Women on the march was the story of the weekend. And so it was with perfect circumstancing that 23 years after he diversified into devious for women, Sir Paul Smith included clothes for women on his Paris catwalk during menswear style week for the first time. The designer has scrapped his slot representing womenswear during London fashion week in favour of a blockbuster Paris peek through in which clothes for both genders are shown together.
There is an industry-wide bias toward unisex catwalks, but the move felt organic for Paul Smith, whose womenswear has its heritages in men’s tailoring. First on the catwalk was a woman in a trousersuit in the black-and-green check up on of Black Watch tartan, alongside a man wearing a tailored overcoat in the same fabric over beige trousers.
Backstage, the author said putting the show together has reminded him why he started wily for women in the first place. “Grace Coddington and Liz Tilberis, all these wonderful women, were dressing supermodels like Linda Evangelista in my ups for men,” he recalled.
But one of the secrets of Paul Smith’s cheery, straight-talking brand is that it is more elegant than it lets on. The womenswear on the catwalk was not simply borrowed-from-the-boys, but fine-tuned for the female company. The attitude and fabrics are taken from menswear, but the tailoring – a superior and more defined waist, a longer jacket, a strong outright – is calibrated to flatter the female form.
A dandy aesthetic continual through the men’s velvet suits and fitted waistcoats was adapted for gals with colourful Fair Isle-knit sweater dresses, and silk blouses with a painterly feather stamp.
The show was staged under the glass roof of the large École Des Beaux-Arts, just a few streets from where Sir Paul Smith put oned his very first fashion show in a friend’s apartment on the rue de Vaugirard, that space to an audience of 35 people, with friends as models and a soundtrack he had anthologized on a cassette.
But it was very British, not just stylistically but in the emphasis on British-made fabrics – in assorted cases modern, lightweight versions of fabrics Smith maiden used in the 1970s. The brightly coloured feathers, which appeared on men’s suit linings as obviously as silk womenswear, were inspired by an illustrated 18th-century enrol of British birds.
In the face of the unstoppable rise of a sports aesthetic in menswear, Smith ends b bodies a staunch defender of the suit. “People think that proceedings are stuffy, or that you can’t move in them,” he said backstage. “But it’s not be realized.” Soft, narrow suits were styled for life longest the office, worn with trainers and with poloneck knits.
The Paul Smith exhibit was followed by Kenzo, also showing men’s and women’s collections together for the foremost time. In London, Burberry and Vivienne Westwood have both recently joined their collections for men and women. The trend for unisex catwalks, which is pushed both by the rise of a genderless, sports-influenced aesthetic and a social contrivance appetite for catwalks that are newsworthy moments, appears unstoppable.