Desigual, the Barcelona-based label known for its bright colors and team-based design, has always bucked trends and done things differently. That habit has made them a favorite of mine, but also kept them off a lot of schedules. For example, you’ll be hard pressed to find them ever mentioned in Vogue. I don’t know what they did to upset the folks over at Condè Nast, but you won’t see them on their pages nor their website. Ever. I’ve always found their absence rather suspect, but in the world of high fashion, once one is on the bad side of an all-powerful editor like Anna Wintour one has to expect some severe consequences. I just can’t imagine what Desigual did unless there’s a law against being too happy.
The days of ignoring Desigual may be short-numbered, though. In a New York season that is painfully low on anything worthy of chatter around the hand-crafted latté counter, Desigual brought on the excitement and color in a way that dares anyone to ignore what happened at their noon show. Sure, the designs were full of the brand’s trademarked colors, but the way it was presented was astonishing even for this anything-but-boring brand. How did they do it?
They hired a photographer: Jean-Paul Goude. In this case, Goude leaves his camera in its case and focuses his attention on art directing a show that was jaw-dropping both in terms of presentation and content. Goude has an impressive resumè. He first became famous taking pictures of Grace Jones back in the day. His tenure at Esquire magazine certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed. As a photographer, Goude is a significant force. But he does more than just take pictures. He directs. He designs. He choreographs. Goude turned heads last year when he was chosen to direct the Kenzo show for their H&M collection. In fact, there are some very strong similarities between that show last year and what we saw today. Now, he’s bringing all that burgeoning creativity to Desigual, full-time.
I have to admit that I was concerned when I first heard that Goude had been hired. He’s fantastic as a photographer and graphic designer but could he pull off being a fashion designer in a company that has, since its inception, worked from a team design concept? Desigual has never had a Creative Director, a position that is a staple in almost every other fashion label. Would inserting Goude at the top of the org chart dampen spirits or put any kind of clamp on their creativity? Apparently, the answer to that last question is no.
There’s no sufficient way for me to describe this show, so I’m not going to try. Instead, I’m going to just play the whole thing for you at the end of the review. This is something one needs to experience to appreciate. Not only are the colors bright and the cast diverse, this is more than just a group of young women walking boringly down a catwalk. Goude hired choreographer Ryan Heffington, the LA-based Grammy-nominated creative responsible for Arcade Fire’s “We Exist” and Sia’s “Chandelier” videos. Heffington won a VMA for “Chandelier.” Heffington worked with a soundtrack by Spike Jonez’ brother, Sam Spiegel. Spiegel’s freeform jazz sound is every bit as eclectic and exciting as the clothes on the runway. Goude then pulls together all the pieces and creates the runway presentation that this New York Fashion Week desperately needed.
While there is a difference in this season’s presentation, though, there is also a noticeable difference in the clothes. There is a wide array of very obvious ethnic influences and along with that an equally wide-array of non-traditional models. In fact, I’m not sure there were any traditional models in the lineup. Instead, we had fantastic dancers and actors bringing to life this world of crop tops and balloon pants, mop-line fringe around the knees, painted faces, and hats based on ethnic designs that somehow reminded me of bird houses. Instead of coming down the runway one at a time, models came in groups, sometimes as many as five at a time, dancing in Heffington’s particular manner before breaking off to show the individual designs. This was very much an extravaganza, a wonderful and creative re-thinking of how a runway presentation should be done.
Today’s show represents an important step in Desigual’s already impressive growth. With 500 directly-operated stores around the world in over 100 countries, today’s show came as close as any to representing the many various cultures those stores serve. Who else pays that level of attention to their customer base and caters to the type of clothing those customers want to wear? Given the challenges that other labels are having with the retail market, one might think that now is the time to pay attention to what Desigual is doing. Desigual ended the first half of 2017 with sales representing a 9.6% increase on the same period the previous year. I dare say the vast majority of brands showing at NYFW this season can’t boast that kind of growth and they haven’t for quite some time.
I don’t think anyone questions that NYFW needs a change of attitude and style and creativity. My hope is that this Desigual show can shine a light on the possibilities and point a way forward. Do we need Tommy Hilfiger-level extravaganzas in every show? No, absolutely not. There’s not enough room for all the Ferris wheels. However, there is always room for creatives such as Jean-Paul Goude to work their magic. Who knows, maybe this could be the answer for all those older fashion photographers who are finding it difficult to compete with the younger folks. If more fashion houses start hiring photogs as Creative Director, I may have to polish up my own resumé.
Now, play the video below on full screen. Enjoy the spectacle. This is what NYFW should be. I’m convinced.