It came like two thunderbolts, one after the other: Jean Paul Gaultier retiring from fashion after 50 years; and Balenciaga relaunching Haute Couture with Demna Gvasalia, its powerful and radical Creative Director.
What a dramatic beginning to the Paris Spring/Summer 2020 season! On the plus side, the Kering luxury group of François-Henri Pinault has decided to return to the roots of Cristóbal Balenciaga – defined by Yves Saint Laurent as “The master of us all”.
Gaultier’s decision to end his career of colourful, vibrant and sometimes crazy collections after half a century was a shock to the industry – to which the death last year of Karl Lagerfeld, ending his long association with Chanel, seemed like a harbinger of overall change.
“But ‘Gaultier Paris’ will go on with a new project where I am the instigator,” said Jean Paul, 67, while describing a 50th-anniversary Haute Couture folly to be held in Paris this week.
The good news/bad news dynamic seems to be the pattern for the first presentations of clothes destined to be worn in 2020.
Smooth Sailing: From Paul Smith to Chanel
For down-to-earth British designer Paul Smith, 73, the half-century since he opened his tiny shop in England’s Nottingham in 1970 is just a dot on his fashion map.
His slew of past shows, held in France, rather than the UK, was marked by an after-show party in a Paris theatre, with famous clients including actors Ian McKellen and Stanley Tucci, so memorable in The Devil Wears Prada.
But the passing of the apparently unstoppable Lagerfeld – who died at age 85 in February 2019 and whose anniversary will be marked next month – has turned the light on fashion’s future.
In Chanel’s case, Virginie Viard, 30 years at Karl’s side, has taken up the big job in a traditional way. But what of designers who want to start a new label? To put the question another way: Is it possible to support the saplings of young talent, while also finding “replacements” for departing designers who have built their brands over the decades?
Balenciaga Couture: Good News?
Hubert Barrère, Artistic Director of Maison Lesage, the famous French embroidery firm that is part of Chanel’s support of Métiers d’Art collective, said that Gaultier has always been more of a ready-to-wear than couture designer. But he had been encouraged by Puig, the Spanish beauty behemoth, to boost JPG fragrance sales with two big shows at couture time.
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Jean Paul Gaultier – such a heavy loss to Haute Couture that the witty – and sometimes crazy – designer will end his shows after half a century. But Jean Paul is offering us a chink of hope by saying: 💔 “But be re-assured that Gaultier PARIS will go on, with a new project of which I am instigator – and that will be revealed to you very soon. 🍀
“It’s good that Balenciaga is returning, because the house is still one of the fathers of Haute Couture,” Barrère said. “It’s good news because it’s a rival energy, meaning that people want something distinctive and individual.”
The Takeover: Daniel Roseberry at Schiaparelli
“There is still a lot to do, but we are moving forward with a strong designer,“ said Diego Della Valle, titan of Tod’s shoes and owner of “Schiap”.
The executive was referring to Daniel Roseberry in his second season for Haute Couture, choosing colours such as an intense sky blue, or even shades of beige, rather than bold patterns and ironic attitudes from founder Elsa Schiaparelli’s day. The result was a much more cohesive collection, with clothes wearable and comprehensible for a 2020 world.
“There is so much work to be done here,“ Roseberry said. “The first collection was really meant to change the direction of the house and change the conversation… For me, it’s about crystallising pureness, and what space we occupy in this microcosm of adornment.”
The effect often seemed to be just that – exceptional decoration. As in glitter effects with tiny beadings at the back, not to mention the colourful paper “leaves” that rained down from above. There were moments when the collection seemed to thrive on the meld of perfectly cut coats and dresses with spare, but striking adornment. “I really want to have fun and be irreverent in the way that we play with classic couture volume,” Daniel said. “And in how we displace those volumes, because Schiaparelli did that too.”
The show looked like a work-in-progress, but with some fine pieces. There were lower heels, relaxed trouser suits, and jewellery that made a difference – but not an exaggerated statement.
The only nagging question is whether Schiap can ever be brought back to life. She was a bold and thoughtful female designer, close to the avant-garde artists of her era, especially Salvador Dalí. The initial thrill of their his-and-hers attitudes to sexuality and modern art simply cannot be replicated nearly a seen-it-all century on.