Paris Fashion Reinvents the Spectacle

Fresh intimacy at Chanel, humanity at Thom Browne, and a feminine coup d’etat at Miu Miu.

Words by Rachel Tashjian

KRISTEN STEWART AT THE CHANEL SHOW. JULIEN DE ROSA // GETTY IMAGES

Tuesday marked the official end of an oddball fashion month. There were a few standout shows, but it often felt like designers were puzzling over how to reconnect with an audience that’s eager for just the slightest sign that the industry gets them. Or…gets it. We’re not asking for much; just a sense that fashion designers understand what our daily lives are like and what kinds of luxuries might feel good. (I saw a five inch long engraved lighter at Cartier, for example, that set my heart a-racing. But a gizmo-powered dress by Chloe, based on the designer’s passion for nuclear fusion? Not so much.) We want a little surprise, and we want someone to reach out and alight some fantasies we didn’t know we had. No one is deluded enough to think that we’re going to return to the mania-genius of the mid- to late-90s. It’s more that one too many designers feel like they’re treading water. We love Paris when it sizzles; we even love Paris when it drizzles. But Paris when it fizzles? You’re testing us!

Surprisingly, the last clutch of shows, all of which were highlights of the season, were spectacles. I say “surprising” because most of the season’s other great collections were so intimate—The Row in its brevity and details; Dior in its personal silky feelings; Rick Owens in its glam, tender outreach to its freaky fans; and even the massive Bottega Veneta in its presentation of this textured, complicated woman with charged ideas and a life lived at the highest and fullest possible level. But at these other shows, showmanship was harnessed to masterful effect.

The first was Thom Browne, staged at the Palais Garnier, a saccharinely neo-Rococo opera house with creaky floors and golder-than-gold gilded interiors. Fittingly, Browne staged not simply a show but a SHOW, BITCH!, complete with Gwendoline Christie as the emcee and Michaela Jaé Rodriguez shimmying down the runway in a convertible made of tulle. In the past, these over-the-top Browne shows, while always a Paris highlight, have veered into costume melodramas, the issue being the costume feeling of the clothes. But this collection was controlled opulence of the first rank: opera coat dresses in gorgeous colors; then little expertly cut swing coats with bows on the back; the opera coat gals again, this time dragging the coats and revealing Christian Lacroix-esque tailoring beneath; and a handful of Vivienne Westwood-ish punks (including Bella Hadid). Everything was made of broadcloth cotton (!). It was meticulous, especially the perfectly placed polkadots. After the show, Browne said all the clothes were made in New York—but Paris looks good on Browne. Maybe a little romanticism and melancholy bring out his most evolved self. Like how some men need a really fancy hot shave to feel human. Bravo!

THOM BROWNE SPRING 2023 RTW

The Chanel show was as fresh and romantic as biting into an orange slice: a zesty surprise, with a sultry drop of juice left on the lip. Matronly styling and simply odd choices have occasionally weighed down Virginie Viard’s shows, but these little shorts, long and lean jackets, and sheer skirts and gowns were full of verve. Inez and Vinoodh directed a (rather silly, though of course I’m partial to Stewart under director Olivier Assayas’s eye) short film starring Kristen Stewart, in which the star emerges from her hotel and is asked a perfunctory question: “What makes you hopeful about the future?” She pauses, laughs at the stupidity of the query, and then unleashes something elegant but animal: “You know, we’re living in such an accelerated period of growth, it gives me whiplash…it gives me whiplash. You know, it’s exhilarating. And it’s highly pressurized because our identities are these lifelong, evolving art projects.”

The film played behind the runway as the models walked, and though the seats went back some five rows, I was struck at how visible and within grasp the clothes (and as a result, the women) are compared to Karl Lagerfeld’s enormous supermarkets and brasseries. It’s clear that Viard wants to scale down the feeling of Chanel, and remind us of those century-old clothes that touched something so much at the center of women’s lives and feelings that they recharted history. I also noted a handful of plus size models, two of whom I hadn’t seen on any other runways. This wasn’t merely Viard’s best collection yet, but an excellent collection by all counts. The gowns were particular highlights, for their simplicity and grace infused with utter Chanel-ness.

Of course, Stewart’s involvement is a gift. (She was also in attendance at the show.) Since Viard took the reins, Stewart seems to have emerged as a sort of avatar for the brand, almost bigger than the designer. (Which isn’t that unusual, except that Lagerfeld was such a celebrity.) And I love Stewart as a Chanel girl—she really embodies the mercurial, lightening-bolts-emanating-from-the-fingertips energy of Chanel’s 1920s and ’30s designs. She conjures the original Chanel concept of a complicated woman obsessively making sense of her time, ironically through her own solipsism. Stewart is never making big statements about the world but her pointy chin and mischievous pout tell us something about what’s appealing to a woman’s soul. I don’t know if I can think of a savvier match between brand and celebrity. Stewart telegraphs what Viard, who is shy (which I think is very chic), cannot.

CHANEL SPRING 2023

Mrs. Prada, on the other hand, could never be accused of being shy about her ideas. The Miu Miu collection that she showed on Tuesday was a classic journey through her obsessions, her paranoias, and her diagnosis of our times. (Much of the Instagram commentariat said that they felt they were watching a late 2000s Prada show.) This was, without surprise, one of the best collections of the week, packed with strange messages about protection, sexuality, and kicking ass at the end of the world. A webby layering of tissue-like T-shirts in dystopian nudes and beiges was worked and reworked and then disappeared, only to show up several looks later, yanked over little crystal-encrusted cocktail suits like a sultry woman’s battle armor. Buckles and pockets were slung around the hips as belts and tiny skirts and bras. The gear becomes decorative, or maybe the decorative becomes gear. The latter reading seems more Mrs. Prada: that which makes us “feminine” is what will help us survive. It’s tactical hotness!

MIU MIU SPRING 2023 RTW

(One detail I keep thinking over from my interview with Mrs. Prada this past summer, for our profile of her leadership of Miu Miu for our October issue: her T-shirt was creased as if she’d just pulled it out of the laundry bag (or its packaging) and didn’t care to iron it. At the time, I thought it was summer nonchalance; now her rumpled Prada and Miu Miu collections have me thinking it was an experiment or a design in the making.)

And again, a few genius strokes of celebrity: Emily Ratajkowski in buckle bra and a leather skirt with enormous cargo pockets, looking like she could squat down at any moment and annihilate us with a laser; and FKA Twigs closing the show in a cargo miniskirt and ribbed pullover sweater. Oh boy, does Twigs have a runway walk. How invigorating to see such power embodied on the runway.

And lastly, Nicolas Ghesquière staged a jumbo Louis Vuitton fun house in the Louvre. Models descended from a sort of abstracted flower or horseless carousel, dressed in Elizabethan collars remixed as vests and panniers, and trenches with blown-up buttons and suits with amplified zippers. I’ve never seen Ghesquière be so funny. You know: “Ooh, she’s got a Louis Vuitton clutch…but IT’S ENORMOUS!” (It was a little Marc Jacobs, if I do say so myself.) It made me feel like I was watching a Brian De Palma movie about luxury taking over the world, eating everyone alive, licking its luxury fingers for the crumbs of our Vuitton accessories. And we’re all just loving it, begging to be eaten!!!

Sorry, getting carried away. At a technical level, this was one of the month’s most genuinely weird collections, what we in the biz (or maybe just me in the biz) calls a Second Day Focalizer. You know: it might just get better looking the next day. (Also in this category: Loewe’s Surrealism of a year ago; nearly every Balenciaga ready-to-wear collection; and some but not all Comme des Garçons.) Ghesquière is never a designer who will rest on his laurels. He found success young and immediately, but never stops throwing himself forward. The designers currently in existential throes about how to be more creative—and there are many, and many of them are young and recently-ish arrived at big new jobs—should take a few pages from the Ghesquière way of living.

LOUIS VUITTON SPRING 2023

 

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This story originally appeared in harpersbazaar.com