The sense that things are not as they seem, that all the recognizable signposts suddenly look different and the world as you know it has inverted, gone topsy-turvy, is currently an everyday lament. You can have an existential crisis about it, or you can use it as a fuel for creativity. Surrealism followed the First World War; abstract expressionism, the Second. Often the worst of times produces the most interesting art.
Or, in this case, confusing times make for great fashion.
As Dries Van Noten said backstage after a show that twisted, torqued and otherwise rendered alien many of the basic building blocks of the preppy wardrobe, it was about taking “things that you really know but done in a completely upside down, inside out, special, strange way.” Acknowledging the way the familiar can be unfamiliar.
Jun Takahashi took it even further after a dazzling Undercover show that was essentially an elegy for a lost world (and lost friends, the designer added afterward through a translator), saying that sometimes you have to “delete everything” to start again.
The extraordinary thing about both collections was that they conveyed this dizzying sense of dislocation in such a graceful way. This wasn’t about making, as Mr. Van Noten said, “sad clothes” (things are sad enough all on their own), or angry clothes (ditto). It was about asserting the possibility that out of the sadness comes hope for what’s next. Not about losing your bearings, but finding them in unexpected places — and garments. Who wouldn’t want to wear that?
Mr. Van Noten did it by using khakis and striped shirting, rugby shirts and denim, the utility materials of a wardrobe, and then repurposing them so they became something entirely new. One ankle-length trench — that kind that would sweep in and out of a room — was thrown over a knit leopard 1920s-era maillot worn with a crisp seaside-stripe shirt/cover-up: From the Croisette to the conference room in one dramatic entrance.
That same shirting became the trim on a navy sweatshirt that slouched off one shoulder, like a figment of the “Flashdance” past, and was worn with drawstring trousers in a mustard and faded red rugby stripe. The khaki was tied up in knots in the best way, to shape a day dress. Later, a baroque silk scarf print and some fish scale paillettes appeared in the mix, though most of the embellishment was left to the shoes, dripping in beads.
Mr. Van Noten has a knack for making tailoring look as lived-in as pajamas, and jeans seem as serious as a suit. In his hands, undermining assumptions (including about what qualifies as “comfort clothing”) becomes a desirable thing.
Mr. Takashi, meanwhile, took the suit, stripped it down to its innards and skeletal seams and then patched it back together out of objects and memories — playing cards here, a straight edge there; a slice of a Chanel-style jacket here, feathery wings over there — before trapping it all under a veil of filmy georgette (or some sort of georgette-like technical fabric), so each piece had an entire life beating just below the surface.
The same veiling turned shorts into trousers, like a scrim over the calves; shadowed sweatshirts and bomber jackets; and trailed behind tuxedo suiting (some shoulders speckled with spiders, spinning their own webs), like the wisps of a story once told. There were more life stories in the paintings of Neo Rauch, the German artist whose work merges autobiography and industrial alienation and was reproduced on suits and dresses. And more courtesy of the blank faces from Mr. Takahashi’s own paintings, remade in skirts of densely packed frills.
At the end, four perky prom dresses with full plastic mini skirts appeared, illuminated from within to reveal whole gardens trapped beneath their domes: tiny dioramas of Eden, complete with flowers and live butterflies that flittered around. The butterflies would be set free after the show, Mr. Takahashi said. How’s that for a metaphor?