Yes, there are always those stubborn folks who refuse to let go of the good old days, which were rarely universally good.
Rick Owens, who was born in California but moved to Paris in 2003, is the kind of designer who thinks a lot about the present, and how to synthesize its complicated urgencies with the history that got us here in the first place. His spring-summer 2020 collection results from his consideration of his own past and his Mexican heritage on his mother’s side — a subject that came to mind because of the pitched battle in the U.S. over immigration.
But as is so often the case with designers, Owens’s imagination didn’t stay on a straight path. This collection is not an homage to a single person or idea. In his show notes, he acknowledges that he also draws ideas from Bauhaus and Mexican architecture, art and theater — and, of course, his own whimsy. The result is a magical collection of grand, pyramid-shaped ball gowns, tunics with monumental shoulders, rich hues of yellow and brick-red and a glimpse of a futuristic world as seen through the eyes of someone whose roots lie on both sides of that much-discussed big, impenetrable, improbable, unbuilt wall.
Thursday afternoon, Owens’s models descended the grand stone staircase leading to an enormous pool of water in the plaza below the Palais de Tokyo. Smoke poured over the cement wall surrounding the pool and the first women to come into view were dressed in black. The massive crowns atop their head looked like something an Aztec queen might wear into space — a sot of jagged helmet with elongated sides.
Soon men and women wearing black tunics and robes and holding long black rods filed out and climbed atop the cement wall around the pool, which now looked a bit like a boiling cauldron. The imagery was dark and foreboding, and I half-expected these Gothic fishermen and women to fling their rods into the water and pluck out a skull or two. Instead, their rods were actually giant bubble wands and they began to fill the plaza with thousands of glistening, floating bubbles.
With a simple, childlike gesture, the mood changed. The black-clad models gave way to those in glorious sparkles and dynamic colors. Women swaddled in graphic prints looked like they were wearing a contemporary, glamorized version of a serape. Those in gowns looked like royalty from another galaxy.
Nothing was literal. The vocabulary was distinctly that of Owens. But the history was there in the lines, colors and emotions. The future was there, too. In those same lines, colors and emotions. Humans are creatures of habit, after all. Every generation fundamentally searches for the same things: identity, joy, purpose. And clothes that bring our inner selves into the light.
Owens is masterful at creating a parallel universe in which his Gothic sensibility is the fertile field out of which all else grows. That’s part of what makes the fashion in Paris special. There are throughlines of trends and moods each season, but the aesthetic wizardry is personal, too. As designers seek joy in future days, they do so in ways that are unique to them.
The work of Glenn Martens at Y/Project has always been discombobulating and raw: twisted seams, jarring proportions, improbable silhouettes. And it is always wrapped in a patina of imperfection. For spring, Martens polished his ideas just enough to give them an air of romance without losing their cocky cool.
Thursday afternoon, underneath the Pont Alexandre III — specifically in the stone caverns below the bridge — Martens’s models wore trousers and matching jackets with the shimmering iridescence of an insect’s wing. He created a wide, round neckline that was like a combination of an Elizabethan ruff and the neck pillows favored by economy-class air travelers. And he turned lace into textural stripes on trousers and tops.
What will evening wear look like in the future? Perhaps it will be the Mexican time travelers envisioned by Owens. Or the coach class queens of Y/Project. The master of repurposing, Virgil Abloh suggests it will look like the remains of a parachute after a woman has survived a meteor storm, which might well be a metaphor for surviving the cultural battle over women’s rights and bodily autonomy.
Abloh’s Off-White show on Thursday night was light on ideas — mostly a lot of shirt dresses, tank tops and Swiss-cheese trousers, plus handbags with giant holes in them that are meant to be more art pieces than accessories but aren’t particularly compelling as the former and are wholly ridiculous as the latter. (Which means they will probably sell like gangbusters because people are silly that way sometimes.)
The ball gowns are rather like a giant blob of fabric hanging from shoulder straps. They aren’t particularly well-fitting. But it’s the ease that catches the eyes. Along with the idea of an indefatigable woman fighting her battles, parachuting out of harm’s way and waltzing into the ball. Victorious.
Earlier in Paris Fashion Week: