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The Sheer Joy and Playfulness of Fashion is Back, and the Latest Seasons Prove It


When JW Anderson sent whimsical, surreal stilettos down his SS22 Loewe runway, it was a harbinger of seasons to come. With heels ostensibly made from bars of soap, nail polish bottles, birthday candles, or cracked eggs, Anderson ushered in a new era. Fashion was ready to have fun again. “In a weird way, I wanted the collection to be hysterical,” the designer said. “So that there’s a tension. Because this is a strange moment.” The shift to joy has continued into the latest seasons as well. While the world was walking on eggshells navigating one dumpster fire after the next, the runways twisted the narrative, bringing much-needed levity not only to our wardrobes, but the discourse as a whole. Yes, fashion is a specific lens through which to view culture, and it provides direction, creativity, and identity – but it can also be an escape and a source of joy and humor.


No one understood this better than Alessandro Michele, erstwhile Gucci creative director. His flights of fancy took the brand to unimaginable new heights, with his quirky accessories and modern aesthetic driving unprecedented growth. His decision to step down sent shockwaves through the industry – who would bring the whimsy now? Who would have the chutzpah to enlist 68 pairs of twins to stage a mirror-image runway show? At that same SS23 show, Gucci showcased stuffed-animal handbags in the form of Gremlins, those destructive little monsters from the namesake 1984 black comedy. The furry faces also made an appearance on shoes, while further amusing nods could be found in bejeweled teddy bear bags and bold graphics. Gucci is not the only brand blasting open the doors to the fun house. At Moschino, creative director Jeremy Scott took the anxiety of the age – inflation – and turned it on its head by literally inflating anything from accessories to the iconic Moschino heart. Nearly every look of its SS23 ready-to-wear show featured an inflatable detail, from lapels to hemlines, or just half a jacket. “No matter what is going on, we have to save space for joy, right? The darker it is, the lighter I have to be,” Scott explains of his playful touches, like pool floaties attached to dresses and skirts and life rafts worn as hats. Interspersing the looks were Scott’s signature cartoonish prints on dresses, thigh-high boots, and long gloves, emphasizing that this mood is more than a metaphor – playfulness is a 2023 vibe.


An irreverent sense of fun in fashion has always been closely associated with the iconoclasts of the genre, from Elsa Schiaparelli to Franco Moschino, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Vivienne Westwood. Designers who took clothing seriously, but never themselves. Their non-conformist views introduce freshness and vitality in what can sometimes be a self-important industry, filled with ego and exclusivity. Injecting a shot of knowing mirth is a smart way of subverting sartorial norms – and catching consumers’ attention. “Humor must be a natural part of clothing,” once said Gaultier. The first major designer to bring tongue-in-cheek fun and thoughtfulness to clothes was, of course, Schiaparelli herself. In stark contrast to her polished and precise rival Coco Chanel, Schiaparelli worked with the surrealist artists of the 1930s to create lighthearted pieces like her shoe hat, a collaboration with Salvador Dalí. Following in her unconventional footsteps, current Schiaparelli creative director Daniel Roseberry’s SS23 ready-to-wear collection presented handbags that walked a fine line between Man Ray’s Les Amourreux (A L’Heure De L’Observatoire) and Mr Potato Head. A nod to history wrapped up in a witticism – amusement at its smartest.

Agatha Ruiz De La Prada

With a mantra of “all I want to do is play,” Lebanese brand Jeux De Mains is also bringing joy back to fashion. This is achieved by its liberal use of jaunty polka dots on oversized jackets, pants, and scarves, primary-bright colors making voluminous sleeves pop even more, and comically long shirt ties. Even Beyoncé got in on the fun, wearing a pastel pink and blue Jeux De Mains suit, its wave lines running across matching opera gloves. “I believe fashion is a space for people to create, dream, and step outside this world,” says founder and creative director Salim Cherfane. ”For me, design is an invitation to play – an opportunity to bring out the inner child.” Bringing fun into your own wardrobe doesn’t mean dressing like a clown. Considered details like unexpected colors worn together, interesting proportions, and amusing elements like a tongue-in-cheek bag or a gleeful hat will bring a smile to your face. “Ultimately, though, it’s about offsetting the negativity – of breaking through the surface into a ray of sunshine, even when the rest of the water is shadowed in gray,” Scott said of his playful SS23 take. “That’s where joy may be found.”


Originally published in the February 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia

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