The season’s top 20 collections, as fashion questions its existence
Without question this has been the strangest season in fashion in the past half-century, where in the midst of the pandemic, designers have been busy asking themselves what the point of their profession is. In Paris, the French call this "une remise en question," which roughly translates as questioning your own existence. And creative directors from giant brands to fledgling start-ups have responded frequently by returning to their youth and what inspired them to be designers in the very first place.
The results were some highly personal collections, which can be divided into two strangely complementary camps: romantic escapism, and clothes of high quality made with sustainable methods and fabrics. FashionNetwork.com reckons the following collections – whether shown online, in private presentations, via pre-prepared videos or in actual old-fashioned, live catwalk events – were the top 20 collections in fashion this past month.
Christian Dior: Feminist fashion in a cathedral
One almost genuflected entering the stage set of Christian Dior, when creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri unleashed her latest feminist fashion opus, in a tent done up as an arty cathedral in the Tuileries Garden. Inspired by Chiuri’s meeting with Lucia Marcucci, and the artist’s project "Vetrata di poesia visiva," meaning "Visual Poetry in Stained Glass." Each window frame in Dior’s sacred setting captured words and reflections on women, and great works of Renaissance and modern art featuring women. Each bold new look – in a series of ikat paisley-pattern coats – cut in a forgiving yet sensuous silhouette. Elegant feminist fashion at its most private and vivid, in the latest great statement by Chiuri.
Koché: Cool resistance in a Paris park
No one blends athletic sportswear with French street couture like Christelle Kocher. An indie trend-setter and great showwoman, she set her live show inside the Buttes-Chaumont, a fantastic Paris park with steep cliffs and charming follies. Accompanying her cast with a quartet of bagpipes in full belt, adding a grandeur to this collection, which felt like a celebration of life after the darkness of the lockdown. The atmosphere was optimistic even in a steady drizzle. Slip dresses made in football team stripes; denim negligee dresses; athletic bras and boxer shorts trimmed with lace and marvelous hoodie cocktails done in paisley jacquard.
"Why I am doing a fashion show? Well… It’s a matter of resistance. It’s a matter of emotion. It’s about being alive," said Kocher, summing up the remise en question that was the leitmotif of this season.
Coperni: Streamlined chic at Montparnasse Tower
French duo Coperni designed an excellent collection this season, and staged it in the driving rain on the on the rooftop of the Montparnasse Tower. Just 32 looks, opening with Edie Campbell in an all-white ensemble of micro-bomber jacket and stretch jodhpurs. Sculpted cocktails, sleek architectural suits and great off-the-shoulder shirts; along with what they called 3D fabrics, like knitted stretch. And one stunning all turquoise ensemble – featuring leggings, zippered windcheater jacket and matching chador – Olympic Games cool. And a great way to celebrate Cathy Freeman, the Aboriginal Baha’i believer who won the 400 meters gold 20 years ago this month in Sydney with her head fully covered.
Simone Rocha: Jane Austen meets Catherine de' Medici
Jane Austen met Catherine de' Medici in the most dramatic collection of the season in London. High ethereal romanticism from Simone Rocha at her best. A social media "Sharing Today" event for a small audience of editors, buyers and pals in a Mayfair gallery that opened with divine ballgowns cut to envelop the shoulder in clouds of taffeta or cloqué. An almost sacred atmosphere enhanced by the color palette, which Rocha described with a biblical reference as "amber, gold & myrrh."
Akris: phosphorescent minimalism
Switzerland’s most inventive fashion house took a novel approach to fashion this season, with no live show in Paris, nor any typical clothes video. Instead, designer Albert Kriemler formed a triumvirate – finding inspiration from the great German abstract minimalist artist Imi Knoebel, and then artfully recorded that collaboration in a film shot by Dutch filmmaker Anton Corbijn. The five-minute film was shot in a Dusseldorf studio before some of Knoebel's greatest works, like "Raum 19," a series of often massive cardboard shapes and boxes in unexpected demi-geometrical forms. Using Knoebel's late '90s paintings as designs for leather totes and fantastic tunic dresses, phosphorescent lace pantsuits and trench-coats in front of his sculptures, in the newest twist to the ennobling modernist fashion that is Akris.
Erdem and Emma
A beguiling video show inside a tree-lined park, referencing the love triangle in 18th-century Naples between Emma Hamilton, her husband and the legendary Horatio Nelson. Emma in the Bourbon court of Naples was attired in Directoire-style high-waisted dresses, Grecian goddess silhouettes and simple light-weight chemises thrown over the shoulder. Hair worn loose, pearls in ears, ribbons flowing from many collars and lapels, bows jutting out: the latest stylish collection from designer Erdem Moralioglu, who references the past even as he overthrows history with his revolutionary ideas.
Molly Goddard: Phygital fun
Molly had a phygital show for a succinct and sexy collection, in an art gallery, with gals striding along an all-white mini catwalk. Goddard wraps women up in oodles of puckered, gathered and ruffled fabrics, but they always look alluring, never prim. Her clothes are Instagram eye-catching but always cool, from the baby-doll-pink dresses, to the pinafores worn over baggy pants, to the splendid Victorian rocker femmes fatales in uber bright pop-art colors. No lockdown can stymie Goddard’s joie de vivre.
Marrknull invents edgy nobility
A windy quarry, with a score of Asian gals strolling hair astray on a ridge. All looking like they had been out all night partying. One long fabulous final drone shot captures the whole scene, as a juggernaut truck swings around the ridge where the models stand in formation. Voluminous asymmetrical blouses, waxed patent-leather cocktails, darling deconstructed trousers – in one of the most inventively cut collections in ages. A unisex ready-to-wear brand from Beijing, founded by Wang Wei and Tim Shi, Marrknull is all about recomposing Chinese traditional clothing with a deconstructed bedraggled grace. All told, a brilliantly succinct vision of edgy nobility.
Marni: Artisanal imagination
Francesco Risso had a live concept show which didn’t really come off. Shooting a score or more of pals in over a dozen cities, partly styling themselves in a weird variety of locations. However, the actual collection, the fruit of many months of his team hunkering down alone like old-fashioned artisans in Milan, was rather magical. Intense abstract expression prints; out-of-focus stripes; masterly bold graphics and posh-hippie graffiti texts – all used in trenches, giant coats, asymmetrical cocktails and upside-down athletic tops. A reminder that the lockdown allowed the most fertile fashion mind in Milan – Francesco Risso – to unleash his imagination.
Versace: Sea, sex and sun
Sea, wind and storms on the soundtrack – and talk about a great set! An ancient Roman ruin, Pompei in Milan, with statues of Hercules and imperious emperors, meter-wide Medusa heads, fallen Corinthian capitals and an audience of barely a hundred perched on mini fluted columns. The cast marching around a sandy floor in one of Donatella's strongest ever collections.
Girls in pants slit along the waistline; slinky blazers with crystal starfish brooches; beautiful graphic blouses; retro computer graphic skirts cut just below the knee. Guys in crisp suits with oversized jackets, techy tops with tie-patterns, pinstripe platform flares, and multicolored beach windbreaker stripes. Tip-top accessories, from the patent leather platforms finished with thick gold chains, to the electric blue and Day Glo orange nylon satchels. All ending with excellent clubbing gear in a great new Versace seashell and seashore print seen in leggings, barely-there bomber jackets, rapper shorts and track suits, not to mention the saucy crystal micro bras.
Donatella – in the new print – took her bow, leading out a quintet of besuited rock gods with slicked back hair. Nouveau athleticism for the fit and fabulous.
Yohji Yamamoto: Drapes like the devil
Those wanting to behold a pure statement of fashion creation attended the latest show by Yohji Yamamoto. Due to the pandemic there was actually only one proper runway show in Paris Fashion Week on a wet Friday. Yamamoto made sure it was a great one. Presented with élan inside the giant gilded Salle des Fêtes of Paris' City Hall, the perfect juxtaposition to an entirely black and white collection.
Few people anywhere can drape like Yamamoto, who sculpted, wrapped and hung intricate shards of silk and fine wool around his angelic cast. Before going on a prolonged spasm of activity at the finale, using hangers and raw wire crinolines to make fabric practically explode off the models’ torsos. A salutary lesson from the samurai of chic with multiple devilishly well-cut clothes.
Emporio Armani: Building bridges
Giorgio Armani skipped any physical presentation during Milan Fashion Week, but that did not prevent his video display for Emporio Armani from packing plenty of oomph and punch. Armani named the video "Building Dialogues" and shot it in his Milan headquarters, a former Nestlé chocolate factory reinvented by master architect Tadao Ando, and Armani/Silos, his art and fashion exhibition space across the street.
Giorgio’s famous non-color palette of chalk, putty, stone and light mud have rarely looked better, seen here before the elegantly austere rationalist-style buildings. Next summer Armani wants gals to dress in Emporio’s black and white Holstein-print rawhide jackets and blousons, perfectly cut black-and-gray chalk-stripe suits, halter-neck summer frocks, and mannish deep-gorge pantsuits.
Health concerns regarding travelling made the 86-year-old designer create an alternative form of show, one "to reach as many members of the public as possible," and the net result was one of his bravest Emporio collections ever.
Dries Van Noten: Len Lye lithe
Like at the summer menswear season, the Belgian designer showed a short video. Fortunately, this one had plenty of kick. Entitled "Video," by Viviane Sassen, it featured whirling dervishes of models in an Amsterdam studio, done like a hipster club with light projections. Van Noten referenced flapper dresses, boxy colonial officer looks and delightfully bright fencing shirts. For guys, camp shorts with lots of metallic tags, and skinny techy mess tops.
Though the key elements were the prints, which took this collection somewhere new. Working with the foundation of New Zealand artist and filmmaker Len Lye, who experimented with dyes, stencils, air-brushes, felt-tip pens and even surgical instruments, Van Noten developed a mesmerizing array of new psychedelic hues and blotched colors that showed the designer doing what he does best – crossing smart novel tailoring with his skills as a master printmaker. Punchy escapism at its best.
Hermès: Quality on a mountain top
A purist celebration of the French love of spectacle at Hermès, and the most skillfully staged show on the international calendar. Unveiled inside the Tennis Club de Paris, revamped into a mountain with ridges that rolled up into the ceiling of the brutalist concrete structure. A mountain made of white plaster cast, interspersed with giant plinths featuring images of ceramic icons, moody gods, and photos of the actual collection.
Designer Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski’s response to the pandemic was hyper quality, expressed in reduced adornment and unfussy styling: ideal mannish blazers, minimalist fisherman gilets or low-waist skirts in leathers so smooth they looked to be made of steel. Refined dusters, knotted-at-the-side dresses or neat blousons in double-face cashmere that called to be caressed. Exiting the pandemic, Vanhee-Cybulski sought out pure quality – durable fashion that will last for years.
Acne Studios: Turrell in the Grand Palais’ turrets
This will sound like a backhanded compliment, but I never thought I would write that Acne Studios was one of the 20 best shows on the planet in any given season. However, Jonny Johansson's latest collection for the Swedish brand was unquestionably an important event. Its big idea was the play of light on clothes and culture, echoing the ideas of James Turrell. Working with reflective materials, Johansson developed an intriguing collection of ceremonial clothes: wrap blouses with sleeves that ended six inches past the finger tips; marvelous cable knits with giant Jesuitical sleeves; oversized mannish crushed-cotton ecru blazers. Or semi-sheer chiffon tube dresses, tunics and swing skirts that caught the soft, key and ambient lighting. Even the handbags and clutches came with five-inch-wide, one-meter-long straps. Presented to groups of 30 editors and influential folk, in three faux galleries, illuminated with cinematic lighting. All within the Galerie Courbe of the Grand Palais. An unexpected fashion moment, by a designer to be reckoned with.
Balmain: Logomania for a virtual front row
J.Lo, Penelope Cruz and a gang of editors showed up in Paris once this season – if only virtually – at the latest Balmain show. Each on their own flat screen, projecting them watching from the comfort of their own home or offices – from Beijing and Milan to London and New York. Allowing them, and several of their dogs, to witness Olivier Rousteing’s logo-drenched vision for Balmain. Catching a powerful fashion statement from Rousteing, where every second look featured a dense archive logo print. Seen in pagoda-shoulder tuxedos, naughty dressing gowns and femme fatale cocktails for gals, or rock dandy blazers, lounge suits and award-winning smoking jackets for dudes.
Paco Rabanne is relevant again
Designer Julien Dossena staged a series of mini live shows inside Espace Commines in the Marais, rebuilt inside as a large silver cylinder. What soundtrack there was came interrupted by dogs barking, honking car horns, police sirens and the yells of street photographers outside. Silver slip dresses finished with bodices and strips of leopard skin underneath. Beautiful pink slip negligees with dentelle tops, often worn under gentlemanly eight-button mini redingotes or Space Age sleeveless hussar jackets. The audience perched on metal stools, admiring the bravura finale – a series of gold or silver dresses made of shards of metallic plastic or oversized sequins.
In a word, Dossena is France’s most happening designer. Someone who has managed to breathe life into a brand that had been regarded as a charming retro relic. Today, thanks to Dossena, Paco Rabanne is relevant and even revolutionary.
Miu Miu: Olympic gold medal winners get Italian makeover
After showing Prada and her debut with Raf Simons, in Milan, Miuccia Prada unveiled Miu Miu 12 days later in Paris. Both collections were presented online and also in several cities to select groups of senior fashionistas at chic lunches. Inevitably, the question was: would Miuccia have a better collection working alone, or with Raf? On the basis of this one season, it is definitely Miu Miu – sexy, sporty, athletic chic at its best. Trackpants, taut blousons, miniskirts, sleek shorts and leotards were the heart of the collection. East German Olympic gold medal winners given a glam Italian makeover. All finished with great gusto by faux diamante trim, crystal collars and dazzling bugle beads. Unveiled in the latest Miu Miu Club, a naïve futurist setting with a score of fans – Brigitte Lacombe, Malgorzata Szumowska and Erin O’Connor – watching the show live like figure skating judges. And the winner is – Miuccia.
Maison Margiela: Tango Parisien
John Galliano promised viewers that his goal was to create a "luxury genderless wardrobe," for Maison Margiela, in a virtual reportage entitled "S.W.A.L.K. II." Speaking about a "video filled with love," in a virtual conversation with Nick Knight and hair stylist Eugene Souleiman, before viewers were led into a tango lesson on a youthful cast dancing before the mood board of next Spring-Summer 2021.
Galliano's inspiration: a voyage to Buenos Aires, the working class neighborhood of La Boca, where so many houses are painted in bright colors, and the discovery of his first tango bar. Sitting in his own drawing room, before oil portraits, the English couturier recalled a "dilapidated garage with wild cats running around under moonlight in a private Tango club. Before an 80-year-old began dancing." The memory of that figure in creased clothing, accompanied by an accordion and shot by Knight.
The actual clothes were slouchy Argentine style suits, padded trenches, sweaters worn under suspenders and inside-striped pants. Women in blood red silk flared frocks, ideal for dancing, and deconstructed jackets and cut-out trenches. Often with numbers on their backs, competing like in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
The cast eventually dancing around the all-white studio of the headquarters of Margiela in the 11th arrondissement in this 44-minute opus, before ending their activities in a wedding day orgy under pouring rain. Enjoyable, frolicking and enthusiastic, even if a tad too self-indulgent, this was the video where one got to see the most of any collection this season. And, this "garçonniere" aesthetic made the clothes some of the wickedest anywhere.
Last but not least: blurred gender bending from Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton, who developed a bold vernacular to address the slowly melting division between men and women in a powerful final runway show that brought an end to Paris Fashion Week.
Little politics on any runway this season, especially in Paris, but at least Ghesquière made his opinions clear. His opening model wore a loose white sweatshirt with graffiti script reading "Vote." Others had great explosive street graphics saying – "Drive," "Hooks" or "Dunce" in macho racecar colors. Punchy designs used in taut cocktails under some great voluminous spy heroine coats.
Repeatedly cutting with bravura – fantastic mannish low-waisted double-breasted coat-dresses; and the best pants anywhere this season – billowing men’s trousers with ruffled trim, worn with officers' mess jackets. While his bomber-meets-spy-trench-coats will be huge hits – for guys and girls.
Ghesquière returning to his avant-garde roots on the top floor of the new concept department store, Samaritaine, on the Seine.
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