This is the haute couture season in Paris. Or, at least, it was, until designers decided to tag on to high fashion ‘pre-coll’. (Pre-collections, also known as Resort or Cruise). Or is it Pre-Fall (early autumn shows)? Or is it menswear running into couture? Or men's and women's collections shown together to make the clothes fashionably gender neutral?
In a neat parallel to the wobbly world out there, fashion seems to be going through its own convulsions of change. Yet instead of creating an unbearable period of uncertainty, two of the shows held on the eve of haute couture introduced calm and charm.
Hermès showed its pre-collection for autumn/winter 2017 using its iconic store in the heart of Paris as the setting, with no photographers present and a general feeling of lightness and colourful gentility. While on the Left Bank, Rabih Kayrouz held a show like a discreet party in which the models strayed among the audience to smile, to chat or sip a glass of wine.
I found the Hermès presentation intriguing because I have been studying ‘Margiela: The Hermès Years’ set to open at MoMu museum in Antwerp at the end of March. Martin Margiela was the designer at Hermès from 1997 to 2003, introducing a subversive but streamlined style. The Belgian designer showed in the same Hermès store as the current designer Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski. And just to make the story into a perfect circle, Nadège worked with Maison Martin Margiela from 2004-2009.
“I wanted to bring a fresher understanding of Hermès ready-to-wear, extra sophisticated with a strong vocabulary,” said Nadège, as she joined her model team dancing merrily as the show ended.
The question is whether the designer can legitimise the Hermès clothes, as Margiela did, making them both a backdrop for the brand's bags, scarves and Pierre Hardy shoes – and objects of desire in their own right.
This inter-season show was highly credible, because Nadège added an artistic sense of colour to her sporty coats and knits. She also included details such as equestrian collar tabs. Hermès orange or the golden glow of a lambskin sporty coat, the royal blue of a sweater and a pinky-mauve dress all added to the streamlined silhouettes. There was even a print of perfume bottles to give a quirky addition. Will that pattern – or graphic lines in black and white – sell as fast as a Kelly bag? Probably not. But the show offered fashion with an unmistakeable Hermès lilt.
The Maison Rabih Kayrouz collection was like balm to women who want reality without vulgarity. As models, grown-ups rather than childlike waifs, stepped out in coats with a loose swing – cream, royal blue or cherry red – there was a sense of respect: clothes for the real world of work and, sometimes, play.
A glass of wine, a thigh-high boot and a toss of long, loose hair suggested women of character. And the designer's presence in the crowd and at the end of the show, when he pulled the seamstresses out into the limelight, was a refreshing way of looking at womanly fashion for the 21st-century.