The Glossary: Unpacking A/W 2023’s extra-ordinary looks
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Fashion fetishises the new, the outré, the extraordinary, but it’s our own thinking that keeps things feeling fresh. The whims for A/W 2023, namely the longer length of a jumper or the bumpier texture of leather, are just that. In 1973, the French author and artist Georges Perec wrote an essay called The Infra-Ordinary, an ongoing attempt to notice, record and then recall the exact opposite of the extraordinary. ‘What speaks to us, seemingly, is always the big event, the untoward,’ he says, before revelling in the small and unexceptional. It is a meditation not necessarily on simplicity or finding the joy in the everyday, but a succinct reminder that the objects that soak up our attention are often a diversion from an essential truth. We are too easily distracted from recognising – and knowing – what is effortless and sincere.
In 1974, Perec wrote An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris. Over three dull October days, he documented the habitual, rhythmic actions being played out around the city’s Place Saint-Sulpice: mopeds parked in a line, a car covered in dead leaves, a man with a surgical collar, a woman carrying an ugly lamp, a little girl wearing a red hat with a pom-pom, several women in shades of green, and some sort of basset hound.
Fashion is, superficially, the opposite, often presented away from the thrum of the street. This great embroidered Prada skirt was first revealed during the brand’s A/W 2023 show underneath a vast retractable ceiling designed by AMO to swallow up a series of 16 chandeliers, each covered with fresh white lilies. No ordinary setting. Yet after its unveiling, the satin skirt worn with a neat camel sweater in an unadorned corporate hinterland has a different, altogether more humble job to do. Miuccia Prada commented: ‘Mainly what I care about now is to give importance to what is modest, to value modest jobs, simple jobs, and not only extreme beauty or glamour.’ Away from any elaborate staging or theatrical folly, the skirt’s extraordinariness – its voluminous sway, splashed with origami tulips – amplifies the circadian rhythms behind our professional lives.
Perec’s attempt to find the time, space and language to explore what we might otherwise overlook gives us all a way to assess the coming season. Here, someone in Miu Miu’s tobacco knit cardigan, matching knit top and chevron wool skirt uses their soft leather handbag as a pillow. Another, dressed in Loewe’s long double-breasted cashmere coat, is showered in reams of plain A4 paper. We see clothes that are deliberately unremarkable (chic, of course, lovely, recherché), which serve as a caution not to undervalue the obvious.
Jonathan Anderson decreed his collection for Loewe was ‘an act of reduction’, showing it in a white laboratory lined with floor-to-ceiling portraits of otherworldly beings by the American artist Julien Nguyen. So much of how fashion is presented obfuscates the tactile reality of clothes. The warmth of a good knit pulled down across our fists or the crunch of a cotton poplin shirt when freshly steamed. Sensations that reinforce our relationship to touch. It is the weight of pressed leather on the shoulders, or a dress belted around the body. It is tailoring that feels, in every touch, much more luxurious than it might first appear. The true greatness of the looks photographed here is in how they feel on the body. How they lend the most mundane of activities more majesty, more matter.
Fashion comes into focus when the world is in flux. Of course, it is always on the move, yet the returning rhythm of life shapes what we feel about clothes. For now, we are thinking about a certain quietness, a stealth mode of luxury born in response to the loudness of our times. The shoutier the headlines, the brighter the bulbs, the softer the skirt? The more exhausted the planet, the higher the heel, the tighter the sleeve? The ruder life becomes in the city, the wider the shoulder. The more abstract reality seems to be, the bluer the denim, the softer the cashmere. The clothes we want to wear are in tandem with the things we cannot control.
Talking about his A/W 2023 collection for Bottega Veneta, creative director Matthieu Blazy described ‘the alchemy of the street’ as his inspiration, celebrating Italy’s people, traditions and crafts. While global newsfeeds seem increasingly uncontrollable, the grasp we have on our daily lives has a renewed, urgent value. Like Perec, we can find some solace in the simplicity of the habitual. In the feel of double-faced houndstooth wool brushing against our bodies. In long, grey, crisp, smart tailoring – looks not so much advocating minimalism or silence but a shift in our attention.
Perec captured the perfectly ordinary – its symbols, textures, colours and hierarchies. So we should admire fashion in its daily setting. At work. In the street. On the train. Yet our introduction to this extra-long wool turtleneck sweater by Saint Laurent was seeing it circling underneath the historic muralled dome of Paris’ Bourse de Commerce [see our Saint Laurent A/W 2023 show report]. The Row’s black wool and mohair canvas coat paired with a heavy double-splittable wool scarf first sashayed through daylight-flooded rooms in an intimate couture-style salon show – a métier known more for its gilded opulence. These looks, now photographed here in a mundane environment, with the models acting out subtly rebellious actions deemed inappropriate for the office, allow us to contemplate the power of clothes away from the pageantry. A languid phone charger strewn on the floor, the errant reams of paper, the modernist furniture, the executive toys – the presence of each object punctures the spectacle of fashion, but not its allure.
Models: Vivi Cazotti at The Hive, Wang Chen Ming at IMG Models. Casting: Svea Casting. Hair: Mike O’Gorman at Saint Luke using Wella Professional. Make-up: Sunao Takahashi at Saint Luke. Fashion assistant: Kristina Bergfeldt. Photography assistant: Federico Gioco. Interiors: Olly Mason. Producer: Anya Hassett.
A version of this article features in the September 2023 Style Issue of Wallpaper*, on sale now available in print, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today