‘Midriff the new cleavage’ at Paris fashion show

Chanel's haute couture view of the coming spring-summer season, revealed on Tuesday, is distinctly storybook -- but with midriff-baring outfits proudly declaring that "the stomach is the new cleavage".

One of the tentpoles of the haute couture shows this week in Paris, the Chanel event held in the capital's glass-roofed Grand Palais attracted a slew of international celebrities.  

They included "Twilight" actress Kristen Stewart, Kris Jenner (mother of Kim Kardashian — and of Kendall Jenner, one of the models in the Chanel show), French actress/singer Vanessa Paradis, South Korean rapper G-Dragon, and Dylan Penn, daughter of actors Sean Penn and Robin Wright.

They watched a parade centred on a set-piece worthy of a fairy-tale conservatory: a grey artificial winter jungle with grey flowers that mechanically blossomed to life when "watered" by an obliging team of male model gardeners.

Orbiting that shrine to tropical spring came the models: flower children in gossamer-light pinks and coral and blues and reds, some topped off with wide-brimmed hats, many wearing black sock-shoes.

The refrain throughout was a belly-baring look evoking a 60s free-love wardrobe for carefree teens. An easy look for the nymph-like models to carry off.

For wealthy earth-bound Chanel customers, however, some serious abdominal work will first be in order, as designer Karl Lagerfeld himself admitted after the show.

"The new cleavage is the stomach," he said. "The upper part" — here his half-gloved hands describe a bosom far more generous than those on the waifish models — "everybody did it. "Now we go a bit lower, and it (the stomach) is even more difficult to keep in shape."

  – 'Flower woman' –

That word of caution will undoubtedly fail to dissuade the coterie of Chanel-clad celebrity fans, some of whom came up to congratulate Lagerfeld.

Kris Jenner, for instance, was dressed top-to-toe in the French high fashion label, from the sunglasses to shield her from paparazzi flashes, to her see-through netted pants hiding nothing of her legs.

"I like your pants," Lagerfeld said to her. "You know where they came from!" Jenner laughed in reply.

Jenner's daughter Kendall was one of the Chanel models showing off her naked waist above a white skirt upon which printed orange and white blossoms crowded the hem. The short top was black and (her mother would approve) see-through.

Lagerfeld enthused about the petal prints — that perennial springtime reference. "It's a kind of flower woman — I don't want to say flower child — of the 21st century," he said.

He also explained the pop-up storybook theme that ran through the show.

"For people who don't like to read, which is not my case, pop-up books are the best," he said. There was no deep strategy to it, he stressed. "I had like an electronic flash, I saw something like this and did what you see now. I cannot explain how and why, I don't know. I'm not a marketing person."

   – Model with 'E.T.' looks –

As mercurial as his inspiration might be, Lagerfeld's eye for unusual beauty still held true in his choice of model for his climactic piece, a wedding dress with a long, complex feather-flower-embroidery train.

The ensemble, escorted by the gardener-models, was carried by Molly Bair, a young American model with a triangular face of broad forehead, narrow chin, protruding ears, intense eyes and sulky mouth all giving her a strange, almost extraterrestrial look.


Paris exhibition celebrates 100 years of French Vogue

A new exhibition in Paris will tell the story of 100 years of French Vogue - from the post-war 'New Look' of Christian Dior through the sexual liberation of the 1960s to the dangling-cigarette waifs of the 2000s.

French Vogue celebrates 100 years
French Vogue celebrates 100 years. Photo: Thomas Olva/AFP

But as well as celebrating the magazine’s storied history, the exhibit comes at a time of turbulence for the publication.

Just last month, it was confirmed that its editor of 10 years, Emmanuelle Alt, was out and wouldn’t be replaced.

She was not alone.

Looking to cut costs, owner Conde Nast International has axed editors across Europe over the past year, and put international Vogue editions under the direct control of global editorial director, Anna Wintour, in New York.

New York-based Anna Wintour now has overall control of French Vogue. Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

Like much of the media industry, Vogue is struggling with tumbling sales and ad revenue in the digital era.

But the latest twist is also part of the endless push and pull between New York and Paris going back to its early days.

“The whole history of French Vogue is one of back-and-forth with Conde Nast in New York – growing more independent for a while, then being reined back in,” said Sylvie Lecallier, curator of the new exhibition, “Vogue Paris 1920-2020″, which opened this weekend after a year’s delay due to the pandemic.

The Paris edition was often the loftier, more bohemian sibling to its more hard-nosed New York version.

But it was also the hotbed in which much of 20th century style and womenhood came to be defined.

“Paris was the place to hunt out talent and content and bring it to New York,” said Lecallier.

The exhibition charts the evolution from art deco drawings of the 1920s through the erotic image-making of photographers like Helmut Newton in the 1960s and 1970s.

Its last peak was under editor Carine Roitfeld in the 2000s, who brought back a provocative Gallic identity by ridding the newsroom of foreign staff and becoming a fashion icon in her own right.

Her successor, Alt, was a quieter presence, though she still oversaw key moments including its first transgender cover star, Brazilian Valentina Sampaio, in 2017.

But internet culture has created “a perfect storm” for Vogue, says media expert Douglas McCabe of Enders Analysis.

“The first 80 years of Vogue’s life, it had the market to itself, it was the bible for fashion,” McCabe told AFP.

“But online today, there are so many other ways to get your information. Influencers, Instagram, YouTube — everyone’s a threat.”

In a world where new fashion trends can blow up around the world in seconds, it has become much harder for a monthly magazine to set the pace.

“It’s not that they can’t survive for another 100 years — but they will be differently sized,” McCabe said.

Vogue has tried to branch out into different areas, including events.

“I used to work for a magazine, and today I work for a brand,” Alt said on the eve of French Vogue’s 1,000th issue in 2019.

But the big money was always in print, and Vogue Paris sales are dropping steadily from 98,345 in 2017 to 81,962 to 2020, according to data site ACPM.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the new top job in Paris, redefined as “head of editorial content”, went to Eugenie Trochu, who was key to building the magazine’s online presence.

She declared herself “thrilled to be part of Vogue’s international transformation”.

For the curator of the exhibition, it is ironic timing.

“We had no idea it would end like this when we started work on the exhibition,” said Lecallier.

“Who knows where it will go from here.”

The exhibition Vogue Paris 1920-2020 is at the Palais Galliera in Paris’ 16th arrondissement. The gallery is open 10am to 6pm Tuesday to Sunday and is closed on Mondays. Tickets for the exhibition are €14 (€12 for concessions and under 18s go free) and must be reserved online in advance.