Fashion is a transformative experience: dressing up can indeed radically change our looks, but also make us feel empowered (cosplayers may not be strictly fashionistas, but they do know this principle very well).
Art-wise Cindy Sherman is considered as a master of disguise who uses costumes and make-up to transform her body and step into the life of other people, creating fictional characters - from high society women, to Renaissance ladies or professional clowns. A chameleon-like artist, Sherman uses her body to present a photographic depiction of a woman and tell through her uncoventional stories.
The artist is not new to the fashion world: she did a series of postcards for Comme des Garçons in 1994; starred in campaigns for Marc Jacobs and M.A.C., and collaborated with brands such as Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton, while she has often been mentioned as an inspiration by designers like Raf Simons (nowadays she sits in the front row of shows such as Calvin Klein's).
Last March Sherman also appeared in the pages of Harper's Bazaar in a shoot entitled "Project Twirl", consisting in exploring a series of female stereotypes, street-style icons you may see "twirling" outside fashion shows, clad in the latest designs, smiling to the photographers.
It was therefore only natural that Undercover's Jun Takahashi turned to Sherman as inspiration for his S/S 18 collection, showcased in the ballroom of the Grand Hotel during Paris Fashion Week.
The designer met her a few years ago in Tokyo and they became friends. They must be pretty close since a selection of Sherman's self-portraits from her famous "Untitled" series and including also the "Untitled Film Stills" created between 1977 and 1980, were incorporated in a few designs such as oversized shirtdresses (in a style reminiscent of Nirvana's black and white fan T-shirts), jackets and pants.
In some cases Takahashi took one element - such as Sherman's red thick grotesque lips from her Candy portrait - and repeated the motif in sequins on a mini-dress.
Formal party dresses with a '50s silhouette also incorporated Sherman's portraits (one image was taken from Comme des Garçons' campaign, a reference to the fact that Rei Kawakubo has supported Takahashi from the early days). In these cases the photographs were surrounded by an ornately Baroque frame.
Though they came in eye-catching strong colours that included blood red and vivid purple, the clothes weren't incredibly new when it came to silhouettes, for example the skirts had a '50s retro shape and they were matched with cropped satin bomber jackets; there were wide-legged trousers combined with striped shirts, sensible cardigans and blouses and pink and blue denim ensembles. Accessories featured cute picnic basket-shaped bags with ominous black cats on top of them.
The alphabetical brooches on some of the garments revealed more about them, some jackets and dresses were indeed identified with the letters "A" and "B".
They could have been references to Sherman's Untitled A, B, C and D head shots, part of a series of photographs she made while she was studying art at the State University College at Buffalo, New York (1972-6), but there was more behind them.
All the designs were indeed modelled by girls in sets of two, holding their hands: one girl donned the "A" dress/suit, the other the "B" design.
The garments looked similar for shape and cut but not for what regarded fabrics, colours and embellishments. When you studied the looks you realised indeed that one design was the opposite of the other: there was a print of a day scene on one side and the same landscape at night on the other; a blue dress was juxtaposed to a red and black leopard print.
A model wearing a polo with a silhouette of the monster from the black lagoon on a nuclear floral print background was accompanied by her twin sister in a furry red shirtdress; a white and minimalist coatdress was matched with a blood red ruffled dress. The collection proceeded therefore by dichotomies – plain Vs printed, flat Vs three-dimensional and so on.
Most models also wore oversized pearl earrings, but one twin had perfectly round pearls on her ears; the other was wearing dented and ruined pearls.
Fine, you may say, the designer was hinting through these very fashionable twins at the duality behind Sherman's work or at the fact that we all have more than one side. Yet there was another layer there, a very surprising one - every piece from this collection is indeed completely reversible and that was when things became clearer, more intriguing and maybe more complicated at the level of pattern.
This key technical twist (a reference maybe to the reversible jackets in Comme des Garçons' S/S 18 menswear collection?) gave indeed a completely new and refreshing meaning to this two-faced collection that closed with a spooky vision: creepy identical girls in the blue baby doll dresses of the Grady twins in Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining", but one dress was decorated with fringes and red crystals drops that symbolised blood.
There seems to be a trend for horror as seen also on Calvin Klein's runway at New York Fashion Week, but in this case the idea that the designs - from practical pant suits to elegant ball gowns - were reversible, was a fashion rather than a horror thrill (a rare thing nowadays...), offering wearers the possibility to tell more than one story with one garment.
As for the arty references in this collection, most designers use artworks as a drunkard may use a lamppost, Takahashi gave more meaning to this collaboration, letting it go deeper into the layers of the designs and seep into the patterns.
In one image from Sherman's Harper's Bazaar shoot the artist ironically appeared duplicated in a Miu Miu-wearing kitschly fashionable twin pair: who knows, maybe this image was the trigger for this collection of disturbing doubles that could have been called "Project Twin" rather than "Project Twirl".