The question of what “today’s modern woman” “should” be wearing if she is 20/30/40/50/an influencer/a wannabe influencer/Gen Z/Gen Y/a millennial/an ageing millennial/a “working woman”/a mother/a woman “who juggles it all”/a femme fatale/ (and the best) a woman “at ease with her sexuality” is enough to make me give up on fashion sometimes. Why are we focusing so much on superficial categories? Fashion is communicating who we are - outside of these limiting, derivative categories. It’s our psyche, our personality, our soul. Never is this more apparent than at Paris Fashion Week, where design is its strongest, its most varied, and its most deeply felt. Today’s gender wars, fuelled by current events, and the narrative of who should be designing what for women, is taking us further away from understanding the role of fashion in our lives. Let’s look at how from these top five collections from Paris Fashion Week Spring/Summer ‘19:
1. RICK OWENS
I was in New York during the first few days of Paris Fashion Week, where one couldn’t turn the corner without seeing the face of Brett Kavanaugh. Despite the importance of this case, I was a bit sick of the guy, and I was sad to miss the Rick show, easily a consistent favorite. Given that Rick’s collections always draw in rich references and profound, often darker inspirations, I was a bit disappointed that because the show fell on the day of the Senate hearing, other critics made this collection to be about none other than the anger towards Brett Kavanaugh, and women’s anger at the patriarchy.
Because with its space-age crowns, and perforated leather “brutalist lace” sweeping robes, this was one of the most poetic and sophisticated of Rick’s recent collections. The designer himself said that the burning tower was inspired by the mythical Tower of Babel, and “its story of life: hope, aspiration, corruption, collapse”, because “we’re all swinging between hope and nihilism.” The issue with looping Kavanaugh into the interpretation of this collection, besides the fact that it’s too easy, and too simplistic, is that avant-garde designers like Rick that are inspired by nihilism are all too aware of life’s darker forces - of which there are many. In making this collection about Kavanaugh and women’s anger at men, we demean the many reasons for which humans despair. There are fifty shades of black, people.
In spirit of not making reviews about feminism, I am going to make this one about astrology. Yes, there is some seriously sharp tailoring at Clare Waight Keller’s SS19 Givenchy, and pleats and draping that can make one wail and weep. But above all, the word that keeps coming back when you see Waight Keller’s work is “regal”. There is a proud regality in every stitch of her collection’s. It hardly comes as a surprise then, like her powerful female designer counterpart Coco Chanel (bon August 19), Waight Keller is a Leo (also born August 19).
Perhaps due to selective attention bias, I’ve only noticed this fun fact as August 19 is also my own birthdate, but one can’t deny the unrivalled grasp of what women want to wear that these two designers have had. (Not to mention August-born Ricardo Tisci, Yves Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton, and Domenico Dolce, who are also of the luxury-loving sign.)
While hot-tempered Chanel was very proud of her sign and had a thing for gold lions, Waight Keller’s aesthetic, both personal and professional, is a bit more quiet and modest. She is English, after all. But according to Tim Blanks for the Business of Fashion, Waight Keller, more than once, has mentioned how appealing modesty is to her. “It’s like feeling power in a different way.” And for fiery women, this is what it comes down to ultimately, power, and how we tap into it. These clothes will feel severe to wallflower women who like to fade into the background.
In these divisive times, many industry women and Instagram commentators alike have been claiming with increasing frequency that “women design best for other women”. Every time I read this, I spit out a tongue-twisting “Pierpaolo Piccioli”. It’s quite interesting that since Maria Grazia Chiuri went to Dior, Valentino has been going from strength to strength, delivering complex, diverse, and stunningly beautiful collections that hit “what women want to wear” right on the head. Dior, on the other hand has been compensating for Chiuri’s lack of creativity with endless rounds of smoke and mirrors.
This small part of fashion history teaches us that it’s not about gender, it’s about fashion psychology. What are a designer’s current values, what is their personality? What are a consumer’s current values, what is their personality? Now, how do they fit together? With PPP’s and the average luxury female consumer’s, it’s a match.
4. DRIES VAN NOTEN
Let’s note that Dries Van Noten is another male designer who seems to have his finger on the pulse of what women want to wear. This collection had it all: no matter what your age, mood, occasion, or aesthetic preference, it was hard not to deeply identify with at least a few pieces from this collection. There is a laidback confidence that underpins all the looks in SS19, whether in this sporty-feel utilitarian dress with oversized pockets, the sparkly evening midiskirt paired with a simple crewneck sweatshirt, or all the playful feather pieces.
The overused “cool” comes to mind when looking at Chitose Abe’s playful-sporty-yet-feminine collections. But what is cool exactly? Officially, cool is paradoxical, resists linear structures, and keeps a nonconformist balance. Hence, an aesthetic that is not too much of one thing. Whereas good style is 80/20, perhaps cool is 70/30.
With its knits, textural play, slits, zips and straps, Sacai us definitely in the 70/30 category, and a favorite of cool girls everywhere, from Instagram’s Eva Chen to many a fashion buyer. What this complex mixed aesthetic facilitates is for the wearer to tap into many sides of her personality at once. Are you a part-tech nerd, part-mom, part-gym rat, part-lady who brunches? (A more realistic and nuanced category of woman.) Sacai’s got you.