Paris has historically been the global epicentre of a certain type of bourgeois chic – and arguably it still is. Its haute couture, technically brilliant ateliers and incredible roster of ready-to-wear labels dictate what will fill our wardrobes season after season – more so than New York, London or Milan.
Lately something altogether more cool and youthful has emerged from the City of Light. Up-and-coming designers, who are mainly female, aren’t so interested in constructing delicate mousseline cocktail dresses but in wearability and reality. This new tranche of fashion rarely harks back to heritage and instead has an eye firmly on the present. The new guard is designing for a stylish woman who is prepared to mix it up by pairing high-octane dresses with hard-edged boots or a mannish oversized coat thrown over a feminine blouse. It’s playful, sexy and very laid-back.
If this look has a poster girl then it has to be Charlotte Gainsbourg with her casually tousled hair, boyish style and bare-faced beauty. Other proponents include trendsetters such as Clémence Poésy, Joséphine de la Baume and Vogue Paris editor-in-chief Emmanuelle Alt, with her pin-sharp jeans and perfect white shirts.
The hottest designer in this new tribe is Isabel Marant who has enjoyed such a phenomenal trajectory over the past few years that her cult wedge trainers routinely sell out each season and have spawned an industry of look-a-like versions. Marant combines haute bohemia, youthful cool, classic style and French sexiness. Her staples include embellished printed jackets which appear every season, languid printed tops and micro minidresses which are usually paired with ankle boots. Her skinny jeans have become fashion editors’ ‘it’ pieces thanks to their subtle detail. This season expect to find densely embroidered floral coats and gilets, paisley silk dresses, studded printed jeans and studded gladiator sandals.
Marant is not alone – her fellow Parisians Vanessa Bruno and Martine Sitbon (with her label Rue du Mail) combine the same kind of insouciant cool in their collections, contrasting feminine dresses with harder edged pieces.
But it’s a man, Guillaume Henry, who has matched Marant’s success. He became creative director of French brand Carven in 2009 and, like Marant, he designs wearable clothes with a twist. His spring/summer collection features sweet 1940s- inspired tailored suits and collaged dresses, cropped knits (must-have sweaters are a Carven staple), lace dresses and toile de Jouy prints. Henry has built an aesthetic at Carven that is ageless and thoroughly classic while also feeling very of the moment. Like his contemporaries in Paris, Henry has cleverly focused on seasonless wardrobe building blocks – the perfect jacket, chic dresses and investment-piece coats.
Accessibility is shifting from such labels to well-established companies, exemplified when Alexander Wang, the New York-based master of contemporary streetwear, became creative director at Balenciaga, one of the most august and historical houses in Paris.
This new mid-market, which is luxurious without having a certain chilliness, is one to watch. Kenzo is collaborating with New York duo Opening Ceremony to transform the label while other large international companies are seeking creatives who can deliver ‘real’ clothes with just enough bite and who can convert the modern woman’s staple pieces – boyish coats, jeans, blazers, tees and cool knits – into fashionable must-haves.