The best of Paris Fashion Week SS19
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Like many other designers this season, Nicolas Ghesquière was looking to find an expression of empowerment with his collection. But rather than try and contrive new looks for women, he simply rethought the proportions of the kinds of clothes that have conferred status on people for centuries — like a samurai suit, or a regal brocade. The ideas were expressed subtly. The samurai shoulder floated like a hoop at the top of the arm. Tops were furnished with huge bell sleeves, like a highwayman dandy. There were slick tuxedos with angular lapels. This season, the frilly ruffles, fluted sleeves, metallic mesh dresses and brocades gave even the most feminine looks a macho understatement. And there were men’s suits, worn by women, who looked like men, which caused quite the stir.
In a season where the gender lines were blurry, Ghesquière’s collection made an interesting proposal. The consumer is becoming more ambivalent about “men’s” and “women’s” labels, why shouldn’t the collections? After all, everyone is fluid now.
Chanel SS19 took us to the beach. An esplanade overlooking a sandy vista and actual lapping waves. Thankfully the only people wearing swimwear were the models. They carried beach-ball purses, picnic-hamper handbags, and slouchy towelling totes. They swung plastic branded sandals to tiptoe through the water.
Beachwear is now a big business. It can’t be any coincidence either that Chanel has just announced its acquisition of the British men’s swim brand Orlebar Brown. They acquired the French women’s swimwear label Eres in 1996.
I blame Instagram for the current boom in bikinis. The holiday has now become a career choice for influencers posting exotic images of themselves flaunting product on the beach. In the era of “experience” and the “authentic” point of view, an Instagram post of a honey-limbed lovely wearing a branded swimming costume, selfie-ready statement sunglasses and a sundowner dress at golden hour has become a powerful marketing asset. No wonder Chanel dived straight in.
Alexander McQueen SS19 summoned a set of dazzling white shingle to suggest the misty vistas surrounding King Arthur’s Avalon and framed it with standing stones. Likewise, the models, with their long pelmet skirts, hand-painted leather breastplates, floral embroideries and lace-y knits recalled heroines such as Guinevere, Morgana or the Lady of Shalott.
But these were no lone warriors. Designer Sarah Burton had drawn on the bonds of sisterhood that make up a community and mark the milestones of birth, marriage and death. She had deconstructed christening robes and wedding gowns to make poetic-looking dresses, and looks that celebrate the ceremonies of life. With their steel-tipped booties and leather armour, they recalled an ancient army. “Power means nothing without the support of the other women around you,” said Burton backstage. I’m with you, sister.
Valentino — couture for the masses
Creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli had been thinking about “escape” when he started his Spring collection, but his conclusion on the subject was somewhat unexpected. “I came to decide that this idea of escape is a bull shit,” said Piccioli. “You should be free to be who you are wherever you are, not be running off to some community in the forest.”
In the past, Piccioli has kept his couture and his ready-to-wear distinct, seasoning the latter with trend-led prints and thematic flavours but keeping the couture pure. I have yearned to see more of that rigour, that emphasis on silhouette and colour, in the ready-to-wear. On Sunday he delivered just that: a stunning collection of wonderful clothes that had the same minimal simplicity of his most extravagant creations. They may not have been so pricey but they looked a million dollars
Clare Waight Keller offered a gentle variation on the theme of gender fluidity that has featured throughout this season’s shows. Her muse for SS19 was the Swiss-born photographer Annemarie Schwarzenbach, an extraordinary 20th-century character who was raised to be sexually liberated, was often mistaken for a man — and had awesome style.
In a balance of looks that married day and eveningwear, Waight Keller kept the body fairly covered. A top might have a cut-out detail, and there were deep V necklines and some short skirts, but most of the women’s looks were sleeved, midi-length and long. And almost all were worn with black opaque tights.
This season, the design house headed to the Paris Longchamp Racecourse (à la Dior), with everyone seated in the stands for the show. A huge mirror behind the catwalk, in which small plumes of cloud and blue sky could be observed, bathed everything in the evening light.
The atmosphere also lifted the esprit of the collection, which felt far fresher and freer than before. It had breezy, wind-in-the-hair sensibility and a subtle maritime theme. There were nautical button details and lots of rope belts (the latest of many this season), pinafore dresses and skirts in sail-like fabrications, and leather sou’westers, zip-up jackets and sensible shorts of the sort that Jackie Kennedy might have worn on Martha’s Vineyard.
Stella McCartney continued to champion environmentally friendly fashion for Spring. This season, her first since buying back her label from Kering in March, found her joining forces with the Fashion for Good network, an ecological organisation that embraces innovation to reduce fashion waste.
McCartney SS19 was filled with jaunty sporty separates for the women and linen tailoring and track pants for the men. She even had product — a dozen summer looks, no less — for the tie-dye enthusiasts among us.
Most people who buy clothes are looking for friendly designers. Someone who’ll flatter them and make them feel empowered. Someone who is kind about your vulnerabilities. Chitose Abe of Sacai is exactly that kind of designer. She founded her label in Tokyo in 1999, with “10 balls of wool and a pair of knitting needles” and has since built an enviable, independent business making clothes that women love to wear. The Sacai SS19 show — a mash-up of tuxedo, trench, lace and military elements — was especially pretty.
Screen time at Balenciaga
There were pyrotechnics on the Balenciaga SS19 catwalk. A major installation by the digital artist Jon Rafman created the illusion we were sitting in our phones. The show was staged within a great tunnel of screens that scrolled through a moving filmscape of fire, rain and space. It was discombobulatingly brilliant and highly distracting. Thankfully, the clothes held their own.
Of particular note: a white shirt with turn-up cuffs and a collar that seemed to be made in entirely one piece; the fluted leather skirt that went with it; the same thing then done in satin-y pink; a long pleated jersey robe in cobalt; a jazzy John Candy-style casino-print; and all the regulation jeans and basics.
The show closed with a collection of eveningwear that was sensual, arresting and bright. The silhouettes popped on the catwalk. Better still, it was modern. Screen time rarely looked so good.
A fumble at Comme des Garçons
For the past 10 collections, Rei Kawakubo has shown huge abstracted shapes on her catwalk. But Kawakubo, who was the subject of an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in 2017 and remains perhaps the only designer whose work could be described as art, is finished with that cycle. For SS19 she wanted to do something new, but had found herself “fumbling around the dark”.
The result of that fumble was a “mini show” which she described as “quiet, serene and internal”. It was small, staged before only 100 or so guests, and curiously affecting. The 30 looks, featuring deconstructed men’s tailoring and richly embellished outerwear, a floral and branded jersey mesh and chained Nike trainers, all looked pretty straight from the front, but when looked at again, from the side, revealed strange lumps and tumours. The first look, a beaded evening suit, was severed across the stomach to reveal a pregnant swell.
Further looks were similarly “feminine”, although the slashed stomachs became more vicious and jagged-looking as the show evolved. Then things were tied up, or worn with chains. The tumours started changing and becoming more unnatural also, appearing in padded details from the hips and the ribs. It was a total heartbreaker.
Noir Kei Ninomiya blossoms
A snow of dandelion spores drifted gently across the set of the Noir Kei Ninomiya SS19 show. The pollen was set into white headdresses that had been created by Azuma Makoto and Takayuki Nukui to be the softer, more “diffuse” counterpoint to a collection called “fusion”, in which Ninomiya had mixed a variety of textures, shapes and materials (all black) to create beguiling silhouettes that looked like armour from some angles, and cocoons from others.
A mix of hi-low fabrications, including PVC, silk, jersey and tulle, the clothes had required no stitching — instead they had been gathered, pleated and layered to hold together. And they looked arresting and new. In a weekend of fiery debuts and spectacles, this was a calm and meditative show by Ninomiya. Black and lovely, and a soothing balm for the soul.
Haider Ackermann takes it easy
Haider Ackermann delivered some exquisite tailoring for his SS19 show. In previous seasons I’ve found the styling slightly tortured, with its plastered hair, heavy mood lighting and somewhat over-thought display. This season the atmosphere was much easier; the hair and make-up was blessedly free from interference, and the looks seemed more relaxed.
There was a greater fluidity in the design as well. Ackermann introduced womenswear into his last menswear collections for Berluti (before his departure in March) and the decision to combine the men’s and women’s collections on the runway at his own label was a good one. It all looked modern and sensual and easy. A very elegant show.
The most talked about-show of the season: Celine
No show has captured the attention quite like Celine this season. No event has been more controversial, nor provoked more opinion. The conversation, even days after Hedi Slimane’s debut, still rages around his name.
Hedi Slimane’s Celine was 100 per cent Hedi and it would have been naive to expect any different. He first developed his signature undernourished silhouette at Dior Homme in the early 2000s and then worked it at Saint Laurent. What he showed at Celine — whip-thin tailoring (designed for men and women but mostly worn by skinny boys); crotch-skimming cocktail dresses; sparkly sheer blouses; bold-shouldered blazers; cropped tuxedos; leather bombers — was precisely what he’s always done.
But the show was still a head-scratcher. Like, for example, why didn’t LVMH just give Slimane his own label? Secondly, I’m not sure about the maths. Arnault expects Slimane to double revenues at Celine, as the designer did at Saint Laurent. But can history repeat itself when you’re selling the same product you can buy two stores along the road? Many of Slimane’s original designs — the permanent collection — are still on sale at Saint Laurent. LVMH is clearly prepared to jettison the client base that took Celine revenues to €800m, but just how much will it have to spend on marketing to get the Slimane groupies along?
And, lastly, how relevant is Slimane’s design, two years after having been out in the world? The world has seen a huge cultural shift in the interim and the politics of clothes have arguably changed. The Celine show seemed to celebrate a world preserved in aspic — super-skinny, teenage, and near-exclusively white. I was hoping we might have moved on.
Organised chaos at Paco Rabanne
Julien Dossena’s SS19 had the flavour of the souk: medallion belts and a melange of fabrications. After the simplicity of his previous collection, Dossena’s layered fabrications — knitted lurex, floral silks, tie-dye T-shirt, sari skirt embroidery, silver quilting, brocade crop-tops, pale grey suiting, chainmail — came as quite a surprise. It could have been too much. But Dossena kept things in check with a strict, narrow line.
Chloé — I wanna be in your gang
Neither overly conceptual nor complicated, Natacha Ramsay-Levi’s Chloé has some of that same magic that won Phoebe Philo’s Celine a cult-like following. She represents things — artsy, French, bohemian — to aspire to, and in buying her collections, you’re part of the gang.
Ramsay-Levi wanted the collection to recall summer vacations and the souvenirs one picks up en route. There was a bazaar’s-worth of trinkets: cork-soled croc sandals, golden cuffs that clasped the ankle, pendants, big dangly earrings and stacks and stacks of rings.
Saint Laurent — ready, Hedi, go
On Friday, Hedi Slimane will show his first Celine collection. But his presence was felt earlier in the week at Saint Laurent — the house he helped to reinvent before his departure in 2016. His successor, Anthony Vaccarello, has largely followed the codes laid down by Slimane: his SS19 collection featured teeny slim-fit tailoring, rock-star leathers, denim, sparkly cocktail dresses and stacked platform soles.
So far it’s served him well — the business has continued to grow in double digits. But what happens when Slimane brings his brand of West Coast rock’n’roll loucheness to Celine? Is Paris big enough for the both of them?
Tripping the light fantastic at Dior
Maria Grazia Chiuri’s SS19 show was staged in vast, petal-strewn shed at the Paris Longchamp Racecourse, where models were accompanied by bodystockinged dancers directed by Israeli choreographer Sharon Eyal. “I try to speak more about the experience and less about the clothes,” said Chiuri. “Because that is what fashion is today.”
It was certainly an experience. It’s just a shame the collection wasn’t as light on its feet. Chiuri’s classic reinterpretation of dancewear for modern life — flesh-coloured dresses, pleated jersey, petals, feathers and artisanal tulles — was pretty, but not spectacular.
Gucci — making Paris weird again
Alessandro Michele’s magpie mind never ceases to surprise. This season, he offered a jumble of bright lamé metallics, nightclub Lycras, 1970s-inflected suiting, normcore basics, slogan T-shirts, acid-coloured cocktail gowns, Dolly Parton-tribute jackets, woolly hats, webby legging and all things in between.
And his show was itself a piece of theatre. Halfway through, Jane Birkin rose from the audience to sing “Baby Alone in Babylone”, the title track of her 1983 album. “In life, we have breaks,” Michele said, explaining the interlude. “I tried to introduce the flow of life.”
For more trends and all of our fashion week coverage, visit ft.com/womenswear.