Dries Van Noten and Christian Lacroix channelled “Barry Lyndon”, Andreas Kronthaler and Vivienne Westwood Mozart, and on Sunday US designer Thom Browne went potty for Madame de Pompidour.
With designers’ falling out of love with streetwear, Paris fashion week has gone nuts for the 18th century.
Even streetwear’s main man, the American Virgil Abloh, rolled his clock back this week putting Gigi Hadid in a trailing pink puffball gown and another model in a zipped raincoat worn like a cape.
He was not alone. Crinolines and feather-light side hoops turned up in Jonathan Anderson’s Loewe show almost as if they were leisurewear.
“If I had a perfumed handkerchief, I would be waving it right now,” quipped one adoring critic at the end of the Thom Browne show, as a posse of Pompidours in veiled skyscraper Versailles wigs promenaded around a white Manneken Pis fountain.
As seersucker birds fluttered overhead and fabric flowers sprouted from the arch formal garden the New Yorker created, millinery guru Stephen Jones said fashion was crying out for a bit of pomp and circumstance.
“There has been the whole idea of practicality” with sportswear dominating the catwalks for several seasons, said the British hatter, who created the show’s towering headgear.
“But I think people want fantasy now.”
Britain’s queen of punk Vivienne Westwood has always had a soft spot for 18th-century decadence.
And her Austrian-born designer husband Andreas Kronthaler found a surprisingly elegant and modern “Rock Me Amadeus” note in their Mozart-inspired show Saturday.
Given that the period’s nightshirts, breeches and knickerbockers can be easily adapted for men or women, Kronthaler told media that the era’s gender-fluidity was very “now”.
Guys “can be just as beautiful as women in a dress”, he insisted, even a hooped one, “it is just about adapting.”
“Of course, not every dress is going to suit a man,” he added backstage, as he swigged champagne with actress Pamela Anderson and several stars of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”.
Kronthaler went big on 18th-century suede ankle boots – putting a pair on Gigi’s sister Bella Hadid – as well as bowed sandals, as did Browne with mules in the same seersucker pastel nursery hues of his collection.
With “Game of Thrones” actress Maisie Williams (who played Arya Stark) in Browne’s front row, Jones said another reason why designers keep coming back to the age of Enlightenment was because “the 18th century was really out there”.
“What we wear nowadays is really calm and restrained compared to what people wore 200 and 300 years ago,” he told media.
Van Noten, who took Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1975 film about an 18th-century Irish rake as the inspiration for his show with veteran creator Christian Lacroix, agreed.
The Belgian, known as the “King of Prints”, said he had to tone down the original acid colours of historic patterns that caught his eye.
“They were anything but shy,” he added.
All that corsetry and bodices begging to be ripped have a kinky sexiness that also strikes a chord with designers.
Fashion’s enfant terrible of the moment, Demna Gvasalia, known for his post-Soviet Munster models and his cynical take on branding and consumerism, may have made his name with $800 hoodies.
But the biggest shock the Georgian cooked up in his show on Sunday was following up a fetish dress with a line of crew-necked velvet crinoline ballgowns that brought to mind Miss Scarlett from the boardgame Cluedo.
With a major exhibition about the 18th century’s biggest fashion icon, Marie Antoinette – the queen who lost her head in the French Revolution – opening in Paris next month, the trend is likely to continue.
It features some of John Galliano’s famously decadent designs for Dior during his 1990s pomp, as well as the hugely popular Japanese manga, “The Rose of Versailles”.
Japanese master Yohji Yamamoto sent out a big black hat Marie Antoinette might have worn to the guillotine as a final flourish if she had been allowed in his Paris show, though his crinolines were more Belle Epoque than Pompidour.
“Fashion is sometimes very mysterious?” Jones said. “All these people who think the same things at the same time, but I do think that it is not for nothing.”