As creative director Natacha Ramsay-Levi describes of her latest works: “There is a coolness about Chloé. It’s got elegance but it’s not a preppy house. There’s a balance of things.”
For Autumn/Winter 2020, Chloé showed a number of hard-vs-soft looks; we especially loved a pale pink slip that peeked out from under the oversized brown wool coat on Gigi Hadid, and a roomy navy peacoat with rounded shoulders that made the silhouette more playful than mannish. For other ideas on everyday elegance, Ramsay-Levi recommends, “a beautiful shirt that is unbuttoned, and you have a girl with beautiful makeup but dishevelled hair. I think relaxed elegance is the most important attitude that makes the brand very special.”
When it was announced in 2017 that Ramsay-Levi would succeed Clare Waight Keller to lead Chloé, no one knew who she was. Other than that she served as right-hand man to Nicolas Ghesquière for 15 years at Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga prior, there had been no real indication of her as a designer or what she could offer to a label built on capturing the je ne sais quois of French-girl fashion through its signature bohemian-inspired aesthetic.
With her debut Spring/Summer 2018 collection, it all became clear. Departing from previous collections of festival-chic frilly chiffon dresses and denim shorts, she focused on cleaner cuts, expounding on the art of tailoring sculptural ruffled skirts and knife-sharp suits with tough-as-nails military boots.
Her training with Ghesquière showed through, but of course. Silk ribbed knits offered a smattering of silvered sequins for a sci-fi vibe, a broderie anglaise bib on a white cotton dress juxtaposed stiff and fluid textures, and a swingy mini skirt in python could have come straight off Ghesquière’s Spring/Summer 2015 ’60s-flecked collection that presented A-line miniskirts crafted from stiff leathers.
Her Autumn/Winter 2020 creations continue to build on the fascinating exploration of cut and texture she picked up from Ghesquière, but it’s clear that Ramsay-Levi has found her own path.
She offers a softer and more feminine silhouette that’s in line with Chloé’s identity. Floral peasant blouses, which forgo busy all-over patterns for magnified floral embroidery, are teamed with sexy silk skirts and hardy hunting boots. And instead of boho maxi dresses favoured by past designers, she’s opted for the modern approach by setting signature florals against clean-cut, diaphanous pleated dresses.
Ghesquière has another former protégé who’s earmarked for fashion fame. In September, we were greeted by news that Nicolas Di Felice will join Courrèges as its new artistic director. Even though Di Felice’s debut takes place only next March, anticipation is rife that he will find adequate inspiration from Courrèges’ trademark sci-fi architectural shapes and Barbarella-esque designs — this fascination with outer space and extra-terrestrials is something Ghesquière works into his own collections at Louis Vuitton.
Of mentors who have helped paved the way for their ex-trainees, Rei Kawakubo is popularly considered the most prolific. The creative force behind Comme des Garçons has groomed stars like Kei Ninomiya, who was first hired by Junya Watanabe (a sought after name among luxury streetwear addicts too). Initially tasked to create new items for Comme des Garçons, which quickly attracted attention among shoppers, Ninomiya was soon encouraged by his mentor Kawakubo to establish his own Noir Kei Ninomiya label.
“Rei and I were just talking,” Ninomiya recounts. “It was a really quick decision; there was never a [formal] discussion about it directly!” Since its inception during Spring/Summer 2016, Ninomiya has found regular stockists with top luxury retailers including Net-A-Porter and Selfridges. Kawakubo’s influence on Ninomiya’s designs is apparent. Both have a love for bulbous silhouettes, for tactile surfaces that are so curious you can’t help but reach out to touch the pieces, and for disregarding what’s considered “flattering” in their pursuit of making fashion.
His line-up for Autumn/Winter 2020 is led by gothic floral confections in blood red and black. Hulking headpieces with tentacle-like leaves were matched with poufy pieces that featured ruffles, fabric petals, voluminous feathered collars and menacingly sweet leather harnesses topped with little bows. Several pieces — such as a cage-like dress covered in oversized bowties and braided leather, and a draped tartan dress with fuzzy woollen tufts — reflected Kawakubo’s own creative energy of combining saccharine details with grotesque finishings.
Autumn/Winter 2020 also marks a high for Daniel Lee, who trained under the exacting eye of Phoebe Philo, the undisputed queen of “stealth wealth”. And it was evidenced by his superb womenswear collection this season, which was led by slim-fitting silhouettes such as clingy fringed knit dresses, lean tailored pieces, sleek sequin column gowns and an extra-covetable boot that married elements from the Chelsea and cowboy styles.
Lee, who signed on with Bottega Veneta in 2018, took less than two seasons to help rejuvenate the sleepy Italian house with his functional, unfussy lines and eye-catching accessories to elevate wardrobe basics. Suddenly, everyone wanted to be seen carrying The Pouch or slipping into those square-toed Lido sandals.
His Midas touch was confirmed by Bottega Veneta owner Kering. In a letter to shareholders, the luxury firm reported that Bottega Veneta’s revenue rose to €1.2 billion ($1.9 billion) in 2019, credited largely to stellar second-half results that saw an uptick of 8.2 percent (on a comparable basis). The letter even noted — in bold text — that it was all thanks to the “excellent reception given to Daniel Lee’s new collections”. Kering was also happy to report that Bottega’s wholesale business had tripled, and that items like The Pouch had a waiting list so long that the products never made it onto the sales floor.
This story first appeared in the November 2020 issue of A Magazine.