Paris Show Stopper
The Conclusion to the Paris Fashion Week Fall 2019
The farewell to the immense talent of Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel was framed just as he’d imagined – with a show that was somber yet serene, a capturing of airiness and substance; a slice of Chanel heaven atop a snow-bound haven. On the extreme end, a dark romance has taken hold at Alexander McQueen with fractured, thorny rose prints and sharp inventive tailoring by Sarah Burton. At Louis Vuitton, Nicolas Ghesquière questions the line that separates the digital and the real worlds as he codenamed his latest Collection ‘Geolocated’, describing it as a melting pot of different tribes coming together to a place where expression is free to be.
It was a snow-bound haven—a slice of Chanel heaven, viewed from a distance that was poignantly difficult to bear.
There was an icicle-like tinkling on the soundtrack. Models assembled, one by one, on the snow-covered steps of a faux alpine hostelry, the Chanel Gardenia. It was hard, the suppressed anticipation of what was going to happen next. What is the correct form for honoring someone at a fashion show, someone who was always so fixed on waving away vulgar sentimentality, and who always had something hilariously skewering to say about the posthumous hagiographies of anyone he cared to mention? Karl Lagerfeld was the least sentimental of people. He loved his job and always regarded it as the task of continually living in the present. He reveled in letting it be known he had a “contract for life” with Chanel, which he enjoyed to the maximum moment.
Well, this is how it went. There was a minute’s silence. And then, Karl Lagerfeld’s voiceover, from a recent Chanel podcast (this man loved every tech advancement). He spoke in French, until the last sentence, where he burst through in English about his pleasure in imagining the detonation of a surprise on an audience in, “Oh! It’s like walking in a painting!”
The Chanel girls—his crew, the latest generation he’d encouraged and quipped with in the Chanel studio since 1983—were clearly conscious of the ceremonial responsibilities they had. They trod the “snow,” hands in pockets, insouciantly proving what a perfectly considered collection of wide-legged trouser suits these were—with long, swirlingly soft, checked tweed coats he’d envisaged in tandem with his longtime right-hand Virginie Viard.
What Karl Lagerfeld never forgot—he was a rare intellectual pragmatist who frequently ridiculed high-concept fashion—is that clothes are nothing unless they are worn. That was Coco Chanel all over, too. It should be remembered that, by the late 1970s, few cared about her legacy. Her canon had been put in the shade by Yves Saint Laurent until Karl Lagerfeld was hired into the house by the Wertheimer family in 1983. It was Lagerfeld who irreverently illuminated the codes of Chanel—irradiating them in the constantly changing sidelights of the events of four decades’ worth of current affairs, the serial revolutions of fax, the Internet, social, and the global reach of fashion to new generations in Asia, and beyond.
So this collection was Lagerfeld at his uplifting best. No matter how dark the days were, his ability to throw on the icing of a ruffly white organza blouse, to sparkle up embroideries with a deft hand on a Nordic sweater, or to conjure dream dresses within any theme to which his huge imagination traveled. These were the gifts he gave to fashion. Today, as always.
In a season in which a certain dark romance has taken hold—mostly in some combination of menswear gestures and fractured, thorny rose prints—Sarah Burton’s Fall 2019 show this evening for Alexander McQueen was exquisitely realized, peerless, and definitive.
Let’s begin with her sharp, inventive tailoring. There are trouser suits with a strong but narrow shoulder in which a drape of wool flows from the nipped waistline with a selvage announcing to all: Made in England. There are suits built of two different scales of pinstripes or checks, which, up close, look both classical and punk—no easy trick. There is a tuxedo jacket with an elegantly slashed shoulder, and another in black wool silk with fuchsia satin sleeves, draped to resemble cascading flower petals.
And then let’s talk about those flowers: dresses of black, scarlet, or (yet more) fuchsia taffeta, constructed by a thicket of tucks at the bodice from which explodes wild yardages of fabric sculpted to resemble enormous roses. These are fascinating creations because they proceed entirely from the fine manipulation of a volume of fabric. They are extraordinary—essentially couture—and will no doubt make their way to a red carpet soon, if not worn first by a duchess.
In a moment when we need to reuse and recycle, she has pieced together dresses from remnants and scraps and made embellishments out of industrial materials. And right now, when we need to buy less and buy better (which is the only way to change from a culture of waste to one of value), she has made thoughtful, soulful, beautifully rendered garments that speak volumes about where we have come from and where we are headed. It doesn’t get better than that.
Nicolas Ghesquière, like a lot of us, has been thinking about the line that separates the digital and the real worlds. Last season, he landed on the side of the virtual. Today, at the final show of the Fall collections, he cast his eye to the street. Not just any street; at a preview, he called his new Louis Vuitton collection “geolocated.” The location he had in mind was Beaubourg, the famous Centre Pompidou in the fourth arrondissement, and the large square in front of it, which he described as a “melting pot of different tribes coming together,” and “a place where expression is free to be.”
The idea for this collection was to re-create those various “tribes” or subcultures—before Instagram (and the Internet, more broadly) flattened experience and made us all look the same. It’s a daunting, even quixotic task for the creative leader of a renowned global brand to set for himself—after all, the goal is to get as many people in LV as possible. But Ghesquière seemed to relish the making of this collection, which he said came together in a very fluid way: “When I arrived, the question was: ‘Is Louis Vuitton only about basics?’” Apparently, the sales results are telling him no; customers are buying pieces that are expressive of individuality.
The conjuring of those Beaubourg-ian subcultures began today with a re-creation of the Renzo Piano– and Richard Rogers–designed Centre Pompidou in the Louvre’s Cour Carrée—a museum within a museum. (Vuitton will actually donate a part of the set to Piano’s archive.) The models walked the perimeter, with its metal scaffolding and internal workings painted primary colors, in flat boots or thick-soled men’s lace-up shoes, their outfits not a melting pot but a mosaic of clashing textures, prints, punkish metal embellishments, face-framing ruffles (definitely not flat), and leather skullcaps.
There’s been a lot of talk this week about bourgeois dress codes—we’ll soon be inundated with camel and culottes. But this was a different view of Paris, backward-looking, in some ways, to the 1980s, yes, but with less prescriptive results. LV clients with a sartorial streak might fancy the tomboyish tailoring. Craftier types will appreciate the quilted floral-print jacket and oversize vest, almost country-ish in their attitude, which qualified as the most surprising elements of the show. For the women who go to Louis Vuitton for its savoir faire with leather, it will be the Damier check pencil skirts. Eclecticism was the collection’s virtue—and its audacity. Sitting at a café in the fourth arrondissement, or anywhere, you’re going to watch these clothes walk by, not stare into your smartphone.