Having started the new decade with a pandemic, Australian wildfires, and a locust swarm in Somalia, the first three months of 2020 have been likened to Judgement Day. After a fashion week plagued by the concerns of its audience, Louis Vuitton’s closing show might have been expected to provide us with a sense of closure, a single look to define the present day, or to point us towards the future. Nicolas Ghesquière, however, did no such thing.
His show, hosted by the Louvre, saw a backdrop of tiered seating reminiscent of a traditional theatre behind a glass screen, occupied by singers wearing Elizabethan style clothing. As the show began, they sang a Baroque symphony comprised of Nicolas de Grigny’s original seventeenth century composition and composer Bryce Dessner’s modern verses. This playfulness with time and composition was not confined to the backdrop but defined the show itself, with models walking the runway in outfits characterized by their anachronisms. They wore romantic brocade jackets paired with sportswear and modern style colour blocked pants. Eighteenth century petticoats were layered over biker jackets, pinstripe blazers, and cowboy boots, creating a contrasting collage of history and style.
With the ghostly backdrop of costumed singers and the quirky combination of time periods, Ghesquière created a spectacle that transcends time. He told British Vogue’s fashion critic, Anders Christian Madsen, that he “wanted different eras to be confronted with another one, our own. All of these ‘pasts’, embodied by a gallery of personality in period dress, converge in our present.” The brand described the show as a “tune-up in which personality takes precedence”, there is no “total look” but an “anachrony of genres” where “everyone can pen their own history”.
For Louis Vuitton, this is no new ground. Looking back to the Menswear AW20 show in February, Virgil Abloh presented a similar mediation between past and present. Mimicking the nostalgia of childhood, he designed a show space with childlike versions of a tailor’s toolkit, a giant ruler and sewing kit. With different variations on the silhouette of a suit, his collection felt like a child dressing as a grown-up. Although the rise of COVID-19 has seen the Met Gala postponed, it is worth mentioning that the 2020 theme was to be ‘About Time and Fashion’, sponsored by Louis Vuitton. Perhaps Ghesquière’s show is a brand-wide statement of the power of personal style to transcend history. The modern woman, according to Ghesquière, can escape the troubles of the present day by using fashion to declare her identity and “pen” her “own history”.
Without eighteenth century glamour and Elizabethan costume, Rick Owens romanticizes the past in his own way. His show was accompanied by a soundtrack comprised of David Bowie and Gary Numan, influencing the collection itself. “Seeing someone like [Numan] as a doomy adolescent in Porterville, his glamour gave me my direction, the way David Bowie did”, Owens declared before the show. It’s easy to see Owens’ inspiration in the reflective sunglasses and triangular blocked colours, reminiscent of Bowie’s iconic Ziggy Stardust make-up. The outfits were complete with knitted horned shoulder pads and sky-high platform boots with plastic heels, some of the models reaching a powerful height and appearing to come from a futuristic alien planet.
Seeing Gwendoline Christie wear similar shoulder pads in the Rick Owens audience, you might be reminded of her Game of Thrones character Brienne of Tarth – a six-foot-three-inch female knight. While Owens used the power of the 70s to (literally) uplift his female models, Paco Rabanne reached back to the middle ages for female empowerment. Dossena used Conciergerie, a medieval Parisian palace as the backdrop, its gothic vaults echoing with the operatic music that accompanied the show. The models sported translucent slip dresses covered with chainmail accessories and large medallion necklaces, resembling both the armour of a medieval knight and the silhouette of a waif-like fairy. High, stiff turtlenecks and the recurring 1970s style platform heels completed most of the looks, metallic headdresses partially covering the models’ faces. Dossena tapped into the most elegant and artistic aspects of each era, using tassels and embroidered shawls to give the impression of medieval tapestry. He described the monastic setting and chainmail outfits as a way of expressing “femininity” as “an attitude that’s also violent”. “When you’re talking about religion, it’s always men in charge, so I wanted to give the charge to women”, he explained. With the tall platforms and elegant silhouette, Dossena transforms priest into priestess, medieval soldier into female warrior.
At this point, you can’t help but think of the 2018 Met Gala: ‘Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination’. Now, it seems more relevant than ever. With Louis Vuitton’s ghostly singers, the otherworldly atmosphere of Rick Owens’ show and Paco Rabanne’s high priestesses, Paris Fashion Week seemed to be charged by the spiritual, acting as a place of refuge for its audience. Only one group could surprise us with this exact mentality – Kanye West’s Sunday Service. Just two hours before the Balenciaga show, over a hundred choir singers gathered in the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in matching beige outfits and Yeezy trainers. While 2020 has given us Book of Revelation style plague and pestilence, the choir director gave a brief speech to the audience while they performed a soulful celebration of the gospel – no mention of the coronavirus in sight. Are we being told that fashion is a way to escape present day trouble? Personal style, a way of regaining control? The collections are both ethereal and alien, whisking us away from present day earth and providing us with an uplifting sense of style.