Thursday 11 April 2024

Iconic Prints, Modern Flair: Pucci's Spring/Summer 2024 Collection in Rome

Eva Herzigová and Mariacarla Boscono at a historic palace in Rome for Pucci's SS24 collection
Set against the backdrop of a 16th century Roman palazzo, Pucci's new Spring/Summer 2024 collection, added a touch of brilliant colour and pattern to the historic building. Artistic director, Camille Miceli, brought along Nineties supermodels Christy Turlington and Eva Herzigová to wear her new designs. Isabella Rossellini closed the runway show in a vividly hued confection that exuded a bold, modern style capturing the designer’s skillful fusion of heritage and innovation, writes Antonio Visconti 

Designer Camille Miceli with models from 
her show, including Christy Turlington, 
Eva Herzigová and Mariacarla Boscono.

In the world of Italian fashion, Emilio Pucci signifies audacious pattern and a certain louche midcentury aesthetic that is particularly in mode now.

The latest collection, shown in Rome, called Very Vivara, not only paid homage to the brand's iconic Vivara print but also marked a significant milestone with Camille Miceli's second runway show as the house's artistic director.

The setting at Rome's historic Palazzo Altemps, added a note of grandeur and history to the occasion. Christy Turlington opened the show and brought a dash of natural glamour wearing little make-up except a dark, burgundy lipstick and sporting a long, black caftan embellished with Pucci motifs. Overall, the eclectic fusion of heritage designs with contemporary interpretations set the tone for a collection that exuded both chutzpa and an urbane modernity. 

Isabella Rossellini's return to the runway in another historic Pucci print was a moment of nostalgia and celebration. Her connection to the brand, dating back to a photo shoot in 1990, resonates with the Italian label's enduring legacy as a favorite among celebrities and fashionistas.

At the finale of the show, 
Isabella Rosselllini with 
Pucci's artistic director 

As the rippling waters of the Mediterranean inspired the Vivara print, the collection echoed the organic and geometric beauty of nature, intertwined with Pucci's signature vivacity.

The print is a symbol of Emilio Pucci's connection to the sea and the picturesque island of Vivara, near Capri. Miceli's reinterpretation of the design breathes new life into the motif, infusing it with an allure to captivate a new audience.

From designs that would work in the city to beachwear, the collection demonstrated a masterful remix of classic motifs, accentuated by three defining prints of this season: Cigni, Bersaglio, and Chiave. These prints, along with the enduring presence of Pesci and Iride, painted a vibrant spectrum of colors and patterns, from aquatic blues to floral hues.

The silhouettes presented a harmonious blend of sophistication and playfulness. Foulard-style silk dresses, ensembles in gabardine with print inlays, and asymmetric tops and skirts reflect a novel spirit.

Embellishments such as all-over paillette embroidery, leather accents, and chain details add a touch of luxury. The accessories complemented the collection's themes such as the sandals outlined with leaves and elegant bags, featuring Pucci scarf detailing and chain straps. 

Camille Miceli's long design experience plus her fresh creative vision ensured this Pucci collection was a successful blend of reinvigorated historic prints and a cosmopolitan, contemporary aesthetic. 

Scroll down to see the full SS24 Pucci collection in Rome

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Monday 8 April 2024

Australian Writers have been Envisioning AI for a Century. Here are Five Stories to Read as We Grapple with Rapid Change


By Leah Henrickson, The University of Queensland; Catriona Mills, The University of Queensland; David Tang, The University of Queensland, and Maggie Nolan, The University of Queensland

Australians are nervous about AI. Efforts are underway to put their minds at ease: advisory committees, consultations and regulations. But these actions have tended to be reactive instead of proactive. We need to imagine potential scenarios before they happen.

Of course, we already do this – in literature.

There is, in fact, more than 100 years’ worth of Australian literature about AI and robotics. Nearly 2,000 such works are listed in the AustLit database, a bibliography of Australian literature that includes novels, screenplays, poetry and other kinds of literature.

These titles are often overlooked in policy-driven conversations. This is a missed opportunity. Literature both reflects and influences thinking about its subjects. It is a rich source of insights into social attitudes, imagined scenarios and what “responsible” technology looks like.

As part of an ongoing project, we are creating a comprehensive list of Australian literature about AI and robots. Here are five Australian literary works of particular relevance to national conversations about AI.

The Automatic Barmaid

The Automatic Barmaid is a short story by Ernest O’Ferrall, who wrote under the pen name “Kodak”. Like his contemporaries Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson, Kodak was best known as a writer of comedic bush stories.

Ernest O Ferrall (1881-1925). Robin M. Cale/National Library of Australia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This particular story was published in The Bulletin in 1917 and is available for online reading through Trove.

The story concerns an automaton named Gwennie, who at first seems too good to be true, as she is cheaper and more efficient than a human barmaid. But Gwennie soon causes trouble by getting stuck on problems that humans could easily solve, like not realising a bottle is empty.

The Automatic Barmaid is a humorous depiction of robots as tempting and cheap but not always suitable replacements for human labour. It is no coincidence the story was published in 1917, just before the Great Strike: the culmination of waves of strikes that occurred during the first World War.

One of the triggers for the Great Strike was the use of time and motion studies, especially by rails and tram companies, in which workers’ activities were timed to evaluate performance. Gwennie would have performed perfectly in these studies.

Today, most Australians do not trust AI in the workplace, particularly when it comes to HR tasks like monitoring, evaluation, and recruitment. The Automatic Barmaid shows how persistently sceptical we have been about our technologies over the last century, and how much we value human workers’ adaptability and resilience.

Most Australians do not trust AI in the workplace. Shutterstock

The Successors

A. Bertram Chandler was a sailor turned science-fiction writer, who published prolifically from the mid-1940s, particularly in his Rim Worlds series.

His 1957 short story The Successors begins with a general and a professor meeting while their planet – presumably Earth – is under attack from an unknown race of invaders. These two characters initially seem to be humans at some point in the future, but they are later revealed to be part of a race of robots that overthrew humanity.

The robots have enslaved the humans who once enslaved them. The professor muses that, in the end, the humans and the robots are not so different after all.

A. Bertram Chandler (1912-1984). Hachette Australia.

The Successors explores an as yet unachieved scenario. It imagines Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). Most current AI systems are what we call “narrow”, and can only complete a limited number of tasks in specific areas. For example, a chess-playing AI could not be expected to make investment recommendations.

We are, however, moving towards AGI: AI systems that can complete a wide range of tasks across various areas. A robot that can walk around, speak and overthrow humanity would be an example of AGI.

Australian MP Julian Hill has spoken openly about the risks and benefits of AGI, arguing that “action by governments to grapple with the impact of AGI is now urgent”.

Although many people believe that AGI is still a long way into the future, thinking about extreme future scenarios, like the one in The Successors, can help us identify where we might need to mitigate risk. These scenarios can also give us insight into our present concerns about technology, inviting us to consider what we are afraid of and why.

Moon in the Ground

Keith Antill’s novel Moon in the Ground was published by pioneering Australian science fiction press Norstrilia in 1979. It is about an extraterrestrial AI that can adapt its physical form to its environment.

This AI is discovered near Alice Springs by American FBI agents, who try to train it for militaristic use on a nearby base. A struggle between the Americans and the Australians ensues, with both trying to harness the power of the AI for their own political aims.

The novel is a response to the political climate of the time. When it was published, the Cold War was ongoing. In the story, the US is depicted as paranoid about communism and desperate for global power.

Moon in the Ground speaks to the longstanding connections between defence and robotics, autonomous systems and AI – connections that Australia is now looking to strengthen.

It also illustrates the connection between technology and political power: a connection that Antill, formerly of the Royal Australian Navy and later a public servant, would have seen firsthand. Access to the newest, most advanced technologies can help a country gain power over others. However, as Moon in the Ground shows, chasing that power too keenly can be destructive.

The Tic-Toc Boy of Constantinople

The Tic-Toc Boy of Constantinople, a short story by Anthony Panegyres, was published in 2014 as part of the steampunk collection Kisses by Clockwork.

The story centres on Phyte, a robot who looks and acts like a human boy, apart from having a metal plate on his chest and occasionally producing steam. He is feared by everyone except his human creator, who intended him to be a test site for the creation of artificial organs that could be transplanted into humans.

It turns out people are right to be afraid, as the human-clockwork hybrids (of which Phyte is one) have a primal urge to kill the humans that help them.

The Tic-Toc Boy of Constantinople encourages us to think about how bodies are central to our experiences of the world. Like many steampunk works, it emphasises the long history of biomechanical enhancements and adjustments to human bodies.

As Australia works towards integrating AI in healthcare, we need to think about how technologies interact with our bodies, and ensure that commercial interests do not overshadow public benefit.

AI technologies can help us better care for our bodies by complementing the work of medical professionals. However, as wearable and implantable technologies become more common, reflecting on the ways we are augmenting our bodies will ensure that we are more than just test sites for other people’s plans.


James Bradley’s 2015 cli-fi novel Clade follows a family from the near future living in an increasingly precarious and unpredictable world faced with ecological collapse. AI plays a relatively minor part in the narrative, but when it does appear, it is represented ambivalently.

Dylan works for a company called Semblance that builds AI simulations, also called sims or echoes. These are virtual recreations of the dead assembled from as much data as available.

The sims can read and mimic the responses of people who interact with them. “They’re not conscious, or not quite,” the narrator explains. “They’re complex emulations fully focused on convincing their owners they are who they seem to be.”

Initially something of a gimmick, the sim business becomes very lucrative as more people die in the book. Over time, though, customers want to tweak their sims. The customers start making the dead less like they were and more as they would have preferred them to be.

Dylan’s dad thinks his son’s work is exploitative, profiting as it does from vulnerable people. Dylan faces his own ethical dilemma when he comes across a request to build a sim of an ex-girlfriend’s brother.

As the Australian Government works towards policies related to AI, and generative AI more particularly, attention to ethical development is becoming more prominent.

Clade encourages us to think about where our boundaries might be and why. The technology Dylan works to develop already partially exists. Does this technology best serve Australians? If not, how can we make it so?

Making sense of the world

Humans tell stories to make sense of the world. Literary representations have much to tell us about how we understand and respond to the rapidly advancing and seemingly unpredictable technology of AI.

To develop AI and robots that best respond to the needs of Australians, we can learn a lot from reading our own literature.The Conversation

Leah Henrickson, Lecturer in Digital Media and Cultures, The University of Queensland; Catriona Mills, Content Manager, AustLit, The University of Queensland; David Tang, Research assistant, AustLit, The University of Queensland, and Maggie Nolan, Director of AustLit, Associate Professor in Digital Cultural Heritage, The University of Queensland

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Wednesday 3 April 2024

Should Taylor Swift be Taught Alongside Shakespeare? A Professor of Literature Says Yes

American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift on the Eras Tour concert at Sofi Stadium in Inglewood, CA, Aug 9 2023

By Liam E Semler, University of Sydney

Does Taylor Swift’s music belong in the English classroom? No, obviously. We should teach the classics, like Shakespeare’s Sonnets. After all, they have stood the test of time. It’s 2024 and he was born in 1564, and she’s only 34. What’s more, she is a pop singer, not a poet. Sliding her into the classroom would be yet another example of a dumbed-down curriculum. It’s ridiculous. It makes everyone look bad.

I’ve heard all that. And plenty more like it. But none of it is right. Well, the dates might be, but not the assumptions – about Shakespeare, about English, about teaching, and about Swift.

Swift is, by the way, a poet. She sees herself this way and her songs bear her out. In Sweet Nothing, on the Midnights album, she sings:

On the way home
I wrote a poem
You say “What a mind”
This happens all the time.

I’m sure it does. Swift is relentlessly productive as a songwriter. With Midnights, she picked up her fourth Grammy for Album of the Year. And here we are, on the brink of another studio album, The Tortured Poets Department, somehow written and produced amid the gargantuan success of Midnights and the Eras World Tour.

An ally of literature

Regardless of what The Tortured Poets Department ends up being about, Swift is already a firm ally of literature and reading. She is a donor of thousands of books to public libraries in the United States, an advocate to schoolchildren of the importance of reading and songwriting, and a lover of the process of crafting lyrics.

In a 2016 Vogue interview, Swift declared with glee that, if she were a teacher, she would teach English. The literary references in her songs are endlessly noted. “I love Shakespeare as much as the next girl,” she wrote in a 2019 article for Elle.

Her interview Read Every Day gives a good sense of this. Swift speaks about her writing process in ways that make it accessible. She explains how songs come to her anywhere and everywhere, like an idea randomly appearing “on a cloud” that becomes the first piece in a “puzzle” that will be assembled into a song. She furtively whisper-sings song ideas into her phone when out with friends.

In her acceptance speech for the Nashville Songwriter-Artist of the Decade Award in 2022, Swift explained how she writes in three broad styles, imagining she is holding either a “quill”, a “fountain pen”, or a “glitter gel pen”. Songcraft is a joyous challenge for her.

If, as teachers of literature, we are too proud to credit Swift’s plainly expressed love of English (regardless of whether we like her songs or not), we are likely missing something. To bluntly rule her out of the English classroom feels more absurd than allowing her in.

Clio Doyle, a lecturer in early modern literature, has summarised Swift’s suitability for English in a recent article which concludes:

The important thing isn’t whether or not Swift might be the new Shakespeare. It’s that the discipline of English literature is flexible, capacious and open-minded. A class on reading Swift’s work as literature is just another English class, because every English class requires grappling with the idea of reading anything as literature. Even Shakespeare.

Doyle reminds us Swift’s work has been taught at universities for a while now and, inevitably, the singer’s name keeps cropping up in relation to Shakespeare. This isn’t just a case of fandom gone wild or Shakespeare professors, like Jonathan Bate, gone rogue.

The global interest in the world-first academic Swiftposium is a good measure of how things are trending. Moreover, it is wrong to think Swift’s songs are included in units of study purely to be adored. Her wide appeal is part of her appeal to educators, but that doesn’t mean her art is uncritically included.

The reverse is true. Claire Hansen taught Swift in one of her literature units at the Australian National University last year precisely because this influential singer-songwriter prompts students to explore the boundaries of the canon.

I will be teaching Midnights and Shakespeare’s Sonnets together in a literature unit at the University of Sydney this semester. Why? Not because I think Swift is as good as Shakespeare, or because I think she is not as good as Shakespeare. These statements are fine as personal opinions, but unhelpful as blanket declarations without context. The nature of English as a discipline is far more complex, interesting and valuable than a labelling and ranking exercise.

Teaching Midnights and Shakespeare’s Sonnets

I teach Shakespeare’s sonnets as exquisite poems, reflective of their time and culture. I also teach three modern artworks that shed contemporary light on the sonnets.

The first is Jen Bervin’s 2004 book Nets. Bervin prints a selection of the sonnets, one per page, in grey text. In each of these grey sonnets, some of Shakespeare’s words and phrases are printed in black and thus stand out boldly.

The result is a palimpsest. The Shakespearean sonnet appears lying, like fertile soil, beneath the briefer poem that emerges from it. Bervin describes this technique as a stripping down of the sonnets to “nets” in order “to make the space of the poems open, porous, possible – a divergent elsewhere”. The creative relationship between the Shakespearean base and Bervin’s proverb-like poems proves that, as Bervin says, “when we write poems, the history of poetry is with us”.

The second text is Luke Kennard’s prizewinning 2021 collection Notes on the Sonnets. Kennard recasts the sonnets as a series of entertaining prose poems. Each poem responds to a specific Shakespearean sonnet, recasting it as the freewheeling thought bubble of a fictional attendee at an unappealing house party. In an interview with C.D. Rose, Kennard explains how his house party design puts the reader

in between a public and private space, you’re at home and you’re out, you’re free, you’re enclosed. And that’s similar in the sonnets.

The third text is Swift’s Midnights. Unlike Bervin’s and Kennard’s collections, in which individual pieces relate to specific sonnets, there is no explicit adaptation. Instead, Midnights raises broader themes.

Deep connection

In her Elle article, Swift describes songwriting as akin to photography. She strives to capture moments of lived experience:

The fun challenge of writing a pop song is squeezing those evocative details into the catchiest melody you can possibly think of. I thrive on the challenge of sprinkling personal mementos and shreds of reality into a genre of music that is universally known for being, well, universal.

Her point is that the pop songs that “cut through the most are actually the most detailed” in their snippets of reality and biography. She says “people are reaching out for connection and comfort” and “music lovers want some biographical glimpse into the world of our narrator, a hole in the emotional walls people put up around themselves to survive”.

Midnights exemplifies this. It is a concept album built on the idea that midnight is a time for pursuit of and confrontation with the self – or better, the selves. Swift says the songs form “the full picture of the intensities of that mystifying, mad hour”.

The album, she says, is “a journey through terrors and sweet dreams” for those “who have tossed and turned and decided to keep the lanterns lit and go searching – hoping that just maybe, when the clock strikes twelve […] we’ll meet ourselves”.
Swift claims that Midnights lets listeners in through her protective walls to enable deep connection:

I really don’t think I’ve delved this far into my insecurities in this detail before. I struggle with the idea that my life has become unmanageably sized and […] I just struggle with the idea of not feeling like a person.

Midnights is not a sonnet collection, but it has fascinating parallels. There is no firm narrative through-line. Nor is there a through-line in early modern sonnet collections such as Shakespeare’s. Instead, both gather songs and poems that let us see aspects of the singing or speaking persona’s thoughts, emotions and experiences. Shakespeare’s speaker is also troubled through the night in sonnets 27, 43 and 61.

The sonnets come in thematic clusters, pairs and mini-sequences. It can be interesting to ask students if they can see something similar in the order of songs on the Midnights album – or the “3am” edition with its seven extra tracks, or the “Til Dawn” edition with another three songs.

Portrait of William Shakespeare – John Taylor (1610). Public domain.

Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells, in their edition of All the Sonnets of Shakespeare, say Shakespeare’s collection is “the most idiosyncratic gathering of sonnets in the period” because he “uses the sonnet form to work out his intimate thoughts and feelings”.

This connects very well with the agenda of Midnights. Both collections are piecemeal psychic landscapes. The singing or speaking voice sometimes feels autobiographical – compare, for example, sonnets 23, 129, 135-6 and 145 to Swift’s songs Anti-hero, You’re On Your Own, Kid, Sweet Nothing, and Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve. At other times the voices feel less autobiographical. Often there is no way to distinguish one from the other.

Swift’s songs and Shakespeare’s Sonnets are meditations on deeply personal aspects of their narrators’ experiences. They present us with encounters, memories, relationships, values and claims. Swift’s persona is that of a self-reflective singer, just as Shakespeare’s is that of a self-reflective sonneteer. Both focus on love in all its shades. Both present themselves as vulnerable to industry rivals and pressures. Both dwell on issues of power.

Close reading

Shakespeare’s sonnets are rewarding texts for close reading because of their poetic intricacy. Students can look at end rhymes and internal rhymes, the way the argument progresses through quatrains, the positioning of the “turn”, which is often in line 9 or 13, and the way the final couplet wraps things up (or doesn’t).

Title page of the first edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (1609). Public domain

The songs on Midnights are also rewarding because Swift has a great vocabulary, a love of metaphor, terrific turns of phrase, and a strong sense of symmetry and balance in wording. More complex songs like Maroon and Question…? are great for detailed analysis.

Karma and Mastermind are simpler, yet contain plenty of metaphoric language to be unpacked for meaning and aesthetic effectiveness. Shakespeare’s controlled use of metaphor in Sonnet 73 makes for a telling contrast.

The Great War, Glitch and Snow on the Beach are good for exploring how well a single extended metaphor can function to carry the meaning of a song. Sonnets 8, 18, 143 and 147 can be explored in similar terms.

Just as students can analyse the “turn” or concluding couplet in a Shakespearean sonnet to see how it reshapes the poem, they can do the same with songs on Midnights. Swift is known for writing effective bridges that contribute fresh, important content towards the end of a song: Sweet Nothing, Mastermind and Dear Reader are excellent examples.

Such unexpected pairings are valuable because they require close attention and careful articulation of what is similar and what is not. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129, for example (the famous one on lust), and Swift’s Bigger than the Whole Sky (a powerful expression of loss) make for a gripping comparison of how intense feeling can be expressed poetically.

Or consider Sonnet 29 (“When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes”) and Sweet Nothing: both celebrate intimacy as a defence against the pressures of the public world. How about High Infidelity and Sonnet 138 (where love and self-deception coexist), considered in terms of truth in relationships?

There is nothing to lose and plenty to gain in teaching Swift’s Midnights and Shakespeare’s Sonnets together. There’s no dumbing-down involved. And there’s no need for reductive assertions about who is “better”.The Conversation

Liam E Semler, Professor of Early Modern Literature, University of Sydney 

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Monday 1 April 2024

How Spanish Conquistadors and a Tiny Cactus-Dwelling Insect Gave the World the Colour Red

By Panizza Allmark, Edith Cowan University

When you think about a red object, you might picture a red carpet, or the massive ruby in the Queen’s crown. Indeed, Western monarchies and marketing from brands such as Christian Louboutin have cemented our association of the colour red with power and wealth.

But what if I told you this connection has been pervasive across time and cultures? In fact, the red pigment has fascinated humans for millennia.

Prickly pear blood

The vibrant red we often see in cosmetics, food and drinks is actually derived from a tiny insect called the cochineal, which lives on prickly pear cacti and today is harvested mainly from Peru and the Canary Islands. The cochineal’s ubiquitous crimson dye is also known as Carmine, Natural Red or E120.

The links between red and esteem and power can be traced back to the Inca civilisation that flourished in the Andean region of South America from around 1400 to 1533.

Red carries profound symbolism in Inca mythology, intertwined with the legendary story of Mama Huaco – the inaugural warrior queen – who was often envisioned as emerging in a resplendent red dress.

The historical journey of the cochineal mirrors the journeys of several other global staples – such as potatoes, chilli and tomatoes – that originated from pre-Columbian Mexico and South America.

A close up view of cochineals (Dactylopius coccus) on a prickly pear cactus. Shutterstock

The cochineal insect was brought to Europe by Spanish conquistadors in the 15th century, and held a worth akin to gold and silver. It strengthened Spain’s economic influence, provided support for the Spanish empire’s expansion, and stimulated global trade.

Cultivation and harvest were carried out by the Indigenous Mesoamerican peoples living under Spanish rule, who had already been doing this for centuries. They were paid in pennies while their labour allowed Spain to maintain its monopoly on the valuable red dye.

The king’s shoes

Before the conquistadors began the cochineal trade, achieving a rich red hue was a challenge, which meant European nobility had to use purple and blue instead.

But by the 1460s, the cochineal gained such popularity in Europe that it superseded Tyrian purple as the traditional colour of the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church. This red was unmatched in vibrancy. Its depth and rarity eventually made it among the most expensive dyes of the time.

It became a prominent feature in European Baroque art – characterised by its intensity and drama. And its widespread uptake by European royalty further solidified its connection with power and wealth.

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Dutch Master Rembrandt is a famous example of a dramatic baroque work. Wikimedia

In France, King Louis XIV’s (1638-1715) penchant for red was evident in his lavish décor choices, which included 435 red beds in his palace at Versailles. He displayed red in the soles of his shoes. He even instituted a law in 1673 restricting the coveted red heels to aristocrats who were granted permission by the monarch himself, effectively making them a hallmark of royal favour.

Spiritual significance

The colour red holds significant spiritual symbolism across various religions. In Judeo-Christian traditions, an intriguing connection exists between the Hebrew word for “man” (Adam), “red” and “blood”, all stemming from a common etymological root.

According to Biblical accounts, Adam, the first man, was formed from the Earth – and the colour red could symbolise the richness of the soil or clay from which Adam was created. This interplay of language and symbolism underscores a profound interconnectedness between red and spiritual belief systems.

This spiritual significance reverberates across cultures. In Hindu tradition, red is imbued with sacred meaning symbolising fertility, purity and prosperity. In Chinese culture, it is considered auspicious, and signifies joy and prosperity.

In Hinduism, red represents love and prosperity, which is reflected in the bindi – a small red dot applied between the eyebrows. Shutterstock

Red hues have also been viewed as a symbol of vitality across spiritual and cultural groups, as they emulate blood, our life force. In Roman Catholic tradition, red is symbolic of martyrdom, the spirit and the blood of Christ.

The colour of champions

In terms of visibility, red has the longest wavelength. This might help explain our longstanding cross-cultural attraction to it: studies show it stimulates excitement and energy when viewed, which can cause physical effects such as an increased heart rate. It has even been shown to increase our appetite.

Psychologically, red seems to have more influence on humans compared with other colours in the spectrum. In an experiment at the 2004 Athens Olympics, athletes across four contact sports were randomly clad in either red or blue. Those who wore red were more often victorious.

Another study of English football teams over a 55-year period found wearing red shirts was associated with greater success on the field. That’s because red is linked to a heightened sense of determination and endurance, which can translate to better focus. From this angle, red seems to be the colour of champions.

The “red carpet” tradition itself is thousands of years old. The first known reference to it comes from the ancient Greek play Agamemnon, written in 458 BCE, in which a red path (said to be reserved for the gods) is laid out for King Agamemnon by his wife as he returns from the Trojan war. The twist is that Clytemnestra seeks to lead him to his death:

Let all the ground be red / Where those feet pass; and Justice, dark of yore, / Home light him to the hearth he looks not for.

This symbol has since morphed into the celebrity red carpet, graced by pop culture “royalty”.

Meanwhile, red also has also garnered some alarming associations in our everyday vernacular, with “red pills”, “red flags” and “seeing red” being just a few examples.

This potent symbol continues to have diverse interpretations, representing not only achievement, but also the power – and sometimes the dangers – that come with it.The Conversation

Besides its links to spirituality and nobility, red is also used to convey more sinister meanings. Shutterstock

Panizza Allmark, Professor Visual & Cultural Studies, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

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Wednesday 20 March 2024

The Alchemy of Couture: The Creative Process of Yuima Nakazato

The intensity and lyricism of Yuima Nakazato's Utakata haute couture show in Paris. Cover picture and photograph (above) by Elli Ioannou for DAM

From a standout show at Paris Haute Couture Week to designing evocative costumes for Mozart's Idomeneo at the Geneva Opera,Yuima Nakazato has had an exhilarating start to the year. Now with an upcoming summer exhibition of his work in France, the Japanese couturier shares insights into his creative process while reflecting on the highlights of his resonant Spring/Summer 2024 collection. Story by Jeanne-Marie Cilento. Reporting by Antonio Visconti. Photography by Elli Ioannou and Andrea Heinsohn

Sculptural designs mix the diaphanous with
the dramatic. evoking a new urban armour.
Photograph: Elli Ioannou

Like an alchemist of fashion, Yuima Nakazato is able to infuse his creations with a spirit that resonates beyond the confines of the runway. He has an ability to transform mere textiles into a form of three-dimensional lyrical poetry, creating designs that elicit potent emotion. 

Set against the backdrop of Mozart's Idomeneo and the haunting landscapes of Crete, Nakazato's latest collection, Utakata, merges the realms of fashion, art, and performance to explore history, and the development of couture. 

“In the process of creating this collection, I came across the Japanese word utakata, which means ephemeral," he explains. “This word seemed to express the exact opposite of the trend seen in the evolution of men's clothing, where functionality and durability are increasingly valued and prioritized. 

"What I wanted to convey was a sort of ephemeral armour, much like a delicate bubble formed on the surface of the water, capable of vanishing in the blink of an eye. This approach also represents a release from or renunciation of battle.”

Nakazato merges the realms of fashion, art, and performance to explore history, and the development of couture

Voluminous fabrics and striking abstract patterns 
heightened the potent impact of the collection.
Photograph: Elli Ioannou
At the heart of Nakazato's collection lies a reverence for the past, entwined with an exploration of the future. 

Inspired by the ancient allure of Crete and the enduring legacy of Mozart's 1781 opera, the designer embarked on a quest to reinterpret history through the prism of contemporary consciousness and explore the composer's tale of human suffering from the disasters of the ancient Greek wars. 

For the Idomeneo opera and ballet at Switzerland’s Grand Théâtre de Genève, he designed scintillating costumes, working with the Belgian choreographer and director Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. "This show was created together as a sort of a non-verbal communication with modern society," the designer says. 

The odyssey of his creative trajectory took Nakazato from the shores of the Mediterranean to the hallowed halls of the Musée de l'Armée in Paris, where he unearthed the relics of antiquity with a discerning eye. What emerges from this journey is a tapestry of contradictions, where strength and vulnerability converge in a delicate dance of contrasts.

The odyssey of his creative trajectory took the designer from the shores of the Mediterranean to the halls of the Musée de l'Armée in Paris

Long, origami-like tunics adorned with 
silvery, sculpted details elucidated the idea
of Nakazato's 'ephemeral armour.'
Photograph: Andrea Heinsohn

“While designing the costumes for this opera, I visited Crete, the Greek island in the Mediterranean where the story of Idomeneo takes place,” remarks Nakazato. 

“With a vista of transparent, turquoise blue seas and groves of olive trees spread before me, I imagined the Trojan War as it took place in this beautiful scenery during the Minoan civilization. 

"These reflections led me to reconsider the state of our modern society thousands of years later, which then became the starting point for this collection."

The 'ephemeral armour' speaks to a new paradigm of masculinity, one that embraces sensitivity and grace amid the chaos of modernity. Each garment, painstakingly crafted from reclaimed textiles and adorned with dramatic ceramics, is a testament to the enduring power of real artistry in an age of transience.

“During my research, I was struck by the appearance of armour from this period excavated from ancient ruins," Nakazato says. "It was so beautiful that I could scarcely believe it had been designed for combat. I found myself wondering why beauty was necessary for a garment intended for use in war.

The collection's 'ephemeral armour' speaks to a new paradigm of masculinity that embraces sensitivity and grace amid the chaos of modernity

Pau Aran Gimeno on the runway with his 
'blood-soaked' feet leaving a poignant trail. 
Photograph: Andrea Heinsohn

“Seeking answers, I visited the Musée de l'Armée in Paris to investigate the evolution of men's clothing over the past 5,000 years. I noticed that the decorative elements of battle wear are gradually eliminated as societies grow more civilized and technology continues to develop. 

"As a result, repeated advances in functionality and rationality have culminated in the current style of military wear. Interestingly, these garments have served as prototypes for much of the clothing we wear today.”

As the models traversed the runway at Paris' Palais de Tokyo, accompanied by the haunting strains of Tsubasa Hori's piano and the writhing movements of dancer Pau Aran Gimeno, the audience was enthralled. 

Nakazato's designs with their sculptural silhouettes and intricate detailing, which invite contemplation and introspection, evoke a visceral response in the viewer. Gimeno, dressed all in diaphanous white, stepped into the red pool, and as he moved along the catwalk, he created seemingly bloodied footsteps, signifying perhaps our effect on the planet. 

Like all of his collections since he launched in 2016 on the official Paris haute couture schedule,  Nakazato has made Utakata a manifesto for change, a call to arms for a new era of sartorial expression. His commitment to sustainability and innovation shines through all of his work, as he challenges the industry to embrace a more conscious approach to producing and creating fashion. From his pioneering use of fermented bacteria as compostable textiles to his revolutionary Type-1 system that does away with the needle and thread, Nakazato proves that fashion can be both visionary and virtuous.

Utakata is a manifesto for change, a call to arms for a new era of sartorial expression that shows how fashion can be both visionary and virtuous

Designer Yuima Nakazato dips his brush into the 
red pool at the finale of his show in Paris.
Photograph: Andrea Heinsohn
In Paris, during the finale of the haute couture show at the Palais de Tokyo, the designer ran out and dipped a brush into the blood-red pool at the heart of the catwalk. 

The audience erupted into applause, as he signed his name with a flourish on the white runway, amid an electric atmosphere created by the evocative collection, music and dance.

In our transient world, Yuima Nakazato's creations show how art in fashion can not only inspire, provoke and elevate the human spirit but also be a practical inspiration for real change at the level of fashion production and recycling.

“Through the contradictory existence of delicate, fragile armour created by textiles shredded and reclaimed from worn-out uniforms and workwear and decorated with ceramics, glass, and platinum, this collection shows the evolution of clothing, " explains the couturier. "It is also an attempt to fuse the delicate and fragile handwork elements of couture with the evolutionary path followed by men's clothing that has continued since ancient times."

In the months to come, as Nakazato prepares for the premiere of his exhibition Yuima Nakazato, Beyond Couture, at the Cité de la Dentelle et de la Mode in Calais in June, and pushes the boundaries of couture, his work continues to be a beacon of innovation, creativity, and above all, beauty. For in the fleeting moments of Ukataka and in the enduring collection of his designs, we glimpse the essence of fashion at its artistic best.

See more highlights from Yuima Nakazato's Utakata SS24 Collection in Paris below.

Utataka, Yuima Nakazato, Paris Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph: Andrea Heinsohn

Utakata, Yuima Nakazato, Paris Haute Couture, Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph: Elli Ioannou 

Utakata, Yuima Nakazato, Paris Haute Couture, Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph: Andrea Heinsohn

Utakata, Yuima Nakazato, Paris Haute Couture, Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph: Andrea Heinsohn

Utakata, Yuima Nakazato, Paris Haute Couture, Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph: Andrea Heinsohn

Utakata, Yuima Nakazato, Paris Haute Couture, Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph: Andrea Heinsohn

Utakata, Yuima Nakazato, Paris Haute Couture, Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph: Andrea Heinsohn

Utakata, Yuima Nakazato, Paris Haute Couture, Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph: Andrea Heinsohn

Utakata,Yuima Nakazato, Paris Haute Couture, Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph: Elli Ioannou

Utakata, Yuima Nakazato, Paris Haute Couture, Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph: Elli Ioannou

Utakata, Yuima Nakazato, Paris Haute Couture, Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph; Ell Ioannou

Utakata, Yuima Nakazato, Paris Haute Couture, Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph: Elli Ioannou

Utakata, Yuima Nakazato, Paris Haute Couture, Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph: Elli Ioannou

Utakata, Yuima Nakazato, Paris Haute Couture, Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph: Andrea Heinsohn

Utakata, Yuima Nakazato, Paris Haute Couture, Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph; Andrea Heinsohn

Utakata, Yuima Nakazato, Paris Haute Couture, Spring/Summer 2024. Photograph: Andrea Heinsohn

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