There's a revival movement in Paris and this season was the most robust outing from a whole bunch of them. I'm talking old, once-big fashion names: Paco Rabanne, Courrèges, Guy Laroche, even (improbably) Paul Poiret, and Jean Patou in the near future.

What's exciting is that some of these labels are being resurrected and tasked to some very talented young designers who are so far doing a convincing job bringing these dusty old names back to fashionable relevance. In other cases, it begs the question if these houses should be left in the past, and are better off without being dragged to the present.

Paco Rabanne Spring/Summer 2019

Paco Rabanne

Paco Rabanne is one such brand that has been gathering steady steam under the modern hands of Julien Dossena. The French designer, often linked to Nicolas Ghesquière for the Balenciaga years, struck out on his own and took the helm of Rabanne in 2013. It was bought up and financed by Puig for its fragrances primarily, and in very few seasons Dossena has made its fashions a mild underground sensation for the style cognoscenti.

Dossena’s approach so far has been to distil from the brand’s archive its essence of couture and craftsmanship. Rabanne himself was a skilled dressmaker who was part of an experimental vanguard in the 60s that used traditional haute couture techniques with new and unexpected materials and treatments. For this season, the brand took a slight step away from its chainmail legacy and looked towards India, Arabia, and such fantastic traveler’s destinations. It was evident in print and silhouette, with a vivid and vivacious mix of primarily paisleys and flowers in varied finishes of silk, lace, and lurex. It was a feast for those of us craving visual stimulation: a sophisticated assault on the eyes. Dossena is proving to have a very cultivated knack for pulling from different eras and geographies. It helps that he has managed to modernise the chainmail trick, applied here as linked circles or floral motifs to give it the impression of free-dangling body jewellery. In the actual jewellery, those circles were made into medallions that conjured up exotic travelers’ trinkets.

Courrèges Spring/Summer 2019


While Rabanne looked east, Yolanda Zobel at her first season for Courrèges had the hefty task of looking forward from where previous co-creative directors Sebastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant left off. The pair left the brand last year, after resuscitating it with an innovative approach to wardrobing that built on signature silhouettes and a sure-handed evolution of just a few key pieces. Mild ugliness is acceptable, even encouraged, for a brand that’s famous for being “space age”, but in this case Zobel’s uglies veered off-topic and failed to contribute to a wider vision.

One of the more interesting parts of the collection was a commitment to moving beyond the vinyl the brand is known for. Plastic is having a tough time these days, and the designer is now looking towards other fabrics while keeping the rest of the brand’s living history intact. I thought it would have enjoyed a bit more focus and strength if Zobel had a tighter edit on silhouettes, like the cropped and structured jackets and skirts which have become a contemporary signature of the brand. Instead, the range of clothing she put on the runway swung between pedestrian and absurd. Most of it was very young, and I get the sense she’s gunning for the modern club kids.

Courrèges Spring/Summer 2019

But no matter. The house and designer is now backed by Artemis, Francois Pinault’s holding group which also owns Christie’s. With the resources and time, I’m curious to see what Zobel makes of a contemporary version of Courrèges and the kind of space it wishes to occupy.

Poiret Spring/Summer 2019


Similarly well-invested is Poiret, which received backing from a scion of the South Korean Samsung fortune and business leadership from the Belgian Anne Chapelle – famous for leading such names as Ann Demeulemeester and Haider Ackermann to success. At its creative helm, the Chinese designer Yin Yiqing. That’s a number of nationalities come together to revive an old great master of French haute couture.

Poiret Spring/Summer 2019

Yin cuts very beautifully, and it was evident here in a collection fueled by sunset hues and an attempt to bridge sportswear and draped flou. There wasn’t a look out of place or anything in bad taste, and the clothes move spectacularly. Yin’s talent is in making clothes that surprise you as a still, and thrill when they’re in motion. What I’ll offer is that the Poiret brand is entering a market that has now evolved and re-looked the place and purpose of haute couture. To straddle a middle ground without conviction and grace can feel awkward, and I think Yin’s strongest designs are when they are draped with regal hauteur. No need to pretend to care for parkas and drawstrings, the Poiret name summons enough grandeur to warrant a niche of extreme feminine glamour.

Guy Laroche Spring/Summer 2019

Guy Laroche

Equally glamorous in an old school manner was Guy Laroche, which is now headed by Richard René. This season’s collection was titled Shadow and Light, but this was no Tanizaki treatise. René’s espoused a sort of ‘radical minimalism’, and he showed it in this collection through shape, silhouette, and a persistent use of black and white. The most rigorously tailored and shaped dresses had a beautiful femme fatale appeal. The sheer panelling, however, tended to muddle the lines and dissipate the force of the collection. Rene’s designs work best when he trusts in and fully applies himself to a pure cut. A bisected dress, for one, combined a smooth, slick and short black half with a longer, fully-embroidered and almost scaly white. It was unexpected, but it had a real beauty and architectural appeal.

Guy Laroche Spring/Summer 2019

These designers are doing well with these heritage French couture names, but it’s important for them to find purpose and a strong point of differentiation. Investors might bank on a storied name because of its implied influence and chances of success, but I’d argue that the young vanguard of new brands make very strong competition. But that’s no deterrence for LVMH, which has now thrown Patou into the fray with its acquisition of the label and hiring of Guillaume Henry – previously of Nina Ricci and Carven. Henry will show his first collection under the Jean Patou name next year. It’s not his first go-around an old French brand, so it’ll be exciting to see how he contributes to this crop of revival stories.