The trend guru Li Edelkoort once noted the disservice done fashion by online coverage, which reduces the work of designers to a sequence of head-to-toe front-on images that take little account of three-dimensionality. Perhaps my colleagues at Style.com will soon perfect the 360-degree view, but until then, Roland Mouret's show yesterday was a real case in point. All that detail going on in back, but who was aware of it, bar the few hundred people in the live audience? Maybe that's why so many designers have been talking about "tri-dimensionality" this season. And maybe that's why the ever you-go-north-I'll-go-south Rei Kawakubo chose this particular moment to present a show that glorified the flat.
"The future's in two dimensions" was its provocative premise, and fans of Flat Stanley would have wallowed in the cutout paper-dolliness of looks like the red and pink felted coat-dresses that opened the show, or the lilac jacket and pants that followed. The only thing missing was the little paper tabs. But as the collection moved on, it felt less like Rei was being a contrary Mary than that she was actually making a comment on the state of the industry.
If the fashion industry was happy with coverage that reduces its most elevated endeavors to two dimensions, then Rei was going to reduce the industry itself to an equally flat proposition. Hence, a handful of ultra-clichéd fashion patterns—camo, leopard, florals, polka dots. Likewise the felt, the velvet. And while we're at it, why not strip away the show soundtrack and parade the clothes in a silence punctuated only by the thump of the models' cloggy footwear and the trill of cell phones? That's flat. Then, to remind us of the silence, introduce a surge of plangent electronica for a final passage of "eveningwear" à la Comme. Sequins, the ultimate evening cliché, naturally. That's flat too. And when the audience claps and claps… and claps, disappoint them by remaining resolutely behind the curtain, like the Wizard of a new kind of fashion Oz.
If it had been a Dada performance in Zurich's Cabaret Voltaire in the second decade of the twentieth century, its genius would have been galvanic. As a fashion show in the second decade of the twenty-first century, its satire felt a little obvious. But its savage point was well taken. The us-or-them reductiveness of the popular discourse is turning our round world flat.