Paris returns to the catwalk with Beyoncé, Bruni, and a nod to the 1960s.
Speaking before the Saint Laurent show on Tuesday evening, held in the open air against a twinkling Eiffel Tower, Saint Laurent designer Anthony Vaccarello said that staging a live event was important because of the emotion: “I do the job because of the tension and the energy, and that’s missing without a show.” Certainly there was a visceral thrill this week to seeing real clothes on a real Paris catwalk, which most of the audience hadn’t experienced for more than a year.
Jewellery designer Paloma Picasso, a friend of Yves Saint Laurent’s, was the inspiration for this season’s collection. “Paloma was very sexual but not the kind of woman you mess with. I like that cold distance,” said Vaccarello.
This collection was brimming with the overt sexuality the designer is known for, with skintight, shiny catsuits in black, scarlet and printed florals, some with halter-necks or twisted bandeau bras that would take a lot of body confidence to pull off. More appealing were sleek column and tuxedo dresses with power shoulders, plunging V-necks and chunky gold buttons, which had a fierce glamour, as did oversized jackets worn with flares. Accessories were attention-grabbing, including visor-like shades, bold gold jewellery and clutch bags that were tucked into the pockets of jeans like weapons.
The lights, music and location summoned drama you just don’t get from a fashion film, but watching very thin, very young models anxiously walk the catwalk in treacherously high shoes undermined Vaccarello’s view that “for me, being sexy today is assuming what you are, being confident, having the power”.
At his 10-year anniversary show for Balmain, Olivier Rousteing served up sexiness and major spectacle. He staged a “Balmain Festival” with a catwalk show for more than 4,000 people, most of them members of the public, which opened with a recorded message from Beyoncé celebrating Rousteing’s achievement in being a black designer heading a Parisian luxury house. Models wore barely-there black tops, some bandeau style, and a witty one that resembled a metal link of a chain, teamed with low-waisted trousers. Clingy dresses featured more cut-outs than coverage, though some had a slightly “Egyptian mummy” vibe, such as a white bandage dress that appeared to be unravelling. A fun finale featuring supermodels Natalia Vodianova, Naomi Campbell and even (publicity coup alert) former first lady of France Carla Bruni had Balmain superfans whooping.
Many of the ideas at Balmain were seen across the shows: skimpy tops and miniskirts, flared knit trousers and knee-high boots, straps and trailing ribbons. At Courrèges, cross-front tops in blue and silver appeared along with striped minidresses. Rick Owens’ beguiling gothic futurism featured thigh-high boots with multiple straps and clingy cobweb knits, while Rokh offered super-chic cocktail dressing on ’50s wiggle dresses, made rebellious with wet-looking fabrics.
Minidresses and crop tops aren’t for everyone, but Lisa Aiken, fashion and lifestyle director of Neiman Marcus, says she is “seeing people buying party heels, clothes for dressing up and tailoring. It’s about feeling put-together again.” In contrast to lockdown, where shoppers splurged on classic handbags and investment knitwear, “No one wants to invest in essentials.”
At Loewe, Jonathan Anderson explored sexual tension, but combined with surrealism, so alongside attractive sequin slip dresses with flamenco frills were back-to-front trench dresses with hammered metal breastplates and a model carrying a sculpture of a foot. “The idea of doing a show now is a surrealist act,” Anderson mused. There was a surreal and dreamlike flavour at Rochas too, where 24-year-old designer Charles de Vilmorin used brushstroke illustrations on billowing dresses and flame-like frills on leather boots in a show that felt intriguing and original.
Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri was musing on the performative nature of clothing this season. She referenced artist Anna Paparatti and her colourful 1964 artwork “The Game of Nonsense”, creating a circular platform catwalk with coloured sections. “Fashion is a big performance . . . the clothes are important in life because in some way we perform the work,” Chiuri said at a preview. “I think over the last two years we felt like we should renounce fashion, but like a game there are some aspects that are fun.”
She was also looking at former Dior designer Marc Bohan’s 1961 Slim Look collection, giving it a more colourful, youthful, pop-art feel. More signs the mini is back came from boxy miniskirt suits in black, orange and yellow, and dresses with beaded gold fringing, while silk minidresses in buttercup yellow and grass green were teamed with matching macs. Go-go boots with coloured piping and Mary Jane shoes added to the retro mood.
Dior has been a star performer for LVMH during the pandemic. After the show, Dior chief executive Pietro Beccari said: “It was not a good year for everybody, but Dior came out of the crisis accelerating, we came up with a certain advantage to the competition, who were maybe less courageous or had less momentum.”
Possibly the most picture-postcard mise-en-scène came from Chloé designer Gabriela Hearst. Models walked alongside the River Seine, so close to the water that a speedboat was on hand in case anyone fell in.
Hearst’s ultra-luxe, pared-back boho, with a fluid kaftan dress in burnt orange and striped cashmere poncho, tapped into the free-spirited Chloé woman the Richemont house is known for. Hearst has a nuanced take on sexy: “I’m interested in sensuality. I like alluring, something that I need to look twice at. Sensual is back for me.”
Hearst collaborated with seven NGOs, including Ocean Sole, a social enterprise in Kenya that made the upcycled multicoloured platform flip flops in the collection. “The bigger mission here is, can you increase revenue in a company and decrease the impact on the environment?” she said. “The volume drivers are the ones you have to change really fast. We transformed [popular products] into lower-impact products.”
In a season where some designers have gone for va va voom and others have emphasised values, Hearst’s decision to put environmental and social impact at the heart of a luxury brand was wonderful to see. “It’s a beautiful location, it’s sunny,” she said. “We are privileged to be in this moment.”