For the last four weeks of the international Fashion Week marathon, we’ve been looking for a defining fashion moment. Was it Raf Simons’s Warhol-infused American horror story at Calvin Klein? Marc Jacobs’s souped-up, diva sportswear with turbans? Demna Gvasalia’s latest mix of streetwear and couture kitsch at Balenciaga? Or the bohemian fantasy of Jonathan Anderson’s Loewe, with its handcrafted textures and laid-back elegance?
It was not until the final show of the season, Louis Vuitton, that it became clear the moment had arrived at last. Models emerged wearing resplendent 18th-century men’s coats threaded in gold, matched with pastel silk running shorts and sneakers whose soles had been pumped up. By the time long chiffon dresses and nearly see-through, jean-cut pants in silver, white, or sky blue with a tiny ruffle down the side arrived — again, with sneakers — it was as though a reset had occurred. Those other standout shows (to which we could add Céline and the ingenious Undercover) still had their merits, but none advanced a clearer vision of how to dress in 2018 than Nicolas Ghesquière.
Vuitton’s designer has mixed historical periods and sensibilities before, when he worked at Balenciaga. And designers have had an infatuation with street clothes — hoodies, sneakers, etc. — since at least the mid-’80s, when a new wave of Brits, like Katharine Hamnett, led the charge. But the difference was in the materials that Ghesquière used and his insistence that the clothes reflect contemporary reality. I had the feeling during the show that Ghesquière and his team had weighed their competition — the flamboyance of Alessandro Michele of Gucci, the insider-y fashion jokes of Gvasalia — and said, in effect, “Let’s cut through all that. Let’s start with the essence of modern style — comfort — and work from there.” And not build on the look, but instead strip away. Strip away the meaning, the jokes, the layers.
Although the masculine jackets and vests were drawn from late-17th- and early-18th-century styles, the fabrics involved new ways of concentrating color and delineating shadow so that they appeared to have more texture than they actually did. Some pieces were embroidered, but even at close range it was hard to tell. There were also versions of both coat and vest in solid black or white, some in what looked like cotton Ottoman and others in what appeared to be a gold-coated leather.
The silk running shorts in china pink and blue looked cool, but so did slim trousers with cuffs that could be turned up. Ghesquière also pulled from the 18th-century trunk an aristocratic blouse (perhaps in cotton voile) with full sleeves. In cream or pale pink, it looked wonderfully fresh with a vest and shorts, or under a ribbed green mini-jumper.
Ghesquière said afterward that he decided on sneakers early in his design process, and didn’t consider a second option. That’s how girls move today, he said, and the shoes, with ankle-grazing tongues and beefy heels, did seem to propel the models slightly forward. For me, though, the most telling gesture was the jean-cut pants, with a side frill below the knees. Sports-inspired pants have been ubiquitous, except these were in stretch silk, so it made them just a little bit sheer and also polished. They’re sure to be widely copied.
The overall blend of the modern and the classical was not totally surprising, given Vuitton’s kingly approach to most things. The brand flew in a bunch of movie stars for the show, which was held on an illuminated white catwalk in a gallery of the Louvre lined with ancient stone, at the end of which was a sphinx. There’s a dinner at Versailles tonight for big spenders, and all week there have been VIP tours of the new Place Vendôme flagship, which features a huge, radiating metal sun on the façade, while inside, a contemporary rendering of young Louis XIV hangs amid new parquet floors, metal fixtures, and walls of the light-colored stone that dominates Paris.
My own tour of the elegant new store reminded me that Louis Vuitton is a huge luxury brand with an omnivorous clientele. Among the many novelties on display on the luggage floor is a steamer trunk designed as a kind of curiosity cabinet for collectors of Vuitton’s small box-shaped purses. It can be yours for roughly $100,000. Viewed in that context, Ghesquière’s fashion choices can seem awfully small and insignificant. But that’s the whole ballgame — it’s these small gestures of style that impart a sense of modernity and keep a brand relevant. He’s consistently been one of the few designers who understands that.
In contrast, Chanel’s shows don’t seem very modern, although there were new fringed bouclé suits and minidresses, along with lovely, oversize blouses and a group of breezy, tie-dyed evening looks, in Karl Lagerfeld’s collection. The show has become so much about the theatrical setting (this time a waterfall-drenched gorge), and the apparent need to fill the runway with nearly 100 looks, that the designs feel, well, drowned. In any case, you don’t really connect to the fashion. And this season, there was the extra obstacle of clear plastic hats, coats, and boots.
At Miu Miu, Miuccia Prada seemed to return the line to its darker roots. There were school-uniform styles with a tough edge, including chunky plaid vests with trousers, layered lace dresses worn sari-style, and some beautiful dresses in antique-looking tablecloth florals.
Almost nothing links Thom Browne to these other designers except a sense of theatricality. He certainly has more wit, more charm, and more heart-on-his-sleeve feeling than just about anyone showing in the big arena of Paris. This was his first women’s show here, and he chose to play the theme from The Little Mermaid while opening with two ballerinas whose padded costumes seemed constructed along the lines of either a melted ice-cream cone or two mountainously fat ladies, sagging boobies and all.
But hang it, Thom, you’re full of surprises. The collection turned out to be entirely made in tulle, including a seersucker shorts outfit, a gorgeous gossamer white coat, and a floral blazer over a fluffy white skirt that looked like drizzle in cherry syrup. There was also a black tulle dress with the life-size form of a skeleton. The quality of the work was exceptional, and by now Browne has shown that he can finesse women’s fashion. But what really stood out in this Paris debut was how adroitly he works a whole range of human emotions into his designs — not only humor and childlike sweetness but also love and death.