Steeped in couture touches, Paris Women's Fashion Week AW23 revived a certain idea of Parisian luxury. While very high-end fashion is not experiencing a crisis, its labels did not shun the refuge values represented by the face of the French capital, the myth of the Parisian woman or the creative heritage of a house.
There were 106 registered this season on the official calendar of the French Federation of Haute Couture and Fashion (FHCM). This figure, equal to the AW23 Women's Edition, represents the core of Fashion Week, around which many of the events revolve. On this subject Jean-Loup Rebours, founder of the Faxion PR agency said: "The majority [of brands] are obviously aiming for the official calendar for press and sponsors, however this does not seem to be [an essential] condition for organising events during PFW, as the ‘Paris’ signature is enough to obtain a certain credibility with industry players abroad."
Rebours also noted that many foreign names increasingly seem to perceive Paris as the springboard to internationalisation. A few examples: the Italian brand Palm Angels, owned by Farfetch, entered the FHCM calendar this season, and the Americans The Row and Vaquera have been present in Paris since 2022. In addition, there are foreign federations that have come to Paris as part of the "Welcome To Paris" programme, such as Serbia Fashion Week and the Arab Fashion Council. While creating a synergy, this abundant agenda also increases the competition.
‘Paris will always be Paris’
"Paris makes you dream and Paris makes you sell,” declared the Paris-Ile-de-France Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCIP-IDF) in a 2014 report. So this season, in the globalised environment and the difficult geopolitical and economic context, some Parisian labels have chosen to capitalise on their geographical identity, a feature of their DNA and a powerful commercial force.
Dior, one of the driving forces behind the LVMH group, decided this season to "deepen the French style around three extraordinary personalities: Catherine Dior, Edith Piaf and Juliette Gréco", as stated in the show notes. Nearly 100 silhouettes (96 to be exact) paraded in 1950s-inspired outfits to Edith Piaf's music, "Non, je ne regrette rien" – the title of which also appeared on T-shirts.
The voice of this immense figure of French culture was accompanied by postcard details that are already such a charm for tourists and lovers of the capital. These accessories, designed for Asian and American customers, took the form of necklaces, earrings and Eiffel Tower rings.
For its part, the house of Balmain turned the page on spectacles in favour of an intimate show that evoked Parisian sophistication and glamour, but also the image of old-fashioned haute couture, anchored in the vision that the world has of Paris. Headpieces and retro spirit, the set was inspired by the "New French Style", introduced by Pierre Balmain in 1945, when the house was founded.
"For today's intimate, scaled-down presentation, we want to avoid any Fashion Week-related hyperbole and instead shine the spotlight directly on the tenacious power and singular durability of timeless creations created by the finest artisans in Paris," Olivier Rousteing, the house's creative director, explained in a statement sent to FashionUnited.
Another house of the LVMH group to turn to French inspiration was Louis Vuitton. The luxury brand whose activities are becoming increasingly diversified (tea room, furniture shop, potential hotel...) is also evoking its tricolour roots for its AW23 collection.
"What is French style?" asked Louis Vuitton in its press release. The label answered the question in 44 feminine looks, unveiled Monday in the panelled salons of the Musée d'Orsay. As a virtuoso in the telescoping of genres and eras, artistic director Nicolas Ghesquière formulated a silhouette where classic meets eclectic. Long scarves that recalled the cliché of the French look, strapless dresses with a nonchalant fit and a comfortable androgyny, all came in a neutral colour palette with a strong emphasis on grey.
The figure of the Parisienne, this "safe haven", this "intangible heritage" as Emmanuelle Retaillaud wrote in her book La Parisienne, has also been revived by the young label Pressiat, launched in 2021. The story of its AW23 show is that of a "beautiful Parisian bourgeois woman who finds herself in the red light district of Paris: Pigalle". The collection takes up the brand's slightly provocative codes: sheath skirts with corset lacing, vinyl trench coats, punk cardigans and transparent pieces, a big trend of the moment.
All in all, Paris Fashion Week reproduced the stereotypical Parisian woman en masse: effortless lines infused with nonchalance, dark, neutral shades, and lots of black looks. At Courrèges, jackets and long coats seemed to sit casually on the shoulders in a style reminiscent of Carine Roitfeld, former editor-in-chief of Vogue France, while at Gauchère a minimalist, uncluttered chic gave the collection an air of "je ne sais quoi”.
However, for Gen Z and Millenials alike, Paris is also the flamboyant colour palette worn by Emily Cooper in the Emily in Paris series. Harris Reed, the new creative director of French fashion label Nina Ricci, took this into account. His first show featured vibrant hues, couture volumes, and overall looks as explosive as those worn by the actress in the Netflix series. All of this was carried by a cast with a plus-size silhouette, which came to counterbalance the surge of lanky models this season.
The commercial appeal of archives
In a report published in 2022, the second-hand platform Vestiaire Collective estimated the second-hand fashion and luxury market to be worth between 100 billion and 120 billion dollars, three times what it was three years earlier. This underlying trend makes the creative heritage of luxury names more coveted than ever. It is therefore not surprising that this season they have put forward strong references to their archives, transcribing their heritage in a very assertive manner.
At Isabel Marant first of all, the press release referenced "the idea of a re-edited wardrobe", at the risk of provoking a feeling of déjà vu. But no matter, the approach allowed the label to put forward its French DNA with sexy waders and effortless draws. A beautiful collection that will probably appeal to its American customers, where it has several shops and has opened its largest flagship in 2022. Note also that the brand has launched its resale platform in 2021, a way to regain control of the second-hand market essentially dominated by C2C business.
Focusing its collections on direct references to its archives allows luxury brands to increase their popularity rating on second-hand platforms such as Vestiaire Collective or Collector Square. Indeed, during the period following the Fashion Weeks, these specialised websites often observe an increase in searches related to the brands that have taken part in a fashion show. And this phenomenon is even stronger when the brands mention their heritage.
At Saint Laurent, inspiration was drawn from what the brand called "the essence of the classic Yves Saint Laurent style": the sharp-shouldered skirt suit worn in the 1980s by Catherine Deneuve, a client and friend of the founding couturier. It even went so far as to bring out the opulent chandeliers of the Intercontinental Hotel, where the house's collections were once presented.
In reviving its Parisian DNA, Saint Laurent, like Balmain, has unapologetically cited its creative past and can therefore expect to see the popularity of its vintage pieces climb on Vestiaire Collective, the platform in which Kering, the luxury group to which the brand belongs, has invested five percent in 2021.
The Paco Rabanne show was one of the most emotional shows of Paris Fashion Week. It was the first since the death of its founder in February 2023. A series of archival pieces were shown set to an audio tape where the late designer could be heard talking about his work. A selected piece: "You can't be a designer of the future because the future doesn't exist. I think I am a contemporary fashion designer. I work for contemporary fashion, with contemporary techniques, with contemporary materials. The future? I don't know what it is."
For the occasion, many jewel dresses, thought for the red carpets, were exhibited. The use of materials recalled the essence of the house, known for having proposed dresses in non-traditional materials for couture as early as 1966.
The appeal of Fashion Week also lies in the suspense cultivated by reviving brands and the new chapters they open during the Paris event.
The Belgian house Ann Demeulemeester presented the first show of its new artistic director: Ludovic de Saint Sernin (founder of the eponymous brand born in 2017). Created in 1985, the label had its glory days in the 1990s and has changed owners several times since then – it now belongs to the Italian Claudio Antonioli. The show was an opportunity for it to return to the forefront. And it seems to have worked. The women's and men's outfits proposed by Saint Sernin brought back Ann Demeulemeester's sensual elegance through total leather looks, satin and fluid skirts, and a very trendy transparency.
Another highly anticipated show this season was that of Schiaparelli. The Place Vendôme brand had its first ready-to-wear show on the official calendar for a while. Note: the label has been developing ready-to-wear capsules since its relaunch in 2012. Although the pieces are sold on the brand's e-shop, their distribution is still quite limited. According to sources for Vogue Business, more outlets are coming in 2023.
The Schiaparelli show offered 34 looks and opened with a shawl-collared coat with exaggerated, rounded sleeves. Amid the evening dresses, there was also a lambskin down jacket, denim pieces and a suiting ensemble. As with many other brands this season, black dominated the collection.
After the advertising scandal mixing children with accessories holding sexual connotations, Balenciaga was expected to take a turn. The Kering Group brand opted for a show without celebrities on the front row and with a minimalist decor, far from what Demna, the creative director, had accustomed onlookers to. On the social media side, the Instagram account, meanwhile, was, for the umpteenth time, blacked out.
The brand put clothing back at the centre of its discourse, opening the show with a series of dark suit coats and jackets, before rolling out the vocabulary developed by Demna since his arrival at Balenciaga in 2015: biker jackets, pleated cape dresses (sold for 12,000 euros on its website) and a beige trench. The brand continued the anatomical work of the jackets with raised shoulders, which suppressed the neck.
The house of Pierre Cardin also marked its return with a show on the official calendar - the company was relaunched by Rodrigo Basilicati-Cardin, the nephew of the founder, who died in 2020. The collection was colourful, made from recycled fabrics as well as materials from leftover stock. The brand used the event to announce the opening of its new e-commerce platform palaiscardin.com and the reopening of its flagship store at 59, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
Young brands are investing in new segments
Paris Fashion Week was not just about the heavyweights of the luxury sector. The Paris fashion scene is also synonymous with young brands that are gaining in maturity, season after season.
The eponymous label Maitrepierre (2019) unveiled a collection inspired by nature. The pieces were close to the body, the palette was soft and mineralised and the materials came, in part, from dead-stocks. Maitrepierre entered the jewellery segment through a collaboration with Colombe d'Humières Studio. It also presented its fifth collaboration with eyewear brand Emmanuelle Khanh.
Another brand launched in 2019 was Vaillant Studio, the French label that offers feminine and sensual pieces in lace. This season, the brand moved up a gear, incorporating denim pieces, mesh tops and offering shoes for the first time through a collaboration with Californian brand Ugg.
Benjamin Benmoyal, the designer who became known for developing a know-how around the transformation of VHS magnetic tapes into textile material, also entered a new segment. The label took advantage of Fashion Week to present its first line of accessories (bags and caps).
This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.NL. Translation and edit by: Rachel Douglass.