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In Paris, Creators and Imposters

The Paris Fashion Week that closed on Tuesday offered both sparks of originality and shameless theft, writes Angelo Flaccavento.
A model walks the runway for Dries Van Noten's Spring/Summer 2023 show.
A model walks the runway for Dries Van Noten's Spring/Summer 2023 show. (Getty Images)

PARIS — The Paris fashion week that closed Tuesday offered further proof that the industry has entered the age of the imposture: designers who feel entitled to blatantly steal — pieces, tropes, collections, entire identities — from other designers and houses and claim everything as their own without the slightest shame. Of course, the creative process often begins with a reference. But it’s the inability to push these starting points forward that’s offensive.

Givenchy’s much-trumpeted swing towards a sultrier, more seductive brand of femininity, Matthew Williams’ tenure having thus far lacked both substance and warmth, came with blatant theft: Chanel tweed jackets; Gianni Versace’s fetish bras; Ghesquière-era Balenciaga’s sleekness; there were even bags that looked like vintage Gucci. None of it held together.

Isabel Marant said she was going back to the roots. It all looked very 2002. Balenciaga 2002. See the slightly ethnic tops and slouchy bottoms. Ludovic de Saint-Sernin has a charming brand identity, an extra-sultry take on minimalism; his Baguette bag replicas were needless. At Ann Demeulemeester, a fresh collection of signature black and white, elongation and deconstruction came with head-scratching styling tricks lifted from another Belgian, Mr Martin Margiela. See the ribbons around fingers and big shirts crushed under sheer second skin tops.

There was theft at Balmain, too. If the show with the giant video walls and models wearing humongous platforms recalled Alexander McQueen’s Plato’s Atlantis, the silhouettes bore heavy references to the same collection, but also to Vivienne Westwood’s draping, corsets and 18th century painting prints. There was a hell of a lot of Westwood at Dior, too, delivered with Maria Grazia Chiuri’s trademark pragmatism. At Coperni, in a much TikTok-ed moment, a dress was sprayed onto Bella Hadid, recalling the unforgettable Spring 1999 Alexander McQueen show where robots spray-painted Shalom Harlow’s white dress, but without the pathos. It looked like a gimmick conceived for social media disconnected from the rest of the collection.


At Victoria Beckham, some Margiela-esque tailoring met the extra-feminine silhouettes of the late Azzedine Alaïa, probably the most referenced master of the season. Alaïa’s slinkiness popped up at Saint Laurent, too, while his cutouts on the hips made an appearance in muddy, penitential form at Kanye West’s YZYSZN9, probably the season’s most hyped, most meaningless and disappointing show — an ugly mix of unbridled egotism and undeserved media exposure — despite the behind-the-scenes efforts of a talent like Shayne Oliver.

Truth be told, Kanye West has created an influential aesthetic drawing in equal measures from Demna’s Balenciaga and Rick Owens’ glunge, but set against the utter cynicism of “WHITE LIVES MATTER” emblazoned on T-shirts in a desperate and tasteless attempt to generate social media scandal, it lost any appeal. West’s provocations give him a platform he does not really deserve and we, the press, are also to blame for that.

By contrast, Lamine Kouyaté's Xuly.Bët, which held a 30th anniversary show on the street, felt energetic, real and just as genuinely disruptive as it was at the beginning, no scandal needed.

Elsewhere, Dries Van Noten, back with a physical show after a long absence, delivered an emotional masterpiece moving from sculptural black to frilly — at times frumpy — colour. It was a true joy for the eye. Colour and an angular take on camp made an appearance in yet another sublime outing by Rick Owens, whose take on the femme fatale traced a vibrating line between the ancient past and a remote future.

At Loewe, Jonathan Anderson cleaned the slate, cutting back on the surrealism that has marked recent seasons and offering a vision of twisted, sensual precision that was as soothing as it was inspiring. Anderson is also a fitting example of the difference between mere copying and reinvention. One can spot references in his work — the stunning compact knit optical minidresses had something of Alaïa to them, but everything ends up in his warped fashion blender that distorts and recreates while challenging the viewers’ perceptions.

The hi-octane energy at Vaquera is original, too, just like Ester Manas’ take on multisize sexywear. And of course one can always count on the Japanese for a shot of the unseen and inspiring, from Yohji Yamamoto’s sensual bustles to Junya Watanabe’s willowing and sweeping take on tailoring served with an amusing, if too literal, new romantic styling. The slashed romance at Undercover was elating as it felt sharp, while Comme des Garçons has increasingly become a cryptic spectacle of bulbous forms that, albeit fascinating, leaves one wishing Rei Kawakubo would return to showing fashion — and not art — on the catwalk.

Overall, the season was torn between darkness and twisted romanticism. The latter, considering the New Middle Ages we are inhabiting, felt as fresh, and volatile, as a spoonful of sorbet. It went from the X-rated wedding extravaganza of Acne Studios — one of the brand’s best outings in years — to the sheer joy and the sparkle of AZ Factory, where resident designer Lutz gave the familiar Alber Elbaz tropes an urban, fresh spin. A stress on lightness and whiffs of India brought a much needed zest of freshness into the Valli world, and it was lovely. Romance and textile engineering met at Issey Miyake, where Satoshi Kondo keeps forging his niche as an author. Yang Li’s exacting, minimalistic vision for Shang Xia took off by way of sugary watercolour hues that made even the simplest pieces feel charming and seductive.

Otherwise, it was the apocalypse, and nowhere did it get darker and more disturbing than at Balenciaga. Demna is both a consummate dressmaker and a punchy storyteller. But this season, his muddy extravaganza, despite being visually striking, felt a little de trop, a little fabricated, which lessened the impact. Meanwhile, the idea of luxury as something essentially based around trainers, jeans and hoodies was both repetitive and cynical. Sure, luxury today does not mean polished, as Demna stated in the articulated show notes. Still, either pristine or destroyed, designer fashion is exclusive: it caters those in the upper echelons of society. Dressing these clients as outcasts is highly twisted.


Leave it to Miuccia Prada to address the times in ways that were thoughtful, light and fashion-forward. If the moment requires readiness and readiness means function, why not merge it with decoration? At Miu Miu, the collection was an exciting collage of the brand’s tropes — the sheerness, the bling bling, the raw hems, the miniskirts — and utility, carried out with a zing of immediacy thanks to Lotta Volkova’s impeccable styling. It was one of the best shows of the season. At Vuitton, function came with a surreal (and very JW Anderson) twist: micro and macro, extra-short and blown-up functional details like giant zippers. It all felt jolly and energetic but ultimately a bit of a gimmick. Beautiful People is all about the gimmick, but in a meaningful and poetic way. What designer Kuma extracted from transformed military dresses was poignant and touching to say the least.

In a season of more and more, the act of stripping down felt more relevant than ever. As an event, the Valentino show did not work, but Pierpaolo Piccioli’s exploration of less had both elegance and a zing of camp. Gabriela Hearst keeps stripping things down and hardening the results at Chloé. There were beautiful pieces in the collection, but Chloé's peculiar brand of feminine softness seemed lost. At Saint Laurent, stripping down came with powerful elongation: armour-like coats over long dresses and seduction aplenty, mixing memories of Yves himself with references to Alaïa and Claude Montana. Despite the debts, this was a vision of elegance with grace and substance.

In a season full of chaos, The Row delivered a much needed whisper of serenity. What the Olsen twins keep doing with the identity of the brand since they moved operations to Paris is outstanding. The roots of their work are apparent — early Yohji, ‘90s Jil Sander — but the execution is original: light and immediate, with a WASP-y proclivity for less. Real luxury today is something personal and private: the opposite of showing off.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on 6 October 2022. A previous version of this article misstated that Rick Owens attended the YZYSZN9 show. He did not.

Further Reading

Kanye Co-opts Paris Fashion Week

Perennial media magnet Kanye West may know how to attract attention by staging a surprise show, but Thom Browne and Sacai’s Chitose Abe reminded us of the true quirk, strangeness and charm of fashion.

What’s in the Box?

Battered but unbroken, Demna is battling his way out of a box at Balenciaga. But at Valentino, Pierpaolo Piccioli’s box is packed with possibilities.

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