Les Incroyables and les Merveilleuses seem like pure John Galliano territory, but Yohji Yamamoto can pull off Incroyable with the best of them. After all, he is an avowed romantic and passionate admirer of fashion history. He's also a rebel, a man who has on more than one occasion stated that he hates fashion - and les Incroyables were the punk provocateurs of the eighteenth century. In hindsight, the strange thing is why it's taken Yohji so long to pay them homage.
Incroyable was the word that leapt to mind as Yamamoto's first model emerged, train billowing for yards behind, head topped with abstract swirls of crin and hefty biker-boots underfoot. That felt like a riposte to the couture mood that is pervading the catwalk - Yohji did it bigger, and better, back in the late nineties, unleashing an ode to twentieth century couture greats when almost everyone else was feeling clean and minimal. The shock then was how modern Yamamoto made those couture silhouettes. Today, it was how enticing he made the dress of these eighteenth-century dandy-rebels. His Incroyable jackets were tailcoats, sliced high on the waist and plummeting to the floor in back. Interesting fashion fact: the only two surviving Incroyable jackets (which do indeed have exaggerated floor-length trains) are in London's Victoria and Albert museum, and the Kyoto Costume Institute. That something that ties London, to Japan, to France - and that was the feeling of this show, fusing street-style still seen as quintessentially British with French patriotism and a dose of Yamamoto's Japanese intelligence. And wit - this was a riot of a show, his dark lipsticked models man-handling trains like Chaplin's Little Tramp. Well, imagine Chaplin's tramp meeting Baudelaire's dark prince of elegance, slipping a Napoleonic hand inside their starched, overblown white shirts.
As with Yamamoto's finest work, the historical references in this show were synthesised into a flawless whole. Those tailcoats and knotted-up white shirts were really a treatise on monochrome suiting and booting for women, something Yamamoto has played with since he began thirty years ago. That's why they were thrown out so effortlessly, masterfully. The same with the grand-scale ballgowns, cropped at the ankle and given a believability through flat shoes that belied their complex, painstaking construction. The bride and groom at the end were a touch of the humour so essential to the Yamamoto vision. The overall take-away of this show? Joy. Pure, unadulterated, and as happily-ever-after as the bride and cross-dressed 'groom' that closed the show.