Paris Fashion Week Monday: Stella McCartney, Thom Browne, Zimmermann and Lutz Huelle X AZ Factory
Stella McCartney: Family affair
Staged outside the Pompidou Centre on a chilly Monday morning, with a collection that referenced the links between fashion and art. The invitation featured an image from Japanese graphic artist Yoshitomo Nara – and his slogan "Change the History,” the same image appearing on a T-shirt on the cobblestone runway. Stella even worked with him 20 years ago when she opened her NYC store.
Plus, by being held on grand slanting courtyard at the modern art museum, thousands of fans had the chance to witness the show live. And able to enjoy one of Stella’s best collections in years.
Presented on a series of colourful stripe catwalks, the cast marched at all sorts of angles, in a slight fashion malfunction perhaps. The collection, on the other hand, was focused and sharp. Especially the great tailoring, light and soft versions of classic Savile Row suiting, given fresh impetus with their savvy sense of volume and clever detailing. Pairing them with crystal and sequinned tops or body jewelry to add great punch.
Stella also draped with aplomb, with lots of racy bias cut cocktails worn with double-breasted blazers. And in a season of jumpsuits, McCartney showed some of the best - from soft buttercup fighter pilot versions, to a fully tailored tracksuit at the finale, worn by Amber Valletta.
Paired together with faded denim looks and a series of bags made in vegan leather. Stella still very much the leader in fashion’s slow march towards sustainability and respect for animal rights. Her long held positions, a salutary message to far too many of her colleagues.
All told, a fashionable victory for the designer, and a sign that her brand’s future looks far rosier chez LVMH. No wonder, her dad, Beatle Paul McCartney, was mock dancing in his front row seat, rubbing shoulders with his neighbour Bernard Arnault.
Who reacted by filming the finale on his iPhone, to the amusement of daughter Delphine and sons Antoine and Alexandre. Always a good sign for a designer when BA does that.
Thom Browne: Royalist ready-to-wear, American designer
Talent often comes with self-indulgence, especially in fashion and, particularly, if your name is Thom Browne, as he proved with this show, held in a new location for the American designer, the Palais Garnier opera house.
Thom is a great designer, who reinvented the men’s suit and, to a certain extent, the runway show. Turning the latter into works of performance art. However, the whole point of a fashion show is to grip an audience by a powerful aesthetic statement, not irritate them. And the mad scramble to exit this show - which lasted 45 minutes, where the average show’s duration is 15 - only underlined how relieved people were to leave. Talk about losing your audience.
Yet, there was plenty to admire about these clothes; whose key story was the meeting of crinoline and cape. First off a madcap version of a duchess having a Louis-the-XIV-fantasy moment, a towering figure in royal blue frock coat-meets-cape, with gilded embroidery.
Next came a score of giant cardinal worthy capes, in hues of cobalt blue, mint yellow or creamy orange. Cut like a Velasquez portrait of a Renaissance pope, but with funky makeup Francis Bacon would have admired. Capes cut into giant ruched flowers and sleeves so large they could have hidden a basketball. Hair nets over models heads, hair done up like spiky phalluses. Giant clogs and running socks on their feet. If that sounds like rather weird that’s because it was, even if also rather beautiful.
Everything going into overdrive with pleated pinafores and puckered wee boleros, finished with Thom’s signature dachshund print. Done in the red, white and blue of the French flag.
His central circular motif all over the finale in multiple candy-hued redingotes. Polkadot overdrive that made the show stall. Clothes destined for a museum rather than real life. And, a moment for all his wit and humour, when Browne might have to rethink his obsession with performance fashion.
Even four flannel suited bearers carrying a huge pink half-sized Cadillac in lightweight mesh with Lady Penelope emoting inside could not quite save this show.
Zimmermann: Wonderland in the Petit Palais
Paris’ biggest debut this season was Zimmermann, a dynamic Australian brand, whose aesthetic best represents their homeland’s reputation as the 'Lucky Country'.
Entitled 'Wonderland', the collection’s well-spring was a story told to designer Nicky Zimmermann by her grandmother of a long forgotten roller coaster built in the late 19th century, which has since disappeared.
Prints of that long forgotten big dipper, located in Tamarama Bay, where Zimmermann lived for over 20 years, were the key elements in the collection.
“An old roller coaster, it is unthinkable they would built it today,” laughed the designer.
Seen in gloriously color in bouffant frocks; ruffled cocktails; flamenco dresses; gowns with tulip sleeves and even laced up corsets.
Not that Nicky overly relied on prints - considering her deft use of white and ecru. You had to love the padded judo jackets finished with soaring collars; knobby cotton baseball jackets worn with ragged lace skirts or guipure lace blouses over Bondi Beach cargo shorts.
Tamarama today is sometimes nicknamed Glamorama, due to its chic local residents, but those of us who have surfed it know it for a legendary powerhouse rip that only the experienced, or very naive, tackle. One silk dress in the show even read, 'Surf to Grow'.
And brave is what Nicky Zimmermann definitely is, having the guts to take her brand to Paris before the toughest audience in fashion. And presenting a collection that looked very at home in Paris Fashion Week. Expect her to return.
“When we began making this collection I had no idea that we would be showing it in Paris. But after the pandemic it felt right to travel and to come here. I didn’t make any special alterations because we were coming to France. We just decided to enjoy the experience. And my team loved it,” she enthused.
Staged in the colonnade and garden of the Petit Palais, the show rambled and lost momentum badly. But what’s great about Zimmermann is that it’s a very democratic brand, that’s attractive to multiple generations and sufficiently flexible to suit multiple sizes and morphologies. This show and collection will win it legions of more followers. Welcome to Paris Nicky.
Lutz Huelle X AZ Factory: Lutz loves street couture
The unstated question entering the one-off collection of Lutz Huelle for AZ Factory was whether this fledgling fashion concept has a future or not. And the answer, judging from this collection, is a very definite, 'yes'.
Huelle, a German who lives in Paris, is one of the most interesting indie designers in fashion, famous in a strange way for having his best ideas copied by many lesser talents. With this collection, it was about him respecting, and yet extending, the DNA of a house founded by the late great Alber Elbaz, a creator of clear and powerful codes.
Thankfully, the result was a balanced cocktail of Huelle’s street style, delicacy with denim and sense of rock n roll, married to the hipster grand couture of Elbaz, blended with the one virtual show Alber created for AZ Factory.
Though bankrolled by the deep pockets of luxury giant group Richemont, AZ Factory is very wisely managed like a start-up. Its atelier and offices are located inside the Cartier Foundation, Richemont’s most famous brand. And that is where they staged this show, before some beautiful works of demi-abstract Aboriginal art and watched by other amigos of the house, like Thebe Magugu, who have designed for AZ factory already.
Kicking off with The Undertones classic 'Teenage Kicks' on the soundtrack, Lutz sent out a great opening trilogy: snazzy, sleeveless tuxedo jacket, finished with black nylon ruffled elbows over denim shorts and boot that looked like one garment. Oversized blazer with denim mini and cool tuxe with embossed buttons. Lots of frayed trim, how Alber would have like it.
Referring to Elbaz as a “absolute icon” who created couture in a very easy manner, Lutz explained he wanted to “bring the street and rock-n-roll and a little drama to the clothes that should still look precious.”
Huelle worked with Elbaz's “amazing team, and we became friends in two seconds,” determined on making clothes that worked in multiple contexts, and on different ages. He even took a joint bow with six of them.
Diamante crystals in most looks, from power boots and high heels, to posh-punk multi-strand necklaces. And simple but convincing ideas - like a back to front tuxedo shirt dress, with the placket on the back. Alber’s ruffled romanticism riffed on over a dozen looks with huge boss and swirls of fabric.
Though Huelle’s boldest idea were the techno floral camouflage prints, created from sketches and revamped on computers. Seen blurry, on men and women in nylon raincoats, pants, drapes and ruffles; or on country house ball gowns or even saucy cocktails. Only lament, we could have done with more than one version of the print.
All told, perhaps not an epic show, staged on a dank Monday night, but a telling vision of fashion’s future, and one that suggests AZ Factory has legs.
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