Vivienne Tam Fall 2013: Cultural devolution

It seems that for every Vivienne Tam collection that delights, there is another that disappoints. The designer consistently mines the murky terrain between culture and caricature, offering up forms of Chinoiserie that can be inspired at best and essentialist at worst. Coming from other hands, such work might be dismissed as stereotype-peddling. Coming from the beloved Chinese designer, it becomes cause for much hand-wringing and message-parsing.

Alas, no amount of wringing and parsing can mitigate the deficits of this collection. The designer lists punk and Pop Art as core influences, and it’s easy to follow her that far: slashes of black leather invade demure red shift dresses, and a clever print featuring a Mao-ized Obama pops up on silk jackets, sweaters and skirts. But on the whole, the collection feels hackneyed, almost cynical. Belted shifts, turtlenecks in black and cream, separates emblazoned with Chinese calligraphy, strong square pockets on dresses and coats that recall Red Guard uniforms: all fine, all wearable. But where’s the design?

The references to the Cultural Revolution feel overboiled – and indeed, as any casual observer of her work can attest, Tam’s dipped a spoon into that stew many, many a time. This Fall 2013 collection may be a reminder that any stew left to simmer too long reduces until the spoon sticks to the bottom.

Photos: Vivienne Tam Fall 2013
all photos by Bibs Teh / Meniscus Magazine