Paris Fashion Week Kicks Off With a Major Battle Between Dior and Gucci
The Paris collections opened on Monday with a battle royale, as Dior and Gucci, two of fashion’s biggest luxury players, faced off in a surprising matchup that was, in the short term, a bid to capture more eyeballs, and, in the long term, part of a majorly knockout fight for market share. Designers are notoriously competitive, as we all know, but the luxury conglomerates that own their houses are downright brutal in their efforts to grow bigger, faster, and stronger than anyone else, at any cost.
Case in point: Gucci, the explosively powerful prizefighter owned by Kering, which normally opens the Milan collections, moved its show this season to a prime position at the start of the Paris collections. Not to be scooped, Dior, owned by Kering’s rival LVMH, advanced its show by a day, so it would still be the first big event of Paris, preceding Gucci by six hours.
While this may seem like inside baseball to viewers watching at home, it does make a difference, and Dior — led by artistic director Maria Grazia Chiuri — was more than up for the challenge by its Italian neighbor. Chiuri has slowly, methodically, and patiently built a case for her vision of a feminist, sensual, and unabashedly unpractical Dior, where sheer dresses and visible underwear are part and parcel to her aesthetic. She has faced her doubters. But she has remained true in her convictions and she has ultimately persevered — her spring collection being her finest to date, energized by a mesmerizing dance performance in a stunning black space. Israeli choreographer Sharon Eyal led a troupe, outfitted in leggings and tights embroidered in the Dior style, through a shower of rose petals, as each dancer slowly moved across a vast black tent, erected for the occasion somewhere in the Bois de Boulogne. They joined into pairs, and then groups, creating hypnotic movements that both distracted and enhanced the clothes being simultaneously presented on Chiuri’s runway.
Those designs were inspired by dance, though the reference was loose enough to allow for some fabulous daywear and dresses that really showed Chiuri’s strength of creating gowns that are simultaneously conservative in their full lengths and perverse in their transparency. A lengthy opening of neutral khaki and severely black dresses was interrupted by surprises of tie-die and denim, and textured skirts that looked incredibly intricate, even in the darkened room with so much going on. One favorite look was a sheer dress of black netting with a skirt of multi-colored tulle, worn like an X-ray over a black fishnet bodysuit.
Gucci’s Paris debut, meanwhile, was a highly anticipated event, so much so that the entire block surrounding the historic Le Palace theater was mobbed with screaming fans. Gucci’s designer, Alessandro Michele, has so successfully rewritten the codes of luxury over the last five years that it seemed fairly reasonable for him to start a show with a shock film, with a floppy model meandering, or possibly overdosing, in a nice old house (I worry she may need medical assistance), that might have been inspired by New Wave cinema, or might have had something to do with current horror movies — who knows? It was disruptive, anyway. Inside, the show was laid out around the rows of seats, with models entering from the back of the theater and walking down the aisles to the stage so that most guests got only a good look at their backsides.
While the event could have benefited from a better choreographer, it was still pretty fabulous when Jane Birkin — Jane Birkin, people! — suddenly stood up from her seat and sang “Baby Alone in Babylone.” And the clothes, as deliriously outré as ever, had a lot going for them as well — particularly the dresses of flip-flapping fringe, and the guys who wore droopy Gucci underpants, and the handbags shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head, and the jacket and the top painted with the face of Dolly Parton, and the lady with the live cockatoo on her shoulder … well, this is Michele’s personal trip, so don’t expect some sort of rational explanation for what happened here. At best, I noticed more of a hippie vibe in the tailoring of corduroy suits, with their flaring trousers, and disco tops, which I rather liked.
It’s hard to say exactly who won the day, as the shows turned out to be so different, but I’m sure if you look on social media, you’ll get a better count.