At the Schiaparelli show during Paris couture week, the robot baby carried by Maggie Maurer may have stolen the show, but a shirt collar with a pencil pushed through its corners added a subtler shade of surrealism.
A gown from AZ Factory’s collection extended the idea even further, with what looked like a silver curtain rod running from shoulder to shoulder.
What are we to make of these pierced pieces?
There’s something a teeny, tiny bit violent at play: the fabric is being stabbed, after all. Valerie Steele, the director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, sees inspiration from the punk movement of the 1970s.
“Safety pins were piercing skin and fabric, which was of course seen as very, very aggressive,” she said. Since then, Vivienne Westwood and Versace have recast the safety pin as high fashion objects. On Sunday, Miley Cyrus walked the runway at the Grammys wearing a Maison Margiela Artisanal gown fashioned from a reported 14,000 safety pins.
Steele sees an even earlier antecedent in the fibula, a metallic accessory used to hold garments together with origins as early as seventh century B.C.E. “Of course, the punks didn’t know that,” Steele said.
The stabbed collars of today are also an homage to craft. The designers are showing their work.
The Schiaparelli pencil and the Loewe dress pin both add design tools to a finished garment. Long rods like the one in the AZ Factory gown aren’t usually dressmaker’s tools, but foregrounding the work the rod performs in supporting the garment could be a hat-tip to the processes that make design possible.
It also nods to the Bob Mackie curtain rod dress Carol Burnett wore in her “Gone With the Wind” parody that aired on television in 1976, which was itself a heightened joke about O’Hara’s determination to eke beauty from adversity.
The Schiaparelli collar has an even clearer precursor in a shirt made by the artist Pippa Garner that was photographed by Tim Street-Porter in 1987. The photo features the artist wearing a men’s shirt with a pencil pushed through the tips of its collar. Garner’s work frequently touches on how gender and identity can be built and deconstructed.
Garner was happy that her creation has found a new iteration. “It has spawned another version of itself and maybe that one will do the same in another couple of decades,” she said. “I think it’s fine, I have no objection to it. I consider it, if anything, flattering.”
Garner said that once she’s completed a piece, she doesn’t think much of it. “Once it’s done, I hang it on a hanger, put it in a closet and find another one.”
This is not just a figure of speech. While researching a biography of the artist, Fiona Duncan found the shirt, pencil and all, hanging in Garner’s closet.
“I think it’s very much the creator signing their work,” Duncan said of the pencil through the collar, adding that surrealism has informed the work of both Garner and Schiaparelli.
The giant pin from Loewe is part of a tradition of designers using the construction process as a reference in their finished garments.
Martin Margiela drew heavily on stitches, linings and unfinished edges in his work, embodying what the Belgian designer Linda Loppa once described as an “aesthetic of the unfinished.”
None of these looks appear unfinished, but each has a glaring reminder of the hand that created it. Without the pencil, there’s no sketch. Without the pin, there’s no stitch. Without the rod, the dress falls down.
Remove the human and the art goes away. A fitting reminder for 2024.
A previous version of this article misspelled the first name of designer Vivienne Westwood. The article has been corrected.