There are seismic shifts occurring in the Paris firmament. Where once only a flirtatious mode of ladylike chic held sway, championed by the powerhouses of Chanel, Lanvin and Christian Dior, a new generation is forging through, writing a new chapter in the history of Parisian style. New labels such as Vetements, Jacquemus and Koché, along with newly reinvented old ones – think Balenciaga, Courrèges, Paco Rabanne – have a roster of radically diverse designers at their helm. Collectively, they are challenging the ‘little black dress’ clichés and creating fashion with a point of view.
The Vetements effect
The movement’s pin-up is Demna Gvasalia, co-founder of Vetements and the new creative director of Balenciaga. The brand he helped start was once an obscure off-schedule show; by contrast its latest autumn/winter collection – staged in a church – was the hottest invitation of the season. Anna Wintour, Emmanuelle Alt and Alexandra Shulman, the editors of Vogue US, Paris and UK respectively, sat in the front row while hundreds of others fought to gain entry.
‘The attention is a bit scary. But I don’t think it is so much about me or about Vetements but more about the state of fashion today,’ says Gvasalia. ‘We started the label two-and-a-half years ago from nowhere. We showed it is possible and not just a dream, and that building something from scratch can actually work.’ The designer is just one member of a close-knit collective behind the brand, whose ideas first took form around ‘the kitchen table’, to the accompaniment of copious amounts of white table wine and cigarettes. ‘If you have too much strategy, you forget about the essence. What we do is make clothes,’ says Gvasalia, matter-of-factly.
Clothes by Vetements are distinctive thanks to their streetwear influences and their subverted silhouettes, be it in the hunched or thrown-back shoulder lines of a biker jacket, in the now iconic jeans assembled from diverse cuts of denim, or in the low swagger of a pair of sweatpants. ‘I like these subtle ways design can transform a garment,’ says Gvasalia.
The designer, who was born in Georgia and has worked for Maison Martin Margiela and also for Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton, is as well versed in cutting and tailoring as he is in the theatre of fashion shows. At his debut for Balenciaga, he gave the historic house an ‘haute attitude’, presenting tailored ladylike suits with exaggerated hips and extra-wide shoulders, high-fashion lounge pants and fabulous court shoes covered in a spray of crystal stones.
This willingness to buck trends and redefine the idea of sophistication is not exclusive to Gvasalia, however. French-born 26-year-old designer Simon Porte Jacquemus is a self-taught talent who projects another view of Paris. The inspiration for his eponymous line stems from the insolent beauties that you might find hanging out in the suburbs wearing smart but contemporary ensembles. For autumn/winter 2016/17, Jacquemus offers avant-garde but wearable super-wide trousers, pinstripe suits fastened with bows, and draped bustier tops with tails. ‘I’m obsessed with selling my clothes, it’s an economic reality: I need to sell for real,’ says Jacquemus, and with his label now boasting stockists around the globe it seems he’s meeting his goal.
A classic reinvented
Courrèges, a Parisian label established by André Courrèges in the 1960s, is being re-invented by Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant. The duo’s focus is on multipurpose items that play on the label’s heritage: cue bomber jackets, crinkly patent coats and body-con knitwear. For leather pieces that can be packed up into small flatpack parcels, look no further.
Feathers and flowers
These designers may be young but they are not inexperienced. They are well versed in the traditions and techniques of tailoring, flow and embellishment, but they combine those skills with modern ideas. By day, Christelle Kocher of Koché works at Maison Lemarié, an atelier now owned by Chanel that is famed for its decorative trimmings, in particular feathers and flowers. By night, she conjures up her own collection, with feathers and beads sprouting from mesh dresses, and collages of fabrics adding attitude to dresses. This season, she showed her collection in an 18th-century shopping arcade that is home to Afro-Caribbean hairdressers. ‘I want to share my Paris with other people,’ she says of her multicultural fusions.
A new energy
This new energy in Paris is being felt beyond the catwalks, with a clutch of shops embracing the scene. Concept store Tom Greyhound, established by a Korean entrepreneur, is a must-visit, while The Broken Arm is an unpretentious café-cum-store in the Marais that has become a magnet for style seekers, fans of obscure denim and design lovers. Either of these boutiques will give a real insight into the way that young, savvy Parisians are shopping right now. It’s an exciting moment for the city’s fashion scene. Whether on the catwalks, in stores or simply on the streets, what unites all these players is a passion for Paris.