Beach Rave. Courrèges SS23

I was on fence with Nicolas di Felice‘s take on Courrèges since his debut collection. But his truly cool spring-summer 2023 offering proved that the designer is capable of making the brand truly his own – without falling down the rabbit hole of Courrèges’ archives. First of all, Di Felice knows how young people want to dress everyday, especially for parties: in body-con separates and dresses that reveal as much as they conceal. His spring show conjured morning-after-a-beach-rave vibes. The set helped tell the story. In an otherwise unremarkable white studio far out of town, a circle of sand had been installed. As the music cued up, more sand began streaming from the ceiling like an hourglass, slowly at first and then faster, so that the accumulating pile started sinking as the models made their slow circuits around it. Having made the house Re-Editions into big sellers, Di Felice is looking beyond the obvious at Courrèges. He dug a vintage scuba jacket out of the archive and used its ergonomic lines to inspire a leather motorcycle coat, for one example, and he’s broken free of the starchy mod shapes so closely linked with the house history. The sensation Di Felice was after for spring was fluidity, thus the surf and scuba motifs, a recurring theme this season, and a “coral” dress made out of silicone. And thus the silhouettes draped and wrapped around the body. Since it was the morning after, models carried their slingbacks in their hands, or wore their jean jackets around their waist like a makeshift shirt (buttons down the back and exterior straps made that possible). Other pieces came with similar built-in straps to make them easy to carry when they come off on the dance floor, on the commute, or at the desert rave.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Men’s – Motopapi. Courrèges SS23

The energy of the concise, item-driven modernity Nicolas di Felice brings to Courrèges is all over the spring-summer 2023 collection. “You know, back in the day, Andre [Courrèges] was speaking to the young generation. I knew from my first week that it was part of the house,” said Di Felice. “So I really want young people to be able to afford the clothes; to make it, let’s say, more accessible.” He grabbed a vintage zip-up scuba-fabric jacket which Courrèges had designed for men in the 1970s as an introduction to how he got started. “I found this in the archive, and thought, ‘This shape is amazing,’ but there’s no point in doing it again. So I wanted to mix this silhouette with a biker vibe, because I had a motorbike when I was young. I thought about how it feels to drive to the beach, or to a festival in the summer, or something,” he laughed. “I’ve been at the house for two years now, so I feel more comfortable to explore a bit more of who I am.” One thing about Di Felice is his knack for filtering lived experience into his minimal-seductive design. His collection captures all the features of young masculine body-con display that’s taken off this summer: tight-to-the torso leather jackets, twisted, cutaway T-shirts, slick moto pants in the house’s heritage-look black vinyl, gabardine polyester trousers and denims with a hint of bootcut flare. It’s his addition of the faux leather bondage straps across the front of jackets that adds a clever utilitarian twist. He demonstrated: “So what you can do is take off your jacket or poncho and hang them off your shoulder by the strap, like this. It came to me simply when I was one more time in a party, and it’s hot and there are not enough cloakrooms. I was like, ‘OK, um, so when I go in on Monday – I’m going do that in the collection!’” The lookbook shows the device in action – clothes gradually becoming cool-looking drapes toted from shoulders, until the last guy ends up naked, carrying all of his clothes. “Like he’s just come out of the water on the beach,” Di Felice grinned.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Crash Course. Courrèges AW22

Nicolas di Felice discussed what sparked his latest Courrèges collection: it was the discovery, after much Googling, of a circa 1973 brand video set not in a Paris salon but in a car junkyard. Di Felice liked it for the way it challenges assumptions about Courrèges. Yes, the house founder André Courrèges was a couturier, but he was also plugged into the street. Di Felice is negotiating that divide quite fluently a little more than a year into his run at the brand. The first step was hooking a young Paris crowd on his minimal, sexy basics. These nod back to Courrèges’s Space Age stylings without being overt; it’s helped that di Felice’s arrival here coincided with the return of mini lengths. You see those minis on showgoers this season, along with his updates to the snap-front vinyl jackets that are another brand signature. Mission completed as for Courrèges’ commercial thriving. Now, having caught the industry’s attention, di Felice is playing with more experimental shapes – and here it gets a bit more difficult and demanding. There was a strapless shift dress made from two circles sewn together and a couple of others whose backs were large fake leather squares spray painted to conjure the vibes of that 1973 junkyard – body-con bi-stretch jersey in front, avant-garde in back. Jackets and coats exhibited the same inventiveness. In addition to circles and squares, he made some with large triangular sleeves, including a vinyl puffer whose proportions looked new. These were experimental cuts, but not complicated, he made a point of clarifying. “I really have an obsession with simple patterns, they start from geometric shapes.” Back to the body-con – Di Felice reproduced the geometries of John Coplans’s paintings on shiny vinyl dresses as streamlined as those triangular-sleeved coats were voluminous. The diamond-shaped cut-outs that climb up their sides could become as recognizable as the house’s curvy AC monogram. Di Felice has got the brand-building aspect of the modern creative director’s duties down and now he’s trying to make the brand not just merch, but actual fashion.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Outdoors. Courrèges SS22

Nicolas Di Felice gradually builds his credentials at Courrèges. For the spring-summer 2022 show, the label invited its guests to Bois de Vincennes. It’s a park a long way from the center of Paris with personal meaning for him – it’s where he and his boyfriend first kissed. The wide-open space also vibed with the mood of the collection, which was space-age rave. “I wanted to work on this idea of an outdoor party,” he said in the backstage tent. On his mood board, pictures of music festival kids were juxtaposed with photos of archival pieces from the brand’s ’60s and ’70s heyday. The opening looks were ponchos of varying dimensions, rainwear being essential to the festivalgoer’s wardrobe. One was a circle, another was a triangle, and a third was a square, and all three cut a strong line as the models made their long walk around the perimeter of the square runway. Di Felice has prioritized outerwear since arriving at Courrèges a year ago, and he was proud to report that he’s already clocked a couple of his jackets in the wilds of Belleville, his neighborhood. Long ribbed-knit pants that flared over chunky-heeled sandals, A-line minis, and the label’s cropped vinyl jackets numbered among the other key pieces. “André Courrèges really wanted to put his fashion in the streets,” said Di Felice. “Everybody talks about him – the future, space age. But space age was a trend. He was a passionate guy; he just wanted to dress women.” Like founder, like creative director. Shift dresses with sternum cutouts and halter bandeaus worn over hip-slung pants were the descendants of a 1976 dress, Di Felice pointed out backstage, but they owed just as much to the arbiters of today, with their exposed abs, as they did to the iconic designer. Same for the baseball caps and shoulder-duster earrings.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Men’s – Accelerating. Courrèges SS22

I wasn’t entirely convinced by Nicolas di Felice’s debut at Courrèges last spring, but things are looking up with his venture into menswear. It’s actually his first men’s collection period; Di Felice has only designed womenswear until now. André Courrèges himself made men’s clothes from about 1973 to the mid-’80s, but it hasn’t been part of the brand picture for many years, so launching it was a blank slate situation. Di Felice’s approach was to think hard about what he and the guys on his design team want to wear. The streamlined, minimal sensibility of original Courrèges remains, but there’s little to none of the leftover Space Age vibes that could’ve materialized. Instead, you’ll find straightforward trucker jackets in leather or washed denim; a single-breasted coat in a micro-check; ribbed knit, elastic waist pants; even jeans. There’s a pair of stretch vinyl trousers with circular cut-outs down the side seams and a tank with a single, bigger cut-out on its front, but with the hot vax summer that’s ahead of us and the new gen’s openness to experimentation that level of exposure is likely to look less provocative that it once did. The bright spot among the women’s pieces he showed today was a tank dress with the signature cut-out paired with kick-flare pants in sunshine yellow. The overall result isn’t ground-breaking, but it’s good. And really, the Courrèges brand had a very hard time in finding its voice since it’s revival (which goes on for years and years now). One thing’s sure – Nicolas is giving his Courrèges an item-y spin, turning out relatable, identifiable clothes that took any anxiety out of buying; they’re statement-making but easy to wear.

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.