"While it is fashionable among fashion editors to bash Slimane, I thought this look was terrific."

By Eric Wilson
Updated: Mar 11, 2019 @ 11:50 am
PHILIPPE LOPEZ/Getty Images

Midway through the Paris collections, it’s fair to say that designers here are suffering from a collective case of bipolar disorder. That is, the shows are either love letters to some element of romance or they are explorations of the apocalypse, or sometimes both all at once. I love you, I hate you, now we’re all going to die. Would you believe we’ve had a season that has included collections featuring gas masks in a wine cave turned fallout shelter (Marine Serre), a segment on radioactive looking neon sportswear (Anthony Vaccarello at Saint Laurent), and, just now, an unexpectedly sweet turn from Hedi Slimane at Celine?

It’s been challenging, after four days of watching the collections as a new generation of designers replaces one that is all too quickly slipping away, not to wonder if the name on the label really matters any more. Just think how many of the collections from historic brands have seemed completely disconnected from something we used to describe as “heritage.” Slimane’s show at Celine tonight served to underscore how little that word actually means, since the house has been through so many iterations, not only of Phoebe Philo but also of Michael Kors. Slimane is very quickly making a Celine of his own, and, as he did at Saint Laurent and Dior previously, he made his second women’s collection the place for defining that image. This time, Slimane took a sharp turn away from the skinny and cool and moved toward an almost preppy sense of refinement. Here were below-the-knee skirts with kicky dropped pleats, in leather and scratchy tweed varieties; and also a version of a varsity jacket, leather bombers, culottes, and forgiving capes and coats. It was as if Slimane had thrown Courtney Love to the scrapheap of his mood board and replaced her with Ali MacGraw.

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While it is fashionable among fashion editors to bash Slimane, I thought this look was terrific, even as it grew repetitive. My god, I thought, as the checked jackets and jeans tucked into thigh-high shearling boots strode by, then an ecru fisherman’s sweater laced with sequins, then a slick butter-colored leather jacket, then this and then that — these clothes are going to sell. And it’s no wonder other designers are paying attention, and also breaking the rules.

Rushemy Botter and Lisi Herrebrugh, in their debut for the house of Nina Ricci, showed clothes that seemed more connected to the contemporary spirit of Balenciaga. Olivier Rousteing’s collection for Balmain might have been an ode to Chanel for all its tweeds and extensive offerings. And Bruno Sialelli’s first collection for Lanvin was the perfect example of how young designers blend references in a way that might seem, to their elders, as disrespectful or unorthodox, but to them is second nature.

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As the oldest French fashion house to remain in business since its founding, Lanvin holds a special status among its peers. That is the allure of history. The company was started in the late 19th century by Jeanne Lanvin, initially a designer of children’s wear. Clothes for moms came not much later, but even its logo, which resembles a sailboat at sea, is in fact a stylized drawing of a mother embracing her child.

This logo figured prominently in the debut collection of its latest designer, young Bruno Sialelli, formerly of Loewe, who is the third and thus far most convincing one to attempt to save this house since the abrupt departure of Alber Elbaz in 2015. Sialelli included a black skirt printed with the logo in his show, held in the Musée de Cluny, which is focused on the Middle Ages, perhaps explaining the simultaneous appearance of a knight on horseback slaying a dragon. The knight was rendered in sequins on a black velvet halter gown.

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Sialelli’s modern-artisanal aesthetic is very firmly entrenched in that of a growing school of young designers in Paris who trained during the early reign of Nicolas Ghesquière. The others are Natacha Ramsay-Levi at Chloé and Julien Dossena at Paco Rabanne, and their work shares many references and experiences that sometimes blur together between collections. Sialelli’s natural-grain leathers, tiered tunic-like outfits, and Fair Isle knits with the letters “JL” worked into the intarsia, are also elements that would have been familiar to him while working with Jonathan Anderson at Loewe.

Sialelli did, in a way, pay tribute to the Lanvin legacy when he also included a lot of children’s wear that was blown up to adult-size proportions. Sailor suits and cartoon prints, including appearances by Babar the elephant, and toggle coats worn by grown men had a little-boy quality to them that was charming, if you like that sort of thing. However, a curious contrast came at the end with R-rated prints of copulating couples.

Ramsay-Levi, meanwhile, has firmly placed her stamp on Chloé in less than two years. Hers is a more sexual, probably younger, and definitely Frenchier, Chloé girl than that of her predecessor, Clare Waight Keller. In her fall show, a ruched white blouse was topped with a ruff-like neck and worn with too-long cargo jeans that flared slightly below the knees. Some trousers were so slim as to appear as constricting as leggings, with zips in the back of the ankles to allow a woman to wear them with heels. Short shirt-dresses came in toile prints trimmed with lace and longer, looser dresses were detailed with elements of lingerie – sexy, free, and romantic, without being overt.

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Botter and Herrebrugh, who came to the fore through the LVMH Prize with their super playful collection Botter, took a much more serious approach with their first swing at Ricci. This is certainly understandable, and their designs were quite fine: smart tailoring on coats that had a slight bubble shape, plus some scuba and sport references (the outline of a swimsuit appeared on the front of one coat), and a series of voluminously cut trapeze gowns in pop colors, each deeply open in the back. These are what we in fashion call “architectural” designs, which create drama and shape, and are what made several people in the audience think of Balenciaga, past and present. Yet Ricci is a house built on softness and lace, with a signature fragrance that evokes the very essence of the ephemeral – L’Air du Temps – so why here and why now? Well, perhaps because in this particular moment, it’s fairly well proven that history hardly matters, or it is, at the very least, as meaningless as truth.

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