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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Tommy x Gigi – an outdated vanity project?

There is no denying that the new Gigi Hadid collection's glossy take on grunge is cool, but it ultimately fails to surprise or entertain Viveka Herzum

For a collection titled “Rock Circus”, there was very little fantasy in the third season of Gigi Hadid’s collaboration with classic American brand Tommy Hilfiger. The show, held at The Roundhouse in London, opened on a darkened ring resembling a circus tent complete with acrobats, silks performers, and a David Bowie soundtrack – arguably the more fanciful elements of the entire show. The democratic layout of the room and the catwalk, winding up and around the various levels of seating, offered a large number of attendants the possibility of a front row view and had the dual function of guaranteeing a higher level of participation to most of its public, whilst maximising its social media appeal.

From the very first moments of the runway, the focus was clear: as poster girl and one half of the collaboration, this show belonged to Hadid. Despite Gigi and her younger siblings opening the show themselves, the cast of models was surprisingly diverse, including both well known icons of days past and members of the ‘new guard’ who helped populate the show with Instragram-famous faces, including Joan Smalls, Presley Gerber, Lucky Blue Smith, and Hailey Baldwin.

There is no denying that this collection is “cool.” Hadid sells a glossy incarnation of grunge, distilled and curated to edgy teen perfection. But this is not a collection that will shock or inspire—rather, it will slip straight from the runway onto street style blogs and Instagram feeds as a glorified version of what Hadid’s own personal style. Instead of making the show feel comfortable and more human, the recognisable nature of these looks leave the audience too entrenched in the realm of the familiar to find excitement. Hadid’s well-documented taste for athleisure and for street style is repeatedly represented in mesh leggings, layered turtlenecks, and graphic hoodies. When this is combined with the heavy 90s influence in the puffer coats, tartans, mesh, and oversized cardigans, the collection successfully sells the audience a packaged portrait of rich kids playing rock and roll. Somehow, however much we may try to resist, we still want to be them, or at least look like them. These clothes may not be clever, but they are charming, approachable, and have mass appeal.

The ambiguously “Rock-Sport” aesthetic with punk and Britpop influence marks a new direction for Hilfiger and Hadid, both known for their preppy, all-American approach. But while this may be tougher and edgier, it’s still a breezy and heavily curated take on the sleeker, palatable elements of movements that were all about rebellion. As expected, Hilfiger heritage demanded a recurring red and blue colour scheme and a distinct varsity flavour to the thigh high socks, bomber jackets, and track pants. All in all, it makes Season 3 a natural progression that walks the line between foreign and familiar by both leaning into and subverting the prepster vibe the brand holds dear.

Although this season was a slight departure from the norms of their ongoing collaboration, it didn’t feel brand new to its audience, with heavy resemblances to Hedi Slimane’s luxe-grunge approach to Saint Laurent A/W 2013. Even the, reception was similar: now, just as back then, the baby doll dresses, embellished fishnets, and oversize cardigans screamed young and cool but were largely criticised for lacking in innovation. The difference is that, at the time, the 90s hadn’t yet woven their way back into the mainstream. Slimane’s collection was successful largely because, like the majority of his work, it was controversial and preserved the anarchy of the movements that inspired it. Four years later, a similar aesthetic can no longer claim the polarising effect it did in 2013, and therefore loses even the accolade of subversion. Like Saint Laurent’s show, Tommy x Gigi Season 3 reinforced the idea of a hip LA A-lister playing at youthful rebellion by borrowing its look without reimagining. Hadid dressed the ‘it-girl’ of today in her own image, without wondering what she might want to wear tomorrow.

Despite the lack of any blatant missteps, only a few pieces – namely the floor length plaid overcoat worn by Gigi herself, a sequined blazer, and an androgynous blue and white striped oversized menswear sweater – managed to break the glossy department-store luster of the collection. The looks were largely approachable, versatile, and, most significantly, marketable, but they did very little to leave a lasting impression. To their credit, Tommy X Gigi have never pretended to be high fashion, and have sat comfortably in their aesthetic accessibility, even releasing most of the pieces online before the show to maximise its reach and increase their commercial value. But while this marketing focus as a brand justifies the lack of an avant-garde influence, it cannot compensate for its lack of creativity. There is no ambiguity in the collaboration’s intention: this is a show meant to sell, sell, sell.

It is clear from the outset that much of the collection was designed as glorified merch for a Gigi Hadid-led band that doesn’t exist, continuing a trend of young models and artists borrowing from 70s metal groups and 90s hip hop artists to amplify their own brand. Those “Gigi Hadid Tour 2017” tops may be cute, but they’re overdone, even considering Tommy Hilfiger’s long and complicated history with the music industry. Initially the street style trend of merchandise reinterpretation may have been clever, or at least light-spirited. But, it has increasingly revealed the potential for young moguls to claim something not their own, commodifying an aesthetic without deference to the hard work or the culture that produced it (see, for example, the Jenner sisters and their appropriation of rappers’ graphics and images for their own self-promotion). Unlike the Jenners’, Hadid’s take wasn’t directly problematic, but it feeds into the very same phenomenon.

Without a doubt, Hadid is a powerful businesswoman, building her personal brand while slowly establishing credibility in an environment that continually seeks to undermine her legitimacy as a model and as a creative mind. But, for all its polish and marketability, the collection lacked freshness and was symptomatic of a more general shift in our approach to fashion. The clothes, images, and ideology of a designer, particularly on newer labels building a following through social media, no longer play the primary role in defining their brand. Rather, brands have become the people themselves, relying more on an extreme incarnation of a muse and thus on an individual’s appeal than on an artistic vision. Tommy x Gigi is not selling clothes, it’s selling Gigi Hadid.

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