chanel, valentino and alexander mcqueen turn reflective at paris fashion week
The Charlie Hebdo tragedy has provided the emotional backdrop for a season of grand gestures and quiet contemplation.
Reflection. It's the natural state of mind towards the end of a show season grand on gestures, loud on statements, and big on emotions. The French like to reflect a lot. They still do it reading poetry in cafés around Paris, having one of those impossibly small glasses of wine, an espresso, and a croissant. This was the setting for Karl Lagerfeld's autumn/winter 15 Chanel show at the Grand Palais, which had been transformed into a huge bistro -Brasserie Gabrielle - with models in garments riffing on the classic black-and-white French waitress' uniform.
If Lagerfeld's manifestation theme last season caused its share of outrage, this idea was safe from getting him into trouble. But Lagerfeld doesn't do safe. There's always a meaning behind the madness, even when it doesn't seem mad at all. Considering the terror attacks that happened in Paris in early January - the anguish of which has no doubt played a part in this emotional season - Lagerfeld's call for activism and freedom of speech last September seems more important than ever. Maybe that's why he felt like this season was an appropriate time to take a moment, have a seat, and reflect.
Sarah Burton certainly did, perhaps in a more poetic than socially conscious way, but the fragility theme of her Alexander McQueen collection captured all the angst of a season that's given us titans of death clashing in a ceremony of separation at Comme des Garçons, frenzied mad women scurrying down the runway at Maison Margiela, and quiet deconstruction - on all levels - at Yohji Yamamoto. "I started looking at a woman and a female form and a rose, and it was the idea of David Simms' pictures of roses and the idea that something so beautiful can be on the verge of decay," Burton said backstage.
It made for a much softer McQueen collection than previous seasons. Shown on the lower grounds on the Conciergerie where the young, beautiful Marie-Antoinette spent her final days before the guillotine, this was Victorian McQueen, romantic and gloomy, much in keeping with the mourning outfit Burton designed for the lone horsewoman parading outside Professor Louise Wilson's at the beginning of London Fashion Week. "There's such beauty in all stages of a rose's life: in the beginning it's fresh and beautiful, and then there's a fragility to its life. So as the collection went on, she unravelled. I wanted the clothes to feel light - knit and lace - so she kind of peels away the way the rose peels away. There's a femininity in all stages of it," Burton said.
One's eyes have difficulty comprehending the ravishing artisanal depth of Valentino's garments, let alone the sheer beauty of it all. When Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli tackled unadorned black and white dresses - with an appropriate whiff of abbess to them - the challenge was to give the same breathtaking effect of their elaborate embellishment and embroidery. Needless to say, they succeeded, thanks to their superior ways with cuts and movement of fabrics, but also by employing the epic emotion that's been going on, on so many runways this season, and has been a trademark of the Valentino designers since they took over the house.
The Valentino show always provides a moment of reflection, but this season it seemed more significant. There wasn't a big message spelled out to the world, but the constellation of the almost religious dresses and Shigeru Umebayashi's dramatic theme from 2046 on the sound system provided the same moment of contemplation as Lagerfeld proposed at Chanel. It all got very emotional, which is why the surprise appearance of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson on the runway towards the end, filming a scene for the Zoolander sequel, was so brilliant. It made all those tired show-goers snap out of it and made them smile a little. After all, what is reflection if not therapeutic.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Mitchell Sams