Another season comes to a close with four of the biggest names in fashion showing us all how its done
The best for last: Chanel, McQueen, Givenchy and Vuitton close Paris Fashion Week
Paris Fashion Week was brought to a close with standout shows from four of the industry's biggest hitters.
At Givenchy, Claire Waight Keller crafted a show around the enigmatic Swiss photographer and writer, Anne Marie Schwarzenbach, who spent most of her life dressed as a man.
Given the inspiration, the collection was always going to be a masterful blend of the feminine and masculine, and Waight Keller treated us to a display of high-waisted belted trousers, tidy shirts, neat column dresses shorn of adornment (but stunning nonetheless) and suiting with utilitarian pockets. The gowns, when they arrived, featured lopsided torsos, as if the ruffled frill of a man’s dress shirt had been set over rippling, asymmetric skirts.
One indigo dress came with a pattern so dense it looked like Japanese shibori tie dye, while elsewhere, azure blue sat next to practical tan, interspersed with pops of shocking mustard. Pale pink, too, appeared, as did crisp white carved into tux jackets tucked into trousers. Strong, wearable and utterly no nonsense, this cut to the heart of androgynous dressing.
At Alexander McQueen, designer Sarah Burton took her team to the Avebury Stone circle, the land of Arthurian legend, for inspiration. Using that as the backdrop to a collection built on milestones of women’s lives – marriage, birth and death – the result was a startling juxtaposition of hard versus soft.
The show opened with a delicately ruffled dress in nude lace, half covered by a stiff leather apron, followed by a dress in soft lemon encircled by a severe black corset. Since this is McQueen, collections are never purely about the pretty side of life (as McQueen himself said: “Nicey nicey just doesn’t do it for me”, a view that Burton is adept at exploring).
Now seen from a very female perspective, bodiced gowns and lemon dresses as stiff as card were as disarming as they were beautiful. Crafted checked suits were shorn of sleeves and embellished with chains, while leather dresses came with shoulder armour and painted flowers.
Corseted necklines moved from Tudor-like and square, through to 1830s dropped shoulder, to having the corset, half undone and on the outside, in true bodice ripper style. Uncomfortable viewing? Certainly, but once again, it is the underlying conversation that makes this house so intriguing.
At Chanel, meanwhile, Karl Lagerfeld was all about the easy life and, as he is never one to cut corners, he built a full scale replica beach in Paris' Grand Palais. With founder Coco Chanel a firm fan of beach life (and credited with starting the yearning for suntans), having a beach, complete with gently lapping waves, as a runway felt entirely natural. After all, this is the house that has in the past used supermarkets, rocket ships and even ocean going liners as the backdrop to its shows.
The models were either barefoot or carrying their shoes, and clad in Chanel twinsets worn open to the waist. Lashings of 80s style logo jewellery adorned necks and wrists (and later, were stitched onto pockets) as a succession of looks saw the severe cut of the house jacket relaxed, made wider, more comfortable. Sleeves, too, widened, as did necks that became quasi-boat.
The tweed shift dress softened into a voluminous, loose swing shape, while skirts rose up to become mini dresses, trimmed with Chantilly lace. Chanel tweed is not known for its summery qualities, yet here it was given new life, in light, breezy colours and softer shapes. Teamed with straw hats and swimsuits, it quickly felt like the only fabric to be seen in at the seaside.
The week closed with the grand finale of Louis Vuitton, staged by Nicolas Ghesquière in a courtyard of the Louvre. With a space ship as the set, the clothes that followed resembled a sort of futuristic armour, opening with a model enveloped in a blouson jacket so bulbous, the sleeves gathered up above the elbow. Next came dresses with more gathered sleeves – now in tubular, space age proportions.
The suit jacket was rethought into a zip up, with huge pointed collars, while a black jumpsuit came zipped high on the neck, with vast, flowing sleeves. Amid the monochrome, vivid 1980s patterns appeared first as trousers, then as dresses and shirts, with dabs of colour on colour, like a Ken Done painting. Red on pink and green on red all felt a bit noisy for Vuitton, but anyone who did not suffer Done's original work will no doubt adore it.
Despite this, the cuts were sharp and controlled, with nothing superfluous. Case in point, a neoprene suit in space grey, or a glorious, belted metallic mesh dress that Princess Leia would be proud to be seen in. The best bits? The bags, which moved from turquoise pods that sat on hips, to glossy flying saucers, to heritage packing cases squashed flat and given a carry handle. With Mr Ghesquière having recently signed another five year contract with the house, this show – with its superb coats and shoes – explains exactly why LVMH are so keen to hold onto him.