In Paris, fashion week, naturally, means some of the most legendary names in the business, like Chanel, Dior, Leonard, Saint Laurent, Hèrmes, and Lanvin, which is even the subject of a new retrospective here at the Musee Galliera fashion museum.
But the nine-day extravaganza which concluded on Wednesday the month-long ready-to-wear season that began in New York yonks ago, also includes the new and the “who”?
For while the big brands command much of the attention—think the extravagant Chanel shows that transform the regular venue, the Grand Palais, into a brand supermarket or a war-torn theater or, this year, a French bistro—the fringes can be fascinating and often not even on the radar of the most diehard fashionista.
Take the lavish interiors of the Polish embassy, where gold-columned salons were given over to the country’s leading designer, Gozia Baczynska, whose creations are an eye-catching blend of seamstress with the new and the neoprene, combining her training using an old couture manual written in Russian and her love of the avant garde.
Models with extraordinary cheekbones and golden locks sat front row and Polish grandmothers came to cheer on this designer whose collection this season included both 100-year-old selfies, decorating dresses based on her favorite era of the 1920s, and fabulous futuristic touches created through the use of plastic thread mixed in with fine French lace to create a juxtaposition of the old and the new.
Baczynska has also helped nurture a new generation of Made in Warsaw wannabes, with up-and-comers being showcased for the first time in Paris this season with the support of the government. And talking of the couture manual from which she learned to sew, “It was all based on mathematical equations,” she said. “There was no room for creativity and it is the complete opposite to how I design now. Or how anyone is taught.”
Junka Shimada, and her younger counterpart Tsumori Chisato, are both dogged Paris underdogs, overshadowed by her better-known Japanese counterparts in Paris like Issey Miyake or Comme des Garçons, Both are fashion-insider brands. This year, Shimada did one of the more interesting presentations, with clothes hanging on a revolving clothes line that circled around a venue in Central Paris like an installation, mirroring one of those sushi conveyor belts.
In that same venue where, this time, cozy puffer jackets and long skirts were combined to create interesting silhouettes, she has also been known to show bomber jackets in every size, shape, and form imaginable in previous years.
Chisato meanwhile presented a series of clothes that were both decorated in scraps from comic books and looked as if they were made to dress characters that emerged from within comic-book pages. Her designs are always beautifully bright and colorful and well executed.
Showing the collection as a series of photographs in the hip Hotel Costes this season was a young brand named Lahssan which presented the collection, Exquisite Corpse, as photographed by Sean & Seng.
Although you might not be able to call them underdogs, both Rick Owens and Veronique Branquinho chose the ripped-out guts of buildings to show their collections this season. While you might have heard of Owens after his penis-revealing menswear, Branquinho is a designer somewhat hidden by bigger names who is turning out beautiful and nonconformist designs that, this season, combined skirts with hoops in strange places and a mix of S&M-style leather and soft checked Victorian-ish woolen skirts.
Olympia Le Tan, another quirky designer loved by the in-crowd, featured bags designed like old velvet books and green leotards worn with stockings and fluffy jackets cropped short to still show the crotch. Dries Van Noten mixed up boho, textiles, mad hair, and Scarlett O’Hara skirts.
The recently revived Vionnet, along with Elie Saab, which staged its show in a faux forest, put nature back into fashion. Vionnet presented what it described as a collection in blooming decay, with models walking beneath a canopy of foliage and flowers, and a waif-like creature singing an otherworldly-sounding tune on the runway.
The silhouettes were long and lean, with the dresses featuring open backs and hoods or little wraparound capes, as if the women had been brought back to life from yesteryear like the legendary brand itself.
While many designers played it safe, Dutch designer Iris Van Herpen made sure that that there were weird sculptural shapes and forms on the runway in some of the dresses that looked like Art Deco lamps, or high shoes with no visible heels.
“He is the great white hope of Latin America,” declared a leading curator ahead of the Esteban Cortazar show, which was buzzing and brimming full but ultimately rather blah. The young dude, who was born in Bogotá and raised in Miami, served as the chief designer at Ungaro until he was fired in 2009 for refusing, reportedly, to work with Lindsay Lohan. Way to go, Cortazar. Sometimes obscurity is all for the good.