There were more strings tonight at Vionnet, following on from a quartet performance at Dries Van Noten, a few hours before. Here there was a bit of a musical misstep, as contemporary beats oozed in at a slightly offbeat tempo. A metaphor for the difficulty in handling the elegance of this label's past with the demands of the present - I for one am willing this house to get it right.
News arrived a couple of weeks ago, that the billionaire owner, Goga Ashkenazi, had asked Hussein Chalayan to commit to her label in a more permanent fashion - she first hired him in 2014 to design Vionnet’s demi-couture line. He’s still not Creative Director - it appears she might just want that label for herself - but will be advising on the ready-to-wear collections. Chalayan is still heading up his own label, so it no doubt suits him to advise, rather than navigate full time.
For S/S 16, the house played to the strength of the archive. The majority of the collection was made up of dresses, in the neoclassical style, draped in a palette of creams, black, blush, gold and white. The complexity in the simplicity of a Madeleine Vionnet archive piece was the genius. Vionnet 2:0 is cleverly communicating the internal craftsmanship of the pieces, by making them external. A veneer of translucent chiffons revealed caged constructions. Bra detailing on the back of dresses added a sporty déshabillé modernity. The pleating, which first appeared on Fortuny’s The Delphos Gown in 1907 – and which inspired not only Vionnet but also fashion’s other great pleating master Issey Miyake – was resplendent here tonight. Pleated gold leather with stretchy lurex was effeminately pretty and structurally dynamic.
Vionnet designed ‘in the round’, in a 360 degree fashion, she didn’t pattern cut. She created clothes by pinning fabric directly to the body. Regardless, the Vionnet bags seen here were flat 2D notions. Something you would expect to see at Maison Margiela. Like prototypes that had been deconstructed, the tops of the bags were left behind in alabaster white. They were an interesting idea, and added a graphic - and surrealist – irreverence to the collection. The Mantels in sporty tied jersey material looked much more modern than the chiffon, which can, after continual use, start to feel a touch saccharine.
In a season when houses such as Burberry and Givenchy have lent on neoclassical style to communicate foreverness, Vionnet is the one house that could authoritatively claim this arena. However, they need to do this with their feet firmly planted in the 21st century, and with an innovative eye that is looking forward - not backwards. The label has got the foundations down, they just need to find new cultural relevance and dare to look wider than the world of the wardrobe. So many people came out to take a bow, after the finale. It spoke of safety in numbers. This collection was a tentative step forward; a retreat into the undoubted beauty of the house’s past.