Paris, we have a problem.
Unfortunately, when Baron Haussmann oversaw the redevelopment of the city in the 19th century, he didn’t foresee the contingencies of the 2023 fashion show. Consequently there are still many picturesque narrow streets with not nearly enough space for the ever larger and often near hysterical crowds that now gather outside the shows.
Every brand it seems, now wants its Pharrell Moment (Pharell Williams’s first show as Creative Director for Louis Vuitton in June on the Pont Neuf brought the centre of town and the internet to a standstill. (Publicity) job done.
Factor in 29 degree heat over the weekend, the off the charts blood pressure of drivers held up for an hour or more in gridlock while crowds spill off pavements taking pictures of one another, blocked entrances and exits and armed police whose ineffectualness seems to be in inverse ratio to their aggression – at some point someone’s going to get hurt.
It was a similar story at Hermès, which used to avoid the celebrity tactics of other houses. Once inside, all was a (semi) oasis of calm. The temporary planting of sea grasses and wildflowers must have rivalled Sir Elton’s annual floristry bill, but it was lovely, even if the lack of air con (everywhere) meant the audience, including a very rested looking Martha Stewart, was in meltdown even before the show lights went up. Pity VIPs like Lily Allen, who were dressed in full Autumn looks (Allen’s was a stone coloured leather Hermès jumpsuit, with copper-coloured hair).
On the plus side, this was designer Nadège Vanhee’s best show since she joined Hermès nine years ago. With a background at Celine, The Row and Martin Margiela, she always had the right credentials, but in this collection the stars – and Hermès’ magnificent workshops – aligned to create the sleekest, most luxurious and youthful of Hermès clothes. Laser-cut leather apron dresses, stripy, leather-trimmed trench coats, cotton tailored jumpsuits and silky knit tube dresses and skirts in shades of claret and taupe – all worn with flat sandals – captured the slick, understated ease that is the stuff of billionaire dreams.
Over at Valentino (more shrieking crowds and a cheery Florence Pugh in a blush pink Valentino trouser suit), creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli continued where he left off at July’s couture show... with more delectable clothes that synthesise the colour and femininity that have always been Valentino hallmarks, with a modern appreciation of effortless elegance – and a peppering of diverse bodies.
The show opened with a live performance from the British singer FKA twigs and her co-dancers in nude coloured, stretch Valentino underwear – literally the basis for much of what followed. Highlights included a slim lasered wool top, composed of cut out white doves, over bare skin and blue jeans, exquisitely draped long dresses, gathered at the hip; knitted silk maxis and many floaty chiffon gowns with cut outs - and, as elsewhere, the oversized shirt, which, in increasingly hot summers, seems to be the new jacket.
This is a brand that celebrates the body without seeming to objectify it - the nude statues on the balconies overlooking the internal courtyard at the École des Beaux Arts, would approve.
At Balenciaga (more surging crowds), creative director Demna, celebrated the women who mean most to him, including his mother, who opened the show. This made for fascinating casting, from the New York fashion journalist Cathy Horyn, to the performance artist Amanda Lepore, whose cartoon-like blonde hair and lips were almost outmatched by the stupendous curves of the contoured semi-sheer dress designed for her.
The men carried one brogue in their right hands and wore kitten heels. Many of the women were weighted down in heavy layers and and witchy winklepickers. Dissertations will doubtless by written on the subtext of all of this but the take out message, apart from the distinctive tailoring, with its vast shoulders, was surely the soundtrack. A voice methodically explaining in French the construction of each garment, gradually got faster and faster and more incoherent. The couturier who descends into madness: a tale for our times.