There’s a lot of talk of “bourgeois” in Paris — whether or not a collection is imbued with it; the way a woman carries herself; how a look is understood. Part sensual provocateur, part contained refinement, bourgeois can be a rather bewildering quality in a wardrobe: a perilously high stiletto can be bourgeois, but so can a well cut blazer.
“It means uptight,” said Clare Waight Keller, creative director of the extremely Parisian house of Chloé. The 45-year-old British designer has now spent five years living in Paris, studying its sartorial codes and becoming its catwalk interlocutor, and her SS17 collection was an re-examination of the city’s dress code. She wanted to “change the pace” at Chloé. “I’ve been looking at the essence of French style, the women on the metro, and in daily life. And I wanted to bring that same easy simplicity and relevance into the collection.”
Simplicity and relevance can seem a little counterintuitive at a house famed for its voluminous flow and gauzy, romantic silhouettes, and Waight Keller’s collections must always temper client expectation with her own more practical aesthetic. Last season she mixed in moto-leathers with her kaftan gowns; the season before, she reinvented rave culture with tracksuits and rainbow crochets. Waight Keller has done a great job of synthesising the real with the romantic; she understands that the ladies love a billowing pastel gown, and they were here in the collection’s closing looks in Chloé’s “foundation colours”, a palette of powdery blues and browns, and in 1970s wallpaper prints.
Elsewhere, the palette was paired right back. “I used a lot of the classic French colours: navy, cream, black and white, for freshness,” said Waight Keller. Overall, it was a darker, more sober summer collection, much of which was very chic: a new trouser shape was extremely flattering — rising high on the waist and ballooning to just above the ankle — and the striped drill separates and apron-fronted suede dresses looked clean and arresting. The flow was more structured, with pleating and the more delicate fabrication punched up with graphic designs.
As for that elusive bourgeois attitude? That was found in the teeny little jewellery handbags, which dangled from the wrist, and in the slim heeled shoes worn throughout. Waight Keller had used them to “change the model’s walk and soften the looks”. Very fine. Very feminine. And just a little uptight.