When I came to Paris for the first time as a fashion writer in 1987, Thierry Mugler was the impossible invitation — Mugler and, of course, Jean Paul Gaultier. I remember pleading with publicists, who buried me in Gallic disdain. I was the newbie, the bumpkin, and, in their eyes, destined to remain one. Eventually, I bulldozed my way into Mugler, where I saw the great Lypsinka (a.k.a. John Epperson) perform and a fleet of gorgeous women, most memorably Iman and the Brazilian star Betty Lago, poured into feathers and satin or molded bustiers that resembled shiny car grilles.
Tonight, at the opening of “Thierry Mugler, Couturissime” at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, I ran into Mugler catwalk legends Farida Khelfa and Carla Bruni. But seeing the clothes, along with an extraordinary display of fashion photography, I am reminded that whatever else Mugler was as a designer, he was above all human. He revered the body.
It probably isn’t fair to compare the world of Mugler — that is, the years between 1973 and 2002, when he left the business — with that of today. But it’s hard not to be struck by the differences between then and now. One difference is that, despite the perception that fashion is a colossal enterprise, touching many lives through brands and social media, it has actually shrunk as a creative mode of expression. With some exceptions, there is a thinning of ideas at the top of the industry that has accelerated in the last decade. Outwardly, the trappings remain: the big shows, the historical prestige, the craftsmanship. But it’s a bit like opening a huge fancy dress box only to discover, under the tissue, an okay T-shirt.
That’s how I felt today at Dior. The company erected a giant box in the Tuileries, with flashing disco lights and a round platform meant to evoke a dance floor, and yet, stylistically speaking, there wasn’t much inside the box. Maria Grazia Chiuri’s latest collection evidently drew on a 1961 collection by Marc Bohan, known as the Slim Look — because it featured crisp, clean lines and a youthful, Mod sexiness, in contrast with the full-skirted, wasp-waist glamour of Christian Dior’s New Look.
The trouble is the designs, and the feeling behind them, seemed wholly artificial. There are no doubt young, well-brought-up women who might like a pert-looking mini-jumper over a white blouse, or a spring coat in sunny yellow or navy, with low, gold-heeled, black patent mary janes. But beyond a certain cardboard missy type, Chiuri doesn’t seem to be thinking of a flesh-and-blood woman. And what about a Dior customer who is older than, say, 30 and doesn’t have a stick-thin body? Imaginatively, they were shut out of this collection (apart, perhaps, from some coats). And frankly, many of the suits were so blandly polished, and seemingly based on classic Italian or American sportswear, that they looked like uniforms — say, for an airline or upscale boutique.
Also, I didn’t understand the reference to the Roman nightclub, the Piper Club — as the show notes put it, “a sprawling, colorful venue, and an emblem of freedom.” Again, this seems to me nonsense. In the first place, Dior is a French house. It amazes me that its executives allow Chiuri to incorporate so many Italian references in her presentations. The live music for this show was by an Italian group. But that’s not why the club allusion was nonsense. It was that nobody in this big, extravagant box seemed to be having any fun.
Back in 2017, Marine Serre dazzled the industry with the boldness of her vision. She won the LVMH Prize. In February 2019, Serre staged a show that imagined a postapocalyptic world. It was in a tunnel. She next did a collection called Maree Noire, meaning “oil spill.” Featuring hooded, pod-shaped black coats, its jolly theme was mass destruction in the wake of climate wars.
No surprise then, perhaps, that Serre has an altogether different response to the pandemic. On Monday night, in a lovely public garden in the Marais, she aired a film that showed a gang of “friends” — a mix of races, genders, and ages — relaxing at a country cottage. They did yoga together, baked bread, put napkins playfully on their heads. She called the collection Fichu Pour Fichu. Fichu has a curious etymology. On the one hand, it means a small triangular scarf or stole. Fichu collars, in white linen or cotton, were big in the 18th century. And, on the other, it means “We’re already fucked, so why not?”
Serre’s outlook isn’t the only thing that has changed. More important, her clothes have evolved. They are more consistently straightforward and wearable than in the past. “I want to be in service to a generation,” she told me in her studio earlier in the day. “And that means being able to bring your garments to the street. Not to be too complicated.” She has already finessed responsible fashion; 45 percent of her collection is made from regenerated garments or household goods — such as tea towels for a series of pretty white, flower-embroidered shirts and dresses — and another 45 percent is produced from recycled fiber, like a smart-looking jumpsuit in moiré that was made from recycled fishing net. But her uncomplicated, everyday shapes also feel timely, and among the best were a flirty tank dress in white table-linen crochet, a patchwork dress made from an upcycled crinkly material that Serre called “popcorn,” which was popular in the 1970s, and easy white cotton shirts and pants with humble, Dutch-style embroidery and tatting. She also created jewelry from old cutlery.
Reflecting on the grown-up difference in her work, Serre said, “It’s not for nothing that I did all those apocalyptic shows.”
You couldn’t get more grounded than the sandals in Kenneth Ize’s show, also on Monday, with double bands made from scraps of the striped cloth he has woven in his native Nigeria. The vividly colored ottoman fabrics are as appealing as they were when Ize, who grew up in Austria, first showed in Paris nearly two years ago, his label initially financed with a GoFundMe page. What’s changed is the quality of fit and proportion. Classic sportswear — slim trousers, sarongs, a suit blazer layered with a light jersey vest — can easily turn, well, bland, but Ize maintains a nice rigor and polish without losing the comfort. Slip dresses and camisoles, including one in cherry red with a diagonal cascade of fine, pink-to-red fringe, looked especially new.
More Cathy Horyn Fashion Week Reviews
- Edginess and Decadence for a Surprising Paris Finale
- On an ’80s-Style Catwalk, Chanel Lightens Up
- At Givenchy, 75 Looks in Search of a Vision