Clothes, who could focus on clothes?
Stella McCartney staged a horse show Monday morning at France’s oldest riding school, Manege Ecole Militaire, with seven gorgeous wild horses, led by “horse whisperer” and rescuer Jean-Francois Pignon, in cantering, frolicking and rolling in the dirt as models breezed by.
The designer said she wanted to return to her equestrian roots, which included incorporating some photography from her late mom Linda and sister Mary McCartney into the collection big on Savile Row style tailoring.
“Our relationship to all our fellow creatures, we wanted to make a connection because there is so much leather and fur and feathers on the runway, especially in winter, and I wanted to show you could do it in a different way and just as luxurious,” she said.
“Anyone who has a pet, can you get them to do what he did? I was watching the rehearsals and my dog wouldn’t stand that long,” McCartney said, adding that Pignon doesn’t use bridles or saddles. “They are his pets, his babies.”
Pignon trains his horses to acknowledge his body movements and manners, without physical touch, and they looked truly at ease in the space, and in front of the crowd.
The designer first saw him perform at a horse show in London years ago. “I watched him against all the regalia of horse jumping, and the magnificence to that side of equestrians and he came into the arena with wild horses running around, these incredible trusting creatures, and he blew me away. This is what he does, they perform together and are a family,” she said.
On the runway, McCartney zoomed in on tailoring this season, inspired by equestrian uniforms and military regalia, showing British check and pinstripe boyfriend blazers with the season’s exaggerrated shoulders and looser trousers, adding shrunken waistcoats showing midriffs for sexier takes on suits, as well as the new tailored bustier dresses that have been turning up everywhere despite their somewhat impractical look.
Plush outerwear was fuzzy like black-and-white Appaloosas, and knits were dotted with a cute repeating horse motif. Twisted georgette dresses, rugby shirts and throwback track suits in British regalia red also played on the theme.
For evening, jersey dresses featured braided detailing or crystal rope outlining cutouts, and slipdresses were patchworked with horse photo prints, chiffon and sequin panels. Another look, black pants embroidered with chains at the hips with a shrunken black vest, looked ready for the red carpet.
Of course, the mane event (couldn’t resist) was what elicited the oohs and aahs. And that touchy-feely emotion and goodwill can be as valuable to a brand as any product. Because customers are buying into a culture and value system, and if that’s lost, it can be hard to get it back, as other brands know all too well.
McCartney has always been crystal clear about her brand values of animal welfare and sustainability, which has had scant attention this fashion month, sadly. This collection was crafted from 89 percent responsible materials, and included the first luxury handbags crafted from Mirum, a plant-based, plastic-free and circular alternative to animal leather. Other bags were made from crocodile-effect AppleSkin, using apple waste from the food industry, and Mylo, a mycelium leather alternative.
Just as Pignon has earned and maintained the trust of his horses, she has done the same with her customers. Fashion seasons may come and go, but there’s real authenticity in that.