PARIS — Fashion’s youth fetish is the Gordian knot at the center: often the generation most obsessed with it is the one that can least afford to wear it.
The fixation has been variously attributed to the need for new ideas and/or to seduce future shoppers, but on the penultimate day of the fall season, in the vaulted entrance hall of the Musee d’Orsay, filled with 19th-century marbles, their first fashion show, Nicolas Ghesquière of Louis Vuitton, offered another explanation.
Adolescence is, he wrote in his show notes, a period of “inspiring idealism, hope for the future, for a better world.” A period where there is a tendency to believe that you can actually fix what the generation has ruined for you (that is, if you’re not overwhelmed by how bad it is, which is the less romantic and possibly more realistic interpretation). Not a bad fantasy to be reminded of, though, right now.
Since taking over the helm of Louis Vuitton’s women’s collections in 2013, Mr. Ghesquière through time: through ages, periods and movements. Why not through the ages of man (and woman)? If things look really bleak, the answer might really be: cherchez le teen. Or the teenager herself.
So Mr. Ghesquière dove into his memory box, remixing bits and pieces from the recent past, changing proportions, clashing patterns and messing with history in a complex game of dressing up and allusions.
There were oversized suit jackets paired with lurex and brocade trousers and floral ties. Some of the shirts had thick velvet scarves at their hems to create a peplum, the fringed ends that brushed over the floor. Graphic aprons of embroidered tweeds came with large, square pockets on the sides like panniers, or of silk chiffon, layered over thick sweatshirts in floral jacquard with pictures of David Sims of weeds, disaffected youth of the 90s, just in the place of a cameo pin. The photos were also sprinkled over dresses and gigantic polo shirts, like posters of an old bedroom gone haywire.
At the end, some floating embroidered dresses appeared under oversized striped rugby shirts or chunky knits. It was as if a child had dug a tunnel in her parents’ closets, threw everything in the air and saw where it ended up. The combinations were sometimes clumsy and often odd, but there was nothing vintage about them.
“Freedom is everything,” wrote M. Ghesquière, “without guideline or impediment.”
Even if the results didn’t look that interesting, it would be hard to argue with that. You find your freedom where you can.
Or try it. Giambattista Valli did it by navigating between the French youth tremor of the 1960s and 1970s and the classical decorative arts, though his abbreviated Aubusson-printed mini-dresses, flared flares, and muslin frocks seemed mostly captured—not in amber but in his favorite pink-tinted lens.
Sacai’s Chitose Abe did it through her signature hybrids, reimagining pieces normally associated with utilitarianism and protective sheathing in couture forms so that tank tops and parachute skirts became graceful, low-waisted dresses; bubble puffers were joined with a trench yoke; bra tops woven in shearling to create an empire line; and bustiers born of overcoats. Less chaotic and more thoughtful than they sometimes were in the past, they still forced you to check your assumptions.
And Stella McCartney did it in collaboration with 85-year-old artist Frank Stella. (Stella by Stella is apparently a bit of levity neither could resist.)
His body of work inspired her collection, on display on the top floor of the Center Pompidou, with all of Paris scattered below, and a recording of President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 address “A Strategy of Peace” at American University. in Washington, playing as a prelude.
Designers have been borrowing for as long as they’ve been chasing the youth voice, and while the obvious references often seem lazy or reductive, like the fashion version of a souvenir T-shirt, here it proved inspired, challenging Ms McCartney to express her own design thinking. to stretch.
Sometimes the relationship was literal: knitwear pieced together along Mr. Stella’s “V Series” of lithographs, his bright “Spectralia” blend reproduced on a flowy trouser suit and jersey dress, the graphic diagonal stripes on chunky faux fur and pants suit a direct nod to his work. Sometimes it was more abstract, as in the textured shoulders, billowing sleeves on silk blouses cut open to (ahem) frame the arms, and cool cotton denim overalls, the kind worn by artists in studios, treated to look like crushed velvet. . But it always looked easy.
The wisdom of the age, and all that.