Judging from the models’ stoicism in these pictures, it’s hard to believe that seven un-haltered white Camargue horses were running around the sand-strewn arena immediately to the left of the runway. They entered the Manège de l’École Militaire to a fanfare of Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode—“reach out, touch faith!”—wafting their long silvery manes as they galloped through the 18th century riding ring. They were joined by the horse whisperer Jean-François Pignon, who gently encouraged them to rear, run in circles and roll around in the sand. “There’s so much leather and feather and fur on the runway, especially in winter, and I just wanted to show that you can do it in a different way. You don’t have to kill anything,” Stella McCartney said after the show. It was pretty epic.

McCartney is vegan, but also someone who believes in harmonious relationships between humans and animals. Her mother Linda bred Appaloosa horses, and to this day, the designer still rides. She has a horse named Summer and keeps dogs, too. “I have a farm in the country and there’s still a hunt next door. I want to make people aware that that’s still going on. Yes, they may not rip it to pieces with dogs, but they shoot the fox. It’s just crazy to me,” she said. Her collection was an exercise in claiming and re-appropriating the codes of the British equestrian wardrobes associated with hunting and the warhorses of the Great War, and all the things McCartney doesn’t believe in.

“It’s beautiful: the tailoring, the bespoke work. As someone who studied that for many years, you can’t get away from it,” she said, reflecting on those uniforms. “The relationship between the man and the woman and the horse and nature, it’s this kind of pull-and-push, and I think there’s a poetry at the center of it all.” McCartney applied her equestrian grammar to the Y2K language of her own fashion history, which she first re-introduced last season. The fusion materialized in skimpy hussar jackets, little cropped vests, deconstructed denim suits from another equestrian culture, and low-riding trousers that infused McCartney’s Chloé-era draped hip chains with fresh tack associations.

Those memories continued in dresses and knitwear that revived the horse print from her spring/summer 2001 collection for Chloé, albeit in a blurry evocation. McCartney’s ongoing rekindling with her own archives from her tenure at the house is timely—it’s what the kids want (just ask her teenaged daughter) but it’s clearly also invigorating the designer in new ways. Everything suddenly feels a little bit more impassioned in the house of Stella. Last season’s oversized blazers and coats were back today—as on many other runways this month—now adorned in the checks of horse blankets and some sculpted with the nipped-in waists of hunting jackets. As a nod to her family history, McCartney emblazoned her mother’s horse photography on evening dresses, and the horse photography of her sister Mary on shirts—one worn by Pignon himself.

Asked to elaborate on the relationship between the collection and horses, McCartney smiled: “I guess the main relationship is that they’re alive and the clothes haven’t killed anything. There’s a celebration of everyone living in harmony together.” Next to an exhaustive list of the sustainable materials that made up the collection (too long to mention but accessible on her website), she enforced that philosophy in three new handbags created from state-of-the-art alternatives to animal leather: one from the plant-based, plastic-free and circular material MIRIUM; another crafted in croc-effect AppleSkin made from apple waste; and the first-ever bag made from a white version of the mushroom material Mylo.


March 6, 2023