Paris’ Provocation and Prudery

If, by definition, the garment is lifeless, it is brought to life on the runway – and this season it was brought to the fore with an unusually high level of provocation, fun, kitsch, and fetishism, despite political malaise, an environmental crisis, and economic uncertainty. 

In fact, a predominant theme of this fashion week in Paris has been the stark contrast between some designers' willingness to infuse the calendar with either a dose of levity, creative extremism, or explore the whimsical side of fashion as a form of escapism. 

Despite their frivolous appearance, some collections of this Spring/Summer 2020 season were not only a powerful social indicator, but also a catalyst, driving together the diverse and often contradictory demands of our human nature (such as the need to explore prudery and protection) together with sexiness and excess. 

When it comes to the latter (aka excess), independent labels such as Manish Arora and Nicolas Lecourt Mansion explored a peculiar flamboyant take on women's ready-to-wear. Mansion's tight-fitted, gender-bending, Swarovski-adorned cocktail numbers enabled the models to fully express their quirkiness, similar to the way Manish Arora's Burning Man-inspired eclectic collection advocated freedom of expression and LGBTQ+ rights. 

Mugler and Atlein, for their part, played with femininity, and made quite an impression. Antonin Tron was successful in conveying this sensitive balance between prudery and sexiness in his latest outing for his womenswear brand Atlein. Tron drove his message home with an even more fluid sense of movement, lightness, and freedom than ever before, with a very "physical" approach to his sensuous designs that featured outfits enriched by hand-ruched, draped, molded, and knotted detailing. 

In the same vein, Casey Cadwallader attempted, less successfully so, to explore female dominance in a jovial way. Playing with body language, transparencies, deconstructed structures, and naked body parts – Cadwallader was looking to explore sensuality and fetishism in a provocative way. Speaking of provocateurs, John Galliano's latest outing for Margiela was the perfect example for this season's stylish dichotomy that played both with austere and extravagant style elements. While all eyes were on model Leon Dame's over-the-top and fun-filled catwalk, the military-inspired attire of Galliano's First World War nurses and officers were much more than just another fashion statement. Galliano, in fact, used his whimsical collection to denounce Brexit and populism by paying tribute to the heroes and heroines of the past – the ones who paved the way for a peaceful and united European Union. 

"We are witnessing the very collapse of the moral strength of society, the trivialization of democracy and the European Union," Galliano explained in a podcast after Wednesday's Maison Margiela ready-to-wear show. "If you have a voice today, it is because these people have fought so that you can vote," he added. "So use your vote. Make your voice heard." In a way, Galliano's strong statements and extravagant collection represent a fashionable wake-up call for a continent that is still coping with an economic and humanitarian crisis. A similar statement was made by Marine Serre earlier this week. "The apocalypse is already here," the designer told press backstage after her show, addressing her collection's melancholy undertone – a dooms-day reaction to climate change. Committed to sustainable production, Serre focused on upcycling for her latest collection (she reuses second-hand clothes in her collections) and continued her exploration of a highly-protective wardrobe designed to resist any end-day scenario. 

Dries Van Noten and Paco Rabanne, however, went against that tide by delivering celebratory collections. Both designers decided to bring back the fun on the Parisian runway, in their respective signature styles. In fact, Dries Van Noten was the real coup de théâtre of this Paris Fashion Week so far. In an industry that is overwhelmed by countless – often meaningless – commercial collaborations between fashion brands, Dries Van Noten taught us what a true fashion duo actually looks like: as he teamed up with designer legend Christian Lacroix. Van Noten's signature, nonchalant silhouettes and his taste for floral motifs, animal prints, and jacquards were paramount, and so was Christian Lacroix's glam 80s style, that came with a penchant for kitsch folklore and exuberance. This was not just another fashion collaboration: it was first and foremost the designer duo's positive way of saying that teamwork makes the dream work. 

At Paco Rabanne, Julien Dossena made a particularly joyful statement with his rainbow-colored, eclectic silhouettes that were embellished with 70s-inspired styles. Hitting the runways to Françoise Hardy's 1973 hit song "Message Personnel," the models sported flowing, flowery dresses that played with cut-outs, and outfits that mixed-and-matched contrasting styles, such as polka-dots and stripes, as well as flowers mixed with checks, and leather and muslins. Overall, Julien Dossena advocated his very own take on escapism through pop extravagance and excess. Finally, Rushemy Botter and Lisi Herrebrugh's take on Nina Ricci was also a particularly fun and whimsical way of looking at today's sense of femininity. "One thing is certain, we didn't want to erase Nina Ricci's legacy or flatten her identity. We like the idea of a spontaneous and childish approach," Botter explained when discussing their approach of the new Nina Ricci woman for their sophomore collection. "Nina is a young and dynamic first name, and we want to create a sophistication that is easy to wear so that the brand really appeals to all women," he added. As Nina Ricci's playful and young femininity strutted down the runway, one couldn't help but notice the slight melancholic feeling that it conveyed. In fact, the models walked on a set featuring a rain shower installation that divided the runway in two. It was Nina Ricci's way of reminding us that fashion must always put a smile on our faces, come rain or shine. 

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