A “reset”? Not at Paris Fashion Week
On the final evening of Paris Fashion Week, Louis Vuitton, the world’s largest luxury brand in terms of sales, invested a passage in the courtyard of the Louvre, where dozens of crystal chandeliers hung above of a double row of large glass mirrors at the Palace of Versailles.
The models stepped out to the sound of a turret clock, dressed in wide, bouncy satchel skirts and woolen silk-cuffed blazers, lace dresses layered over blue jeans, and sporty lace-up boots in fluorescent satin. These were complex and intriguing in their unusual proportions and flowing mesh of at least three centuries of dress styles. Designer Nicolas Ghesquière called it “the big ball of time “.
Then came another woman carrying a fabric banner that said “Overconsumption = Extinction”. She seemed to be a part of the show at first – until she stopped at the end of the track and was brutally abducted by security guards. This cast a chill over the rest of the event; the models did not make a second appearance for the finale, and when Ghesquière came to bow out, he was accompanied by a bodyguard.
Although a shame for the hundreds of people who had worked on the collection, for a climatic event, the timing and location was appropriate. There was something deeply unsettling about the return of these lavish displays of brand power during Fashion Weeks; of the sudden reappearance of designers, buyers and journalists (myself included) who, a little over a year ago, called for a “reset” of the fashion system: fewer parades, fewer creative exhaustion and a reduced carbon footprint.
Of course, commercially this makes sense. On the contrary, the last year and a half has proven just how well-oiled the luxury machine is, especially among the industry mega-brands. Despite the resurgence of Covid-19 in China, shares of LVMH, Kering and Hermès are trading at near historic levels. Shows are making a comeback as they boost sales and media attention.
Chanel Fashion President Bruno Pavlovsky saw it coming. In an interview during France’s first lockdown last year, he said he saw no reason for an overhaul of the fashion calendar; that six fashion shows a year worked well for Chanel before the pandemic and would continue to perform for the company after it.
“We have the strongest loyal local customer base we’ve ever had at Chanel,” he says now, speaking ahead of the brand’s Spring / Summer 2022 show. Although operating profits fell 41% between 2019 and 2020, Pavlovsky says travel restrictions have given the brand’s boutiques the opportunity to really listen to what local customers want – which, above all, is to “feel privileged”. Sales, which were already doing “very well” in China, the United States and in pockets like Dubai, are also picking up in Europe, where American tourists have started flocking to Chanel stores again this summer, he adds. .
This season, artistic director Virginie Viard revisited Chanel’s heyday in the 1980s and 1990s, erecting a podium above the audience and surrounding them with old-fashioned photographers. The models were grinning and spinning like ’90s supers in simple black swimwear trimmed with sparkling white tweed skirts accented with chain sashes and black chiffon flowing dresses printed with butterfly wings.
It was elegant but not very exciting, devoid of the irony and wit that once animated the house’s iconic gold chains and tweed jackets under the late Karl Lagerfeld. Without them, these pieces are simply nostalgic.
It does not matter. Outside the pandemic period, Chanel’s ready-to-wear sales continued to climb under Viard. Chinese customers of the brand particularly appreciate its feminine approach, Pavlovsky says.
Same story at Hermès, where Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski showed the know-how of the house in a private jet terminal through black leather suits and chiffon dresses delicately embellished with tiny glass beads, and small cylindrical bags with luxuriously thick silver handles. There is little need for Vanhee-Cybulski to push the limits on the podium; sales at Hermès have already exceeded pre-pandemic levels.
Givenchy designer Matthew Williams feels the need to push the boundaries – or at least define what the LVMH-owned house stands for following the departure of Clare Waight Keller last year. For her first physical show, held in an arena northwest of Paris, a giant and expensive oculus was suspended from the ceiling, bathing in glowing white light the models dressed in the associated black neoprene riding vests. to stretch waders. , and the men in utility vests layered over narrow-cut pants.
There were a few decent looks here – cropped pantsuits and pictorial partings created in collaboration with Josh Smith in particular – but for the most part, this collection seemed to tread territory already occupied by other designers. Maybe that will develop when Williams starts experimenting with high fashion for her debut in January.
Miu Miu’s identity has at times been obscured by her sister brand Prada, but that is starting to change now that Raf Simons is co-designing Prada. “Before, I could have half of me in one place, half of me in the other,” Miuccia Prada told the FT earlier this year. “Now all of me is up to Miu Miu. This should be good for Miu Miu.
It was a very good collection, full of the beloved Miuccia signatures that recently disappeared from Prada: pleated schoolgirl skirts with chunky V-neck jumpers and neat straight jackets, sheer floral-appliquéd cocktail dresses. with gray ribbed socks and moccasins. These have been featured with bare bellies and the shortest skirts this season, but their deliberately awkward proportions have elevated them above conventional sensuality.
It was also reassuring to see such a wearable collection by Stella McCartney, whose curvy bodysuits, mushroom-print dresses, and lively, easy-going pantsuits were accompanied by little black bags made from mycelium, an alternative to cultured leather. laboratory. Although more expensive than her typical range, “it’s definitely cheaper than exotic skins,” she said. “And it doesn’t kill any animals, it’s not cutting down trees, it’s amazing technology that is truly the future of fashion.”
Not all shows marked a return to business as usual. A red carpet and a crowd of photographers greeted guests in front of the Théâtre du Châtelet, where Balenciaga gave his show. All the standard stuff, until the guests were seated inside, where the “show” turned out to be the red carpet itself, broadcast live on stage. Here, in relentless high definition, a mix of real celebrities – Cardi B, Elliot Page, Isabelle Huppert – took on camera-friendly poses alongside unwitting reporters, laughing and clapping inside the theater. Soon the looks of the collection began to appear, adjusted to the actors, the Balenciaga staff and various “friends” of the house.
It was a careful dismantling of the boundaries between performers and audience that has also been expertly choreographed this season by Francesco Risso de Marni and Pierpaolo Piccioli from Valentino. The latter took his show to the streets, where students and audiences alike drank in the beautiful mix of jeweled and citrus-hued partings and silk shirts turned into dresses. Customers were free to stay and dine in restaurants afterward, thanks to Valentino. “Inclusiveness and humanity is what I want to offer today,” he said.
The sense of community was also palpable at the AZ Factory Memorial Exhibition for the late Alber Elbaz, where 47 designers created looks for an audience including his partner, Alex Koo, and France’s First Lady, Brigitte Macron. .
Return to Balenciaga. Just as the show seemed to end, the lights dimmed and on screen appeared Homer Simpson, desperate to secure something – anything – from the tag as a birthday present for his suffering wife. for a long time, Marge. The ironic film culminated with a Balenciaga show in Paris, modeled by the people of Springfield. The company described it as “the latest in a progression of activations that push some established boundaries between fashion and other forms of entertainment, culture and technology, moving the brand away from an easily defined category.”
I’m not sure the experience pulled Balenciaga out of “easily definable” categories, but it was fun, clever, and surprising. Everything you hope a physical spectacle should be. Because right now they’re not going anywhere.
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