x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Even the clothes are play-acting

Designers fix on garment reassignment in catwalk theatricals.

Issey Miyake (left) made several scarves do the work on one top
Issey Miyake (left) made several scarves do the work on one top

It seems it is no longer enough for a garment simply to be itself. A jacket is not just a jacket; it must be recast as a skirt, a scarf as a dress and trousers recut into a skirt. At Issey Miyake, multiple, multicoloured scarves were looped and woven around the body to create tops, while Vivienne Westwood's Gold Label take on amateur-dramatics costumes saw rugs wrapped into makeshift dresses and coats. But the collection that really took the look to its limit was that of Viktor & Rolf, whose biannual spectacular is always a theatrical highlight of the season.

This time, to a backdrop of Metropolis-style industrial motifs, the veteran model Kristen McMenamy walked halfway down the catwalk on to a kind of Lazy Susan revolving platform, wearing an enormous number of outfits, topped with a huge fur almost as wide as she is tall. The designers Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren then began to undress her (she remaining as still as a mannequin), taking each oversized piece and, by means of a complex series of zips and drawstrings, reconfiguring it into a thoroughly wearable coat or dress which they then placed on another model to exhibit for the photographers. Once poor old Kristen was finally relieved of what must have been an almost unbearable weight of cloth, they began to take pieces from the parade of models, reconfigure them again and pile them back on top of her until the final giant ruffled gown became her cloak.

The designers shook hands in front of her and, legs shaking under the weight of it all, she walked back to the start of the catwalk. It was a miracle of clothing engineering, certainly, and a dramatic sight, but the dark-coloured garments - almost all black, grey or shot with silvery thread - were too dour to be truly striking. There were plenty of wearable silken jackets with sporty drawstrings, but it was a quiet collection in comparison with their recent work.

Another master of the spectacle is Jean Paul Gaultier, and his show, an unashamed mêlée of influences from Asia and central Europe, involved the usual bunfight to get in and ecstatic cheering at the end. In the moment between the lights going down and the music beginning, the baying of anti-fur protesters outside, in their seasonal display of JPG disapproval, could be heard in a ghostly howl. He could not have engineered an atmosphere better suited to the Mongolian-style hats in vibrant embroidery, Chinese shawls, long boots and lots of noisily rattling silver jewellery.

Sasha Pivovarova kicked things off, dressed in red as a Gaultier-styled Marianne, walking to a mix of the Marseillaise, but it was the glorious ethnic embroidery and vivid colours that made this collection stand out from the dark, limpidly romantic looks seen thus far. Gaultier's natural exuberance is not easily smothered. It was, ironically, one of the least furry shows thus far, though even he succumbed to the mysterious hairy-sleeved trend that has plagued the season. Still, the sight of the influential Paris Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld at the show, normally guaranteed to be swathed in oversized pelts, dressed instead in a quiet, beautifully tailored, fluff-free khaki coat may have already consigned the fad to fashion history.