Fashion needs new. In it’s search for whatever is next, the fashion industry is often voracious. Yet every now and then ‘next’ gets served up in a shiny complete package that just makes sense.
Enter Vetements, and Vetements designer Demna Gvasalia’s initiation into the house of Balenciaga. Balenciaga, the brand, has maintained a bold, graphic stance since it’s inception at the hands of Cristóbal Balenciaga back in 1919. Gvasalia enters the ranks of radical designers who have worked under the Balenciaga banner such as Hubert de Givenchy and, of course, Nicolas Ghesquière — who made his name at the label before famously coming to blows about the owners expectations, resulting in a lawsuit that was eventually settled out of court — at the same time saving Balenciaga from the misdirection of Alexander Wang who seemed lost at the brand, having ignored the bold instincts he employs under his own name label in favour of something oddly romantic and out of place for Balenciaga.
The Vetements connection is the key to this story. Fashion insiders had already clocked the first collections by the fledgling label but it wasn’t until their hyper-conceptual Spring/Summer 2017 collection, held inside Paris’ Galeries Lafayette department store, that people really started to take notice. Vetements (French for ‘clothes’) was born out of a collaboration between a group of designers in current employ by a number of Paris-based big name fashion labels. Some of the designers behind Vetements remain incognito because of this. Demna Gvasalia broke cover once his Balenciaga appointment was announced and became unofficial spokesperson for the brand. The main take away for many fashion editors was a return to streetwear. A large chunk of Vetements collections have included active wear (i.e. tracksuit style garments), modified to create subtly elaborate new forms often with voluminous proportions. When it came to designing for Balenciaga Gvasalia played with form and proportion again, creating silhouettes never seen before (especially the Men’s lines…) but his approach came from a different angle… “At Vetements it’s like … It’s ugly, that’s why we like it. At Balenciaga ugliness doesn’t exist.” [Source: Demna Gvasalia interview by Alexander Fury in Fantastic Man, issue 24, Autumn Winter 2016]
This renewed interest in streetwear was peaked this year by Vetements but had been bubbling under high fashion for a while now via Normcore and to varying degrees of, well, not quite success — cue high profile ‘brand colabs’ such as Kanye West’s ‘Yeezy’ collection for adidas and Rhianna’s highly dubious Fenty collection for Puma. Both these collections were covered in high fashion press, more because of some unwritten rule that any celebrity showing an interest in ‘designing’ formal collections should be covered, especially if they’ve appeared on a few magazine covers. Needless to say criticism (apart from the fainting models at the Spring 2017 Yeezy show) was pretty thin on the ground, even through Rhianna’s mixing of Marie Antoinette with a sort of trashy Juicy Couture‘mall chic’ (a label Vetements sought out for their break-through SS17 show as previously mentioned) mostly just created a visual eyesores.
Elsewhere the move away from the nouveau riche, luxury look that held sway ever since Tom Ford’s revival of Gucci & YSL, continued as large fashion brands juggled the need to have a lead designer who could handle the pressure of being a figurehead as well as being able to do all the things a creative director needs to do, and brilliantly. On top of this these super-lead designers were also expected to address new audiences that wanted more unique, quirky and often eccentric approaches to fashion.
Gucci has managed this by creating campaigns that transform models into nuanced characters imbued with intrigue. Kenzo, meanwhile, further extended it’s brand into film with Carrie Brownstein writing and directing a short for them starring Natasha Lyonne. Again, eccentric choices that add depth to their brand rather than just a glossy sheen. A collaboration with H&M further bolstered Carol Lim and Humberto Leon’s — Kenzo designers on loan from their own home grown band, Opening Ceremony — mission to reinvigorate the Kenzo brand with a daringly eccentric world view — finding a place outside of any discernible trends but in a rich, inclusive world of its own making.
As much as fashion pundits wanted to talk about ‘the street’, Normcore and casual wear as a way of pausing and refreshing (due to the likes of Vetements and Yeezy) and the ‘normalising’ of high fashion, the real story was an underlying shift into eccentric and hyper-individualistic realms that should prove fertile ground for many years to come. It’s the kick-up-the-butt the fashion industry has needed for a while now and the fact that it’s snuck in covertly makes it even more exciting.
First they built the ideal framework for sharing video online. Then they built a network of creators on the backs of this ‘millennial’ (or as unkindly put in a BBC radio documentary, ‘pack-horse’) generation — a demographic born with the internet yet economically impoverished by previous generations. Then they started messing with them in a way that looked suspiciously like they didn’t really know what they were doing.
That’s what happened on YouTube this year anyways. Up until now there had always seemed to be some sort of oblique strategy to the many moves in the YouTube playbook. This year those moves baffled even the most successful of the ‘content creators’ they coerced into making their living as mini content farms.
It all started with ‘clickbait’ and, by the end of the year, had morphed from straight-up drama into something now akin to the ‘fake news’ pandemic infecting any social media outlet reliant on old school (intrusive or classified style) advertising. The YouTube community being more self-aware than most communities online, began a large scale assessment of the issues concerned. This, in turn, became a swirling miasma of ‘YouTube is Broken’ videos intermingled with quitting YouTube announcements (mostly fake). The crux of the matter could have stemmed from the increasing age gap of said creators and the audience YouTube has moulded around them. Everyone wants a chance to grow up and become an adult but continuously vlogging to an average audience of hyper-critical eight to 14 year old fans has continued to prove problematic in many cases.
If I may now turn your attention to the most subscribed to YouTube creator in the whole of the world, PewDiePie. PewDiePie knows there’s a world outside of being a successful YouTuber, he just has trouble reaching it. When you’re not just making a living but making literal millions of dollars making vlogs and gameplay videos, what was once an innocent enough hobby becomes a hard habit to break. Sure, he’s had opportunities. There’s the Scare PewDiePieYouTube Red series — still YouTube, but televisual in it’s ambitions. There’s the app PewDiePie’s Tuber Simulator — a more successful app game thingy than his previous attempts (yes, there’s been more than one). There’s his YouTube creator network Revelmode where he… does something… who knows what… to help elevate other creators he approves of such as JackSepticEye, Markiplier and girlfriend CutiePieMarzia. Yet, if anything PewDiePie’s increasingly cynical choice of subject matter and recent semi melt-down — that happened midway through a recent attempt to vlog on a daily basis whilst filming in L.A. (a series that went by the whimsical name Birdabo) — only led to the impression that this is a guy trapped in a prison of his own (and YouTube’s) creation.
And that trapped feeling seem to spread as YouTubers such as Stephen Suptic and Josef Lincoln began lifting the lid on YouTube’s many foibles in a way that was kind of worthy and knowing but also fantastically entertaining. The most insightful commentary on life as a YouTuber and ‘online personality’ has to go to the channel that gave rise to that Poppy. Poppy is, apart from being creepily bizarre, a near perfect interpretation of the manipulations YouTubers put themselves through in the pursuit of views. Poppy videos are often very short so the team behind them (which I’m guessing is the mysterious Poppy and collaborator Titanic Sinclair) so it’s not ‘watch time’ they’re concerned about. Concept is god here. In one video Poppy explains calmly that ‘I know one thing for sure, I love the internet and computers’ before asking if you know what’s happening and ‘have they told you?’. Some videos involve Poppy repeating mantras about how much she loves fans or asking if you’ve ever been triggered by a word or just clapping for 10 minutes. It’s hard to describe just how bizarre yet ‘on point’ these videos are without experiencing them first hand.
The drama churned up by the vloggers Poppy parodied so perfectly this year was compounded by the latest bizarro gameplay by YouTube instigated at the end of this year. A change to the site that saw it start to bury the idea of encouraging viewers to subscribe to their fave YouTubers to follow their particular brand of content, in favour of whichever videos get the most click throughs. Even if viewers then decide to not to watch the bulk of the video (i.e. clickbait). This sudden change saw many midweight YouTubers view counts almost halve.
Overnight there seemed to be new rules to play by and no one really knew what they were. Whether this was a glitch or a plan by YouTube to shift viewers around we’ll have to wait til next year to see. Rest assured, whatever happens from this year onward will be commented on and reacted to by this increasingly sceptical batch of content creators.
Superheroes and space wars seem to be the only universally exportable commodities big studio Hollywood execs care to understand right now. Luckily, there was still much to see in and outside of the Hollywood sausage machine. You just had to keep your eyes peeled.
Not only did the franchise set-ups become more labyrinthine in 2016, in their urge to spawn more sequels and spin-offs, but the targets started moving too. 2016’s surprise hit being Deadpool, a — yep — superhero movie but for a more mature audience (so 16-year-olds instead of 15-year-olds) that was more comfortable with the sort of fruity language, unfashionably grungy art direction and unnecessarily extended violent scenes that ventured toward torture porn territory. Suicide Squad tried to ride on Deadpool’s dubious coat tails but was so caught up in ticking off ingredients for future spin offs that it neglected to render any of the characters even vaguely well, leaving it up to the lead actors to trail the crap out of their on set antics in endless promotional slots.
Rouge One at least managed to come out of the melee in pretty decent shape with some relatable and well defined characters, quirky non-starry casting (it’s Star Wars, you don’t need any big names to carry that mantle) and lovingly rendered CGI that promised to push the edges of that particular envelope a little wider open.
The franchise contender that attracted all the wrong sort of attention was the unfortunate Ghostbusters revamp. Unfortunate, not because of the all-female lead cast, which was super promising, but because after the campaign of negativity launched at it by, what would later turn out to be, highly politicised groups hell bent on all manner of derision, but because the final cut just didn’t have the guts to really go for it and light the spark that would have set the film alight. Ghostbusters also proved that Hollywood still hasn’t found a place for even the most gifted SNL alumni and that maybe they shouldn’t have been so eager to escape the confines of the small screen, especially given the small screens resurgence in representation and the respect earned in recent years.
Televisual production houses made it really hard for big screen film makers in 2016. Suddenly film makers seemed to have much less time to tell a story and the epic scale cinemas provide started to feel more burden than bonus. Film makers up to these fresh challenges to the medium managed to find pay-offs though. Arrival springs to mind here — a film that looked made for massive screens, yet had the quiet intelligence of the best indie releases — with a perfectly understated performance by Amy Adams at it’s core. Similarly, Nocturnal Animals — visceral and thrilling while you’re watching it, slightly overblown and unnecessarily weighty on reflection — benefited greatly from Adams quietly controlled portrayal of a main character unfamiliar with inner turmoil.
Another film that fits well into this quiet style of science fiction (that started a few years ago with films like Monsters and Another Earth) is Midnight Special. If you blinked you might have missed this little gem of a film about a boy with unearthly powers being protected/hunted by a pleasingly demure cast that included Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst and Adam Driver. It’s supernatural themes offset by low key choice of locations and some tense but never over wrought performances.
Elsewhere, Nicolas Winding Refn and Ben Wheatley were creating similarly free-wheeling, idiosyncratic productions (High Rise was eventually released here in Australia in 2016) abet of a much more energetic and often quite brutal manner. The Neon Demon starts with a dubious premise — writers and directors who have gamely tackled the fashion industry in the past rarely come out unscathed (apart from the ultimate insider’s critique, Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo? made by William Klein in 1966) — but succeeds in becoming a curious beast of it’s very own, not so much reflecting the pit falls of a young women’s journey to becoming a model as refracting this ludicrously hyper-glamourous creation around the screen. Whilst many Hollywood productions seek to bury the director’s style under an avalanche of studio manipulations, NWR’s Neon Demon remains uncontrolled, unfettered and all the better for it.
High Rise, on the other hand had a solid grounding — based on the J.G. Ballard novel of the same name — from which Wheatley piles high an increasingly delirious tale that escalates quickly. Unique attention to detail and retention of the 1970s setting for the film means scenes get increasingly claustrophobic as events within the housing estate escalate until implausibility becomes but a blip on this massive canvas. You may be put off visiting anytime soon but you’ll be glad you dropped by.
Links & References
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn Starring Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves → IMDb link
Directed by Ben Wheatley Starring Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons → IMDb link
Directed by Jeff Nichols Starring Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst → IMDb link
At long last typeface designers, no matter what rank, have broken away from the very recent obsession with perfecting the geometric sans as focus turned, this year, to variety and a glimpse into possible future directions via variable fonts.
An obsession that led Rudy VanderLans, demigod of digital typeface design from back at it’s birth in the early 90s, to suggest typeface designers have fallen into a type of ‘Infill-ism’ and for many others to ask if the design of typefaces had reached a saturation point. VanderLans described the term he invented — Infill-ism — back in June via the Fontstand blog, as a situation where “although the options are technically infinite, it becomes increasingly difficult to see the differences between (typeface) designs. (Designers are) left filling in the gaps and these gaps are getting smaller and smaller.” He was referring to the vast Emigre foundry back catalogue which he had recently been sorting through but others picked up on the term and expanded it to cover recent typeface design in general. As Stephen Coles noted on the Typographica blog, “There are more copycats now, and they come at a faster pace… There is more of everything. It’s just increasingly difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff”, he also added on a positivity tip that, “There are future needs we cannot fathom today. So, yes, we still need new fonts.”
Luckily, this discussion is already in the recent past (and boy, does the past moves quickly these days!). Looking back on 2016, sure, there was the now usual grab-bag of revivalists kicking around (of which Neue Kabel appears to be the most useless to date) but there was also a slew of diverse typeface releases that not only sought to create exciting, new and relevant typographic forms but also investigated new forms of font technology and models of distribution built on the back of platforms such as Github and software such as Glyphs (Wei Huang’s Work Sans being a prime example).
Ellmer Stefan found a new and totally addictive way to get his typeface explorations into the hands of eager designers with his year long experiment known as The Pyte Foundry. Every week for the year 2016 Ellmer posted a new display typeface he called a ‘fount’ via his The Pyte Foundry site — ‘founts’ being a term related to the adaptation of letterforms using modular components originating in early woodblock printing. This fount was then downloadable for a week before being archived and if you liked the typeface enough and/or found a commercial use for it, you were very politely asked to donate towards further typeface releases (or risk breaking the EULA). If you missed The Pyte Foundry in 2016 you missed the 80s-tatsic Epitome, the elegantly bonkers Alcove and hyper-expressionist Vulture. 2017 will be slightly less exciting without a regular Pyte Foundry release every week but here’s hoping Ellmer keeps up-to-date on his polished, and not-so-polished, releases for years to come.
Ellmer’s approach to type design, although radical, still referenced past technologies. If you wanted a glimpse into, either the future of typeface design or another curious blip in it’s history (o hai Multiple Masters), you needed to turn your attention to ‘Variable Fonts’. This is the name given to a new web-based technology that sets extremes (such as Light and Black, Condensed and Wide) as parameters and then tweens the data inbetween, extrapolating all additional weights as it runs. On-screen designers then chose whichever style they like from the resulting cornucopia of weights and widths via CSS encoding direct to website. This idea has been jumped on by a vast number of type foundries and resellers looking to further enforce the bridgework between font supply and on-screen development. What it means for designers is seemingly infinite choice. Whether or not this is something designers respond positively too, we’ll see sooner rather than later, as the technology to produce these ‘variable fonts’ has existed ever since those ill fated multiple master fonts were released back in 1992. In fact, Glyphs’ (the application currently setting a new standard for typeface design software) most recent update included an option to export masters as ‘Variation fonts’ ahead of their implementation as a HTML standard.
Unlike, previous years there didn’t seem to be one particular typeface that struck a chord with the majority of designers all at once (such as Meta, Akkurat and Aperçu as in previous years). Laurenz Brunner’s Circular continued to exert influence with diminishing effect. What did emerge was pockets of exciting experimentation such as at The New York Times magazine who not only put into play a whole raft of freshly commissioned fonts courtesy of A2 Type, but also continued to play with newly released and custom type style, possibly under the influence of type savvy recent recruit, Matt Willey.
Commercial Type were prolific in 2016 and diversified their catalogue with some curious new releases such as Greg Gazdowicz’s Lydian inspired, Robinson and Berton Hasebe’s Styrene. Henrik Kubel at A2 Type had a prolific year with extensive new releases the Moscow Metro and the aforementioned New York Times Magazine and well as a raft of commercial releases and updates to the A2 library. Swiss design University, éc a l, released some more student work, some of which was picked up by Ill Studio for their revamp of L’Officiel magazine. Fledgling French foundries continued to show a flair for the unconventional this year too with vivid new forms emerging from designers such as Yoann Minet at the various designers at Velvetyne collective and Production Type to name but mere smattering. UpdateDamien Gautier of Maax fame, has teamed up with a group of fellow typeface designers, such as Matthieu Cortat, to launch another innovative French type foundry named 205TF.
In this shiny, new golden age of dramatic programming — bought about by renewed competition from young, upstart media companies such as Netflix and Amazon — broadcasters continued choosing the darkest timeline to commission in 2016.
Only this year the search was on for a new vision for humanity (something better than human), or something that would help explain why we were suddenly all living in bonkers crazytown, or ways to escape into similar but not always improved dimensions.
In the search for a new entity that could take the reins from the human race and sort us out (even if we all have to die in the process) we got 2016’s break out hit of the year (along with Stranger Things), a re-imagining of Michael Crichton’s camp-tinged action adventure film from 1973, Westworld. Reborn as a deathly serious, morally dubious and epically shot series that took a lot of viewers by surprise after hearing about it’s initial premise and issues getting to screen (including the issue surrounding extras contracts and a certain clause pertaining to ‘genital-to-genital touching’). Back in 1973, the robots went against their base programming. In 2016, they were way more focused on achieving a type of higher consciousness.
2016 also saw in an excellent second season of Channel 4’s Humans. We’d already had an initial season last year (which itself was based on a Swedish series called Real Humans, first broadcast in 2012). This year our new favourite synths were back with a truck load of fresh moral ambiguities to further boggle our mere human brains. If these synths can’t sort us out by acting as our moral compasses, then no one else can. One of the most striking sequences in the popular, but not unthoughtful, series will forever be the opening titles, which mix scenes from the series with, what looks like, reportage footage of actual robotic R&D. Whereas, the most striking aspect in Westworld almost became it’s casual misogyny that bordered on becoming too frequent to be labelled mere critique. In the end though there was enough competing elements to distract viewers from this aspect… I think.
There was extra terrestrial influence in 2016, from the criminally over looked Braindead, which laid the blame for this year’s political upheaval square on the doorstep of… ants from outer space?! Each episode was so perfectly on point due to it’s consistently whip-smart writing and warmly engaging cast. Keeping pace with the series, episode-by-episode, felt like looking into a portal to a mirrored universe with similar bonkers events unfolding, only this time being instigated by said brain-ingesting alien ants. Look past it’s initial premise and you’ll find one of the smartest, thrilling, pleasingly bonkers and entirely satisfying binge watches to come along in this post-truth era.
We slipped sideways into alternative worlds in 2016 with Stranger Things, Channel Zero and The OA. Stranger Things needs little introduction as millennials, with no actual experience of living in the 80s, embraced it as a document of past times, taking great joy analysing every aspect — from character development, to the music, to how the titles were created. Luckily, as this distracted from Winona Ryder’s bizarrely unhinged ‘welcome back’ performance. Channel Zero was the SyFy network’s push to inject some credibility into it’s programming and it largely paid off by taking a story that previously lived as a sort of long-form internet meme and fleshing it out. The low key cast lending this fantastic story further authenticity. Overall, well played on Syfy’s part and promising for future stories in the series. The OA appeared at the tail end of the year as a surprise entry into Netflix’s Parthenon of left-of-centre commissions. Delayed so as not conflict with interest around Stranger Things, The OA is unlike anything else around and impossible to outline without being too spoilery. Needless to say, anyone familiar with the creators previous work will be ready to have expectations constantly in flux… and be comfortable with the idea of inter-dimensionality.
Which brings us neatly round to Charlie Brooker’s dystopian multiverse — Black Mirror. For Black Mirror’s third season the portal was pried wider open, thanks to a new deal with Netflix and an extra three episodes (with more on the way next year). With the U.S. public freshly exposed, comments on IMDb became a glorious mess — “This show hurts my heart”—regulus7000. Amongst the usual melee of human deficits when it comes to addressing technology, there was one episode that Brooker himself describes as “shiny” and “aspirational” which the trolls had trouble talking down. It episode was titled San Junipero and became the must-see of this third season, if not the whole anthology series.
Magazine publishing is emerging from a difficult, transformative period in it’s rich history as traditional audiences have given way to a fresh, young demographic who expect rigour and thoughtfulness in their titles. This has lead some publishers to adapt and those slow on the uptake to continue to flounder.
Here in Australia industry is typically several years behind in terms of international trends — which should result in foresight but rarely does. While publishers and outlets in Australia continued to mutter about ‘the end of print’ (yawn), floundering about unlearning how to produce successful magazine titles and killing off those that had managed to sustain themselves through the initial online onslaught (R.I.P. Desktop, Dolly & Cleo), overseas — Particularly in the U.K. and Germany — the independent magazine sector’s influence was finally filtering into mainstream publishing titles while the indie sector itself started to diversifying their already wide array of offers.
Magazine titles that had sustained the first wave of new indies by creating an homogenised look, feel and approach to content — influencing and emboldening one another — such as Frankie (one of Australia’s recent publishing success stories — there are many lessons to be learnt from this title that larger local publishers still ignore), Kinfolk, Cereal, Gather Journal, Apartmento — it’s a very healthy list that goes on and on — were finding themselves bumping up against newbies and revivals taking more confident, individual and brazen approaches such as the title about ‘the life of things’ — MacGuffin or the skyscraper shaped Real Review or risky, adventurous titles like Toile.
There was a quiet revolution happening in the formerly impenetrable realm of mainstream fashion titles too. A sector that is wedded to the search for ‘new’ and ‘next’ started abandoning ties to the nouveau riche ‘Boomer’ audiences that had previously sustained the luxury goods market and started to reach out to a fresher, younger ‘millennial’ audience, the same audience that had sustained the aforementioned ‘first wave’ of indie titles such as much lauded The Gentlewoman, Lula and Oh Comely to name a mere smattering. At first it was happening through subtle tweaks and editorial redesigns at titles such those initiated in 2016 at U.S. Vogue (if you look back at issues from a few years ago, there has been a move to declutter pages and create more space, a lesson learnt from the aforementioned indie titles and a style seen as key to attracting youthful audiences), U.K. Elle and InStyle.
The end of 2016 saw the balance tipped towards younger, more thoughtful and unfussy readers by established fashion titles looking to renew their audiences such the Paris and Italia editions of L’Officiel. L’Officiel is a title with a long history dating back to the 1920s that has been quietly extending it’s global reach without creating any massive waves until very recently with the hire of art direction teams, ARPA for L’Officiel Italia — who gave the title and complete refresh more akin to something from the Fantastic Man stable of titles rather than anything traditionally associated with mainstream fashion titles — and Ill Studio for the mothership, Paris L’Officiel (or to give it it’s full title L’Officiel de la Couture et de la Mode de Paris) who have only just started reinvigorating and refocusing this edition and are already sending ripples of influence to it’s many international editions, going against the Boomer set standards previously applied to this sector in favour of something that looks and feels appropriate to a much younger, and often more sophisticated audience.
At this stage it’s worth mentioning W magazine too which has embarked on a similar journey into uncharted territory with varying degrees of success so far. In what many are seeing as some sort of existential crisis, the team at W, in the last quarter of the year, have been producing a number of special issues that either give up editorial control to some interesting choices of creatives (Terry Jones, formerly of i-D and bonkers video artist Ryan Trecartin to name a couple) or mess with the physical format of the publication (their male on one side, female on the other, flippable issue was pretty bizarre). These recent releases also feature a new masthead, design refresh and spanky new typefaces produced exclusively for the title by Commercial Type.
European titles were well serviced by a wide range of events this year such as the QVED Editorial Design conference held in Münich. Another German event — Indiecon — featured included their very own Indie Mag Day. There was MagCulture’s The Modern Magazine conference now also in it’s second year alongside a slew of new book and magazine fairs. MacGuffin picked up Best magazine at the increasingly illustrious Stack Awards in London towards the end of the year, alongside a who’s who of current indie publishing titles. All this bodes exceedingly well for magazine publishing in general, whether of not the ripples from this activity will be enough to save the Australian magazine publishing industry — and what will be left when they get here — only time will tell.