The hot topic this Paris season has been Hedi Slimane’s first show for Celine. Around the shows, people have been reading reviews of that collection like never before, feeding a fashion debate about the female gaze fueled, of course, by the contrast between Slimane and predecessor Phoebe Philo’s work. He stayed true to the personal aesthetic he has held onto since the mid-2000s, cemented during his time at Saint Laurent: from the sliding cubic mirrored box at the root of the runway to the specially commissioned soundtrack and a show that read like retail pearls on a string, Slimane recreated his signature show format for Celine. Models were typically skinny and scouted for the occasion. Tiny little rock ‘n’ roll suits roamed the runway en masse. Little pouf super-mini prom dresses with ballooning off-shoulder sleeves painted the eveningwear picture.
It must have been a strange season for Anthony Vaccarello, who took over Saint Laurent from Slimane just two years ago and has retained the silhouette – and many of the carry-overs – he established at the house. On paper, Vaccarello’s show was a history lesson in Yves Saint Laurent’s archives, but these days associations are fickle. A hussar jacket with passementerie may read as 1970s Yves Saint Laurent to one person and as British indie bands from the 2000s to another. The evening segment proposed swimming costumes for cocktail house, wrapped sparsely around the body and cut high around the hips. “The shorts are very me. Me for Saint Laurent,” the designer quipped when asked about his scanty minis.
He took his bow walking on water (quite literally, the runway was covered in a thin depth of reflective water) making a gesture perhaps fitting for a season epitomized by a dance between the titans of fashion. Celine is owned by LVMH, while Saint Laurent is a Kering company. And around the Paris runways, the two competing conglomerates continued to have their say in the big conversation. “For so long, people have defined my work saying I was empowering women. It’s an intuition I’ve always had, so why should I not take on that criteria to design this collection, only? This is not a narrative collection, this is about my obsession with empowering women: dressing them. I think I’ve been doing that for many, many years,” Nicolas Ghesquière said of his Louis Vuitton show, which proposed a rather armored Joan of Arc silhouette for new female empowerment.
“It’s the complexity of a woman and her emotions,” Sarah Burton explained at Alexander McQueen where she drew on similar armor codes, working with the memories of Victorian bridal gowns reincarnated in somewhat sexy flounce and lace dresses, fortified with the Celtic leather decoration through which the designer expresses her more dangerous side. “In this world where everyone’s like, ‘You’ve got to put a brave face on and be powerful and pretend that everything is okay,’ it’s like saying that there isn’t beauty in vulnerability and emotion. It’s important to say that there is.” The women’s debate reached a zenith at Comme des Garçons where Rei Kawakubo expressed her decision to embrace a new silhouette closer to the anatomy of the human body in the image of the loss of an unborn.
Her collection featured gashes across the front of richly adorned black double-breasted coats and dresses worn by female models, their abdomens heavily padded to resemble pregnancy. Maria Grazia Chiuri, who has branded herself as fashion’s feminist designer, opened Paris Fashion Week with an impressive dance performance choreographed by Sharon Eyal. “I try to speak more about experience and less about just clothes,” Chiuri said of the theatrical experience. Was she saying the show overrules the clothes? “It’s the reality. In order to move a couture brand into the future you have ask yourself, what does fashion mean? And I think we are living in a revolutionary moment where it’s so important for us creative directors to reflect on the future of the fashion system.”
At Gucci, Alessandro Michele has mastered the fashion theatre from day one. He moved his show to Paris this season and took out the fabled Le Palace nightclub and theatre in Montmartre. It was a perfectly suitable choice for his underground elves, but it was the noticeable progress of Michele’s plentiful shtick and his bold styling moves that made this collection more compelling than his usual theatre. Jean Paul Gaultier put men in skirts thirty years ago, but the moment Michele sent out a buzz-cut boy with tattoos and tennis socks in a slinky baroque-print scarf dress and a big backpack felt momentous in a new way.
Gender non-conformism became a big theme during the week, at Givenchy where Clare Waight Keller mirrored her woman and man in each other’s images, and most of all at Maison Margiela where John Galliano imbued his first fragrance for the house – Mutiny – with the values of the new generations. It’s the courage of standing up for what you believe in,” he said in a podcast about the fragrance, fronted by a group of non-conformist ambassadors, who have all battled conventional views in relation to identity and appearance. “When they come to a house they want to know what the house stands for before they buy into it,” Galliano said of the millennial and Generation Z consumers. “All I can say is that everything we do here is based in truth: authentic. It comes from the heart. Creativity is our mutiny. Creativity is my mutiny.”
Informed by his Maison Margiela haute couture collection in July, Galliano’s co-ed ready-to-wear show proposed a new way of dressing for the non-conformist generations, expressed through intricate cuts and techniques, which implement “the memory of” one garment into another. Here, a skirt cut with the motif of a jacket became a cape, while an image of swimwear was bonded onto a lace dress worn by a boy. It underlined the importance of pushing fashion not just through messages and theatre but through re-invention and cuts, too. At Balenciaga, Demna Gvasalia joined that mission by suggesting a new way of wearing tailoring: fluid over-shirts (rather than blazers) styled with matching trousers, which weren’t just aesthetically appealing but so right for a casual era of dressing where women and men still want to look put-together. “It’s comfortable tailoring. No shoulder pads. You don’t need to wear a shirt because the shirt has transformed into a jacket, in order to be able to dress a new generation in tailoring,” he said.
This article first appeared on Vogue.co.uk