PFW: The History of Fashion

Something very interesting is happening in fashion right now: older heritage houses are being revived. By which I mean the older older heritage houses from the turn of the century. Just before Paris Fashion Week the news came that LVMH was bringing back Jean Patou, the circa 1910s label known for a focus on comfort through a languid femininity, with Guillaume Henry – of Carven and Nina Ricci – at its helm.

Poiret Spring/Summer 2019 show in Paris. Photo by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.

Poiret, another 1900s-launched brand with an inter-war-years heyday, launched by Paul Poiret and underpinned by freeing silhouettes that rejected the corset, was also revived this year, with Anne Chapelle its CEO and couturier Yiqing Yin, previously of Paris brand Leonard, steering the ship.

Now, there was once a time not so very long ago that I staunchly thought heritage brands that had gone to bed some time ago should stay firmly asleep. This came in the wake of Vionnet, though. And oftentimes following the output of Schiaparelli. The latter is getting there, slowly, having taken time to find its feet. The former still needs work. So, it’s with this in mind that my reluctance to welcome old fashion world brands back into the fold was based.

But then, over the past couple of years, with the onslaught of sports-streetwear trends and social Insta everything, and the idea that we can’t remember beyond a tile-filled page let alone actual history, the relevance of said brands seemed to make more sense. Jean Patou and Poiret especially.

Poiret Spring/Summer 2019 show in Paris. Photos by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.

The shapes at Poiret feel interesting and new. Because there is shape. That’s what the brand was always built on aesthetically. Slouchy cocoons, freeing yes but elegant also. Yin offered up a beautiful rainbow palette of wispy pieces this season, some outerwear options too, for shapely trousers and blousons. It was a couple of the looks at the beginning, jumpers over dresses, inflated up top and meeting the dress beneath just below the waist, that felt so very right for now and so very right an interpretation of Poiret, in both 1918 and 2018.

The shoes were far too complicated and conceptual and some oversized bags were a styling trick not needed, but dresses that draped into capes were beautifully made. And it served as a good reminder of what clothes can be and once were – not just layers of stuff thrown at a body, overshadowing the body and hoping for the best.

Olivier Theyskens Spring/Summer 2019 show in Paris. Photos by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION.

Arguably among the more contemporary names in fashion right now, it’s Olivier Theyskens who is a master of plundering history. During his tenure at Nina Ricci there was always a gothic and dark romance to his collections; it’s one that has continued under his own namesake label, but now it’s really flourishing. He can be Theyskens all the way. And be as gothic or not as he wants with it, his own sinister fairytale sensibilities so intrinsic of course in defining what he does.

Ethereal, dark, and romantic, Edwardian skirts, lace leggings, leather waistcoats, little bodices, and lingerie details – it was luxe and rich but delicate. Beribboned boots and gun-sling-like jackets, sleeveless shirts and a sherbet-ness in the lemon splashes, it was beautifully executed – with emphasis on the construction, an element that modern fashion has tended to lose sight of recently.

Backstage at the Ann Demeulemeester Spring/Summer 2019 show in Paris. Photo by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.

Similarly, it’s this historical one finds so appealing in an Ann Demeulemeester collection. Sébastien Meunier, installed in 2013, continues to do a great job at cementing this very singular vision for shirting pieces, draped and ruched, dishevelled and draped. There were chain details and rosette corsages, ribbons and ties, dusky pink, net pulled over the face and hair here. It was the perfect embodiment of a dishevelled sort of dreamy punk romance, a Tess of the d’Urbervilles thing maybe going on. Belts wrapped around the waist brought an armour-like twist, the dresses suited for beach as much as bride depending on how you wore it.

Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2019 show in Paris. Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION.

And Nicholas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton, too, found his silhouette in huge bulbous sleeves of Shakespearian styles. They were at times too big, great for show and editorial purposes, not so great for putting on a jacket. But the broader takeaway is that those construction and design notes, those details from fashion history, are coming to the fore once more. Because they feel brand new. It feels like we need to show these off. Not lose them to an invisible world of temporality. Of course, the danger is that we’ll wander into a landscape that’s all a bit too costume dress-up. And that the same proliferation of sport and streetwear will come and we’ll be sick of the sight of a leg-of-mutton sleeve. Until we get to that point, I’m enjoying seeing the history of fashion play out on the catwalk. Right now, that’s what feels the most forward-thinking: looking back through history.