Few designers master the art of time travel like Nicolas Ghesquière. For the last major fashion show before the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, he created a tableau of 200 characters dressed in costumes spanning five centuries.
This season, the designer was back at the Louvre museum with a spectacular history-mashing display, transforming the Passage de Richelieu into a ballroom with mirrored panels reflecting the light of 120 vintage chandeliers, and a vampire-chic collection inspired by brand ambassador Alicia Vikander’s new HBO series.
Ghesquière designed the costumes for the Swedish actress’ character Mira and other cast members in “Irma Vep,” directed by Olivier Assayas and adapted from his 1996 film of the same name. Vikander plays an American movie star who comes to France to star in a remake of the silent film classic “Les Vampires,” and finds the lines between reality and fiction blurring.
“I like the figure of a vampire who travels through the ages, adapting to dress codes of the era he lives in while maintaining a certain air of the past,” said Ghesquière, known for anachronistic pairings like combining 18th-century style frock coats with his futuristic Arclight sneakers.
His spring lineup cycled through a dizzying array of historical styles, from the opening looks, combining the intricate beading of the 1920s with side pannier structures and tailcoats, to delicately embellished slipdresses casually paired with jeans.
Capes were central to the drama of this evening-centric collection. They appeared as if pieced together from family heirlooms fished out of a trunk: gleaming black satin shoulders segued into gold-embroidered white chiffon, while a bell-shaped cocoon was built from layers of black shearling and slick raincoat material.
Halfway through the display, a climate change protester representing Amis de la Terre France, Youth for Climate and Extinction Rebellion took to the runway with a banner that read “Overconsumption = Extinction.” While criticism of the fashion industry at large is no doubt justified, in this case it seemed squarely beside the point.
Not only will Ghesquière’s designs be produced in extremely limited quantities, but the look of the pieces was a testament to the timelessness of luxury goods, which are often handed down between generations, or in recent years, resold several times on the secondary market — all issues the designer pondered as the house celebrates the 200th birthday of its founder.
Meanwhile, luxury is only becoming more rarefied in the wake of the pandemic. Balenciaga in July unveiled its first haute couture collection in more than half a century, and Ghesquière set out to explore the most sophisticated reaches of his craft.
“I wanted to situate this ready-to-wear collection at the threshold of couture. It’s unabashed luxury that demonstrates the opulence of the maison’s savoir-faire,” he said in a Q&A released after the show.
At the same time, fashion has never been more democratic, as the lines between clothing and entertainment become increasingly blurred. A designer creating costumes for a film or television series is nothing new. Basing a collection around it — with the star in the front row — felt like the next stage in product synergy.
“You always have to be with the medium of your time. It’s not radical. What’s new is the timeliness of the pairing,” said Michael Burke, chairman and chief executive officer of Louis Vuitton.
“If you hit the timing just right, where the zeitgeist is, it’s all about alignment between various types of culture. There’s a big aspect of entertainment in fashion, and a big aspect of fashion in entertainment,” he added.
This show left no doubt that Ghesquière is a consummate entertainer. He nailed a delicate balancing act: delivering a fashion high for insiders still digesting a month of real-life shows, and a dazzling feast for the eyes for the lay audience watching at home. And the buzz around “Irma Vep” just reached another level.