At Paris Fashion Week, female designers shine brightly

Maria Grazia Chiuri, Bouchra Jarrar, Phoebe Philo, Stella McCartney and Rei Kawakubo among others made strong showings in Paris, increasing the profile of women designing womenswear

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2016, 8:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2016, 8:01pm

It’s always been ironic that, in womenswear, most of the head designers and creative directors are men, while customers and nearly all the staff (from the design studio to the shop floor) are mostly women. We are slowly seeing a change, however, as more women are leading the way at global fashion houses, as seen at this Paris Fashion Week – and it couldn’t have come soon enough.

Maria Grazia Chiuri is one of the new guards of female designers in fashion’s top creative positions. She’s the first woman to ever take the helm of Christian Dior, and her hotly anticipated debut showed a fresh, impressive vision for the brand, infusing feminism (quite literally, with one shirt stating, “we should all be feminists”) with sensual femininity (those pretty sheer dresses and skirts) and youthful, athletic prowess (fencing jackets, flats and sporty visors). Next season, we hope to see more exploration of Dior’s signature tailoring on her dresses and skirts.

Then there is Bouchra Jarrar at Lanvin’s womenswear, who surprised guests at her first fashion show for the oldest fashion house in France. Flat and low heel bejewelled sandals along with pyjama inspired way of dressing and luxe fabrics projected grown up elegance. Having worked under Nicolas Ghesquiere at Balenciaga; Jarrar made her name as a sophisticated and minimalist designer who cuts well on the female body, with a penchant for tuxedo jackets, chic trousers and silky shirting.

Along with the aforementioned women, Paris also saw appearances by established female designers who’ve been at the top of the game for years, such as Phoebe Philo at Celine, Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons, Isabel Marant and Stella McCartney. Sarah Burton, creative director at Alexander McQueen, has shown to be a masterful and worthy successor of McQueen. And then there are the icons like Donatella Versace, Simone Rocha and Tory Burch, still going strong.

Stella McCartney, in her finale, swapped a poker-faced procession of models in favour of laughing and carefree girls who participated in a dance routine that had audiences swinging to the beat and trying to film on their smartphones at the same time. Clothes were sporty and voluminous with drawstrings creating shape. Some outfits had a distinctive rural look in earthy hues, utility khaki and navy. Others had printed slogans celebrating girl power and saying no to leather (McCartney is the world’s first staunchly vegetarian designer fashion label). Althought it was packed full of politics, the show was undeniably punchy, celebratory and rather empowering.

Clare Waight Keller at Chloe has over the past few seasons provided consistently desirable collections. This spring/summer collection was crisp, joyful and incredibly chic. Isabel Marant, meanwhile, paired floaty ruffles, floral summer dresses and workwear denims in modern silhouettes more voluminous than she has before.

Phoebe Philo’s show was one of the favourites, a beautiful spring/summer 2017 collection that was intelligent, colourful and sensual – and likely to dictate fashionista tastes.

Chitose Abe founded Sacai in 1998, but only recently found global fame. Today, Abe shows the way for a new generation of Japanese designers who are trying to win over women who value creativity, craft and a bit of a twist. Cue playful tartans, herringbone and pinstripes for next spring, with her signature pleated peplum miniskirts and layered jackets.

And while she might not be a trained designer, one can’t deny the Rihanna effect on millennial fashion. By showing her Fenty Puma collection for the first time in Paris, the superstar singer sent social media into meltdown with her ready-to-wear line of men’s and womenswear – caps, hoodies, kimono track trousers, silky Japanese print bomber jackets in saccharine pinks and lilacs all inspired by, in the singer’s own words, “imagining Marie Antoinette at the gym”.

There were also celebrations in Paris for Martine Sitbon, a fabulous French designer who as creative director in the late 1980s revived Chloe, and most recently co-founded Hong Kong-owned, Parisian fashion label Rue du Mail. Sitbon celebrated the launch of her retrospective book, which provides an overview of this influential female talent.