PARIS—Inside the dimly lit interiors of the Hotel de Ville, classical music played as Anna Wintour held court, standing in the murky shadows. Lesser mortals waited on benches set between the easels decorating Thom Browne’s Fall/Winter 2018 runway, like an artist’s studio.
A procession of models wearing dog’s heads were drawn by a female painter, while others showed-off Browne’s deconstructed designs that recast the idea of the feminine in this collection that was inspired by Marie Antoinette’s official portraitist, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, a rare female painter who succeeded in an 18th century male-dominated milieu.
Another model wore a bulging plastic sculpture that resembled a woman’s body splitting at the seams, bringing to mind some of the over-sized, provocative women painted by Le Brun from the society of her day.
Looks included quirky boyish suits, siren dresses under-pinned by tight corsets, and breasts clearly defined and sometimes accentuated in mix-and-match, male-meets-female outfits created to envision how Le Brun might have reimagined herself in the 21st century.
Indeed, one model walked in a dress that exposed her breast, another in a masculine jacket with white buttons placed to define her nipples on the outside of the garment, reclaiming her sexuality for herself.
While Browne might have been a cut above the rest, he was not alone in his theatricality this season.
Consider Comme des Garçons’ collection of oversized designs that were inspired by Susan Sontag’s famous 1964 essay “Notes on Camp.” That great deconstructionist of dress, Rei Kawakubo, conjured up in gigantic looks that evoked the colorful beauty of rare creatures found in the depths of the ocean—such as an over-sized statement in frills worn at the wrong angle, with a dressing gown thrown in for good-measure; something that looked like a vintage duvet taken from grandma’s wardrobe; or a deconstructed Manga sweater, all presented in outrageous proportions.
Over at Vivienne Westwood, there was a riot of delightful and strange looks—cyborg-meets-platform-boots, rock-star chic, toga-skirts, frills and knitted-leggings—that took something from every era, but created something modern.
The adventure continued at Manish Arora, where a riot of Indian-influenced color ruled. Funky embroidery was mixed in with long silhouettes. Other looks from this season drew upon the kitsch, the colourful, the cute, and campy aesthetic that Arora has rolled into what the designer proclaimed to The Daily Beast as his “best collection yet.” One sweatshirt proclaimed, “Pink and Gold Is My Religion.”
Beyond the catwalk, the opening at Paris’ main fashion museum, Galliera, of the first Paris retrospective of the Belgian designer Martin Margiela—a graduate of the prestigious Royal Academy of Art in Antwerp—put the spotlight on his own deconstructed dress codes, recycled materials and reworking of Japan’s traditional Tabi shoes (with toes).
The reconstruction of the French fashion house of Paul Poiret, which shuttered in the 1930, was also a highlight.
With the designer Yiqin Yin serving as artistic director of Poiret, the revived house’s show on Sunday night played on Poiret’s over-sized silhouettes that helped free the female form from the corset idea that Browne drew upon.
Instead, Poiret’s cocoon shape were used by Yin to create cushioned-looking coats and dresses that were designed, as per show notes, to offer a freedom of body movement for the wearer, rather than, “putting herself on display.”
Several contemporary labels live on, perhaps in less glory, without their namesakes calling the shots here, like John Galliano whose show this season drew upon the idea of a romance in the depressed Midwest. (Bill Gaytten serves as creative director now.) Margiela’s own label has been renamed and lives on without him (he did, however, curate the Galliera exhibition).
About town, a series of showrooms put on display the next-generation of designers. The so-called Designer’s Apartment, an initiative of Paris Fashion Week, displayed new collections from a dozen-odd designers at the press centre this season. Labels showing included GNDR, Coralie Marabelle and Korean brand Dawei.
Earlier in the week, the LVMH Prize put the spotlight on a series of up-and-comers, including 20 labels shortlisted for its Prize for Young Fashion Designers. These included Berlin’s clubbing-scene inspired GMBH, and Norway’s Edda.
The best of British fashion design was on display at the London show Rooms in Paris, and included Richard Quinn, Roberta Einer, and Nabil Nayal. French President Emmanuel Macron also wanted a slice of the action this season, with a fashion dinner hosted on Monday night for designers at the Élysée Palace.