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How Dior, Balenciaga, and More Labels Are Finding Inspiration in the Past

Fashion always seems to be looking back to another, oft-considered “better” time. In 2014, the ’70s were everywhere; in 2015, it was the ’90s. We have a sneaking suspicion the ’60s are due for a resurgence—this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, after all.

Lately, a few designers have taken a different tack to mining the past. The new names at top houses—Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior, Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga, and Julien Dossena at Paco Rabanne—have been hard at work forging their own paths, but not by ignoring the house’s codes. In fact, these designers have been digging through the archives to find inspiration from decades ago. Perhaps it has something to do with fashion’s unrelenting pace; many of these designers are tasked with six to eight collections per year, and the pressure for constant newness is head-spinning. It’s also not conducive to great clothes—so why not look back at how Christian, Cristóbal, and Paco did it?

Below, see how more of today’s designers are nodding to the past with refreshingly modern results.

Dior Resort ’18
Since taking the helm at Dior last summer, Maria Grazia Chiuri has been mining the house’s rich history. Her Spring ’17 Couture collection included her take on a gown Monsieur Dior designed back in 1950; Fall ’17 revisited his “blue period,” including a hooded jacket resurrected from 1949; and for Resort ’18, Chiuri looked to Dior’s Ovale collection of 1951, which had prints inspired by the Lascaux cave paintings. The cave was only discovered in 1940, and the primitive, nearly 20,000-year-old paintings became a fascination of Monsieur Dior’s; he was highly superstitious and regarded them as a magical link to the earth. Chiuri dreamed up similar prints for her Resort show in Los Angeles, seen best on jacquard shirtdresses, plush furs, and practical coats and knits. Here, the house shared exclusive sketches and behind-the-scenes photos of the making of the collection; at left is an original sketch by Dior, and at right, Chiuri’s interpretation.

Balenciaga Fall ’17
Vetements’s leader Demna Gvasalia, may have seemed an odd choice for the top spot at Balenciaga when he joined in 2015, but in his eight collections since, we’ve seen just how much he has in common with founder Cristóbal. As Sarah Mower pointed out in the September ’16 issue of Vogue , neither Balenciaga nor Gvasalia made clothes for “pretty or soft-looking girls,” and both have a thing for strange proportions. In his Fall ’17 show, Gvasalia celebrated the house’s 100th anniversary with a surprisingly reverent take on its couture history: a parade of nine gowns interpreted from ’50s Cristóbal-era archival photos. He changed very little; above, at left, is a 1954 Balenciaga gown; at right, a nearly-identical Fall ’17 version.

Dries Van Noten Fall ’17
Speaking of anniversaries, Dries Van Noten also celebrated a big one this season: his 100th fashion show, made all the more remarkable seeing as he’s gotten here as an independent designer without splashy campaigns or celebrity endorsements. To mark his centennial, he resurrected signature prints from his vast archive, some of which date back to 1996. He also invited a few of the models who wore them over the years to walk in the show: Nadja Auermann, Cecilia Chancellor, Guinevere van Seenus, Elise Crombez, Carolyn Murphy, Liya Kebede . . . the list goes on. Above, at left, is a look from Van Noten’s Spring ’00 show; at right, a relaxed suit in the same print on the Fall ’17 runway.

Paco Rabanne Fall ’17
As Sarah Mower put it in her review, Paco Rabanne’s new creative director, Julien Dossena, inherited a signature that “a lot of designers would have flinched away from”—chain mail. Back in the ’60s, metal chain-mail dresses put Rabanne on the map, but 50 years later, is that look relevant? In Dossena’s hands, yes. After experimenting with metallics, sporty touches, and plastic-linked dresses for a few seasons, he showed full-on ’60s-era chain-mail dresses and separates for Fall ’17. In drapey, asymmetrical cuts with a mercurial finish, they looked sophisticated—not sci-fi. Above, at left, is an original Paco Rabanne dress circa 1967; at right, Dossena’s silvery dress from Fall ’17.

Kenzo La Collection Memento Fall ’17
After moving their main line Kenzo shows to the couture schedule—i.e., showing combined women’s and men’s collections in January and July—designers Carol Lim and Humberto Leon debuted a new project at Paris Fashion Week: Kenzo La Collection Memento. It’s not a one-off, and it’s not a diffusion line; Leon and Lim designed it based on the Kenzo archive. For the uninitiated, Kenzo Takada founded the label in Japan back in 1970, and instantly gained fame for his wild, clashing prints. Above, see a look from his 1988 show; at right, a dress in an archival floral print in the Kenzo La Memento Fall ’17 collection.

Givenchy Fall ’17
In the short period of time since we saw this collection in March, Givenchy has named a new creative director. Fall ’17 was an “interim collection” designed by the studio team in Riccardo Tisci’s absence, but it wasn’t your average lineup of commercial pieces and best sellers. Instead, they re-created 27 Tisci-designed looks in bright red; models wore the season of their look spelled out on chokers and sunglasses. A silk blouse with asymmetrical ruffles and simple, tailored pants from Fall ’08 were reinterpreted almost identically, save for the color; above, see how the look compares to the all-black original.

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