When Karl Lagerfeld lived on Rue de l’Universite about a decade ago, he frequently entertained, and this morning when I looked at images of Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent models descending a staircase in sleek tuxedos and minidresses finished with a fat bow, I thought of the very elegant stone stairway in Lagerfeld’s home at that time. Saint Laurent has recently restored a building on the same street, in which it has revived its couture operation, which had lain dormant since Yves retired in 2002. I didn’t linger over this collection, which is the first fruit of that effort. It was a good exercise in YSL sin and sharp shoulders, and Slimane was deftest, I thought, with the grand gesture — the bow or the reptilian ruffle. They were pronounced enough to seem hostile or witty or both.
Frankly, I was more captivated by the models streaming down the steps, all twig-thin and brittle with glamour — not unlike the famous photos in the 1980s of the girls clustered around an aging Yves after another triumphant couture show. Slimane’s creatures were big-time difficult eye-candy, primed for travel on private jets, and a long way from the hustle of the Kardashians. Their thinness was their passport. Diversity on the runways? They ignored that raging debate with the far-off pop of Champagne corks and the laughter of people who don’t clean up their own messes. It’s not my world, nor is it one that piques my curiosity — because it’s all surface and, in a way, secondhand Yves — but, as an image of an elite aspect of society, it holds some truth.
With Paris Fashion Week unusually testy and rife with rumors of departures, and new stars like Demna Gvasalia, the creative director of Balenciaga and the leader of the group at Vetements, suddenly challenging old notions of luxury, no one seems to have a clear picture of anything. Is it a watershed moment that parallels the ideological rifts happening everywhere?
Yesterday, I was really struck by the fashions of Stella McCartney, Veronique Branquinho, and Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski of Hermès, and how, in quite different ways, they refused to be easily categorized. They conjured women whose lives were complex, messy, and enigmatic. Of the three, Branquinho’s aesthetic is the hardest to define, and in a way the most distinctive. I think of her as the queen of the long daytime dress to which she has carefully added romantic or historical elements, like poet’s sleeves or a yoke neckline, the effect more serene and inscrutable than goth. She also has a cool hand with masculine tailoring.
This time, she opened her show with long, magical dresses in black velvet with white ruff-style collars finished with a black satin bow. There were black sequined versions and others in a shimmery material worn with mannish jackets. Vetements is now known for this kind of sack dress (in stretch black velvet or drab floral patterns), but Branquinho has been on this path since the late '90s. The show sagged a bit in the middle, but she returned with another beauty in black velvet, now with a frilled satin bib and the high Flemish collar.
This has been a Paris season of puffer jackets, cropped bombers, and big sloppy sweaters (or sweatshirts) — again, thanks partly to the influence of Vetements. But it’s also McCartney’s turf, and she was in great form yesterday, cutting loose with oversize ruffled knits in shades of hot pink, red, and caramel, boxy quilted shorts (for a woman whose morning mantra is “fuck it”), and some of the best, most stylish puffer jackets we’ve seen this season. McCartney understands that while women love clothes, they don’t necessarily like getting dressed up — in fact, they snigger at the idea of being done up like a candy box. (“I was thinking a lot about day-to-evening dressing,” she said backstage. “It should be easy — an earring and an eye.”) Throughout the show, McCartney offered slip dresses inset with lace, as well as below-the-knee pleated skirts that often combined a color — say, forest green, rose, or peach — with metallic panels. Then she took all that shine and prettiness and knocked it back a bit by layering the skirt with a big sweater and a parka.
Most of the things that Vanhee-Cybulski does to her women’s clothes at Hermès are not visible on the runway: They demand to be seen up close and touched. For instance, one of the key looks in the show was a long-sleeve, belted dress in creamy double-faced cashmere that has an abstract pattern in pale pink and blue-gray. One of the key looks in the show was a long-sleeve, belted dress in creamy double-faced cashmere that has an abstract pattern in pale pink and blue-gray. The softness of both the fabric and the sculptural effect of the pattern were enhanced by the fact that the colors have flecks of white in them — as a result of the weaving process that Vanhee-Cybulski requested. She also asked a supplier of flannel to leave the material untreated; she liked the tiny speckles of brown left in the white cloth. She used it for a high-collared, vaguely safari jacket with patch pockets.
Vanhee-Cybulski, who previously worked at Céline and Martin Margiela, told me she’s interested in breaking archetypes. With Hermès, that begins at the craft level — giving a hooded shearling jacket roundness, or combining bias-cut silk and silk knitting in one dreamy dress. Given her credentials, there’s little doubt that Vanhee-Cybulski could make a bolder statement with her clothes if she chose to.
But does fashion need it? Do women want it? Come to think of it, Vanhee-Cybulski probably has the only job in fashion where her clothes are allowed to speak to connoisseurs, instead of everyone. How liberating is that?