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Sensation & Subversion at AVAVAV Spring 2024

Words by Lily Moskowitz

Images Courtesy of Vogue Runway / Avavav Spring 2024 Ready-To-Wear

is the self-proclaimed ethos
inscribed directly on avavav’s luxury streetwear.

if you are on social media then you probably recognize
avavav’s signature finger shoes: four toed, slimy acidic boots
(yes those ones, that kind of resemble monster feet, but in like, a
cool-eccentric-interesting way).

you have probably seen avavav’s viral fw23 disaster show:
models falling down mid-walk, stilettos snapping,
fabric tearing and flying off down the runway,
the whole catwalk construction crashing down for the grande finale.

point being... 
avavav is loud, conceptual, performance-based fashion
that critiques the very industry it performs in.

avavav’s spring summer 2024 show closed out milan fashion week with a collection titled “no time to design, no time to explain.”
this most recent presentation is designer beate karlsson’s most vocal yet, a protest of fashion’s fixation on novelty and speed, profit and transaction.

“this most recent presentation is designer beate karlsson’s most vocal yet, a protest of fashion’s fixation on novelty and speed, profit and transaction”

straddling the lines of parody and reality with in-progress, ‘unfinished’ looks, it is unclear whether the collection’s haphazard energy is a true reflection of the designer’s inability to execute a ‘more complete’ line under the seasonal time restraints, or a deliberate response to the unsustainable pace of a highly pressurized industry.

perhaps, it is both. 

the garments themselves are scrappy, and deliciously so:

models race out running and scrambling,
in varying degrees of dressed and distressed.

one is pushed onto the catwalk in only mesh nylons,
palms covering her chest.

another struggles to tug on sweatpants
as they stumble out half clothed.

disheveled, crying, mascara running down cheeks,
barefoot, one-shoed... 

these looks do not conform to
the heritage-house tailoring
and luxury construction
native to milan,
a fact that designer beate karlsson cunningly acknowledges
in a series of “Made In Italy (Or China, Can’t Remember)” hoodies.

a nude model is mummified in a ‘bandage dress’ of silver duct tape. maxis assembled from fabric strips are patched together with pins, paying homage to the anti-fashion ideology of the deconstructionist and DIY movements.

scrawled arrows, alongside pattern-making / revisionist notes on the garments – “add back?!” “make short” “add shape” – reference back to margiela’s ss97 stockman semi-couture and even virgil abloh’s meta-referential graphics...

iterations of the incomplete and ironic that have been historically received as works of genius. for avavav to create with these same themes in mind suggests their work to be intentionally uninterested in appealing to the standards of the traditional luxury atelier.

critics debate avavav’s sartorial skillset and question whether the brand is capable of more than spectacle & sensation, entertainment value & viral success – conceptual fashion is not commercial fashion, views don’t equate to selling clothes.

yet gimmick and theatrics have dictated the catwalk since the turn of the century.

mcqueen’s no.13
(the one with shalom harlow getting spray painted by a robot)
walked alongside
hussein chalayan’s table dress & margiela’s melting colored ice cubes
so that the likes of coperni’s spray on dress could run.

this runway season (from new york to london to milan to paris)
has been full of spectacle:
elena velez is holding mud fights,
sunnei staged a live judge panel audience,
the twitter conspiracy theorists are saying
that the balmain robbery was a pr stunt.
tanner fletcher literally !!! hosted a pageant
(and it was everything. go fall in love with tanner fletcher, seriously). even prada was not immune to conceptual drama, with their second season in a row featuring ~slimy set~ design.

there is of course a line between
hollow sensationalism & true subversion
-some displays distract from having nothing to say or show –
but at the root of karlsson’s theatrics is a brutally honest commentary on her own field:
that the unfinished and underdeveloped is all that we will get out of designers pushed so close to the brink that craftsmanship and originality are unattainable.

in her book gods and kings, fashion journalist dana thomas attributes the nervous breakdown of john galliano & the death of alexander mcqueen to the unrelenting cadence and greedy exploitation of an industry that sucks its designers dry. the pace of the fashion industry, its endless cycles and rapid overturn of trend, demands constant output with exponentially increasing frequency. the numbers game has gotten the best of artisanship or experimentation time and time again, while commercial market pressures have suffocated the art from the visionary and the vanguard.

“the numbers game has gotten the best of artisanship or experimentation time and time again, while commercial market pressures have suffocated the art from the visionary and the vanguard”

karlsson expresses these ironies through self-awareness, a theme consistent with her design identity. she repeatedly makes caricatures of the monetary ambition of the design world in her ongoing series of “hot” “rich” and “famous” graphics (not to be confused with her “cunt” baseball caps or most recently, “filthy rich” inked across her models’ collarbones).

avavav’s fall 2023 ‘nightmare show,’ while certainly a display of spectacle and a guarantee of attention, deliberately subverted the industry standard of mechanical, sterilized, unblemished execution; since the days of the 90s supermodel, when signature struts were spunky or sultry or sensual, the high fashion catwalk has steadily and tragically depersonalized.

models now are stiff and uniform, unexpressive but for the ubiquitous deadpan of lobotomy chic. in contrast, avavav’s off-balanced, tumbling runways and deteriorating designs break the fourth wall of fashion as fantasy – presenting fashion as off-kilter as it is enticing. 

in this way, avavav is a testament to the value of conceptual, rather than formal design. staging performance through clothing, as avavav does, allows for the delivery of protest, of message, of storytelling.
the prevalence of contemporary runway theatrics suggests that appeal has extended past the clothes and into the brand identity itself. 

what does it mean to wear the designs of this company?

what values do they hold?

what are they trying to say?

the internet has constructed entire personas surrounding the visual and moral aesthetics of fashion houses– a miu miu girl, for instance, summons a completely different image than a die hard fan of rick owens.

for avavav, these sensationalist collections are their approach to character development.

the conceptual nature of their runways SCREAM rather than speak. the convictions that make up avavav-core are amassing a cult following that prioritizes STATEMENT over precision, cut, or form. though it’s clear the brand is capable of both, as the final look’s post-it note suit / to-do-list tuxedo perfectly bridges kitsch with couture.

avavav is not for those seeking something astonishingly well-cut or aggressively wearable.  it is for those whose idea of fashion is vocal and provocative. it is a style both political and anarchist, antagonistic and hungry to be heard. the avavav girls are the julia foxes of the world: merciless, confrontational, unafraid of disruption. with “no time to explain,” avavav is for the unapologetic and irreverent.

and maybe we don’t need to explain. maybe making meaning of and over-intellectualizing fashion robs it of its joy, its purpose of arousing visual interest and adorning the bliss of the body.

celebrating the unserious, avavav makes room for pure pleasure:
a statement that lets the collection speak for itself.

ENVY Magazine