Walter Van Beirendonck
January 15, 2014 Paris
Russia is about to host the Winter Olympics. Is that why WVB couched his protest in the context of winter sports? There were outfits here that adventurous skiers and snowboarders could pluck right off the catwalk. Still, the strongest visual of the collection was vintage WVB: boys in pastel army helmets wearing bomb disposal squad protective gear reconfigured in college stripes. "We need to go to war on racism," was the designer's rationale for looks that concealed deadly serious intent in a joyous candy coating. Typical WVB, in other words. He puts a smile on your face, then he slaps it.
A few of the models sported Stephen Jones' huge, feathered Native American headdresses painted with the "Stop Racism" message (in Russian as well as English). Some might see that as a dig at the headdresses Chanel showed in Dallas recently, but Van Beirendonck seemed to be making a larger point. In the same way that the feathered pieces were a reminder of one culture that has been decimated by racism, there were also motifs and markings borrowed from the Aborigines, another tribal culture that has gained nothing from exposure to "civilization."
WVB's longtime respect for indigenous tribalism means such references were integrated into his fashion vocabulary a long time ago. He has created his own kind of techno-tribalism, a colorful stew of cartoons, rave culture, and political paganism, aimed at unhinging the classic codes of menswear and, by extension, the society that puts those codes in place. Hence the way a blazer was expertly sliced and diced into a protective breastplate.
Many of the models wearing such pieces were extraordinarily fresh-faced, even by fashion standards, which could be construed as WVB issuing a call to arms to the young who want no truck with an older generation's
-isms and -phobias. But in keeping with the dark streak that trickles through this designer's work, there was also the suspicion that he was acknowledging that it is precisely the young (if not specifically college boys, at least their peers) who make up the armies who fight—and die—for that older generation. Anyone who ever believed that fashion was incapable of holding a thought has clearly never encountered Walter Van Beirendonck.