Édouard Manet was one of the first 19th century artists to center his work in modern life. Created between 1862 and 1863, his The Luncheon on the Grass depicts a female nude sitting next to two fully clothed dandies in a rural setting. In the background stands a scantily dressed female bather, her proportions slightly too large compared to those in the foreground. The painting, which raised eyebrows in its time, was the starting point at We11done for spring 2023, as the team said on a Zoom call from their studio in Seoul.
The last time I checked in with We11done, they were experiencing the growing pains of reshaping their business. This time around, the growing pains remain, as they told me, but I sensed an air of stability amidst the tight-knit team that has enabled them to produce one of their most well-rounded collections yet. “We’re still going through lots of changes,” said Youngjin Kim, brand manager and art director. “We are basically expanding a business, so we have these commercial requests that we have to link with newness for one directional collection.”
Jessica Jung, the label’s designer, has a particular interest in painting. Her fall 2022 collection was informed by 17th century Flemish paintings, and this time around it was the famed Manet. Rather than merely replicating what artists depict, Jung has a knack for distilling the essence of the art with a contemporary playfulness that has become prevalent in fashion today. Manet’s painting was rejected from the 1963 Salon, and shown at the infamous Salon des Refusés–its noticeable strokes, naughty subject matter, and playful proportions had proven to be too much for the art world at the time. It’s in this spirit that Jung found inspiration, merging the romance of 19th-century dandy tailoring and frilly frocks with the punk-ish edge she often gives We11done collections.
Duchesse silk satin slips and dresses with intentional excess draped into them were the foundation for a striking lineup of tailored jackets, some with balloon-hem sleeves and others with placed gathers on the torso under the lapels. Also compelling were a set of moto-jacket sleeves styled over a louche tailored jumpsuit, and a pair of draped dresses with oversized asymmetrical carwash fringe diagonally folded under the hem. Isolated Manet flowers on stark white dresses provided some freshness, while a cheetah print inspired by Fernand Khnopff’s 1896 Caress of the Sphinx paired with red lace added a punk-ish sensibility to the proceedings.
A range of separates in crinkled fabric felt on-trend (based on the many wrinkles seen at the spring collections in September), but slightly out of place in the lineup, as did a range of PVC skirts. The accessories were particularly strong this season, however. A pair of “dumpling” shoes in draped leather and a slip-shaped handbag lent some eccentricity to the lineup. The tension between staying directional while satisfying wholesale partners is a tale as old as time, but it seems to have pushed the We11done team down a path they could benefit from following.