Paris, the grande dame of all fashion weeks, has just come to a close, and as predicted, it’s a week that has clarified the main themes of the season. It’s the most emotive week too. At shows, your heart is pounding and your eyes well up because of a combination of beautiful clothes, soundtrack and atmosphere. Case in point: I cried a little twice this week (I blame the rousing music) once at Alexander McQueen, where Sarah Burton combined Björk’s Bachelorette, trailing paganistic gowns on a wild highland set to arresting effect, and then again at Nicolas Ghesquiere’s debut for Louis Vuitton.
These tears of joys are rare moments in this machine of an industry, where sellable product and profit margin outweigh impassioned gestures and limitless creativity. That Paris was the city to claim these moments asserts its position at the top of the fashion-week pile. On the schlep back to London on the Eurostar, in our heads we were celebrating the fact that there was so much to digest, to think about and to analyse. Oh, and the clothes happened to be great too. In Paris, spectacle and concept surround strong clothes; they don’t overpower them.
The real deal
The world’s three biggest fashion houses now have strong creatives at their helms, each with a distinctive point of view. But funnily enough, they all seem to be on the same page in addressing the question of what ‘real’ women want to wear. For the most part, that didn’t include anything too tricky or conceptual.
The most anticipated show of the season undoubtedly was Nicolas Ghesquière’s debut for Louis Vuitton on the very last day of the week. Since Ghesquiere’s departure from Balenciaga 18 months ago, his absence has been felt there, though his influence still reigns supreme. At Louis Vuitton, a house famed for its leather goods, it wasn’t going to be Balenciaga-lite.. The designer stripped it down to lean and streamlined, ‘60s and ‘70s silhouettes, while working his magic in a subtle yet powerful way.
In contrast to previous Louis Vuitton collections by Ghesquière’s predecessor Marc Jacobs – wherethe spectacle of the show dominated – here all eyes were firmly on the clothes. And the bags too, which were cleverly altered by Ghesquière. As the sun streamed in to the specially constructed set through mechanic venetian blinds, we knew we were witnessing a ‘new day’ (as penned by Ghesquière’s note left on our seats) where wearable clothes imbued with creativity will rule the roost.
Hedi Slimane’s tenure at Saint Laurent has been a rocky one, specifically when it comes to impressing fashion critics.Sales, however, are good,. Slimane ‘was similarly on a retro ‘60s path, trussing up his girls in Twiggy-esque mini dresses, short A-line coats and crystal-covered go-go boots – the sort of youthquake clothes that Yves Saint Laurent himself designed in his early years. This repeated silhouette was alluring. Slimane isn’t out to reinvent the wheel, and that’s what’s making those tills go ker-ching.
Raf Simons has thus far been a match made in heaven for Dior, the only criticism being that his homage to Christian Dior can be at the cost of his own design identity. Basing almost his entire collection on tailoring, Simons cut into the classic bar jacket and spliced into dresses, adding adjustments with lace-up detailing. Heshowed what a brilliant colourist he is, as an array of bright hues worked with more muted tones. It smacked of modernity without trying too hard. Simons is fully bedded into Dior, and that showed.
New York Magazine coined the term ‘normcore’ to describe the current vogue for clothes that are non-descript and bland in reaction to prints, logos and the look-at-me, selfie culture of our times. That buzzword has been reflected in the shows and and sits well with the season’s most prevalent theme of comfort dressing. Trust certain designers to take ‘normal’ and elevate that idea to another level, though, and Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons always proposes her own definition, one that seems bonkers to everyone elseHumble jumpers were blown up, distorted and mangled into walking sculptures, so that models looked swaddled and cocooned. It’s a simple idea with an extreme outcome – one that will filter down into more wearable pieces.
Rick Owens reflected on diversitywith women of different ages, sizes and race. The message was that his severe and deconstructed aesthetic can exist in reality, not just on waifs on a catwalk. At Céline, Phoebe Philo always brings a new idea that shifts a season. In reaction to last season’s bold abstract graphics, Philo looked at the quiet strength of women like Lee Miller with 1930s-inspired tailoring. It’s the sort of dream ‘normcore’ attire that women would love to have in their wardrobes with loose trousers for daily life and coats that you’d want to slip on and live in.
Product, glorious product! That’s what fashion’s CEOs are calling for. Luxury-brand profits are growing but more is always welcome. And so it was that Karl Lagerfeld went all Supermarket Sweep on us with his Chanel Shopping Center set, paying homage to a temple of consumerism. Shopping aisles were filled with packaged goods, all given a Chanel spins – Jambon Cambon, Coco Flakes, Mademoiselle Privé doormats – it had the audience in Instagram and selfie overdrive.
The models shopped in their sports-inflected, ravey knits and tweeds, worn with chunky trainers, as the audience looked on. Then it was announced over the public address system that the Chanel Shopping Center was closing and we were free to take whatever we wanted, as long as it was sweets, fruit or veg. But the audience lunged dramatically at the Chanel-branded products, (the doormats were snapped up in a flash). -Who wants an apple when a Chanel-branded biscuit tin is up for grabs? Sadly, security guards were at the exit doors to seize people’s loot. That’s the best punch-line in Lagerfeld’s Warholian commentary. You can look and you can touch, but you can’t take. That’s the luxury houses for the majority of people.
At Balenciaga, Alexander Wang, who has had a slow but steady start, was all about the product – his models carried three or four handbags all at once. They didn’t overshadow the techy outerwear and couture streetwear hybrids, but they did send a message out that Balenciaga right now is about moving stock – very good stock, at that.
For a more off-kilter view on consumer desirability, look to Miu Miu, the younger sister of Prada. The clothes were fit for a front row of actress ingénues including Léa Seydoux, Stacy Martin and Lupita Nyong’o with cute pairings of childish plastic macs and retro knitwear with metallic brocade mini-dresses and rain-boot stilettos. Mrs Prada is exceedingly good at persuading her fans to buy into her world, and she’s a master of combining commerce and creativity. I found myself making a mental note of the quilted, metallic jackets and a pair of clear plastic boots with a metal screw heel. Why? I have no idea, but I want them all the same.
More of Susie Lau's writing can be found here.