Women’s New York to Paris S/S 2021
Reviews from a distance by our New York based critic Jessica Iredale
Where to start on this fashion season unlike any other? For me, it began and ended on my couch, viewing shows online, not even via livestream, just whenever I got to them. In a normal season, watching fashion week remotely would trigger a massive case of FOMO, but nine months into this surreal year of coronavirus it was just nice to see the industry carrying on.
What started with a dribble of shows in New York eventually gained momentum through London and Milan, building into an X-ray of normalcy in Paris, where the big guns still came out with live, socially distant shows and spectacle. Let’s start there. Nicolas Ghesquière’s Louis Vuitton, held at the impressive LVMH La Samaritaine department store, was one of his best collections in recent memory. More anchored in real life than many of his high-concept, retro-future lineups, the collection was full of cool, pleated tailored pants worn with big belts, oversized dusters and trenches that looked light and moved freely, as well as skater-printed Ts and minidresses. It had color. It had strong proportions. It had vitality. As much as the attitude was confident, fashion-forward and brisk, it was equally nonchalant, ready to go.
Unfortunately, the human touch Ghesquière brought to LV was completely absent from the season’s newsiest collection, Matthew M. Williams debut for Givenchy. Williams is in with the whole Kanye West, Virgil Abloh crew. He got his start designing costumes for Lady Gaga when she was coming up, and he has his own line 1017 Alyx 9SM, which toes the deluxe streetwear line. His appointment to heritage couture house feels like an attempt by LMVH to cash in on the hypey, sneaker- and hardware-obsessed culture and the cult of Williams’ personality. The collection, shown via a look book of ultra high-def, hyper clinical images, was about techno tailoring, bike lock belts, minimalist rave glam, big bags, sleek, comfort footwear like sneakers and slides. It felt very 2-D, almost like fashion VR. If he infused it with lots of “cool” he also drained the blood out of it. We’ll see where it goes.
Other live shows included Chanel: a Hollywood-inspired breeze of pretty things derived from the House that Karl built; Miu Miu, which hit a teenage candy sport sweet spot; Hermès, where Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski turned out a beautifully modernist lineup that combined sensuality with refinement – and lots of leather, naturally. It was as refreshing as a cool dip in a pool. Ami’s nighttime stroll around the Seine made me wish I was there. Gabriela Hearst, a woman of unrepentant fortitude, rose to the occasion of the pandemic by taking her carbon neutral show to Paris for the first time. She delivered a graceful collection of calm under pressure, softening her tailoring, easing dresses into unfussy minimalist goddess garb and emphasizing the tactile with colorful crotchet.
In terms of non-show formats that held one’s attention: Demna Gvasalia’s music video for Balenciaga, featuring models on a brisk, purposeful walk through Paris after dark, set to Corey Hart’s 80s cheesola single “Sunglasses at Night.” They wore oversized everything – coats, suits, tracksuits, streetwear and normcore upcycled and proportioned with Gvasalia’s discerning eye. Why is it so compelling? I don’t know. But I watched the entire 9-minute video, in which nothing but walking and lip-syncing happens, and wanted more. The sunglasses – buggy, throw-back wraparounds – were good too. Jonathan Anderson opted for another show-in-a-box. I didn’t get one but it looked like fun. The cut-out, paper-doll-like images that were plastered all over Instagram revealed big ideas, big proportions, big color. Anderson has used this strange time to experiment rather than tamp down. And he’s coming out on top for it.
In other cities, Pierpaolo Piccioli presented his collection for Valentino in Milan for the first time. A push/pull of paring back on proportions and casualization – shorts, rompers, jeans, mini shifts – and all out romance in boldly colorful floral prints and diaphanous gowns, the collection reflected the moment Valentino style, acknowledging reality but daring to dream. Donatella Versace livestreamed her show, staged with only staff in attendance – no audience – on a set inspired by Atlantis. The metaphor was obvious: rising from the deep in a mishmash of sexy, sporty, tailoring, teensy hemlines and loads of colors. Some of it looked caught in churning tides, but the Versace spirit, ever optimistic, is a wave always worth catching. In London, Simone Rocha stood out with her collection of sober, regal romance, all puffed proportions, bejeweled bosoms, pearls, and broderie anglaise whipped up with Victorian drama. And in the U.S., Tom Ford didn’t put on one of his star-studded shows, but put together a collection of louche Seventies swagger. Sexy and carefree, the clothes were a fluid mix of animal and floral prints, big bright colors, slinky sportiness and fun in the sun with bikinis and glamor caftans. Spending the pandemic by the pool in one of his concoctions could be worse. Looking at nature through his black sunglasses brought a fresh spin to Michael Kors’ collection. Nobody makes urban swagger look better than him like his double belted suede trench coats.