Paris Fashion Week is widely considered the mother of all fashion weeks. It is the place where the world looks for fashion that breaks all molds and trajectories. It is the stage where fashion subverts all continuities and traditions through the genius of the best fashion designers in the world, this year demonstrating the tour de force of groundbreaking possibility by woman fashion designers.
Maria Grazia Chiuri made her debut collection for the house of Christian Dior this recent Paris Fashion Week. Chiuri’s appointment as Dior’s Creative Director is a watershed event for the brand’s legacy, as she is the first woman to hold the position for Dior. Why is this a big deal? For the almost 70 years of its existence, the house of Dior has consistently had male directors, and it has only just appointed a female designer as the first to lead the creative team. Dior has long been a symbol of French fashion and French femininity—though always rendered through the male gaze. Now that a woman is leading the brand, Dior is entering a new mode of dressing the female. Instead of taking a romantic route with the collection’s source of inspiration, Chiuri looked to fencing uniforms.
The first look of the show featured a model in a highly structured fencing gear-inspired jacket, jodhpurs and tennis shoes. This was an unexpected first look considering Chiuri’s past collections with Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino, which always took a very soft and demure approach to design. Clearly, Chiuri is looking to shake things up in Dior’s legacy. Another look that demonstrated this new approach by Chiuri was Look 18, which featured a simple white T-shirt printed with the phrase “WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS” tucked into a floor-grazing black tulle skirt with gold constellation embroidery. This blatant political statement is indicative of Chiuri’s knowledge that, as the new designer of one of the most historic fashion houses of France, if not the world, she has the platform and audience to invert the notion that femininity is correlative to sex appeal. Put simply, Chiuri is shifting the focus of French fashion to shed light on concerns that go beyond clothing on the body.
Another designer that made a forceful impact this past Paris Fashion Week was Rei Kawakubo through her brand Comme des Garçons. Kawakubo made her Paris debut in 1981 and shocked the Parisian audience, market and the world at large with her avant-garde designs that followed no other traditions or aesthetics of dressing the female body but her own. With this most recent collection, it is clear to me that Kawakubo will never settle into one trajectory of design. She continues to challenge everything about fashion by creating looks that transcend practicality and expectations through the use of sculptural forms and shapes. The show was titled “Invisible Clothes” yet, paradoxically, the giant sculptural pieces on the Comme des Garçons runway were anything but invisible. The clothing occupied much space, swallowing the bodies of the models. Kawakubo released a statement on the show, explaining, “This is the purest and most extreme version of Comme des Garçons.” Is this what invisibility of clothing means? That Comme des Garçons pushes to create meaning on the runway that goes beyond the act of wearing clothes? I believe that this is the case.
The dark palette of the collection, balanced with the oversized nature of the pieces, evoked an anarchic spirit that is truly indicative of design that can only emanate from a genius like Kawakubo. There were also two looks that featured the color red, one in the form of tartan fabric (a favorite of the designer) constructed in the shape of a giant kilt that hung on top of the model’s shoulders like curtains, and the other, a flat red dress with ruffle details reminiscent of the designs from Kawakubo’s Fall 2012 ready-to-wear collection. My favorite look, however, was Look 11, which featured another flattened, sculpted ensemble in the shape of a circle. The dress was rendered in black fabric, the circle outlined with ruffle details and the neckline adorned with a giant Peter Pan collar. Though Kawakubo’s vision and avant-garde design aesthetic is hard to make sense of, what is certain is that her aim in dressing the female figure exceeds all other approaches taken by her peers. Kawakubo does not dress the body to please the eyes of the world. She radically breaks from all expectations of creating clothing to make statements that urge us to question expectations, be it of gender, culture, aesthetics, practicality, etc.
On this idea of culture and expectations, another collection that took me by surprise was Rihanna’s second collection for her collaboration label with sportswear brand Puma, Fenty x Puma. In discussing the inspiration for the show, Rihanna described, “[I] kept it a bit street—everything was super-sporty and definitely highly influenced by 18th-century French culture…mainly Marie Antoinette and the Palace of Versailles. She just had this regal way about her, and everything she did was big. I wanted to mix that in with sport.” The designer and pop culture icon could not have said it better than that.
The collection featured a very light color palette, a different direction from the darker tones of last season’s Fenty x Puma collection. Colors such as bubble gum pink, olive green, white, beige, brown and lilac created an atmosphere of light, airy cheerfulness that harkened to a jovial sense of sports-meet-French opulence. The clothing exhibited a mixture of sweet and street in the form of hoodies, lace-up corsets, skintight bodysuits and oversized outerwear/jackets. There was also an influence of lingerie through silk teddies, broderie anglaise dresses and lingerie slips. Topped off with ruffles, bows, lace-detailed ankle socks, tassels and pearls, Rihanna’s collection put in more work (work work work work work) than the likes of other celebrities trying to make it in fashion (ahem, Kanye West).
Clearly this season’s Paris Fashion Week proved that female fashion designers are a force to be reckoned with. Maria Grazia Chiuri, Rei Kawakubo and Rihanna showcased their talents on the world’s largest fashion stage. They and others proved that womenswear designed through the lens of the female is an approach that lends itself to a fresh take on clothing, unbound by any and all expectations of tradition and of a feminine way of dress.