PARIS – Fashion isn't so haphazard anymore. It's more polished. A little more dressed up and covered up.
Indeed, when Nicki Minaj turned up at the Haider Ackermann show over the weekend with her pastie-covered boob hanging out for all to see, few admired the rapper's daring. Dismayed that such a talented performer could so poorly misjudge the setting and the crowd, most folks simply shook their heads: What a pity.
Mind you, fashion hasn't turned formal and stuffy. It's just the opposite. There remains a love for the avant-garde, for youth culture, for the esoteric and the confounding. Fashion has simply pulled back from baroque gestures and conspicuous awkwardness. There were fewer elaborately painted faces, as well as fewer morning-after ones. The industry is making a pitch for barefaced normalcy.
No matter where designers are seeking inspiration, they seem to have lost their taste for gritty informality. Or for the street. Or for nudity as a form of subversive style. There's less enthusiasm for the amateurish rant. Technique matters. Street style is cleaned up, even at rising young brands such as Koche, which made its name using luxury fabrics to create a down-market look
In the final show of the fall 2017 season Tuesday, Louis Vuitton models descended a magnificent staircase at the Louvre. There is no setting in this city that speaks more powerfully to history and tradition, the endurance of creativity, the universality of beauty – as well as the influence of the establishment and wealth.
It was quite an experience to watch models dressed in designer Nicolas Ghesquière's tribal-looking furs and tailored trousers winding their way through the museum's stone corridors – dwarfed by the stately sculptures and under the glorious glass of I.M. Pei's pyramid.
The clothes were not grand. Models did not appear in floor-sweeping gowns fit for a royal court. Instead, they wore garments that were quite simply stylish, engaging – and effortful. That didn't mean they were contrived; they were not. But they were the kind of clothes that show one cares about how one looks, cares about the setting, cares about the occasion. These clothes require care.
This isn't street style, marked by athletic references and nomadic sensibility. Ghesquière did not produce some glorified version of easy. But these clothes were nonetheless made for urban streets. They'd improve the landscape of downtowns and midtowns.
If there was a counterbalance to the stateliness of the setting for Louis Vuitton, it was the fur-lined palace that hosted the Miu Miu presentation earlier that day. Designer Miuccia Prada had the benches, the pillars, the staircase of her show space upholstered in purple fake fur. The whole place glowed like a Dr. Seuss book come to life.
To a psychedelic hip-hop soundtrack of De La Soul, models strode out in sherbet-colored coats with furry collars, cat-printed knit trousers with matching tops, bedazzled shoes, furry hats and boots, and glittering tiaras.
It was ghetto fabulous in Technicolor, grown-up glamour seen through the eyes of the innocent. It was kooky. But it was also rigorous in its execution and deliberate in its styling. The proportions were balanced; the color combinations were daring. It was executed with care. There's that word again.
Even the punk references – and there are always references to punk in fashion – were more focused on intellectualizing disruption, on considering the craftsmanship and taking the long view. Junya Watanabe didn't just plop yellow or tangerine wigs on his models, wrap them in kilts and send them stomping down the runway. He was exploring his own past – the way his early collections used geometry and collage – and searching for ways in which it could all evolve.
Gritty informality and random rawness have lost their allure. Maybe there's already enough grime and chaos out there in the world. Fashion isn't adding to it.
The runway shows here for fall 2017 haven't been overtly political – even though France is in the midst of its own complicated presidential election, pitting a controversial populist, Marine Le Pen, against a scandal-plagued veteran, François Fillon. Paris also has its own high-profile police brutality issues involving race.
The news here is filled with stories about the ongoing political turmoil in the United States – Paris was one of a host of cities around the world that had its own Women's March in solidarity with the one in Washington. And during the shows, streets here were regularly shutting down as dentists protested measures to lower the cost of cleanings and the like. Even the dentists are in an uproar!
But the runways haven't been flooded with pink "pussyhats" or protest banners. While some designers such as Rick Owens, an American in Paris, have explored the role of ceremonies as a form of civil disobedience, his exploration was subtle, almost cryptic.
Last season, Dior designer Maria Grazia Chiuri declared herself a feminist during her debut for the house; this season her inspiration was simply the color blue.
Chiuri did give her audience white bandannas, part of a human rights campaign introduced in the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election by the London-based trade website Business of Fashion.
But before Donald Trump had even taken the oath of office, Dior's owner, Bernard Arnault, made a pilgrimage to Trump Tower, wading through the aftermath of a polarizing election to meet with Trump and talk about factories and production.
Fashion is business, and business is complicated. So how political can a designer really be if those politics are at odds with the boss's photo op?
This city prides itself not just on embracing artful designers, but also encouraging them to challenge themselves and their audiences. And some of them did. Jun Takahashi of Undercover showed his collection in what was more akin to a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta than a runway show. There were knit gowns with rufflike sleeves, military-style jackets and gargantuan gowns displayed under the spotlight at the Salle Wagram, a concert venue. But the most intriguing aspects had to do with the graceful gyrations of models performing some mysterious interpretive dance.
Fashion does not always have to be a foot soldier on the political front. But it also exists in the world. Dress up. Be bold, confident and in control. Know the difference between craft and frippery. Between real and fake.
At Balenciaga, designer Demna Gvasalia offered a collection more deeply influenced by the rigors and rules of haute couture. Virgil Abloh's Off-White collection was more interested in tailoring and dressmaking than it was luxury hoodies or broken down jeans.
The result, at least for trends, has been an emphasis on jackets: tailored, oversize, asymmetrical, embellished. Céline was a vertigo-inducing show that had the audience seated on bleachers that made a full 360-degree rotation as the models speed-walked around them. But despite feeling vaguely woozy in this whirling world, it was possible to appreciate the cut of designer Phoebe Philo's jackets and to think that, yes, it makes perfect sense to tool around town with a blanket tossed over your arm in case the weather becomes simply too much to bear.
Veronique Branquinho's jackets were cut from men's suiting. She also showed one of the most austere, but dramatic choices for evening: a stark black, long-sleeved ensemble with crystals dotting the waist. At Hermès, designer Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski, produced her most effervescent collection to date, filled with refined color-blocking, trim jackets, bold belts and proportions that felt both contemporary and sophisticated.
Samuel Drira's Nehera included classic jackets with their inner workings revealed. Maison Margiela's John Galliano played with cutouts, reducing his varsity jackets – a nod to Marilyn Monroe's Joe DiMaggio period – to a basic outline. He also turned handbags into hats. Why not? The world, after all, has turned upside-down.
Sarah Burton and Chitose Abe showed off their ability to bring artistry and craftsmanship to the fore. With her Sacai collection, Abe mixed daywear with pajama references. (Consumers proceed with caution!) She added lavish embroidery to sportswear shapes.
And Burton's collection for Alexander McQueen was rich with references to history, folklore and the importance of the human touch.
Designers did not climb atop soapboxes to pontificate, but at Rihanna's show for Fenty – a collaboration with the French-owned Puma – models used library reading room tables as their runway. They stomped along in varsity-inspired sportswear that stands out from the pack of celebrity-driven lines, thanks to the way it looks at the archetypes of American college style – and sees its quirks, from an outsider's perspective.
Fenty stood apart from the rest of Paris Fashion Week. There were no tailored blazers, no soaring examples of an atelier's skill, no mind games. But in one way, it was of a piece with the entire season here.
It's time for everyone to pull themselves together and get smart.
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