It has been an emotional Paris fashion week. The Vogue-versus-the-bloggers plotline had laid bare the tension and rivalry embedded in a group of people currently spending 12 hours of every day of the week together, even before Kim Kardashian’s ordeal at gunpoint escalated the nervy mood.
So at Stella McCartney’s Monday morning show at the Opéra Garnier you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. Or, it turns out, you could cut through it with a flashmob finale in which the models ditched the po-faced strutting in favour of a brilliantly silly dance, which choreographer Blanca Li had created late the night before, that being the only time the models weren’t busy with other shows. “I wanted to have a more emotional connection this season,” said McCartney backstage. As a British brand showing in Paris, she wanted her first show after June’s referendum to “show love, throw our arms around everyone, make people happy”.
McCartney’s fashion week raison d’être has always been about more than aesthetics. Her pioneering anti-fur and anti-leather stance, widely considered the hippy eccentricity of a Beatles daughter when she launched her label 15 years ago, has since been adopted by Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Giorgio Armani. Last week, her brand released its first annual environmental profit and loss accounts, examining the environmental impact of the business from raw material to retail. This focus on sustainability reflects a nascent change across the industry, as fashion responds to a new generation of millennial consumers who expect their clothes to reflect their values.
A racer-back T-shirt dress on the Stella McCartney catwalk spelled out “NO FUR”; a jumpsuit read “NO LEATHER”. “We’ve got a lot to say at this house, and sometimes you’ve just got to spell it out,” McCartney said after the show.
The great Parisian designer Sonia Rykiel, who died in August aged 86, would have loved McCartney’s finale. Rykiel always felt that the traditional frosty stalk of the catwalk model jarred with her passion for clothes that liberated and empowered women, and preferred her models to walk arm in arm, smiling and chatting.
The first Sonia Rykiel catwalk since the death of the label’s founder was bookended by tributes. It was staged at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris’s Saint Germain district, not far from where Rykiel’s fashion business began with her 1960s Rue de Grenelle boutique, and opened with a lineup of models whose initialled sweaters spelled out “Rykiel Forever”. This being fashion, however, the true homage was not in the wording but in the silhouette: the sweaters had the distinctive skinny rib shape, with tight sleeves and high armholes, with which Rykiel made her name as an icon of a distinctive Saint Germain aesthetic.
Rykiel herself had stepped down from design duties long before her death, but her daughter and granddaughter remain engaged in the brand. The challenge for Julie de Libran, an alumni of Prada and Louis Vuitton who has been the creative director since 2014, is to keep the Rykiel spirit alive and dynamic. (Memories may be precious, but mawkishness doesn’t sell.) This collection channelled the confident, independent spirit that Rykiel represented into modern pieces: a nautical spin on oversized jackets, an August-in-Provence take on smocked summer tunics.
It was an accomplished and contemporary collection. But the ultimate tribute to the talent of Rykiel were the skinny rib, rainbow-striped Lurex sweaters in which models lined up under the finale’s glitter shower: a classic look of the original Sonia Rykiel era that stood out even today as the most instantly desirable of pieces.
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