The Paris Fashion Week that closed on Tuesday was split into labels that returned to pre-pandemic norms and those that did things differently.
At Hermès, there was a sense that nothing had changed. The show was held at Le Bourget, a private airport, to which guests were ferried by an armada of black cars with little regard for the waste of time and fuel, nor how the message would go down at a time when the world is facing a climate crisis. “New horizons” was Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski’s rationale. And yet the collection was nothing new, if more streamlined and concise than usual. Storytelling can sometimes be a killer.
The grandiosity of the Saint Laurent show — which ended with a finale doused in artificial rain and featured the nth 80s redux, complete with rake-thin models tip-toeing on heels so high they looked like fetish dolls not the empowered Paloma Picasso they were meant to channel — was just as unnerving. The collection itself was actually good, but designer Anthony Vaccarello seems to be stuck in a formula.
At Givenchy, Matthew M. Williams also went big for his first IRL presentation, though the clothes didn’t quite live up to the scale of the production. Williams has been called in to re-energise Givenchy for the next-generation, but the image he is devising, save for the gargantuan Bottega-inflected boots, reminds this critic of his predecessor Riccardo Tisci: the same tough femininity, the same military feel, the same hints of gothic — but not the same sense of metier.
Nobody went bigger than Balmain, however, but at least for good reason. In order to connect with consumers directly, while celebrating ten years at the house, creative director Olivier Rousteing organised nothing less than a festival, hosted in an arena outside Paris, complete with live music and open to the public. After eighteen months of confinement, this was the kind of gathering many people were after. But the experience overshadowed the fashion.
Ah, fashion. Does anybody really care about it anymore? Silhouette, line, texture seem to have become an afterthought. Entertainment is now the name of the game.
At Balenciaga, a temple of fashion disruption since the start of Demna Gvasalia’s tenure, the red-carpet extravaganza that accompanied the screening of a custom Simpsons episode was revolutionary for its format, layers of meaning and sardonic humour. Playing with the inside and the outside of the theatre, involving celebrities, models and industry showgoers alike in the red carpet-meets-show concept, Gvasalia seemed to reflect on the contemporary obsession with fame, and how life in general seems to be real only if it appears on a screen. It was highly engaging, but fashion-wise the goings looked stuck where they have been for too long now. Entertainment is fine, but from a talent like Gvasalia one also expects design. Repetition can be good for cohesive brand-building, but in the long run one needs evolution. This Balenciaga outing certainly grabbed headlines, but it was also a little lazy design-wise. The plot of the Simpsons episode could also have been better devised: it was a little too clearly merch-ready, with the Anna Wintour glorification a tad de trop.
Chanel, too, was all about the show: a nostalgic teleporting to the 80s heyday of raised catwalks and models sashaying in groups interpreting the looks, complete with photographers surrounding the runway. It was fun but fashion-wise it was confusing: how long can Chanel keep capitalising on its past?
At Valentino, Pierpaolo Piccioli broke the catwalk show mould by creating a tranche de vie movement between the inside and the outside of the Carreau du Temple, much in the vein of what other designers have done in the past, most notably Natasha Ramsey with her last Chloé show one year ago. It made for an enjoyable spectacle filled with some beautiful clothes, the best of which were still too distant from anything truly meant for the street, no matter how heavy the boots.
For her sophomore Chloé collection — and first IRL show — Gabriela Heart chose the Quai de la Tournelle on the Seine, with breathtaking views of Notre Dame and the île Saint-Louis. It was a way to create emotion and connection, making the show permeable to the surroundings. Spectators lined the nearby Pont de la Tournelle. Spirits were high. And yet the fashion, despite the emphasis on craft, was a bit flat.
The handmade clashed with the futuristic at Acne, but the results were messy rather than progressive. Meanwhile, at Ann Demulemeester, it was a feast of long skirts and dangling straps and black and white which, for the very first time, included denim. Now part of Claudio Antonioli’s Dreamers Group, the revered Belgian brand is undergoing a revamp with Demeulemeester (who attended the show) back as an advisor. There’s certainly work to be done. The brand was so relevant in the 90s, but has yet to find its place in the present moment. Stellar casting and an uber-stylist are not enough. The line has been designed by the studio since ousting of Sébastien Meunier and the matter of appointing a new head designer remains unresolved.
Sometimes small, in terms of show, is better for delivering a message with precision. There was refreshing conciseness to Yang Li’s debut at the helm of Shang Xia, the Chinese brand established by Hermès a decade ago and in which Italy’s Exor group recently bought a majority stake. Echoes of trademark minimalists Helmut Lang and Jil Sander could clearly be felt, and Li played it quite safe. But with a bit more personality, this could really work. Giambattista Valli staged an intimate show amid the permanent collection of the Musée d’Art Moderne: it was the perfect backdrop for a refreshing evolution of the Valli girl, no more glamourpuss but a jeune fille on the verge of sexual awakening. Also opting for a more intimate show at the Hôtel de Ville, Yohji Yamamoto offered another masterful outing in black deconstruction that was as repetitive as it was beautiful. And under the columns of the Palais Brongniart, where one could almost touch the models, Raf Simons revisited the school uniforms of his early days with a heavy dose of Prada. The result was discombobulating.
As in New York, London and Milan, sex was everywhere in Paris this week: skintight clothes, high slits, cut-outs, bra cups. It all looked pretty predictable, with trademark French angularity at Coperni and electrifying rave in the fields tones at Courrèges. Artistic director Nicolas Di Felice keeps pushing the futurist brand forward, upping the ante on sexiness without forgetting the ease. Meanwhile, sex came with a lot of bandages and eyelets at Ludovic de Saint Sernin, while at Lanvin it was full on glam with a roaring twenties vibes. Of late, creative director Bruno Sialelli has morphed the Lanvin woman into a grown-up figure, whilst keeping the Lanvin man in a teenage bubble, which creates an interesting tension. Still, there is work to be done to fine tune the recipe.
A few designers still seemed genuinely interested in serious fashion experimentation: shape, drape, silhouette. Dries Van Noten presented his collection via pictures and video, but the ecstatic and hedonistic play with colour and shape came through. Back in Paris after four memorable shows at the Venice Lido, Rick Owens proved himself again to be a master with his intensely personal take on glamour, beauty and ritualism, swinging elegantly between strictness and abandon.
At Miu Miu, Miuccia Prada delivered one of the strongest and most exciting fashion statements of the season. With brutal scissoring, Prada brought new proportions to staid masculine and feminine classics, from jumpers to grey trousers, brilliantly highlighting how the smartest ideas are almost always the simplest.
At Loewe, Jonathan Anderson charted new waters, playing with shape and colour. Staged inside a blank box to trance-inducing music, the show was a celebration of awkward beauty so thoughtful and perfect it could be seen as pretentious. For sure, the roots of Anderson’s work are apparent, from Rei Kawakubo to Hussein Chalayan to Rick Owens. And yet it’s not about where things come from but where one takes them that matters — and Anderson took his inputs forward to produce a beautiful fashionscape of distorted bodies and sensuality that was as crazy as a Pontormo composition, with the coolness that is Anderson’s signature. There is clearly fire under the ice, something that Nicolas Ghesqière’s similarly experimental vision at Louis Vuitton lacked. This season the grand bal across time was sumptuous, if also self-absorbed and voiceless. Where was the emotion?
The late Alber Elbaz was very good at emotion, something the cheerful homage that closed fashion week only partly delivered. Commemorations are always hard: in the end, it’s like the focus shifts from the one who is missing to those who are present. And this was no exception but the spirit was very warm. Elbaz had everything that is rare and therefore doubly precious at the moment: metier, humour, a love for women, a sense of reality. Fashion is poorer without him.