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The Paris autumn/winter 15 collections were the epitome of French style

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Those light fixtures are a great metaphor for Paris fashion week as a whole. After all, what constitutes French style? Is it something embedded in the fabric of the city, or something gussied up just for fashion week? Is it something that actually exists, or just our perception?

We all have a stereotype of French fashion in our heads, I think. Puglisi’s Ungaro (which wasn’t very good) is an exemplar, knotted up as it got in polka-dots and berets chewed with holes. That’s the superficial stamp of Paris. This autumn/winter 2015 season, you saw that played out in such labels such as Sonia Rykiel (lotsa stripes) and Hermès (lotsa knotted silk scarves), which is odd, given that both are actually helmed by Frenchwomen (Julie de Libran and Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski, respectively). You expected something more synthesised; more sophisticated. That’s what Paris demands.

The A/W 15 collections from Louis Vuitton The A/W 15 collections from Louis Vuitton
French style, I’d argue, isn’t superficial. It isn’t as easily assimilated as the facsimile brasserie Karl Lagerfeld erected as the stage for his Chanel show – whose marble-topped tables and bentwood chairs could be read as Café de Flore or Café Rouge, depending on your cynicism. The reason Lagerfeld’s Chanel works is because it’s deeper than the surface gloop, the catwalk sets and the gloss of very expensive clothes.

Chanel financially support a network of artisans to preserve  age-old crafts like feather-working and hand-embroidery, the sort of specialist stuff that can only exist in Paris. Chanel’s tweeds are frequently mirages of embroidery; this collection had skirts that resembled an exquisitely-realised rag-bag piled up out of napkins (or dishcloths, again depending on your outlook). The workmanship is only feasible in Paris. That refinement – that’s true French style.

The A/W 15 collections from Balenciaga (MONICA FEUDI) The A/W 15 collections from Balenciaga (MONICA FEUDI)
Well, it’s one type of French style. The thing that puts Paris in a different league, fashion wise, is the disparity of its vision. Vive la difference! Vive le fact that Chanel’s exquisitely-realised spectacles can rub shoulders with rough stuff, like Vetement’s chewed-up, distorted outerwear, or the pushed-and-pulled faces at Undercover, above garments so chopped and seamed they themselves seemed the recipients (or victims) of extensive cosmetic surgery. As any glance at the front row of an haute couture show will tell you, that’s quintessentially French.

Unlike those identikit faces, though, it’s the dizzying ricochet from one aesthetic to the next that gives Paris its zing. Designers, generally, aren’t encouraged to tone it down here. There was something satisfying this time, for instance, in the fact that Stella McCartney simply ran with the schlumpadump. Her clothes were, largely, large; fattening and unflattering – and that was the point. They looked, on the whole, interesting. Unlike many of her previous collections, they stood out. As did John Galliano’s Maison Margiela debut, which felt like… exactly like what it was. Namely, Margiela’s tearaway signature sketched with an unmistakable Galliano hand, offering it a new sinuous elegance, a romance, and a childlike glee.

Paris Fashion Week autumn/winter 2015:

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