Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Paris Reflections

Paris is the Mount Parnassus of the fashion world; the place where reputations are finally sealed; where the immortals bask in the perpetual sunshine of an approbation verging on idolatry. And deservedly so - as this week's fashion shows in that most beautiful of cities are triumphantly proving as the marathon of international fashion weeks draws to its close.

There is a fashion curve of excellence which absolutely mirrors the order of fashion weeks as they appear on the international schedule. New York (the first) is at the base, with London (second to show) fractionally ahead; then comes Milan - always a mixed bag, as you would expect from the most volatile creative nation in Europe, if not the world; and way ahead, at the pinnacle, the City of Light itself. If the other three disappeared, as long as Paris survived, fashion would be safe. It is the hub and epicentre of all things brilliant in dress and has been ever since Versailles - surely the most bizarre invention in history - snatched the baton from Britain and ran with it, commandeering the high ground of taste, elegance and originality which Paris still holds against allcomers today.

So, I guess you get the picture. I love Paris. And so should we all. Although Paris fashion week is not finished yet, we have already seen shows of a fantastic quality: Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy; Alber Elbaz at Lanvin and, triumphing over all others to date, John Galliano for Dior. They are to, let's say, London fashion, for example, as a Moghul tented pavilion in the Indian sun is to a scout's two-man bivouac in the rain of the Lake District.

What Paris has which feeds its great designers isn't just about creativity. It is about the visionary originality that leaves things different from the way they were before – including our ideas of beauty, self and sexuality. They are the often subconscious initiators of a long-term social force. It has little in common with beread and butter dress designing, the sort of things we see every season, all over the world, hailed as examples of creativity that are nothing more than more or less beautiful variations on an already fully stated looks belonging to somebody else's imagination. They are clothes-making, not fashion at all. No, what Paris and its great designers do is to create a feeling, a mood, something in the air that is immediately recognisable as the thing that will move fashion forward - and if fashion doesn't do that, what on earth is its purpose.

And far too often it doesn't. I believe that most of the designers in the world today are artisans, not artists at all. Trading in 'looks' and opportunistic fads filched from the catwalks of the great creators, ready to be copied by the high street for a season and then deservedly ditched, they and their clothes are totally expendable. By my calculation, there are less than ten designers in the world who are of any significance and many of the most successful ones - the ones who use advertising overkill in order that their names are known to all and that their cheaper lines will sell in huge quantities - would not be allowed at the end of the drive, let alone permitted to enter my Temple of Worthies.