smile therapy: stella mccartney, hermès and alexander mcqueen at paris fashion week
Before International Women’s Day tomorrow, fashion’s united front marched on at Monday’s shows in Paris where Hermès, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton carried on the season’s spirit of optimism and feminism.
Let's call it smile therapy: the autumn/winter 17 season has shown exuberance in times of despair, going high when the world went low, as Hillary Clinton's best friend Michelle Obama taught us. Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski wasn't about to make a political statement at her Hermès show on Monday, but her spirited collection where shearling coats in sorbet colours practically took the equestrian luxury house to a psychedelic high felt decidedly statement-y. It reflected Hermès' ongoing reinvention towards a slightly younger, more fashion-forward place, very much felt at Veronique Nichanian's men's show in January, too—an approach, which goes hand-in-hand with the sense of fun that's always surrounded the house. Last summer, for instance, they shipped the congregated fashion press off to a French chateau where performance artists roamed the adjacent woods dressed as fantastical creatures. There wasn't a garment or bag in sight. This was pure fun, the eccentric Hermès way, and it's terrific to see that spirit translated into Vanhee-Cybulski and Nichanian's collections.
Perhaps fashion has been reading The Secret, the self-help book that teaches you to visualise your ideal reality; make a collage of the things you want to achieve—that Ralph Lauren campaign husband, a house in the Cotswolds, peace on Earth, and a Birkin bag. Certainly this industry knows how to put together a good mood board, but the season has been a lot more forceful in its willingness for harmony than that. At Missoni in Milan, Angela Missoni and her geo-knit-clad clan took to the runway post-show and gave a speech calling for the fashion industry to rise up against the political situation. Shows including Tommy Hilfiger and Dior have promoted the white bandana, fashion's official anti-Trump accessory. And on Monday morning at the Opera, Stella McCartney's models rang out her show with singing and dancing to George Michael's Faith, a jolly good singalong session that made Anna Wintour and Pamela Anderson smile courtside. McCartney tackled the cone bra, effectively knitting pointy breast shapes into tops.
When her BFF Madonna pioneered that look on her Blond Ambition Tour some thirty years ago, various countries threatened to arrest her. The Ancient Egypt-inspired performance she put on wearing her Jean Paul Gaultier cones and simulating masturbation on stage was simply too much for a 1990 world. Determined to promote her message of female empowerment - that any woman is free to interpret that in her own way - the singer went through with her performances. In a scene captured in her tour documentary Truth or Dare, she and her backup singers walk to the venue in Toronto - one of the cities that had threatened arrest - singing Holiday, "celebration, come together in every nation". As we approach International Women's Day tomorrow, a new generation of female role models are having to fight the same battles Madonna did back then (and still does), and fashion can be a powerful tool for it—not just in the way of what we wear, but because of the massive platform a fashion show now commands.
On Monday evening in Paris, Sarah Burton took us back to an age where feminism was seen as a different kind of threat. Her Alexander McQueen collection celebrated Cornwall's history of paganism and witchcraft, which didn't always have the magical ring to it, it does now. It was the idea of the nature-centric woman, whose harmony with the elements and independent stride terrified the male egos of the Middle Ages. Burton beautifully portrayed the graceful nature of these women, who would tie ribbons around the twigs of trees and turn them into Wishing Trees or Trees of Life, an image the designer translated into delicate beading and threading on dresses and coats. But there was also a darker, more protective element to the collection - which used the soundtrack from Lion, a runaway runway hit this season - observed in the medieval armour silhouettes that opened the show, constructed in leather. Burton referenced it as "Queen Guinevere's soft armour", and you couldn't have asked for a better image of the uniform carried by a new generation of feminists.
The autumn/winter 17 women's season hasn't been the riotous parade some would have expected for the first fashion presentations following the political events of 2016. Rather, it's kept its head up high and tried to push a message of optimism and togetherness. But in all the lovely demonstrations of fellowship and harmony and united fronts against Trump and his cronies, some of us have wondered where that spirit was just a few months ago when Hillary Clinton was fighting to beat him and few came out supporting her with the determination we're now seeing against Trump. Where were the runway speeches then? Where were the big messages of support for the person, who could have been the first woman to lead the Free World? On Women's Day tomorrow, let's give it up for Hillary Clinton, whose signature pantsuit, by the way, has been a massive fixture on the runways this season, and who came so close to realising our ultimate dream.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Mitchell Sams