Just before the haute couture fashion week began, Guillaume Henry had his first IRL show for Patou at the brand’s charming headquarters in the Île de la Cité. Over the pandemic, Patou built up its identity as a playful young Parisian brand that’s popular with influencers with a collection that was early into the celebration of exuberant oversized shapes on French themes. Well, post-isolation years, it’s as if Patou has shed its chrysalis and emerged into the sunshine in super slimmed-down body-conscious shape. Tiny mini shifts, hourglass curve-clinging dresses, sexy high waisted bootcuts, little cropped tops. The voluminous flounces had more or less flounced out. And there was Julia Fox, beig THE moment of the spring-summer 2023 presentation. The fact that she topped off the show in a body-dress with an Art Nouveau print is an indication, perhaps, of how far the perception of this brand has penetrated. But Henry always said that his main way of designing is listening to what his coworkers and girlfriends say, clocking who they admire, who they’re talking about, and observing what they’re actually wearing on a daily basis. Which brought him around to the idea of muses – a classification which Fox has redefined in 2022. In Henry’s mind, it was deeper than that – considering that muse culture has very high art French roots. He found photos of young women students carving clay maquettes at the Beaux Arts school in the late 19th century, the time of the Belle Epoque and Toulouse Lautrec, and of female stage and cabaret performers. He wanted to capture something of that in a self-directed way for the worlds young women are inhabiting these days. Well, the collection hardly translated that message, and I honestly missed Henry’s exuberant take on the contemporary Patou wardrobe he has shown us in the previous seasons.
At Patou, Guillaume Henry has been taking a bit of a cavalier attitude towards spring – almost literally. “I really wanted to have this fantasy in mind,” he said. “She could be a musketeer, she could be a princess; she’s the hero of her own life. She’s not necessarily the girl waiting for her prince to come.” He remembered that when he looked out of the Patou studio during the big confinement and saw someone passing who had made an effort to wear something interesting, “I wanted to open the window and applaud.” As he riffed in his effervescent way around the static exhibition of his spring collection he said of lockdown, “I was so bored of yoga pants, you have no idea! Then things started to get better and better. And we knew that we will meet again.“ With the relaunch of Patou, Henry has managed to strike an ingeniously playful balance between exaggerated couture-heritage volumes and clothes that are self-adaptable, affordable and resourced with a care for curbing their environmental impacts. This season’s pie-frill collars, organic lace-trimmed swashbuckling sleeves, pouf-y bubble-shorts harmoniously work with Instagram and TikTok- friendly PATOU logo branding on bucket hats, bags and sweatshirts. Prints this season were sourced from the archives of the great French artist-illustrators Christian Bérard and Gustave Moreau. Keeping an haute flag flying for French fashion while making a wardrobe that girls can wear on the street, for work, at parties, or wherever they fancy is Henry’s thing.
Guillaume Henry‘s autumn-winter 2021 collection for Patou gives me life! It’s just so, so, so fabulous. The line-up is like a voluptuous, opulent garden filled with the most beautiful flowers. It’s this kind of boldness we need especially today, even in our lockdown lives. Turquoise, orange, lilac, pink, red, yellow; vast volumes here, gigantic collars there; floral prints on ’70s-flavored tailoring. Everything had grown from the signatures that Henry has planted over the last several seasons at Patou – think French regional costume, the Provençal embroidery, the Parisian-girl suiting, the playful, jaunty accessories. Last summer’s drop of mini-florals just gave rise to an even more exaggerated blooming of silhouettes this season. Yet, as Henry demonstrated by smoothing down what appeared to be a pair of the widest leg’o’mutton sleeves ever suggested, the shape of fabric can be tweaked by the wearer just as she pleases. And what’s most exciting is that these fantastic clothes have a sustainable background behind them – something Henry has gradually implemented into the brand since his debut. “We have have reached 70% organic or recycled this season,” said Henry. “And the prices are really on-point. We’ve worked on that a lot.” A large part of his talent is considering how to make haute-looking fashion work for lots of girls with differing tastes, lives and body-types. “Patou was always about generous couture volumes. When we’re normally talking about comfort, it’s yoga pants and cocooning things. I’m so not into sportswear. So why don’t we make it comfy, with ease – and all about Patou?”He found more Patou-ness in the archives too. “We discovered these naïve, colorful, sort of flower-power prints which were made by Michel Goma in the ’70s,” he said. “In that period flowers meant freedom, too. I met him the other week – he’s 91, and he showed me everything he did back in the day. It was so full of joy.” Each look was really a pile-up of elements – turtlenecks, hand-crocheted folkloric vests, smart tailoring, detachable collars – ready to be dismantled by the customer. “It depends on the woman you are – more flamboyant or more modest, you can make it sexy, you can make it shy,” said Henry. All of it rooted in authentic, refreshed references, but also grounded in Henry’s energetic, practical empathy for what the women who surround him will wear.
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!