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The Business of Fashion

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In Paris, a Season of Normality

Save for a few outliers, simplicity reigned at Paris Fashion Week, writes Angelo Flaccavento.
Loewe Spring/Summer 2024.
Loewe Spring/Summer 2024. (Getty Images)

PARIS — “We miss crazy fashions,” said Demna backstage at the Balenciaga show Sunday. This is why one used to come to Paris Fashion Week: mind-expanding, oftentimes challenging, progressive and, indeed, “crazy” fashions. Less so these days, with the exception of the usual suspects: the Japanese, Rick Owens, John Galliano, Demna himself and the brilliant newcomer Duran Lantik.

Let’s be clear: focusing on what sells, per se, is not a problem. Sales are, after all, what fuels the industry and keeps brands afloat. It is the plague of banality that weighs on things. It is the inability to break one’s own mould, whatever it is, creating a sense of déjà-vu. And in Paris, I was left craving something new.

Accessibility was everywhere and an emphasis on simplicity reigned. Everybody wants to be The Row, but not everybody can grasp that unique, WASP-y, fashion-nun take on less is more. This season, however, even the Olsen twins were in a particularly laid back spirit — towels on shoulders, anyone?

The goings at colourful and crazy Marni looked, according to an hilarious meme, like “ArMARNIfication” this season. But it worked. Despite Francesco Risso’s efforts at producing a truly Parisian extravaganza for his touch down in the city of lights, complete with papier mache crinolines and Comme-inflected roses-sprouting silhouettes inside a tony mansion glistening with gold and stuccoes, it was when his designs were more subdued, even strict, that he truly shone and moved things forward.

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Louise Trotter’s debut at Carven was a balance of strict and soft applied to an hourglass silhouette stripped to the bare minimum. It was a perfectly formed outing of perfectly wearable things that, although inoffensive, lacked originality and personality: from 90s Jil Sander to No21 (Alessandro Dell’Acqua’s riffs of lingerie and ability with spare yet sumptuous decoration where everywhere this season) the references were too evident.

At Givenchy, since the beginning of his tenure in 2020 designer Matthew Williams has gone this way and that in search of an individual signature. This season it was elongated classicism in painterly colours, and a mix of tailoring and flou that wasn’t particularly distinctive.

Giambattista Valli, who the night of his show was awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Artes et des Lettres medal, livened up his act and found a charming, ethereal angle on the glamorous Valli girl. Doing away with over-conceptualised but pointless narratives (save for the distracting if captivating dance and music performance by FKA Twigs that took place during the show) Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli focused on dressmaking, and toyed with ideas of nudity and dress, reflected in a see through, spongy cutout technique that looked like stucco wrought out on the body. It made for a focused if slightly monotonous outing that could have used more intimate staging.

The dance performance that opened and closed the Issey Miyake show was equally distracting, much to the detriment of a masterful windswept collection that was a study in movement and change, captured in cloth and colours. Creative director Satoshi Kondo keeps growing his voice, steadily making the brand relevant again. His way with shape is considered and powerful. And he has managed to preserve Miyake’s focus on technical innovation, still the core of the label’s engine.

Peter Do’s Paris debut was all about precision and a little languor, and it was charming, while Gauchere’s Marie-Christine Statz explored hard-edged 90s minimalism with a soft hand, and scored. Stella McCartney is certainly not a minimalist: her way with the mannish and the girly, however, fits in this vein. This new collection iterated the code accelerating a transgenerational and genderless openness that felt relevant. Less so the “Sustainable Market” that worked as a backdrop to the outing, showcasing some of the label’s innovation partners. As much as it was informative, it fell flat conceptually, the stress on eco-commitments charged with a sort of teenage fervour.

At Victoria Beckham, if the designer wants to be credited as an auteur, she needs to get rid of the obvious Martin Margiela and Loewe references. Elsewhere, it was linen and broken mirrors for an industrial fantasy of racy seduction at Acne Studios, but it all looked rather Balenciaga. The glaring pop set at Dior — Elena Bellantoni’s video collages critiquing late capitalist sexism — conflicted with the mock pauperism of one of Maria Grazia Chiuri’s most sombre and least inspired collections. The orange plastic sheeting at Louis Vuitton did not quite gel with a collection with which Nicolas Ghesquière chartered softer waters and even a certain sentiment, doing away with the hard, robotic looks he so often dons. Spontaneity was still missing, but a certain French spleen made the goings engaging.

At Saint Laurent monumental slabs of marble, much in the vein of the maison’s stores, created a funereal feel that perfectly matched a softly militaristic collection that basically circled around Yves’ own Safari jacket of 1967. Anthony Vaccarello, however, took away the counterculture, street protest vibes that made that piece so memorable back in the day, and amplified the madame aspect. It’s a process that’s been going on for quite a few seasons now: the youthful way of his beginnings is gone, and Vaccarello is finally exploring a more mature side of his woman. There was elegance and precision, but that bolt of energy that made things special looked sedated.

The context was gorgeously dilapidated at Dries Van Noten: a feast of délabré everything that amplified the layered richness of a collection in which the masculine and the feminine met, merging graphism and decoration in ways that were quintessentially Dries, yet not nostalgic. The lack of social media tricks, despite the cavernous, sound-enhancing venue, highlighted the inherent dryness, even dullness of Coperni just as much as it took a cracking floor to add tingle to a powerful Courrèges outing in which Nicolas Di Felice added fluidity to his usually firm lines, finding new ways to deliver an youthful, energetic take on sex appeal.

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At Hermès, it was a real prairie inside a white box: a Jacquemus-esque way to enhance a collection in which Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski explored a softer take on tailoring and leather, delivering quiet luxury in not so quiet shades of red. At Chanel, an abstract rendition of Hyères’ Villa Noailles framed Virginie Viard’s modernist, slightly yé-yé Chanel. A certain clumsiness, however, was still visible.

Elsewhere, streamlining meant a focus not on verticality, but on shapely sculptural construction. Chitose Abe channelled a kind of Gianfranco Ferré architectural grandeur at Sacai, mixed with her unique take on metropolitan sleekness on tall platforms, and it was a blast. Gabriel Hearst’s last show at Chloé was a bit lazy and dry, and left the brand in need to better define the woman it caters to. At Mugler, bustiers and floating veils were all Casey Cadwallader needed to attain a powerful fashion drama and attune once again Thierry’s uber glamour to the now. The wide span of the late Mugler’s expression has of course been compacted and restricted along the way but to powerful effect.

Sarah Burton’s final outing at Alexander McQueen was a touching recap of what the house that Lee built stands for: empowering women through clothing, exploring the joys of sartorial technique along the way. The shapeliness over at Balmain was of a more flamboyant, even camp kind. And yet, Olivier Rousteing is newly in a softer mode, and the results had an individual charm. At Schiaparelli, Daniel Roseberry went a bit all over the place: the strictness was convincing, but the Moschino-esque messiness and humour were literal in the Elsa world and unnecessary.

Much of the season was about reasserting brand identities, hammering on the codes in order to safely occupy space in an overcrowded market full of pale, interchangeable fashion entities. It was primaevalmetal and sci-fi galore at Rabanne, a resort spirit for every season at Zimmermann and twisting, collapsing, twirling multipurpose shapes at Y/Project. The same, different. Stefano Gallici’s debut at Ann Demeulemeester riffed on Ann’s barbarian, multilayered side, and on the trailing ribbons, and emotional tailoring. The point of view is there and the execution was flawless, but further steering away from the archive will do Gallici good in the future. Yohji Yamamoto is a master of endurance, forever black and poetic. This season the master was feeling particularly black — not even a single white or red passage — but a new sensuality crept in, and the body felt more alive, the skin more visible.