Paris Fashion Week is putting black basics back on the map

When the Karl Lagerfeld test is applied to the latest season of ready-to-wear, which finished in Paris on Tuesday, the score is a fail. “Fashion is neither moral nor amoral, but it is made to cheer up,” said Lagerfeld, the former creative director of Chanel who died in 2019.

The sombre parade of black jackets at Alexander McQueen, dour dresses at Balenciaga and shades of grey at Louis Vuitton impressed rather than entertained, leaving an impression of growing conservatism and commercial realities.

Fade to black. A model in the Chanel autumn/winter 2023 ready-to-wear show in Paris.Credit:AP

Rather than playing it for laughs, designers were playing it safe.

The runway at Lagerfeld’s former stomping ground of Chanel opened with a series of black skirt and bermuda short suits, that were saved from being described as sensible by the occasional outburst of decorative camellia prints, collars and corsages.

At Victoria Beckham, where the former Spice Girl punctuated black basics with blue suits and bold red dresses, the designer sat front row with her husband David, her three children and daughter-in-law Nicola Peltz, all in funereal shades, besides casual Cruz in Burberry denim.

Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli has given us shows filled with Barbiecore pink and neon green, but black pieces dominated this season, offering a backdrop to playful explorations of white shirts which produced creatively collared evening dresses.

“A focus on tailoring, the pragmatism of day wear and a pared-back palette emphasises
dynamism, activity and modernity,” the Valentino show notes said. Clever but not as cheery as hot pink sneakers.

Valentino delivered a predominantly black show as recently as 2020, but that collection was filled with eclectic elements of fantasy while here the playing field was uniformity. It’s a trend carrying over from Milan’s back-to-business approach, which is wholesomely practical – not an adjective usually applied to the Paris shows.

As recently as the haute couture shows in January we had a lifelike lion’s head at Schiaparelli but for ready-to-wear, creative director Daniel Rosebery played it straight, sending out a restrained wardrobe. Even the mouth on a little black dress embellished with a face was set firmly, rather than smiling. Perhaps it knew about the latest interest rate rise.

Black is hardly a surprising choice for Demna, creative director of Balenciaga but unlike last year’s energetic winter collection shown in a simulated snow dome, here the mood was restrained. The focus on oversized jackets and round-shouldered dresses in a plain white auditorium was one way of cleansing the scandal over recent controversial advertising campaigns. Drama was kept out of the room and the range.

By stripping back creativity for survival, Balenciaga captured the mood of the season, making room for new growth.

Australian designer Nicky Zimmermann felt the mood at her eponymous label’s second Paris show, planting Wednesday Addams dresses and black puffer jackets among the usual printed confections of flouncy dresses and skirts.

The prints borrowed from paintings by Rupert Bunny in the National Gallery of Victoria. “Bunny’s works have also influenced the mood of the collection more generally,” Zimmermann wrote in the show notes.

“He was not a painter of timeless masterpieces, but a versatile professional, ever alert to the changing currents of art fashion,” arts writer John McDonald said about Bunny in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2009. In this collection, the changing currents could be felt most strongly in Zimmermann’s black pieces, chocolate leather jumpsuits and statement denim.

Like the title character of Bridget Jones’s Diary or Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, there’s always one character who goes against the tide with their wardrobe. Making his Paris debut at Nina Ricci, British designer Harris Reed sent out sheer green suiting, pink tulle wings and blue polka dot bodysuits.

There was an oversized black and white dress, with exaggerated proportions that might even have made Lagerfeld smile.

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