LV Ramps It Up, Way Up

LV W AW 2019 P1

We had to watch the show thrice—once, live stream, twice, video posts—before we could attempt to make sense of what Nicolas Ghesquière has done for Louis Vuitton. The first reaction was, what the eff? Has he gone mad? Is he saying to hell with street wear and the apparent return of classics? Is fantasy, not a theme this Paris season, not the way forward?

We always like designers who do not make it easy for us. To that, Demna Gvasalia holds a special place in our hearts even if it took more than a season (was it two?) for us to get his Vetements. Mr Ghesquière, although not quite the provocateur that Mr Gvasalia tends to be, has always mostly intrigued than confound. But with this collection, we begin to wonder if he’s just as good at throwing us a curve ball.

Louis Vuitton, a commercial label for most of its existence in ready-to-wear, is suddenly high concept unadulterated. Or, as Mr Ghesquière tolds the media, the result of watching many fashion tribes. For autumn/winter 2019, Mr Ghesquière has put out so much that it was hard on the eyes. With a busy collection such as Gucci’s, the eyes can get lazy after the first five looks, but with the latest LV, you just can’t keep up. Visually, there was too much to digest. We mentally choke after three minutes.

LV W AW 2019 G1

View 1. When the first model came out, we thought we were watching another show. Could this be John Galliano? The make-up with the exaggerated lips is evocative, and the look, somewhat medieval, has all the requisite warped historicism. After more models came out, we thought Mr Galliano would not lens his collection through Alessandro Michele! Then when the top-heavy silhouette became unmistakable, you know for certain Nicolas Ghesquière is having a go at how far he can push design and, simultaneously, taste.

As with Comme des Garcons perfumes, this must be the hardest collection to describe (to date). Something is afoot if the clothes defy categorisation. Overall, there’s a vaguely ’70s and futuristic vibe in ways only Mr Ghesquière can express: retro yet not quite, ahead of his time, yet not too far ahead they’re from another galaxy. The looks, at first, seem to corral what has been known of late as ‘ugly’. And, are composed of what students of aesthetics of design are told to best avoid—such as inexplicable lines and flaps that obscure otherwise well thought out details and their placements. But Mr Ghesquière, we feel, is not a proponent of the obviously unattractive. His is a proposition of what happens if he doesn’t design obviously attractive.

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View 2. The whole show was a visual assault—by the second time, in a good way. So much to catch before they flash past, so much to unpack and suss, details after details, shapes after shapes. It does beg the question: is it necessary to be so multitudinous and multi-dimensional? Or is this the deliberate opposite of the approach Hedi Slimane has adopted for Celine: just repeat a few ideas?

What caught our eyes were the flounces and ruffles. Not since Alber Elbaz at Lanvin has there been this many, so alluring and gravity-defyingly applied. But these aren’t quite the disco garb Anthony Vaccarello (even his predecessor Mr Slimane) proposed at Saint Laurent. There is something far more alluring about the LV flounces, some frame shoulders, some stretch to the navel, sometimes on only one side. They are beguiling, too, and also because Mr Ghesquière has created so many different versions of them: with top stitching as if to quilt (presumably to stiffen them), different fabric on the underside, and those that could have been part of some fantasy space cadet’s uniform.

We can’t point out everything that filled us with wonderment. Some things simply shouldn’t be but are, and appeal because they have that quality called unexpected, never mind if they sometimes cross into the land of the lurid. Mr Ghesquière—a questing mind—seems to have just let himself loose, the alchemist aware of the advantage of madness.

He pairs fuzzy/glittery florals with military-coloured quilting (the fabric choices do not draw a line between high and low-brow, like how some prefixes easily cross lexical tracks). On bodices, he avails bib-like flaps that appear to have appeared with no plan. Such a way with zips, too, using them as one normally would with piping, as if his haberdasher has run out of the latter. Despite the unconventional mixes, he applies rather old-fashioned techniques: gathering, pleating, draping, etc on resolutely modern shapes. He adds slashes here and there as if crossing out a bad composition, but kept for the collection because, well, they are not bad, slashes included.

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View 3. There are high-waisted and carrot-shaped pants, which, for us, recall those jodhpurs he once introduced at Balenciaga. There are dresses, but they are not straightforward frocks, rather compositional feats, with some Carrie White would happily wear. Much of the separates are designed as ensembles, which could mean that they would be difficult to pair if not worn together.

These are not basic, nor are they beyond basics. They are their own breed: clothes that transcends wardrobe staples into a territory we once called fashion. These are not garments for everyone and that, perhaps, is the eventual fascination and appreciation for us. Fashion, in its attempt to be consciously and unnaturally inclusive, has largely become easily and indiscriminately consumable. It is time to return some extraordinary, get-it-or-not shtick to it.

Nicolas Ghesquière must surely be one of the most creative designers of his generation, who not only made us see design possibilities, but also dressmaking possibilities. Cleverness or excess, genius or goof, Mr Ghesquière shows that Louis Vuitton is more than Virgil Abloh.

Photos: (top) Louis Vuitton/(runway)

Chanel: When Winter Is Not Cold

Chanel AW 2019

This has been applauded as Karl Lagerfeld’s last designs for Chanel, but the house announced that it is “a collection by Karl Lagerfeld and Virginie Viard”. This could be the first official acknowledgement of Ms Viard’s involvement in the design process, not merely to execute what Mr Lagerfeld had sketched. That Ms Viard ‘officially’ shares the honour could indicate that Mr Lagerfeld may have been too ill to finish the collection or that this is the time to get Chanel fans used to the name of the unknown designer taking the place of Mr Lagerfeld.

On the whole, the collection looks typically and joyfully Karl Lagerfeld. He had pushed the house codes to such an extent that even those who had bought Chanel suits before Mr Lagerfeld took over the reigns in 1983 won’t today immediately recognise them. And the old silhouette, too, had so dramatically changed that this really had become Karl Lagerfeld as Gabrielle Chanel than merely a re-imagining of what Coco had dreamed up. But upon closer look at the autumn winter 2019 collection, there is suspicion that Virginie Viard’s hand was at work.

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Sure, Mr Lagerfeld’s sense of glamour and tres coordinated chic are all there, including his jacket shapes—frequently boxy and, just as often, sportif— and their renown lightness, as well as his fondness for a certain way with lapels—cut away and graphic, triangular fold-downs. There are the relaxed pantsuits, pulled together with a certain slouch. There are also the pairing of skirts over pants (now the capri), sheer tops over white shirts, and dresses for getting dolled up. And the details: the double-breasted, the frayed tweed to form a short fringe, and yet more ways to trim the Chanel jacket. Nothing is casual, nothing is effortless, nothing is not calculated.

Yet, despite what social media has called a “very Karl” collection, there are other touches that seem inconsistent with the man who ruled Chanel for 36 years. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. We are surprised to find a jacket with contrast sleeves and a coat with contrast yoke; outers that wrap like a blanket or, one—a twofer with slanted shoulders and a rather cocoon effect; even a boilersuit with a low waist. Could these be the touches or ideas of Virginie Viard? We many never know. But it is likely that the Wertheimer family, owner of Chanel, want an unbroken succession and her expressly stated involvement now will lessen potential disruptions moving forward.

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The setting may be alpine, but these are not ski wear. Hard, in fact, to imagine them on a ski lift. For sure, they’d be worn up in the mountain, to a winter lodge, but dressing up is more likely for the apres-ski parties known to dominate the winter resorts that the show set—typically not modest— is based on (Chalet Gardenia! Mr Lagerfeld must have had immense fun thinking of such names). These are clothes the one percent (or wives of) will wear to St Moritz. For the rest, there is always the red jumper with the double Cs just below the neck—logo placements undoubtedly Mr Lagerfeld’s forte.

No one can say for sure what path, snow covered or not, Chanel will henceforth take. Karl Lagerfeld is so synonymous with Chanel that it is hard to imagine the latter without the former. But, for certain, those tweeds will live on, so will the countless bags already sold and shall be. The until-now-unknown name Virginie Viard will be very much watched. She has very large shoes to fill, even if they are two-tone pumps.

Photos: Chanel

Sassy At Celine

Celine W AW 2019 P1

You know what is going to be big come July (or whichever month the autumn/winter 2019 collections will drop)? Culottes. Seriously, culottes. Hedi Slimane has revived for Celine a garment that has for decades laid low, cery low. This is not to be confused with skorts. Mr Slimane’s are clearly “split skirts”—bifurcated, if you must get technical, or trousers cut to resemble a skirt, something that would remind those old enough the original Charlie’s Angels. Or, in our mind—imagination, really, Miuccia Bianchi Prada going to a political science class at the University of Milan.

For his second Celine women’s collection, Mr Slimane seems determined to prove to his detractors that he can do more than skinny or body-hugging. As reported in the media, Mr Slimane took a peek into the Celine archive. And this was the output—not a re-imagination, not a re-construct, but a facsimile, as the clothes appear to us. Mr Slimane has never had any use for irony or twist; he won’t either now. This could have leapt out of the pages of How to Dress like a Frenchwoman, if it was published in 1975.

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To be honest, we don’t know what Celine really looked like in the ’70s (except for some old ads we found online), when it rose in popularity. Founded in 1945 by Céline Vipiana as a made-to-measure children’s shoe store, it became, by the ’60s, a sort of Biba of the time, but more atas. The brand slowly projected the cool it was known for in the mid-’70s. Then, Ms Vipiana was still designing the line and she continued to do so until her death in 1997, aged 84. When LVMH took Céline into its fold and Michael Kors became the first designer to revive the brand, Céline was destined to be Celine, a hugely global French brand towards 2020… and much talked about, but not because of its content. Phoebe Philo was a minor extended distraction. Ironically, Mr Slimane’s approach seems to go back full circle, to where Mr Kors started.

How Mr Slimane changed the direction of the brand when he came on board and how he disappointed many is, until today, still discussed. The aesthetical shift now, we sense, is less about reacting to criticism than to once again reach back, a habit that had affected every fashion house that Mr Slimane steered. It appears to us that when he looked at the old output of Céline, thought to be those of the mid-’70s, he was really casting his mind to the past—as he did at Saint Laurent—to rehash. How else does one explain the obsession with pussy bows?

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Mr Slimane’s Celine, therefore, seems to be joining the dots to reveal to us a picture that explicitly say FLASHBACK. Again, we can’t be sure this is close to Celine of yore (was Ms Vipiana mad about culottes?), but it does reflect an era. Some dresses looked like what Karl Lagerfeld did for Chloe in the ’70s. Or, perhaps what Alessandro Michele has been doing for Gucci, only Mr Slimane’s are better fitted. Some blouses looked like his take of what YSL muse Loulou de la Falaise might have worn back in the day, and already seen in Saint Laurent, circa 2013. And those below-the-knee schoolteacher skirts—your grandmother would know. Or, Diane Von Furstenburg. Hedi Slimane would be a worthy contestant against Marc Jacobs for the Look Back King of the Year.

Or course, Mr Slimane could not totally abandon skinny—he built a career on them pencil silhouettes. So, some pants are still reed-thin, the denim jeans too. But he did abandon baring skin. This is modest dressing! More? If you look closely, how many silhouettes are there? Three, maybe? Will this be the new merchandising norm? We had to again remind ourselves that Mr Slimane is not a designer like John Galliano, nor Demna Gvasalia, nor JW Anderson. Karl Lagerfeld, maybe. Frankly, we thought the Celine autumn/winter 2019 show was Butterick come alive.

Photos: (top) Celine/(runway)