For every fashion collection, there’s usually almost always a source of inspiration—an idea, a feeling, an object, a muse that a designer is able to tease out and translate into clothing, bags, and shoes. Show notes exist for this reason, but without them, it can all feel rather abstract.
But for Fall/Winter 2019, a couple of marquee designers took the literal approach, weaving into the actual garments themselves their inspiration for the season: poetry.
The most talked-about moment was at the hands of Pierpaolo Picciolo who collaborated with four contemporary poets—Yrsa Daley-Ward, Mustafa the Poet, Greta Bellamacina, and Robert Montgomery—who not only embedded their captivating words in the folds of the most ethereal Valentino gowns, but also presented their work in an accompanying collection of poetry titled Valentino On Love, which was left on the seats for showgoers to take home.
“There’s a forever beyond the sky/I think we should go there tonight,” read one devastatingly beautiful verse that was seen against a print of the universe and then shaped into a rose motif. “Leave your door open for me / I might sleepwalk into your dreams,” declared another, which was boldly embroidered in silver thread on a teal cloud of tulle. It was literally poetry in motion. And at the end of the runway, Montgomery’s words were lit up in neon lights: “The people you love become ghosts inside of you and like this you keep them alive.”
“I feel that people are looking for emotion and dreams—but not distant dreams,” Picciolo said prior to his show. “I want to create a community for Valentino. I mean something different from ‘lifestyle,’ which is about owing objects. It’s about people who share values.”
So it makes sense that Picciolo’s previous design partner—Maria Grazia Chiuri of Dior—would also share similar values. For the Fall/Winter 2019 season, she had the same idea as Picciolo and tapped the creative genius of Tomaso Binga, an Italian feminist who had used a male pseudonym in the ‘70s to shed light on gender inequality, to read a poem at the beginning of her show. Not unlike Chiuri’s prior collections, all of which championed feminism (with the most notable being her first for the brand in which she took the line “We should all be feminists” from author and poet Chimamanda Ngozi’s essay on feminism and put it on a T-shirt), she outfitted models in tees that featured statements from American feminist journalist and poet Robin Morgan: Sisterhood Is Powerful, Sisterhood Is Global, and Sisterhood Is Forever.
Menswear weren’t exempt from poetry, either. Piccioli teamed up with Jun Takahashi of Undercover to collaborate on time travel-themed prints that paid homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry. For Siki Im’s outdoorsy show, several pieces had a poem by Pablo Neruda sewn on, which fully encapsulated the feel of his collection: “Lost in the forest, I broke off a dark twig and lifted its whisper to my thirsty lips: Maybe it was the voice of the rain crying, a cracked bell, or a torn heart.” At the French luxury shoe brand J.M. Weston, Olivier Saillard (dressed as a Parisian waiter no less) used poetry and puns to introduce 17 new riffs on the classic loafer, ranging from colorful stitching to alligator embroidery. And Takahiromiyashita The Soloist patched on stanzas of poetry across the sleeves of cutout windbreakers, the legs of nylon pants, and down the front of overalls.
As one of the oldest forms of literature with a history that dates back to prehistorical times, this recent fixation on verses—especially in a single season—seems rather peculiar at first. But given the rise of Insta-famous poets like Rupi Kaur and Cleo Wade, there seems to be a 21st-century renaissance of poetry (Nepalese designer Prabal Gurung once embroidered a line from one of Kaur’s poems into his Spring/Summer 2017 designs: “Our backs tell the story no books have the spine to carry”). In fact, there was a new face spotted in the front row at the Fall/Winter 2019 shows at Milan Fashion Week: Amanda Gorman, a 20-year-old junior at Harvard who has the honor of being the Inaugural Youth Poet Laureate of the United States. “Poets aren’t well represented in the fashion world, let alone young female poets of color,” she said of being at fashion week. “Prada is such an iconic fashion house I was honored to get the invite.”
The earliest record of poetry and fashion can be traced back to the 1920s, when artist Sonia Delaunay collaborated with Dadaist poets Tristan Tzara and Joseph Delteil on a collection of color-blocked dresses, featuring their words splashed across the arms and skirts. But between now and then, poetry on the runway has been scarce.
That’s not to say there haven’t been instances at all. Chen Xuzhi, the designer behind London-based label Xu Zhi showed a Spring/Summer 2019 collection of white looks that were imbued with the spirit of poet Emily Dickinson (it was common knowledge that she preferred to wear white).
Contemporary American artist Jenny Holzer, who was famous for disrupting public spaces with bold truisms over the span of her 40-year-long career, first teamed up with Helmut Lang in 1996 for a Florence Biennale installation and then was later invited to not only reimagine his New York flagship, but also conceive a compelling campaign for his first fragrance in 2000, featuring nothing but bold statements in all caps.
A year later, Junya Watanabe and Comme des Garçons delivered a capsule of tees, button-down shirts, and Levi’s jeans that were brazenly stamped all over with verses. And Raf Simons, who has a penchant for collaborating with artists (Sterling Ruby is the first to come to mind), looked to poets for his Spring/Summer 2005 collection of his namesake line, lifting six stanzas from a 2004 poem by Peter de Potter to use as prints.
For Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer 2018 men’s show, there were passages taken from the 1898 poem “The Explorer” by Rudyard Kipling and printed onto blazers and capes, though the late designer himself was drawn to poetry as well—his Fall/Winter 1996 show was named after Dante.
And it seems as though Piccioli and Chiuri found inspiration in the Italian poet as well. For their Valentino Couture Spring/Summer 2015 show, the duo turned to Shakespeare and Dante’s Inferno for inspiration, embroidering lines among dreamy clouds, florals, hearts, and stars on a series of breathtaking gowns—proving, in a full-circle kind of way, that poetry will always be in fashion.END
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