Nicolas Ghesquière is a self-declared fan of the “time clash,” and it is often hard to put your finger on the historical references the designer absorbs, fractures, blurs and/or rearranges in his fashions for Louis Vuitton. This is what made his fall 2020 show, titled “If the Past Could Look at Us” and paraded in front of a tableau of 200 characters dressed in costumes spanning five centuries, both disorienting and exhilarating.
There was a strong Eighties character to many of the looks in his spring 2021 collection, which whisked past green-screen walls and “virtual VIPs” — bug-eyed, remote-control cameras mounted on slender poles that were interspersed with live guests seated on 19th-century Thonet chairs. Boxy T-shirt dresses bearing dime-store candy-bar-type graphics, for example, sprouted the odd puff-sleeve or fabric swag in heavy satin, as if plucked from a period portrait. 1980 meets 1880?
This season also saw Ghesquière wade further into gender-fluidity, which added another layer of complexity to this show, staged amid the Art Nouveau splendor of La Samaritaine, the historic Paris department store lovingly restored and slated to reopen sometime next year. The designer posed the questions himself in the show notes: “What does an in-between garment look like? What kind of cut can dissolve masculine and feminine? What wardrobe might s/he look good in?”
He didn’t provide all the answers — and s/he didn’t always look good in loose pants with the crotch dropped to the knee, or a bat-wing cardigan in a marled gray knit. But then you could be floored by the chic of a simple cap-sleeve sailor T-shirt with loose trousers dusted with sparkling embroideries, or black leather pants with a sexy white tank and a soft, shrugged-on coat.
This has been a divergent fashion season, which saw many designers play it safe with nature or escapist themes, or a simple refresh of brand DNA. Ghesquière is among a few who stuck their necks out, opening his display with a feather-haired model marching in a loose cream sweater splashed with the word “Vote” and tucked into pleated, mannish trousers. S/he looked fierce, yet also as familiar as an old yearbook photo.
To be sure, Ghesquière didn’t waver far from ample silhouettes: sweeping big-shouldered coats, boxy bomber jackets and big pants with lots of character — here in a mashup of marine stripes, there in a streaky print that looked like it was splashed with mercury.
There weren’t many bags on the runway, but they stood out: A boxy one in crocodile the color of melted caramel with a heavy gold chain, and a new soft bag with accordion folds that came stamped with the LV monogram but in a leather the same blinding green as the walls. Like the livestreamed show with all its technological razzmatazz, it was physical meets digital — and s/he carried it well.