The range of what could be classified as haute couture is endless. On one end, it’s flowing embroidered swans, delicate hand-dyed chiffon petals, and individual pearls sewn on one by one. On the other, it’s cutting a head hole into a $24 inflatable pool from Amazon — as seen in Edwin Mohney’s graduation show from Central Saint Martins in February of 2018. What makes these nonsensical creations so engaging? Why are designers, and the fashion community as a whole, chasing after ideas that are so ridiculous, so shocking, and yet oh-so-cool?
Alexander McQueen was christened “L’Enfant Terrible” by the French press in 1996, the same year he was named head designer of Givenchy in Paris. And he was terrible indeed, in all sense of the word; his unconventional style seemed a transgression, and at times borderline unnerving. McQueen’s spring ready-to-wear collection just a year prior featured skin-tight shift dresses made out of flimsy clear pallet wrap, with skid marks running across the model’s bare body underneath. Frankly, there’s something to be said about using atypical materials. It transcends the barriers of methodically tailored blazers or neat hemlines, pushing the designer to creative heights unlimited by conventional clothing rules. As McQueen’s then boyfriend Andrew Groves recalls, “he put a huge piece of silk on a stand, cut a neck hole out of it, wound thread all around it, poured latex on it, slash down the back for a zipper and said, ‘There’s one dress.’” McQueen was fascinated with the bizarre, with destruction, and perhaps that was what launched his greatest creations.
Another designer who transformed the very definition of clothing through his unusual designs and even more unusual materials was Martin Margiela. As one of the leading deconstructionists of his time, Margiela never compromised his point of view. Instead, he boldly ripped apart and resewed the rules of conventional fashion to fit his vision. He differentiated himself in one of his first collections, Spring/Summer 1990, out on a barren playground in the outskirts of Paris the autumn of 1989. With plastic grocery bags as tops and dissected dress shirts as skirts, Margiela set the groundwork for an iconic disheveled look in the industry. The mundane world inspired him, unmaking and remaking common materials into something distinctly Margiela. In his Fall 2006 Ready-to-Wear collection, Margiela constructed bulbous jackets from leather car seats and skirts from couch upholstery, with the tag of the original item dangling from the model as they paraded down the runway. The show also featured accessories like car seat belts and telephone cords, proving that some of the most lasting designs could be made out of nothing.
Offbeat designs and materials have also made its way to the consumer side of fashion, fulfilling the insatiable need for the unique. In 2014, Japanese brand Zoo Jeans collaborated with the Kamine Zoo and the Mineko Club in an effort to revitalize the local zoo. And what better way to showcase the charm of beasts than by throwing tires wrapped in denim into lion dens and bear enclosures? The brand then handcrafts jeans out of the ripped denim, auctioning them off as “the only jeans with this design in the world,” with the profits going towards environmental preservation as well as the World Wildlife Fund. In the same year, Adidas released the 7X750 sneaker from British artist Ryan Gander: classic white trainers splattered with faux mud. This move was a seeming-paradox in a sneakerhead society obsessed with keeping their kicks fresh and pristine.
Although we rarely see these distinct designs in daily life, the response to outlandish fashion is fascinating, to say the least. For a company, it’s simply good press. But for a consumer desensitized to staple styles and fast fashion trends, wacky plastic or a quirky, seemingly handmade design comes as a breath of fresh air. Perhaps what designers, collectors, and all of us are really chasing after is a feeling of originality, of a good story, of genuine inspiration poured into an item of clothing. In an industry supersaturated with products and even more so with budding talent, only the truly shocking stands out. •
Writing and graphics by: Izellah Wang
Photography by: Vivian Baier
Model: Kate Mulligan
HMUA by: Cameron Polonet
Styling by: Megan Schuetz