Chic isn’t just an overused word — it’s an abused one. “Chic” has become that meaningless, slandered little term that writers throw around as a catch-all when they don’t feel like deciding whether something is pretty or interesting or just trendy.
But chic is also a lost art. If you search for the origins of chic – it emerged around the same time as the fashion industry as we know it, in the late 19th century – there is both an emotional and an intellectual weight. It was quality obsessed, and an attitude or even philosophy that a person has significantly cultivated. Especially in the 1930s through the 1970s and 1980s when John Fairchild was running WWD as a chronicle of chic (and called his second memoirs Chic savages!), Chic often means age. If you’re starting to get a few lines around your eyes, then you’ve got something to say about style. Then you begin to know yourself and appreciate yourself in your most complex form. Your insecurities soften and self-confidence emerges. You’ve formed habits and built relationships (romantic and otherwise). And with money you can spend (finally!), you know exactly how to spend it. You have taste because you’ve spent the last three or four decades absorbing culture, watching the world change, and knowing what makes you feel good. You know how to express your opinion and like to keep a few things to yourself.
These days we seem to only have two modes: our beautiful Gen Z teenage quake, morphing and sizzling at TikTok speed… and Grannycore. Either you didn’t see anything or you saw everything.
But what about the riotous, gorgeous and – yes, let’s do it –chic in between? Those years that matter most of our life?!
That’s what made Matthieu Blazy’s summer 2023 Bottega Veneta show on Saturday so amazing. (This was his second collection after his well-received debut in February.) I kept trying to figure out what was so amazing about those layered jeans and plaid shirts, swinging fringed dresses and collarless trench coats beneath layered button-down dagger-collared shirts. And those brown leather tote bags! Because we saw how Demna makes tourists and consumers at Balenciaga. (In 2019 he even gave his models tourist shopping bags. and He did the trickster denim thing, printing photorealistic jeans onto viscose to make them look like badly loaded GIFs.) And we’ve seen characters and “perverted banalities,” as Blazy put it in the publication, from the hands of Martin Margiela and Prada. We even saw celebrations of personal style at Gucci, which was also Blazy’s show.
For one, all of these pieces (including the lumberjack shirts!) are made from printed leather, which is a kind of aggressively opulent luxury that feels extraordinarily contemporary. This isn’t simply an upgrade of a basic into something better; It’s a declaration that everything in the life of a Bottega Veneta customer should be easy the best.
She knows her stuff. She’s chic.
But there was also this feeling, in the styling, with models clutching those bags, that this is a woman living her life and living it well. We don’t know what she knows. We don’t know where she’s been or where she’s going. (Will she be happy with what she bought in that brown bag? Who knows!) There was a sense of alive mystery in Blazy’s clothes that conveys chic at its best and truest. It’s the little black dress idea — and Blazy had two. When was the last time you saw a great little black dress? (One that didn’t resemble any shapewear and wasn’t covered in cutouts.)
Such questions and mysteries and realities make being a woman exciting; They give us privacy and make our inner life so rich. (I mean, that’s true of any tall person, not just women, and to that end, men’s fashion was great, too.) I felt what I felt looking at Martin Margiela’s designs for Hermes in the 1990s, and honestly what I and many other women felt upon seeing Phoebe Philo’s Celine designs: That’s you sublime. And in the case of Bottega, it’s beyond imagination in its exquisite craftsmanship. And it’s a bit funky, that is, elevated in a way only culture connoisseurs can appreciate. (And wow, I didn’t even mention the Blobby set designed by Gaetano Pesce!) But it’s clothing for a discerning woman with experience, who’s traveled, shopped and knows which Claire Denis movies the best are and rolls a little eyes at Art Basel, but still goes a little hopeful of something sublime every year. She knows her stuff. she is chic.
Kate Moss strutting in these nubuck leather jeans and plaid shirt is the whole idea in one look: my god it’s the coolest supermodel in history…dressed like the coolest supermodel in history. She is easy She. (And I love that she’s 48. Right in the chic age demographic!) Experimentation and extravagance are the dominant order of fashion today, and they’re fun and indeed important. But the joy and the satisfaction of dressing as you have always wanted to be and finally are, and feeling so comfortable in your clothes – there is nothing quite like it.
This show was Milan’s exceptional highlight, but a few other shows are also worth mentioning. There were promising debuts at Bally by Rhuigi Villaseñor and Ferragamo by Maximilian Davis. I love seeing these young people (Villaseñor is 30 and Davis is 28) at the helm of these big corporate houses and to be honest I expected a little more corruption from the two of them.
At Bally’s, the clothes were sexy (as the designer promised) and that was certainly fun to see, like a denim shirt tucked into a sequined skirt – c’mon! Who doesn’t like to see that?! – and some great flute bead tops with jeans. Nevertheless, some of the cocktail dresses with rags of silk on the chest and heels that were too high and skinny showed the need for a woman’s eye. I’m not against a man’s idea of what’s sexy – Tom Ford, clearly a reference for Villaseñor, is the boss! — but a woman in the mix can tweak things in the smallest and best ways. (It’s just how men always want women to wear red lingerie, while most women… don’t.) And with Ferragamo, the weirdness that makes Davis one of the most extreme talents of his generation is clearly transpiring. Check out the suede suiting from head to toe with little bucket pockets or the sequined tailoring for the evening or the bloused goddess dresses towards the end of the show (with a looong Fringe bag dragged through the red clay runway, yowza!). But I wondered if he was trying a little too hard not to make his bosses nervous; There was a dose of what felt like courtesy filler for gym wear. To hell with it, I say! The world is Davis’ stage and he should seize it.
Glenn Martens has more than carpe’d his tuesday at diesel. The process of spinning and crafting denim, the most uncomplicated of clothing materials—one that, in its flexibility, ubiquity, and affordability, is symbolic of the democratic possibilities of fashion—into lace, cropped-collar dresses (as if Edith Wharton were coming back and setting The age of innocence at Berghain!), and sleek acid-wash corsets are so awesome they could almost be read by a fashion critic (hellooo!) as an allegory for the industry itself. But of course that would mean missing out on the cool, quirky appeal of Marten’s clothes, which is so obviously the point. You say: I don’t know if I understand that, but I need it. This is fashion working at its zenith.
Rachel Tashjian is Fashion News Director at Harper’s Bazaar, works across print and digital platforms. She used to be GQ‘s first female fashion critic and worked as deputy editor of GARAGE and as an author vanity fair. She has written for publications including book forum and art forumand is the creator of the invitation-only newsletter, Opulent Tips.