Louis Vuitton and Miu Miu close the Paris collections

Fighting the superficiality of fashion, with engaging collections by Nicolas Ghesquiere at Louis Vuitton, and Miuccia Prada for Miu Miu

Models walk the runway during the Louis Vuitton show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2016 on October 7, 2015 in Paris, France.
Models walk the runway during the Louis Vuitton show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2016 on October 7, 2015 in Paris, France.

Earlier this week, I was at a dinner and was asked who I thought would get the Balenciaga job. I said I didn’t know, but did hypothesise that the announcement would come on Wednesday. Because that would mean that Kering, the luxury conglomerate, would steal a march press-wise on two of its biggest rivals, LVMH and Prada, who show their Louis Vuitton and Miu Miu spring/summer 2016 collections that day, to close Paris fashion week.

Sure enough, an hour and a half before the Vuitton show, the expected press release popped through announcing the unexpected appointment of little-known designer Demna Gvasalia. It was all anyone could talk about. Some things in fashion are predictable - and they work, hence the fact I opened with that spiel.

Nicolas Ghesquiere’s Louis Vuitton collections work too: they work hard. This collection was especially good, so the Balenciaga news didn’t distract you too much from his artfully patched leathers, his slender cargo trousers and boiler suits in washed silk. The idea, Ghesquiere said, was the new dimension of cyber life. “We're at the frontier of the digital world,” he mused backstage, “which is another way of travelling.” I’m not sure we need a Vuitton trunk for it, but it’s an interesting way of thinking, which is what has always marked out Ghesquiere’s clothes. This time, it was the cyber-scape of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) - like Second Life, World of Warcraft, Minecraft - that inspired his clothes. Fabrics were ‘illusions’, silk treated to look like denim or printed with trompe l’oeil mesh, leather coats pretending to be separates, embossed prints masquerading as appliqué. Virtual fabrics, in other words. That was the abstract idea: more concrete was the effect the models had, marching out like luxed-up Lara Crofts in their reconfigured battle dress, cropped tops and sucked-in go-faster shorts and leather combat vests. Ghesquiere dubbed them “heroines”. They were chic.

If in the past, Ghesquiere’s fixation with building a wardrobe for his Vuitton women has resulted in clothes finely-wrought but definitely everyday - humdrum couture, let’s call it - this was him in experimental mode. He used to design for Balenciaga, which ended in a messy creative divorce and lawsuit (thus today’s timing seemed especially pointed) where he garnered a repute for forward-thinking, and boundary pushing. Maybe he’s comfortable at Vuitton, two years into the job. He felt ready to experiment today, to creatively voyage. It was an excellent adventure.

It also felt part of a wider picture. These Vuitton clothes will be seen, by most of their audience, via Ghesquiere's cyber world. It's not a conceptual construct, as the live stream cameras whirred and dozens of iPhones snapped thousands of pictures. The unreality is its own reality, and a designer who is clever and plugged-in will try to explore that new frontier. They may even realise its influence and let it change the way they're making clothes, in the same way its changed the way we consume them.

This Vuitton collection was great because it wasn’t just about dressing people in clothes. I don’t think fashion should just be about that. That’s why shows like Saint Laurent, geared to pure commerce with disdain for any further analysis - either by critics, like me, or even the people purchasing the garments - irritate me. Hedi Slimane doesn’t want you to think about his Saint Laurent clothes; he wants you to buy them. No deeper meaning necessary. It’s interesting that his supporters, who previously proselytised about the fundamental links between the psychology of Slimane’s slick, cynical garments and the altogether more worthy aims of Yves Saint Laurent himself, seem to have abandoned that cant and are now stating it’s about nothing more than garments that fit and do a job. Like a shallow pool, these shallow clothes not only impede deeply diving into; they downright negate it. Try, and you just end up with a headache. I wonder how long until the scales fall from the eyes of Slimane’s acolytes entirely? Anyway.

At another dinner earlier this week (and they say fashion people don’t eat) I was sat next to Miuccia Prada. We were talking about fashion - because we both love it. Which is the great thing about Mrs Prada - she still loves clothes, and fashion, and being a fashion designer. There’s a gleeful giddiness to her collections, and it’s infectious. It may have been the last show of Paris fashion week, but you never wanted her spring Miu Miu show to end. At that dinner, Mrs Prada said she thought fashion “is the opposite of superficial.”

You read that right. What she means is that fashion means so much, and is so loaded, that even your decision to wear Slimane’s meaningless clothing (Courtney Love drag, pinchbeck Hunter wellingtons, cheap tiaras, pure trash) says something about what’s going on inside your head. Granted, I think it says “not much”. But that’s still a message.

A model presents a creation for Miu Miu during the 2016 Spring/Summer ready-to-wear collection fashion show, on October 7, 2015 in Paris. MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images

Mrs Prada talked about the idea of past and future backstage, in front of a tinfoil-wrapped set. It’s an oldie, but a goodie, and Mrs Prada’s collections always contain that kind of dialogue. You could see echoes of much past in her Miu Miu clothes, in ruffled seventies house-dresses and forties skirts, Art deco embroideries and Glam Rock patched snakeskin boots that, without their platform, suddenly turned Victorian. There were bits of old Miu Miu collections in there too, which was something she did proposed with refreshing aggression for her pre-spring collection. Her archive is deep: why not dive in. The mix of the elements felt new.

My favourite part of this Miu Miu collection were the opening coats, in a wallpaper-y brocade that looked a bit like her mid-nineties "Ugly Chic" shows. It felt typical, perverse of Mrs Prada to propose coats as the first looks of a spring collection, when the rest of the industry is stripping them out of their winter shows, in a lunge after the spending-power of those private jet owners who reside in a perpetual summer, chasing the sun.

But the sun will always set, no matter how much dough you've got. So what’re you going to wear then? Gotta have a coat.

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