Seeing a fleet of lifeless men floating downstream is generally cause for concern, and that’s probably the reaction that designer Carol Christian Poell intended when he sent models dressed in his S/S 2004 menswear collection floating down Milan’s Naviglio Canal. In his collection titled “Mainstream Downstream,” Poell was trying to send a message to the fashion community. The title says it all, really--Poell's presentation served as a metaphor for the state of fashion as he saw it, where the mainstream fashion collective uniformly flows in one direction without thought. If this sounds pretty bleak, you wouldn’t be wrong, but consider the fact that Poell’s presentation, in all it’s depressing splendor, also eliminates some aspects of the typical fashion show that arouse anxiety. There’s no front row seating, no backstage politics, no influx and outflow of stressed out fashion people throughout the venue. It’s just people along the banks of the canal, a public space. Fashion enthusiasts and pedestrians alike have access to the same view and in this sense Poell has democratized the elitism of the fashion show.
It’s a wonder that Poell hasn’t received more of a cult following because of this collection, considering the popularity of Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan’s shows from the early 2000s which were also quite radical. Despite the presentation’s macabre tone, there is something serenely beautiful about the eeriness of it all. As the models drift along the canal, their clothes elegantly floating over the surface of the water, they are reminiscent of the tragic Ophelia of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The peaceful beauty of their quiet stillness is simultaneously depressing and delighting.