Paris Fashion Week, feminist and multicultural
IWD this year is dedicated to “Women in the Changing World of Work: 50-50 by 2030,” an ideal goal in fashion, an increasingly women-led industry. Setting a new high for participation by women’s designers 34 of the 82 shows on the official Chambre Syndicale calendar were designed by women.
Fittingly, at Christian Dior the house’s signature gray was banished from the catwalk and replaced by 50 shades of blue, whose predominant hue was what the French call bleu de travail. Last season, Dior’s creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri sent out a T-shirt reading “We Should All Be Feminists,” and this season she had a quartet of models dressed in worker's pants and jackets. In what most people viewed as the standout show of the season, Balenciaga, designer Demna Gvasalia had women on the move in mannish coats, cut asymmetrically, as if incorrectly buttoned. Parkas, duffels, windowpane check coats and trenches – defining a new edgy sophistication for a creative lady.
At Miu Miu, Miuccia Prada presented modern exoticism – with giant shawl collars; wide après-ski parkas and fake fur coats in sherbet hues, all covered in rhinestones and crystals. For many women want their feminism glamorous. While at Chanel, Star Trek Captain Kirk Lagerfeld made the future dreamy again – with Space Age super heroines in shining star-at-night cocktail and silver shearling coats.
At Valentino, Pierpaolo Piccioli's vision of Feminist Romanticism mingled Victoria reserve with the Pop Art colours of Italian design movement Memphis in superb long caftans, dresses and coats.
Across the city, collections marked the return to the power shoulders of the 80s, like in the opening big show of the season, Saint Laurent Paris. Creative director Anthony Vaccarello showed brutal romanticism with deep gorge patent leather cocktails; tuxedos extended with chainmail shoulders and one-meter-long shearling gloves that spiked above the shoulder. Nothing submissive about these ladies. By the end of the week, however, the French advertising authority was demanding this house pull its latest “porno chic” ad campaign, featuring a lady in fishnet tights and an open crotch, on the grounds that this was a “degrading and humiliating representation of a person.”
Elsewhere, though, the dominant trend was a colorful and romantic take on feminism; from the enormous enveloping coats in wild floral and ethnic color combinations at Dries Van Noten, a global compendium of prints on an all-star and multi-ethnic cast of uber models, to the mannish wool redingotes paired with lace blouses at Lanvin that were assertive yet feminine. Ideas from athletic sports were in abundance – most notably at the Girl Power show of the week Fenty x Puma, Rihanna’s collaboration collection with the German sportswear giant. The rock star had her cast literally walk down the reading tables of the National Library of France on rue de Richelieu, ripping up books at the finale. What the cardinal would have thought one can only guess!
Throughout there was a folkloric tendency – Aran sweaters at Saint Laurent and Sonia Rykiel, and rough tartan dresses or Native American fur bomber jackets at Louis Vuitton – though all of them blended into modern urban kit for the busy, creative career woman.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks in France, the Chambre Syndicale – French fashion’s governing body – worked closely with the Paris Police Prefecture to allay visitors fears of any attack on such a high-profile industry like fashion. Security was tight at all shows, even for smaller events, like APC’s 30th anniversary, where over a dozen armed policemen were in evidence outside on rue Madame. While at major shows, groups of detectives were spotted in the crowds outside and inside.
Moreover, while attendance by major magazines, department store buyers and social media influencers seemed high, many showrooms reported far lighter traffic from international boutique owners.
No fashion week is complete without a polemic, and this one was dominated by allegations by casting director James Scully that teenage models were made to wait in a cold, darkened stairwell as the Balenciaga casting director went for a three-hour lunch, and that Lanvin had allegedly made calls to three model agencies requesting that they not send any models of color for their show.
In the fallout, Balenciaga fired their casting director Maida Gregori Boina, even though she vehemently protested her innocence. Moreover, the accusation very much angered Lanvin’s creative director Bouchra Jarrar. On Wednesday, March 1 after her show in Paris’ City Hall she told FashionNetwork.com: “How can someone seriously suggest we would do that? Accusing our couture house of racism. I think we are intelligent enough to know that a creator in Paris would never anything do that!” Incidentally, her show starred Puerto Rican star Joan Smalls.
On the morning of Sunday, March 5, a small group of protestors marched outside Balenciaga; complaining about the alleged lack of models of color in major Paris shows. Ironically, the veteran Sudanese supermodel Alek Wek walked in Balenciaga, stunningly beautiful in a black velvet gown with a huge taffeta bow. She even posed for Instagram in the rain – it came down all week in Paris – outside the show, with a bunch of flowers that Balenciaga had given to each member of their cast.
In favor of immigration
Matter of fact, this was a Paris season of inclusion. Where designers spoke out very publically against jingoism, and Donald Trump’s travel blockade. At the LVMH Prize inside the giant luxury conglomerate’s headquarters, one of the contestants, Siberian-born, but Crown Heights, New York-based designer Maria Jahnkoy told listeners from her studio via a Skype on her Apple iPad. “I was too scared to leave New York for Paris in case they did not let me back in!”
Leave it to Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton – LVMH’s biggest brand – to stage a visual manifesto for inclusion, and in favor of immigration inside, Cour Marly of the Louvre, the first ever runway show inside the world’s greatest museum.
His show broke down boundaries between genders, town and country, night and daywear and even his casting, before Ghesquière told editors backstage: “I wanted to show through fashion that immigration has always been incredibly important for the evolution of civilization.” His Vuitton show boasted five models of Asian origin, and six young ladies of color. For the record, their names are: Janaye Furman, Theresa Hayes, Shelby Hayes, Manuela Sanchez, Selena Forrest and Elibeidy Danis.
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