January 23, 2010 Paris
Bloodshed and militaria—two themes woven together from convulsive Russian history and the current moment—propelled Josephus Thimister back onto the couture runway after a decade's absence. The imagery centered on a photograph of Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich, Emperor Nicholas II's murdered 13-year-old son, who was routinely dressed in uniform as a boy, and it played out in a collection of men's and womenswear merging poignant romanticism with a raw-edged minimalism last practiced in the nineties.
Thimister said he'd used resonances from World War I because "what happened then was the start of modernism: war, sorrow, destruction we're still dealing with now. And the lack of creativity and spirituality." It didn't make for couture in the fine old tradition—tank tops and jodhpurs roughly spattered with spray-painted gore don't routinely feature in haute collections, and neither does menswear—but Thimister's thought process cut across the current fashion agenda in a personal way. Using rough khaki and startling red, he sent out greatcoats, officer's jackets and jumpsuits, and dresses cut from duchesse satin and georgette detailed with narrow, trailing cross-body military sashes. For a woman tempted to look outside the normal remit of Paris couture, there could be something here worth investigating—the army coat with a red fur lining, say, or the cowl-hooded textured sequin dresses that turn to reveal erotically bared backs.
A word, though, about the key to the show's look. Its army references link back to collections that Thimister, now 47, put out under his own name in the late nineties. He was then a well-rated emerging talent of the Belgian school, an haute couture-minded member of the deconstructionist cohort. If there's a slight feeling of throwback to the lost values of edgy fashion that crashed immediately after 9/11, it's because this latest chapter picks up where the designer (who's been living in Paris in the interim, doing various stints, including one as creative director of Charles Jourdan) left off. It's too big a task to bring all that back single-handedly, but Thimister's self-financed return is another side contribution to the growing feeling that it's time for something less dressy in fashion.