days of future past: margiela, dries van noten, and lanvin at paris fashion week
Maison Margiela spring/summer 17
Christopher Bailey was on to something essential when, very early this year, he landed on Virginia Woolf's Orlando as the reference for his first see-now-buy-now collection for Burberry, which showed last week in London. Like the protagonist in that story, this season we've traveled through the centuries on a hyper-historicist, hyper-referential time machine enabling designers to be totally liberal in their historical references. No epoch is left unturned, as long — it seems — as it comes with a flamboyant sleeve detail. That's all the trend tips you'll get from this story, because the key to said time travel is the anti-trend: historical sensory overload, like that Burberry collection, or J.W.Anderson's sudden Renaissance sleeves, or Erdem's 1930s-by-way-of-the-16th-century spectacular, or Fendi's rococo cotton candy costume ball, or Saint Laurent's trashy 80s prom queens. On Wednesday morning in Paris, John Galliano once again used his direct line to phone the higher powers in a thrilling Maison Margiela collection that made sense of it all.
Quite literally, models wore headsets and little antennas like aliens communicating something — sending signals to the future, or receiving messages from the past. In his timeless, ageless, sexless, and chillingly superior way, Galliano cut out elements from eras and sewed them all together like some epic patchwork of the ages: a little Joan of Arcean fantasy breastplate with spherical sleeves, the ruched bodice of a Mid-Century ball gown, an emerald green chiffon blouse with great Victorian shoulders. Scored with exhilarating techno — "Opus" by Erik Prydz — he framed his time medley in crystal-clear, digital futurism, turning his very own Orlandos into alien creatures of another time — or no time at all. It made those headsets seem kind of otherworldly, like magic wands of interconnection, portals to another dimension; our very own time machines. E.T. phone home? He might be from Gibraltar, but part of John Galliano is definitely from Outer Space.
Leaving the Maison Margiela show, there was a rare sense of fellow exuberance in the air. Everyone was so excited, across territories, job titles, and tastes. It's an exceptional day in fashion when that happens, and an experience that cancels out all the worries and hot topics we trouble ourselves with in this industry, from the future of a fashion system in express evolution to this week's debate on fashion week entitlement between editors and bloggers. Galliano's show was pure uplifting creation, the kind that doesn't simply make the time periods come together but the people, too. This is what we're here for. Dries Van Noten engaged in some period fusion of his own on Wednesday afternoon, in a collection that contrasted the gloomy grandeur of Victoriana with an earthy, contemporary nature-centricity. "It was a way of making everything more brutal. We started chopping up Victorian garments and tying them on the garments in the same way that we nearly took flowers and tied them on the garments," Van Noten explained.
It was opposites: white and black, burlap and jacquards, and so on, surrounded, on the darkly lit runway, by ice sculptures with luxuriant flowers inside of them by the artist Azuma Makoto, who also did the trippy floral sets for Van Noten's Inspirations exhibition in 2014. The sculptures served to express the same tension between poles — life and death, you might say — and backed up by Madonna's "Frozen," the lyrics to which could easily be the mantra for a Victorian approach to life, it was all very emotional. "It's something that comes straight from my heart," Van Noten admitted backstage. The best parts of his collection were the most Victorian: beaded black chokers, gothy and princely puff sleeves, and deathly lace. He's good when he's evil. If Van Noten was merging his world with another time, Bouchra Jarrar was merging hers with another creative universe.
In her debut collection for Lanvin following Alber Elbaz' departure last year, the French designer — a familiar face on the Paris fashion scene — was faced with the challenge of defining (or redefining) a Lanvin so characterized by her predecessor. Elbaz' big personality and emotional point of departure created a Lanvin where you could feel that character in every look, every garment, every accessory. Jarrar's first proposal for the house didn't try to compete with that or live up to it — rather, it fulfilled the job description Lanvin's Chinese owner, Madam Wang, allegedly didn't always feel was Elbaz' priority: to create an easy and elegant Lanvin for a broader customer. Jarrar's Lanvin was ladylike, floaty and silky and chiffon-y, with not an inch of the rock 'n' roll glam that often penetrated Elbaz' collections. This was Parisian romance for the chic Left Bank, with all the shimmery cardigans and shiny evening coats a lady from that side of the Seine dreams of.
Backstage via translator, Jarrar said she was applying Lanvin to herself — not the other way around. "Effortless, emotional, and intellectual" was her agenda, and words that easily describe the lady Lanvin now aims to dress. Her vision for the house was polite glamour, not the dangerous kind, presented on the most famous faces in fashion, from Sasha P and Guinevere Van Seenus to Jourdan Dunn and Karlie Kloss. They must have spent a fortune on casting. If Jarrar was diving into the history books like her fellow designers on this second day of Paris shows, it was those of universal ballroom allure — the kind that felt the same on the parquet floors of 19th century Hotel de Ville — her show venue — as it did on the parquet floors of 20th century Hotel de Ville, and now the 21st century, too.
Text Anders Christian Madsen