Of all the fashion clichés with very little basis in reality, none may be so persistent as the myth that designers are just a bunch of scheming meanies.
Whether in The Devil Wears Prada or Zoolander or on Saturday Night Live (think Maya Rudolph spoofing Donatella Versace), designers have been hilariously portrayed in popular culture as imperious, poisonous, even villainous. But, in fact, a few historic rivalries notwithstanding, most of them get along surprisingly well.
As we come to the end of a tumultuous year, it bears noting that today’s designers have embarked on what appears to be a charm campaign, perhaps in an effort to cast their industry in a more favorable light. Everywhere you looked during the most recent runway season, designers were showing up to support one another.
Donna Karan and Diane von Furstenberg made the journey to attend Ralph Lauren’s car-themed show in Bedford, N.Y. Alessandro Michele, Pierpaolo Piccioli, and Anthony Vaccarello sat front row at Versace in Milan, where the real Donatella and a cast of OG supermodels created a loving homage to the legacy of her late brother, Gianni. In Paris, Alber Elbaz came out for the Valentino show, Maria Grazia Chiuri was among the guests at Loewe, and Azzedine Alaïa stopped by Louis Vuitton.
It’s an up-with-fashion moment at a time when people could surely use a mood boost.
“We’re all really friends,” says Julien Dossena, the creative director at Paco Rabanne, who represents a growing coterie of stars who’ve come into their own in Paris over the past few years. Through both jobs and competitions, such as the LVMH Prize, that bring together young talents with established players in an intense environment, designers are forming networks that didn’t exist so publicly in the past.
As a former member of Nicolas Ghesquière’s design team at Balenciaga, Dossena belongs to one of the most prestigious cliques of the moment, a group that also includes Natacha Ramsay-Levi, the new creative director at Chloé, who previously worked with Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton; the menswear designer Alexandre Mattiussi, of Ami; and the shoe designer Pierre Hardy. Dossena and Ghesquière routinely attend each other’s shows, and both could also be found at Ramsay-Levi’s début this season. Rather than dismissing his protégée as an up-and-coming Eve Harrington, Ghesquière told The New York Times how exciting it had been “for all of us to see her rise and create her signature.”
“We formed a bond working together,” Dossena says. “So it’s important for us to cheer for each other. We’re a family.”
It’s not just designers who are participating in the current love-in. Organizers of fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan, and Paris have all made a real effort to make their cities literally shine, encouraging designers to set shows outdoors or near monuments that had previously been off-limits. (Saint Laurent used a twinkling Eiffel Tower as a backdrop, while L’Oréal put on a runway show featuring Jane Fonda and Helen Mirren on the Champs-Élysées.)
Even magazine editors, who are a truly nihilistic lot, seem to be facing their daily adversities and existential crises with a stiff upper lip, and sometimes even a smile. A few publicists recounted their awe at seeing Anna Wintour, normally the first out the door after a finale, pause after each show to chitchat and pose for selfies. Well, business is tough for everyone.
“We are all living in a confusing time,” Zac Posen told me at the start of the season, when he invited editors to personal previews of his spring collection in his New York City showroom.
Posen decided to forgo the usual runway hoopla and concentrate on more practical clothes, including preppy cotton shirting separates and some delightfully upbeat party dresses in bright MTV colors. He said he wanted to put a message of positivity into the world and asked his friend Kate Upton to model the clothes. Of course she showed up.
“Optimism, dreaming, and relief are more important than ever,” Posen said. “Our job is to create beauty and give people a platform for escape.”
“Optimism” has become a contagious refrain among designers. Dries Van Noten, Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton, and Piccioli, the creative director of Valentino, all used that word to describe their collections. In comments to Women’s Wear Daily, Piccioli compared the current atmosphere with that of the late ’70s, concluding, “We don’t really know what is changing, but reacting with creativity and optimism is the key.”
If that sounds like wishful thinking, it’s not. After a month of looking at bright, poppy colors in the spring collections (pink lavender, cherry tomato, and lime punch were among the top hues cited in a Pantone Color Institute report on New York Fashion Week), I could sense a new attitude among the fashion crowd. In the Céline atelier on the final day of shows in Paris, there was the publicity whiz Karla Otto, whom I’ve never seen in anything but black, wearing a bright pink sweater. She was as surprised about it as anyone.
“You know, I just bought three new dresses, and they’re all pink,” she said. “I keep thinking, ‘What’s happening to me?’ ”
For more stories like this, pick up the December issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download now.