Anohni's Watch Me played at Walter Van Beirendonck's excellent S/S 17 show. 'I know you love me, ‘Cause you’re always watching me, Protecting me from evil, Protecting me from terrorism, Protecting me from child molesters, Protecting me from evil, Watch me, Watch me, Watch me.' At the show, we were being watched. Van Beirendonck's signature faces and monsters peered out at us from garments. They were most effective as wearable artworks, a collaboration with Jacqueline Lecarme, which undulated and rocked as models walked down the the runway. Their eyes surveyed the room - strangely vulnerable, but hardy. That sums up Van Beirendonck's work right now - he's mindful of the threats liberals and mavericks such as himself are under. His 'Stop Terrorising Our World' slogan from A/W 15 has, understandably been doing the rounds on Instagram recently. The concerns Anohni sings about - terrorism, violence, bigotry - are concerns of Van Beirendonck as well; they inform his work. He is one of the last few designers who is an empowered social commentator.
So what did this collection speak of? Resilience, acceptance, pain, mourning, hope. You sensed that in the slogans - poetic, but strangely dark; ‘Brutal Beauty’, ‘Future Folk’ and ‘Reflection Through Destruction’. Van Beirendonck dubbed the show Why is a Raven like a Writing Desk? in a nod to Lewis Carroll’s impossible riddle. Was he moved by the sense of a fruitless search for answers? Perhaps. With Van Beirendonck’s work one is often forced to try to make sense of things that maybe don’t make sense. The sense of a Wonderland is appropriate for him though - just as Alice found beauty and life lessons by exploring new realms, entering strange rooms and meeting bizarre characters, Van Beirendonck finds inspiration from the bold, the beautiful and the unusual. He invites us to enter and explore with him. The holes that littered his suiting suggested portals to more exciting places, while the prints inferred the dream worlds of childhood.
The show closed with suits decked with bondage gear. They summed up what makes Van Beirendonck so special - his tireless subversion of the common, the expected and the familiar. He is so provocative because he works with emblems, themes and garments that we can all understand. In the Mad Hatter’s riddle, two normal items become strange once united. Their association troubles and confuses us. That’s like Van Beirendonck’s clothing - his combinations and constructions both invite and repel. Yet they always leave us wanting more and searching for the meaning we know is there.