January 18, 2012 Paris
Moving at a much greater speed has been Kimmel's development as a showman. He's like a great moviemaker in the way he can find and tap American myths to contextualize and elevate his product in his presentations. His latest may have been his greatest. Area 51 is the ghost in the American machine, an enduring mystery and inspiration for writers and artists, some of whom have in turn inspired Kimmel in past collections. That was one reason for his interest. Another was that it offered him an idiosyncratic take on military style, a theme he'd been thinking about for a while. Almost the only male figure missing from Kimmel's repertoire of American heroes has been the military man. Area 51 offered him flyboys, special ops guys, boffins, all the straight arrows laboring in the twilight zone. Ordinary men, in other words, in extraordinary circumstances. Which, in some skewed way, pointed toward the essence of Kimmel's new collection.
The set starred upended jet plane wings set in desert sand like a techno Stonehenge. From somewhere deep inside, a signal beamed into space. The ebbing roar on the soundtrack sounded like jets—or aliens—taking off and landing. The models were teleported out of and back into a chamber at the rear of the stage. It was disconcertingly convincing. More so when the first man out—deadpan, monotone in matching suit, shirt, and tie—looked exactly like the sort of operative who'd show up to interview an abductee. Many of the characters on the catwalk trailed that sort of association, courtesy of the thousands of sci-fi movies, conspiracy thrillers, and TV shows that have been made in the six decades since the Roswell Visitors and their craft were shipped off to Area 51 for further study. So there was the special ops in his gray suit and shades; the intense young researcher in his shirtsleeves and suspenders; the head scientist, authoritative in his double-breasted navy suit; and the handsome test pilot, dressed to test in his jumpsuit or ready to play in his trim shearling bomber. There were even some paranoid abductee types, coats belted tightly against the nonbelievers.
Of course, all that character was in the eye of the beholder. Examine the clothes up close and character became a movable feast, like the flight jacket that flipped from shearling to tech nylon, which could be simply appreciated for its skill or construed as Kimmel's comment on the mutability of men. After all, Area 51 does funny things to a guy.