How Designers Are Breaking Records at Paris Fashion Week
Fashion shows keep getting bigger, but have we reached peak runway?
Contrary to anything resembling common sense, what with the state of the over polluted world today and the general pullback from traditional retail by consumers, fashion is in expansion mode. From New York to Paris, and everywhere in between, designers have suddenly decided it’s perfectly fine to show 100 looks or more in a single runway show, with catwalk presentations that now seem interminable. Not since the 1980s have shows been this long or this chock full of looks, many of them so indistinguishable that we’re not always sure if the same outfit hasn’t passed by a few times already. Some shows are so inflated that they lasted nearly half an hour.
Not that long ago, it was considered old-fashioned to have such big collections. In modern times, a show consisting of 40 looks was considered standard for shows that lasted on average about 10 minutes, 60 was not unusual among the bigger, marquee designers, and 80 looks was practically bloviating, but still tolerable for the rare birds whose advertising budgets justified such extravagance.
But this season has seen several shows with more than 100 looks each, so many that the designers had to do away with the traditional finale, for fear their audiences might revolt. Balenciaga had 109. Dolce & Gabbana had 128 (normal for them, but still). Giorgio Armani had 103. Saint Laurent had 103, too. Gucci and Balmain came close in the mid-80s and Dior hit 90. That’s a major shift to happen out of the blue.
There’s plenty of reasons for this abundance, mind you: Armani combined his women’s and men’s collections in one co-ed show this season. Balenciaga did away with its pre-collections, so this was the whole enchilada for the season. But, jeez, people, have you ever heard of editing?
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Balenciaga’s extremely long show did make some sense, as designer Demna Gvasalia had described his collection as an ode to customers. You could imagine a video of the show playing on a loop in his stores, where they could pick out looks and wear them as the models did. But in person at the show, the lighting made it tough to make out much of the detail. The silhouettes seemed to shift on the axis from horizontal to vertical, meaning the over-wide shoulders of seasons past had shifted to extra-long coats for fall. Another group of jackets had stiffly crimped shoulders, as if they still had the hangers in them. Then came a passage of bright monochromatic knits, dresses, and tops with hoops woven into the necklines, making the wearers look kind of like spacemen who had removed their helmets. Meanwhile, the basic suits and jackets, the checkerboard jeans, the shopper totes and more that you could pick out of the collection were striking for their — dare I say? — approachability. And the gowns, especially a sleeveless one made of looped thread in silver, were sensational, but not easy for most people to wear. So, I guess you could say there’s something for everyone.
Clare Waight Keller’s latest offering for Givenchy was also filled with new ideas, and some older ones, too. The Fortuny-like pleated dresses at the heart of the collection, printed with a floral pattern, were beautiful, but then they did seem a tad repetitive after the 10th or so. They tended to overshadow the many smart belted coats with puffed up shoulders in the show, which looked really cool and powerful, as did a new, looser cut of a white blouse worn with a long flat black bow.
Speaking of cool, Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino knows when to move on from a hot look, even one that he helped create. More than anyone, Piccioli is responsible for the popularity of the lavishly cut tent dresses seen in pop colors on runways and red carpets everywhere these days, but he’s ready for something fresh. His collaboration with Undercover designer Jun Takahashi this season brings an entirely new perspective to Valentino, one that meshes the romantic with something perhaps a little sinister. It’s not normal, for instance, to see a ballgown printed with images of roses, a marble statue of a couple’s embrace, and a snake. Throughout the collection appeared haunting messages as well: “You thought I was too dark until I stretched into a galaxy.”
For something completely different in Paris this season, Tommy Hilfiger and Zendaya introduced their new collaboration with a massive #TommyNow production that was, to say the least, pretty amazing. Beverly Johnson, Pat Cleveland, and — smacking her own bottom — Grace Jones vamped on the runway. Tyra Banks smized from the audience, a few seats over from Gigi Hadid. A troupe of roller skaters warmed up the crowd to disco hits from the seventies, and the show itself was a tribute to the impact made by a famous 1973 fashion show called the Battle of Versailles. That event was a fundraiser dreamed up by the p.r. genius Eleanor Lambert (creator of the International Best Dressed List, the CFDA, and pretty much everything we know as American fashion today), in which American designers were pitted against the French. As the story goes, the Americans, including Stephen Burrows and Halston, were the underdog winners, but besides bringing their spirit, they also declared an important victory by using a large cast of black models who stole the show.
So Tommy and Zendaya, along with the stylist Law Roach, used their microphone to make a positive statement about diversity, well and good, with an all-black cast of models that included different sizes and ages. While it was a blast to watch, and probably sold a truckload of see-now-buy-now jeans, glazed burgundy leather jackets, paisley printed suits, and zodiac-signed T-shirts, there wasn’t a lot more to the collection itself than that. Several of the models wore nearly the same outfits at the same time. The idea was probably to show off the versatility of Zendaya’s designs, but the effect was strangely on par with that of those designers who showed 100 looks or more — maybe a little too much of a good thing.