Seasons are shifting, retail is tough and the fashion world is in crisis – that is, if you believe the headlines. The industry needs a new system, but it’s hard to corral hundreds of brands into agreement. While a brand such as Valentino is growing fast, touching US$1 billion in sales last year (with Moncler hot on its heels), many others are struggling.
Most brands continue to stick to a schedule that’s been operating for 100 years – collections for spring-summer are debuted in autumn, and autumn-winter lines are shown in early spring – but others are offering a fast-fashion solution, whereby stores and clients buy straight from the catwalk and clothes are delivered in a few weeks. This discordancy is chipping away at what used to be a strictly regimented and regulated system.
However, as many theorists will attest, the most productive periods creatively come during times of struggle, insecurity and strife. It’s still possible to believe that, in high fashion, talented designers (and we do not mean stylists-cum-designers) are advancing aesthetic ideas of beauty.
New York Fashion Week reminded us that sportswear and celebrity make for obvious bedfellows: Kanye West launched another Adidas collaboration with a gig at Madison Square Garden and Rihanna tapped her huge fashion clout by teaming up with Puma.
Rebecca Minkoff, Tory Burch and Diane von Furstenberg all offered items from the catwalk for immediate sale – recognising that today’s younger clients want instant gratification. Tommy Hilfiger customers are already able to buy the label’s collection straight from the catwalk and Tom Ford will follow suit in September.
Other New York standouts included Victoria Beckham’s charming checks and Marc Jacobs going gothic with Lady Gaga on the catwalk. Proenza Schouler scooped the prize for the most sophisticated collection of the season, along with Thom Browne.
In London, Burberry shook things up by announcing that it’ll show both its menswear and womenswear collections on the catwalk in September. This season, it showed off autumn-winter’s top trend – the military look – in all its fancy regalia. Military honours were shared with Mulberry, Temperley and Topshop Unique, so, along with wool felt coats that had a uniform vibe, and citric dresses, there were lots of new bag options.
The British capital has become very good at doing covetable fashion, with exquisitely hyper-feminine boudoir dresses, coats with talisman prints and heirloom jewels at Alexander McQueen, the brand having returned to the London catwalk for this season only. New mum Simone Rocha created gauzy Victorian-style apron dresses with fine embroideries. Equally desirable were Erdem’s vintage 1930s Hollywood looks, embellished with velvet ribbons, lace appliqués and exotic botanical embroideries.
Craftsmanship has become another London hallmark, exemplified by Mary Katrantzou, who delivered pieces with complex prints and embroideries inspired by rhinestone cowboys and storybook princesses.
Disrupting the status quo was JW Anderson, who challenged us with ideas such as asymmetric sports tops worn over miniskirts fashioned from whimsical patchworks, dresses with undulating hemlines and zips that deconstructed tunics and trousers.
In Milan, the talk at Giorgio Armani, the morning after the Academy Awards, was all about how the best actor, Leonardo DiCaprio, looked in his bespoke Armani tux. Armani (who has just banned fur from his collections) had moved on, and was working black velvet looks on everything from tracksuits to starry black-tie glamour.
Given it was awards season, Hollywood types were thin on the ground in Italy’s fashion capital. Filling the celebrity vacuum were bright young things from Asia, such as Kitty Zhang Yuqi, Liu Wen, Dee Hsu and Crystal Mu – and with them came their massive social-media followings.
Milanese silhouettes were generally away from the body and in some areas, such as the sleeves, voluminous. Trousers were high-waisted and baggy or cropped short. Skirts were similarly modest, or micro and worn with thigh boots. The underlying themes in Milan were checks, checks and more checks: from tartan (Bottega Veneta, Prada and Tod’s) to chequerboard (Fausto Puglisi in clashing mixes and Ferragamo), houndstooth (Dolce & Gabbana) and Prince of Wales (Giorgio Armani and Marni).
It was also a very bold graphic season, whether it was the prints and patterns, the clashing 80s colours (notably Pucci and Moschino) or the maximalism of Gucci. A dark, dreamy bohemian look was worked in richly coloured panné velvet, silks with gilded prints and long skinny Lurex scarves at Etro and Roberto Cavalli created a heady, decadent vibe.
The military theme marched on Milan, too, with combat parkas and cavalry jackets at DSquared2 and martial regalia gussying up the toy-soldier tailcoats at Dolce & Gabbana, shown with expensive, crystal-embellished fairy-tale dresses in the brand’s Disney-themed collection.
Ending the fashion month in a freezing Paris, editors were kept guessing by bouts of sunshine then snow. Big stars of screen and stage came to sit front row (Selena Gomez, Eva Longoria, Kanye West, Jessica Alba and Bradley Cooper) and on the catwalks we saw the return of past favourites such as Lara Stone and Arizona Muse.
Catwalk shows were tamer than we have become accustomed to, some labels putting aside the gimmicks to focus on craft and the core of the brand reimagined for “today’s woman”, whose shopping habits are ever harder to predict.
Spending by consumers in developing countries such as China is shifting and luxury has become overexposed. So how do you balance the power and reach of social media with the inevitable cheapening effect it can have on a brand?
Chanel’s show, where everyone got a front-row seat, and Saint Laurent’s intimate couture-style presentation both suggested their designers wanted to cut through the white noise and present a distillation of the essence of their storied brands. A sense of tradition was in the Paris air and perhaps this just goes to show how differently this city, the home of haute couture, does fashion compared with the newer, faster New York, which is rushing to embrace quick digital fixes.
Anderson’s show at Loewe was one of the best in the French capital this season – showing that his fresh interpretation of the leather brand is maturing and paying off. Grown-up elegance also took a turn in Valentino’s ballet-inspired collection – so light and graceful were the looks that fluttered down the catwalk.
So, what were the hottest tickets in Paris this season? Balenciaga’s new designer debut, for sure, and the tiny show at Saint Laurent (there were a mere 100 seats at the brand’s newly renovated maison), where '80s and '90s high glamour reigned in sequinned jumpsuits and metallic minidresses, all with structured shoulders.
Christian Dior went dark, tailored and seductive, with the studio managing an impressive collection despite having no big-name creative director – post Raf Simons – to chip in with a few hero pieces and some pizzazz.
Louis Vuitton, meanwhile, was dynamically crafted, with graphic colours and sculpted pieces layered over fluid ones worn with punkish accessories.
Trends were hard to pin down, but animal prints, dark gothic drama and oversized and deconstructed fits (very much informed by Maison Martin Margiela’s designs) were popular. Givenchy’s animal prints were very dramatic and desirable but its odd frilly Egyptian prints were rather déclassé. Elie Saab made a rebellious, youthful turn with a moody, gypsy vibe in beautifully embellished outfits, which went to show that frills, flounce and romantic boho aren’t going away – see Sonia Rykiel and even Margiela.
On the masculine front, workwear utility was popular, with cool denims and oversized white shirts making waves at Miu Miu, Kenzo, Balenciaga, Ellery, Hermès and Céline.
Finally – and we never saw this coming – voluminous, padded and oversized outerwear (sometimes fur-trimmed) appeared all over the place, from Acne Studios, Sacai and Sonia Rykiel, to even Miu Miu and Balenciaga.