Nobody sent out an agenda, but this season’s Paris shows effectively felt like a huge conference of voices speaking about how to represent women in the era of Time’s Up. Threads of the same conversations kept coming up and intertwining—in what designers said in interviews, in the symbolism we read into their clothes, and in the running commentaries between colleagues in cars and cafés.
We all saw, felt, and engaged in the issues. For one: How can fashion act as a conduit for female power? We saw throwbacks to ’80s skirtsuits and shoulders dissected and rethought in a time when female employment equality and political power urgently demand to be backed. We saw serial cases of classics—tweeds, camel coats, tartans—being morphed into modernity by brainiac imaginers. We witnessed cultural influences from Islam taking in head coverings and modest dressing.
We felt the inspiration of the past meeting our new day: 1968-er Paris revolutionaries and sci-fi knocking at the doors of fashion consciousness. Finally, at a moment when there are so many wildly complicated issues to process, there was love for the designers who backed up and calmed us down with beautifully simple clothes—and equally for the ones who took us off, up, and away into the realms of visual wonder.
Closing remarks, then? Hard to summarize, but this much is true: When smart designers work into the creative tensions of our times, great things can happen.
Photo: Getty Images
“Marine Serre titled her terrific third collection Manic Soul Machine, a reflection, as she put it, on the roller-coaster ride of the first six months of leading her own label. It’s apt. The hyper-speed at which the industry moves means designers like Serre have to deal with not only the voraciousness of the hunger for newness but being able to present to the world a cohesive and consistent image from the get-go as well. It’s yet harder still if you’re someone like Serre, who is not only a significant talent but also self-aware and reflective about how fashion can find its place in today’s world and what it should actually stand for. Consideration of the political, the societal, the cultural, the sexual—they’re as much part of who she is as they are part of making great clothes. Which she does, and then some.” —Mark Holgate
“Maria Grazia Chiuri understands her own time. Dovetailing as it has with the Trump era, her Dior tenure has coincided with a great feminist uprising. She’s held up a mirror to feminism’s fourth wave, quoting the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie one season and the art theorist Linda Nochlin in another. This season, Chiuri saved almost all the slogans for her set, which elaborately reproduced magazine covers and protest art of the late 1960s. And she took up the clothes of that era—the crochets, the embroideries, the patchworks—and filtered them through Dior’s luxury lens. The charm of the collection was in its rich craftiness.” —Nicole Phelps
“Lucky were the girls in the Paco Rabanne show. With their effortlessly undone hair and fresh makeup, they shone in an outstanding Julien Dossena show—the sort that made women watching not only think, That’s amazing, but also, I think I can take something from this! The ingredients: Paco Rabanne’s chain mail heritage, convincingly meshed in with perfect French classics. ‘I wanted to get back that super-cultivated, super-Parisian thing,’ said Dossena in a preview at the Paco Rabanne studio. The genius was all in Dossena’s layering methods. Instead of leaving all the chain mail as theoretical ’60s space-age showstoppers, he put his through a ’90s filter—those days of grunge and minimalism when the answer to making anything dressed-up work was to layer it over a T-shirt, put it with a white shirt, and stick on a pair of flip-flops. These flip-flops came smothered in the plastic paillettes, mind.” —Sarah Mower
Photographed by Corey Tenold
“There will be coat wars ahead. So many collections, so much outerwear this season! At Loewe, Jonathan Anderson made a very strong pitch for owning the top of the field, with a score of no less than 15 coats on his runway—something to cover every possible use, from a walk in the country, to commuting, to school runs, attending private views, events, dinners, and the like. Why stop at a duffle coat, a tufty shearling, a black-and-white chevron-patterned fit-and-flare midi? There is evening, too: a quite elegantly beautiful black trapeze with puffy leather cuffs. Even to those of us who’ve barely been to an opera, the idea of arriving somewhere in that evening coat was aspirational.” —S.M.
“Rei Kawakubo put on a hugely enjoyable display of over-the-top fabulosity today—a show created from frills and fantasy, and crinolines, and lace, and flowers—her vision of super-girly Vaudevillian charm, taken to delightful heights of excess. Kawakubo had been reading ‘Notes on Camp,’ Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay. This was one of those Comme des Garçons collections that is an uplifting shot in the arm for fashion in general; an argument for creativity and the joy of dressing up. It ended in a moment of sweetness that will be a memory of the season—Kawakubo’s girls, lining up hand in hand, smiling at the audience as they left the stage. As Sontag wrote in that essay, ‘Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, not judgment. Camp is generous, it wants to enjoy. . . . Camp is a tender feeling.’ ” —S.M.
“It was the first time women and men walked together in a unified show, and for Demna Gvasalia, it represented a conceptual and personal leap forward. Instead of merely imitating the heritage looks of Cristóbal Balenciaga, he’d dedicated R&D time to working on a high-tech computer-enabled process for molding tailoring for women and men alike. Bodies had been 3-D scanned, the ‘fittings’ were done in a computer file, and then molds were printed out. Progressive ideas are much needed in fashion today, on all kinds of levels. Demna Gvasalia’s mission to recode Balenciaga tailoring in the cyber age might not be a future solution—it still involves the use of synthetics, and you could argue that it negates the skills of the human hand. Nevertheless, the thinking behind this collection marks Gvasalia as a designer who wants to be an agent of change in the fashion industry, and who goes for social change, too. ‘I don’t want to be just a T-shirt-and-hoodie man. We sell them, of course—but I feel I have a responsibility to do it in a way which brings a message.’ Ethics x aesthetics. Sounds like a timely way forward.” —S.M.
“Among the catwalks and the commentariat, what we’ve been talking about is how to represent women. Femaleness is a spectrum, not a grab bag for definitive pronouncements about power or romanticism. Sarah Burton’s is a subtle woman’s voice speaking through these complexities. Shoot from one end of her collection—an impeccable female tuxedo—to the gowns at the finish, and you will see someone working through our climate of change. Her empathy and stunning couture-level skills went into a collection she described as being about ‘extreme nature. Metamorphosis. A soft armor for women.’ ” —S.M.
“In this season, when so many designers have been fusing, hybridizing, and patchworking garments together, let’s take a moment to applaud the woman who started it all. Chitose Abe’s skill—apart from the ability to make one outfit out of parts of many garments—is knowing the right archetypes to call on at any given time. This Fall, as classics have become a subject du jour, she was yet again on point, polishing up her assemblages with menswear tweeds, trad rainwear, school-blazer stripes, banker-stripe shirting, navy blazers, and generic down jackets. The general effect was half-and-half, this time arranged on a vertical axis rather than back-to-front (a point humorously underscored by the unmatched footwear). This was a strong, graphic collection that will surely fly.” —S.M.
Photo: Alessandro Garofalo / Indigital.tv
“The contemplation of nature as a fashion show experience has been on Karl Lagerfeld’s mind for the last two shows in this place. He planted a formal French rose arbor in this venue for Couture, and grandiosely threw up the cliffs and roaring waterfalls of the Gorges du Verdon for his last ready-to-wear show. And, in between, there was his terrific Métiers d’Art show in Hamburg, the German seaport of his birth. À la recherche du temps perdu? Well, it wasn’t that in any literal sense. Still, as the lines of girls began treading purposefully through the moss-strewn glade, the first long, slim black coats struck a quintessentially Lagerfeldian note: the attenuated Edwardiana silhouette that has reflexively dashed off his pen for decades.”
“Space has been a recurring motif throughout Nicolas Ghesquière’s career; it’s animated some of his most imaginative, exciting work—remember the articulated C-3PO leggings? Here, he was operating in a much more grounded manner, though of course, this being Vuitton, the results were far from pedestrian. Metal chains and doodads elaborately trimmed cropped jackets; dense beadwork decorated the oddly asymmetrically draped halter tops for evening. Ghesquière must’ve liked the off-ness of that gesture. The models wore only one glove on their bag hand. Flat envelope bags and large totes printed with what looked like computer motherboard circuitry were the new developments on that front.” —N.P.