March 6, 2014 12:20 am

Paris Fashion Week: Show season ends with a fresh start

A new designer at Louis Vuitton heralds a divergence in approaches

And so it ended – with a beginning. Sometimes, the cycle of fashion and the circle of life are the same, even if the soundtrack is different.

As Paris Fashion Week, and the entire ready-to-wear shows, drew to a close, it was to Skream featuring Kelis, Connan Mockasin (“Please Turn Me into the Snat”) and Beyoncé’s “Haunted” instead of Elton John, Tim Rice and a bunch of singing lions.

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Vanessa Friedman

Still, the sense of possibility was palpable. Even the sun came out, after weeks of rain, on Nicolas Ghesquière’s long-awaited debut at Louis Vuitton. All the hype and hoo-ha, the long, long build-up of waiting through New York and London and Milan and Paris, was finally over. Was it worth it?

He let the light in.

Entitled “a dozen girls”, the collection stripped the brand’s womenswear down to its basics, trading showmanship for rigorous simplicity in the form of a strict silhouette – crisp A-line skirts that ended just above the knee, neat shells and jackets, waists nipped in with a knotted belt; skinny, shiny techno trousers and flippy tank dresses – with embellishment woven into the fabric of the garment via texture, as opposed to stuck on from outside. There was a through line of leather (in trim, 1960s car coats, shell tops) connecting the clothes to the brand’s historical identity, and a sense of functionality that mirrored the toughness of the famous bags.

“The thing about this house is, it belongs to everyone,” said Mr Ghesquière after the show. “So I felt we had to be very pragmatic: it’s a wardrobe. It’s not thematic, there’s no overarching narrative. The idea was just to set up some rules we can develop for the future.”

It was a fresh start if not an enormous statement, and in many ways it formalised a growing split that has become apparent in the fashion world over the past few weeks between clothes that reflect life on the one hand, and clothes that dramatise it on the other.

For the latter, for example, see Alexander McQueen, where Sarah Burton once again demonstrated what happens when unfettered imagination meets a nonpareil atelier, in a re-envisioning of Beauty and the Beast that seemed to mostly describe how beauty exists in the beastly, or the beastly can be beautiful, or something.

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Material World

Dressed up: Vanessa Friedman blogs on the fashion/luxury industry from both a corporate and consumer point of view

Dark velvet goat-trimmed baby-doll coats came out over white broderie anglaise baby-doll dresses; empire-waisted frocks had tiers and tiers of leather lace mixed with fur pom-poms and velvet, so you could barely tell what was what; trousers were skinny and cropped and textural under matching skunk jackets with oversize collars and bows; capes were covered with tiny, multicoloured feathers like a pointillist painting; and evening gowns had trains of feathers that undulated across the floor like a living thing.

It was extreme, no question, but here’s the thing: there was not a restrictive corset to be seen, or a hobble skirt. Even the shoes were flat velvet or crystal-encrusted lace-up boots. And viewed in the context of the brand’s other activities (ie, as a quasi in-house wardrober to the Duchess of Cambridge, where its employees continually demonstrate their ability to make wearable clothes), the show served as something of a canny antidote, proving the label has not been entirely – well, tamed, by the Palace.

Meanwhile, back on the opposite extreme was Moncler Gamme Rouge, where designer Giambattista Valli eschewed the campy scene-setting of his recent shows for the brand (that have involved half-naked lifeguards and men in gorilla suits) for a straightforward panoply of coats: broadtail and puffa; bristling silver spikes from grey flannel and with a sporty stripe: sequinned and camouflage or rose jacquard.

Likewise, at Hermès, Christophe Lemaire stuck to his formula of rigorously simple separates in ultra-luxurious fabrics, from black leather wrap coats that were the sartorial equivalent of the Kelly bag to silk print tunics à la signature scarves, and broadtail dresses rendered as supple as satin.

This being fashion, however, where nothing is just black and white but also grey and gold and purple and pink, there was also Miuccia Prada’s Miu Miu, which was neither entirely practical nor over-the-top, but rather an exuberant bit of both.

She shrink-wrapped the floors and pillars of the Palais D’lena in plastic, stacked her front row with youthful celebrities (Lupita Nyong’o, Elle Fanning, Margot Robbie and Léa Seydoux, among others), and then layered her runway with ideas.

Sportswear-inspired pastel nylon-quilted car coats came over pastel quilted miniskirts, which then segued into tinted vinyl raincoats over pleated silk charmeuse dresses, which became wool great coats over wool minis, which transmogrified into metallic brocade, and plastic skirts grommeted with utilitarian adornment, and so on. Nothing was below the knee except the coats, and it was entirely free of frills, but it felt awfully fancy nonetheless.

Once upon a season, in Paris.

(Until it all starts again, in September.)

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