Dispatch from Paris: Dior’s Overt Feminist Message, Saint Laurent’s Yves Is Back (But That’s About It)

Three designers take on three new roles

09.30.16

The Fashion Group International honored Alber Elbaz with its Superstar Award last October. Elbaz, Lanvin’s designer of 14 years, was let go from the storied house shortly after.

“Let a pale purple, ill-fitting, shiny lace dress from the Lanvin fall 2016 women’s show serve as a warning to any fashion house planning to rid itself of a designer without a replacement standing by,” wrote Robin Givhan of Lanvin’s first show in Elbaz’s absence. “Let it serve as a reminder to consumers that fashion is difficult and that defining a vision and crafting enticing garments to reflect that vision is a high hurdle.”

Givhan’s article, titled “Tacky, drab, badly fitted clothes: How did things go so wrong at Lanvin?,” further widened the already gaping hole left for Bouchra Jarrar to fill. She was announced as Elber Albaz’s replacement in March.

In terms of PR, Bouchra Jarrar doesn’t have the kind of spark-y name recognition of someone like Alexander Wang. When they announced Wang at Balenciaga, everyone rubbed their hands together, licked their lips and said, “This is gonna be good.” It was good! Then he left. Meanwhile, Gucci appointed Alessandro Michele when he was a relatively unknown, under-the-radar, in-house designer there and look at Gucci now: it is the brand to buy, the show to watch. So names may not matter, but mastheads do. Bouchra Jarrar is now one of the few woman who top luxury, legacy-rooted brands; this is important. The industry wants her to succeed in this role.

On September 28th, she showed her debut collection for Lanvin.

The first two looks were like loungewear from a dream sequence — leisurely pajamas and sheer dressing gowns that some 1930s on-screen ingenue might have worn to answer the door. A few that followed were kind of…well, I’m not a feather fan. But that was also the general rhythm of the show — like talking to your mom on the phone: okay, okay, no, Oooh! Yeah!, no, no, okay.

Jarrar must have staggered the Oooh! Yeah! striped pieces on purpose. Between the stripes and the exposed nipples were clothes actual Lanvin customers (fancy, grown-up women who likely set up private appointments to restock their closet each season) would buy and wear. These grand houses who boot out beloved designers do so largely because they’re just not making money. Fashion is fashion but it’s also a business.

Hedi Slimane was all business during his time at Saint Laurent. He drove sales. The critics complained — “Where is our Yves Saint Laurent” — but Slimane’s commercial runway designs (sexy and subversive in a teenage way) sold out. He left after four years and 34-year-old Anthony Vaccarello replaced him. That’s relatively young to lead such an iconic brand. It’s impressive.

You can study up on design references at any age. You can watch films or look at pictures; innate talent exists regardless of years clocked. Still, to take over Saint Laurent as it currently stands doesn’t just require one to exceed last year’s sales. It requires one to bear the weight of a pressure that comes from this industry being so deeply nostalgic about the old YSL.

Vaccarello anticipated this. He told Vogue.com that this new woman he designs for “has a huge respect for Saint Laurent, but not in the first degree.” He put the 1980s on top of literal YSL heels.

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He referenced Grace Jones and Le Smoking, updated the power shoulder pad thing, paired velvet puff sleeves with rolled jeans and showed gold lamé. The best look was denim under a leather jacket over a tee. It was more Hedi Slimane than it was old Saint Laurent and in comparison to both, less shocking. Maybe we just don’t yet know who Vaccarello is? (Pause for existentialism: Does he??) Sorry if this is unsatisfying of me to write, but I guess we’ll see.

As for the moment you’ve all been waiting for, Dior was fantastic. Maria Grazia Chiuri, who left Valentino to become Dior’s first female artistic director, has exactly what Robin Givhan was looking for during Lanvin’s leaderless season: vision, and the talent to create “enticing garments to reflect that vision.”

The first few models to come out wore quilted whites strapped at the waist. They were balletic fencers, swift and elegant, like Chiuri’s mind (the sharpest weapon). She saluted the house’s history without drowning in the archives, she tipped her hat to Raf without ripping him off (look 32) and just as you hope a strong woman will at the helm of a boys club (that designs for women), Maria Grazia Chiuri stayed true to herself (the chiffon, the embroidery on the chiffon, the lace) which meant it looked a little bit like her and Pierpaolo Piccioli’s Valentino, but that’s okay. This collection — beautiful, type-A technical, with a little bit of tacky rebellion, like the giant visors and the sheer Elizabethan blouse over a sports bra — is Game One proof that she may not cause some giant revolution, but she will help Dior continue to evolve.

Like Alber Elbaz said in his speech last October, “Evolution lives longer and better in history books.”

Runway photographs via Vogue Runway; carousel photograph by Estrop via Getty Images; feature photograph by Jacopo Raul via Getty Images.

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