Prim and proper at Paris Fashion Week
Forget athleisure and casual chic. As Caitlin Agnew learns taking in the fall season, looking put together is back in vogue
Paris has long been the home of visionaries of all varieties, since well before the term "disruptor" became a catch-all for anything bearing even a speck of innovation. From Voltaire to van Gogh, Debussy to de Beauvoir, Sartre to Saint Laurent, there's no shortage of creative types who found inspiration in the City of Light. At the Fall 2018 ready-to-wear collections, however, Paris's fashion designers stayed within the bounds of what each label, and the city itself, is known and loved for: tasteful, timeless style. And after years of casual athleisurewear and effortless chic on the catwalk, this return to a more traditional form of feminine glamour is a welcome change.
Perhaps nowhere was this direction more evident than at Saint Laurent. For the slick evening show, held in a temporary structure facing the glittering Eiffel Tower at the Jardins du Trocadéro, creative director Anthony Vaccarello presented an extensive parade of very Parisian all-black looks, each imbued with an esprit of rocker chic reminiscent of French style icons such as Charlotte Gainsbourg, who was seated in the front row. Following the leather shorts, structured cocktail dresses and sheer blouses, it was only at the end that the audience saw any colour, as sequined floral prints were a bold finish.
New Yorker Thom Browne continued in this playful vein by staging a circa-1700s art party, where a cast of models in trousers of a pannier-width mimed painting at easels in the Hôtel de Ville. The collection was almost entirely grey, and celebrated the power of the female physique with strategically placed flowers and breast-like forms. The beauty message at several shows was similarly upbeat, such as at Altuzarra, where models sported M.A.C's Technicolor eye makeup and dewy skin courtesy of mini backstage facials by Hungarian skincare brand Omorovicza.
Never afraid of exploring the dark side of fashion, Paris balanced out this levity with an eerie sense of unrest. At Hermès, a red-gravel runway was set against a backdrop of trees that seemed lit orange from within as the sky darkened. The collection was strong, with black-leather pieces taking centre stage.
A similarly postapocalyptic ambience set the tone at Louis Vuitton, where the mise-en-scène at the Louvre's Cour Lefuel included a spaceship-like runway and seats labelled with nuclear warnings. Modest hemlines and voluminous tops gave the collection a back-to-the-future quality.
Aside from the usual A-listers in the front rows, the star of the week was the chapeau. At Saint Laurent, the wide, downward-sloping brims of the hats gave an air of mysterious je ne sais quoi, while Lacoste's streetwear-inspired collection included bucket hats printed with plaid, stripes or tree graphics pulled down low over the eyes. At Dior, a jaunty, short-brimmed cap took over for last season's statement beret.
Headwear is a trend that French author, model and Chanel ambassador Caroline de Maigret says is falling back into favour among the French fashion set. "I think it was a bit too stylish before. It was too much for a French girl. Even me, I felt very self-conscious wearing a hat," she says. De Maigret attributes the popularity of the hat to a return of fashion with a capital F, and an acknowledgment of the effort and sense of purpose that goes into putting together an ensemble. "It feels like we're going back to something a bit more glamorous and chic, which I'm very excited about. I kind of missed it," she says.
Of course, as de Maigret is quick to point out, no one does glamorous chic like Chanel. For this season, creative director Karl Lagerfeld transformed the Grand Palais into a petite forest, complete with a floor covered in fallen leaves, moss and earth. With a winter chill and the scent of cedar in the air, the effect was quite Canadian, as models in tweeds and furs walked a runway that could easily have passed for Caledon, Ont., in late September. Featuring full-length coats, gold boots and flowing dresses covered in a leafy fall print, the collection was quintessential Chanel, and one that de Maigret describes as Hitchcockian. Some may equate tradition with playing it safe, but like a 60-year-old Hitchcock flick, it still has the power to thrill.
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