front row only
In a fashion world in transformation, Chanel’s fall/winter 16 show recalled the anti-fast fashion of a time long gone while Valentino captured the industry in a moment of reflection and Kenzo reminded us of fashion’s power to influence its audience.
As the reviews will reflect this morning, it's hard to write about Valentino without gushing. You could put it down to timing: the show traditionally takes place on the last Tuesday of the shows where the ravishing ceremony of its execution easily makes exhausted editors -- now four weeks on the road -- emotional. But you'd be more right to observe the astute industry commentary with which Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri load their work, and which makes us all take a step back from the madness of the shows and consider the industry -- and often the world -- in which we travel.
The Valentino designers say what many of us are thinking. In their show last season inspired by African tribal culture, they made a bold and brave statement on the migration crisis in Europe, on multiculturalism and our right to freely pay homage to cultures different to our own in what we wear and do, without the fear of being judged by ignorance and misplaced political correctness.
This time, their message echoed that of designers including Miuccia Prada, Rick Owens, and Christopher Kane, who have all used parts of their platforms this season to reflect on a fashion system in high speed. (This no doubt being a reaction to Raf Simons' departure from Dior last year and January's announcements by Vetements, Burberry and Tom Ford about their revolutionizing changes to the fashion cycle.)
Backstage, Piccioli and Chiuri talked about fashion's ability to make its audience feel something and not just buy something, summing up their work at Valentino where they've managed to make people do both. Scored by live piano, the show was about taking a moment, slowing down and appreciating the bigger idea of fashion. Inspired by the dancer's wardrobe, the magnificent collection -- which reached a genius high in shiny, perky ballet dresses styled irreverently over knitwear -- didn't carry a big message in itself, but that wasn't the point.
The sentiment was in the execution of the show: the dramatic, endless parade of models gliding down the runway in garments so complex they were almost haute couture, stopping time for the frenzied show-goers in the big tent in the Tuileries and giving us time to reflect. It was as important as it was exquisite.
The shows this season have been defined by the winds of change blowing through a fashion industry, which is fast being divided into realists and dreamers. That's a harsh way of putting it, because you can be dreamer and still sell a lot of clothes, but those who believe that shows should present in-season collections available for retail immediately after curtain call are met with philosophical resistance from those who believe fashion needs time to make an impact.
Karl Lagerfeld has been around long enough to have witnessed the fashion industry's every transformation with his own eyes. Now in his eighties, he has effortlessly adapted to every change thrown at him without melancholy or nostalgia. Tuesday's Chanel show didn't break with his no-nonsense approach, but something was different at the Grand Palais.
Furnished in the style of Coco Chanel's haute couture salon with infinite front rows stacked across the enormous hall, the set instantly provided an ironic comment on the past and present of fashion—and the revolution it now faces. Lagerfeld had his guests sitting front row only and allowed us as close to the garments as we would have been in said couture salon, but this show was the biggest of the season, set in the biggest venue in Paris, with live streams and iPhones covering its every detail for a social media society based on anything but the slow and reflective nature of the couture-driven fashion world Lagerfeld trained in back in the 50s.
With its blown-up and increased appearances of Chanel trademarks -- big pearls, big tweeds, big braids, big embroidered double Cs -- the collection itself reflected Lagerfeld's ironic comment on an industry where bigger is now better and "the clothes have to scream," as Alber Elbaz disapprovingly put it just before he departed Lanvin last year.
On all levels, this was one of Lagerfeld's finest moments at Chanel in a long time, and a reminder for everyone in fashion that moving with the times doesn't mean you can't shape them while you're at it. At Kenzo, Carol Lim and Humberto Leon did some influencing of their own, but they weren't talking about the industry. The soundtrack, mixed by Generation, featured "Star-Spangled Banner" and snippets of a speech given by the hip hop activist Killer Mike for Bernie Sanders, snapping Paris out of whatever mood it was in and putting the spotlight on the American primaries currently determining who the presidential nominees will be come November.
"We were really interested in the fascination of Western culture from an Eastern perspective, and the show was really about almost answering that," Leon said. "I think that we as Americans feel the politicalness of what's happening in America so we almost kind of responded to our collection with this show." Interestingly, the idea of looking at those wild Americans through the eyes of old Europe or Asia generated a look that recalled some of the most extreme -- and extremist -- Americans in America: those fundamentalist polygamist women in giant Victorian pastel prairie dresses and hairdos that would make Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman blush. On a day that focused on fashion as a platform for global influence, Kenzo's political statement couldn't have been more on point.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Mitchell Sams