Eighteen months ago, Demna Gvasalia was deemphasizing Balenciaga’s high-fashion heritage in order to highlight his own mishmash of urban sportswear. At Thom Browne, The Little Mermaid was the theme, with some guys trotting out as unicorns. John Galliano summed up the chaotic style at Maison Margiela, which included airport noise, as “dressing in haste.”
At the same time, Clare Waight Keller, in her debut at Givenchy, began with a smartly tailored black coat, a look she repeated at haute couture in January 2018. Since then, sneakers and street gear have pretty much vanished from the runways, wiped clean by tailoring. Yesterday, Balenciaga was the very image of precision. Browne skipped the fantastical creations to show what he’s always been good at — perfect tailoring. And we already know that Margiela had some of the best suits and coats for fall.
Did Waight Keller spark the sartorial wave, and with it a million bourgeois pussy-bow blouses? Maybe. But the main point is that she followed up by using her momentum to offer new tailoring styles, not merely to reprise the same sharp shoulder. She showed three different shoulder styles this time: sculptural and rounded, extended and somewhat square, and small. She also wisely avoided solid charcoal, black fabrics, and run-of-the-mill tweeds, instead choosing distinctive herringbone, chevron-patterned, and Prince of Wales checks (Waight Keller began her career in menswear). Her solid hues ranged from light camel to grass green to marine blue and dark cerulean to mulberry.
Together with the new silhouette of her pantsuits and coats, many of which were belted, the uncommon patterns and colors resulted in a superb collection.
Perhaps one reason Givenchy’s classicism looked more interesting than a lot of the versions we’ve seen this week from designers like Dries van Noten and Saint Laurent is because it was neither properly bourgeois nor, for that matter, a pale interpretation. Waight Keller’s reference point was images of young aristocrats in the early ’90s mixing with urban culture, mainly in clubs. So you get the élan of a long, cocooning sweater in cobalt blue worn with white pants or a speckled gray, double-breasted wool blazer closed over a dark floral shirt and a wide pair of cerulean trousers whose hue reads sportswear, yet the cut is polished.
The collection’s other key note were loose, micro-pleated silk/viscose dresses with digitally printed florals and concertina ruffles at the neck and hem. Based on a style of Japanese vases, they came in gorgeous shades of pale pink and blue, as well as black, with no two patterns alike. Waight Keller showed them with pants, for a more offbeat look, and alone. Once again, in a season of silk dresses and flower prints, she offered something unique, as you’d expect from a major house.
Browne opened his show with a uniformed fleet of short-haired (or slick-back) models in gray suits and khaki raincoats arriving at their identical work stations, all arrayed inside a large glass box. As they pecked away at typewriters — was Browne thinking of the office scene in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment? — more girls came out in check and tweed trouser suits and Chesterfield coats and so on, followed by models in trompe l’oeil dress versions done with couture finesse.
The idea in part was to mirror Browne’s first men’s show in Europe, in 2009, when guys were in the office pool, and at the same time show how his vision has evolved. I also liked that Browne paid homage to women in the early part of the 20th century who dressed daringly in men’s drag, notably Una, Lady Troubridge, whose likeness (from Romaine Brooks’s portrait) was incorporated into some of the pieces. It was a wonderful reminder of history’s presence in fashion.
For all the gloomy theatrics at the Balenciaga show — pulsating lights in a black space on an asphalt floor — the collection was perfectly straightforward and fresh. The first dozen or so suits and coats were key: Done in lightweight black or cherry-red wool, or a micro Prince of Wales check and shown with simple charmeuse shirts, the suits are sharply cut, with bonded sleeves so they have an extra crispness. (The same technique was used for some overcoats, too.)
Gvasalia’s idea was to evoke a “real Parisian” going about his or her day — commuting, shopping, etc. Coats abounded, from face-framing parkas to a glossy lipstick-red trench to belted leather jackets that captured the volumes of archival Balenciaga.
Someone asked me on Twitter why Valentino isn’t held to the same standard as, say, Prada, and expected to do shows that “comment on the times.” Well, maybe because Valentino has never done that kind of fashion. And do you really want more fear and loathing in the chiffon trenches?
Pierpaolo Piccioli followed up on the minimal lines and sumptuous volumes of his January Valentino couture show with long-sleeve, A-line dresses and coats printed with striking collages of Roman statues and flowers. The graphics, by the Tokyo designer Jun Takahashi, were a nice touch, especially his gold-flecked image of a rose. The daywear also included a fantastic cape in papery black leather, and Piccioli’s very modern Valentino take on the suit — a long, liquid black jacket (with its belt tied in the back) over a gently swirling skirt.