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Paris Fashion Week got into full swing on Tuesday with shows from Dior and Saint Laurent, luxury houses owned by French conglomerates LVMH and Kering respectively. Both are known for a quintessentially French vision and heritage, and with the Olympics starting in Paris in July, all eyes are on the image of the capital city presented to the world.

Fashion is a significant part of the national identity, and when it comes to using the global stage provided by the Olympics, LVMH is the one going for gold. The company is sponsoring the event: its brand Chaumet has designed the medals, and Berluti is creating suits for the French team to wear during the opening ceremony. When the partnership was announced, a press release declared that LVMH is the “artisan of all victories” and that “this unprecedented collaboration will contribute to heightening the appeal of France and Paris around the world”.

And so to the Dior show, always a display of LVMH power, held in a gigantic white cube in the Tuileries Garden. It was set to one of the most French songs ever, namely the breathily intoned “Je t’aime . . . moi non plus” by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin. Designer Maria Grazia Chiuri, who is actually Italian, always delves into the history of the house and this season she referenced Miss Dior, the ready-to-wear line launched in 1967 under Dior’s creative director Marc Bohan, who died last September at the age of 97.

A model wears a trenchcoat emblazoned with the words Miss Dior
At Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri referenced Miss Dior, a ready-to-wear line launched in 1967 . . . 
A model wears a long cream coat over cream miniskirt and black polo neck sweater. She also wears knee high boots and black beret
 . . . and as a result the collection had a strong 1960s beatnik look, with miniskirts and leather berets

The concept of ready-to-wear (as opposed to made-to-measure) was relatively new at the time, but Bohan “was really visionary”, Chiuri explained backstage. “He understood there was a new generation who didn’t want to be in fittings for many days. It had to be a more geometric line — the language of women was completely different. He created bags, a logo, he made a big step for a couture house like Dior, which was so classic.”

The resulting AW24 collection had a 1960s, left-bank, polished beatnik look about it, complete with the kind of black polo necks worn by Audrey Hepburn during the famous Paris jazz club scene in the movie Funny Face. These were teamed with outfits such as a leopard-print peacoat, camel-coloured slim jeans and ballet pumps; a white miniskirt, slouchy knee boots and a leather beret. It gave the impression of a wealthy Parisian playing at being bohemian during her stint at art school.

A model wears a check suit jacket and matching miniskirt with black boots
On the Dior catwalk models alternated between short skirt suits and slouchy boots . . . 
A model wears a leopard-print peacoat and beige trousers
. . . and peacoats, slim jeans and ballet flats

Overall, the collection was neat and fitted, and tailoring played a strong part via skirt suits in grey, white or checked wool and beige cotton, with plenty of trenches, too. Similarly structured, these came in white wool, beige cotton and black suede studded with small gold beads.

It was a shame Chiuri decided to plaster the words “Miss Dior” in black brushstroke-like script on trouser suits, skirts and trenches. Such obvious branding felt not so much Rive Gauche as just . . . gauche.

Later on Tuesday at Saint Laurent it was the turn of Belgian-Italian designer Anthony Vaccarello to interpret the legacy of a storied French house, one that has also been fundamental in creating the image of la Parisienne. Revenues at Saint Laurent in 2023 were down 4 per cent to €3.2bn, part of an overall picture at parent company Kering, where sales declined by 4 per cent to €19.6bn, but Vaccarello didn’t respond to this by playing it safe.

A model wears a diaphonous halter-neck dress
At Saint Laurent, Anthony Vaccarello focused on the figure-hugging dresses and tops . . .  © Alessandro Lucioni
A model wears a diaphonous skirt and pussy-bow blouse
. . . as well as transparent fabrics made from stocking fabric © Alessandro Lucioni

This season had some Saint Laurent signatures in the form of ultra-high heels, overt sexuality and transparent fabrics (the subject of the current exhibition Sheer: The Diaphanous Creations of Yves Saint Laurent at the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris). However, Vaccarello was experimenting and not using luxurious diaphanous materials. He said he had deployed the easily torn fabric from women’s stockings to create the collection, and that he was interested in the idea of something very fragile “that will disappear, not stay for ever”.

Asked how the pieces would be made to go into stores and be worn, he joked, “Don’t ask me about production.” He added, “My job is to propose something that is not necessarily realistic . . . there are so many brands, so much stuff, I wanted to feel controversy. Something that people love or hate.”

A model wears a dress in a sheer fabric so that her breasts are visible
Models wore pussy-bow blouses and pencil skirts . . .  © Alessandro Lucioni
A model wears an oversized brown jacket and trousers
 . . . as well as pantsuits, leather jackets and faux fur coats © Alessandro Lucioni

Watched by Kate Moss and Charlotte Rampling, the show centred on stocking fabric made into dresses and skirts with visible seams down the sides, and sheer figure-hugging tops in wrap, bandeau and pussy-bow blouse shapes through which the models’ breasts were clearly visible. These designs came in an array of flesh-like tones, and a halter-neck top was inspired by a dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in which she appeared to be naked. Leather jackets and faux fur chubby coats also made an appearance.

Stockings have complex associations, from the sexual to the sinister, worn by Mrs Robinson in The Graduate and also by movie bank robbers. Here, they seemed to me to suggest vulnerability, their fragility transposed to the women wearing them. I am generally a fan of Vaccarello’s Saint Laurent, and it’s interesting to see him explore the idea of ephemerality when the rest of the industry is fixated on investment pieces, but I prefer it when the vision of female glamour and sexuality is a more confident one.

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