Most designers name their collections, but Walter Van Beirendonck stands alone in making his titles a philosophical challenge. "Shut Your Eyes to See" was the latest. "The world is so overwhelming that you need to look into yourself," he explained. "Find your own identity, that's what matters. And you have to protect it."
By way of illustration, WVB delved into his own past, and the performer who posed such extravagant queries about identity that he changed a generation. Who else but David Bowie, the man, once again, of the moment? Surprisingly, WVB—13 years old when Ziggy Stardust was released—had never before gone to the glam well for inspiration. He made up for it here. The collection had the glitter of Lurex, the sheen of spacey metallics, the height of a platform boot, the decadent depth of its Dorian Gray finale.
Contamination is a word that has cropped up a couple of times during this season of shows. WVB's career has always testified to the power of oppositions colliding, transmogrifying. He's a fantastic tailor, but he can't see a pin-sharp piece without wanting to do something iconoclastic to it. Here, perfectly decent jackets were roundly abused with Christmas tinsel. In the same vein, he patched an abstract doll figure out of Lurex onto an army green blazer, and zagged a major zig, also Lurex, down another jacket, this one a sober navy. The Aladdin Sane flash is one of the most iconic emblems of the late twentieth century, a potency that was acknowledged by its appearance here. WVB dropped Bowie's eye into the mix as an atavistic symbol. He also wired glittery red lips over his models' mouths. "Mick Jagger," he laughed. Jagger, almost Bowie's match in the fluidity of his identities, was evoked in a Lurex Infanta dress that duplicated the pristine white affair designed by Mr. Fish for the Stones' free concert in Hyde Park in 1969.
All of that only means that there are levels upon levels in a WVB collection. This was a particularly rich one because of the designer's lifelong connection to its source material. But there's always something more that makes him such a provocative proposition. In amongst the playfulness, the momentum of the presentation, he hits the heart of darkness. Here, at the finale, the Starman was alone, in a proper pipe-and-slippers dressing gown. It was a fabulously downbeat conceit with which to close a fabulously upbeat show.