It’s hard to please everyone. Imagine your favourite chocolate bar. They change the recipe and it’s not the same.
This happens in fashion, too. Look no further than the multiple adaptations of brands long after their founders or creative directors exit or pass away. Helmut Lang is a prime example of a brand whose legacy is engrained the fashion history canon for his endless contributions to a changing industry. The recent revival at New York Fashion Week drew mixed reactions from pundits but, of course, one shouldn’t expect anything less. Designer transitions are sure to divide.
This week at Paris Fashion Week, there were a number of attempts—and sophomore efforts—at reviving interest in a number of brands. Paris plays host to many of the worlds historically renowned labels, the ones which transformed the perception of fashion as frocks to fashion as a charging cultural force.
On Wednesday, Casey Cadwallader showed his second outing at Mugler, the storied French house with roots in the avant-garde. Cardi B and Kim Kardashian both wore archival Mugler looks from the 1990s recently, perhaps as a preview for the “Thierry Mugler: Couturissme” exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which positions the brand back in public consciousness. The clothes Cadwallader presented built on the body-con language of his predecessor David Koma, adding ersatz prints to liven tailoring studies up. Ultimately, Cadwallader’s instincts were short of one’s expectations for a house whose design handwriting is linked with drama and theatre. That’s not to say, Cadwallader should go full throttle, guns blazing, with bells and whistles, but perhaps his execution should pack more punch.
Cadwallader said he wanted to embed the collection with more of his own personal stamp but, only two collections in, he should remind himself that fashion is a marathon, not a sprint. He’s got to reacquaint the world with the house codes before he starts playing with them.
Elsewhere, Yolanda Zobel continued to paint her canvas at Courrèges. Famed for its futurist, Space Age fashion connotations, there was plenty of that on the runway. Zobel honoured the archives but added some print and surface decoration. However, as is always the case with the minimal futurist aesthetic, one risks entering a sanitised territory—Zobel misfired and landed here. That only served to describe the first half of the collection. The latter was defined by a scatterbrained attempt at incorporating surface decoration and print. This needs work.
The same can be said for Bruno Sialelli’s pleasant, pretty but prosaic, debut at Lanvin. He’s the third designer to land there since Alber Elbaz’s fateful departure. Since then, the house has been stripped of its prestige and meaning. Sialelli’s co-ed show was a little lacklustre, a lot of Loewe (i.e. heavy Spanish influences, patchwork fabrics, and fringe details), not enough Lanvin. It was warm but unromantic, stylised but not precious enough. Lanvin symbolised a romantic worldview—Vanessa Friedman astutely labelled it “empathetic”—but this was a far cry from the beautifully draped cocktail dressing of Elbaz. Yes, this was more realistic, practical, but it needed more souls.
These designers could take cues from Chloé’s Natacha Ramsay-Levi or Paco Rabanne’s Julien Dossena where efforts to modernise houses have been relatively successful. Both brands could serve as lessons in how to maintain a sense of the house’s history while reinventing it for the modern woman and her needs.
Those who came closest were the new hires at Nina Ricci, Rushemy Botter and Lisa Herrebrugh. They took a look at the archives and threw in some of their own references but maintained an elegant, occasionally humorous, line throughout the collection.
Botter is originally from Curaçao in the Caribbean and Lisa Herrebrugh hails from the Netherlands, where the design duo met. At the Hyères Festival in 2018, they were awarded the top prize, which launched their label Botter on the international stage. Their signature is menswear with a comedic twist, a playfully artful edge, a nod and a wink to contemporary fashion.
Chez Nina Ricci, they practised the art of subtlety, the design duo’s restricted colour palette of blush tones, black and white, with occasional pops of peach and a multi-coloured spray-paint design, was rendered in sharp, boxy tailoring and dainty dresses. They threw in some references to swimwear with a cobalt bathing suit attached to a grey coat being the standout piece. They established notes of flirtation and sophistication, teetering on the lines between the juvenile and the demure. It was simple and effective, a soigné take on daywear with playful twists which reminded this critic of the jovial Ricci Ricci fragrance advertising campaigns.
With thousands of options out there, you have to give women a convincing pitch for your wares. What stops them from going anywhere else for their fashion fix? Creativity and soul. Botter and Herrebrugh delivered an exceptional debut built on these principles. At the end of the day, one must still beg the question, do people care as much about heritage houses anymore? Well, it depends. Different strokes for different folks.