Menswear, tick. Couture, tick. The first catwalk shows of 2013 are over, and on Friday, the month-long ready-to-wear parade kicks off in New York. So it's time to fire up your iPad for your front row seat to see what the designers have in store for us next autumn.
Change feeds fashion and there have been shake-ups at many of the big fashion houses in the past year with Raf Simons moving to Christian Dior and Hedi Slimane taking the helm at Saint Laurent. Making their debuts in Paris this season are Geraldo da Conceicao, the new boy at Sonia Rykiel, and Fausto Puglisi, who fills the empty seat at Ungaro. But the biggest upset was Nicolas Ghesquière's sudden departure from Balenciaga last November and the appointment a month later of the cool young New Yorker Alexander Wang, who will make his Paris debut on February 28.
Wang is known for his edgy, androgynous design aesthetic; nevertheless, his first reaction was to dive into Cristobal Balenciaga's 1950s couture archives for inspiration. It is his broad understanding of the modern fashion world that helped land him the covetable role.
"We wanted someone with global thinking, a citizen of the world, and someone who could understand the digital world and the direction of fashion and retail tomorrow," Isabelle Guichot, the chief executive of Balenciaga, told Women's Wear Daily. "It will be a new vision, a new understanding of the brand. The heritage of Balenciaga is so big. Just a part of it has been exploited, but obviously not all of it."
For a while, people thought Christopher Kane (until recently a collaborator on the Versace Versus range) was in line for the job, but PPR, the luxury conglomerate whose portfolio includes Balenciaga, Gucci, Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney, bought a majority stake in Kane's business in January. The young London-based Scot, whose mix of polished style and scary-monster humour has charmed us all this season, could see his six-year-old label grow into a global brand. "Christopher is a truly great talent who has shown a real sense of modernity in the way he mixes elegance and subtle constructions," said PPR's chairman and chief executive François-Henri Pinault. "In just a few years, he has built a very distinctive and exciting brand with a unique DNA."
Meanwhile, Christian Dior is thrilled with the first three collections by Raf Simons. There was double-digit growth for the house following his couture debut show last July and Sidney Toledano, the president of Christian Dior, feels that Simons possesses an innate understanding of the house and its codes. "It was the right decision - he brings a new aesthetic to the house."
So with all this moving around and new investment, what do the shows have in store for us next month? What will be the shape, the colour, the mood, the must-have bag or shoe for autumn?
Well, designers are notoriously unpredictable - they love to surprise and delight us. The haute couture collections are famously a laboratory of ideas for these designers before they start on their ready-to-wear and certainly a loosening up of the silhouette is one of the trends (which first appeared for spring/summer 2013) that is gathering pace. Trousers are also turning up with some frequency since Raf Simons debuted at Dior. Designers are falling in love with the easy elegance of separates again, so we should expect to see more for autumn.
There is, however, one thread that seems to sew all these collections together and that is the bold black and white colour palette worked in graphic combinations. Looking ahead, monochrome is a safe place to start.
There was a huge stampede towards formality and tradition for autumn in the menswear collections, with lots of classic men’s mohair, herringbone and flannel in suiting, broken up with pops of colour. There was a 1960s vibe in the roll-neck sweaters used by Gucci and Tom Ford. Ford cut a 1960s tailored silhouette. “Trim but not tight,” he says, “while the roll-neck gives it a streamlined cleanliness.”
There were experiments with pinstripe at Alexander McQueen, occasionally fractured and patchworked, while Kris Van Assche’s sleek zip-fronted suits and militaristic belts at Dior Homme looked distinctly Modernist. Prada’s clothes were defiantly normal, albeit featuring the perfect sweater, perfect shirt and perfect trousers. “Normality can be provocative,” claimed Miuccia Prada after the show.
Away from all the conservatism, there were outrageous, even bonkers pieces such as Burberry Prorsum’s animal print coats and Comme des Garçons’ youthful chinoiserie and sportswear mix.
Nevertheless, flamboyance dominated evening wear, from the needlepoint flowers of Dolce & Gabbana to the amazing silk dressing gowns by Kim Jones at Louis Vuitton, featuring a print of flora and snarling monsters from the artists Jake and Dinos Chapman.
Coinciding with the couture shows in Paris were the pre-fall presentations from the big fashion houses. Given these clothes will be delivered in June – fashion moves in mysterious ways, when warm coats are sold in 40ºC – they similarly offer a hint of which the way the wind is blowing for autumn. Pre-autumn is not as directional as the big catwalk events, but if you want a head start, Céline was showing supersized jackets for pre-autumn, so volume is gaining currency.
Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton revisits the 1960s silhouettes from his spring 2013 collection, revamping them in lace, whether printed, embossed or wool embroidered. Black lace also appears in Hedi Slimane’s second outing for Saint Laurent, but mixed with leather for a distinctly goth, rock ‘n’ roll vibe.
Christian Dior’s signature checks for trousers and knitted jackets, which are boxy and cropped, highlight the graphic trend – something that Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen plays with in her monochromatic patterns and graphic silhouettes, spinning out romantic Jacobean-style short belted coats and graphic 1970s pantsuits.
Karl Lagerfeld, meanwhile, has been inspired by the romance and history of the Scottish highlands for his tartan, tweed and cashmere Paris-Edinburgh pre-fall collection, all of which are beautifully trimmed and embellished by the artisans who work with Chanel.