Paris Fashion Week: Brands are still courting Millennials

From Balenciaga to Chanel, the catwalks are shifting focus


Maria Grazia Chiuri got Paris Fashion Week off to a youthful start at Christian Dior (pictured above), continuing in a vein set when she started at the house a year ago. Patchwork 70s denim, glitter minis, sheer long skirts, and lots of low-heeled lace-up knee boots and patent Mary Janes dominated the show. According to Jo Ellison at the Financial Times, some critics baulked at the shift from the brand's ball gown-spangled history. But those Mary Janes recall Chiuri’s financial miracle, the "Rockstud" shoe, which attracted droves of wealthy young consumers to Valentino. No doubt her knack for a bankable accessory got her the job at Dior. And more than just the "socially well-observed" low heel, Sarah Mower at, suggests that "what sets Chiuri slightly apart is that she's a woman who is more than aware that she’s also talking to the 'woke' generation – to people who are the age of her own children – and she respects their minds." Indeed, feminist slogans have been at the heart of Chiuri’s re-design, this season with art historian Linda Nochlin's seminal essay "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists", emblazoned on a striped mariniere knit.

At Saint Laurent, Anthony Vaccarello's open-air extragavanza at the foot of the Eiffel Tower divided the critics. Vanessa Friedman at The New York Times appraised the collection with the unflattering summary of, "Shorts. Or, to be fair, sex and shorts; in a multitude of increasingly provocative ways. The steam rising off the fountains of the Trocadero in the background simply added to the effect." Mower at in contrast, gave it a thumbs up. "In circumstances that must have been hugely daunting, Vaccarello passed the test with singular focus and conviction. Without being too obediently or heavily referential, his collection read as a seamless journey, one that that began with the hippie souvenirs of Marrakech and ended in the grand haute couture tradition of Saint Laurent's atelier in Paris."

Natacha Ramsay-Levi passed the new-designer test at dreamy boho brand Chloe, walking that tightrope of retaining heritage DNA and keeping it relevant. For the Evening Standard her "pretty, flirty floral dresses married harmoniously with tough cracked leather jackets and heavy-duty lace-up boots".

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But it was Chloe’s former designer, Clare Waight Keller, who made the most high profile debut of Paris Fashion Week at Givenchy, a brand whose prior incarnation was "haute-goth" under Riccardo Tisci. For Jess Cartner-Morley at The Guardian, Waight Keller's collection was accomplished but "lacked an element of surprise". "Gold lip-printed miniskirts, leather blouson jackets, asymmetric cocktail dresses and skinny tailoring (for men as well as women) all looked like commercial hits in a collection whose centre of gravity had shifted unmistakably towards sweetness and light." But perhaps, as Cartner-Morley reflected, that was the point of Givenchy's new hire: to tap into Waight Keller's "slow burn" skills to build the brand into a "powerhouse of the centre ground".

In contrast to safe bets, "Balenciaga wasn't boring," said Jo Ellison at the FT. "In a season that has been bereft of real excitement, I approached the show like a parched desert nomad might crawl towards water," she continued. Designer Demna Gvasalia gave a bonkers, exaggerated articulation of the everyday: "a trench coat dripped off the back of a dress, a dressing-gown jacket and nightdress were entwined. Jeans covered in pockets, like cargo trousers, or patched with tartans that looked like they might detach. Outfits were accessorised with bejewelled platform Crocs, sky-high stilettos, and bags covered with shop-awning rain shields." And this season, for the first time, he delivered a commercially viable bag – "a safe investment". To that, Phoebe Philo at Celine won praise for her continuing commitment to "adult women" (in contrast to many others), this time expressed in swooping trench coats and pleated trousers.

Finally, for that Paris classic: Chanel. This season Karl Lagerfeld paid tribute to the young Coco Chanel – Gabrielle – in a show that, like Chiuri at Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton's array of sneakers and teen TV references this season – was calculated to appeal to a youthful crowd. For Cartner-Morley at The Guardian, "Bringing to life the notion of Coco Chanel as a young woman is a no-brainer for a brand that must win over Millennials to survive. And the adoption of Coco's real name is timely at a moment when authenticity is fashion's greatest buzzword". Cue supermodel Cindy Crawford's 16-year-old daughter Kaia Gerber on the catwalk – these are clothes for her generation.

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