Curated by Valerie Steele
For centuries, Paris has been the capital of fashion, or at least the capital of women’s fashion. Designers from around the world jockey to show in the city that attracts the most journalists and buyers. For decades, one of the most sought-after invitations was to Karl Lagerfeld’s fashion shows for the House of Chanel. After the death of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel in 1971, the brand fell into a decline until Lagerfeld was hired in 1983, when he awakened the sleeping beauty with iconoclastic interpretations of Mademoiselle’s style. Lagerfeld’s Spring/Summer 1996 show, Karl Hits the Mall, was a typical extravaganza, with an elaborate set constructed in the Grand Palais, through which dozens of models paraded as though they were shopping in a mall.
Along with Chanel, Dior is the most famous couture house in Paris. Of course, both houses also show ready-to-wear. John Galliano’s Spring/Summer show for Dior, Boudoir Mood, captured his campy take on sensuality. If Lagerfeld was German and Galliano British, Jean Paul Gaultier was among the minority of star designers in Paris who was actually French. His Spring/Summer 1994 show, Tatouage, captured the way Gaultier has embraced subcultures and outsiders.
The avant-garde Belgian designer Martin Margiela seemed like a strange choice for the famous French luxury company, Hermès. But it turned out to be an inspired match, where Margiela brought a touch of edginess to the refinement and easy elegance of Hermès.
In 1987, Christian Lacroix became the first new couturier to open his own house in Paris. Lacroix’s Autumn/Winter 1987 debut collection featured the color and volume, the sheer joyful exuberance, for which he became known. He had studied the history of fashion, and his collection featured numerous historical references from the eighteenth century to Dior’s ‘New Look’.
Rei Kawakubo, the brilliant Japanese designer behind Comme des Garçons, has long created some of the most influential fashion shows in Paris. Described by American Vogue as “romantic and feminine,” Kawakubo’s Autumn/Winter 1995 show, Sweeter than Sweet, epitomized her transgressive creativity, as it defiantly promoted the “girly” look of ruffles, flowers, gingham, and pink clothes.
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