Paris brûle-t-il? The question hung in the air for days leading up to Couture Week, which began on July 3 as widespread unrest was reported in France following the shooting of the teenager known as “Nahel M” by a police officer.
While carefully worded press releases acknowledged the tension in the capital, the prevailing mood within (and without) the gilded portals of high fashion was that the show must go on.
And on it went. Outside Musée Rodin, crowds gathered (and chauffeured cars caused gridlock) in advance of the Dior show, which found creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri in a contemplative mood. Goddesses in columns and capes and tunics drifted past a fecund backdrop designed by artist Marta Roberti, pleats falling on sandaled feet. Pared back and largely stripped of embellishment but constructed with the rigorous expertise of the Dior workrooms, the collection was a paean to Chiuri’s idea of client-first “quiet luxury.”
The following day, Chanel proposed a rendezvous by the River Seine, where the cobblestones on the quai had been painted in a mosaic of makeup-counter colors. Virginie Viard, the house’s creative director, has, like Chiuri, been in the vanguard of re-purposing couture from outré fantasy to something wearable, insouciant, and “everyday”—well, for the 1 percent, anyway.
Vanessa Paradis was an inspiration for the collection, which celebrated the eternal allure of La Parisienne with tweeds and boho chic, intricately embroidered flowers, flying hair, and straw boaters. As light as air, as nonchalant as you like.
At Armani Privé, the models appeared to be a foot taller than at the other shows and exuded a languor and a purpose whose message was clear: couture is power. Billed as a journey from the West to the East, it was as unashamedly glamorous and cinematic a trip as you would expect from Giorgio Armani, a designer who stays true to his codes.
This time, he focused on the seductive appeal of the rose. The red, red rose that embellished almost every look, from a one-shoulder dress of poured scarlet lacquer, made for a Bond girl with a gun in her garter, to the bridal finale.
The Valentino show at the 17th-century Château de Chantilly was the most anticipated event of the week. After a two-hour bus ride (fortified by Valentino snacks), guests entered a waking dream. Creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli sent models down the stone steps in drifts—boys and girls at ease in their fairy-tale kingdom. The show deftly combined fluidity and ease of “casual couture” with a magisterial sweep. Billowing capes caught the breeze; crystal embellishments reflected the setting sun. At the finale, Piccioli led his entire atelier in an emotional valedictory bow, alchemists all.
At Balenciaga’s salon on Avenue George V, curtained in white, the casting was for drama: Isabelle Huppert, Amber Valletta, Inès de la Fressange, and Eva Herzigová modeled clothes that tapped into the spirit of the house and the aesthetic of Cristóbal Balenciaga. It was overlayed with current designer Demna’s love of technology, which embraced CAD, laser printing, and trompe l’oeil. Couture then. Couture now. But what next?
David Downton is an Editor at Large for Air Mail