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Paris Fashion Week has ended, and with it the autumn/winter collections, and the texture of fashion feels quite altered in its wake. It all began in New York and London with a lightening bolt of new opportunity and the launch of “see now buy now”, sell-straight-off-the-catwalk retail initiatives. It found haute-ier values and resistance as the month progressed. In the more established fashion cities of Milan and Paris, the industry isn’t interested in making the catwalk a commodities game.
Even so, come September I will no longer be critiquing solely spring/summer clothes but a seasonal confusion of collections in which some brands will sell straight off the runway, others will offer individual items for sale, and others will make us wait. Meanwhile, magazine editors are scratching their heads wondering just what should go in which month’s issue.
The fashion industry uncertainties have been nothing compared to the bigger debates of the day. The AW16 shows played out against the backdrop of deep political unhappiness as Britons debate leaving the European Union, and Americans debate electing Donald Trump. Meanwhile, the refugee deal being brokered between the EU and Turkey will attempt to check the tide of migrants who are flooding through its borders, as a fragile ceasefire continues in Syria.
In Paris, still not quite recovered from the Bataclan shootings in November, and in the midst of yet another transport strike, the atmosphere has felt especially heightened. Entering each show has necessitated a mandatory bag search and body sweep. Barking security dogs and extra police numbers have hovered at every entrance. And it’s rained: almost every day for the entire season’s duration, and in every city.
Is the political climate reflected in fashion? Almost certainly not, but the atmosphere does change one’s point of view. Is it a coincidence that so many designers have presented great big quilted coats, down-filled bombers and waterproof puffas on their catwalks? Or have we onlookers just been searching them out?
At a vulnerable moment there has been a surfeit of comfort blankets to choose from in Paris. There has also been a huge emphasis on fluid pyjama-styles and robe coats, for those who no longer wish to venture out into the big, bad world. And leisurewear that looks plain but costs a packet. We are entering an era of the £1,000 tracksuit, and it’s not pink nor made of velour. Photographer Juergen Teller has been wearing a red Adidas ensemble with Team Teller emblazoned on its back: he’s seen the future earlier than most.
Neither is it all that surprising that the big-ticket shows have focused on “real” functional clothes rather than fantasy frocks. At Vetements, and then Balenciaga, Demna Gvasalia offered “a modern utilitarian wardrobe” of ski jackets, trench coats and suiting in a “couture attitude”. Gvasalia’s new currency is found in his simple, spare design; his clothes look modern and relevant and kick “fashion” into the every day. But there’s nothing ordinary about them.
The Balenciaga show made those dimly lit prêt-à-porter collections with their “power women” muses, corset dresses and requisite Kardashian-Wests on the front row seem way out of step, and dated. (Kendall Jenner walked 11 shows this season, but so fast is the speed of one’s sell-by date these days her presence barely elicited the swipe of the “unlock” screen.) While Kim Kardashian was taking nude selfies, womenswear got serious; it’s time to put some proper clothes on and get on with it.
Gvasalia was not alone in Paris when it came to identifying new normals: Stella McCartney delivered a great “day-to-night” collection, Clare Waight Keller punched up the more florid romance of Chloé with some tomboy moto-leathers, Céline was shapely, easy and relatable, and Dries Van Noten, Hermès and Lemaire all felt interesting and of the moment. At Loewe, Jonathan Anderson presented a stunning show in soft silhouettes, tactile suedes and drapey handkerchief hems. He described his design method as “curating a woman within a space.” It looked like a delightful space to occupy. At Chanel, easy flippy skirts and sensible flat boots also underscored a collection that blended extraordinary with the everyday and felt right on the money.
Was it that all these ideas of new normals, modernity and relevance came together at Louis Vuitton? Or am I heavily biased in its favour because I just love what Nicolas Ghesquière does? A bit of both perhaps.
“I continue to look at the way women dress today, on the street, and offer my interpretation of the Louis Vuitton wardrobe,” said the designer backstage after a terrific AW16 show.
Sporty features were writ large over his collection, in the graphic stripy mohair knits and cashmere bodysuits and dresses, all produced on machines more usually saved for “intelligent” technical fabrics. There were sweatpants too, designed to be “baggy and loose” but fashioned in the finest materials. Many of the sweaters were thrown over skinny patent trousers with zippy kick-flares and stack-heeled walking boots. “We all live in sports clothes today,” said Ghesquière. “I don’t want to make a statement with the wardrobe, I just want to reflect the reality.”
Ghesquière’s reality is more elevated and evolved than most: and this wardrobe was deep with design ideas, even if he said he was presenting “the new classics . . . Again. Like I always do.” The designer has a preoccupation with hybrid styles, where “extreme architecture meets extreme fluidity”.
None of this sportswear was sloppy. A teddy bear coat softened harder leather harness details, pretty archival Vuitton prints fluttered around the hem of a sporty knit-dress in neon green and blue. Cropped biker jackets sat over long florals and leather moto-stripes decorated the sleeves of silk dresses whose seams were punched with staples. The trench coat — the star apparel of the season— was here wide through the arms and gathered gently at the back to reveal an asymmetric line. It was worn with knee-high jackboots and a sky-blue skirt while the “trackpants” were worn with narrow, sculpted tailored jackets. Many of the looks played with proportion, volume and shape.
The models walked around a shiny silver set filled with fractured, mirrored colonnades, the work of artist Justin Morin. I wanted the set to have a sense of “quiet architectural discovery”, said Ghesquière. These were new classics — but it all came with a twist. Normal never looked so good.