“A fantasy on a Victorian dark romance” is how Saint Laurent creative director Anthony Vaccarello described his Spring 2022 show in Venice on Wednesday evening—a billowing display of oversize poet shirts, batwing tops, fancy blousons, tiny shorts, and…capes.
Capes have emerged as an unlikely—or likely, depending on the decadence of your inner circle—post-pandemic flex in the fashion world. They popped up at Balenciaga’s couture show last week and in Hedi Slimane’s Fall 2021 Celine show back in February, and Vaccarello showed them with a vampiric Pete Doherty-esque campness, as huge, floor-length silk blouses, buttoned or tied only at the neck. (It also recalled a classic Saint Laurent saffron cape, from one of the designer’s typically lavish early ’80s collections.)
Why the cape? Perhaps because it echoes the post-World War II fervor for extravagant reams of fabric, epitomized by Christian Dior’s New Look, which journalists and trend forecasters have often cited in their predictions for post-pandemic dressing. But unlike the conservative ideals underpinning Dior’s opulence, the new cape is sexy, exuberant, and a little dangerous. Vaccarello has become something like the Dark Lord of Gender Fluidity among fashion’s poppiest set, making the kind of wearable devilish clothes that might be worn by Chuck Bass’s successor on the Gossip Girl reboot—you can just picture him pulling on a Juul and yanking at its silk expanse with a gloved hand, can’t you?
Staged in Venice, the Saint Laurent show was one of the first in-person menswear shows since the fashion world went abruptly digital at the onset of the pandemic, but was also a return to the globetrotting shows of yore, staged in glamorous, far-flung locales beyond fashion’s core capitals. The set was a large-scale installation by the California artist Doug Atkins—a mirrored, kaleidoscopic structure laced with dense plantings through which Vaccarello’s little vampires roamed. Venice has become this season’s must-show site: Rick Owens showed there this year (his third in the city), while Valentino will stage its haute couture show there on Thursday. And for Saint Laurent, it was a fitting choice: Vaccarello’s clothes are a uniform for the elite youngsters most bummed out by the inability to travel—you know, the ones who hop from Coachella to Tulum to Mykonos—and his big statement tops and hot pant-jorts are the right kind of product-forward fashion that every shopper is longing for right now. It’s not political; it’s not burdened with messaging. It works on that classic emotion at the heart of fashion: desire. And for the fashion nerds among us, the peasant blouses will provide an opportunity for Yves-cosplay—especially for those who will head on from Mykonos to Marakkech, where Saint Laurent himself wore some of his most important blouses.
Already, the show’s uber-pointed winklepicker boots, the medieval-inspired shoe favored by 1950s-era British rock ‘n roll fans, have been divisive online. But nothing in fashion is sweeter than a divisive shoe. Contrary to everything you hear about people wanting to dress to fit in, everyone loves something a little wrong. It’s usually the sign of a big success to come.