The Paris collections played out against the most dramatic of world events. England’s Supreme Court found Boris Johnson’s suspension of Parliament unlawful by a unanimous vote, and across the ocean, the U.S. Congress initiated impeachment proceedings against President Trump. In between shows, we scrolled wildly through our latest news feeds to stay connected with the events as they were happening. At times it felt like the real action of the world was going on somewhere else, but that’s not giving fashion enough credit. Its most engaged designers addressed our political anxieties head-on.
Take Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia, who recreated the European Parliament on a soundstage on the outskirts of Paris, a highway ride lined with a refugee tent city away from the Belle Époque palaces of the Premier Arrondissement, and stocked it with the warring parties. On one side: masters of the universe in severe tailoring, campaign dresses, and couture lifted from Cristóbal, who in turn lifted it from Velásquez and Goya. And on the other: motocross pants, logo tees, and identity-obscuring parkas. The guy’s got range. And just as important, he knows how to make us feel something.
Rick Owens took on the U.S. border crisis via a collection that celebrated his Mexican roots with his sui generis dressmaking and the most sensational headgear anywhere. John Galliano was up to something similar at Maison Margiela, making an implicit criticism of Boris Johnson’s shenanigans with his reworkings of the uniforms of real-people war heroes. It’s hard to resist a guy in uniform—we’re talking to you, Leon Dame. The steely Marine Serre had her own critique to make, this one about governments’ inaction on climate change. She also served up one of the most complete wardrobes of the season, from slick all-black looks to delicate white dresses made from vintage table and bed linens. Like Serre, Telfar Clemens is part of a new generation of designers embedding activism into their design codes. The New York import’s novel show concept included a short film about immigration made in collaboration with the Slave Play playwright Jeremy O. Harris and an energizing dance party.
Those who didn’t wear their politics as obviously on their sleeves stood for an issue vital to fashion’s future: the elevation of craft and handwork and the embrace of natural materials, which in some cases this season involved the resuscitation of vintage and antique textiles. Amidst all the talk—and there was a lot of talk!—about sustainability, the instinct to make things slowly and with great care is the right way to address high fashion’s excess and waste. Delicate airy treasures abounded at Dior, Loewe, and Noir Kei Ninomiya, but most sublimely Alexander McQueen, where Sarah Burton and her team made keepsakes for the 22nd century. With more psychedelic results, Louis Vuitton’s Nicolas Ghesquière was after the same thing: “I thought it could be interesting to evoke something kind and gentle, and very soft.”
The kindest, most beautiful gesture of the season belongs to Dries Van Noten, who invited Christian Lacroix to collaborate. Business-wise, it was brilliant—a collection’s worth of collector’s items—but it’s the sentiment we’ll remember. With a long month of shows ending, we’ll take that good energy with us back out into the real world.
“This is the wardrobe of which dreams are made, and it arrived in a season sorely in need of such heady imaginings. But there was nothing insubstantial going on here. Sarah Burton has always made incredibly lovely clothes for the house of McQueen; she just has that very rare gift. But in the past few seasons, and tonight more than ever, she proved something far, far lovelier. When you make things with the right values, when you treat the earth and its citizens and their traditions with care and respect, when you endeavor to reimagine what might once have been tossed aside or away, when you take the time to truly care about every piece you create, you simply make better things. With great thought comes great beauty—magnificence, really. This was the lesson in sustainability that every corporate leader in fashion needed to be taught. Tonight they went to stitch school with Sarah Burton.” —Sally Singer
“Relevance, in Gvasalia’s mind, is equal parts sharp observation of what people wear and a focus on creating something that somehow relates back to the heritage of Cristóbal Balenciaga. That takes us to the crinoline dresses right at the end—almost a child’s cartoon fantasy in their bouncy silhouettes. ‘Ballroom dresses go back to the beginning of Balenciaga, when [Cristóbal] started in Spain. It was mostly this type of silhouette he did, from Spanish painting,’ Gvasalia observed. ‘But we wanted to make sure they were wearable. If you take out the crinoline, you have a sort of goth dress.’” —Sarah Mower
“If you cared to, you could read in Owens’s fantastic vision a pointed criticism of President Trump, who’s called Mexicans ‘animals’ and ‘criminals,’ and worse. The Metropolis reference is no coincidence. Lang’s antiauthoritarian masterpiece depicts a grim underworld peopled by mistreated workers, i.e. the migrant farmers and other undocumented immigrants who do the hard labor that keeps America’s upper classes fed. But take the political gloss out of the story and this was still one of the most captivating collections of the week—if not the season. Who else has magicked a vocabulary, from the exaggerated shoulders of jackets to the tabard skirts to the strange protrusions jutting from pelvises, as sui generis as Owens has?” —Nicole Phelps
Dries Van Noten
“You could see the designers to-ing and fro-ing, Van Noten putting in his oversize sweatshirts; [Christian] Lacroix swathing on chiffon skirts to go with. The spectaculars—and you will recognize both of them in these—were the richly embroidered matador jackets. In truth, Van Noten can’t be typified as a dour northern minimalist—he’s always been known for his decorated coats, and gold bullion embroidery is a specialty of his house. Here, the gold was dulled to look almost like pieces of authentic vintage costumes, sometimes with Lacroix’s signature jet beading thrown in.” —S.M.
“The real genius of Anderson is how subtly he embeds his references in a wardrobe that is wholly designed for today. Romance and escapism are all very well in theory, but when fashion brinks on costume, it will only ever live in fashion pictures. Anderson’s ambition for Loewe is far more applied than that—he’s a born merchandiser who wants his clothes to be bought and worn. The maximalism of the quality is streamlined into gracefully minimalist fit-and-flare shape, the silhouette he’s stamped on the house. ‘I thought: Keep the silhouette and expand on it,’ he said.” —S.M.
“Ninomiya, rarely loquacious, this season said he was aiming for a reset, then mentioned ‘basics’ which made us all laugh. He added: ‘It was a beginning. Actually I wanted to focus on creation… back to the basic mind of creation… I want to make something new and start something new.’ Although he is determined not to be referential, Ninomiya does have his codes and here, again, we saw the perfect jacket used as a template for longer chain-strapped dresses with open backs.” —Luke Leitch
“The title of her latest collection, Marée Noire, means oil spill in English, though the literal translation has an even more ominous ring to it: black tide. The show began at the toll of what sounded like a death knell with a series of slick all-black looks that included recycled plastic raincoats accessorized with reclaimed metal hardware belts, seashells hung on hoop earrings, and reusable water canister holders. Speaking before the show, Serre explained that the collection was conceived as the aftermath of an apocalypse in which only a handful of people have survived devastating climate wars and mass extinction. Though the designer rarely works in black, this season the funereal tones made perfect sense. The opening look, an elegant black moire knee-length bubble skirt paired with a terrific utilitarian zippered jacket-cum-cape lit the way both figuratively and literally, with an infrared light strung around the model’s neck.” —Chioma Nnadi
“…In the center of the Dior runway lay the central analogy for the show: Respect for diversity and nature will set us free. Add to this Chiuri’s other key source of inspiration for the season—Catherine Dior, sister of Christian—and the analogy gains weight and depth. Catherine, the ‘Miss’ of Miss Dior, was a resistance fighter and concentration camp prisoner who emerged from the rubble of World War II to become an acclaimed gardener and botanist. She literally grew her way out of the postwar gloom with roses and wildflowers galore. Seventy years later we are on the verge of environmental disaster, and (horribly) internment camps abound: Ethically, historically, metaphorically, Dior-ifically, Grazia and Dior are on point.” —S.S.
“Clemens makes everyday sportswear, easy but with elements of the unexpected. His most recognizable design is a tank top with askew straps; it looks like if you stuck your head out of one of the armholes by mistake, said f— it, and went about your day. His new collection, the statement explained, took inspiration from ‘the customs/security lines at any airport at any given time, anywhere in the world.’ These are places of anticipation and frustration for all of us, and—as the short made vivid—a real risk for people of color.” —N.P.
“The fact that Galliano turned to exploring uniform—the ultimate built-to-last clothing—chimed with fashion’s current drive to put forward clothes with substance and value. In recent seasons, his consciousness of the digital world, social media, and what the Gen Z interns bring to his studio has sent him into explorations of creative chaos. This still wasn’t a collection of literal costume narrative—there were layerings of coats with holes—but the feverish fragmentary collaging and back-to-front and upside downness of recent shows were largely gone, replaced by a sense that this is a time for shaping up and showing what you stand for—skills and beliefs included.” —S.M.
“A famous French person—not Proust—once said, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Ghesquière seemed to be getting at something along those lines with the VHS bag that opened the show and the monogram totes decorated with stacks of old tapes whose names had been tweaked. The Terminator became The Trunkinator, and Thelma and Louise became Gaston and Louis (Gaston-Louis Vuitton being the third generation head of the company). Louis’ Excellent Adventure was, bien sûr, a riff on Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. You can see where this is going. The clever time tripping provoked an animated discussion as guests made their way out of the show’s sustainably sourced plywood set through the centuries-old Cour Carrée, and past IM Pei’s famous 20th century glass pyramid which, of course, glances back to Egypt’s, built about 5,000 years ago. Time, someone argued, is just perception. Where is fashion headed in the 2020s? Ghesquière knows. It’ll be much the same and completely different.” —N.P.