Smart phones out, search Google: who is “Anne-France Dautheville”, this season's inspiration for Chloé? The mystery woman turns out to be French, a journalist and writer, who biked around the world in the 1970s. Oh ho! It's back to that hippie era again. Judging by what came down the runway and the pieces of hessian thrown over seating benches, this fearless journalist would zoom along in her skinny red pants and biker jacket until she reached a watering hole.
There she would wander in a flimsy chiffon dress or throw on a poncho, perhaps bought from a local on this hippie trail. Sounds familiar? It was. Although designer Clare Waight Keller made this character seem appealing in her “wanderer's wardrobe”. “Motocross — and looking at women with a boyish attitude,” said the designer who revealed that she wanted to mix the femininity of floaty fabrics with a sense of escapism. Clare seemed to have gone back to a youthful freewheeling that seems essentially English, in these rather charming hippie clothes, delicately and beautifully decorated. But they never focused on the body in a Gallic way.
Not that Chloé, now a global brand, should be sending out “Frenchie” clothes. Nor that young French women dress so differently from other millennials around the world. And yet... when designers from every nation are sending out tautly tailored capes, is a poncho — either like a beige horse blanket, sagging white knitting or what looked like a Persian rug grabbed off a tent floor - making real sense as a modern outfit?
The same concept in white with ethnic embroidery was charming, but unconvincing as an Autumn/Winter 2016-17 wardrobe. There was plenty to like at Chloé, where dresses in peach and banana colours, floating in light chiffon waves, made the most of Clare's taste for easy dressing. Yet there is something more profound that bothered me about this show.
We all know that a female (or indeed male) journalist travelling through the turbulent Middle East today should be wearing a bullet proof vest not a coat of coloured feathers. The whole idea of wandering freely on a trip without borders has been altered by the traumatising images of desperate migrates. It is inappropriate to bring politics into fashion, but a designer still has to respond to the moment. The hippie era may for many still be a beautiful dream of freedom, but this is 2016 - 40 years on.
Carven: Who's That Girl?
Out came the models, round lights like balloons above their heads; all the better to highlight the bright purple of a top, the sheen on an angular A-line mini skirt, and the silhouette of skinny trousers ending in ankle boots. She's cute this young woman. But who is she? The models would have had to wave flags marked Carven for me to be sure which brand was on the runway.
Designers Alexis Martial and Adrien Caillaudaud have got the right idea in making their target young, fashion-conscious women. But it is a very crowded fashion field. What stood out were smart basics like a shearling coat, soft and snug against the marbled floor; a half-wrapped, furry-edged tweed; and all kinds of cool jackets.
A skirt with sunray curving pleats, the pattern running down the body, was almost as striking as a lightning-strike print breaking over a zippered top, or the image of the “hands of God” showering diamonds down a scuba top. So there was plenty to catch the eye at Carven. But the French-ness that was the essence of the elegant, art-loving Madame Carven has vanished.
The designer who called her fragrance “Ma Griffe” — my signature — has lost that distinctive imprint. It seems churlish to say after the duo's third show that designer Guillaume Henry (who re-located to Nina Ricci) better captured the sense of fresh, young Parisian woman from a middle-class arrondissement.
But I don't think the current designers are even thinking about that. They are making clothes for a global audience. And they do that just fine.