There’s been a lot of backstage talk about optimism in the fashion capitals this spring/summer 2018 season, so much that it quickly started getting old. With the horrors that have filled the news just over the past week, it somehow feels unjustified. While I love the idea of defiant glamour, putting a collection down to optimism is too easy — and it always comes with that whiff of escapism that just seems clichéd. I was happy to get to Paris where some of fashion’s most pensive minds came up with a better way of justifying this overwhelmingly glamorous season.
Rick Owens staged a monumental tower of water in the fountain of Palais de Tokyo for his otherworldly couture-like creations to walk around. He told me his “brutalist lace and confection and meringue” were about recognising and accepting the discomfort that’s part of our reality and dealing with it through “beauty and positive energy and joy — the opposite of discomfort.” Kim Kardashian says you can only get rid of ugly pictures of yourself in your Google search by having new and better ones taken, and Owens’s approach was kind of the life answer to that: put something refined into the world and it might just eclipse the crude.
“Fashion is made to make more fantastic what’s ordinary,” Pierpaolo Piccioli told me in his typically poetic way, and Oprah should really get this man on an episode of Super Soul Sunday. Creating his futuristic Valentino collection, he had imagined observing the Earth from the Moon — “seeing with a moon-ish perspective what’s ordinary” — and brought that sense of magic into the material world. His show was one of the highlights in the season’s futuristic tendency, which has evoked the exuberant Sixties sense of Space Age with all the silver sequins and metallic surfaces and astronaut-like silhouettes it entails. His former Valentino partner Maria Grazia Chiuri set the tone when she opened Paris Fashion Week with a Christian Dior show based on Niki de Saint Phalle and her Sixties wardrobe. Now a year into her tenure at the house, Chiuri still divides popular opinion so as an early supporter I was happy to see her expressing the warmth and fun of her personality expressed in this kicky collection. “She said that clothes helped her to describe herself,” Chiuri told me of Saint Phalle. “I think she’s a real naughty girl. I really love her.”
Rather than overloads of prints and surface decoration, these were the kinds of musings that actually cheered up the season. When we got to Karl Lagerfeld’s take on retro futurism at Chanel on the last day of shows, his blasé approach to it all – fused with the enormous waterfall he’d erected inside the Grand Palais – was practically therapeutic. “It’s up to you what you see, whatever you see. I haven’t seen the show. I don’t make philosophical notes on it,” he said. What I saw were the most exquisite garments, sparkling away in front of that luxuriant waterfall like little gems.
This was the calming superpowers of nature, a theme echoed at Alexander McQueen the night before where Sarah Burton deconstructed garments and reconstructed them with florals, citing the medicinal “healing power of flowers.” Back at Chanel, Lagerfeld didn’t claim optimism, nor did he force it in the show’s production. But more than any other show this season, this was life-affirming — the wardrobe to wear for a happier and prettier life. Space Age as it looked, Lagerfeld said he hated the Sixties. “I was bored. How horrible. I liked the seventies. They were all glamour.”
Fortunately he didn’t have to go without those waves, either. In her terrific debut collection for Chloé, Natacha Ramsay-Levi tapped into the urban Seventies-inspired wardrobe customers go for at the moment. The look she presented – and wears herself – is what you see most around the streetscape outside shows. I thought her collection looked instantly shoppable, and at Chloé that’s a great thing.
Other debuts included Lanvin where Olivier Lapidus was the latest designer challenged with making a new success story out of the old house. Over coffee with him, I experienced a reflective and humble gentleman, who knows this task won’t be an easy one. “This is where the story starts — or stops,” he told me. “It’s like a speed race where you have no time. It’s going to turn. You have no time to suffer — only to deliver.” His collection was an unexpected one at Lanvin, but his real test doesn’t set in until it hits stores in February. The same goes for Clare Waight Keller, who made her Givenchy debut on Sunday morning.
The day before she had told me about her meeting with the 90-year-old Hubert de Givenchy, and you couldn’t ask for a better start to a job like that than being received by the founder himself. “I was less interested in clothes and more interested in his sketches,” she told me. “They’re so expressive, so dynamic and so spontaneous. I wanted to get back into that expression.” The Eighties-centric collection felt like a baby steps for Waight Keller, who’s still in the early stages of exploring Givenchy. I’m personally most excited to see how she approaches haute couture in January, a first for the former Chloé designer. If she’d brought the retail spirit of that house over to Givenchy, she wasn’t the only Paris designer going for the gold. In the car after the Stella McCartney show, we came up with ‘glamletics’ — a glamour take on the retail-friendly athleisure embodied in her sportified eveningwear where ballroom skirts were paired with simple t-shirts. Even in times of heavy glamour, designers have to come up with a way of shifting product. I thought McCartney did that rather well.
“Glamour-on-glamour I’m not really interested in, and I never really have been. It’s taking that high and providing the low to it, and having a line that’s in reality,” she said, wisely. No forced optimism there. At Céline, Phoebe Philo captured the same balance in one of her what-women-want-to-wear collections, which did just that. She said it was about optimism, too, but oftentimes themes seem unnecessary at Céline where Philo just knows what to deliver.
The Comme des Garçons show – which featured Rei Kawakubo’s usual mastodons, this time covered in poppy art and cartoons and tons of Japanese toys as embellishment – was full of optimism, but it never felt contrived. She referred to it as “multidimensional graffiti”, which sounded rebellious to my ear. I like the new, post-Met Ball Kawakubo, who seems to be having genuine fun, unlike so many other designers. It’s the same exuberance we saw at Saint Laurent where Anthony Vaccarello is embracing his fashion fandom and new couture-like abilities in the mini dresses of his more flamboyant teenage dreams.
“I really wanted to work with my team and tell a story of Paris and Yves Saint Laurent. There is nothing deeper than that to it. It’s enjoying making clothes with people, who can do amazing stuff,” he said, and that’s a perfectly viable reason to make fabulous dresses. At Louis Vuitton, Nicolas Ghesquière appeared to have been hit by a new, more simplified approach to design. Rather than the intricate dystopian sci-fi collections he’s churned out in recent seasons, he refreshingly went all-out in the period costume department, adding his futuristic touch to 18th century men’s frock coats. “It was quite quick, the attitude and the look,” he said after the show, and that sense of impulse really suited him.
Demna Gvasalia had a new approach to Balenciaga, too: “I could feel the restraint of paying homage and going back to the archives every season,” he admitted. “This is the first season I wanted to underline the Demna story.” It gave his collection of normative elements turned upside-down a certain Vetements vibe, but what does it matter? Gvasalia’s fans come to him for him, and they’d buy his designs even if it said Crocs on them — which, coincidentally, it did, in Balenciaga’s new subversive collaboration with the family-footwear giant.
I thought the sentiment that went into Gvasalia’s newspaper print was fantastic. “The text means nothing,” he explained. “And the pictures are just pictures of happy people. I wanted some happy news. Fake news, but fake good news.” Gazette motifs were of course one of John Galliano’s features back in the day. Now at Maison Margiela, he’s back on top form. No collection made me happier and more energised than his, inspired by glamorous pastimes such as hunting, spa visits and flying, the dress codes of which Galliano had interpreted in eveningwear. In a preview he told me it was “unconscious glamour”, and who needs literal optimism and ideas of escapism if they have that? Shine on, JG.
Look back at the highlights here…