Paris Fashion Week Brings Fun and Hope Before the City Goes Back Under Coronavirus High Alert

It wasn’t exactly business as usual at Paris Fashion Week, but the nine day showcase, which ended Tuesday, was the closest to normal that any of the world’s four top fashion cities has come during this time of COVID-19, offering an optimistic take on the future.

Such heavyweight fashion brands as Dior, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Hermès and Kenzo presented live ready-to-wear runway shows, albeit before reduced, socially distant, masked crowds.

Other top labels, like Givenchy, Balenciaga, Giambattista Valli and Akris went the digital route while regulars like Celine, Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen and Lanvin skipped the fashion confab altogether. American designers Gabriela Hearst, Joseph Altuzarra and Thom Browne were also on the schedule, lending an international flair.

Akris at Paris Fashion Week
Akris ecru cotton jersey T-shirt with cutout application, Kinderstern print silk crêpe long skirt with
volume waist pleats, Alexa tassel pouch in canvas with Multicolor Kinderstern patchwork. (Photo courtesy of Akris)

To kickoff the proceedings, Dior creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri was in a reflective mood, turning a tent into a cathedral-like space with stained-glass windows and an all-female choir performing a discordant 19th century chant in front of  a socially distant crowd of 350 that included Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams and boyfriend Reuben Selby in matching khaki-colored Dior coats.

The collection, with 86 looks, emphasized comfort, with long flowing linen dresses (some sheer and others in striped prints), unstructured wrap jackets, elongated tunics and high-necked sweaters, worn with long skirts.

The color palate of brown, beige, peach and gray was somber, with an occasional burst of color in a tie-dye anorak or Mediterranean paisley print dress. The entire collection seemed much more relaxed than Chiuri’s previous efforts for Dior and will be easy to pack when post-COVID travel opportunities arise again.

The Chanel spring 2021 collection, unveiled on the last day of Paris Fashion Week just before Paris went into high coronavirus alert due to an increase in the number of cases, also had a much more casual vibe. Models appeared on a whitewashed set in front of large block letters spelling CHANEL, resembling the HOLLYWOOD sign, showcasing such relaxed looks as Bermuda shorts and high-waisted trousers with jackets, T-shirts, sweaters and blouses stamped with the Chanel logo.

Chanel designer Virginie Viard even showed a pink day dress that looked like a bathrobe.

There were also several floaty evening gowns with Chanel spelled out in script lettering, and such classic Chanel detailing as dangling chains, pearls, tiny purses and earrings with the interlocking C logo.

But by Chanel standards, this was a down-to-earth collection. Instead of teetering on high heels as they walked, most of the models wore sensible flats.

Comfort and Creativity

Comfortable sportswear was front and center at Louis Vuitton, where designer Nicolas Ghesquière debuted a collection of topical graphic print T-shirts (one emblazoned with the word, “Vote”), roomy trousers, oversized blazers, floor-sweeping overcoats, buttery leather jackets and multi-pocketed cargo pants.

One of the most creative shows of the week came from Akris creative director Albert Kriemler, who has long considered fashion as art and has worked tirelessly to merge the two. For the luxe label’s spring 2021 collection Kriemler teamed with noted minimalist German artist Imi Knoebel to create a relaxed collection featuring canvas-like fabrics inspired by the painter’s works.

“Color is everything to me, this season more than ever before,” Kriemler said.

One of Knoebel’s works, Kiinderstern, an abstract star that resembles an inverted outline of the state of Texas, is a recurring theme on several items, including jogging pants and a matching top, long skirts, a sleeveless jumpsuit, the buttons of a triple breasted jacket and handbags of varying sizes, from a small clutch to a large tote.

Fine fabrics are an Akris hallmark and Kriemler is obsessive about finding and creating new materials. For this collection, he discovered a phosphorescent fabric that imitates Knoebel’s famous work Batterie and created a parka with detachable hood and sleeves, a pinstripe jacket and pants, a sequin double-breasted trench coat and an evening gown with tulle insets. The glow-in-the-dark looks are featured, along with the rest of the collection, in a video by the Dutch director Anton Corbijn.

Paris Fashion Week’s Wows

Givenchy was one of the most anticipated shows of the week as 34-year-old American designer Matthew M. Williams debuted his first collection for the storied fashion label. Williams moved the brand toward a more urban streetwear vibe, with slashed jeans, embellished hoodies, gold hardware inspired by the love locks on Parisian bridges and triangular jackets with big shoulders and straps across torso for men and women.

The looks were accessorized with leather slides, crocodile boots, the unisex Cut-Out bag with G logo chain, and an oversized version of the Antigona handbag with an enormous gold padlock.

Flush with the success of its high-end sneakers, Balenciaga continued its popular streetwear trend. Designer Demna Gvasalia debuted a video featuring models who walked the streets of Paris in unisex styles to a cover of  “Sunglasses at Night.” The sustainable collection features oversized bathrobe coats, bomber-lined track suits, deconstructed sweatshirts, five-pocket jersey pants, a sheer gown made from basketball net chains and the debut of the new X-Pander sneakers.

Andrew Gn, a favorite of well-heeled Texans, focused on the thought of happier times ahead with a collection of lace-trimmed coats, fringe-trimmed dresses, floral print jumpsuits and belted evening gowns. “Now is not the moment to be weird,” Gn told Vogue Runway. “The future is happening now, and my job is to bring pleasure and hope.”

Also emphasizing an upbeat tone was Isabel Marant, who featured a disco-tinged ’80s-influenced collection of shiny minidresses, metallic overalls, blouses with poofy sleeves, jeweled jackets and knee-high cowboy boots.

The ’80s also cast a spell on Balmain designer Olivier Rousteing who showcased jackets with oversized shoulders and matching pants in neon pinks and greens that exuded that decade’s excess. Think Grace Jones in her prime.

Influential designer Rick Owens also went for the large shoulder look, albeit more along the lines of Tina Turner in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. In pandemic times, it just seems right to think big.

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