paris tackles travel and migration
Designers journeyed far at Sunday’s shows in Paris as Kenzo, Céline and Alexander McQueen paid homage to the traveller then and now.
Photography Jason Lloyd Evans
Fashion, much like Hollywood, has a way of romanticizing precarious situations. Perhaps it's our way of turning lemons into lemonade -- for our bitchy reputation, we have a surprisingly optimistic outlook -- or maybe it's just easier to dream ourselves away to an ideal world rather than dealing critically with the real one. And so, on Sunday designers forgot about the mid-week blues of the Paris shows and went to their favorite happy place: traveling and relocation, and the great influence multi-culturalism has on fashion. At Kenzo, Carol Lim and Humberto Leon went on the Grand Tour of a lifetime with a jolly jumble of global references remixed into a hyper-cultural and hyper-historical collection of stuff you might find on a gap year, from tribal print floor-length dresses to gladiator boots.
"We did a thirteen-month travel trip when we were sophomores in college, and it's almost a little bit of that," Leon said, "when you're visiting a ton of countries and you're excited about the culture and you're kind of just taking it all in. And you only had a backpack on your back, and by the end of the trip you were carrying two backpacks… and an ashtray and a statue of an elephant." The set was typically impressive: platforms transporting sections of models through huge gate-like arches around the massive hangar venue, with an epic, trance-folky soundtrack that kept feeling like it was about to go into Enigma's Return to Innocence, and that pacifist army of models getting off their platforms and conquering the floor in all their global, flower child positivity.
"As you travel you're assimilating and adapting to new environments, and anyone can relate to that sentiment, whether it's for a long-term period or a short-term period: being able to assimilate in any situation," Leon explained. "We wanted it to feel bright, and when we saw it last night with the music it felt really bright—to know that this collection is based on travel and discovery and acceptance," Lim said. With shows like Kenzo's it's not easy to outdo yourself. This time, Lim and Leon did. At Alexander McQueen, there's no race to top the legendary show productions of the house's past—with a set comprised of wooden floor boards and matching chairs, the focus was entirely on the collection, inspired by the Huguenots, who settled in Spitalfields in the 17th century.
In case you haven't caught up on religious prosecution of French minorities in the 1600s lately, let's recap: the Huguenots were a liberal Protestant sect derived from Calvinism, driven out of France by the Catholics to England where they settled in Spitalfields and established the area's weaving industry. A peace-loving bunch, they brought with them their culture of love and nature, of flowers and gardening, planting small oases in the inner city of Spitalfields. "It's back to the idea of the artisan," Sarah Burton said backstage. "Everything being organic and soft." It was a fabulous reference for a collection, and one that Burton went all out on, going to town on soft, feminine, flouncy dresses in rose and that off-white designers can't get enough of this season.
Washed leather dresses had a lived-in and kind of old vibe about them, which injected the garments with a lot of personality, and it wasn't a coincidence. Researching the collection, Burton got her hands on original pieces worn by the Huguenots, and was blown away by their contemporary character. "They were so modern the way they hung on the body as it moved," she said. "It wasn't constricted." If only the Huguenots had known they would one day be the subjects of a fashion show in the capital of the country they were forced to flee. Time has a great sense of irony. As does a Danish artist known as FOS, who brought mud and a festival tent into the hallowed grounds of the posh tennis club in Paris for the Céline show.
He had worked with Phoebe Philo on the entire presentation of the show, from the giant orange and yellow tent to the live soundtrack, which may or may not have sampled the intro to Michael Jackson's Earth Song. Theme of the day established, the first exit cemented Philo's support of the underwear-as-outerwear tendency of the season, in a little white dress with a see-through black lace top (worn braless) with suitcase folds worked into it. If the tent didn't give it away, it was all about traveling. "Those clothes, for me, were clothes that, if you were going on a voyage, you could just pack it all and use it in all the places you may go," Philo said. "A bit like this tent—you can pack it up."
It was pro-nature, but not anti-urban. After all, Céline's customer doesn't exactly go on treks for a living. But she definitely wasn't feeling the city this season, Philo said. "There's something touching and charming about removing her from that environment. It's where I long to be more and more—in nature—and I get a lot of satisfaction, weirdly, imagining these clothes in nature." Take for instance those lingerie-and-dress hybrids, or the massive volume that hit us mid-collection in huge poufy sleeves and oversized coats and sweaters: they weren't clothes made for the outdoors, but neither are the people who'll wear them. That was the ingenious side to the collection—a thought-provoking comment on fashion's functionality.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Jason Lloyd Evans