The death of Karl Lagerfeld two weeks ago has been a dark cloud hanging over the fall collections, the full impact of which no one has really had time to digest while on the ceaseless treadmill of fashion. The Paris collections ended on Tuesday with a Chanel show that represented Lagerfeld’s final collection for the house, which now carries forward under the creative direction of his right hand Virginie Viard, with a magical scene that played out in a set designed to look like a winter ski resort with snow-covered chalets and pine trees at the Grand Palais. As the show began with the jingling of bells, the audience observed a minute of silence, which was perhaps more than Lagerfeld would have wanted, but not enough to ever truly do him justice.
The collection was superb, reaching the heights of Chanel at its finest, with graphic houndstooth coats and checked tweed palazzo pants that made a grand entrance in the snow-covered town, quickly followed by sportier skirts and dresses with snowflake patterns worked into the intarsia. Winter boots and winter whites were chased by a segment of bold fuchsia, teal, and bright red looks that varied from functional puffer coats to après-ski knits, in other words, a show filled with the bright pops of humor and luxe that Lagerfeld perfect. The finale of snow queens, including one delightful feathered frock worn by Penélope Cruz, seemed almost angelic in their march, leading to something that is almost unheard of at a fashion show – a standing ovation.
This proved to be an almost a cathartic moment in fashion, when almost no one seems to know where the industry is headed next. So many designers looked backwards this season that it hardly feels like anything is truly new, but there is a sense that real change is coming, whether by choice or by force. Nicolas Ghesquière, perhaps sensing the world is ready to move on from the ironic streetwear moment that has dominated the last several years, actually went further back toward a moment when fashion and street first started to truly meld. His Louis Vuitton collection, set in an recreation of the Pompidou museum erected in a courtyard of the Louvre – a modern to ancient take on irony if ever there was one – seemed fixated on the street look of the '80s, with loudly clashing styles of prints and denim that suggested archetypes of the decade brought into the contemporary era. It’s not for nothing that there is a movement in France to include breakdancing as an official sport in the 2024 Paris Olympics. The sport is hugely popular in France, and its advocates are sincere in their appreciation for a dance that expresses both athleticism and "feelings.”
Ghesquière’s '80s collection is likely to be polarizing, but it brought out many innovative twists on his signature amalgam approach, which brings together captivating Vuitton fabric signatures like quilting and checkerboards (now in New Wave colorations) with styles that blend futuristic and retro in a single garment, especially the leather jackets here.
Meanwhile, there’s a lot of talk that Alexander McQueen is being positioned as fashion’s next billion-dollar brand, which puts a lot of pressure on its designer, Sarah Burton. Her shows have gotten bigger in recent seasons, along with ideas that more ambitiously seek to captivate and provoke. Her fall collection played on the dual English heritages of sartorial traditions and punk disruption – beautifully twisted lace gowns inset with shreds of fringe or undone eyelet hooks, fabulous crimson gowns made of fabric bunched perfectly into rose blossoms, all worn with piles of face jewelry and enormous, battle-ready boots. Her message was particularly convincing, especially timely what with Brexit and all, but one of McQueen’s strengths has always been its elusive nature, with a raw and challenging beauty. It’ll be a real challenge to maintain that special quality on a larger scale.
On Monday afternoon, I stopped by the Ritz to see a new collection from a designer who has worked in various roles in the industry, at big brands and small ones, and now heading one of his own. Marco Zanini, formerly of Halston and Rochas, started his new label, Zanini, with his personal savings, and created exactly to his own standards — fine wool coats and jackets with sumptuous silk gazar linings, crafted with ribbon belts inset in the back that can be drawn tightly for a more feminine silhouette. A couple of fantastic black gowns beaded with panels of jet black crystals were displayed casually on a couch, but even there, you could tell the quality would command a fine price. It’s no surprise the secret’s already out. Just as I arrived, Zanini got word that his collection had been picked up by Dover Street Market worldwide, a dream for any designer, big or small.