Emotional farewells and new beginnings at Paris Fashion Week

A season tinged with sadness found solace in timeless dressing

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What a week it has been in Paris. Balmain bounced back from a robbery with a collection created from scratch in under two weeks, Stella McCartney celebrated all things sustainable, and two designers bowed out for the last time.

At Chloe, Gabriela Hearst delivered her final show, drawing to an end a chapter where her message of sustainability never quite connected with her audience. This did not dampen the designer’s spirits though, who ended her show by dancing on the runway.

At Alexander McQueen, creative director Sarah Burton also presented her final show after 26 years with the house – first alongside McQueen himself and then at its helm since 2011.

Delivered as a greatest hits of her work – and dedicated to the late founder, Lee Alexander McQueen – it revolved around sensual, brooding beauty with intricate gold work, shredded fabric and laser-sharp tailoring, showing off her skills and know-how.

Poignantly, Burton’s departure also marks the end of a direct connection to McQueen himself, quietly closing the door on a remarkable legacy. The new creative director, named by parent company Kering as Irish designer Sean McGirr, will now usher in a new era.

Across other shows, there was a notable leaning towards "sensible" dressing over trend-led pieces, evidenced by multiple houses doubling down on the idea of classic, wearable clothing that will remain relevant for years. This was shown as timeless separates and well-thought-out dresses over showy wear-it-once headline grabbers, continuing the mood seen in Milan of a quieter, less frantic approach to fashion.

Miu Miu's collection delivered this but with a twist that was expected as Prada's little sister brand. Well-cut polo shirts, jackets, pencil skirts, and long shorts were topped with embroidery, and teamed with drawstring pants and glasses for a snappy stylish update, while at Chanel, Virginie Viard dived further into casual dressing, with an understated collection of breezy separates pared with sandals and flip-flops that exemplified effortless French-holiday style.

Louis Vuitton held its show in an interior made to look like a hot air balloon, which was perfectly apt for a light, almost floaty collection of handkerchief-hemmed long skirts and roomy jackets that carried a 1980s vibe.

Over at Balenciaga, creative director Demna – who now goes by his first name only – called on his mother and friends to model his latest collection. In addition to another round of the oversized clothing he has made his own, the show announced a new in-house label. The closing look was a wedding gown made from multiple dresses taken apart and remade into a one-off by Balenciaga Atelier. The label will focus on one-of-a-kind pieces.

Meanwhile Mugler had the likes of Helena Christensen and actress Angela Bassett walk in a dazzling show that had models covered in ribbons of fabric that flowed horizontal down the runway behind them. Stella McCartney created her own universe this season with “Stella’s Sustainable Market” filled with brands pioneering new, animal-free materials to complement her runway collection that used family photographs as motifs.

The Hermes show was perfectly understated and built around the colours of leather used by the house. Crafted into top-to-toe looks of soft, belted house coats, simple skirts with chunky belts and fluid tailoring. The show was interrupted by Peta activists who stormed the runway to protest the company's continued use of exotic skins.

However, the biggest news out of Paris is the return of Phoebe Philo on October 30. Known for creating sleek, minimalist clothing that had women flock to buy her pieces when she headed Chloe and then Celine, the announcement that she will unveil her new eponymous label online ends months of speculation about when (and how) she would return.

Updated: October 04, 2023, 12:09 PM