February 19, 2024


As the first sentence of The white album by Joan Didion, we tell ourselves stories in order to live. This has generally been applied to fashion: in addition to giving us shelter, it served to tell a story, project a personality, status or belonging to a group. But these days in Paris fashion week —which ends this Tuesday, March 7— all of that has been called into question.

In recent years, Demna, at Balenciaga, has cultivated the narrative of the indifferent observer of the system, of the underground, of the contestant. Relying on parades with a political and environmental background or based on pop culture and viral campaigns and products created to generate controversial debates and that had to be explained through complex narratives, such as the garbage bag of more than 1,000 euros, the Converse bags that cost 1,800 euros and plastic bags from the market at more than 1,500, has managed to position the brand in the privileged Olympus of those who can sell sweatshirts at tailored tailoring prices, something that can only be achieved by giving more value to the label than the cotton of the sweatshirt in question. storytelling, is called. It’s fashion. Is marketing. And it’s genius.

But there is a flip side to storytelling, and going viral can easily turn around and cause a reputational crisis, as Demna also knows. This November, two unrelated campaigns (in one of them, children posed with stuffed bags adorned with leather ribbons and spikes that had already been presented months before; in the other, a ruling appeared denying that child pornography was protected by the first US amendment) generated virulent attacks on the brand and its creator.

Presentation of Balenciaga's fall/winter 2023-2024 collection, during Paris fashion week, on March 5, 2023.
Presentation of Balenciaga’s fall/winter 2023-2024 collection, during Paris fashion week, on March 5, 2023.Victor VIRGILE

In this parade in Paris, the first since the controversy, the Georgian designer wanted to focus all attention on clothing. He advanced it in a very strange unsigned interview in the US edition of the magazine Vogue, in which he explained his decision: “Go back to my roots in fashion, as well as those of Balenciaga, which are making quality clothes, not image or noise.” This was the case last Sunday in the French capital. The invitation was a pattern for a jacket and already in the seta white box in the basement of the Louvre Museum, a brief text could be found in which Demna explained that he was six years old when his parents let him make a pair of pants with his neighbor tailor, pants that he designed himself and whose fabric he chose: “That was the beginning of my love affair with clothes.”

In the days before the show, Demna recounted that during that November image crisis, which was so painful for him, but also for the firm’s workers, he locked himself in his home in Switzerland with several pants that he remade, restructured and turned in something else, in a sewing exercise, or cutting and sewing, that saved him. That’s where his collection started: a jacket made with inverted pants and pants with a double leg and a waistband at the ankle opened the show. Several derivatives of this austere suit walked the white catwalk. Also her classic pleated flower dresses, this time with leather skirts instead of chiffon, biker boots over skimpy tracksuits, and a series of intricate and classic evening dresses, but with the Demna ingredients: plunging shoulders, boot-cut lycra jumpsuits under beaded lace or rhinestone mesh dresses. Not a logo. Not a viral garment. absolute containment. Was it a pardon, a penance, a rebellion? Nobody knows, but the interpretations in the specialized media have been as prolific as they are categorical.

Viral fashion wear connects with the wear of the streetwear. To sell sneakers at four-figure prices, you need to print a logo on them and create a life of their own on the networks, appeal to the marketing of scarcity and of influencers. What happens when a formula runs out? It seems to be replaced by its opposite: sobriety, formal wear, tailoring and noble materials, all the ingredients that have marked these recent fashion weeks.

Nicholas Ghesquière, creative director of Louis Vuitton, has not needed to go far, since the viral has never been his field of action. But, also, this time he has looked even deeper inside. “It all started on a trip, when I asked myself what the French style is,” he explains. However, this show does not have the answer: “I wanted to leave the enigma of the French style open.” That is, again, let the clothes speak for themselves.

Different models parade with garments from the Louis Vuitton autumn-winter 2023/2024 collection, presented at Paris fashion week.
Different models parade with garments from the Louis Vuitton autumn-winter 2023/2024 collection, presented at Paris fashion week.JULIEN DE ROSA (AFP)

In this collection, more feminine and less conceptual than usual, Ghesquière has made an exercise in classicism, but “with a twist“, account. Trompe l’oeil draping that looks like real draping, coats that look like metal, “it looks formal, but it’s all movement and extreme flexibility.” The technical work is deep: there are perforated leathers that look like classic tailoring, and cashmere, flannels and tweeds wool treated in a structured way but mixed with silk, slip skirts, light sundresses with wide wool scarves. The French style, no observer will miss, is naturally mixing chunky knit with taffeta, brocade with tweed and glass sconces with leather. The collection is relaxed and created for real life: the sound of horns and barking dogs accentuated this feeling. Extreme round-sleeved dresses and coats cocoon all the time they refer to himself, to Ghesquière, creator of an unmistakable silhouette.

Virginie Viard at Chanel is another of the designers far from controversy and who, since her arrival at the house as a replacement for her friend and mentor Karl Lagerfeld, has let her collections speak for her. Literally, because Viard doesn’t give interviews. But her clothes, and her sales, say it all. Garments created by a woman who anticipates the desires of other women: comfort, beauty, freshness, lightness, yes, but all curdled with the virtuosity of fashion. house and their codes, which perhaps summarize in a jacket tweed all that he is allure French. In this collection in black and white, with a touch of pink, maroon or purple, Viard once again paid homage to camellia, the brand’s emblem. “The camellia is more than a theme, it is a code of the house”, Viard explained in the notes about the parade. “She is reassuring and familiar to me, I like her softness and her strength.”

Parade of the Chanel collection for autumn-winter, held this March 7 during the Paris fashion week.
Parade of the Chanel collection for autumn-winter, held this March 7 during the Paris fashion week.EMMANUEL DUNAND (AFP)

The personal gaze was also the starting point for Miuccia Prada at Miu Miu. “I’ve always been interested in how people look. Why some are attracted to something that others are repelled, “said the text of the parade. ways of seeing What does Miuccia Prada see? Let’s say that the catwalk this Tuesday in Paris was a derivative of the concept of the Prada show in Milan. The uniforms, this time not so obvious, not so much associated with care professions, but rather with the office, the university, the academy, the library, the street, with coats of tweedskirts also of tweed (with a double waist where the beginning of the stockings peeked out) and strict bags were mixed with transparent skirts that revealed the trimmed panties, not always semi-concealed, sometimes also as the only bottom part. It is not entirely difficult to know what Mrs. Prada wants us to see, but adorned with play and imagination it is a relief. In any case, the queen of the very short viral (last winter’s skirt will give way to the panties of rhinestones that actress Emma Corrin wore) is, however, also the queen of distance and anti-controversy.

(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on March 7, 2023 shows models presenting creations from Miu Miu Womenswear Fall-Winter 2023-2024 collection during Paris Fashion Week in Paris.  (Photo by Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)
(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on March 7, 2023 shows models presenting creations from Miu Miu Womenswear Fall-Winter 2023-2024 collection during Paris Fashion Week in Paris. (Photo by Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT (AFP)

It is understandable why brands want discreet creative directors, why they no longer want to tell us a story and leave the threads loose so that each interpreter, look, see. What is more difficult is for us to stop reading that narrative that they have taught us to weave for years. Because the sentence that begins this text, and that is so hackneyed, cannot be fully understood without the end of the paragraph for which it was written. It is not a complacent or epiphanic phrase, it is rather a prayer of repentance, of forgiveness. This is how it ends: “We live entirely (…) under the imposition of a narrative line on disparate images on the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the changing mirage that is our real experience”.

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