Fashion week can be about many things – for much of this weekend in Paris, thanks to Celine’s show, the catwalks took a back seat to a righteous backlash against the patriarchy – but in the end it is always about our wardrobes. What is on the catwalk has an impact on what I wear and what you wear. That’s the whole point. That is literally what makes it fashion. Otherwise, it’s just clothes.
We are at the end of Paris fashion week, the final stop in the month of fashion weeks, which means it is time to zoom out and focus on the wood, not the trees. We have to start with Celine, because that was the show that everyone talked about. It was interesting to me that an audience of women who might a decade ago have bowed before whatever new look creative director Hedi Slimane revealed (and perhaps that was what he assumed would happen this time) rose up in resistance, furious at their taste being ignored in favour of a 50-year-old man’s version of what looks hot on an 18-year-old model.
Nonetheless, the resistance is, in some respects, futile. We will all start to dress a little bit like the new Celine, mark my words. Not the broken-Barbie-doll party looks, but the tailoring. That Slimane has installed a new tailoring atelier at the heart of Celine is one cog in a shift happening right now, which is the beginning of a move away from the midi-skirt/long-fluid-dress school of dressing and towards trousers, jackets and shirts. This was also my takeaway from Balenciaga, one of the best shows this week. Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga is a major part of the reason why for the past year we have wanted to wear dresses that are long and graceful and cool, rather than perky and tight.
Other designers were doing it first, but the Balenciaga edge and colour palette made it box office. (I’m thinking, for instance, of Alek Wek in the hot pink dress over violet boots from spring 2017.) This season, Balenciaga has tailored lurid velvet coats and dresses – I’m not showing those photos here because they are almost Comme des Garçons-esque in their exaggerated shapes and are too distracting when we are trying to focus on real wardrobes – but also trousers, belted coats and shirts with a stiffened silhouette that are teamed with trousers to have the impact of a suit.
My favourite catwalk outfit of the week was another trousers-and-stiff-shirt combination. The second exit at Givenchy teamed a khaki shirt with epaulettes and wide, bracelet-length sleeves with high-waisted petrol blue peg-leg trousers that finished a few inches clear of high-heeled courts with a narrow, high V-shape. Something about that look projected a perfect balance of poise and energy. And it says something about what women want now that designer Clare Waight Keller, creator of Meghan Markle’s wedding dress, would choose as her new-season muse the Swiss writer and photographer Annemarie Schwarzenbach, who lived as what we might now call a gender-non-binary woman in Weimar Berlin. Waight Keller’s aesthetic is always womanly, elegant, a bit romantic even, which makes her brilliant at interpreting androgynous clothes in a way that grown-up women can wear. Karl Lagerfeld gave good shirt-and-trousers, too: Kaia Gerber in a Chanel-branded short-sleeve shirt with a stiff, pointed collar was one of the standout looks at Chanel.
Watching Sarah Burton’s brilliant Alexander McQueen show on Monday evening, I marvelled at how the female-resistance, warrior-woman aesthetic that seemed like the science-fiction fantasy of Lee McQueen when he was first doing it, feels more and more like clothes for real life. The narrative that Maria Grazia Chiuri has taken up at Christian Dior traces back to his shows in the 1990s; that’s what you call being a visionary, I guess. Burton’s version of McQueen is softer, but no less strong. The label has always done incredible tailoring, and this collection had unimprovable versions of the trouser suits that have been a major front-row trend this season.
Wide-legged trousers worn over something leotard-ish is a major incoming look. At Chanel’s beach-themed show, wide-legged jeans were worn over an asymmetric monochrome swimsuit. Stella McCartney did it – a floral bodycon top layer with slouchy trousers – as did Balenciaga, with a strappy grass-green evening top worn with high-waisted black trousers. The trench coat was everywhere, on the catwalks and in the wardrobes of show-goers. The way to wear it these days is casual and loose, shrugged on like a cardigan, rather than tightly-belted-with-a-bow as of yore. New-ish designer Natacha Ramsay-Levi is continuing the Chloé heritage of being the label that shows what the cool French women will be wearing next, with trench coats slung over printed skirts. You will be pleased to hear that Chloé’s cool Parisienne is still very into a midi skirt. We are moving away from the wrapped and asymmetric midis towards an elongated pencil skirt, though. See Hermès, where a pencil skirt with a flat shoe was the essential silhouette.
At most daytime shows this season, the majority of the audience wore trainers. That might not sound like an earth-shattering development, but, actually it sort of is. A decade ago, a heel was absolutely obligatory, even at 9am. The catwalks continue to show the way here: flat shoes go with everything. Valentino, which pretty much everyone agrees has the highest and most impeccable taste level of any show, is all about a flat shoe with a gown. Also, a narrow and deeply plunging V-neck is the new evening neckline to watch, if Valentino is anything to go by, and it almost always is. These are the most important updates from Paris, because these are the points where fashion week touches real life. Fashion month is over, after all: time to get real.