Longchamp RTW Fall 2021

PARIS — How is the beloved Parisian — fashion icon, the world over — going to look when she emerges from the chaos of pandemic lockdowns? Style watchers are on the lookout, and they’ve started to get a good idea, as collections were unfurled in Paris over the past week.

Contemporary French labels are clearly pointing to a polished direction — with a sharp focus. The rock ‘n’ roll thrust of brands like Zadig & Voltaire and The Kooples is being updated and modernized with some fashion-oriented energy — no aging rocker for these youthful brands.

In keeping with a focus on timeless keepers rather than trendy disposable pieces, age-old classics have been dusted off and perfected — biker jackets, shearling coats, the workwear shirt, faded jeans — while dresses are fancier and heels are sharper. There’s ample comfort, but that department, too, has been elevated, with refined, corduroy suits gaining the status as wardrobe staple. Textured sweaters and even sweatshirts are looking cleaner. Puffer coats have become what the SUV is to the car industry — every brand has to have them on offer, because everybody wants one — no matter the brand DNA.

Breezy femininity has been replaced by a tougher, androgynous style, with fewer dresses and sturdier boots and loafers. And there’s leather. Lots of it. Pants, shirts, jackets, quilted coats — you name it.

Zadig & Voltaire, which had a slot on the Paris calendar, staged a proper runway show, with high energy that pulsed through the screen. The base of the Eiffel Tower was the first backdrop, projected on a warehouse wall-sized screen, and the first model set the tone, with gold-coated leather trousers, a lurex-infused blouse and shimmery suit jacket. “I wanted people to dream more than ever — there’s a lot of lamé,” said Cécilia Bönström, the brand’s creative director. She equipped her woman for proper nights out on the town, with dresses that carried extra shine, or, for more romance, gentle ruffles, outlining bare shoulders.

As the models marched out, the projected street scenes shifted to various capitals around the world, symbolizing the label’s international reach. She also zeroed in on classics, continuing her focus on jeans — high-waisted, with a slight flare — and included handsome wool workwear shirts in shade plaids and a large, comfy poncho.

“I wanted to show that the Zadig collection is for real people on the streets, that we’re anchored in reality,” said Bönström. Part of being anchored in the present is feeling the urgency to do better on the environmental front, and the designer unveiled a cute, pouchy handbag made of a leather alternative — the Cecilia.

She also offered the house classic: crinkled leather trousers and shirts — working them in various colors — and brought back the cool tuxedo jacket from last season, but in red this time. The show also had a message — written in neon letters: Love Yourself. “When I say ‘Love yourself,” it’s literal — the Zadig style is worked precisely but it’s not a silhouette that restricts your movement,” said Bönström.

Under the artistic leadership of Tom Van Dorpe, The Kooples, meanwhile, has been rebuilding teams and setting up its own workshops. Van Dorpe has nudged the label toward a chic minimalism, offering perfected staples — shearling coats, lightweight reversible wool workwear shirts, straight-cut trousers, leather jackets and trousers with subtle Western references and a few fluid dresses with custom patterns. He organized the collections under five themes: the elements, with a fiery flower print against black to symbolize fire, or a smart strawberry leaf print for the earthy theme — as well as a baseball cap, embroidered with the message “Down to Earth.”

“The Kooples is about having a connection with the easy, cool crowd. People all over the world love this Parisian vibe,” he said.

At Sandro, the label took last season’s funky, ’70s vibes into more bourgeois territory, proposing its ample range of tailoring with shirts that had prominent, playful collars. Trousers were cut trim, and loungewear will be on offer, with a chic, cashmere capsule collection including tops, bottoms and culottes in pink, beige, tan or gray.

Sandro’s sister label Maje, is also offering luxurious loungewear, a category that is performing especially well in the American market. The upcoming season will add zipped sweaters to the mix of cashmere tops and bottoms. Maje drew inspiration from the English countryside, working a silhouette with fancy collars, short, boyish shorts and chunky loafers.

Longchamp broadcast a digital fashion show, with a historic horse arena as a backdrop; shoots of live horses to set the mood. “The idea was to talk about real women, to be in real life, so here are women with different characters, with all sorts of personalities — and this is what I tried to express through the show and the collection,” said creative director Sophie Delafontaine. The house’s horse emblem — moving at a flat-out gallop — was inspiration, drawing a connection with the house’s saddlery tradition, she added. “I wanted to show the know-how, the authenticity, beauty of the materials but at the same time the energy that is expressed by the brand,” she said.

Quilted leather outerwear was eye-catching, ranging from a jacket to three-quarter-length coat — and a sleeveless one as well — and the designer offered a range of fluid dresses, crisp collared shirts and corduroy suits. Delafontaine cited Pierre Paulin as an inspiration, who drew up plush, futuristic furniture in the ’70s, and this was reflected mostly in the color palette, with flashes of reds.

With direct-to-consumer sales up 100 percent last year, The Collected Group, owner of the Equipment and Joie brands, is benefitting from a more direct relationship with its customers, said chief executive and creative officer James Miller. “Our business was very traditional,” he said. “We’ve turned it on its head.” The company is launching its brands direct on Farfetch and Tmall in the next few days, he said, and is also ramping up sustainability initiatives and prioritizing natural materials.

Equipment is channeling its shirt-maker heritage, and has now switched to 100 percent natural fabrications, Miller said. For fall, the brand played with modernist art and architectural influences on silk satin pieces: a blurred geometric print and color-blocked separates in autumnal hues, like leather culotte pants and a velvet shirt in burnt orange. Cashmere tops were worked with polo collars or hoods, while silhouettes were mostly straight, elongating the body.

At Joie, the shapes were designed to be easy to wear and flattering, mixing the romantic vibe the label is known for with utility influences. Details inspired by the 1970s included trapeze shapes and bell sleeves on the brand’s maxi-dresses, ruched necklines and shoulder yokes on smocked blouses and striped, ribbed sweaters, while halter tops highlighted the shoulders. There was a stronger focus on solid colors rather than prints for fall. “Seventy percent of [Joie’s] business is coming out of solids today,” said Miller, as consumers shift to more versatile investment pieces they will carry from season to season.

Inès de la Fressange continued to deliver a more lived-in look for fall, inspired by life in the country and stumbling across well-loved clothes that stand the test of time. “What’s important is everyday life, not the runway,” said de la Fressange. “I don’t want to revolutionize clothing, but to offer women clothes they feel beautiful in. I think this collection is in line with our times.”

She combined roomy check coats with flared pants, nodding to the ‘60s, a common reference in her collections, and a broad range of sweater styles created in collaboration with French cashmere specialist Notshy. Her full maxi skirts and cinched jackets in rough-hewn fabrics, worn over buttoned-up shirts, had a period feel, while the late Stella Tennant’s style, which she described as a mix of “British aristocratic and punk,” was another source of inspiration.

A.P.C.’s fall collection offered a selection of cozy, textured pieces in the label’s familiar, slightly gauche silhouettes, with a palette that took in an array of autumnal shades, blues and even pops of red. Jean Touitou said he had wanted to play with color. “These dark and disturbing times encouraged us to use more colors and convey an optimistic message,” he said. “What else can we do in this unreality? When history plays tricks on us, there’s no point in sinking into black-and-white existentialism.” Nevertheless, there was plenty of both in the collection, including a fluffy coat in a graphic, almost animalistic motif for women and pairings of black-and-white checks for men.

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