Walter Van Beirendonck
January 20, 2012 Paris
The collection was based around a literal face-off between masks: the kind that warriors in Papua, New Guinea, or voodoo high priests in the Caribbean paint on, and the leather kind that Western fetishists wear in big-city sex clubs. Van Beirendonck's standard cast of African models wore these masks, most of them in an Elastoplast pink that was like a parody of Caucasian skin. He insisted that was simply because he liked the contrast, but the effect was profoundly disturbing.
And maybe it's just because Van Beirendonck makes you think such thoughts, but it was hard to resist the idea that his sleekly civilized tailored suits were also a mask for a whole repertoire of beastly impulses. Lust never sleeps, remember. The designer certainly was full-on with his fetish references—not just the masks, but full-body leather waders, fluffy mohairs, and pointy little details such as the black rubber padlock around one model's neck or the tiny tufts of fur that defined the fingernails on a candy-colored leather body glove. One set of waders, in leaf green leather, was worn over a jacket, shirt, and bow tie that matched. This outfit seemed particularly worthy of a psycho/sociological fashion analysis for the way in which propriety was restrained. The fact that it was all in cartoony colors hardly diminished its force. In fact, it simply highlighted the fact that the collection was a natural heir to Vivienne Westwood's SEX shop or Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, two other instances of cartoon antics masking a lethal assault on the everyday. Stepping outside the Espace Commines into a drizzly Saturday morning, it was instantly, sadly obvious that the everyday will never, ever know what had hit it.