I’ll start by admission of my own unease with the fact that there’s no Givenchy or Valentino in this Paris Fashion Week Top 5, given that both Clare Waight Keller and Pierpaolo Piccioli are two of the most talented designers today. Givenchy lacked the poetics that Waight Keller usually brings, and had far too much tailoring. There were the really cool elongated bucket hats at Valentino, but a standout accessory does not a collection make. Those large-scale prints of neoclassical lovers felt too literal and not sophisticated enough for Piccioli’s trajectory at the house thus far. And had Maria Grazia been over for coffee? Given that those barely there wispy tulle gowns had left with her when she went to Christian Dior, to thankfully give way for more heavy expensive-looking structured gowns c/o Piccioli, they were a surprise comeback. Yet, as always, there were a lot of season-defining looks in Paris. Here were the top five.
1. ALEXANDER MCQUEEN
It occurred to me that much like a person has one true passion or mission in life, perhaps a designer only has one central message to deliver in their lifetime. Some designers’ messages are so specific and niche, that they get old, because they tap into a time-sensitive collective mindset. Tom Ford’s flashy-sexy 90s Gucci perhaps. And some, such as Alexander McQueen’s message, now interpreted by Sarah Burton, have no expiration date. And what is that message? The beauty in the duality of the hard and the soft. You can juxtapose a frilly cream skirt with studded black leather endlessly, and it will always look beautiful - and gut-affirmingly true. Because this duality between strength and vulnerability is the very essence of life, and always will be.
2. RICK OWENS
As many critics feel the need to acknowledge, there are those who get Rick’s world, and those who don’t. Those who don’t struggle to understand his enduring relevance, his messages, his commerciality, and of course, his showmanship. I stand on the periphery: while having utmost appreciation for Owens’s intellect, shows and take on things, there has been very little in the collections I’d have ever wanted to wear. Until this season. Somehow, Owens managed to inch into his the ever so slightly more glamorous and feminine end of his design spectrum, to deliver a collection full of poetry and contrasts, without sacrificing any of the darkness.
It’s sometimes hard to grasp what Joseph Altuzarra’s message, or signatures, really are. It’s hard to consistently pick out an Altuzarra look, which changes both from season to season and within the collection itself. Nevertheless, there was so much to like in his FW19 - from pleats, metallics and ruffles - elements we’ve seen a lot of in general the past few seasons, from several houses - yet brought together in some highly wearable dresses from Altuzarra. There were also some of the season’s most interesting shoes, from slouchy, pointed-toe over the knee boots with straps, to chain-laden sandals.
4. DRIES VAN NOTEN
Critics must also face this conflict: revere the collections they’d be drawn to wear versus the ones that are genuinely the most interesting on a whole. The good critics, of course, operate by the latter measure. Whether you’re not into bold colors, or colors in general, or you don’t care for a floral print, it’s undeniable that what Dries Van Noten does is very special. Often referred to as “one of the most successful independent labels in the world”, the Belgian label’s client is “educated, understated, but with a penchant for the decadent or unusual”, according to Selfridges buying director Sebastian Manes, as once told to the FT. In psychology terms, someone who scores high on openness to experience, but also on conscientiousness. A polished nomad.
5. ISABEL MARANT
Alright, and so sometimes even an honest critic’s favoritism gets them in the end. So it was with Isabel Marant’s FW19. Her French-girl cool doesn’t get old to many a gal - but this season, silhouettes were especially sharp, the boots extra slouchy, the hems extra confident. I think it’s impossible not to feel confident in Marant’s clothes because they capture that very French quality of insouciance, which really just means that you’re detached to the outcome, in whatever situation you may find yourself. You live in the now. And that’s the only way to live.