Paris has been building to a crescendo with plenty of ideas, but the biggest conversation starters undoubtedly came in the final days of ‘fashion month’.  Looking back to find a vision of the future, feminist protests – both vocal and silent – and a beautiful return to form from some of the most talented ateliers in the world.  Take a deep breath and swoon as the themes of the season solidify: what we’ll see in the magazines, in shops and on the high street has now taken shape. 

Female protest

Much has already been said about Chanel’s controversial S/S15 show.  After a peaceful stroll down a constructed Boulevard Chanel filled with finely worked tweeds, beaded pinstripes and an anything-goes attitude, Cara Delevingne yelled “Come on” into a loudhailer, leading a troupe of models down the  runway, waving placards that said "Make Fashion Not War", "Ladies First", "Feministe Mais Feminine" and a “He for She” nod to Emma Watson’s UN campaign.  What did it all mean?  Why was Karl Lagerfeld walking placidly at the side marvelling at this faux-protest?  Was he mocking feminism or rooting for it?  And in light of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, did Chanel’s high fashion activist masquerade jar rather than delight?  Opinions are divided.  But discussion is rampant; perhaps that can be the positive result of it all.

Miuccia Prada is on surer footing with her female treatise: 1950s rebel girls hobbling on stilettos in beautiful house coats and checked cinched-in pencil skirts.  She’s been there and done that when it comes to mining the complexities of the female psyche and with John Waters’ Female Trouble soundtrack contrasting with the Shangri Las’ spoken-word paean to teenage heartbreak, it made for a potent end note to Paris Fashion Week. 

That ‘70s thing

We’ve figured it out.  That ‘60s/’70sthing that so many designers have been riffing on of this season can be traced to two venerable sources.  One is Hedi Slimane, whose divisive collections at Saint Laurent have unwittingly made their way into a general designer consciousness.  From the ‘60s mod-ish chicks of last season, we travelled to the late ‘70s chez Saint Laurent as glam rock took hold: bejeweled mini dresses, cropped jackets and mini leathers said “I’m with the band…”  The question of what is new about what Slimane is doing at Saint Laurent is becoming almost irrelevant.  He’s tugging on the purse strings of rampant consumers and fattening the profits of the house. 

Nicolas Ghesquière, just two seasons in at Louis Vuitton, the biggest house of them all, was ready to fully refresh and reboot.  He took us to the newly completed Frank Gehry-designed Louis Vuitton Foundation in the Bois de Boulogne.  Its impressive structural scale was matched by the ambition as stated in an intro video of eerily projected faces glowing in the darkened show space: “The LV house wants to explore the ability to travel to any part of the universe without moving. The journey starts here.”

That journey consisted of the familiar and the unfamiliar.  Ghesquière’s first collection for the house set the language of ‘70s-tinged short and cropped and flared-out silhouettes but he’s turning up the volume now with lurid floral velvet suits, flower monogram pink heels on go-go boots and lipstick and eyelash curler prints.  At his previous employer Balenciaga, Ghesquière was very good at making the questionable look entirely convincing.  At Louis Vuitton, he’s doing the same but with the added sheen of invincibility that this house offers. 

Just sigh…

Ready-to-wear almost equates to haute couture in many houses and despite this being ready-to-wear weeks, many of the dresses seen won’t even make it onto a shop rail because they’re so expensive to produce.  That means they’re sheer eye candy and there is absolutely nothing wrong with reveling in the mastery of ateliers.  Valentino’s Rome-based atelier works wonders guided by creative directors Maria Grazia Chiuri & Pierpaolo Piccioli.  Their collection was inspired by 18th Century grand tours of Italy and it consisted of a sumptuous exploration of classicism, baroque florals and magical seascapes.  When we went under the sea with barnacle embroidery, pirate ship treasure beadwork and hand-painted chiffon, it was the stuff of dreams.  And dreaming in fashion is still vastly important, despite what the money spinners say. 

Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen is straddling that balance between shop-floor-ready pieces and the limits of skill and creativity, which both the house and the late Lee McQueen were known for. The balance was addressed in this latest collection of japonaiserie, where Kansai Yamaoto-inspired graphics and sakura (cherry) blossom embroidery took over.  Much of it was wearable.  A few though still showcased the highest haute couture which the brand strives for, such as a netted cape hand-embroidered with miniscule pom poms or organza and ceramic petals combined on floor-length gowns.  They took your breath away – a moment to savour. 

Susie Lau is a fashion journalist who blogs at stylebubble.co.uk. She is covering New York, London, Milan and Paris Fashion Weeks for BBC Culture.

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