In Depth

Wearable and sellable is key at Paris Fashion Week

It was a week of refreshingly serious, complex and wearable clothes in Paris, says Rebecca May Johnson

There were two 100th celebrations during this year's Paris Fashion Week. The first was Dries van Noten’s, which the Belgian designer took as an opportunity for a love-in with 54 women who have walked for him since 1993. Supermodels of the past proved they still had what it took to own the runway in a collection that was a remixed retrospective of prints that have made Van Noten’s name. Clothes were styled to show "how the women would like to dress themselves" according to the designer, and for Ellie Pithers at vogue.co.uk, "the joyful atmosphere was infectious". For Pithers, standout looks included "body-enveloping quilted jackets in jewel-toned patchwork satin and velvet, worn with simple jeans, navy polo necks and brogues". On a serious note, Sarah Mower at vogue.com reflected that of the legions of models, there were only three women of colour: "Those were not good times for diversity… Now a new day’s dawning. Fashion in general must make that change."

With a centenary exhibition of founder Cristobal Balenciaga’s couture creations on at La Musee de la Mode, the pressure was on for 35-year-old Georgian Demna Gvasalia to deliver, and he did, mostly. For Tim Blanks at The Business of Fashion, the collection demonstrated Gvasalia’s ability to "transfigure the most banal". Simple coats were transformed by the gesture found in the brand’s archives of a coat clutched to one side, defining the dominant, asymmetric silhouette. Car parts were repurposed into floor mat pencil skirts and wing mirror clutches, making for "elegant subversion of orthodoxy". But for Vanessa Friedman at The New York Times, the nine couture gowns that closed the collection, which included “a strapless moire tent dress floated out in a trio of tiers like a raspberry mousse; a black sheath with a sweetheart neckline tied with a giant taffeta bow at the waist, hands plunged into the loops; a column of white ostrich dotted with black cockerel feathers," showed up the first part of the collection as a little underwhelming.

Karl Lagerfeld had no intention of underwhelming at Chanel with his recreation of a space rocket that actually launched and rose to the top of the Grand Palais. But perhaps he was distracting from a pretty conventional collection? For Jo Ellison at the FT, the backcombed models in space-age knee-length boucle (albeit shot through with metallic silver thread) were more "primly dressed wives" than pioneers and "would be useless on the Apollo rig". However, the delectable sparkly booties will surely sell, as will a lot of perfume and cosmetics, which in any case is Chanel’s rocket fuel.

Wearable simplicity (albeit for a younger audience) with a whack of sparkle was the order of the day at Saint Laurent too. Despite the very, very loud music and stadium-like space, Anthony Vaccarello’s Saint Laurent show was, for Bridget Foley at WWD, "impeccably made" and made up of "basic (as in really basic) clothes - jackets, sweaters, pants, jeans, a good old-fashioned tank of the Jockey/Hanes variety". There were also a lot of party dresses in wet-look ruffled leather, and instant-hit slouched leather boots, including in blinding silver. Indeed, there was little that one couldn’t imagine an It-girl wanting to sling on -with a good dose of luxurious leather pants and polo necks for the rest - continuing former designer Hedi Slimane’s aptitude for making clothes that sell.

Again, to each its demographic and for Phoebe Philo’s Celine, that means grown-up-looking women who want to be taken seriously. For Mower at vogue.com, despite the rotating seating arrangements and confusing choreography, which made models resemble busy commuters criss-crossing the street (or was that the point?) there were "plenty of the clothes the Celine woman has come to rely on to keep her act together in an increasingly difficult corporate world". Boxy black trouser suits, striped shirts, trench coats, Celine-ified according to Philo’s sophisticated vision. A little levity was found in "giant fuzzy stoles slung over models arms". Overall? A wardrobe for toughing it out in a corporate world.

At Louis Vuitton, Nicolas Ghesquiere hoped he had the answer to the question of how to sell real fur to millennials: mix it with sportswear. And a lot besides - the collection shown at the Louvre was "a stew of global influences: Russian, Indian, American, urban, folk and pastoral" for Ellison at the FT. Boundaries in general were broken down - slip dresses played against tough, diamante embellishments, sporty workout jerseys, ski sweaters and tweed. For all the chaos, though, it was commercial, finishing with a raft of pretty dresses and skirts with lace trim and brocade. As Ellison concludes: "The shapes were typically directional, the fabrications technical and the silhouette controlled. But the clothes had traditional touches and much of it was very wearable."

Another mash-up at Valentino came with Pierpaolo Piccioli’s endeavour to marry Victoriana and Memphis – a design movement of the 1980s. Foley at WWD, said it was: "Beautifully cohesive. Part of the wonder of Piccioli’s work is that it is, in its way, subversive, as in counterintuitive to the norm. Put a diaphanous dream of a dress with an aggressive boot and you’ve grounded it for the runway moment, but it’s still a diaphanous dream of a dress". Swingy, knee-length dresses offered a new silhouette to the brand, which reached its zenith in the final look, devised in radiant, raspberry-hued sequins.

Building on the "We Should All Be Feminists" T-shirts from her first collection for Christian Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri took up the iconography of the Black Panthers with black berets - as brought back to attention by Beyonce's troupe in the Formation video. Apart from that, the theme of the collection was "Blue" - Monsieur Dior’s favourite colour apart from black. Rather shockingly, for the storied luxury brand, denim and workwear were key features, with branded selvedge in roomy cuts. But these had, for Mower at vogue.com "the stamp of potential cult items". There were also plenty of elegant gowns in sheer silks and velvet, short hemlines and long. The designer talked a lot of wishing to serve the needs of a broad base of millennials - but for Mower, Chiuri could have thought of her older sisters too, "after all, in this day and age, feminist mothers and daughters march together".

Rebecca May Johnson writes for publications including Vogue, AnOther, The Daily Telegraph and The Business of Fashion

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