ills. But it turns out it can make for genuinely creative fodder when it comes to fashion.
In Ms. Waight Keller’s case, for example, it meant plundering not just gardens, but the house archives — particularly those of the post-“Sabrina” 1950s Audrey Hepburn years — melding past and present in knife-edge skinny cigarette trousers under big, blossoming whorls of organza tops, waists often caught with a slick corset-wide patent-leather belt. It meant giant, face-framing umbrella hats atop strapless balloon frocks in pansy shades. It meant a pink petal skirt under a black lace T-shirt, and a strict white tuxedo traced with shine.
When the Met theme was announced in November, there was a lot of scratching of heads and musing on social media about what attendees would wear. Now they have an answer.
It’s on that red carpet in May that many of these clothes may end up, after all (at least the evening looks), along with the Oscars, taking place in a couple of weeks. As far as the latter, Giorgio Armani’s Privé show provided a plethora of contenders in the sparkling, beaded, jewel-tone category. While he also referenced travel in his show notes, it was less about moving through time than journeying down his own rabbit hole.
One paved with ikat: ikat-toned jacquard track pants in bright pink or apple green under his signature varieties of neutral jackets; ikat-print silk pants covered in crystals; long ikat skirts veiled in a scrim of tulle and topped by camisoles dripping beaded fringe. There were peacock-colored princess-line abstract ikat evening looks, and silk fringed ikat-effect coats; one-shouldered gowns and a sheer ikat-inlaid cape. (There was a lot of ikat.)
Though whether simply absorbing a motif from another culture qualifies as “inclusion,” as the notes asserted, is a hot button question that the collection raised, but did not even begin to address.
It’s not that every couture show needs to grapple with major issues of the day. That would be exhausting. But they should at least recognize they exist.
Which John Galliano understands at Maison Margiela. In his remaking of the house in his own image, he has found a focus in the de-and-reconstruction of clothing, stripping a garment down to its bones and building it back up by merging it with another, addressing not just issues of overconsumption but also the jumbled freneticism of how we receive information; the clash of chronologies and genders (he dispensed with distinctions between men’s and women’s wear, male and female models, a few seasons ago, even before “Orlando” had its renaissance).
This has, in the past, sometimes resulted in sensory overload, but more and more Mr. Galliano is mastering his message.
Not in the podcast that accompanies the presentation, and that often seems an exercise in exaggerated pontification (“her-EE-TAHHHHHge,” he trills in your ear), but in the clothes themselves. Which, after all, (and interesting as it can be to hear designers explain what they are thinking) should need no explanation but what they contain between the seams.
In the eloquence expressed, for example, in a collection made from largely repurposed fabrics and materials. In an oversize lime green wool coat, one shoulder bowed and cowled and inset with a dressmaker’s toile, visible basting along the seams. In a faux fur cape, hole-punched to create little flapping sequins, like doorways into time, atop a tweed skirt. And via painterly bias-cut slip dresses, in a former fashion life Mr. Galliano’s stock in trade, this time trimmed in what looked like plastic wrap, layered under rough-cut tulle. If heritage is one of his raw materials (and isn’t it really for us all?), he might as well use his own.
Upcycling, like “Orlando,” has become something of a contemporary trend. Rarely, however, has it looked so convincing.