A screw loose: The secret of Rei Kawakubo’s signature look

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Kawakubo leads the way with raw edges, rumpled fabrics and exposed seams

At the start of her career, Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons loosened screws in the knitting machines making her sweaters, causing them to malfunction and leave random holes in the garments. The idea was to challenge uniform perfection and inject a feeling of the hand.

For her spring/summer 2014 collection in Paris, Kawakubo again looked to modes of distress and decay. Her men’s suits were, in theory, formal: pinstriped double-breasted styles and the grey morning coat complete with waist seam. However, the fabrics were creased and rumpled, felted, with seams exposed. Some had raw-edged panels peeling away, or sleeves sliding. Attached with buckles, they echoed punk styles, and Kawakubo has a genuine punk sensibility, here attacking the stifling formality of the buttoned-up suit.

Her models, plastered with grease and eyeliner, had a rebellious look of youth, shirt-tails trailing like naughty schoolboys. For the finale they marched out with bandannas wrapped gang-style around their foreheads, each wearing a reconfigured variation on the white shirt, collars pulled askance.

Rebellion is something Riccardo Tisci is desperate to evoke through his Givenchy collections, sometimes at the expense of innovation. The oversized shorts layered with leggings, a jacket wrapped at the waist like a skirt and muscular sweatshirting up top is a silhouette culled from the twin subcultures of skateboarders and hip-hop.

However, that’s sportswear, not fashion design. The standard shapes acted as simple foils, once again, for Tisci’s plays with graphic print. This season those were inspired by vintage computer-game imagery, juxtaposed with bold horizontal bands of colour slicing up the proportions. There was also a vague feel of Africa, evoked in a hard, even brash palette of black, white, blood-red and sky blue, models’ faces painted with warpaint and a tribal beat banging away on the soundtrack to hammer the point home.

There was a brutal, savage strength to this Givenchy show. When those jarring shades were combined in the eye-popping print and engulfed the silhouettes from head to toe, the effect was hallucinatory, a bit like a colour-saturated music video.

It will certainly pop in pictures, and on the sales racks – you could practically hear the tills ring as Tisci’s Transformer-print t-shirts made their first fashion show appearance. Next season they’ll be on the back of half the audience.

But for all its effort, Givenchy’s rebel stance rang hollow. Ultimately this was a hyper-commercial collection of cotton cash-cow casuals sheep-dipped in a slick coating of youthful disquiet. In contrast to Rei Kawakubo’s bravado reclaiming of her rebellious roots, this loud and rowdy Givenchy show just wasn’t challenging enough to feel real.

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