January 29, 2005
When Bernhard Willhelm said he'd cast his black models on a Saturday afternoon in a Paris branch of Foot Locker, it was hard to tell if he was kidding (it's often hard to tell if he's kidding). But the warmth of his feeling for African people and culture was obvious in his latest show. More specifically, there was a heavy Nigerian vibe to the clothes. The essential silhouette of the collection was a voluminous top that seemed inspired by the traditional Nigerian agbada and was paired with equally full trousers. These were accented with a print of giant gold links, which also appeared on some of the athleticwear that has won the designer a cult following (much in evidence in the audience). Knits and pants featured prints based on old Aztec motifscreated, according to Willhelm, by artists under the influence of mescaline, resulting in a pixilated quality that looked almost computerized. (Again, if it was a tall tale, it was a good one.)
In a season that has been distinguished by its cautious dressiness, Willhelm's clothes at least stood out for their unabashed physicality, which appeared cheerfully crass in a metallic gold blouson and full-on fetishistic in side-laced jeans in washed-out denim or leather.