Paris Fashion Week this season took place against the unsettling backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, causing something of an existential crisis for designers. At Balenciaga, creative director Demna (he's ditched his surname Gvasalia) made a pointed display of support for Ukraine, his adoptive homeland, while Stella McCartney showed solidarity via a sizeable donation to an aid organisation. Elsewhere, many designers privately deliberated whether to go ahead or not.
The distant rumbling of war meant the catwalk too had a very different feel. Gone was the breezy joy of summer, and all of those flamboyant clothes for dressing up in. Instead, autumn/winter felt, across the board, less about going out, post-pandemic, and more about practical comfort, albeit with a snappy edge.
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Many houses looked to the great outdoors for inspiration, most notably Chanel, which explored the Scottish history of its most famous cloth, tweed. Taking cues from one of Coco Chanel’s own lovers, the Duke of Westminster, creative director Virginie Viard worked man-sized clothes on female frames, with several practical pockets and finished with wellington boots.
At Miu Miu, more masculine coats arrived, but now mixed with tiny miniskirts, or glossy trousers, in a way that felt more akin to how women actually dress, than the musings of a fashion show stylist. As a continuation of the boy-blazer-over-mini-skirt trend that Miu Miu started last season, now upgraded to a longer, warmer coat, this is something we will doubtless be seeing everywhere come wintertime.
Stella McCartney too opted for heavier layers, patterned with images from the artist Frank Stella with whom the collection was created. Over wonderful chevron knitted tops and skirts — all cut on the slant and with natty cut-out elbow detail — came huge bags, many of which were fashioned from a new faux leather, made of grape skins.
At Givenchy, Matthew Williamson adopted a Balenciaga-Esque darkness, with an oversized co-ed show in black and dark green, lifted with nods to its own very feminine history, such as the pearls worn by its most famous client, Audrey Hepburn, now teamed with floor-grazing coats.
Valentino, meanwhile, went the polar opposite, delivering an eye-searingly bright show. Known for its colour — most famously red — here, Valentino instead picked pink or black for every look. Used head to toe, down even to matching shoes for every look, the idea was to not distract the eye from the cut and details. A radical approach, but it actually worked as the several surface finishes, subtlety of cut and tailoring shone through.
Also leaning into the beauty of cut was Louis Vuitton creative director Nicolas Ghesquiere, who skipped through centuries, compressing different eras on to very modern looks. Amid the padded panels that echoed 18th-century dresses and overscale satin tuxedos, he also showed how women actually dress, sending out a series of floaty dresses, with rugby-style shirts tied loose on the hips.
At Hermes, always the outlier at fashion weeks for its flat refusal to pander to trends, creative director Nadege Vanhee-Cybulski injected a distinctly sporty edge for autumn/winter. Bodycon body suits arrived with extra-long socks and knee-high boots, but with typical Hermes flair, softened with a flouncy frill around the neckline. Staying true to the extreme lux-ness of the house, however, this was about buttery soft leather cut into breathable panelled tops, and elevated, drop-waisted, tennis pleat dresses.
At Loewe, a leather specialist like Hermes, creative director Jonathan Anderson delivered dresses moulded around the body, or stretched over frames shaped like cars. Determined to inject levity into the fashion-verse, Anderson has enlisted his own name label as well, yet at Loewe, with its storied history and remarkable leather-working skills, he has found a willing studio to translate his crazy ideas into beautifully made garments.
At Dior, meanwhile, Maria Grazia Chiuri unintentionally referenced the dire situation in Ukraine. Although she would have had no way of knowing how prophetic her designs would seem when they were sketched out months ago, her decision to turn the famous Dior Bar jacket inside out and expose that padding which creates the hourglass shape, meant jackets felt as if covered in armour, like a flak-jacket.