Sirens. Di Petsa SS22

Much of mainstream fashion wants what Dimitra Petsa has – just look at the many major designers cribbing her wet-look, Greek-goddess aesthetic (one of the recent Dior collections comes to mind). But if 2020’s lockdowns and fashion’s subsequent recalibration has taught us anything, it’s that emotion can’t be faked and a new generation of fashion lovers and customers are looking for a personal connection to their clothing. Di Petsa‘s ready-to-wear, presented at Paris Fashion Week for the first time as a guest of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, contains the same level of passion and fury as her one-off gowns. The proof isn’t only in the sensitive way she drapes her jersey to cradle the bosom, slide down the hips, or pool on the ground around the wearer’s ankles – she describes her process both as “the body emerging from something” and as a method of “accentuating the naked body, not covering it up” – but in the many women from Greece and the U.K. who went to Paris to help make Petsa’s vision real. She’s called her collection Nostos-Touch; the touch part is obvious, representing the idea of wanting to be embraced but being wary of its consequences. Nostos is Greek for “homecoming,” sort of like Odysseus after a long journey through the Mediterranean. Petsa is less concerned with the trials of that mythic man and more with the Sirens he finds along the way. She tapped into this darker side of femininity, the idea of mermaids caught in nets, of constraint and dangerous freedom, with a moody palette of cobalt, navy, burgundy, and gold. Even with its complicated drapery and cutouts, this collection is her most wearable offering yet, made from cotton jersey and Tencel and adorned with custom marine blue rings, bracelets, and necklaces. At Paris Fashion Week, the Petsa Poseidonesses came together in a performance centered around the musician Lola Lolita. Models writhed, swayed, and lay down while Lolita commanded the ceremony. Petsa says she wants to move away from Western perceptions of Greek culture. Even those with a long memory and long scholarship of ancient cultures may be hard-pressed to remember the pre-Greeks, but many of those who do have hypothesized that the earliest cultures on the Peloponnesus were matriarchal. One hopes Petsa’s customers are willing to join her on this journey through time and womanhood – but if not, these are still some of the most beautiful sexy dresses and separates this season.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Love Brings Love. AZ Factory SS22

The last evening of Paris Fashion Week was an extraordinary celebration of a fashion genius who left us too early. “Love Brings Love” was a characteristically optimistic mantra of Alber Elbaz, the brilliant and widely beloved designer whose death at 59 from Covid-19 in April of this year devastated the international fashion community. And so it was fitting that under this banner and before a crowd of the designer’s family, friends, colleagues, and peers, including Dries van Noten, Rick Owens, Pierpaolo Piccioli, Jean Paul Gaultier – and France’s First Lady Brigitte Macron – Paris Fashion Week drew to a deeply poignant, but joyful close. For the show, 45 designers and Elbaz’s design team at AZ Factory came together in celebration of his talent, personality, and design legacy, and many were present in the audience that night. “We wanted to find a way to celebrate Alber’s spirit,” explained Elbaz’s long term partner Alex Koo during a preview of the clothes that the contributing designers had created in tribute, “It is beautiful to see how each designer revealed a different aspect of Alber. It really was a labor of love.” Koo explained that Elbaz had long cherished the idea of recreating the Théâtre de la Mode, an extraordinary 1945 project that brought together Paris’s 60 preeminent haute couture designers, as well as milliners, hairdressers, and accessory designers, to dress a series of doll sized figures that were then arranged in vignettes suggesting fashionable Parisian life – a walk in the Palais Royal, for instance, or a night at the Opéra. The dolls and their decors traveled the world, vividly demonstrating to an enraptured public that the arts of Paris fashion had survived the hardships of the German Occupation and continued to set the bar for technique and imagination. Alber’s dream, as Koo explained in the moving voice-over that introduced the show, was to echo this initiative and “bring together the best talents of the industry in celebration of love, beauty, and hope.”

Some of the designers went for biography: South Africa’s Thebe Magugu, for instance, was inspired by a fall 1997 dress that Elbaz has designed during his two year tenure at Guy Laroche, whilst Alaia’s Pieter Muller had imagined a scarlet sheath dress, translucent but for some sinuous and strategically placed opaque hearts, that suggested the work of Geoffrey Beene for whom Alber, newly arrived from his native Israel, worked for seven years and who he acknowledged as an inspirational master. Coordinated by Elbaz’s long term stylist Babeth Dijan, the clothes were shown in alphabetical order. Unsurprisingly, hearts were a leitmotif: Jean Paul Gaultier, citing Elbaz’s “coeur a l’ouvrage” (roughly translating as putting his whole heart into his work) offered a couture dress composed of layered, three-dimensional, ruby red hearts; Alessandro Michele’s purple gown was suspended from a double heart-shaped brassiere, while Viktor & Rolf’s magisterial white trench coat ballgown was framed by graduated hearts arranged on the sleeves and skirts in an ombre of reds and pinks. Others chose to immortalize Alber’s own iconic look, and his playful dress sense that evoked a silent movie comic with his trademark bowtie, barrel-shaped jackets, and shortened pants. Dries van Noten, whose look was my favourite from the tributes, had developed an elaborate intarsia portrait that decorated the front of his scarlet evening coat. Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing depicted Elbaz on the bodice of his liquid white satin evening dress, and Lanvin’s Bruno Sialelli evoked a billowing Lanvin dress of parachute silk, hem buoyed with a ruffle, from spring 2008 with a giant portrait of the designer on the back that floated on air as the model made her circuit around the Carreau du Temple. Rosie Assoulin, meanwhile, who interned for Elbaz, designed a clever look that came together to create a trompe l’oeil Elbaz, his jacket as a skirt, his television-frame glasses a bodice. Hermes’s Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski revisited a 2014 scarf with a print originally designed by artist Dimitri Rybaltchenko that depicted Elbaz at the window of the storied Lanvin flagship building, the Hermès’s neighbor on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore where he worked for 15 years from 2001. Many tapped into Elbaz’s inventory of signature designs—Donatella Versace looked to his draped sleeves; Schiaparelli’s Daniel Roseberry celebrated his “particular affinity for bijoux” and “joy in explosive volumes;” Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia did the same with his hot pink nylon taffeta opera coat “creating maximal volume using minimal seams” whilst the ruffles that Elbaz loved were evoked by Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli in a magnificent ballgown of hot pink volutes and by Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton in a short embroidered coat dress.

The show closed with the AZ Factory design collective’s powerful tribute of their own, again riffing on the founder’s impactful signature looks, and Amber Valletta embodied the man himself in a jacket cut from the same pattern as the one his team had originally created for him, its hem embroidered with images of his unforgettable clothes. For the finale, the backdrop curtain opened to reveal the models in a three-tier-high scaffolding grid, framing a portrait of Elbaz and grooving to the O’Jays’s feel-good 1972 classic “Love Train.” There were torrents of heart-shaped confetti and there were torrents of tears.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Notes On Decadence. Louis Vuitton SS22

This was one of the best Louis Vuitton collections in a while. In a long while. The Louvre’s Passage Richelieu was decked out in dozens of antique chandeliers – collected over many months, they set the stage for what Nicolas Ghesquière described in his press notes as a “grand bal of time.” At Louis Vuitton, Ghesquière has been fascinated by the notion of time and the way fashion intersects with it and doubles back. He’s a master at colliding references and juxtaposing surprising elements to create anew. With the company celebrating the 200th birthday of the house’s founder, Ghesquière had another reason to take up the subject. As company lore goes, the Passage Richelieu was used by Louis Vuitton for his meetings with Empress Eugénie, for whom he was the exclusive trunk maker. Eugénie might have recognized the panniered silhouettes of this show’s first few looks. The sumptuous, elaborately embellished dresses were girded at the hips in the 19th-century style, but where her gowns would’ve been weighed down with underskirts, Ghesquière’s dresses fairly bounced as the models made their way down the runway in open-toe satin wrestling boots. There were shades of Paul Poiret and Erté in these looks, with their finely beaded headpieces and art nouveau sunglasses. Only neither Poiret nor Erté would likely have encountered denim, and if they had, they never would’ve paired a beaded bias-cut slip dress with jeans, or cut a jean jacket with a tailcoat’s proportions. That’s Ghesquière’s time-traveling touch, which this time focused on opulent, untamed, nearly forgotten decadence. The preponderance of capes stemmed from another strand of Ghesquière’s story this season: he’s designed Alicia Vikander’s costumes for the upcoming HBO Max series from Olivier Assayas, Irma Vep. The show, according to HBO, “reveals the uncertain ground that lies at the border of fiction and reality, artifice and authenticity, art and life.” Ghesquière, for his part, is interested in the uncertain ground between the past, present, and future. “I like the figure of a vampire who travels through the ages, adapting to dress codes of the era,” his press release read. One cape came in polka dots with a jaunty jabot; two others cut diagonally across the body looked like going-out tops for the club, not a ball; and a couple more, at “the threshold of couture,” were made from what appeared to be feathery frayed chiffon. A protester carrying a sign that read “Overconsumption = Extinction” made it to the end of the runway. The magic of the ball was momentarily broken; reality was bumping up against the fairy tale. Still, this was peak Ghesquière, merging distant and recent fashion history with the relaxed codes of today.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Miu Angst. Miu Miu SS2

Miu Miu went hardcore Miu Miu for spring-summer 2022, and this is the best thing that could happen to us this season. There’s a strange correlation going on: the more complex and sometimes over-worked Miuccia Prada‘s main line becomes with Raf Simons, the better and desiable Miu Miu gets. Miuccia’s Paris-based label seems to be going through some sort of unapologetic renaissance. This time, the Miu Miu girl – who might equally be a mature woman – goes through a teenage angst phase. Imagine being in your mid-twenties when the pandemic hit, just about to make your debut on the corporate scene; your pressed skirt suit, ironed shirt and unwrapped nylons left abandoned in your closet for what felt like an eternity. When the world reopens and WFH is replaced with IRL, will you pull out that dusty uniform as if nothing happened? Or did something change within you? For Miuccia Prada, it’s a no-brainer. When it comes to the age groups whose formative experiences were interrupted by the lockdown period, continuing on the same track as the generations before them is no longer a given. If the seismic events of the last year-and-a-half taught young people anything, it’s to question those values, norms, and, indeed, dress codes. When the Miu Miu woman returns to the office, she’s chopping up all of those preordained rules, quite literally. Today, Prada marked her own return to the office by seating her guests in ergonomic work chairs and treating us to a back-to-work wardrobe for the post-pandemic age. Like rebellious private school kids cutting up their uniforms, she shortened the length of corporate skirts and tops – frayed edges in tow – until there was barely anything left to crop. It was as if waistlines and skirt hems – and necklines and top hems – had a magnetic attraction to one another, drawing ever closer as the show progressed. Midriffs were elongated to a degree that would have made Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera collectively blush in the early 2000s, if, of course, the very sight of those low-riding baggy trousers wouldn’t have made them faint first. In the process, miniskirts migrated into top territory and morphed into belted bandeaus, and someone came to work in just a beige bra and a matching pencil skirt, the elastic band of her underwear poking out. All this, mind you, in the fabrics of a businesswoman’s wardrobe. Prada hasn’t been doing post-show interviews this season due to Covid-19, but she did grace us with a few well-chosen words: “It’s so normal, but for me it’s so strange. Strange is not strange anymore,” she said with a shrug, and toiled on with her celebrity greetings. Certainly the new generations seem unfazed by the overt sexiness of the post-lockdown mentality. In case there are any apprehensive dressers left in this ‘new sexy’ climate, Prada did throw in some very viable new alternatives to the corporate wardrobe. Cable knit skirts with high slits worn with shirts and faded oversized knits made for a realistic take on ‘the generational suit,’ as did a stone-washed leather blouson with a matching box-pleat skirt. With Miu Miu’s angsty take on women’s business dressing, it’s exciting to see how those styling tricks trickle down to real wardrobes in near future.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Chanel, Chanel, Chanel. Chanel SS22

For spring-summer 2022, Virginie Viard delivered us the pure essence of Chanel – especially the 1980s-slash-90s one. If not for the contemporary models, you could mistake this collection with a 1992 line-up. Back in the day, supermodels came bounding down the high, raised runways exuding joie de vivre as they twirled and vamped for the photographers who had jostled for prime position, not only in the mosh pit at the end of the runway, but all along its length. Viard wanted to replicate that ambience, and she succeeded. “I used to love the sound of flashbulbs going off at the shows in the ’80s,” the designer recalled in the press notes. “I wanted to recapture that emotion.” Viard attempted to channel that energy and joy in a collection that not only referenced the era in the clothes, staging, and accessories (purses shaped like N°5 bottles; piratically flared Louis heels), but even the soundtrack: George Michael’s anthemic “Freedom! ’90” – in a contemporary cover version by Christine and the Queens – got the models in the party spirit. At the end of the raised runway, for instance, the photography duo Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, now deeply enmeshed in the Chanel world, played old-school show photographers, snapping the models who stopped to pose and preen for them and seemed to be having the time of their lives, flashing smiles and flicking hair rather than assuming the habitual look of sulky disdain. The show also opened à la Karl Lagerfeld – who sent shock waves when he put Chanel-branded underwear as outerwear on the runway for spring 1993 – with a black-and-white sequence of briefs, swimsuits, and sports bras, occasionally veiled in spangled black net pants or shown with above-the-knee skirts. During an accessories fitting a couple of days before the show, Viard pointed out the crocheted effects she had worked on with braid company Bacus, and the spin on the bright spring pastel tweed suits – think of Chanel-clad Naomi, Linda, and Carla, shot by Steven Meisel for Vogue, March 1994 – that she had given the twist of a longer skirt or jacket flap in back, suggesting a traditional tailcoat. “Karl was always doing fake jeans,” recalled Viard, shuddering at the memory. “In the ’90s they always seemed to be with pink tweed – ugh! For me it was horrible then, but now j’adore!” Her own reimagined denim propositions this season included a pretty, summery deck-chair ticking stripe cut into stiff little 1960s-looking dresses with bold bands of black sequins, creating the trompe l’oeil illusion of a classic Chanel cardigan suit, and charcoal denim wafted with a butterfly print. Those butterfly wings were amplified as prints on drifting chiffon pieces that swirled as the girls twirled, providing another charming throwback to a moment that celebrated the happiness the fashion flock is feeling in a season of cautious reemergence and optimism.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.