He came last, but not least. If anything, he was too much, outrageous, all that gold ‘n glitter and scarlet velvet. “He realized he had no idea whether it was hysteria or love.” This private dilemma frames the opening of Milan Kundera’s epic novel Unbearable Lightness of Being and I found myself caught up in it watching Prague-based designer Jiri Kalfar close the fall-winter 2017 season of Mercedes Benz Kiev Fashion Days. Not to measure all things Czech by a Kundera gravitas standard, but Kalfar’s call for (fashion) revolution could not be silenced or ignored. The collection had all my favorite ingredients for a disaster: unabashed theatricality, flirtatious militarism, faux fur. And yet… [Continued after the gallery]
Two months on, I am still unreconciled, fascinated, engaged. Because it worked. His references to fin-de-siècle imperial parade uniforms seem less like nostalgic illustrations from an Austro-Hungarian or Prussian style manual and more like something insta-paparazzi would catch Sergei Polunin, ballet’s reigning badboy, wearing out and about in London, New York, Shanghai or wherever his globetrotting pointe-shoed feet would take him. Kalfar is a former dancer (or is it: once a dancer, always a dancer?) so his commitment to freedom in movement is evident in the cuts and layering. I especially appreciated the layering (except a ruffled coda dress where it pushed the look into the stage costume domain). The slim shortened pantsuits were dynamic, epaulet-less shoulders well-fitting, even the faux fur trim did not impede the assured strut. Which brought me from Milan Kundera to Bruce Springsteen, that other poet of ordinary rebellion.
“You can’t start a fire / Sitting ’round worrying about your little world falling apart / You can’t start a fire without a spark / This gun’s for hire / Even if we’re just dancing in the dark…” Kalfar’s collection is that Springsteen spark in the abyss of industry pressures, (de)motivating self-talk, and bewildering zeitgeist. It’s what fashion at its best can do: give one a nudge in the direction of Hope. Call is hysteria or love, but Jiri Kalfar’s is one revolution you can dance at.