One event, and one event only is capable of grabbing Paris' full attention and that's Paris Fashion Week. This season's AW15 Prêt à Porter saw Karl Lagerfeld turn his favourite haunt, the Grand Palais, into a low key brasserie and Snoop Dog perform at the Etam show that unravelled at the 30s lido-inspired Molitor, not to mention Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson appearing on the Valentino runway to announce at Zoolander sequel. However, whereas it's previously been difficult to identify common ground between designers, this season's collections are a pure and unadulterated celebration of all the sassiness and strength of the female form.
Feminine strength: Alber Elbaz for Lanvin
Even with Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and Jared Leto sitting in the front row, once the lights were dimmed, the crowd's attention was firmly held by the catwalk. The perfect introduction to the Jeanne Lanvin retrospective that opened last weekend at the Palais Galliera Fashion Museum, Alber Elbaz artistic director for Lanvin since 2001, has once again done justice to Madame Lanvin's original 1885 maison, which is France's oldest surviving couture house.
This season, Elbaz sent a segmented show that revealed his Moroccan roots down the runway. Split into three episodes, the show opened with jockey-meets-toreador velvet jackets and trousers belted with tassles and tucked into stack-heeled boots, followed by a sequence of flowing mid-calf dresses shaped by warrior-style belts snaking around the models' busts. A first flash of fur bridged this segment with the next one. The music slowed to ambient electro for the fur coats and bohemian Berber patchwork full-length dresses in velvet and silks adorned with flowers in autumnal hues. The music then wound into a groove, giving centre stage to designs that exude timeless Parisian elegance with 70s style fedora hats sliced on the side teamed with capes and sparkly graphic tops. A riot with the fashion crowd, Elbaz has succeeded in reviving Lanvin's signature style as well as creating a collection that uncommonly, truly is ready to wear.
Anne Sofie Madsen
It was the first time the Danish designer's show was part of the official Fashion Week listing in Paris, but her feminine deconstructed designs blended in seamlessly with the shows of the usual suspects. Like Lanvin, Anne Sofie Madsen's collection celebrates the female form with ethereal designs accentuating female beauty (legs and breasts) as well as strength with her patchwork of armour-like attire.
Anne Sofie Madsen
If it ain't broke, why fix it?: Chanel
Whereas last season Lagerfeld transformed the Grand Palais into a giant supermarket, this season he took on on the challenge of recreating the ambiance of a typical French brasserie with his 'Brasserie Gabrielle' show (homage to Coco whose original name was Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel). While bow-tied waiters served café and pains aux chocolat, the models sat on the faux leather banquettes reading a copy of Le Figaro or spun around the tables gracefully showing off their attire – which had Chanel splashed all over it. Think tweed skirt suits that fell to a sensible knee length and thick knits adorned with that signature check or hound's tooth pattern were teamed with a more comfortable spin on Mademoiselle Chanel's monochrome sling-back heel, which saw a comeback after more than three decades left in the closet.
Yves Saint Laurent
Hedi Slimane brings yet another successful rock chick collection for autumn/winter, which he sent down a brightly lit concert stage. Tulle dresses with dandy tweed blazers that look like they could have come from the Electric Ballroom way back when Camden was still cool, were worn with laddered fishnet tights and a lot of heavy black eyeliner. There were also lots of fur coats, capes, mini skirts worn with stiletto healed leather boots and slinky gold lamé dresses. Unable to shake off the Yves Saint Laurent nostalgia, we revelled in the high-waisted trousers and tuxedo suit. The look is low fuss careless chic, where you don't even need to take your makeup off from the night before. Handy indeed!
Back to the 70s: Dior
Casual retro would probably encapsulate Dior's simple and straightforward collection – even if, alas, there was no 'wow' moment for us. 1970s Maxi dresses were less stiff, with more of a fluid movement from the fabric, and long mid-calf flowing figure-hugging dresses splashed with waves of contrasting colours and other graphic patterns were worn with skin-tight vinyl leather fuchsia, blue or black ankle or thigh boots. Simons also brought out a masculine suit jacket to go with straight tailored trousers that stop mid-calf. Oversized multi-coloured fox fur coats and sweeping long dress coats that create a feline silhouette especially in movement were also part of the collection.
Extracting that 70s kick with bright hues and supersized flares teamed with slick and sensual lines is a winner. Stunning crossover tight fitted coral jackets and slinky high-waist flare trousers or figure-hugging pencil skirts create a very flattering figure that is sexy without being too revealing. Shiny fabrics, sequins and graphic patterns are all the rage at Balmain this season. Slipped between the louder more flamboyant designs are a handful of sophisticated velvet and tulle mix combinations that we loved.
When bohemia meets India (or Latin America): Givenchy
The Givenchy collection has a strong and eerie Victorian edge that is further strengthened by the haunting classical musical backdrop. The focal point is the heavy facial jewellery that's a cross between that worn by Indian brides on their wedding day and the intimidating jewellery worn by Latin American street gangs who also wear their hair slicked into baby curls around their forehead. Emphasising female strength and power, this gangster-meets-Victoriana style creates a never-before-seen context on the catwalk. All this attitude and menacing facial jewellery however, takes away from the well cut and elegant collection of flannel shirts, velvet and mesh dresses and revisited bomber jackets in peacock-patterned fur.
A real spectacle, this Indian designer isn't afraid of being over the top. For 10 seasons now he hasn't ceased to wow the crowds and it's not hard to see why. The creations he sends down the catwalk are close to mystical figures of an enchanted forest. Colourful and flamboyant, his African-Indian warrior princesses wear silks adorned in owls and mini dragons, capes and skull shaped handbags that look like lanterns. Whimsical and playful, the designer has captured all the elegance of what could be worn by the princess of a modern fairytale.
From catwalk to sidewalk: Hermès
Despite being practical and classic, the new Hermès collection is also sassy and sexy. Think understated luxury knits, skilfully cut flowing dresses, leather trousers, quilted coats – all of which can be worn right off the catwalk. However, there was a slight difference to the safe hand usually played by Hermès, with Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski's lambskin dungarees teamed with a matching masculine shirt and cufflinks. A welcome breath of fresh air, even if it is only very slight for the unshakable elegance of the iconic maison Hermès.
Every one of Saab's designs exudes a deeply seductive sexy rock chick elegance that completely fits with the times. Marching to the sound of a samba style majorette parade that switches to entrancing upbeat electro-groove music, the models wear fitted mid-thigh or full-length subdued flower print dresses split to the top of the thigh or a modern and elegant ball gown variation. Saab also added dashes of fur, an AW15 trend. Extremely sexy and cool, and made as though to fit each individual like a glove, the designer's creations are ready to wear in the strictest sense – ready to wear, but also ready to blow any onlooker away.