By the time Paris Fashion Week rolled around, many buyers and editors were complaining about what a dud the spring 2016 season was turning out to be. But after Dior's excellent show on Friday, where Raf Simons brought out light, technically complex clothes kept carefully within the house codes, those mutterings started to die down.
Paris offered up some of the freshest ideas and best craftsmanship we'd seen all season, starting with Lemaire, Maison Margiela and Dries Van Noten on day two, and ending with Louis Vuitton and Miu Miu's dives into virtual reality and irrationality, respectively, on the final day. On the news front, Courrèges returned to the show schedule with new creative directors Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant; Alexander Wang made his final bow at Balenciaga with an all-ivory collection; and the Margiela-trained designer of Vetements, Demna Gvasali, showed a divisive collection before Kering announced he'd be taking over at Balenciaga. In addition to a host of strong collections, Paris also produced some of the most memorable show experiences of the season, which brought out tears (Rick Owens, Valentino) and big, wondering smiles (Chanel) from even the most jaded show-goers.
Here are some of the best looks we saw over the past nine days, presented in roughly the order we saw them.
Lemaire's Easy Chic Separates
There is no designer in Paris doing the French "effortless chic" thing better than Lemaire right now. Fresh off a collaboration with Uniqlo and a minority stake investment from Bpifrance, former Hermès creative director Christophe Lemaire and his partner, Sarah-Linh Tran, showed a collection that added a bit more volume than usual to their clean, relaxed clothes. We were particularly taken with the crisp, papery quality of this off-the-shoulder blouse and relaxed, high-waisted trousers.
Maison Margiela's Dismantled Couture
There is no mistaking a John Galliano design, but the merging of his aesthetic with the house codes of Maison Margiela has produced some pretty spectacular results. For spring 2016, he combined Margiela's love of process with his own love of Golden Age couture and the mad beauties who wore it, showing artfully constructed pieces that were frayed, ripped or ruined with paint, as if the models had accidentally sat down on wet benches after putting them on. The look above — a spongy neoprene jacket worn over a retro floral swimsuit and topped off with a wiry sunhat, fishnets and white heels — was one of our favorites from the collection.
Off White's Elevated Streetwear
Virgil Abloh is best known as Kanye West's creative director — but the fashion world began to take him a little more seriously when his label, Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh, was included among this year's LVMH Prize finalists. His spring 2016 collection excellently embodied the concept of elevated streetwear, like the look above, which — through cut alone — transformed a white tee and white maxi skirt into something elegant and powerful.
Dries Van Noten's Panoply of Clashing Prints
The rich colors and clashing prints of Dries Van Noten's spring 2016 collection were a feast for the eyes, and a bit of '40s Hollywood siren influence gave the show a compellingly sexy spin. These ruby and amethyst jacquard trousers were one of our favorite pieces from the whole collection, and the quieter fabrics of the oversized blazer and bustier top allowed them to take center stage.
Chloé's Cheerful Bohemianism
There was a sweetly joyous feeling to Chloé's spring 2016 collection, which featured a lot of casual denim and, new for the label, sporty pieces like striped track pants. But our favorite pieces were classic Claire Wright Keller, like the final look above: a sweeping pleated chiffon halter dress in an eye-pleasing combination of salmon, cerulean, mint and lilac, its front embroidered in lines sloping from the rib cage.
Dior's Updated Bar Jacket
There was a lot to love from Dior's light and airy spring 2016 collection — particularly a series of pale sheer-striped dresses layered over scalloped cotton tops and shorts — but we were even more taken with Raf Simons's update on the house's iconic Bar jacket, which was elongated and softened and no less artfully tailored.
Isabel Marant's Cool-Girl Trousers and Fringed Skirts
Isabel Marant's girl went to India this season, bringing back clothes that synthesized the designer's casual, tomboy silhouettes with colorful embroidery, studs and fringe. Though the collection was strong as a whole, there was no competition about our favorite look: A pair of look-at-me red-striped trousers worn under a matching wrap skirt and sharp black wrap shirt, shown above.
Alexander Wang's Ivory Farewell at Balenciaga
Ivory is a color we traditionally associate with purity, weddings and fresh beginnings — and Alexander Wang's use of only that color for his final collection at Balenciaga suggested it was not about commemorating his own short chapter at the house but wiping the slate for a new one. Wang mixed street and sporty silhouettes, like low-waisted trousers and racer backs, with elegant ruffles and lace, and the result was wholly unique. Though it lacked the street and sporty elements seen elsewhere, we were struck by the pure beauty of the dress above.
Alexander McQueen's Softened Approach
Sarah Burton knows how to make a beautifully crafted gown, but her frequent allusions to historical dress make them at best trying to wear, and at worst costume-y. This season she made her allusions and her tailoring softer, with excellent results.
Mugler's Sharp Suiting
It's a little tough out there for designers who like to create tight, sexy dresses and show a bit of skin — the fashion world is much more enamored with the covered-up sexiness shown by Phoebe Philo, Stella McCartney and Victoria Beckham these days. But designer David Koma does it better than anyone, opting for a less-is-more approach and super-sharp tailoring, seen in this navy suit for Mugler, above.
Comme des Garçons's Strange Beasts
There is no designer in fashion more original than Rei Kawakubo, who this season showed just 15 looks for Comme des Garçons that defied easy classification. There was a monstrosity to the clothes, not just in volume but in the details: This dress (if you can call it that) was covered in a ruff of feathers and what looked like giant, stumpy spiders' legs, which made us want to recoil before reaching out to touch.
Céline's Quiet Confidence
Phoebe Philo does not design loud clothes. She lets the woman wear the clothes rather than the other way around, and those who wear them exude a powerful but understated confidence. The neutral layered dresses and flat boots from Céline's spring collection did exactly that for the model above.
Stella McCartney's Airtex Effect
Stella McCartney's spring 2016 collection was bright, wearable and joyously modern, captured in the citrus floor-length dress above, which used eyelet embroidery to create a neat airtex effect.
Valentino's Masterful Tribute to Africa
Valentino's spring tribute to Africa featured some of the most complex and intricate looks we saw, dazzlingly beaded, embroidered and feathered. But it was two of the simplest dresses — pleated semi-transparent chiffon and earthy in color, with flowing cape-backs — that stole our breath as they moved.
Louis Vuitton's Holographic Dresses
For Louis Vuitton's spring 2016 collection, Nicolas Ghesquière turned his penetrating lens to virtual worlds and avatars, drawing a neat parallel between gameplay and fashion, and using traditional materials to create some very futuristic-looking clothes. For the finale, Ghesquière introduced a series of silvery, holographic dresses that looked as if they had been molded by 3D printers, but were in fact made from "tulle covered in celluloid sequins, hand-painted in oily stripes and then scrunched into sine waves," per Vanessa Friedman.