“The Beat Goes On” The Fall 2019 Collections Ends In Paris

The runway shows have finally ended in Paris, and it’s been a season like no other. The recent passing of Karl Lagerfeld cast a shadow over the collections, and while he might not have physically been here, his spirit and presence continued to be felt. Designers including Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri and Chloe’s Natacha Ramsay-Levy included poignant tributes within their collections last week. The ultimate and most emotional tribute was the fall-winter 2019 Chanel show on Tuesday, co-designed by Virginie Viard, his closest collaborator for over 30 years and the woman who has been entrusted with carrying on Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld’s vision for the iconic house.

For the occasion, The Grand Palais was transformed into a Bavarian ski village (an homage to the German-born designer). Lagerfeld muses Cara Delevinge, Kaia Gerber and Penelope Cruz walked the runway, and members of the audience showed up en masse wearing their favorite Lagerfeld designed Chanel pieces for the occasion. Perhaps the most fitting tribute of all was how they echoed what was shown on the runway, with their highly identifiable, classic and timeless boucle tweeds, chain belts, quilted bags, Chanel logo accessories. Some of Karl’s last sketches (he was never with a sketch pad) were shared with the show-goers. Among them was a sketch of the iconic designer with Mademoiselle Chanel bearing the simple message, “The beat goes on…” And so it does.

In her ‘Open Thread’ column on Friday, February 22nd, Vanessa Friedman observed that the fashion community (a fairly discordant group), came together in the wake of Karl’s death. Assuredly, we have come together in our assessment that we have lost an influential creator and significant talent, the likes of which we will not see again. And while we may disagree about the merits of each collection, we do agree that this has been a season that celebrated the strong woman; though how it was executed by the designers varied markedly and some more successful than others (but I suppose that is subjective as well).

We would all agree that it’s been a season defined by dressing up, rather than athleisure (the word ‘glamour’ has been bantered around a lot though how one defines it is obviously open to interpretation). Karl once said, “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life, so you bought some sweatpants.” Well, there were no sweatpants this season. When sportswear was emphasized, as it was at Chanel, it was done in a luxurious, sophisticated way.

And we are all of the agreement that power suits and coats reigned. I would say that if you are going to buy just one thing this season, make it a coat. You can take your pick. Belted or unbelted, classically mannish, or something sculptural, in red perhaps. Regardless, you can’t go wrong.

There is no question that this season has been all about tailoring, haberdashery, and couture-like approach to cut and construction, as exemplified by Balenciaga. It was undoubtedly one of Demna Gvasalia ’s most pared down, straightforward collections, predicated on elevated wardrobe basics. It was authoritative, relatable, and looked so normal! The epitome of chic.

Givenchy Fall 2019 Ready-to-Wear
Photo: Valerio Mezzanatti of The New York Times

In addition to Chanel and Balenciaga, there are no houses that exemplify the idea of an enduring French chic and a rigorous Parisian glamour, quite like Christian Dior, Saint Laurent or Givenchy (I think the last two did it best). Both Anthony Vaccarello and Claire Waight Keller focused on strong tailleur, and on the shoulder. In the case of the former, it’s an exaggerated shoulder. In the case of the latter, it’s a slightly curved, peaked shoulder.

And then there is the storied French house of Celine which has undergone a complete transformation, to say the least (it’s completely unrecognizable from Phoebe Philo’s vision, and does not at all resemble what Hedi Slimane did for his freshman outing last season). Hedi, the ultimate disruptor, surprised us all and did a complete about-face from what he had done before, mining the Celine 70’s archives for wardrobe staples of the French Bourgeoisie. The focus was on daywear/workwear and there were some good looking pieces, including a swaggering cape, some great coats, and shearlings (some shown with faded jeans tucked into killer over the knee boots on a wedge or high heel), and a group of belted dresses including one in an abstract animal print with a cape effect. By the way, the jeans looked especially good given that so many runways were filled with wide legged trousers.

Celine Fall 2019 Ready-to-Wear
Photo: Vogue.com

But, as opposed to Balenciaga, which had a cross-generational appeal (Demna even used older models, some with gray hair to emphasize the fact), some of Celine can easily look frumpy, dumpy, and unflattering on all but the young. You know the “One time only on trends” rule? Meaning, if you were old enough to wear it of your own volition the first time around, you shouldn’t be wearing it the second time (or any subsequent times). While I don’t usually subscribe to rules, I agree with this one as it applies here. Box pleated wool skirts, boxy jackets, culottes, and Peter Pan collar shirts? No way Jose! Not on this old broad.

The season has been defined by divergent approaches and widely disparate visions put forth by designers; numerous trends and sub-trends that kept repeating themselves (bourgeoisie, grunge, punk, biker chic, deconstruction, winter florals); and polar opposites that went from one extreme to the other, sometimes within the same collection. In fact, fashion bipolarity, the push and pull between the decorative and the plain, the masculine, and feminine, day and evening, streetwear and couture, fantasy and reality, the highly conceptual and the wearable, has never been as noticeable. All of which was perfectly summed up by Miuccia Prada in Milan. We also saw it in Paris at Rick Owens who played the frighteningly grotesque off the glamorous, the glam rock off the couture, and by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, in her push and pull between the tailleur and flou.

Designers obviously have different opinions as to what constitutes modern, and how to best empower women. But there is a point of agreement on their love of hardware (both silver and gold), specifically chains. You can call them the “chain gang” this season. Whether elegant or edgy, understated or statement making, chains were used on bags, shown as belts, worn around the neck, decorated shoes, and in some cases, embellished the clothes.

Many have embraced grommets, nail heads, and spikes. I’m surprised there’s a spike left in the world quite frankly lol. Whoever coined the phrase “One must suffer for fashion” must have had fall 2019 in mind. Ouch! Of course, I can see how some of these items might do double duty as weapons and could come in handy for urban dwellers who ride the New York subways.

Stella McCartney Fall 2019 Ready-to-Wear Photo: Vogue.com

Designers also seem to agree about boots for both day and evening, whether flat, wedged, high heeled, or platformed. Ah, platforms! It’s been hard to ignore the emergence of platform footwear across the board this season. We first saw them in New York (at Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, and Derek Lam). In Paris, there were stiletto-heeled platform pumps at Saint Laurent, chunky heeled platform loafers at Givenchy. Various iterations of platformed boots stomped the runways at Stella McCartney, Olivier Theyskens, Dries Van Noten, and Rick Owens, where they were inspired by Kiss. Rick obviously likes them so much, he sported a pair when he came out on the runway at the end of the show, adding several inches to his height.

If you think about it, what could be more empowering than a pair of kick-ass platform boots that allow you to stand taller and make you feel invincible unless of course, you topple and break a bone! But what is most empowering of all, is finding those pieces that suit your style, uplift your spirit, and indeed enhance, and in the end, it is highly individual and personal.

“And the beat goes on….”

Marilyn Kirschner
Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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