Similar silhouettes at Lanvin (left) and Dior (right). What gives?
Fashion these days is fashion with a capital F. But sometimes, it’s boring with a capital B. Paris Fashion Week is increasingly the embodiment of such extremes. The F is, of course, sometimes B, with the B more and more because of E, the capital initial of excess.
Despite all the high-drama, high-octane, here’s-all-the-sex-you-need-in-a-dress ubiquity, inclement weather et al, some brands are traipsing the now frequently trodden path of the excruciatingly dull. Fashion watchers and armchair analysts attribute it to the need (order from above?) to sell. But on the catwalk, where many of us look to for inspiration and direction, do we need to see clothes conceived to bear the weight of commerce?
In the not-so-distant past, we looked to French houses for leadership and for ideas to lift our wardrobes above the humdrum. With the offerings of fast fashion now legit style currency, labels with history steep in couture need to go above the fray, or, to borrow from business parlance, build higher barriers to entry. Just this morning, a design student was overheard saying, “Nah, Dior has nothing for me to copy.” Fashion plagiarism is a problem and a practice that must be discouraged and frown upon, but if imitation is flattery, what does it mean when no one wants to copy you?
Two of the most storied of French names seem to be in a position that may amount to that dilemma: Lanvin and Dior. Bouchra Jarrar and Maria Grazia Chiuri, the respective design directors of both houses, have taken the position of not challenging the status quo, our aesthetic sensibility, and their own selves. Instead, they have both adopted the I-am-a-woman-who-knows-what-women-want stance, churning out clothes that, quite frankly, made us yawn.
There is nothing special about these clothes. The thing is, you do not go to Lanvin or Dior for the mundane, or pieces to duplicate your wardrobe. Perhaps buying habits these days are different, but surely, within all those fine exemplars of wearability, some garments can stimulate our appetites with distinction, if not originality?
Lanvin autumn/winter 2017
The shoes of Alber Elbaz are, no doubt, hard to fill. So, perhaps, Bouchra Jarrar did not attempt to try. Why bother if they will never fit? Slip into those shoes, therefore, she did not. Instead, she took her own mincing steps to create a Lanvin that dares not dream… big.
A first outing for a major brand may be considered easing into the job. But a second season should give us an idea of what is definitively shaping up. So far, it is clear Ms Jarrar isn’t the equivalent of, say, Nicolas Ghesquiere when he took over from Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton. Still, we’re hoping to see something that’s a lot more concrete. Instead, we were served with loads of predictably feminine silk chiffon (what’s with the identical opening and closing dresses?), unsurprising satin-and-lace pairings, that sweetie-poo pink, the various necklines of what we call jiaobeijiu (交杯酒 or the lock of the forearms between lovers or newly-weds as they exchange a cup or glass of wine to drink) knot, unspectacular pants and more unspectacular pants, all in a mix that would surely entice hardcore Jamie Chuas.
Jeanne Lanvin was, of course, no Gabrielle Chanel or Elsa Schiaparelli; she had neither the youthful ease of one nor the witticism and humour of the other. Mme Lanvin had ultra-feminine tastes, best exemplified in her preference for the fitted bodice from under which long, full skirts sumptuously bloomed—the robes de style. Ms Jarrar seems to have a weakness for the same silhouette, only now her full skirts were sheer, and the shorts-like panties asked to be looked at. All this could be seen as a 2017 update. But how does one place or understand the lacklustre lace shirt styled with an insipid skinny black ribbon that Sasha Pivovarova wore? Mme Lanvin may have made a mark with understated elegance, but she sure did not design characterless clothes.
Dior autumn/winter 2017
A name such as Dior is always associated with something new, even when we’re not alluding to The New Look (the American description of Monsieur Dior’s debut, the Corolle). Sure, it can be argued that during Marc Bohan’s tenure (1960—1989), newness was not exactly the star of the shows, but it can be said that novelty and innovation were evident with successors such as Gianfranco Ferre, John Galliano, Raf Simons, as well as those for men’s wear, Hedi Slimane and Kris Van Assche, and for fine jewellery, Victoire de Castellane. Even Yves Saint Laurent, who succeeded Christian Dior in 1957 after the latter’s death, dared to be different with the Beat Look of 1960. So what’s new with Maria Grazia Chiuri?
The autumn/winter 2017 collection was not Valentino 2.0, but it was a rather literal take on three qualities always associated with the house of Dior: “romanticism, feminism, and modernity”, also the three qualities she augmented at her previous house of employment. There will always be women for whom these characteristics are essential in their wardrobe, but, at some point—which, for us, is now—boredom would set in. Correct us if we’re wrong, but we sense that Ms Chiuri was communicating a rather political message: now that I am the first woman to design Dior, let me show you how a woman dresses.
So, she offered separates inspired by men’s work wear—denim dungarees and boiler suits! And shirts—very vanilla, slim fit tops—that went with both pants and skirts (pleated, gathered, and ruched for plain is the bane of fashion today). Between embroidered chiffon and velvet, a woman needs to show her tougher side. And when she needs to reveal gentleness, there are always corseted bodices and their see-through cousins, cold shoulders, and tiered skirts to rely on. And to be certain she’s not off the sportswear/hoodie-the-basis track, she is served a relaxed version of the bar suit with a hood! If Kanye West were to design Dior, that would be a touch of genius, but this was Ms We Should All Be Feminist!
To be fair, Ms Chiuri is a lot more surefooted with her second Dior show. The choice of black and darker shades of blue, as well as the pairing of navy and black hinted ever so gently at an attempt at a concept, albeit just chromatic, and, even when collectively, the colours are akin to what Japanese retailers such as Journal Standard have been employing in at least one part of their seasonal collections (let’s not talk about how those inky hues were made popular by the Japanese invaders of Paris in the early ’80s).
But beyond that, what can we say that won’t sound like we’re negative? One thing was glaring to us. Many of the silk chiffon and tulle skirts were worn with solid-colour underpants that look like shorts. Sounds familiar? Indeed, if you were to change Ms Chiuri’s colour palate with that of Ms Jarra’s, the design directors could easily trade positions. Dior for Lanvin, Lanvin for Dior. How about that? Soul sisters unite!