(c) 2015, The Washington Post.
(c) 2015, The Washington Post.
PARIS - Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of this city that holds fashion so dear, was dressed in Christian Dior - a simple salt and pepper tweed coat. She stood in the midst of the titans of style: the chief executive of Christian Dior Couture; the head of French fashion's governing body; executives from Chanel and Saint Laurent; the willowy former model whose face once represented Marianne, the symbol of the French Republic. They'd all assembled at the foot of the Eiffel Tower in a choreographed media moment to celebrate the start of fashion week here where designers are unveiling their spring 2016 collections.
With the push of a single, symbolic red button, the Eiffel Tower began to dance with lights from its foundation to its pinnacle - a rainbow of colors from red and blue to deep violet and silver. "La mode aime Paris" glowed from its base. Fashion loves Paris.
It was a bit of glittery showmanship to underscore this city's place of primacy in the fashion firmament. Among wealthy customers and aficionados of trends, that position may not be at risk, but for a broader culture that is enamored with fast fashion, yoga pants and reality TV stardust, Paris is on the offensive. It is a city asserting its dominance with a flourish.
For editors and retailers who make seasonal trips to this city, there is always an expectation of opulence and craftsmanship, the avant-garde and the stubbornly classical. But with each transition from old guard designer to buzzy star - or the passing of the baton from one fresh-faced creative director to one equally as youthful - there is a sense not just of chasing the next new trend but chasing relevance as well.
How does Paris assure that it will speak just as powerfully to the next generation of young women as it did to the those that preceded it? Count the ways: There are collaborations between high-end designers and low-end brands such as the new one between designer Christophe Lemaire and the Japanese sportswear label Uniqlo. It is impossible to be a designer footwear brand without offering some kind of sneaker or trainer - even if that brand is Hermès. And so designer Pierre Hardy showed black and red Hermès low-tops for spring.
There are competitions for young, dynamic designers, such as the one sponsored by luxury conglomerate LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton whose finalists are immediately bestowed with prestige and attention.
Simon Porte Jacquemus has been both a finalist and a runner-up for the LVMH Prize. Tuesday evening he staged a fashion fable that opened with a child in a white shirt pushing a large red ball of fabric across a vast loft like a baby Sisyphus. The collection that followed was in a palette of mostly red, gray and white and it was dominated by deconstructed blazers turned into wrap dresses and shirts.
In the middle of the show the designer himself appeared - dressed all in white - and silently leading a white horse across the vast expanse of a concrete stage. The child followed behind, once again overwhelmed as she struggled with yards of red fabric that unfurled behind her.
The collection delivered the audience into a moody dream state where cotton and canvas stood in for psychic baggage and youthful determination and imagination could, perhaps, bring freedom.
Arnaud Vaillant and Sébastien Meyer, the new designers at a resuscitated Courrèges, a legacy brand known for its space age, Judy Jetson sensibility, dispensed with the mythology and the fantasy of fashion. They turned their show into a live look book, a celebration of pure clothes - not riddles or experiments or philosophical musings.
The two designers personally introduced their version of an updated mod collection, noting that the very essence of ready-to-wear should be clothes that can slip easily into a woman's daily life, making her feel more beautiful as she moves through her day-to-day.
They offered 15 items - a motorcycle jacket, a baseball jacket, a vest, a mini-skirt, high-waisted pants, and so on. Each item was shown 15 different ways, in various materials, such as suede or denim, a range of colors and with different sorts of embellishment. It's the way retailers see a collection when they visit a showroom, where they can see the breadth of a designer's point of view and the myriad ways in which it all fits together.
In a world in which people expect their desires to be immediately fulfilled, Vaillant and Meyer presented a collection that gave viewers an instant sense of what was possible - really possible - in their wardrobe.
Few designers are able to blend fanciful opulence with accessibility in the manner of Dries Van Noten. So often, fashion is a game of bait and switch. What appears on the runway is not really what appears in stores. The new Courrèges put truth on the runway and it was refreshing. But it was not transporting. Van Noten's truth is mesmerizing.
Van Noten honors the richness of fabric and mixes prints and embellishments without fear of creating garish cacophony. Wide trousers in metallic brocade, jacquard skirts with dramatic demi-peplums, fuchsia satin platform sandals and next-skin tattooed gloves all combined for a subversive elegance.
For his finale, the models marched out one last time and posed in a single line down the center of the massive warehouse. The designer took his bow. And the models remained, as guests - armed with their iPhone cameras - swarmed them. Van Noten is not a designer who advertises very much. If at all. What is the need when he has hundreds of people Instagramming his collection - not some esoteric concept but actual products - and Tweeting it out into the world?
All of this reality based fashion can make dreamers and storytellers such as John Galliano seem a bit old-fashioned. Perhaps they are. But their creativity is heartening. His second ready-to-wear collection for Maison Margiela was a mix of hodgepodge dresses in a flurry of silver brocade, mirrored embellishments, scrims of tulle, splashes of paint. Pullovers looked as if they'd been molded from old foam stuffing and then adorned with bits of fabric or odd buttons and pins.
The collection was rooted in the realm of romantic fantasy that has long defined Galliano's sensibility but it was made less precious and ethereal thanks to the do-it-yourself, earthiness that has been the essence of Maison Margiela.
The merging of these two disparate points-of-view is creating a promising vision. More than clothes, yet not pure theory.
Paris continues to bemuse and enthrall. Even without the flashing lights.