Whether you actually care about the clothes or not, there is a gravity about Sunday’s line-up in Paris. For the last two seasons, it has included Balenciaga under the stewardship of Vetements’ Demna Gvasalia and Phoebe Philo’s Céline.
The two houses have become fashion week Prozac, taking imminent gloom (Why are we here? What are we doing?) and dispelling it with concepts that are at once delightful and destructive — a winning combination in 2016. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that fashion is undergoing a revolution, yet somehow many designers don’t seem to realize this. But Gvasalia and Philo are immune to naivety.
The first four looks at Balenciaga included trench coats with those signature huge shoulders and hideously compelling square-toe boots. It felt like Vetements 3.0 until just a few models later, with their dainty blouses (replete with regular-size shoulders and brooches that harked back to the original Cristobal Balenciaga) and dresses. There were cinched waists or large, floppy belts, which nicely countered the fishermen vests, puffer coats and two instances of a rain poncho that looked like a condom. The use of color was awesome; orange with blue, purple with red, and the floral prints (a carry-over from last season) confirmed that it takes longer than a single season for a designer to feel finished with a single concept.
This is something Phoebe Philo understands inherently. For Fall 2016 (the collection that is in stores now), she showed knit dresses that had been in her Pre-Fall 2015 collection. It signaled to the designers of New York that they could do it too. And so they did. There was a ton of carrying over in New York, which seems to substantiate a theory that I have about what Philo (and now Gvasalia) contribute to the fashion discourse. The reality of these collections is that whatever you see on display now will inform the direction in which the following season moves. So it’s best that we get acquainted. But it’s not always easy.
Spring 2017 at Céline came in feeling slight and somewhat confusing, with free-flowing garments and lightweight, delicate fabrics. Is that a jacket with those pants? What is that dress made from? For how easy it all looks — and that is always the thing about Céline — it’s rather complicated. But no look is there superfluously and incidentally for Spring, no two shoes are alike (she paired different colored shoes of the same style on many of the models).
The thing about Philo is that she designs with a hand that takes time to understand. I never get it immediately. I look and then I look again, and then I watch the videos populating my Instagram feed next to comments like “What women want,” and “This is fashion,” and then I squint, and I so want to understand the subtleties that will define the next wave of dressing cues (because make no mistake, she will continue to inspire American designers to break down her complicated ideas and serve them as digestives to their consumers), but I can’t. Not yet. What I do know, however, is that these clothes seem to speak to a common female experience in their confusing, mysterious demeanor. We all want to be mysterious in some way, right? But that shouldn’t be confused with misunderstood.
Photographs via Vogue Runway. Feature photograph by Catwalking via Getty Images. Carousel photograph by Pascal le Segretain via Getty Images