Marc Jacobs’ final collection for Louis Vuitton was indeed his swan song. All black and embellished with jet beading and feathers, the collection was full of mournful beauty. It wasn’t a summer collection, but a reprise of his past 16 years at the brand. The set showed the famous carousel, fountain and hotel lifts that set the scene in previous shows. The clothes featured tailored and sporty jackets sprouting feathers, anchored with delicate beaded bias-cut gowns, street-style or turn-up jeans and biker boots. It was a powerful and dramatic exit.
The speculation now is who will take his place and the leading contender is Nicolas Ghesquière, the former designer at Balenciaga. Despite this critical time for Vuitton, Paris was quite upbeat: Céline’s shirts and tunics daubed with flamboyant graffiti brush strokes; models wearing dresses painted like Pantone colour cards and carrying artist portfolio handbags at Chanel. Fashion as art has been a subtext through many shows in both Paris and Milan this season.
Phoebe Philo is shedding her minimalist aesthetic and shifting in a more artistic direction for Céline. Her collection – inspired by Brassai’s photographs of Parisian graffiti – presented daubs of primary colours slashed across a canvas of double-faced coats and sturdy knitted tunics worn with swishy gauze skirts.
After the cool streamlined glamour of previous seasons, Philo is embracing colour and a more decorative and (given the ethnic weave bags and accessories) tribal approach this season, and made it look supercool.
Paris likes to feel it is synonymous with fine art, and the current exhibition of Braque’s cubist work was clearly the starting point for Andrew Gn’s streamlined dresses. Karl Lagerfeld, however, felt Chanel’s house codes worthy of wall space themselves as a backdrop for his show. The house tweeds were shaggy and deconstructed, and came in pinks and inky hues, or melanges that covered a spectrum of colours. Signature handbags were occasionally mounted on frames, or rock festival-style backpacks were daubed with graffiti logos as Chanel embraces street fashion.
The Alexander McQueen show was similarly rooted in the art world, with the grid patterns of Mondrian and early 20th-century tribal art. Strong women are the essence of a McQueen look, however, and the intricate Masai-style beading and feathered dresses created by the designer Sarah Burton, merged with some of the harness details in the show, created a powerful image of warrior like females.
There was similarly a mood for African tribal embroideries, but in coral and turquoise on fringed ponchos, capes and panelled skirts at Valentino where the designers, Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri, were inspired by a visit to the Rome Opera workshops to create a collection that was much darker in tone than usual.
Art, tribal: the Paris fashion collections do not easily divide into obvious trends in the way that other cities do. There are lots of threads of ideas that may develop further or be one-season wonders, but there is a distinct feeling that embellishment and digital prints have had their day.
There is a intriguingly organic, grainy, earthy textured theme starting to emerge in fabrics, a sense of ethnic or tribal fashion filtering into collections such as Givenchy, Dries Van Noten, Vivienne Westwood, Akris – even Giambattista Valli who used prints resembling slices of agate and embroideries inspired by sheaves of wheat. However, there is also a contrary trend for designers to use shine, as if to make the lack of embellishment on clothes more palatable to those who like their outfits to look luxurious.
Shiny lamé ruffles appeared on the textured white cotton tunics and coats at Dries Van Noten, and shimmered their way through the entire Lanvin collection. Metallic lamés, satins and brocades (in more bright colours than you would spot in a disco) appeared on ruffled and drop-waist dresses and jumpsuits. To ground the look, the designer Alber Elbaz added sporty jackets and T-shirts emblazoned with witty slogans such as ‘’Dipped in Gold” and “Bright Spark”.
There was shine at Christian Dior as well, where Raf Simons celebrated his signature silhouettes with a series of silver dresses embroidered with flowers. Flowers are part of the Dior DNA, and Simons, another noted minimalist, has moved on this season working with vibrant floral prints as pleated shorts or as inserts on black jackets.
Flowers are also part of the Elie Saab look and decorated not just several pretty dresses in his collection but also as part of a temporary exhibition at the George V hotel, of his haute couture displayed with floral artworks.