French high schoolers may have faced their philosophical riddle earlier this month at the Baccalauréat, but fashion class was in session at Walter Van Beirendonck where the mind-bender of the season was titled "Electric Eye," no doubt a reference to the Judas Priest song. If last season he spelled it loud and clear to those trying to instill terror in the world, this season his commentary seemed to circle back to last year's CCTV operations and the fear mongers who might abuse the protection people clamor for. Van Beirendonck has long instilled deep messages in his collections. Recently, the intrusion of prying entities has been on the table. Despite the titular eye looking more like Mike Wazowski than Sauron, its powers are no less to be feared. Like those living under the unrelenting eye of totalitarian regimes, the Belgian is fearless in his opposition of the status-quo, yet cautious in delivering subversion carefully wrapped in apparently innocuous sweetness. As radical as he is in the message, he never loses track of his chosen medium, clothes.
So there was much trompe-l'oeil going on, in shapes that challenged initial appraisal, and right down to minute details. If the hats played into the shadowy imagery of the Watchmen's Rorschach, contrasting panels akimbo on the silhouette, sometimes even protruding into space, the shoes, either surrounded with extraneous bobbles or with toes formed into the leather upper, furthered the naive imagery proffered by colorful prints. Other prints looked designed to confuse the watchful spy, with their Op Art assortments of squares and circles. A blazer, expertly rid of unnecessary panels, looked like a business-appropriate breastplate. Latex t-shirts, meanwhile, gave the impression of bare skin but showed nothing.
Beyond the mind games, Van Beirendonck likes to be playful. He mixed childhood prints – one featuring the eye frolicking gaily with other characters – with classic menswear fabrics, artfully splicing them with his masterful tailoring. How else could he have rendered so perfectly the contrasting silhouettes that stood out from his opening silhouettes? Or the clouds along the hem of a later jacket? Few have the brains and technical brawn to deliver as well as he. Sitting in the audience, it is tempting to give in to the questions that arise from Van Beirendonck's underlying reflection. But that would be doing his marvellous garments a disservice.
The final group featured monochrome silhouettes, almost overpowered by the accompanying feathered headgear – the same Stephen Jones hats as previously, only decked with distractingly beautiful coifs. From the front, the models look like camouflaged insects. Perhaps the designer was reminding us that there is always more than meets the eye and certainly more than any all-seeing oculus could ever keep simultaneous tabs on, particularly if it is busy decrypting the graphic richness of a WVB collection.