PARIS, France — An ever-expanding show schedule is making ‘fashion month’ increasingly unmanageable, fuelling an ongoing debate about the purpose of staging a runway show in the first place. If the multi-million-dollar, Instagram-savvy extravaganzas, like last season's supermarket spectacle staged by Chanel, seem a long way from the original concept of presenting clothes for buyers and editors in closed salons, it's worth noting that the balance between emphasis on product and emphasis on production has varied wildly since the onset of a digital age and the growth of global fashion culture as a form of mass entertainment.
From the large-scale events staged by the likes of Marc Jacobs, Karl Lagerfeld and Christopher Bailey to the return of salon-style presentations like Julie de Libran's debut for Sonia Rykiel and the more intimate show format adopted this season at Riccardo Tisci’s Givenchy, today, all shows must transmit a seasonal message to the industry, while also creating shareable, 'Like'-able assets for online fashion fans. But striking the right balance between serving the swelling masses, hungry for imagery, and creating an appropriate showcase for a designer's feats of creativity and craft is a delicate task — and one specific to each brand.
This season, true excellence often came when product and production worked together to communicate a core creative idea. So what were the most successful shows of the Spring/Summer 2015 season? The 10 shows below brilliantly combined product and production with raw underlying creativity, providing irrefutable justification for the continued relevance and power of staging a well-considered fashion show.
1. Undercover – designed by Jun Takahashi, PFW
Jun Takahashi’s fairytale show, staged on a catwalk lined with giant red cherries (some inscribed with skulls), was the highlight of Paris Fashion Week. As the presentation progressed, models who started off wearing crinoline tea-gowns in Southern belle pastels, replete with clipped, onyx wings suggestive of an imminent fall from grace, became dark angels in an all-black finale. Their meandering metamorphosis came in numerous guises: regency lines, digitised handbags and 40s silhouettes with prints from The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymous Bosch all featured in what proved to be a winning balance between staging and some of the most interesting clothes of the season. Takahashi’s final look, a crowned avian Nordic goddess wearing a motorcycle jacket, overcame mere theatricality to become genuinely iconographic.
2. Louis Vuitton – designed by Nicolas Ghesquière, PFW
Nicolas Ghesquière created one of the strongest moments of the season, boosted by the season's most memorable venue: the futuristic Frank Gehry-designed Louis Vuitton Foundation which opens to the public later this month. The staging of his third show for Louis Vuitton marked a dramatic departure from his previous two outings, Cruise 2015 and Autumn/Winter 2014, which were both set in the brilliant light of day. This season, Ghesquière placed attendees squarely in the strange lights of the future in a pitch-black show space. Enormous faces of male and female models were beamed onto transparent screens, as a composite recording of disjointed voices described the awesome building in which the show was held. The Vuitton avatars told attendees the Foundation was “the ship that serves as an incubator and unites our fellow creative minds.” A fast-paced show, dense with intricate details and techniques, whizzed by. Logo motifs were not eschewed, simply elevated; hardware was a consistent reference on and off accessories, the best of which were a series of chain-handled evening bags featuring an engorged Louis Vuitton logo. Although the collection lacked the laser focus of Ghesquière's collections for Balenciaga, the show undoubtedly created a spectacle befitting one of the industry's biggest players.
3. Sacai – designed by Chitose Abe, PFW
Chitose Abe’s label Sacai is surely destined to outgrow its cult status and become a fashion force to be reckoned with. The designer's signature hybridisation of pattern and technique and the complex construction of her garments, which often feature differing fronts and backs, remained at the core of her visual statement this season. But Abe moved things on by introducing new patterns and fabrics, creating three-dimensional silhouettes and splicing utilitarian structure with feminine lightness. The jubilant beauty of the prints, which ranged from trompe l'oeil to gossamer-thin flutters of meadowsweet flowers, punctuated by the authoritarian lines of Abe's military inspiration, created an individual and utterly covetable collection.
With the singular exception of a black hood, Rei Kawakubo’s collection for Comme des Garçons was a vivid symphony — or perhaps a battlefield — of bloody reds, which seemed an opaque but acute reflection of today's violent geopolitical reality. Her choice to work in differing hues of a uniform colour also drew attention to the complexity of the silhouettes. Kawakubo doesn’t explain her work, typically offering only one or two words backstage. This season, it was "roses" and "blood." The rose motif recurs in her work, but this collection was one of her strongest in recent seasons. Gravity defying wigs, a nod, perhaps, to that most infamous of bloodied heads — Marie Antoinette — were employed throughout the show, save for two hooded looks, the best in a visceral and visually powerful collection.
5. Loewe – designed by J.W Anderson, PFW
Jonathan Anderson's debut for LVMH-owned Spanish leather goods brand Loewe was one of the most anticipated shows of the season. On an unseasonably sunny day in Paris, as good an omen as any, models wound round the Isamu Noguchi garden at the UNESCO building, as Anderson — best known for his gender-blending silhouettes — presented a new woman and a new creative language for Loewe. The show space felt crisp, calm and organic, its winding form creating compelling moments of contrast as looks passed one and other. The most powerful looks of the show were composed of patchwork dresses with leather appendages evoking prehistoric skins, which perfectly encapsulated Anderson’s instinctual but considered take on Loewe. Anderson's clothes remain complicated and difficult, to use the words of many observers, but there's no denying it was a powerful debut.
6. Prada – designed by Miuccia Prada, MFW
Miuccia Prada’s place at the very forefront of fashion stems from her continuing investigation into what exactly constitutes beauty and taste, as well as her ability to blend the cerebral with eminently desirable clothes. This season, the Prada showspace was filled with lilac sand dunes, creating an off-world setting for a collection in which raw seams, durable mixed fabrics and sombre tones instilled a sense of improvisation and hardship. The clothes were designed to communicate that they had lived through something; that the audience was witnessing their return from something. The same message could be inferred from the choice to cast returning runway heavyweights Gemma Ward and Lara Stone for the opening and closing looks. The cerebral nature of Mrs Prada’s shows can make them, at times, challenging to process on first sight. This season, however, the message was loud and clear from the very first step.
7. Erdem – designed by Erdem Moralioglu, LFW
Erdem Moralioglu's hauntingly beautiful collection stood out at a lacklustre London Fashion Week. The show was staged in the Old Selfridges Hotel in a space dressed to evoke the Palm House of the Royal Botanic Gardens in London's Kew. The luscious, jungle effect was imbued with an under-the-canopy sense of darkness and danger. The collection's prints, inspired by the paintings of the Victorian botanist Marianne North, included the three-dimensional texture and embellishment which were very much in evidence in London this season as the digital print trend has truly waned. Similar techniques were also seen at Christopher Kane and Mary Katrantzou, but the exquisite hand-embroidery at Erdem was by far the best, capturing the wild, untamed beauty of the verdant earth through the precision of his execution.
8. Bottega Veneta – designed by Thomas Maier, MFW
Thomas Maier’s response to what he sees as a lack of taste in the activewear market was to turn to the ballet. The result was a symphony of understated elegance, the hallmark of Bottega Veneta under Maier’s direction. The first looks of flowing voluminous outerwear atop unrestrictive yet form fitting separates closely referenced dancing silhouettes. Edie Campbell opened the show wearing a leotard with an open knitted jacket, falling just above the knee. Despite its casualness, the impression conveyed was one of true luxury, effortlessly carried. Something of a dress specialist, Maier sent out gingham cotton and denim numbers with abstract sequined appliqué, all affected with a sense of décontracté, perfected imperfection.
9. Dries Van Noten – designed by Dries Van Noten, PFW
Last season, Dries Van Noten's blockbuster retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs was one of the undoubted highlights of Paris Fashion Week. This season, Van Noten remained front of mind throughout the week for a collection staged on a long mossy runway conceived by Alexandra Kehayoglou, an artist known for her organic, lifelike carpets mimicking the terrain of her native Argentina. No Dries collection is complete without gorgeous ethnic prints and rich, sensuous colours, but this one was heightened by the emotion created by the beautiful production. When it was all over, the models lay down languidly on the runway, reflecting the drowned Ophelia of Sir John Everett Millais' masterpiece, Van Noten's inspiration for the collection. Rarely are inspiration and execution so beautifully, clearly and expertly linked.
10. Thom Browne – designed by Thom Browne, NYFW
Thom Browne once again proved himself a leading creative light in American fashion. Continuing his use of colour, the visual intricacy of the designer’s tailored aesthetic was as inventive and tightly controlled as ever. The sheer creativity of Browne's collection was all the more apparent due to the glut of sameness seen elsewhere on the New York runways. As some of the models paraded flower-stuffed handbags around an astroturf pen with a border of red, white and blue (a clear nod to Browne's beloved stripes), others wore huge floral headpieces, created by Stephen Jones, while standing on central plinths: the winning entries in a perverse parody of a small-town fair. The collections Browne shows may not be the focus of his showrooms, but his showmanship leaves viewers feeling, unmistakably, that they have experienced the spirit of his distinctive brand.