And There Are Panniers

Puffed and draped hips at Louis Vuitton. Is Nicolas Ghesquière (still) in social-distancing mood? Or status asserting?

Nicolas Ghesquière seems to derive some perverse delight in mixing up eras, decades even, a gleeful time traveller who can’t stop bringing the past back to the present, like some 15th century adventurer returning to Europe with crops from the New World. And he is doing it all again for spring/summer 2022, taking us back in time, although, according to the Louis Vuitton show notes, “time is of no consequence.” But they are also quick to add, “yet time is everything. It dissolves functions and codes. It unites wardrobes. Day becomes night. The humble uniform becomes sumptuous.” In the hands of Mr Ghesquière, nothing is ever that humble, not even a tank top. Under the row of packed chandeliers in the Louvre, where the show is, again, staged, near-costume clothes are shown, as if a party season is approaching, and the models are going to some extravaganza at some place not less dazzling than the Hall of Mirrors. Yes, we are thinking of the Yew Ball (le bal des ifs) of the 18th century, the mask dance where King Louis XV and his male courtiers reportedly turned up as topiary yew trees!

To be sure, in Mr Ghesquière “grand bal of time”, none of his models strut as plants clipped into fantastic shapes. But there are the harlequins. Or, those designed as eyewear, which seem to belong to bals of more extravagant times. And, undoubtedly, the panniered skirts, seemingly out of a Velázquez painting, only far much lighter. These could be what Maria Luisa of Parma (later the Queen of Spain in 1765) might have worn if she were the equivalent of today’s punk princess or crazy KOL. These are not the stiff, sofa-like contraptions of yore. Some of them look like flapper dresses given side hoops underneath. They bounce and swish with a lightness not quite evident in anything worn in the court of Versailles and the like, and are ankle-length to show off metallic-coloured, laced-up, open-toe boots, also not quite pre-Revolution France. Mr Ghesquière’s transposing of the robe à la française to (nearly) post-pandemic present-day is far more whimsical and technically challenging than other designers adapting, for example, the Greek chiton for modern use. Impractical these dresses are for sure, but the intrepid should give them a spin before they end in museums somewhere.

The ancien silhouette does not stop at the hip-extended skirts. There are details such as ruffles, too, like skirts for the neck (they aren’t exactly ideal for a date night of curry dinner!), as well as the staggering and striking use of passementerie, especially on the bodice, such as braiding and cording, galloons and gimps, showing the skills and artistry that the French were—and still are—known for: their elaborate and sumptuous metallic thread work. Such ornate ornamentation recall the clothing of the elite, especially before the 18th century, when royals, aristocrats, the military men, and the clergy required costumes of visible social distinction. Mr Ghesquière is bringing these back for the coming months, when social life, especially the fun-seeking, fashion-asserting fraternising, returns, presumably with a vengeance. These are decorative styles, no doubt, although they are not aesthetically in the same league as Fendace. Is Louis Vuitton suggesting that fashion not only returns to stand alongside pleasure and entertainment, but also wealth and status?

Other looks, too, suggest patrician life or those of the well-born. There are what seem like equestrian styles (or is it just the headwear?) worn with denim pants (jeans?), the mark of humbler status—a necessary pairing to temper the over-sumptuousness? In fact, denim goes with a tweed jacket and a cropped le smoking, and a laced slip dress. There are many capes too, with fabric manipulation (or treatment) on the surface, and they—like the pannier and the passementerie—were once worn to denote rank or occupation (think: a king or queen’s ermine-trimmed red velvet cape). Mr Ghesquière’s mixing and matching across centuries, and the social classes associated with clothes are not new. But this time, he seems to propose, let’s go all hip-sticking out. Let’s not hold back. After all, as Harry Winston said, “People will stare. Make it worth their while.”

Screen grab (top): Louis Vuitton. Photos: gorunway.com

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