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In Paris, Clothes or Concepts?

Maison Margiela, Jean Paul Gaultier and Fendi presented haute couture collections that doubled down on heritage but lacked purpose, writes Angelo Flaccavento.
Fendi, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Maison Margiela present their Haute Couture collections. Courtesy.
Fendi, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Maison Margiela Autumn/Winter 2021 Haute Couture collections. Courtesy.

Heritage is vital in contemporary fashion and even more so in haute couture. Indeed, the Paris couture collections which closed on Thursday revolved largely around la patrimoine.

Gaultier Paris, despite being a relatively young maison, has its own signatures: conical bras, riffs on the masculine and the feminine, pinstripes and bustiers, Breton stripes and tartan. Some of these elements already feature in the repertoire of Chitose Abe, founder and creative director of Sacai who this season collaborated with Jean Paul Gaultier to reinterpret his distinctive iconography, the first in a series of guest collaborations planned by the French designer after officially closing his label.

The fusion worked: the two identities — true to Abe’s proclivity for angular collage — came together jaggedly, so that one could see the Gaultier codes scissored, taken apart and then put back together in the Sacai way. There was a fierce edge to the proceedings, and it was charming to see the familiar become slightly unfamiliar. The cool factor was undoubtedly high, but the exercise ultimately begged the question: for what purpose?

Meanwhile, the legacy of Martin Margiela long ago turned into a pale ghost chez Maison Margiela. Although loyal to the deconstructivist approach of the label’s founder, with each season creative director John Galliano has edged closer and closer to his own highly romantic, English eccentric sensibility drenched in encyclopaedic fashion history knowledge and unbridled flights of fancy. This time around, the Galliano-isation of Maison Margiela reached a peak. It was a visual and technical feast, but also a bit of l’art pour l’art.

Viktor & Rolf’s exploration of royalty, complete with crowns and sashes, was another exercise in hilarity and volume that, despite being perfectly apropos given our obsessions with royal families and their gossip, felt like it was happening in the designers’ own bubble. One wonders who these creations are designed for. Clothes lack purpose when they are created as mere concepts to display in museums or photos.

In his second outing for the revered Roman house of Fendi, Kim Jones focused the Eternal City itself, which has been core to the brand’s DNA since the very beginning. The show came with metaphysical architecture representing the coexistence of past and present in Rome. But that was mere storytelling. The collection bore no sign of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s harsh pictorialism, nor his emotional fondness for the suburbs, despite the Italian filmmaker’s appearance in the show notes. Instead, it was all about the marbles, the statues and the intarsia of Rome — reproduced as prints, embroideries, jacquards. So much so, in fact, that the dresses looked set in stone more than made of fabrics. This rigidity killed the sense of grandness and made the cast of goddesses of all ages, led by Kate Moss, look more static than divine.

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