[FASHION REVIEW] Paris Fashion Week Review

text by Adam Lehrer

I usually preamble my fashion week round-ups about how the written-about fashion city stacks up against the others, for example: “New York Fashion Week is very commercial but is experiencing a conceptual renaissance.” Something to that effect. Believe me, I know how trite writing these introductions can be. Let’s face it: the fashion industry can look ridiculous to those on the outside. Designers try to imbue their ideas with politics, art, and concepts in what basically amounts to a glorified sales pitch. But in a recent interview about his film ‘The Neon Demon,’ which takes place in the modern fashion world, filmmaker Nik Refn was asked what fashion means to him: “It's melodramatic, emotional, creative; a little bit creepy but also very campy.”

Paris Fashion Week is all of those things. It’s fashion at its best and fashion at its worst. We live in a capitalist world, and creative commerce is the only thing that can push culture forward within a capitalist system. Paris is the center of fashion. To show a collection in Paris is to get signed to the Yankees in baseball. That seal of approval and commercial visibility has enabled Paris-based designers to make grand conceptual gestures to an audience of millions upon millions. While technology has radically altered the way we communicate, fashion has radically progressed ideals of gender, race, and beauty. With Milan being too steeped in antiquated Italian notions of glamour (with exceptions), London designers working in a more cult and hype-driven business model (with exceptions), and New York being far too dictated by conservative retail outlets (with exceptions), Paris is and seemingly always will be ground zero for delivering radical concepts through the medium of fashion design on a global scale. As Nik Refn points out, fashion is an industry no different than the film industry; it’s entertainment. But as technology has enabled us to interact with the fashion industry with previously unprecedented access, it has become the primary entertainment industry for shifting societal norms. With Hollywood cinema having become the medium of The Avengers and popcorn sleaze, the fashion industry has taken center stage as our most important capitalist art form. If Paris Fashion Week is the epicenter of the industry, than it is 2016’s version of what Hollywood cinema was to 1976: a commercially robust platform that enables its audience to question what is presented to them.

(note: this list is in no particular order, all these collections were too good for that)

Saint Laurent Spring-Summer 2017

Hedi who? Sorry for the pun, but I’m mostly serious. I liked some things about Hedi Slimane’s tenure at Saint Laurent: his photography, bringing couture back to the house, and his ability to take creative control over the brand’s entire marketing strategy. But despite his doubling of the brand’s annual take, I never much liked the clothes. I never bought into the whole, “Bringing back Saint Laurent to its rock n’ roll roots.” There is no way that Yves Saint Laurent ever listened to anything that didn’t have a number and the word “symphony” in its title. Of course there were some great pieces delivered during his tenure, but Saint Laurent should be an innovator. The leather jackets were great, but they weren’t any better than Schott Perfecto’s. Yves did believe in taking normal and easy-to-wear pieces and making them incredible. But I’m sorry Hedi, there is nothing incredible about a pair of cut-off denim shorts, no matter how expensive you make them.

And that brings us to Spring-Summer 2017, the first Saint Laurent collection designed by Anthony Vacarello. I was watching SHOWStudio’s live panel on the collection, and typically they had nasty things to say about Vacarello’s first collection for the label, particularly about how over-sexed the models looked in Vacarello’s clothes. Seriously? We’ve gotten so sensitive that a designer can’t make his models look sexy? Vacarello focused on the sexiest era of Saint Lauren’t history, opening the show with a puffed shoulder dress from 1982 that he re-created in black leather. There was much leather that followed: a bustier paired with jeans, a bomber jacket with exaggerated shoulders, a trench over a black dress, a blazer. But where Vacarello excelled in his leather was its silhouettes; each piece was cut and/or shaped in an odd but appealing way (certainly something that Hedi never did with his addiction to skin tight everything). There was see-though shirts, gold lamé, breast exposing dresses, and everything tailored and sharp. I’m really not understanding the criticism aimed at this excellent debut collection. If my girlfriend came out of our bedroom wearing any one of those pieces my jaw would hit the floor. That is what what Yves wanted to do for women: make them feel like the best versions of themselves (my jaw notwithstanding). 

Koche Spring-Summer 2017

Streetwear with a couture twist is a certified trend in fashion at the moment, from the damaged luxury of Berlin’s Ottolinger to Demna Gvasalia’s reign over Balenciaga. But there is still something extraordinary about designer Christelle Kocher’s approach to haute street at her two time LVMH-nominated label Koché. Kocher also serves as artistic director of Maison Lemarié, which provides Karl Lagerfeld with the feathers he needs to make Chanel. Therefore, with Koché she is able to indulge her laissez-faire attitude towards clothing while bringing her rebellious sensibility a remarkable sense of craft and skill. She really wants to make you the last hoodie you’ll ever need to buy.

For the SS 2017 Koché collection, Kocher took inspiration from her fellow Parisian industry standard flouting renegades at Vetements and subverted the fashion show. She allowed public guests to sit at the show space of Les Halles while forcing industry insiders to stand (as someone who has personally witnessed a buyer make an elderly woman get up from his seat at a show, that brings me immense satisfaction). The models, a notable multi-racial pack of street-casted youths and Kocher’s friends, walked top speed around the perimeter of the show space several times. This performative gesture had editors trying to focus in extra hard on the clothes to catch all their unique detailings. A parka in sweatshirt fabric was frilled with black lace, track jackets were reconstructed through the reassembling of disparate pieces of silk, hoodies were transformed into Dracula capes, and summer dresses came in vibrant colors of the sunset and were paired with low top combat boots. I love Vetements, clearly, but unfortunately the buzz around that label has distracted from the fact that Demna is one of many designers leading a renaissance of artful fashion in Paris. Christelle Kocher is right up there with him in the front.

Balenciaga Spring-Summer 2017

Between Balenciaga and Vetements, Demna Gvasalia has created so many signatures silhouettes at this point that he can start to tweak and embellish them without having to change his whole approach season to season. There is no designers being more ripped off by high fashion right now (except for Issey Miyake’s pleats, oddly enough): Jil Sander employed Gvasalia’s hulking shoulder pads, Dior just did print t-shirts, Veronique Branqhino put out a hoodie for chrissakes’! Considering Gvasalia’s success, the mimicry shouldn’t surprise anyone. One thing is certain, however, and that is that no one does what Gvasalia does as radical or disruptive as he does. I even find myself looking forward to seeing new work from Demna, the same way that I look forward to the next Scorsese film or Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition. Other than Raf Simons, there’s no other designers on Earth that instills in me that insatiable fandom.

The Balenciaga Spring-Summer 2017 collection saw Demna incorporating even more Vetements touchstones into the Balenciaga ethos. It’s been wonderful to watch how despite Demna’s penchant for freak flagging that his approach to fashion design feels so right at the house. It’s about structure. It’s about shape. It’s about idiosyncratic notions of glamour. In the Vetements SS 2017 collection we saw Demna collaborate on waist high stilettos with Manohlo Blahnik in leather, and here we see a similar product in waist-high heels that double as pants or tights. In spandex no less? Since Eddie Murphy championed the fabric as skinny version of The Nutty Professor, the fabric has lost its haute connotations; but Demna rectified that with these hard-to-turn-away-from shoes. Then there were the hulking shoulders even further exaggerated by the use of whale bone. A nylon rain parka was made seductive with see through fabric. A little red riding hood was made black and mutated into shiny PVC fabric. Demna’s use of slight tweaks to make the ordinary divine will keep him in free Balenciaga baseball caps for a long time to come.

Side note: I also loved the use of Chris Issak on the soundtrack. It furthers my view that Demna is almost post-taste in his cultural references, bouncing back between standard artist approved post-punk like Sisters of Mercy to total pop cheese. It really nails our current culture on the head, one in which hipsters no longer care about what music is cool and care more about irony and individualism.

Y Project Spring-Summer 2017

A couple seasons ago, Y Project was one of the more skippable shows of the Paris menswear schedule. The late Yohan Serfaty started the label as a menswear brand seriously indebted to the gothic pea-cocking of Rick Owens and fashion unanimously agreed upon the fact that we already have the only Rick Owens we will ever need. So when Glenn Maartens took over the label after Serfaty’s passing, he totally departed from the label’s original aesthetic. Since adding womenswear to the label’s repertoire, the label has received gobs of praise and a nomination for this year’s LVMH Prize, not to mention beloved conceptual stockists including Dover Street Market, Opening Ceremony, and Machine-A.

Maartens has a sense of humor, and his light sensibilities allow for incredibly palatable abstraction in his ingenious fashion creations. His SS 2017 collections, his second for womenswear, found the designer employing styling techniques to achieve a bit of shock. But everything here was actually wearable and built to be styled in different ways: adjustable sleeves, loosening bustiers, laced dresses. There was also some fun play with sexual provocation: the white denim chaps, for instance, barely concealed the model’s ass crack. Or the halter top that coiled at the waist and used an unbuttoned neck to conceal the model’s considerable boobs. I can see Y Project particularly appealing to young female artists that are hustling Instagram and making a little doh but are far from financial security. These are easy-to-wear clothes that are embellished and specialized enough to be adored by the buyer and also beg the buyer to wear them from day to night. Maartens is shaping up to be one of the most malleable conceptualists in fashion design.

Junya Watanabe Spring-Summer 2017

After a couple much derided seasons of racially on the nose sentiment, Junya Watanabe has come fiercely back doing what he does best: making the most structurally complex garments a human being could conceivably want to wear. While his menswear show was full of simple summer pieces adorned in tough to beautiful looking prints, his SS 2017 womenswear collection was complicated. Like artists ranging from Nick Cave to Lydia Lunch to David Bowie to Jeffrey Eugenides did before him, Junya hung out in Berlin to pick up inspiration for this collection. Also like those artists, the city’s dark and abstract culture and landscape had an aesthetic impact on this cyberpunk-leaning collection.

With Berlin-based conceptual fashion magazine 032C and its emphasis on the global merging and mutually beneficial relationship of streetwear and couture seeing its influence reverberate throughout the industry, it appears that Junya has taken note. He paired his highly abstracted geometrically stacked satin art museum pieces with slashed tights, cowboy boots, silver leather skirts, denim shorts, band t-shirts, and silver bomber jackets. There were really only two ideas here, but Junya can stretch an idea so long that an aesthetic universe pours out of it. You can see the nightclub where people are wearing these clothes: speed is being injected in lieu of cocaine, it smells of old puke and piss, bad graffiti adorns the bathroom walls, and Psychic TV is always playing on the speakers. Instead of “elevating streetwear to the level of couture,” as we are seeing in the cases of myriad designers, Junya simply decided to style couture with streetwear and create one incredibly succinct look. He is making Japanese fashion design palatable to a global audience without losing any conceptual credentials.

Haider Ackermann Spring-Summer 2017

I really love Haider Ackermann’s work. I put him in a similar category to designers like Rick Owens and Phoebe Philo; designers that can work a similar idea for a few seasons because there is simply no one else who does what he does. His work always has that bourgeois family black sheep vibe: the man or woman who decides not to enter the family business instead opting for a life of opulence, decadence, smoking, drinking, drugs, casual sex, and creative endeavors. You know whoever that person is dresses fabulously.

This was Ackermann’s first collection since being named creative director of heritage luxury French menswear house Berluti (an inspired casting choice if there was ever one, I can’t be alone in being rabid in anticipation for the punk spin he will put on the brand’s classicist and wildly expensive products). Ackermann is moving away from the draping that made him famous and this collection employed razor sharp tailoring to achieve an exacting if striking silhouette. Despite its precision, the collection still made use of flourishes of rebellion: jackets slashed at the waist, neon two-toned drainpipe leather trousers, a blood spattered jacquard coat, and that wildly spiky hair all screamed, “I’d like to excuse myself from this dinner table to smoke bowls full of opium and hash on my red velvet couch listening to Ornette Coleman.” There were also some more pleats here, also ripped off from Issey Miyake’s wildly copied Plissé line, but Ackermann’s choice to create a wide pleat skirt brightly colored yellow felt less on the nose than other recreations of the textile idea.

Loewe Spring-Summer 2017

Jonathan Anderson’s reinvention of Spanish luxury house cannot be denied: in just two years time he transformed what amounted to a small novelty act into a major Paris Fashion Week event. He did this by honing in on exactly who his customer is. What has separated Anderson from his fellow Central Saint Martin’s-educated young London designers is his unbridled understanding and embracing of fashion’s business side. Noting that his menswear audience at his own label largely consists of gay men, he live-streamed a show on hookup app Grindr. Identifying his Loewe woman as an older cultured lady of means, he decorated the set of his Loewe Spring-Summer 2017 show with ceramics, lamps, and video screens playing an art film. The Loewe woman has a deep appreciation of objects, and Anderson brings rarified objects by the dozens.

Working with one flowing and unstructured silhouette, Anderson put on a fabric clinic: cotton and nylon, patchwork and plissé, raw edges and fringes, jersey and fine leather. There was a hinting at the Spanish luxury of Loewe with dresses recalling those worn by women from 19th century Spanish villages. Everything here looked expensive, as it should, because these clothes are extremely expensive. And that’s not even mentioning the wide diversity of shoes, bags and accessories that will give Loewe fans more buying options than any collection the house has ever put out. Of all the creative director-driven brand reinventions of the last 10 years; Hedi at Saint Laurent, Raf at Dior, Galliano at Margiela; Anderson’s reinvention of Loewe is by far the most radical and arguably the most successful, considering the relative obscurity of the brand before his hiring. 

Comme des Garcons Spring-Summer 2017

You don’t watch Comme des Garcons' main line collections anymore to find new pieces to buy. You watch it to feel awe. Rei Kawakubo has been slowly emerging as something more akin to a conceptual artist than a conceptual fashion designers, at least in her womenswear collections. Of course the dozens of other subdivisions she designs weld tons of clothes that you can’t wait to get your hands on: CdG Homme, CdG shirt, CdG black, etc.. But all those brands financially support the pure creations that Kawakubo devises for her Comme des Garcons show. Of all her artistically grandiose recent collections, from the red blood soaked and Sunn O)))-soundtracked SS 2015 show to the punk empresses of FW 2016, Kawakubo’s SS 2016 collection might just be her most exquisite yet.

The hulking sculptures in the collection beg countless meanings. Sarah Mower noted the girth of the stomach linings as potentially being a comment on being a woman (“pregnant with meaning,” she put it) or perhaps simply examining Kawakubo’s contributions to the medium and examining where to go from here with it. But I don’t really care about attaching any meaning to her work. Like all great art, Kawakubo’s work begs personal projection on the part of the viewer. When necessary, I prefer to lay back, shut my brain off, and bask in the glow of pure creation.

Off-White Spring-Summer 2017

While its clearly a beloved label, Virgil Abloh’s Off-White often feels like its critical praise is dimmed under the considerable glow of contemporaries like Matthew Williams, Demna Gvasalia, and Glenn Maartens. I will continue to challenge this notion, because Virgil’s vision is just as succinct and unique as his friends and collaborators. Off-White’s SS 20177 collection explored the conflicted notion of the modern business woman. Of course, that left the door wide open.

Abloh envisioned these women in everything from jeans (made with Levi’s Made and Crafted) to pants suits, track suits to stunningly draped evening gowns. But Abloh’s real trick is the sell. This collection could easily look like two separate collections from two very different designers. But Abloh’s nonchalant approach to presentation, complete with a new wave soundtrack and Frank Ocean finale, felt exceedingly modern and customer aware. For the Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid types, this is who they are. They can go out in the day with a hoodie and bootie shorts and wear a Versace gown later that night and still look scarily hot in both the photos. Abloh, a rapid pop culture and art consumer, also employed some Mondrian colors in both tie-dye pants and a color blocked patchwork sweater. He loves aesthetics, and has the ability to make his very Tumblr-fried diverse tastes work for a high fashion pack. I just wish he’d start showing in New York. No designers gets the tastes of young New Yorkers better than Abloh.

Rick Owens Spring-Summer 2017

A beautifully pained Nina Simone soundtrack. An ethereally industrial Palais de Tokyo setting. Shapes, cuts and drapes that you’ve never seen before. An evocative and theatrical mood that most designers could only dream of achieving. Voila: another incredible Rick Owens show.

I’m almost sick of including Rick Owens on every Paris round-up and near purposefully left him off this one (perhaps to shine line on a newer voice like Lutz Huelle, Alyx, or Vejas, or even another brilliant Nicholas Ghesquiere Louis Vuitton outing), but upon second viewing I had to include Rick. He’s the most idiosyncratic fashion designer of my generation. No other fashion designer can make such emotionally gut-wrenching statements while still holding true to his position as a man who needs to sell clothes to survive and keep his business afloat. Like last season, there was lots of the now-signature Rick draping methodology, where mounds of fabric are used to make a perfect wearable garment into something more transportive. The dresses, in a beautiful muted color palette of black, purple, yellow, and white, saw creases folded on top of one another like an ancient sculpture. Towards the end, those dresses came under capes made of loosely weaved yarn, not totally unlike Luke’s clothing choices in the icy beginning of The Empire Strikes Back. Rick has total confidence in his unique conception of beauty and, it’s true, no one else could create this kind of beauty quite like he does.