Creativity Wins at Paris Fashion Week

Beating out commerciality and a cloud of empty clickbait

I love Paris. Love everything about it. The food. The people. The cafés. The champagne. The Champs. Chez Janou. (So good. It’s in le Marais behind Place des Vosges and I told the chef this season that if I murdered someone, which during fashion month is not outside the realm of possibility, and was getting the chair, and had to pick my last meal, his duck breast, mashed potatoes, and mousse au chocolat would be it. He found that mildly disturbing but took the compliment like a champ.) Running out of things that start with “c” here, so I’ll get to the point—most of all, I love the fashion. Maybe that’s because no one loves fashion with a capital F quite as much as les Parisiens. I mean, I’m not a Paris resident (I was briefly back in 2008 and—surprise—I loved it), however, as an outsider, the excitement around fashion and fashion week is palpable. In New York, it seems the general population thinks fashion week is…let’s call it “inconvenient.” In Paris, people line the block to try to get a glimpse of the action; they lit up the Eiffel Tower for Saint Laurent’s open-air extravaganza; they shut down the Champs-Élysées so Jane Fonda and Helen Mirren could hit the runway for L’Oréal. During that show, the crowd screamed the names of fashion stars like Naomi Campbell, who casually sauntered in long after the runway romp had begun. People in Paris just love fashion. And that’s infectious.

Fashion people, though, sometimes have a hard time loving fashion to that extreme. Pot meet kettle, I know—did you read my NYFW rant?—but I really felt that while, sure, some of the collections at the top were less than spectacular, there was so much to be excited about in Paris. Yes, there were some questionable bits—for instance, a number of people were super upset about those Balenciaga platform Crocs. Highsnobiety equated them to wearable meme-bait (accurate) and lamented the lack of craft at a top tier fashion house. I’m not thrilled that there were Crocs on the runway, but fashion is a product of its cultural surroundings, and honestly, what is more representative of our Internet-obsessed culture than wearable clickbait? The ’60s had women’s lib and thus, the mini skirt. The 2010s have the Kardashians, Insta girls, and thus, platform Crocs. Don’t blame Demna Gvasalia, blame the editors and producers and media executives who have championed vapid sensationalism while pushing depth and intellectualism to the brink of extinction…but I digress.

People were also angry about Lanvin. I was angry about Lanvin. It was logo-splattered hideousness. Cut that shit out. It’s pretty devastating that an egomaniacal businesswoman has trashed the oldest French fashion house in operation in a span of three years. Shame on her. And shame on what’s his name (seriously—who is he?) for trying to make the storied maison into some mid-market nonsense. We miss you, Alber.

I personally was a little disappointed in Dior. I think Maria Grazia Chiuri has the best intentions, but she has every resource at her fingertips and the clothes fall flat. They’re not terribly clever or luxurious or dreamy or even “Dior”—they just kind of are. And I wish we could move beyond t-shirts. The “Why have there been no great female artists?” shirt (the title of a 1971 essay by art historian Linda Nochlin) surely made art theory buffs feel smug, but it doesn’t accomplish much else.

After his Spring 2018 presentation, Andre Walker—who is staging a comeback, which you can read about here—told me that after Raf Simons left, he applied for the Dior job. He didn’t get it—you already know that. But in the same breath, he made some interesting observations about the upper echelons of the fashion industry. “I feel like there’s so much more we can do, and I think on the highest levels is where there’s the least amount of creativity.” That statement seemed to echo what so many insiders murmured over dinners and coups of champagne this season. We all know why that’s the case—because, with a few exceptions, fashion’s most elite design houses are big business, and taking a major creative risk could mean a dip in sales. Walker referred to such brands as “advanced commercial,” which I found very funny—probably because it was so on point.  He went on to estimate that—and keep in mind, these numbers are not scientific by any means—about 80 percent of the industry does the same old same old, and 20 percent is pushing it forward. “The status quo will always be there,” he lamented. However, when I asked him if there was enough excitement in fashion at the moment, he perked up. “Of course there is. Tons of it. That’s how fashion is sustained. There are great designers out there, and the few that are original are known to all of us.”

He’s so right, and if you looked in the right places during PFW, it was wildly apparent. For the first time in a long time, there are fresh young talents putting down roots in the French capital, which, because of its prestige and old school mentality, has been a historically tough place for young designers. Glenn Martens at Y/Project once again proved that it is possible to create irreverent clothing that speaks to millennials without abandoning craftsmanship and originality. In the same vein, Maison Margiela, designed by John Galliano, was a beacon of light in those lofty fashion echelons, also presenting a tongue-in-cheek (and commercially friendly, thanks to that new bag that doubles as a pillow) collection whose technical triumphs, in-your-face aesthetic appeal, and on-the-pulse take on luxury elicited audible ooos, ahhs, and, at times, chuckles from the audience. With his outdoor Spring opus, Rick Owens proclaimed that we must meet hate and ugliness with beauty, while also reminding jaded editors just how powerful a platform the fashion show can be. Meanwhile, emerging Berlin-based brand Dumitrascu took us underground, with designer Andra Dumitrascu presenting her tactile Spring wares via a renegade show in the Paris metro. The excitement as her models mingled with commuters was electric, and after getting up close and personal with the collection, I can attest that her clothes—a fusion of luxury and grit that provide the wearer with a full sensory experience—deserve just as much hype as her subterranean romp.

Then there were those truly fantastical shows: Comme des Garçons and Thom Browne. At CdG, Rei Kawakubo combined the work of 10 artists—including Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s veggie faces, which I frankly cannot wait to wear come spring—with plastic toys in a collection that seemed to celebrate all the weird, wild beauty our messed-up world has been able to produce over the last few centuries. And Browne, well, he took the idea that fashion should make us dream quite literally, and transported us into the subconscious of two sleeping girls. The clothes were outrageous—outsized, vibrant, haunting, uncanny, everything a dream should be. And then there was the unicorn that marched majestically down the runway, and the post-show tableau that allowed guests to see his otherworldly creatures up close. This was Browne’s PFW RTW debut, and suffice to say, I think the city would be delighted to have him back for Fall.

Speaking of PFW debuts, Joseph Altuzarra made his this season, and something he said at his cocktail fete really struck me. “I came to Paris a few months ago, and I think the optimism and positivity here was so palpable,” he said of what drew him to the City of Light (he was also born there…and lived there until he was 18, so his switch from NYFW to PFW makes perfect sense.)

To be sure, it’s been somewhat of an odd season, largely because the world is in a terrifying state of disarray. But unlike New York and London, in Paris, there was an overwhelming sense of joy and, yes, optimism. It was apparent on the runway and in the streets (which were occasionally also runways), and it was encouraging—uplifting, even. So yeah, I love Paris, and I really loved Paris fashion week, because amidst the international crises and the industry’s often overwhelming commerciality and the cloud of empty clickbait bullshit that drives pretty much everything these days, raw, unfettered creativity reared its head. And it was fucking fantastic.

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