Wearing Sunglasses at Night, Alone in Your Room
In 2020, fashion moved almost entirely online. It reinstalled hope.
Still from Collina Strada's GucciFest video via YouTube.
In February, I went to fashion week in person for the last time. The memories I have are fractured. I mostly remember what I ate in between shows: a fried chicken sandwich in SoHo, some cheap sushi near the World Trade Center. I still had long hair. I remember feeling tired, that my feet were bleeding, and being packed into tight spaces with a lot of people. I liked going to shows. I liked playing dress up. I liked watching people watch other people, it felt like a sport. When fashion week went online this spring, I think I felt sad in the way that I felt sad about punk venues closing and the fact that I couldn’t go to the movies as an excuse to not check my phone for three hours because I was anxious. I love doing things where I can be a spectator of what other people are doing. I felt a little tinge of nostalgia because I find it thrilling to watch other people consume art even if it’s a shoe or a third opener in a small club.
As the first digital fashion week began to unfold, I realized that I was met with another form of nostalgia, the feeling of being a teenager and watching fashion week livestreams from my bedroom. While I loved the feeling of being a sardine flapping around in a tin with a bunch of people on their iPhones, what I realized I loved even more was watching fashion unfold around me in private. If I felt at all jaded from understanding the mechanics of how the industry worked, this was an antidote. I loved not being watched. I loved looking like shit while intellectualizing dresses and trenches. At its best, digital fashion week felt more real, a reflection of these times, a delicate balancing act between utopia and apocalypse, a dream and a nightmare, a nose dive into an uncanny valley.
I think it really started with Gucci. Specifically that note that Alessandro Michele posted on his Instagram account announcing that he’d only be presenting twice a year. What followed was a 12-hour livestream of the photo shoot for the brand’s resort 2021 collection, I managed to watch a little under two hours. No real action took place then, just models making micro adjustments, the sound of the camera shutter going off, and the soft, endless babble of Italian summer. It wouldn’t be off-base to say what I watched was boring, but that seemed to be the point. The thesis of the livestream was to prove how monotonous the onslaught of fashion can be, to illustrate how making things beautiful involves tedious, mind-numbing precision. Later in the year, for Gucci’s pre fall collection, Michele unveiled something a little more tangibly engaging: a film festival. Directed by Gus Van Sant, the seven-part mini series featured cameos from celebrities like Billie Eilish and Harry Styles, as well as cool people and intellectuals like the queer theorist Paul Preciado, performance artist Silvia Calderoni, and the playwright Jeremy O. Harris.
Gucci Fest also spawned a few short films featuring up and coming designers. My favorites included the sugar-high, video-game-roleplay-inspired clip by Collina Strada, and the stunning, documentarian exploration of Black joy by Ahluwalia. In the Collina Strada video, avatars of models wear bodysuits while jumping through a saturated pastoral landscapes full of flowers, fish, and glaciers. 8-bit pop music plays in the background, and on the side of the screen there’s a chat box where models in their fully human forms compliment each other while wearing bedazzled headphones. In the Ahluwalia video, we see a slice of Black life in London: families eating and cooking together, young women boxing, men working out outside, and people of all ages celebrating being alive. The clothes are stunning. There are suits in jewel tones, dresses made of soft velvets, and workout gear that could easily move from the gym to the club or the kitchen. It’s beautiful to watch. Both videos couldn’t be more different, but the effect they had on me was the same. I felt excited and hopeful to see young designers in their element, and to have their work amplified by a major design house.
My absolute favorite digitized fashion experience was literally everything Demna Gvasalia did at Balenciaga: the video for summer pre-collection and the video game for fall. Balenciaga’s summer pre-collection video reimagined Paris touched by both 19th century, romantic misery, and future-focused, not quite dystopian energy. The clothes struck a balance between utilitarianism and also something you’d wear to a nightclub: lots of technical fabrics and oversized silhouettes, the occasional evening dress in an alluringly drab cool tone, the kind of stuff the toughest, meanest Russian grandfather would wear while playing shuffleboard. The music in the video is excellent, a darkwave cover of “Sunglasses At Night,” recorded by Gvasalia’s husband, Loïk Gomez. You’d be tempted to call the video bleak, and it is, but it’s also playful, tinged with irony. Gvasalia’s video game was by far the most innovative digitized fashion experience, a sort of haute re-imagination of Minecraft wherein you must do breathing exercises and walk through empty brutalist malls. It was once again an accurate reflection of our times. All I ever do these days is sit on my computer, work, and occasionally browse clothes that I never end up buying. The video game then was a mirror to my exact existence.
So often this year friends have asked me what I’ll do when all of this is over. Usually I’ll say that I want to go shows again, have strangers breathe on my neck, get the wind knocked out of my chest and have someone spill beer on me while a shitty band plays in the foreground. I’ll also say that what I really want to do is finger a silk blouse, fondle a dress with an Edwardian neckline, breathe in a pair of leather mules. Go people-watch at movie theaters and in front of fashion shows. Eat a slice of pizza while I’m walking to therapy. Hug my best friend. Think about how funny it was that for a brief period of time it was so quotidian to have someone in full medical battle armor skull-fuck me with a Q-tip.
I don’t know what will happen in fashion. I wonder if after all of this is over we’ll go back to the rank and file of seasons and catwalk shows, if our digitized 2020 will be remembered as one note on a hard drive, a nightmare on a circuit board, a terrible collective experience to be filed away and forgotten about. The past nine months I’ve watched videos and simulations of clothes in my bedroom reminded me why I ever cared about fashion in the first place. I remember when I was fifteen, waiting for my screen to light up with thirty or forty girls walking in a straight line wearing neon-colored mini dresses. Everything felt endlessly possible then, I know it does now.