It’s 2018, and clouds of colored chiffon is enough material to go trending. Spring/Summer 2018 Paris Fashion Week had several strong points, but probably the most talked about was the revival of the Schiaparelli as a couture house. Except, they have been releasing collections since 2014, under the directorship of Bertrand Guyon who was formed within different Parisian couture houses starting from Givenchy, Galliano in Dior, and Christian Lacroix. In 2017, Guyon and his team managed to put Schiaparelli on the official calendar. Within days, the Italian fashion house is again in the headlines of fashion magazines and, more importantly, the mobile screens of the ever-elusive millennials.
In a time, when emerging brands take center stage, a trend wild card is slowly revealing itself: the revival of heritage luxury brands. These storied powerhouses are trying to make their way into a new era, the 21st century. Is it something that we can look forward to for seasons or simply just a vibrant but ephemeral burst of fashion nostalgia?
Thierry Mugler, one of the designers who defined the aesthetic of the 70s and 80s, has been relegated into a beauty brand name in the popular consciousness as of late. In a surprising power move, the Mugler brand announced a new creative director for its ready-to-wear, Casey Cadwallader who worked in the exotic skin and leather department of Loewe, and in the design team of Acne Studios. As someone who knows how to talk to today’s fashion crowd, Cadwallader breathed new life into the house. Deconstructed couture denim jeans, PVC trench coats, diamond-crusted fungi earrings, it is certainly looking fresh these days at chez Mugler.
Revivals like these, however, are not always a success. Delving into the archives and trying to bring it back today means prying a designer’s name out of fashion history — and this is make or break. Such relaunch could either add onto the brand’s story and create a new life cycle, or it might taint and even take something away from its already established place in fashion history. Courrèges, a name synonymous to the 60s and the Space Age era, had a resurgence in 2015 when Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant took the helm. Heavily guided by the archives, they made geometric vinyl leather jackets, metallic mod skirts, and asymmetrical capes. It was instantly picked up by department stores, raved about by fashion critics, and linked by fashion “influencers.” The hype died down as quickly as it boomed, and after only two years the design duo quietly slipped out the door, giving up on the house’s attempt to be relevant again.
What did not work? A disinterest from fashion consumers? A superficial understanding of the archives as opposed to looking at the design spirit of the original creator? A fear of falling away from the original aesthetic and as a consequence not really creating anything new? Probably the combination of all these.. and maybe a pinch of bad luck.
The main thrust for archival brands is emotion. These are the clothes our parents wore, or aspired to, during their heyday. An aging mother seeing her teenage daughter wear a Courrèges PVC jacket as she sneaks out of the house reveals a fashion full circle. It favors a connection between generations, educates us more about fashion history, and peppers our personal sartorial choices. For fashion nerds, slipping into a body-hugging dress with a Mugler tag that is not vintage is a specific kind of pleasure. To see Poiret, a name we usually just read in history books, on the official fashion week calendar is surreal and riveting.
However, like everything in fashion, it will always be a hit or miss. It is a risk that puts a whole house’s heritage on the line. While a designer renaissance is very much possible, fashion today is a tricky terrain to traverse, leading us to believe that some toiles are better left in the archives and some names in history books.
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