Venice in a world of reemergence is, if possible, even more miraculous than ever, with dolphins sighted gamboling in the laguna and very few tourists around to admire them. Triumphantly, that fragile lagoon was recently declared a national monument, and at the same time the Italian government finally announced a ban on the controversial cruise ships that overpowered the city while seeming to bring it little financial benefit.
With the city’s winding lanes and piazzas relatively empty, and even the pavilions in the Giardini, (hosting national offerings for the Venice Architecture Biennale uniting under the theme How Will We Live Together?) not exactly overwhelmed with visitors, an army of very slender wraiths, confettied with tattoos, bristling with attitude, and wafting around the city’s fabled landscape, seemed even more conspicuous.
These proved to be the models and brand icons of Anthony Vaccarello’s Saint Laurent, in town to walk, stomp, twirl, and glide the runway in the designer’s persuasively eclectic collection (although body diversity, it seems, is not yet a part of the dialogue in the menswear realm).
In keeping with the city’s current focus on the possibilities of architecture, Vaccarello collaborated with the genre defying artist and filmmaker Doug Aitken (who won the International Prize at the 1999 Venice Biennale) on an environment to showcase his collection.
Aitken created Green Lens, an amazing mirror-faceted structure that was assembled in a month on the Isola della Certosa, and planted with hot house jungle greenery. It serves as a response to the question posed by the Biennale, harmoniously blending futurism with the natural landscape.
“All the sets of Saint Laurent I’ve always done myself in a way,” Vaccarello explained, at the magical post-show dinner set in the roofless ruin of an old brick structure on the island, “so it was nice to share a concept for the first time with an artist who I truly admire, and it was fun. That concept was supposed to be for the women’s show last year,” Vaccarello added, “and because of the pandemic we pushed it to now. In the end it made more sense to have it in Venice than in Paris, especially with the Architecture Biennale—and with that collection, which is a mix of a lot of influence of Saint Laurent and a lot of Venetian ‘New Romanticism.’ Not putting them into the historical, classical Venetian way, but in a futuristic environment. I think after COVID you want to look more into the future than the past—and I like that mix of the past in the references in the clothes, and the future in the setting.”
During the fast-paced show the structure reflected the blue skies, dusk light, and dappled lagoon waters while Aitken’s lighting transformed the mood from moment to moment, suggesting by turns a flaming sunset or a glacial blue Scandinavian dawn. Refracted in those mirrors, Vaccarello’s tribe strode forth in lean jackets or billowing piratical blouses (think Adam Ant and Britain’s early 1980s New Romantics), and cigarette-leg pants with winkle picker ankle boots extending the slender silhouette further still.
In a timely reversal of the endless womenswear borrowings from the traditional men’s wardrobe, Vaccarello also had fun exploring the unparalleled Saint Laurent archives for women’s wear pieces that could be appropriated by the guys, including jacquard crepe de chine blouses and shirts from the early ’70s, cropped toreador jackets and spencers from Saint Laurent’s Picasso (Fall 1979) and Jazz (Spring 1978) collections, and a padded brocade bolero from the China collection (Fall 1977) reimagined as a bomber and worn with black jeans, as well as a number of variations on Le Smoking. Vaccarello also noted that “there were a lot of things that came from past women’s collections of mine—that was very sustainable in the end,” he added, “like all the lace shirts, pieces from two or three seasons ago.”
In homage to the host city there was Venetian carnival drama too in the dramatic billowing capes, including one in brilliant yellow silk that evoked a faille example shown in Saint Laurent’s Fall 1983 haute couture show, (and subsequently rocked by socialite Nan Kempner at the Costume Institute gala that celebrated the designer). “I think it was fun to see how a young guy could assume it,” said Vaccarello of his gender fluid propositions, “And I have to say they assumed it very naturally, [whether] a lace shirt, or platform shoes.”