One of the (many) silver linings of virtual fashion weeks is the chance to see collections in places that could never accommodate rows of guests. What better backdrop for Rick Owens’s sweeping black puffer-capes and shimmering, armorial bodysuits than a narrow concrete pier jutting into a grey Adriatic Sea? Or the famed Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, at night, for the blood red gowns and deceptively sweet broderie anglaise dresses of Maria Grazia Chiuri’s fairytale-inspired collection for Dior?
With no audience to seat, Louis Vuitton’s Nicolas Ghesquière moved his show into the Michelangelo and Daru wings of the Louvre, where its Greek, Roman and Etruscan sculptures are housed. Their smooth surfaces and classical forms made a fine relief for Ghesquière’s lavishly decorated and thoroughly modern silhouettes: billowy blouson jackets over long straight knits, slouchy boots and skirts that ballooned or ruffled at the knee, and broad capes and technical jackets paired with glittering A-line dresses or straight, narrow trousers. Clothing sales are “performing incredibly”, buoyed by a fashion-forward customer in China, said Ghesquière in a post-show interview, and it’s not hard to see why.
Ghesquière said he was thinking about the tension between “dressing for ourselves when we are at home” and “dressing for others” when we are socialising: coming out of this experience, he believes that we’ll want a bit of both. Thus the interiors of garments are soft and padded; their exteriors “super-embellished, embroidered, printed”. Models tucked bags with Fornasetti drawings under their arms, part of an ongoing collaboration with the Italian design atelier.
“Comfort is not a bad word,” said Ghesquière. “I used to think we have to dress in a [sort of] glamour armour, but it’s not about that anymore, the protection is real now, we’re wearing masks, trying to stay safe. Feeling soft, comfortable, treat[ing] yourself well — there is clearly that feeling.”
There was also a feeling for decadence, as seen at Paco Rabanne with its crystal-studded harnesses layered over shimmering chainmail-esque dresses, and at Lanvin, where models in feathered cocktail dresses and head-to-toe leopard velvet drove toy cars over polished parquet floors set to a cover of Gwen Stefani’s “Rich Girl”. Loewe’s Jonathan Anderson combined a touch of opulence with uplifting volumes and colours, fashioned into cropped trouser-suits in beaded silk jacquard and blue suede, and draped dresses and shirts festooned with cloth buckles inspired by 17th- and 18th-century court shoes.
After-hours glamour was also on the mind of Chanel’s Virginie Viard, who moved this season’s show from the Grand Palais to the legendary Left Bank nightclub Chez Castel. Glittering tweed jackets and trouser suits were reimagined as eveningwear, and shaggy Moon Boots and Fair Isle jumpers evoked a day on the slopes. (Skiing was also a starting point for Thom Browne, who cast Olympian Lindsey Vonn as the star of his wintery, magical, Wizard of Oz-inspired film, and Miu Miu’s Miuccia Prada, whose tactile mix of puffy, pastel co-ords and silky slip dresses were captured on the slopes of Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Dolomites.)
The week’s headline debut came from Uruguayan-American designer Gabriela Hearst at Richemont-owned Chloé. Her first collection was packed with strong commercial pieces — particularly the fringed puffer-poncho hybrids and trim, ankle-skimming coats in scalloped leather — that neatly synthesised the brand’s bohemian feel with Hearst’s favoured shapes.
“I see Chloé as my sister,” she replied when I asked how she differentiated the two labels. “She just graduated from her PhD programme, she’s in her early 30s, has a boyfriend, will probably get married; she’s in the early stages of life. Gabriela Hearst has scars.”
Key for Hearst was cementing the house codes without playing up the Chloé logo. “I’m not a logo branded sort of designer, so I had to figure out how to communicate branding without it,” she said. And so she focused on the brand’s signature scalloping — seen on its best-selling Lauren ballet flats — which was worked into quilted bags, the edges of dresses and the panelling of coats.
Hearst already runs a successful, growing label out of New York, which generated sales of about $20m even in a pandemic year. So why take the job at Chloé?
For her, it is an opportunity to take her work in sustainability and scale it, she says. Her debut collection saw virgin cashmere substituted for recycled; fabrics from prior seasons reworked into patchwork jackets; and the house’s Edith handbags — originally bought second-hand off eBay — reimagined as one-of-a-kind pieces with leftover sample material. Working this way can be costly, and prices will be about 10 per cent higher than previous collections, she said.
Another kind of debut was to be had at Givenchy, where American designer Matthew Williams staged his first proper (albeit audience-less) co-ed show following last season’s quiet showroom unveiling to press. With revenues “well under €1bn”, according to analysts, Givenchy is a small player within the LVMH stable — but its ambitions are grand.
That was apparent in the unparalleled production quality of the film, with its cameras roving from a maze of scaffolds to the black, water-slicked floors of a vast arena; the boldness of its silhouettes (big shoulders, waspish waists); and in the heavy emphasis on accessories, which included big, furry mitts; thick chains; water bottles encased in black leather, suspended like pendants from the neck; and hooflike shoes reminiscent of Alexander McQueen’s (a designer who also once led Givenchy). It did not look like the show of a midsized brand — but it also looked like it was trying a bit too hard to be cool.
Some customers appear to be persuaded: Lydia King, fashion and buying director of Harrods, said the store had already received pre-orders for some of the tailored outerwear pieces. “In a season when a lot of brands did shy away from it, he managed to bring that sexy tailoring silhouette back,” she observed. “It’s such a departure from [previous designer Clare Waight Keller], it will take a while for the customer to catch up. But it is appealing to a younger customer overall.”
While many did shy away from tailoring this season — and little wonder, with sales nosediving last year — those who did imbued it with a fresh versatility. At Jil Sander (which was acquired last week by Maison Margiela owner Only the Brave), that meant caressing, gently nipped blazers over knit skirts and long blazers reimagined as outerwear. Hermès too elongated its blazers, which were belted and rendered in chocolate leather. British designer Paul Smith, who has built his business on suits, this time paired lightweight, deconstructed jackets with knit trousers.
“It’s very obvious that tailoring, [especially] for men, is dying very rapidly over the past year,” he said. “But because of my history understanding the way clothes are built, and understanding what a dart does, what bias cutting does, etc, I have been able to still keep the simplicity and wearable aspects of it, but the comfort is there.”
This will likely be the last season of purely digital shows. But while many are eager to go back to showing in person, fashion weeks are unlikely to return to the way they were. Many including Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Saint Laurent, Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors have left the schedule; there’s no telling, yet, whether they’ll be back. Others say the experience has pushed them to think outside the box, and that will continue. And for many, shows no longer make financial sense.
“These fashion weeks are going to be obliterated in the next year,” predicts Anderson, the designer of LVMH-owned Loewe and his namesake label. “The financial drain out there is massive. I work in two brands and I can see it.”
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