on international women’s day, female empowerment ruled the paris shows
From Victorian cholas at Givenchy, to the right to choose at Céline, and sisterhood at Kenzo, Paris Fashion Week celebrated the women of the world.
Givenchy fall/winter 15
How appropriate that International Women's Day should fall in the middle of a Paris Fashion Week so high on neo-feminism. Not in decades have designers spoken so much about female empowerment, sexuality and human fellowship as over the past year, and while few of them had a chance to see the pink balloons flown all over the French capital on the Sunday of the Paris shows, the day was being commemorated just as much on the runways.
"It's a moment of women getting their strength again, and a bigger confidence and sensuality," Riccardo Tisci said backstage. His Givenchy collection paid tribute to the cholas of Mexico - "this very dangerous girl, a tough kind of woman" - and fused the idea of the girl gangbanger with an era embodied by another tough lady, one Queen Victoria. "I've always been scared to do British, so this was the time to find my own Victorian," Tisci said.
The collection itself was characterise by the Victorian part - corseted tops, structured equestrian jackets, and velvet aplenty - with the chola instead brought to life by the girls wearing it, their hair slicked down over the forehead in thin, glossy curls, part Latin American dancer and part FKA Twigs. The set was the chola's playground: a kind of barren car park of ramps with various electronic equipment scattered around. "I would never have presented a Victorian collection in a Victorian place," Tisci assured us.
But the Givenchy collection was far from street. With all its bold opulence applied to the chola character, it provided a light-bulb moment of sorts for those of us, who have been wondering about the meaning of this season's extreme embellishment. Tisci's courtly cloths and things that sparkled seemed to signify a kind of majestification of the woman, a centuries-old idea of the powerful, beautiful, decorated queen merged with the independent, no-kings-needed, sexually loaded attitude of the chola—or any other modern Western woman, for that matter.
"There's a lot of mix of couture, because this is my tenth year at Givenchy. I'm not celebrating it, but after ten years at a couture house, I've learned a lot," Tisci noted. The femininity portrayed at Givenchy wasn't dissimilar to that at Céline where backstage, Phoebe Philo said she wanted to convey a new "tatted glamour". "I find glamour quite complex, for myself. When is it sexualised, when is it not? When is it authentic to Céline and the work we do?"
Like Tisci, Philo tackled the embellishment motif of the season but in a constant balancing-out process that meant it never became too fancy, or veered away from Céline's casual super-luxe and slightly mannish cool. "We didn't specifically look at anything historical. It was more about texture. Just undone. We did embroideries and then we washed them, and we dishevelled them, and tried to make them feel calmer," Philo explained.
A dress in 3D appliqué with a huge ruffle at the hem and an ivory coat with oversized fur lapels and cuffs had all the savoir-faire of a couture collection, but contrasted with baggy jumpsuits and knit dresses, things never got too haute of hand. "The idea is always that it's quite interchangeable and you can do what you want with it. There was a kind of a charm, a sweetness, and a darkness, and sometimes she was cinched and sometimes she was undone," Philo said.
In that sense, the Céline collection was one of the most viable proposals for how to wear the extreme embellishment bestowed on women this season, and one of the most modern. "I was intrigued by the texture of it and trying to make it authentic for us and for women today," Philo said of her embroidery before summing up her autumn/winter 15 agenda. "It's the idea of sexuality and sensuality and what's the fine line. What I try to do is give women a choice."
If the idea of sisterhood seems a bit hippie to a modern generation, it only needed to be put in the context of a Kenzo tribe to feel relatable. "The major message is about this community of women celebrating life amongst themselves. The idea of the collective, and the group of a community," Humberto Leon said after the show, which brought a new sense of outdoorsiness and performance-wear to the Kenzo table. Etienne Russo, show producer to the fashion courts of Paris, had outdone himself with seven gigantic robotic silver pillars, which moved around the colossal venue in a kind of choreography with the models.
"It was about these girls in the forest, and [the pillars] were supposed to represent abstract tress that the girls are kind of dancing with. It was meant to represent looking through trees and refraction and things reflecting. This kind of idea of new material meets nature," Leon explained. "The brand is about openness and being inviting," Carol Lim added, "and we still love celebrating that."
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Mitchell Sams