Two of the most interesting shows of Paris Fashion Week, Balenciaga and Celine, kept models’ faces partly hidden. At Celine, Hedi Slimane used aviator sunglasses. Demna Gvasalia, who showed his Balenciaga collection in semi-darkness, relied on face-scraping collars and deep hoods. Both designers strongly alluded to conservative Paris elites who like to stay cloistered together, attending the same schools, living in the same neighborhoods, wearing the same type of dress. In other words, they don’t want to see what’s harsh and unfamiliar.
So in re-creating the industrial facade of Beaubourg, as the Pompidou Center is known, Nicolas Ghesquière’s Louis Vuitton show — the last of the collections — was a direct counter to that. Designed by the architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, and opened in 1977, Beaubourg looks like a factory, with pipes and ducts running up its exterior. (In consultation with Piano, Vuitton spent millions to reproduce these pipes inside a huge box in the courtyard of the Louvre — symptomatic of the huge budgets deployed by European luxury brands in the quest for impactful images.) And the plaza behind it, ringed by cafés and bars, has long attracted street musicians, kids from the suburbs, and shady sorts. As the critic Paul Goldberger said, in 2000, “More than anything else, the building seemed like a slap in the face at gentility.”
Ghesquière’s clothes were similarly hard to take — that is, if you’ve been looking at chic camel coats and tasteful pantsuits all week. He opened with a blue and green speckled black minidress with a leopard ruffle circling the shoulders and a bright-red belt. That was followed by red leather track pants with brogans, and a flouncy pink-and-blue dress shown with studded black booties designed to look down on the heel. The girls wore dark leather skull caps, goth lipstick and frizzed hair. Not exactly the dewy face of poshness.
But Ghesquière’s mashup of textures, the sometimes garish colors, and — above all — the insolent attitude was a welcomed break from the bourgeois style we saw all week. Ghesquière knows how to suddenly shift the mood. Plus, the collection offers one of the widest range of separates in awhile, with great trousers (including jeans), leather jackets, and those brogues.
On Monday, Stella McCartney and Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen symbolically brought their collections home — to England — and also showed the luxury-goods industry how to be more environmentally responsible.
McCartney has led the forward march of sustainable and ethical fashion, beginning with fur-free furs and non-leather accessories. But this season she seemed to make her show almost entirely about sustainability, with fluid dresses whose decorative yokes were made from recycled bits of previous McCartney collections, a multicolor tube dress woven from ragged T-shirts, and a men’s military coat crafted from repurposed — “upcycled,” in current parlance — fabrics. The show’s closer, a gorgeous kimono dress in mostly green and black, was spliced and quilted from earlier show prints.
Colorful paper clips and rubber bands became jewelry, and the brilliant fiber artist Sheila Hicks made a ropey belt (for a lush fur coat in the tawny brown of an orangutan) and a neckpiece from strips of material. Viscose was sourced from sustainable forests. Indeed, McCartney used her runway to call attention to the Leuser Ecosystem, a rainforest in Indonesia — home to some 500 animal species — that has been under threat from palm oil production, logging, and paper-pulping. The designer has started an Instagram campaign, #ThereSheGrows, where people can dedicate a tree to someone. Those names covered the runway.
The English influence came in the form of extra-wide trousers, knits, and some full skirts inspired by the Northern Soul club scene of the ’70s. But McCartney’s ability to fuse her ethical goals with great fashion was the most impressive thing. Last season, her collection didn’t really sing any tune. This time, though, it was loaded with terrific coats, those cool wide-leg pants, and the yoked viscose dresses, which are keepers.
Instead of seeking inspiration from the British landscape, as she’s done before, Burton took her design team to three mills in Yorkshire that supply McQueen (and many London tailoring firms) with wools, not all that far from the industrial area where she herself grew up. “I was thinking lots of things,” she said backstage, where she had photos of weavers and darners displayed on several huge boards. “Man and machine. Still, you need the man or the woman at the beginning and the end of the process to make it work, and the machine in the middle.”
Burton also teased out connections to the suffragette movement in the same region and, perhaps inevitably, to the Brontës. The result was a show that moved nimbly from superb McQueen tailoring — his great legacy — to romantic dresses in white cotton, black lace, or a taffeta print of what Burton called “bleeding or windswept roses.”
The symbolic gestures were incredibly well-handled, for those who cared to read them: a sharply tailored charcoal flannel pantsuit with a draped side panel that included “Made in England” on the selvage; an all-over embroidered dress with laser-cut silver sequins that resembled loom heddles; the frilled, high-neck knit dresses that recall Rose Queen pageants in the north of England. Around the lower section of a masculine coat in a bold Prince of Wales check was a textured layer of the same fabric. Inspired by the selvage edges that are trimmed from bolts and land on the factory floor, the curly bits were actually a dense embroidery of roses. Waste not, want not.