Alexander McQueen designs for his label from 1992-2010; his right-hand woman, Sarah Burton, carries it forward. Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel makes fashion from 1909-1939 and 1953-1971; Karl Lagerfeld has been serving as the brand’s chief designer since 1983. Valentino Garavani founds his line in 1965 and retires in 2008; Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli now collaborate in its design. This is Paris: the forward pursuit of heritage.
What’s the McQueen legacy? Supreme tailoring, conceptualism, dark fantasies. Lead designer Sarah Burton follows through on the first two. There’s no question that the clothes were exquisitely made. The concept was bare: lady apiary. She wears jewelry like amber with gold fossilized bees, beekeeper headwear, honeycomb prints, and hoop skirts like beehives. Yes, please, bees.
Three decades in and Karl Lagerfeld is still having fun. The Chanel heritage, though Coco’s personal life story was messy, is simple. The innovations she forwarded have been accepted as standard: t-shirt dressing, the LBD, bouclé suits. Standard yet still relevant and still luxury covetable. So Lagerfeld gets to play. Season after season (the man with the most endurance in fashion), Lagerfeld remixes the classic cues—the captoes, the costume jewelry, the 2.55—to applauding success. A Chanel show is all show, super spectacle. Because it’s the bags, the perfume, and the Asian market accessories that really bring in the big bucks, Lagerfeld has creative liberty to design idiosyncratically and put on outlandish performances, like yesterday’s runway backdrop of a wind farm and solar panels. The clothes don’t even need to sell. Though they will and should because they are beautiful. And clever: a hula hoop bag, a denim tube dress like the back of a pair of jeans, cartoon espadrilles. He does it again.
What’s a luxury brand to do when the highstreet stores can knock off a garment, from runway spy to shop floor, in just two weeks? Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli, the Valentino co-designers, have a solution: make clothes that are so delicately beautiful, so rich in material, that—patterns be damned—there’s no reproducing. The reworked trenches, studded transparent and in red lipstick leather, were especially standout.