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In a climate in which clothes must have a “message”, especially in New York, Tomo Koizumi’s dresses were refreshingly absent of agenda; a series of huge, voluminous ruffled dresses in pretty pastel colours all fabricated in a Japanese polyester organza and inspired, according to the designer, by “abstract paintings, and the colours you see at magic hour when looking at the sky”. They were extravagant and costume-y. Not many of them were very wearable, I watched the Game of Thrones actress and sometime model Gwendoline Christie negotiate the staircase in a spectacular rainbow ruffled jumpsuit with my heart in my mouth. But the show put a smile on people’s faces. It was pretty and fabulous, and fun.
Having snagged all the headlines, and the social media feed, one wonders what will happen next? Koizumi, a 30-year-old, based in Tokyo, is ordinarily a costume maker for Asian pop stars and celebrities, plans to launch ready-to-wear as a fully realised business very shortly, previously, he’s been making things to order. And he plans to show again, though he isn’t quite sure where. Backstage, after the show, he seemed almost incredulous that it had happened. On that night at least, Koizuma enjoyed his own magic hour.
Riccardo Tisci threw absolutely everything at his second show for Burberry, which united the disparate themes of what he considers quintessential Britishness and delivered looks to suit everyone, from the ladies and gentlemen of the aristocracy to the city bankers and the kids on the street.
The show, called “Tempest”, kicked off with the News at Ten soundtrack and an early Nineties broadcast about the rise of rave culture. And then the dance beats started pumping and the ravers arrived. They wore faux-fur coats, off-the-shoulder corset tops, parkas, puffa duffels, sneakers and tracksuits. They were followed by a series of more “grown-up” looks — a beige interlude of deconstructed trenches, embellished car coats, pleated skirts, printed shirts and crystal-strewn pumps.
It had energy and humour, and though it was at times slightly overwhelming, it was spiked, like the soundtrack, with big hits — I especially liked the faux-fur lined duvet quilts with a silk print illustration, a black duster coat with oversized patch pockets and the tweedy car coat worn with driving gloves.
In spirit, the show was a fine one. Tisci, who arrived in London from Italy as a teenage student, remains enamoured of the city as he found it in the early Nineties. His enthusiasm for that era and his enduring affection for London is infectious. Lord knows, we need some love right now.
Alessandro Michele’s AW19 collection for Gucci was in part an explanation — or at least an exploration — of the authentic “person” and the different masks we wear. “I used the metaphor of mask to explore garments and what they say about us in real life,” he said of his collection, which used elements of costume with quotidian clothes.
His catwalk featured heavy crucifixes, three-piece suits and pointed studded collars — a sign of defence and an emblem of servility. “I try to stick to the rules, and to comply with the rules,” he said of the collection’s contradictions and his personal tastes. “But I have a wild side. And I can be very aggressive when I want to express myself.”
As with any Gucci show, this was one with many faces. Several of the looks — with their balloon-shaped trouser legs and shirt bibs in ruffled lace recalled the clothing of a clown. The models wore latex tears — like a Pierrot’s. The women carried sneakers, a self-conscious informality. The suiting, pointedly formal and worn with waistcoats and super-wide ties, seemed to suggest that the office look is no less of a guise.
Michele makes no apology for his vision. Nor for his wilder side. But as he made clear after: the masks and bondage collars will not be going on sale.
So, the billion dollar question, did Daniel Lee’s new Bottega Veneta look like old Celine? The 32-year-old, largely unknown, Englishman was appointed to the house by Kering last June. Previously director of ready-to-wear design at the LVMH-owned Celine, where he worked with Phoebe Philo, Lee helped steer the brand to revenues of around €800m and cultivated a devout tribe of female clients.
Die-hard fans will have recognise many of his signatures in this his first Bottega Veneta show — the loopy knitwear with its circular cutaway panels, the heavy soled elasticated Chelsea boots, the scoop-necked tops and the play on a bourgeois sensibility — corporate tailoring, minimal outerwear, blouses — with more subversive elements, such as ruched tulle eveningwear and leather bra-lets, shot through.
But this was a far tougher, more complicated collection than I expected. While the menswear was more minimal and straightforward, the women’s was ambitious in design: a quilted skirt, in turquoise, folded at the sides and fastened with a chain; thick quilted biker trousers; tailoring that mimicked the house’s famous intrecciato weave; a series of mirror-embroidered dresses and shirts. There was a lot going on.
Miuccia Prada’s collection for Prada was mostly black, staged on a jagged, spiked, sponge floor, sparsely lit, and rather angry. The models wore dark wool separates, tweeds, flak jackets, sparkly shoes and lace. Dresses with the classic Prada sweetheart neckline were fashioned in a raw grey tweed. A rose print motif was encircled by thorns. The models had Wednesday Addams hairstyles but they just as easily recalled Greta Thunberg, the Swedish 16-year-old climate change activist, who also has waist-length braids.
Prada said her collection was about fear, and the threat of war “in general”. And romance.
And, indeed, this was a show of extremes. It was dark and light, rebellious and romantic. It featured stompy, heavy boots and a goth-metal soundtrack (spliced with campy horror themes such as The X Files) mixed with flashes of deep femininity — lace veils, crystal embellishments and rose adornments (some, stuck on outfits in wilting silk bouquets). It’s dark energy was exciting — the clothes were better still.
The Balenciaga set was a vast black box that stank of asphalt. The collection reeked of street. It was brilliant, bold and contemporary — and there wasn’t a sneaker to be seen.
In a season that has been big on retro references and the allure of the bourgeoisie, Demna Gvasalia’s modern take on Paris style made for a powerful statement. There was lots of sober suiting, casual outerwear and simple evening dresses, but the cuts and the couture sensibility ensured no two looks (and there were more than 100 of them) were quite the same. It was also a meditation on what is relevant in fashion, a world where the water bottle has been elevated to new luxury status, and the synthetic puffa is more valuable — and desirable — than a fur. At Balenciaga, models slung bottle bags around their bodies, and carried bags that could manage a supermarket run. “I like people who like shopping,” deadpanned Gvasalia of his shoppers. “I depend on people shopping for my job.”
Gvasalia’s show dripped with clever details, while offering new takes on the basics and tailoring tricks that made you stop and stare. The shoulder, a feature of AW19, was pinched, volumised and pinned from behind. My favourite look of the season so far? An otherwise boring sweater with a suspended band that hovered implausibly above the collar. Worn with a pair of charcoal trousers and a red polka dot tote, it hit that G-spot where function meets true fashion and makes four weeks of shows feel more worthwhile.
Hedi Slimane enjoys starting his Celine shows with pyrotechnics worthy of rock concerts, against a soundtrack of resolutely un-Shazam-able origins. Out back of Les Invalides, the music of the newer-than-new band Embrasse Moi, composed especially for the show, belted out as a panorama of bevelled mirror slowly lowered to the floor, a female figure poised, motionless, in the middle.
It was a hell of an entrance. The really remarkable thing, however, were the clothes she was wearing: and it takes a lot to overshadow a woman lowered to earth in a gravity-defying vitrine. Slimane sent out his Celine woman dressed in pleated culottes, a sharp-shoulder blazer, a deftly knotted silk scarf, knee-high boots. In short, Slimane had changed the record. It was invigorating, energising, engaging — and, possibly, the best show of his career to date.
The looks were akin to Celine past — not recent but, rather, Seventies Celine, when the label was known for dressing French women with a horsey, thoroughbred respectability, and its boutiques first propagated worldwide.
This Celine look was utterly convincing. These clothes looked great — expertly tailored, in expensive fabrics, with an aesthetic identity perfectly honed and polished. They were in such good taste, they floored you, made you want to use old-fashioned words to describe them, such as “chic”, which they were. They look like how people will want to dress. They were satisfying, and commercial in the best possible sense — which is, eminently desirable. If this collection was a record, it would be a hit — a hit, full of future greatest hits.
The models aren’t getting any bigger at Saint Laurent, but at least they’re taking up more space. In the shoulders. Designer Anthony Vaccarello said that everything in his show for the Kering-owned label “had started from the shoulder . . . to give a sharp sophistication to the liberated impulse of desire”.
Indeed. The construction, set slightly behind the shoulder and then padded, and exaggeratedly high, was certainly alluring. Vaccarello had channelled the spirit of the Eighties, and the energy of the house icons such as Bianca Jagger, Catherine Deneuve and Betty Catroux, to find his silhouette, and it seems so right for now.
The first look was the best one. Saint Laurent women are designed to look daunting, and this broad, in her herringbone overcoat with big lapels, barely there top and high-waisted satin trousers looked as dangerous as hell.
A small change, maybe, but this new shoulder shape, as well as the more avowedly Eighties sensibility seemed significant. A recalibration for the designer who succeeded Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent in 2016 and who has endured endless comparison ever since. This collection looked to be tilting in a new direction but there were still bountiful numbers of the bestsellers here — micro-mini cocktail dresses, hot pants, chiffon blouses — and just as well considering Saint Laurent has just recorded its 20th quarter of successive growth and is set to hit €2bn in revenues this year. But it was the other stuff — a tiered, ruffled skirt in black leather with a button fastening down the front, a sequin top with chinoiserie-style flowers, the coat, the coat, the coat that got my heart racing here.
There was a one-minute silence before the start of the Chanel show, a moment to reflect on the 36 years of service Karl Lagerfeld devoted to the fashion house. Sixty seconds in which to marvel at his sense of showmanship: in his last instructions he had staged his show in a snowy Alpine wonderland. Dubbed “Chalet Gardenia”, it featured 12 Alpine huts with actual smoking chimneys, a mountain cyclorama and real pine trees.
With its shearling snowboots, sweeping skirt lengths and Alpine flavours, this last show was a riddle. Were the motifs a final acknowledgment that the designer might indeed have had a sentimental side? Was this his Rosebud moment?
Or was it a homage to Coco Chanel who conceived her famous blazer when she spied a bellboy on a holiday to Salzburg and the Alps? The full tweed coats and ski-slope knitwear here seemed to play on that era’s Thirties tropes.
Or had he just conjured up a mountain, and the kind of chocolate-box vista that has a global brand identity itself? The romantic Alpine landscape is beloved by clients in all sorts of different markets, and let’s not forget the next Winter Olympics will take place in Beijing in 2022. Yes, Lagerfeld was a romantic. But, he was pragmatic, and a German. And also had an extraordinary business head.
The Chanel house will continue as it has done. And yet, to imagine future shows without Lagerfeld’s theatrics seems inconceivable.
For his AW19 womenswear collection for Louis Vuitton, Nicolas Ghesquière rebuilt the Pompidou. At the Louvre. As you do.
The set, by Renzo Piano, the architect who conceived the Pompidou Centre with Richard Rogers in the 1970s, was a comment on the “beauty of controversy” and the Louis Vuitton designer was pretty relaxed about the fact not everyone would like what they saw. The show was an Eighties medley of “museum people, goth gangs, street dancers and fashion groups”, as one might have observed from the Café Beaubourg in the days before Instagram, when real life people watching was still in vogue. And it was pretty extreme — like no real people I’ve ever seen. One model wore a tweed dress with a leopard-print capelet, like a fashion superhero. A pink flowery dress with a bouncy skater skirt, belted waist and a ruffle yoke might be described as “Sloane Ranger on acid”. The women wore sensible flat shoes for getting around in — I was touched to see a late-Eighties style of lace-up with a pinched trim around the toe we dubbed “piss catchers” at school — but overall the looks were fairly otherworldly. I was most taken with a crafty micro-floral cape ensemble which looked like Laura Ashley meets Marvel’s villainous Loki.
With its leather all-in-ones, chequerboard minis and romantic florals, the show was many things. Ghesquière described it as a celebration of “self-expression”. Bourgeois it was not. Nor was it conservative, or stripped back, or pared down, or any other of the buzzwords of the season. As the looks emerged, each one more eccentric than the last, I thought of the brand’s many celebrity ambassadors — including the actresses Emma Stone, Alicia Vikander and Catherine Deneuve — and which styles on the runway we might see them wear in future. Perhaps Deneuve will opt for the leather ruffled ra-ra skirt or a biker-style blazer? Will we be seeing Stone in a Mondrian-style sweater with high-waisted leather trousers and a pair of pixie boots?
But these clothes helped tell the long-held Louis Vuitton story — that today’s women should be modern, always in motion and strong. They ticked all the codes of the brand, they’ll take a while longer to understand.
The Chloé show began and ended with the sound of galloping hooves. “It was a ride,” said designer Natacha Ramsay-Levi of this equestrian adventure that opened with “grounded outerwear” in heritage tweeds, Prince of Wales checks and twills, before progressing towards the silky dresses and sparkly blouses — designed to look “like reflections on the water” — with which she closed the show. The collection was dedicated to love, rage, commitment and nature — a print motif showed a couple holding hands, although their relationship is a fiction: the pair in question are colleagues in the Chloé studio.
Ramsay-Levi has faced a few challenges since arriving at Chloé. Her vision has been powerful, feminine and seductive, but her silhouettes and fits have been too directional for some (buyers will tell you anecdotally that it’s been a tricky sell). This collection, with its highly wearable tailoring, easy knitwear, work-appropriate trousers, shearling coats and bounty of flouffy dresses (which have always been so core to Chloé’s business) looked like a conciliatory effort to do more commercial pieces — and there were some thoroughbreds in here. Of the accessories, the bags and jewellery were grabby, while the boots — a kind of hybrid hiking sock and Seventies loafer — were among the best I’ve seen so far.
Ramsay-Levi’s Chloé is a confident one. And justifiably so: I love her aesthetic. But she needs a winning run. The horses were galloping, but this was more reined in.
Perfection, polish, precision, pared down — there were a lot of p-words at Jonathan Anderson’s show for the LVMH-owned house of Loewe. To quote Larry David it was prettay, prettaaaay good.
Anderson has had a terrific AW19 season; he already stole all the plaudits in London where he does his second job as creative director of his own small namesake brand. But where, at JW Anderson, his clothes were voluminous and wide, at Loewe the mood was more exacting and the mood was more refined. All the blousey craft elements, the “hand” touches that define his vision of Loewe, were still present, but they were more carefully integrated rather than patched through the design: a knitted sweater was woven with an organza skirt; Elizabethan lace panels hung in jabots from a shirt.
If there were Tudor references here they were deliberate. Anderson’s starting point for the collection had been the 16th-century miniatures by Nicholas Hilliard at the National Portrait Gallery. “They were the selfies of their time,” he said blithely of their influence. “But also, I love the idea of something small, around which you have to pay attention to see the beauty of the art.”
Like the miniatures, the excitement here was in the details — the sculpted tailoring, the dreamy coat shapes, and the slightly bustled skirts. It stood up to closer scrutiny, but no two looks were quite the same. Neither were they boring — only Anderson would put a paisley scarf dress with a grey rib-knit trouser and a scarlet elfin loafer — which I loved. Anderson has a gift for commercialising “ugly” that recalls Phoebe Philo while working at Celine. And his taste is persuasive: a Weekend at Bernie’s blazer in multicoloured checks, tricorn Twenties-era millinery and feather boas made for the wild card wonders here.
As Anderson will tell you, Loewe, is doing “very very well”. His empire is building in momentum. And his brands are going from strength to strength. Another p-word — purchase. This was an unqualified success.
For a long time after the premature death of its founder, in 2010, Alexander McQueen was frozen in the image of Lee McQueen. Designer Sarah Burton has worked exhaustively in the interim to honour his legacy, and his vision, and quite brilliantly so. But with more recent collections you get the sense that she is ready to step forward with the business. And with the opening of a huge new London flagship store and a confident chief executive, Emmanuel Gintzburger, who arrived in 2016, things are quickly moving on.
Not so much creatively, thank goodness. The McQueen silhouette and style in which the brand was founded is still 100 per cent authentic, and Burton’s AW19 collection was no different in that respect. But there seemed to be more focus on the balance in the offering. This collection opened with a clutch of daywear and suits, all fabricated in heritage fabrics sourced from northern British mills. The McQueen suit is famous for its exaggerated English shoulder, and a very lean line. These suits, in charcoal grey, with drapey asymmetrical hems and feminine details, were more than fit for purpose, they were sublime.
Of course, no Alexander McQueen show under Burton would be without magical moments, and it wasn’t long before the sober suiting and knitted daywear took on a very different guise. Jacket sleeves started blooming, hems peeling and one suit metamorphosed into a rose. Burton had gone on a tour of her home country to find her inspiration, and her narrative about the beauty of northern manufacture and our once proud woollen mills (now tragically dwindled, and perhaps more so after Brexit) was brought to life quite brilliantly here.
With her collection of fluid tailoring, lipstick red dresses, and silk blouses and tweedy coats, Victoria Beckham’s AW19 was arguably her best yet. “It’s for a lady, who isn’t ladylike,” she said of the collection. “We looked at things our customer always wants, but found new ways to show them. Without being too tricksy.”
The trousers were looser and tapered at the ankle, there were lots of heritage-style blazers and pastel polo necks. Skirts fell in flattering lengths to mid-calf, and were worn with the same scarlet sock boots, with a peep two. Are you ready to put your toes on show? “She might be a lady,” said Beckham. “But I think she’s a little bit naughty.”
Was the show more successful because she’s a woman who understands the dilemma of modern workwear? Or because she’s got a great team around her? Or because, as a celebrity with nearly 25 million followers, she’s got an exceptional insight into what women really want. And she listens to them, too. She let slip at the preview that one of her earliest jobs was working in market research; it’s an experience that’s come in super handy since. Whatever it is, the elements all came together brilliantly well.
Jo Ellison will be hosting the FT’s Business of Luxury Summit in Madrid on May 19-21. For more information visit ftbusinessofluxury.com
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