David Hellqvist is fashions features editor of Port magazine
and the founder of Document Studios
. All views expressed are his own.
When fashion is at its best, it carries an emotional message. During the show season, it's transmitted through the garments, the set design, the invitation, and the music. It needs to appeal to all the senses and pull you into the fantasy. Only then will you buy the clothes.
The Autumn-Winter 2016 season was dominated by the frail, feminine and androgynous look that Gucci dropped on us exactly a year ago when Alessandro Michele took over from Frida Giannini. Since then there's been an influx of 1970s colors and sensitive fabrics like lace and silk.
Michele, of course, had to take things further this time. He developed his latest collection along the same lines, but added another layer of weirdness. His clothes are definitely tribal in the sense that you have to subscribe to the entire look -- the Gucci lifestyle -- to pull them off. In that sense, he's not much different from designers like Rick Owens and Ann Demeulemeester who have some of the most loyal fans on the fashion circuit. And even though that makes them irrelevant in terms of general wearability to the rest of us, it also means they are some of the most honest and genuine brands out there.
In London, the first stop on the two-week fashion tour, the tribal equivalents are brands like Nasir Mazhar and Cottweiler. They represent the true colors of the capital's underground scene: clothes and music in beautiful harmony. At their shows I recognized the authentic desire to create clothes that fit with the mindset of their peers. They represent something, and that's about the best compliment you can give a jumper.
Other than that, London was defined by Craig Green's progression; the coming of its latest star, Grace Wales Bonner, who also tapped into a poetic retro vibe à la Gucci; CMMN SWDN's stellar mix of 70s colors and contemporary fits; and Soulland's brave outdoor presentation.
If London is a creative hub, Milan is a minefield of advertising brands churning out predictable over-the-top collections that are difficult to connect with the sartorial demands of a 21st century customer. But thanks to the aforementioned Gucci revival, there are now two shows in the Italian fashion capital that everyone can't wait to see: Gucci and Prada.
Miuccia Prada can do just about anything and it will be hailed as innovative and imaginative. Her sailor-inspired collection managed to look one part traditional Prada, one part something completely new and different. Other Milan highlights included Missoni, Marni, Jil Sander and Fendi's new direction (much of it thanks to its new stylist, Fantastic Man's fashion director Julian Ganio.)
By the time you get to Paris -- if you, like me, also attended the Pitti Uomo trade show in Florence -- you're pretty tired, but this is where it really begins.
Raf Simons, recently single after his divorce from Christian Dior last October, was the first headliner. Now able to dedicate his full attentions to his eponymous brand, he presented another distinctive collection. At Louis Vuitton, Kim Jones continued to push the brand in a new and exciting direction, defined more by a fashion statement than the usual traveling wardrobe concept. Dries Van Noten was back on track after his Marilyn Monroe collection, showing a beautiful wardrobe that was both poetic and pragmatic in the awesome Palais Garnier.
For me, one of the highlights was Sacai, the Japanese brand designed by Chitose Abe. She managed to mix her attention to detail with an overall aesthetic, marrying the ever-important street credentials with a dedication to high-end production. Fashion is better off thanks to her.
But my lasting impression of Paris is a feeling of newness, as opposed to the retro theme in Milan. In the last few seasons, there's been an influx of what we call streetwear brands. These brands operate outside the traditional luxury sphere in Paris, mixing in sub-cultural influences -- be it music or art -- in a way the institutional brands don't normally understand.
We've seen them here for a while, brands like White Mountaineering, Kolor, Pigalle and Y-3. But this season added to the rooster with OAMC and Off-White.
OAMC mixes directional ideas with a strong sense of wearability. (Why should you have to choose?) The clothes have attitude and energy, and are made in the best possible factories.
In some ways, Off-White, from Kanye West's creative director Virgil Abloh, summed up the season best: streetwear making a break for the catwalk. This is what the kids are buying, not three-piece suits.