At around peak rush hour on the penultimate day of fashion shows a line of black cars snakes out of Paris, past grassy fields and factories 30 miles north to the 16th-century Château de Chantilly. Guests in brightly colored plumage were disgorged to sway along a long stone walkway that opened to a view of reflecting pools and manicured lawns set around a central fountain surrounded by a maze of benches. That was where, as the golden hour entered, a magical Valentino show began – with Kaia Gerber in jeans and a white shirt.


Granted, they weren’t just any jeans: they were made of silk gauze all over embroidered with microbeads dyed 80 different shades of indigo to resemble denim, but still. Abracadabra

They looked like jeans.

Jeans – or their very luxurious doppelgängers – were the biggest trend of the week. In addition to those opening jeans, the Valentino collection also included high-cycling Levi’s from the rare large E edition (1966) appliquéd in gold, worn with a plunging sleeveless white shirt and a cloud-knit coat in deep sapphire blue swept off to the elbows so it slid behind like a train .

There were more jeans, also made of trompe l’oeil beading, in the Jean Paul Gaultier collection guest designed by Julien Dossena, and many jeans in all stages of distress at Balenciaga, which were also not denim at all but oil-painted canvas. that took two and a half months to create.

The idea of ​​high-end faux jeans isn’t exactly new – Matthieu Blazy turned leather into denim for his Bottega Veneta debut a year ago – but it may represent, more than any mega ball gown, where this is all going. It sounds bizarre, like a desperate attempt at fashionable clothing on the street, or worse, like a scenario of Marie-Antoinette playing at a shepherdess (both of which are not outside the realm of the possible). But, in fact, what the jeans really signal is a shift back to a more essential way of approaching couture.

That’s less like a look-at-me crystal-adorned attention grabber, and more like an inside story; clothes that are like a secret only the wearer would know because only the wearer knows how much work it takes to make something so seemingly simple. Something that is literally impossible to do, except by hand. In the coming age of AI, that may be the most precious thing of all.

Indeed, “custom,” as Demna called it backstage after his Balenciaga show, or “fashion you don’t see,” was a hallmark of the season. Given the real civil and economic turmoil outside the fashion bubble, this is both a strategic move – this is no time to be a walking advertisement for wealth and privilege – and a creative one.

At Chanel, Virginie Viard set her show on a cobblestone bank by the Seine, and sent her models walking outside (as at Valentino, many of the models wore flats, or semi-separates), carrying straw baskets of flowers as if they had just happened. to go out to an outdoor market in his bouclé. How to do it!

One model in a red jacket was walking the designer’s sister’s dog. There were some splashy proportions – skirts that ended just below the knee – but the best looks were embroidered in bejeweled fruit and flowers, like a picnic in the park.

And at Gaultier, while Mr. Dossena (otherwise known as creative director of Rabanne, formerly Paco Rabanne) referenced some well-known Gaultier-isms such as marinières and cone bras, he also leaned into lesser-known collections such as the spring 1988 Concierge show . for inspiration The result combined chain mail with floral aprons, layered sheer embroidered dresses over see-through trumpel’oeil bodysuits (complete with beaded merkins), embellished rabbinic coats and generally created a DIY version of “a bunch of characters.” Like the kind you see every day, like the world outside the window.

There were holdouts, of course, most notably Giorgio Armani, whose Armani Privé show was a long ode to the rose in velvet, shimmering sparkles, sequins and chiffon. Although even there a simple, long-sleeved black velvet dress, backless except for a string of red roses down the spine, was so compelling, it served as the exception that proved the rule.

“If I can give the idea of ​​fashion and equality in the frame of a castle, then the medium and the message have collided,” Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli said during a show preview to explain how he arrived at Chantilly, and why, instead of bowing to the royalty of it all (which would be the obvious choice), he undermined the surroundings with clothes that were gorgeously lush and tactile, yet seemed as shouldered as a pair of sweats.

How you just woke up one morning and pulled on a white dress, knit on the bias and covered in matte sequins, that slung off one shoulder like a training top, to make your coffee. Or thrown over a ruby ​​cashmere coat as a bathrobe to run out and fetch the mail.

Oh, this old silver pearl tank top? This feathered rock? I just grabbed what came to hand! Dresses were made from one piece of cloth, twisted at the waist. Everything seemed weightless. The point was to change the hierarchy of aesthetics.

That’s part of what Demna has been doing since he arrived at Balenciaga, and certainly since he restarted the brand’s fashion three seasons ago. That collection dutifully continued that work, rather than moving it dramatically forward, with a focus on silhouette—funnel necklines in tuxedo dresses and suits tapering to a point at the ankle—and trumpel’oeil used not just on denim but on. faux fur coats that only looked like lynx or sable.

Coats and scarves were molded to look frozen mid-wind (buffed by the slings and arrows of public opinion?). Two dresses were made of thousands of loose silk threads, like a curtain; another purple lace dress was sculpted into a bell shape, although there was nothing underneath to keep it in place. The final look was an armored dress 3-D printed in galvanized resin, covered in chrome and covered in flocked velvet. Hello, Jeanne d’Arc.

The obvious connection was “life is a battle”, or to the brand’s own battles at the end of last year (celebrities, at least, seem above the matter: Cardi B, Offset and Michelle Yeoh were in the front row; Isabelle Huppert entered the show ). But then Demna also said after the show that he believed couture was a kind of “antivirus” for fashion; because of the “fake creativity” and “endless marketing and sales and all this blah, blah that cannibalized, I mean the whole industry.” Then he compared couture to the Modern vaccine, come to save the day.

The problem is that there is nothing easy about it: not to do, or to wear. Is it enough to inoculate everyone against the move to fashion-guessing that seems inevitable? Doubtful But when it works, it’s a lovely reminder.

As Viktor & Rolf said – literally – in a 30th anniversary collection that featured a whistle-stop tour of their past show concepts, all remade in bathing suit form: “Dream On.”

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