Paris Fashion Week: Valentino Puts on Opulent Study in Black, as McGirr Unveils McQueen Debut

The gilded salons of a grand 18th-century townhouse were the hallowed venue for Valentino’s latest fashion display on Sunday – an ode to black. This monochromatic collection gleamed and glistened under crystal chandeliers amid myriad textures and materials, inspired by great artists such as the French master of black, Pierre Soulages

Moons away, in the shadowy expanse of an icy-cold industrial warehouse crisscrossed by disused iron tracks and raw concrete surfaces, Alexander McQueen’s shivering guests huddled under blankets, buzzing with an air of electric anticipation. Because this wasn’t just another fashion show: it marked the first page of a new chapter for a house steeped in an iconoclastic history — and the debut of new creative director Sean McGirr.

Here are some highlights of fall-winter ready-to-wear collections:

VALENTINO’S NOIR Designer Pierpaolo Piccioli said he “approached black as a canvas, a starting point on which to build … silhouettes that could move while looking for lights around, to soak them in and reflect them.”

The couturier was fascinated by the color’s contradictions — used for uniform and individuality, representing sobriety and exuberance, lacking light yet soaking up reflections. It evoked the philosophy of Soulages, who died in 2022.

Thus, with a tinge of Valentino’s 1980s heyday and glamor, all-black looks sauntered by as daywear and evening merged indistinguishably owing to the color’s intense allure.

Signature house looks were reimagined with a modern flair — think a voluminous black rosette adorning a sleeve, or the delicate tease of skin beneath tiered silk, not to mention sporty A-line skirts accented with tubular ruffles.

Though feathers, leathers, sequins, and lace provided subtle textural tensions, they did not provide enough of a lift to stop the collection from falling into the perennial danger of such one color-themed shows: Feeling one-note.

Nevertheless, the series of gowns that ended collection were a sublime study in chicness, such as one exquisite sheer chiffon floor-sweeping gown. Delicate baubles peppered poetically around it like a constellation of black stars.

ALEXANDER MCQUEEN’S NEW BEGINNINGS The pressure was palpable for McGirr, the relatively unknown 35-year-old Dublin-born designer, to unveil in this debut a vision and identity after 14 illustrious years of Sarah Burton. Burton, who parted ways with McQueen last season, had woven her narrative into the brand’s darkly romantic ethos after its visionary founder’s sudden, tragic death, leaving big shoes to fill.

Tagged “Rough opulence” and intent on “unveiling the animal within,” McGirr’s first foray resonated with the core tenets laid down by Alexander McQueen: a fusion of Gothic allure, a provocation, an ode to historical fashion, and the brand’s hallmark of dramatic tailoring.

The show unfurled with a model emerging from the shadows in a sinisterly twisted black laminated dress that seemed to swallow her hands whole — a striking image of constriction that reappeared throughout the collection. This binding theme was echoed in cords winding around slim-legged jeans and robust boots morphing into horses’ hooves, trailing tails, and ominous broad leather coats.

However, designs occasionally verged on the overly obvious, with pattered historic Renaissance sleeve gowns and bulky “car tire”-like knitwear lacking the subtlety associated with his predecessor. Though the collection sparkled with promising moments of audacity, McGirr prioritized a play-it-safe approach over the risk of a misstep by pushing the envelope. This debut may have benefitted from being presented in a less pressurized, lower-octane, and more intimate format.

Nonetheless, amid the collection’s somber reflections, a surprising undercurrent of delight and whimsy surfaced, most notably through the stirring melody of his compatriot Enya’s “Sail Away” filling the air. It infused the space with a buoyant optimism subtly echoed in McGirr’s oft-playful creations.

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