Givenchy's Clare Waight-Keller, Sacai's Chitose Abe, and Alexander McQueen's Sarah Burton made convincing arguments about how to dress women in 2019 in the final days of Paris Fashion Week.
Clare Waight Keller has been designing at Givenchy for a year now. She favours demure femininity, a sense of bourgeois maturity that feels like a breath of crisp Parisian air in the streetwear-saturated arena of fashion. Waight-Keller is no simple designer: she embeds undertones of 70s seediness. She renovated the delicate femininity associated with couture in January by injecting things with kinkiness: latex and evening gowns. It was shocking. It questioned the aesthetics of couture.
She was influenced by the biblical tale of Adam & Eve, endeavouring to reveal "a seductive glimpse of Givenchy's allure." Candy apples were handed out on arrival to invitees, masculine and feminine subtleties converged, and she even showed snakeskin—a humorous touch with richly sophisticated results.
There weren’t as many groundbreaking ideas on her ready-to-wear runway but she did propose some new silhouettes with the shoulder being the focus of her study. Straight-line boxiness; accentuated, balloon-like roundness; sloped. They arrived in suiting and coats mostly belted at the waist. There were many iterations of the new shoulder silhouette, interspersed with a series of Japanese-inspired floral dresses. In the context of the tailoring, where her expertise lies (Waight-Keller initially worked with menswear), they faded to the wayside. The evening gowns, though, they held their own. Waight-Keller exercised restraint, advocating the value of elegance. It’s defined her tenure thus far and it appears she isn’t running out of ways to extend her narrative. Long may it last.
For Japanese designer Chitose Abe’s label Sacai, the prerogative has always been the discovery of new material compositions. She deftly hybridises fabric combinations. These permutations serve as the backdrop to wider conversations one chooses to have around Abe’s work and the many readings with which her work can be examined.
This season, more so than others, her message felt direct. She reappropriated masculine tailoring by cinching jackets at the way, adding bustiers to blazers, applying neat folds to blazers. Abe feminised the idea of ‘masculine tailoring’ which held cultural relevance, especially at a time when the politics of fashion are so closely observed. Think of the American situation, where many of the female candidates in the upcoming 2020 Presidential election will present themselves in a way that will either level themselves with their male counterparts or else, distinguish themselves from them.
Maybe they’ll acquaint themselves with one of Abe’s many variations on the jacket, such as her brilliant feminisation of the deconstructed mackintosh which she turned into a dress. Some of the ribbed wool-meets-quilted-bomber and the fur-accented denim jacket-meets-parka didn’t fare as well on the catwalk as, say, an expert take on an indigo jacket-meets-blazer, because they didn’t flatter—but they did provide a retreat to the outside world. Protection was one of the themes Abe explored, but she was equally fascinated by softness, showing nightgown-esqe dresses with Navajo pattern and military-inspired bustiers. The duality of woman.
Alexander McQueen, steered by the supremely talented Sarah Burton, trod new territory for autumn/winter but to produce something new, first, she had to go back to her roots. “I went home for this collection, back to where I grew up in the North of England, surrounded by mill towns and wild countryside,” said Burton. “I took my team to those mills, to a landscape that I remember from my childhood. The heart of the collection is inspired by the bolts of cloth we saw woven both by man and machine.” With this in mind, the ensuing collection was a celebration of British craftsmanship and heritage.
As Brexit looms large, one could read into Burton’s work as an elegiac, poignant ‘goodbye to all that’-style show. But beauty and sophisticated, the intersection between masculine and feminine influences are far more important to Burton than politics. She delivered some of the best clothes of the month, ones that were in tune with the commercial aims of the house, but also her creative needs.
Perhaps her most important contribution was to the suiting canon where she fused tailoring with evening-wear. She continued to focus on sharp, boxy shoulders and nipped waists, which has become her signature. Furthermore, she offered an answer to the dress-suit. A dress and trousers in one aren’t exactly a revolutionary concept but the way Burton fused a red lingerie-inspired dress with a leather skirt and slim-fit black trousers, in a palette of blood red and black, was visually arresting. It modernised evening-wear in the best way possible—it looked sleek, modern and tailored with forensic precision.
The show’s coda featured consisted of silk taffeta dresses evoking the image of a rose blossoming with petals in full bloom, in cerise and crimson. They were simply sublime.
Photo Credit: Vogue Runway