The French Charm. Patou Resort 2021

Since the first season, I’m following Guillaume Henry‘s steps at Patou, and I must say that with every single line-up, it gets better and better. I can’t believe this Parisian brand-and-designer match is still so underrated! The label released it’s resort 2021 collection now, when the clothes are arriving to the stores. Patou’s team pulled off this collection during the most severe days of lockdown in Paris. “Everyone was at home, exchanging ideas on Zoom,” Henry says. “My magic team!” The look book models are the Belgian singer Tessa Dixon and some of the Patou people – a lovely nod to the power of team-work. What they’ve come up with – despite it all – is a continuation of the optimism and joie de vivre of the house, grounded in that French-girl taste for useful, classic tailoring – which is spring-summer 2021‘s signature. The gold brocade dress, the feather-trimmed trousers, and the multicolored, stylized 1970s prints must have felt like a shot in the dark when they were designing them. But the most charming pieces were the most grounded ones. Henry has a delectable way of combining the French vernacular of down-to-earth, traditional work with flights of fashion fancy. Part of it was inspired by looking at vintage photographs of Les Forts des Halles, the porters at the old Les Halles market in the center of Paris, who used to wear felt hats to carry crates of farm produce. That’s where the oversized, turned-back-brim hats in his collection originated; one of his charming side strategies for keeping French regional working-class culture alive and relevant for a new generation. Also, you immediately think of Émile Bernard’s “Breton Women” paintings while looking at Patou’s black and white silhouettes – like the brand’s oversized, cocooning duffle coats styled with a white, hand-cut collar. Love!

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Oh La La! Patou SS21

The fashion industry should finally give some love for Guillaume Henry‘s brilliance at Patou. I even think that the buyers should give the brand a chance. Why? Really, nobody else does French chic this good right now. For his presentation, the designer welcomed people to an absolutely delightful Patou runway show that didn’t really happen yesterday. “It’s a show with empty seats and no models!” he laughed. “We’ve turned our studio into a catwalk.” The models you see sauntering across the parquet in their puffballs, voluminous smocks, Provençal collars, and jaunty sailor hats had played their parts, sans audience, a couple of days ago at the label’s Île de la Cité HQ. For spring-summer 2021, Henry offers meringue-sque Provençal-printed puffed sleeves, a pie-frill collar, and a mini-balloon skirt, which all came from his 1980s childhood imagination. But wait, it’s not as easy as it sounds. All made from organic cotton poplin – 100% GOTS cotton, it said. “Yes, we’re 70% recycled and organic materials in this collection,” Henry exclaimed, “and we’re aiming for 100%.” This is the most modern thing about the rebirth of Patou: it comes with full-on French style, transparent sourcing, and non-ridiculous prices. “Patou is about a wardrobe, and it will always be,” said Henry. “But this time we turned this wardrobe into something more fantasy! I wanted to go back to this love of fashion I had when I was nine years old, drawing dresses in my bedroom—and nobody was talking about fear or the economy. It was just about fun, flamboyance, joy, enthusiasm. I wanted to go back to that exuberance.” And so it reads. Exaggerated silhouettes have been steadily inflating over the past few seasons. Ideal timing, then, for the comeback of Henry’s memories of being enthralled by watching the likes of Christian Lacroix on French TV news. “He was a huge influence on me when I was nine, 10, in the late ’80s, early ’90s. So I wanted the silhouette to be ‘couture’ even if you can break it all down separately.” Lacroix, as all fashion history geeks know, started his rise to fame at the house of Patou, so his puffball silhouettes, succulent bows, and French-regional references resonate happily through Henry’s collection. The difference, in the hands of the younger designer, is the practicality and sense of economy that underpins his design. The huge white collars are accessories – they’re meant to be laundered and used as styling pieces. The silhouettes that appear to be frivolous one-party outing dresses (like the captivating Provençal look) are often actually skirts and tops, intended for multiple reconfigurations. “A blouse, a skirt, and a dress,” as he put it. Smart, chic, fun, sustainable. Et voila!

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

A Fresh Take On The Parisian. Patou AW20

Finally, there’s someone in Paris with a fresh take on the Parisian. It’s easy to imagine Guillaume Henry‘s Patou as a bit of a friendly girl’s club now. It has fun-silly signatures like sailor caps topped with pom-poms and ’80s pumps with rabbit-ear bows on the toes. But there’s nothing gimmicky about it. It’s a brand Henry wants people to rely on, for a great peacoat, a striped marinere sweater – and for really useful dresses. The point for Henry is that this is a brand that has been reimagined as relatable, very French – “Well, I am French!” – not insanely priced, and also set up to be as transparent and mindful about sourcing as it can be as it goes along. For instance, the wool and taffeta is upcycled, cotton is organic, and the company takes care to explain certifications and its supply chain to customers. Now a bit about the pleasing autumn-winter 2020 offering, which is all about comfortable, yet chic daywear (and eveningwear). The designer explained how Jean Patou had set up his company a century ago, with his new menthality for a French brand at the time. “He had a bar in his store so people could relax and have a drink, and his in-house shows would turn into parties after. And he was one of the first to design for the weekend, when everyone started going to Deauville and Biarritz and all that.” This sort of laid-back mood is perceivable in the collection and its fun styling. The JP logo, with its Art Deco 1920s feel is embroidered or knitted into sweaters. And then, of course, there’s the Jean Patou of the 1980s. “Christian Lacroix was here! And Karl Lagerfeld too. It was his first job!” Henry’s taffeta puffball skirts and Provençal lace blouses nod to Lacroix’s period, which is a witty thing to do.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Smiley. Patou SS20

The last time Patou, the over 100 year old French maison founded by Jean Patou, hit the runway was in July 1986 during the Haute Couture presentations. The maison’s designer at that time was Christian Lacroix and, the day after the show, he resigned and established his own label with the financial support of Bernard Arnault. From then on, the brand became dormant, barely surviving through its cosmetics and fragrance businesses. It’s 2019, and the label is resurrected by the man who brought life back at Carven (it didn’t survive without his creative direction, as the latest news prove) and Nina Ricci: the extremely talented Guillaume Henry. And looking at his joyful debut, I doubt this project will either be a blow (Vionnet comes to my mind) or another exhausting French brand revival (Courrèges). The spring-summer 2020 look-book is a line-up full of beautiful, wearable, quintessentially French clothing that doesn’t fall into cliches. “Personally, I want to go back to dressing my friends,” he told the press. ”Patou was a couture house back in the day, so I want to keep that philosophy, with an atelier—but with reality.” What to love? The lace blouses and very French short navy A-line skirts, the bubble dress, or the chic-modern pink wide-leg trouser suit with a silk shirt with an extra long, trailing scarf-tie. Or it might be the neat, sporty sweaters with the original JP logo from the ’20s and lovely denim.The black coat with white lace collar and mis-matched buttons is another favourite. “It’s a friendly brand; I’m dressing real girls,” said Henry. ”I want it to have a smile and enthusiasm.” One more thing: the label plans to sell its high quality clothes at prices that are much more affordable comparing to other Paris-based luxury labels.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Refined. Nina Ricci AW18

nina ricci

So what’s the deal with Guillaume Henry at Nina Ricci? After seasons of working at the heritage brand, the designer was reported to leave due to the maison‘s underfunding. Then, Nina Ricci’s company responded to the news by denying Henry’s departure, just hours after the recent fashion show. Oh, that crazy fashion…

But still, would you say Ricci needs a new designer? Throughout those three years, Guillaume has changed the label into an exciting and very refined place for women seeking the ‘Parisian allure’ (if we really need to use a cliché). Shortly, those are delightful, beautiful dresses, coats and accessories. Although the autumn-winter 2018 collection indeed felt as if it was witnessing a budget cut comparing to the last seasons, it was… well, good. Even very good – see the fur coats; the chic trackpants; voluminous shirts. I think that’s the main problem with old houses being suddenly revived by investors. The owners want big profit, they want the brand to be on everybody’s lips – but is giving the right amount of time for the designer even taken under consideration? Worth consideration.

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Collage by Edward Kanarecki.