PARIS, France — Each season, as the international fashion flock winds its way from New York to London to Milan, there is usually a gradual yet perceptible build up of excitement for what comes last: Paris Fashion Week. After all, it’s here in the City of Light where the best and brightest designers from around the world come to show their collections. It’s here that the season’s fashion trends finally crystallise. And of course, Paris is home to the industry’s most powerful fashion houses and luxury groups.
This season, the buzz was anything but gradual. From the very first day of New York Fashion Week, there was the loud and ceaseless hum of discussion about the impending ‘battle royale’ between two of the top names in the fashion industry, Raf Simons and Hedi Slimane, who were set to show their debut ready-to-wear collections for Dior and the recently rebranded Saint Laurent, respectively, each owned by competing luxury conglomerates LVMH and PPR.
Many argued that this Paris Fashion Week would change the fashion world as we know it; that something new was about to be born. Well, the fashion world may have changed, but it did so with a whimper, not with a bang.
At Dior, Raf Simons produced a beautiful collection that deconstructed the brand’s famous bar jacket from Christian Dior’s iconic 1947 New Look collection. The show was utterly modern in the way Simons incorporated colourful, high-tech and iridescent fabrics, as well as unusual embellishments, into rounded womanly shapes that looked deceptively simple, but illustrated the designer’s tailoring prowess.
Though much of this collection covered similar territory to what Simons explored in his haute couture show in July, that is to be expected, as ready-to-wear should trickle down from couture. But happily, there was also some of Simons’ own minimalist aesthetic at play. He was less reserved with his silhouettes and dared to experiment more freely with the codes of the house. Still, there wasn’t that same excitement of discovering a completely new sartorial universe.
Over at Saint Laurent, surprise was the name of the game. The entire industry was kept in the dark, quite literally, about Hedi Slimane’s debut collection for the house until the first wide brim hat-wearing model took to the catwalk in a pitch black showspace in the rafters of the Grand Palais.
Here, again, there was a mélange between the legendary past of an iconic brand and the style of a new designer. But the balance was off and the show tipped too far towards an homage to the history of the house, and failed to illuminate a new path for the brand to travel in future. It didn’t help that the collection was dominated by only two silhouettes — the classic YSL tuxedo and 70's style caftans — which provided a rather confined framework.
But if the clash of the titans failed to unfold as many had hoped, that didn’t mean that Paris Fashion Week was a disappointment. Far from it.
A number of brands showed incredibly strong collections this season. Dries van Noten’s ode to the 1990s Seattle grunge movement revealed a designer at the peak of his creative talents. Alber Elbaz’s Asia-inspired Lanvin collection, which used the concept of molding and folding flat pieces of fabric to create angular yet sensual clothing, gave the house a strong new direction to follow.
The return of Phoebe Philo, after the birth of her third child, proved that the designer has still got her finger firmly on the pulse of what the modern woman wants. With Jil Sander back at the helm of her eponymous brand, known for its minimalist aesthetic, as well as a broad shift in fashion towards the kind of minimalism Philo has championed since taking the creative reins at Céline, the designer pushed her unassuming style in a slightly different direction. That is to say, she loosened up a bit, using flowing silks and choosing to leave hemlines raw and knitwear frayed. As for those ironic accessories, they pointed to a woman who was finally letting her wicked sense of humour show.
Haider Ackermann’s darkly poetic show revealed a designer right in the middle of sartorial exploration, as the fashion world closely watches his every move. Meanwhile, the maestro Karl Lagerfeld showed himself to be firmly above the fashion fray with a collection that was both youthful and wearable. On a catwalk adorned with enormous wind turbines, Lagerfeld sent out ensembles that were more restrained than usual. Focusing on proportion, he created comfortable a-line dresses as well as modern-looking outfits that featured fitted dresses underneath cropped tops.
What all of these shows have in common is that they were not only designer-driven, but commercially viable. In each case, the clothing in these collections could have walked right off the runway and into the wardrobes of modern women without commercial adaptation.
Another major highlight of Paris was evidence on the runways that a new generation of fashion designers is starting to establish itself in a significant way. The catwalk shows of Cédric Charlier, Anthony Vaccarello and Chitose Abe — the designer behind the brand Sacai — were all fully formed; well conceived and expertly executed. Each of these designers has brought a fresh new voice to fashion and proves that Paris is still a hotbed of emerging designer creativity.
Jessica Michault is editor-in-chief of Nowfashion.com