Show Report: Paris Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2011

The aim of Paris fashion week is to preserve Paris’ position as the world Capital of Fashion Design. The French Federation of Couture Ready to Wear and Dressmakers Fashion Designers does this by facilitating the growth of emerging brands, defend intellectual property rights, develop training and education programs and resolve collective problems, provide information and advice to member.

 

All of the above translates the French capital to a buzzing hive this spring/summer 2012 season as the runways were alive between 27th September – 5th October with collections from various fashion designers. The fashion industry made of industry experts, press, stylists, students and fashion enthusiasts, and celebrities were all present to see what the various designers will be showing.

This Spring/summer was quite interesting, for one, rapper Kanye West presented his first collection in front of a few hundred industry professionals, very brave of Mr West but we would say he is better at making music than clothes.

Black models continue to be in demand with the likes young Zimbabwean model Nyasha who only started a career in modelling a year ago is now a top model for Lanvin, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga, Loewe, Giambattista Valli, Elie Saab, Costume National, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy and many other designers.

Others included Jasmine Tookes, Shena Moulton, Roberta Narciso, Cora Emmanuel, Marihenny Rivera Passible, Fatima Siad, Somali model on the catwalks of Hermès and Dries Van Noten; Anais Mali, Joan Smalls, Jourdan Dunn, Ajak, Ataui, Betty Adewole, Grace Bol and Shena Moulton.

Here are highlights from our favourite designers

 

Valentino

Too ladylike, too precious, too little-girlish, too vulgar. Any of those outcomes could&#39ve befallen a show as laden with lace and flowers and embroideries as was Pier Paolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri&#39s latest for Valentino. But they didn&#39t, not for a second. The designers turned out their best collection yet—one dress more seductively, calmly lovely than the next, many of them walking out on flat sandals or lace espadrilles that helped give the outing its fresh feel. “Fashion is a dream, and in this moment we need dreams,” Piccioli said beforehand. The only thing that could poke a hole in the duo&#39s fantasy is the fact that us girls don&#39t have enough real-life occasions to wear these frocks.

Oh, how we wish we did, but in fact there was a lot more here than the red-carpet confections that attracted Jessica Biel to the front row. The designers opened with short frocks in off-white or black in a cotton lace fabric that made them into everyday sort of propositions, or they inset lace into paper-thin leather for a halter dress and a snappy trench. Other short styles in away-from-the-body tent shapes had a dressier feel.

A quick peek at the designers&#39 mood boards revealed pictures of Georgia O&#39Keeffe and Tina Modotti and photographs by Deborah Turbeville. Piccioli and Chiuri mentioned Mexico in the early part of the twentieth century as a source of inspiration, “but not so much a geographical place as a state of mind.” The notion came through strongest for evening. The puffed shoulders, the long sleeves, and the hems that fell above the ankle, along with the dresses&#39 hand-painted floral prints and velvet flower appliqués, gave them a slight folkloric feeling, but it wasn&#39t overpowering. “Beautiful” is the word we heard over and over as we left the show.

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Chanel

For today&#39s Chanel spectacular, Karl Lagerfeld recast himself as Prospero, conjuring a magical underwater world from the raw stuff of fashion. The Grand Palais was transformed by huge, blinding white sea shapes—corals, shells, sea horses, stingrays—and Florence Welch arose like Botticelli&#39s Venus on the half shell to sing “What the Water Gave Me.” It was a bravura performance all around.

What the water gave Karl was the kind of acute overview that only he could turn into a dazzling collection. He&#39d been musing on the fact that forms as modern as anything designed by the architect Zaha Hadid have been shaped at the bottom of the ocean by natural processes taking millions of years. Chanel hasn&#39t been in existence for quite that long, but there was an impressive, graphic modernity shaped by lengthy natural processes (Karl&#39s thoughts) in most of the 80 or so outfits that strolled around today&#39s massive set. Lagerfeld said he wanted lightness. He&#39d used new fabrics even he didn&#39t know how to define. They brought an iridescent mother-of-pearl shimmer to the collection—the lightness literally shone through. That was also why Lagerfeld strung pearls, instead of belts, around waists. And Sam McKnight dotted pearls through the models&#39 slicked-back hair, too.

Lagerfeld&#39s aim was nothing too “Chanel” because, he sagely noted, there are already so many other people doing that style. Still, he insisted on something that was recognizably within the codes of the house. So there were boxy tweeds, drop waists, mille-feuille pleats, and an ocean of prettiness for the fans. It was enthralling to watch the way he insinuated his underwater theme into this traditional Chanel lexicon. The ruffles on one dress looked like sea sponges, the iridescent streamers flying from another like seaweed. It wasn&#39t always successful—one of Stella Tennant&#39s outfits sprouted unfortunate seaweed panniers—but how many other designers are there who are prepared to take such risks after six decades in the business? Strike that. Who has this much energy and creativity at any age?

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Alexander McQueen

If the day began with Prospero&#39s aquatic sorcery at Chanel, it ended with a different kind of underwater magic at Alexander McQueen. Lagerfeld&#39s models were nymphs; Sarah Burton&#39s were goddesses. She based her collection on the three Gs: Grès for the pleating and draping, Gaudí for the architecture, and Gaia for the sense of all-encompassing oceanic life that infused the clothes, like the outfits composed of coral or shells. Or the incredible engineered matelassé jacquard in a barnacle pattern. Or the silk chiffon in an oyster print, which had been layered, cut into circles, and ribbed (though that hardly even begins to explain the complexity of the result). And if you carried the analogy still further, the black leather appliqué that infected a lace dress could be an oil slick; the Fortuny-pleated organza woven with copper, silver, and gold was like a pirate&#39s buried treasure.

The details of the clothes were so obsessively conceived and realized, they could have easily sunk the clothes. That did, after all, happen with Lee McQueen now and again. But Burton has already won kudos for her woman&#39s touch, which has literally lifted the collection. The raised waist here was an exaggerated Empire line of ruffles, which undulated as the models walked, “like a jellyfish moves in the sea,” said the designer. It was most striking in an apricot baby doll, one of Burton&#39s personal favorites. In the same vein, she compared the movement of a trapeze dress to swimming. Another dress, as pale, ruffled, and fragile as a peignoir, rolled like surf.

 

But this collection proved how hot-wired into the core of McQueen Burton truly is. The color palette—as translucent as the inside of a shell—had the kind of unambiguous prettiness that McQueen himself might have felt inclined to disrupt in some way. Burton duly injected the glossy black leather—a sinister barracuda slipping through the shoals of shimmer, like the spirit of her erstwhile mentor. She&#39ll never escape him; nor, it seems, does she want to.

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Miu Miu

Talk about a volte-face. At the beginning of Milan, Miuccia Prada made a play for sweetness with zippy car-print dresses, retro maillots, and high-heeled sandals with tail fins. Today at Miu Miu, she opened with a model who let&#39s just say doesn&#39t belong to the Natasha Poly school of good looks, wearing a black blouse wrapped with a shape-obscuring matching stole across the chest and a plain gray A-line skirt. Hollywood to hausfrau in less than two weeks.

Afterward, she made a point about designing the collection in the “15 days” (13 by our count) since her Prada show. “I tried to do something different.” Tried and succeeded. Though there were some overlaps—midriff-baring bra tops made a reappearance, as did lace—the emotions the two collections produced were quite dissimilar. There was at once something folksy about Miu Miu and slightly cold. As the show progressed, though, she added color (oxblood, cherry red, cerulean blue) as well as festive prints. There was nothing to quite raise the temperature like those Marilyn Monroe bathing suits in Milan, but we can see fans warming to the stiff lace tent dresses here or a patchwork print skirt worn with a clashing print top. The leather intaglio mules and boots will be street-style fodder, no doubt.

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Louis Vuitton

The carousel that team Louis Vuitton set up in the Louvre&#39s Cour Carrée was echt Marc Jacobs. The designer has made an art form of the fashion 180. Last season&#39s fetish-y rubber boots sold 2,000 pairs in the first week they were available, Jacobs reported, but he was ready for a change nonetheless. “After the hardness of Fall, we wanted something gentle and kind, fragile but strong, too,” he said, touting the workmanship that went into not only the clothes but also the bags. Matte crocodile coats painstakingly hand-pieced together so that the scales match; an eggshell lacquer bag made with the assistance of the last man in Paris still in command of the 1920&#39s technique. That sort of devotion to craft would come in handy were Jacobs to land the top design spot at Christian Dior and the couture atelier that comes with it. No?

If anyone wondered whether Jacobs wants that gig, his pavé diamond wishbone necklace (a good luck charm, he called it) sealed the deal. Same goes for the clothes. Squint and you could see the vague outlines of Dior&#39s New Look “Bar” suit in a minty green checked cotton nylon jacket and skirt. But it wasn&#39t quite as literal as all that. What lingers about the collection is just how sweet it was—everything candy-colored and much of it trimmed with big lacy collars or oversize white buttons. Broderie anglaise dresses came veiled in pastel shades of organza; laser-cut lace tops and skirts were sealed in silk cellophane—the suggestion being, perhaps, that the contents were too precious to be unwrapped. After an interlude of matte crocodile motorcycle jackets that fell short of edgy in their icy pastel colors, Jacobs affixed 3-D plastic paillettes to dresses with crystals and embellished tweed skirtsuits with ombré feathers.

The fashion merry-go-round keeps spinning, but there was one constant with his Fall show: Kate Moss was the last girl standing on the runway. We don&#39t know yet if this was Jacobs&#39 Vuitton swan song, but just in case, might as well make the parting shot count.

 

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Elie Saab

Elie Saab named his Spring collection Color Shock, and though he opened with a group of pearly pales, he soon segued into more vivid shades in the bright thread he began for Resort. That collection scored him big at the Emmys a few weeks ago; Kate Winslet wore his clean-lined but clingy scarlet gown. It stands to reason that many of these HD-ready, eye-catching dresses—in particular, an emerald plunge-neck style with snaking trails of sequins and the plummy chiffon number with tiny lace cap sleeves—will meet a similar Ryan Seacrest-discussed fate.

Saab&#39s biggest evening statement was sequins, which came graduated and rippling or set into plissé pleats. When he went unembellished, the drama came from languid and floaty seventies-ish silhouettes with tie necks or sexy asymmetrical necklines and up-to-there slits. The third building block was lace, which was actually most interesting when it was barely detectable, set into seams of neat wool daywear dresses.

 

Saab has probably the only ready-to-wear show with a separate line outside for clients. It&#39s for them that he cycles so extensively through his chosen palette, repeating near identical styles. They may eat it up, but as usual the editorial set got a little glazed over. The only shock was the natural wonder of Karlie Kloss&#39 legs closing the show.

 

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Kanye West

Kanye West said he found taking a bow at the end of his first fashion show in front of a few hundred industry professionals much more daunting than encoring in front of thousands, as he usually does. No surprise there. West&#39s genius as a groundbreaking musician is unquestionable, whereas his status in the fashion world has been, until now, that of an ardent-bordering-on-obsessive fan. Which was clear from his genuine delight when Silvia Venturini Fendi and her daughter Delfina Delettrez Fendi came backstage to congratulate him after the show.

 

They were two of a surprising number of designers who turned out for Kanye: The presence of Azzedine Alaïa, Dean and Dan Caten, Olivier Theyskens, Jeremy Scott, and the Olsens sealed this evening&#39s deal as a fashion event. Equally, they underscored the goodwill he had going into this. And Kanye himself was poignantly aware of the challenge. “The biggest hurdle I had to face is the celebrity designer or the hip-hop designer concept,” he said backstage. But he had some major help in battling preconceptions. Among the people he bounced ideas off, he name-checked Kim Jones, Louise Goldin, Katie Eary, and Louise Wilson, the guiding light of Central Saint Martins and, by extension, guru of British fashion.

 

Maybe that&#39s why what Kanye actually offered on the catwalk was such a surprise. He was keen to communicate that, as far as he was concerned, there was a couture level of workmanship in items that had taken three days to complete in the atelier he&#39d established in London. What we actually saw was something that looked like a baby Balmain vision of womenswear. The context was impeccable—soundtrack and staging exactly what you&#39d expect from someone whose 360-degree vision has been responsible for some of the best albums and concerts of the past decade. The clothes? Heavy might be the operative word: zippers in excelsis; suede and leather high-performance clothing; beading, crystals, and appliqué weighting jackets and tops. And more fur than you&#39d want on a night when the mercury hit the roof in Paris. It&#39s kind of a cheap shot to go the trying-too-hard route with someone who is so undoubtedly passionate about what he is doing, but at the same time, it&#39s frustrating that someone who seems to almost effortlessly realize his vaulting musical ambitions comes up short elsewhere, at least on the first attempt. Of course, what Kanye West is trying to achieve is unprecedented. There isn&#39t a fashion designer alive who could match his music. But tonight&#39s show suggests that conquering his new medium is a work in progress.

 

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Dries Van Noten

Dries Van Noten came across James Reeve&#39s work in 2010 when he was president of the jury at the fashion festival in Hyères. The young English photographer was summoned to Antwerp, and his subsequent collaboration with the designer yielded the night-scape prints that shaped the second half of today&#39s collection. Because they weren&#39t particularly fashion-y, Van Noten felt he needed the counterbalance of hyper-fashion silhouettes from Italian and Spanish haute couture of the 1950&#39s. The boleros, the swingbacks, the sacks, ruffles, and bows, and the skirts with a structured flamenco flare inevitably suggested Cristobal Balenciaga, the greatest Spanish couturier of them all. It&#39s that kind of research and informed reflection that makes a Dries show like a visit to a glamorous library, simultaneously academic and seductive. Much like the KLF&#39s multi-sampling Chill Out album, which provided a suitably wide-ranging aural counterpart today.

 

Reeve and Balenciaga — just one of the subtle oppositions that determined the character of the collection. Black and white, night and day, natural and artificial were some of the others. Van Noten collaged prints from seventeenth-century botanical etchings, jungle scenes, and seascapes onto decorous couture shapes, which he rendered in fabrics that were resolutely ready-to-wear. The contrast was often winning—and even better when the designer got around to Reeve. Aside from an incongruously literal Vegas reference, Reeve&#39s almost-abstractions looked like scatterings of colored crystals. Van Noten literalized the notion when he decorated one skirt with actual stones to replicate the lights in Reeve&#39s photo of a building in Marseille. In every Dries collection, there is at least one master illusion. This one was up there with the best.

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Mugler

Nicola Formichetti&#39s sophomore outing at Mugler began with a video of Lady Gaga singing: “I am a Mugler woman; don&#39t fuck with me. Don&#39t fuck with Mugler. Welcome to Paris; we are Paris.” Not the pop superstar&#39s best work, although as usual, it was hard to take your eyes off her on the big screen. Gaga made no repeat performance on the catwalk itself. Without her, the buzz factor wasn&#39t quite the same as last season, which meant the clothes would have to do the talking.

 

Well, did they? We saw an improvement in the quality of the materials. There were no sheer fabrics, so there were fewer nipples on display. And, as far as we could tell, Formichetti and his collaborator, Sébastien Peigné, also mercifully avoided latex. Still, there were plenty of cutouts in all the provocative places, and miles of leg on display thanks to stretch skirts that arced up toward the hips in the front.

 

The looks that will probably charm the front-row party girls Claire and Virginie Courtin-Clarins, whose family backs the label, were the ones that incorporated chartreuse rhinestones. An asymmetric white top over glittery leggings, or a white jumpsuit with flashes of those crystals underneath will both make for sparkly pictures. Of course, it&#39s a narrow little cross section of the world that has the bod and the lifestyle for these clothes. But if Mugler&#39s 169,538 (and counting) Facebook likes are any indication, plenty of other plugged-in people are paying attention. That&#39s probably good enough for the Mugler owners for now.

 

 

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Gareth Pugh

The planets aligned for Gareth Pugh tonight. He got to show his clothes just the way he&#39d always wanted—with his longtime collaborators Matthew Stone and Ruth Hogben providing, respectively, brilliant sound and vision to enhance his collection. Maybe that&#39s why the show itself was more upbeat than anything this designer&#39s ever done. In fact, it was positively happy, which sounds like a weird thing to say about a presentation that began with the image of a model in agonized isolation on the screen at the back of the catwalk. But—more to the point—it ended in fiery triumph, with Pugh&#39s glistening, masked insectoid hybrid stalking down the runway and assuming her rightful place as empress of the universe. She&#39d shed her humanity to find her power. OK, that&#39s a conceptual bridge the average boutique browser may find hard to cross, and maybe it just comes to mind because Hollywood&#39s tom-toms are already throbbing on behalf of next year&#39s last-woman-standing spectacular The Hunger Games, but Pugh&#39s models definitely looked weaponized, like sci-fi birds of prey. This was the dynamic, fearless apotheosis of his woman, so much so that the male models paraded by the designer looked like her next meal.

In a sense, Pugh orchestrated that reaction by cherry-picking through his own iconography. But the references to earlier collections—the stripes, the floating scarf points, the billowing balloon-y volumes, the monochrome—were so expertly refreshed that there was never a moment of déjà vu. Even the most churlish viewer would have to acknowledge the validity of this designer&#39s approach, which is all about refining with intense precision one very particular point of view, rather than roaming that universe his woman seeks to rule.

 

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Balmain

It was Olivier Rousteing&#39s big moment at Balmain. The young designer, having worked under Christophe Decarnin for two years, assumed the design reins at the house after his former boss&#39 sudden departure in February. Rousteing presented his Resort collection during the Couture shows in July, but this was his first time putting the clothes on the runway in front of the entire fashion world.

 

Considering his tender age (he&#39s just 25), and the stakes (Balmain became a relatively big business in its boom years), we&#39d say Rousteing fared fairly well. He has clearly absorbed the babes-in-beads look that Decarnin and his stylist Emmanuelle Alt made famous, but he sagely put his own spin on it. Despite the familiar skintight silhouettes and the short hems, the trash factor was gone.

 

Still, elaborate embroideries remained the name of the game here. Rousteing looked to Nudie Cohn&#39s rhinestone-covered Nudie suits and traditional toreador costumes for inspiration. “Mixing the tailoring of Mexico and the glamour of Vegas,” was how he described his MO for Spring backstage. He also name-checked Oscar de la Renta, who preceded Decarnin, and Pierre Balmain himself, indicating, in so many words, that he&#39d like to bring a bit of class to this act.

 

So there was a new softness to a wallpaper-floral motif rendered in pastel silk embroidery on an hourglass dress, one that was echoed in the baby blue and white print of the opening trousers. Ultimately, those pieces made up a small part of the collection, but they may prove the key to Rousteing&#39s success. Despite what the business guys at Balmain are looking for, the crowd assembled today doesn&#39t want a watered-down rehash of Decarnin&#39s successes. They want a new kind of sizzle. Negotiating that divide will be Rousteing&#39s big challenge going forward.

 

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Balenciaga

At least five benches collapsed as people took their seats at the Rue Cassette space of the Balenciaga show. Too much soufflé last night, maybe? No one was badly hurt, just startled, but before another one could go crashing to the floor, a voice came on the loudspeaker and asked the audience to stand. It sort of felt like church. Which was fitting; the fashion set has long worshipped at the altar of Nicolas Ghesquière.

 

Even without the bench brouhaha, though, this would&#39ve been a memorable Ghesquière collection. He&#39s often gone back to Cristobal&#39s archives, but with other designers looking to midcentury couture this season, what set apart his own dip into history was the way he adapted traditionally haute constructions to the street. On the one hand, he asked himself, what are the elements of a classic urban wardrobe? And on the other, how do I Cristo-fy them with the legendary couturier&#39s floating, almost suspended shapes?

 

Quotidian jean jackets inspired spongy color-blocked numbers with shoulders as exaggerated as the short shorts paired with them were small. Denim made an appearance, too, but these weren&#39t the rear end- and leg-enhancing pants that are Ghesquière&#39s bread and butter. Rather, they were belted high on the waist and pleated for a fuller shape through the thigh. Sailor uniforms got an airing in the form of striped ottoman V-neck oversize tunic dresses. And even white T-shirts got the haute treatment, in a foamy fabric in slouchy, asymmetrical cuts. Some of these shapes were more challenging than others, but they&#39ll resonate with his fashion-mad fans.

Ghesquière really pushed the silhouette with the dresses at the end of the show. Patchworked from archival black and white prints or panels of tan and black, they came with Watteau backs that ballooned behind the models. With their large, elliptical brims, their visors (borrowed from a famous Irving Penn photograph) accentuated the bold diagonal lines.

If the Twin Peaks soundtrack playing before the show was any clue, unsettling the eye was at least part of Ghesquière&#39s point. (David Lynch, by the way, is having a moment; he designed Paris&#39 most talked-about new nightclub, Silencio.) No one can look backward and come up with propositions we&#39ve never seen before like Ghesquière can. Amen to that.

 

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Roland Mouret

It&#39s official. For Spring 2012, it&#39s all about a dress. Roland Mouret is a master of the art form. Shoppers at his Carlos Place store in London have been known to buy four versions of the same frock, one for each of their residences. There were several in his show this morning that seem destined to enjoy that kind of popularity next Spring: the hourglass number that he opened with, creamy white on top, red on the bottom, and bisected by a black grosgrain ribbon; a slim black sheath appliquéd with red leather blossoms here and there; and a navy sundress with the surrealist eye cutout that was a recurring motif.

Backstage, Mouret explained he was thinking about Picasso, Matisse, and Cocteau&#39s lovers and friends, women who might&#39ve been inspired by those artists&#39 work to modify their own clothes. There was nothing amateurish about the way he pulled it off, though. The eyes gave his dresses a vintage-y, collector&#39s-item quality. They weren&#39t retro, which was a relief after seeing so many decade-specific shows in Europe. The designer also had this season&#39s ubiquitous bra tops, but their stretchy techno fabric made the old-fashioned idea look modern. In a season of ladylike collections, they helped give Mouret&#39s a welcome edge.

 

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Emanuel Ungaro

After the last model finished her final walk at Emanuel Ungaro, there were a few beats of confusion as showgoers stayed in their seats. Would someone be taking a bow? There was the briefest glimpse of a figure who turned out to be the house&#39s newly named designer, Jeanne Labib-Lamour.

After officially parting ways with Giles Deacon just weeks ago, the house of Ungaro is clearly attempting a new tack, going the route of Balmain and, for a couple of seasons, Dior, by appointing an unknown designer from within in place of a star. Still, today&#39s collection, at least going by its awkwardly worded show notes, was “the result of conscientious teamwork.” And in its very commercially slanted pragmatism, it had the feel of design by committee—though certainly not an untalented one. The collection ably touched on all the house&#39s codes of sexy, cowled, and ruched jersey dresses, and soft tapered silk pants and jumpsuits in splashy prints, these inspired by NASA aerial images that looked like abstract florals. There were ruffles on peplumed jackets and tiered skirts.

Certainly, for a house that has in recent seasons seen the extremes of star-shaped pasties and a stuffed sheep, it was markedly restrained. Many looks, including unembellished jersey dresses, were cinched with a simple, slim gold belt, and aside from a few sequined evening pieces and the plissé appliqué snaking around necklines, a light hand was taken with excess flourishes. What happens next at Ungaro remains to be seen, as does the question of whether Labib-Lamour will be another designer exiting the house&#39s rather active revolving door.

 

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Hussein Chalayan

Hussein Chalayan is turning himself into the Hitchcock of fashion by making guest appearances in his own presentations. There was that fabulous bandleader moment a few seasons ago. But how many people in his audience today even realized he was the waiter serving the models flutes of Champagne? Their ignorance was understandable, given that many of them were completely distracted by the curious connection between those flutes and the images appearing on the screen the models faced. Turns out that courtesy of Intel, a show sponsor, every sip the models took was captured by a camera in their glasses that relayed an image of the interior of their mouths. Yikes! But what could have been mere invasive high tech turned into something more elegant and playful in Chalayan&#39s hands. How do you see yourself? That was the question the designer posed.

Looking for the answer, he combined his own past, present, and—presumably—future in one package that he defined as a whole wardrobe, from T-shirt to suit to cocktail dress. Chalayan has never made it easy for the people who have loved and followed him for years, but the avant-garde elements here were thoroughly integrated into the clothes: a dissected jacket was asymmetrically laid over a full pleated skirt; tightly woven netting gave a techno shimmer to a floral print. But avant-garde aside, Chalayan also showed pieces that had enough strong, simple, gimmick-free beauty to remind us just how underrated he has always been.

 

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Christian Dior

The prettiness of today&#39s Christian Dior show may have felt like a safe move, but after the beating Bill Gaytten and his team took following a misjudged Couture collection, who can blame them? The expectations facing Dior&#39s first prêt-à-porter show since John Galliano&#39s ouster were mixed—or maybe just muddied by the endless roundelay of succession speculation that has turned the label into a fashion soap opera. So what Gaytten and co. delivered may have been the only sane response to an impossible situation: head back to ground zero, the archives where the Dior legacy rests untroubled by the wayward to-and-fro-ing of topical vagaries. It was an especially timely move, given that haute couture&#39s past has exerted an unholy influence over prêt-à-porter&#39s present this season. Time to remind the world that Dior owns a lot of those looks.

So a dressed-up mood ran through the entire collection, not simply the gazar and organza that so many of the outfits were cut from, but the classic Bar jacket, modernized with a wider neckline; the Grace Kelly dress with the wrapped bodice; the orange-red silk and tulle dance number tied at the waist with a huge bow. And the evening section that closed the show felt like an immaculate parade of Hollywood legend Adrian&#39s Art Deco gowns.

 

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Lanvin

Alber Elbaz insists that, by the time he&#39s subjected it to his design process, there is almost nothing recognizable left of the story with which he starts each new collection. Today&#39s effort was a good example. Before the show, he mentioned he had in mind an angel in hell, but as he drew and drew, the angel returned to earth. Still, if you let your mind go, you could imagine that the snakes coiled in appliqué across a dress or in a print down a pant leg were echoes of Down There. The shoulders that gave the collection its epic silhouette could be the vestiges of wings. And when Karlie Kloss froze at the end of the catwalk in a halo of orange light? Case rests.

But all that aside, what Elbaz offered felt like his own pragmatic take on sportswear. Separates, for instance. Lanvin has always been about The Dress, but this time, Elbaz tackled tops and bottoms. One of the challenges he set himself was quite typical: How can a tracksuit work for evening? That&#39s why he mixed the show up, daywear and dressier stuff wantonly intermingled. It created an urgent, unfinished, spontaneous mood, which was amplified by dresses that had ribbons or pleats pinned to them. It was like that with all the slits, too. They had a raw, sexy energy.

In fact, this might have been the collection where Elbaz truly embraced sex. It was a major contributor to the strength of the show, along with those shoulders, which he was quick to point out had nothing to do with eighties padded power dressing. “Power you can buy in a bank,” he said. “I prefer strength.” Against which he paraded sheer tulle dresses that conveyed a nothing-to-hide vulnerability. Oppositions are fundamental to Elbaz, the most elementary being the reality of clothes versus the dream of fashion. He&#39s always managed to bridge the gap by making things that women desire. Here, the desire was more palpable than ever. And helping that happen was Elbaz&#39s conviction that “modernity is beauty.” Flip that formula, then think for a moment about how simple, timeless, and radical it is.

 

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Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood&#39s Spring inspirations ran from saving the planet to historical corsets. In other words, just about exactly where Dame Viv&#39s head is these days: a little in the past, a little in the future, a little in the clouds.

The new venue of the Opera Ballroom at InterContinental Le Grand provided a new air of elegance. To complement its gilt-y environs and Brobdingnagian chandelier, Westwood brought in the 16-year-old pianist Kyle Nash-Baker, who performed his own compositions based on the designer&#39s World Family Tree, a very extensive conceptual diagram she included in her show notes.

As the models walked the runway-in-the-round at their dreamy, vamping pace to Nash-Baker&#39s tinkly strains, Westwood&#39s ideas about a green economy crystallized without explanation into beautiful sense. These high-romance looks seemed cobbled together from leftovers and detritus, both the exquisite (satin, lamé, sequins, lace) and the ordinary (nylon, webby fishnet knits). Even the clownish makeup and bright, holey socks worn with Sex-style platforms—the designer&#39s in-house recycling—had a certain proud refinement.

Westwood&#39s brocade and tapestried oversize corsets, she said, were meant to feel like armor, but more than anything they made you think of ruined royalty. Perhaps there&#39s an admonishing message there about empires falling if problems aren&#39t fixed. Or not. The good thing about Westwood is that she doesn&#39t let her battle with the world&#39s ills dash her optimism. Before her slightly anarchic bow—with husband and models in tow, all having a grand old time—she closed the show couture-style, with a lovely bride in a pannier gown of rose-embroidered sequins. What says new beginnings more than that?

 

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Viktor & Rolf

It was blazing hot at Viktor & Rolf. Good thing they got the red face paint idea out of the way last season. Instead, the models wore a thick set of synthetic pink lashes—they were baby dolls, not knights. Dolls&#39 clothes informed the girlish silhouettes, the stiff nature of the fabrics, the oversize lace prints, and the blown-up proportions of the stitching that held the clothes together. The naive quality of the lacing, as if it had been done by seamstress giants, worked on some of the pieces, including a bra top and a matching skirt as well as an A-line shift. Ultimately, though, it overpowered the show&#39s prettier, simpler moments, such as the pair of metallic lavender lace dresses, one just below the knee and the other long to the floor. The designers seemed to let their concept get in the way of what grown-up women might actually want to wear.

 

The models made their entrances and exits though the parted yards-long “skirts” of the singers of the pop duo Brigitte, who performed on a platform high above the runway. Horsting and Snoeren get points for that clever setup this season, but not for too much else.

 

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Isabel Marant

If you&#39re looking for an antidote to all of the ladylike clothes destined for stores next Spring, Isabel Marant will be your gal. Pretty and sweet aren&#39t her thing; sexy and earthy are more like it. No nipped-waist dresses here. Instead, she said backstage, she was thinking about what a girl traveling around the world for her summer holidays would pack in her ideal suitcase.

Marant&#39s trip kicked off in the U.S. of A. It was spelled out in block letters on the back of her slouchy football jerseys. Then there were the stripey track pants, and the hoodies and tank dresses knit together from shredded old sweatshirts. Nobody does comfort clothes quite like les américains. But Marant&#39s girl is a global traveler, so there were also Rajasthani embroideries on vests and dresses tie-dyed using Indian techniques. Jeans are always an essential part of this designer&#39s story; today they looked like they&#39d been dip-dyed in bleach, scribble-printed, or stamped with a python pattern that looked like a callback to one of her big hits from a couple of years ago.

Which raises the questions: Is Marant&#39s formula becoming a little formulaic? Or is she just giving us girls what we want? It&#39s too early to say for next Spring, but a quick tally of her Navajo jeans and fringed boots from Fall in the front rows this month suggests the latter for now.

 

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Jean Paul Gaultier

Walking into Jean Paul Gaultier, you were greeted by the sounds of Champagne bottles popping and the sight of a photo set, with scaffolding set up beyond that with the clothes arranged upon it. After you&#39d knocked back a glass—or three; the shows all started late today—the girls took their places behind the outfits and started getting into their first looks. We were at a couture show like they used to do in the fifties. No music, just narration in French and English, and models carrying cards with their look numbers.

Those details tested the patience of an overheated, fashion-weary crowd who were otherwise inclined to like the collection. As someone said, “It&#39s too bad about that nattering on; the clothes are good.” They were signature Gaultier: trenches done a million ways, and pinstripe suiting worn with crisp, asymmetrical white shirts on the one hand; and on the other, lingerie details and tattoo-print body stockings. The tattoo motif carried over into evening pieces with silk cord embroidered onto the nude tulle bodices of draped gowns, or down the arm of one-sleeved cocktail dresses. For the finale, Gaultier sent out the models in their lingerie underpinnings. Somehow, we don&#39t think that happened in the fifties.

 

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Celine

Since her debut at Celine two years ago, Phoebe Philo&#39s legions of fans have gotten used to all things sleek and streamlined—be it the unadorned leather Classic box bag that launched so many imitators or the racing-stripe pants from Fall&#39s car-inspired collection. But for Spring, Philo is thinking about shape. “It&#39s just very sculptural, very three-dimensional,” she said afterward. “We accentuated the bits that felt strong to accentuate, tried to create some new proportions.”

You can count Philo among the growing number of designers who looked to fifties and sixties couture silhouettes for inspiration—as evidenced by the full, rounded sleeves of the army jackets, the Watteau backs of her blouses, the peplums circling the hips. You can also put her on the short list of those who made the era look modern and new. Chalk that up to the luxuriously spartan sensibility of the collection: no prints, no appliqués, few unnecessary extras save for the leather envelope bags and platform ankle-strap pumps that women will find very necessary indeed next spring (so much for the theory that platforms are over).

Basque was the designer&#39s word for the peplums that were the show&#39s focal point. Sometimes she used wide belts to create the effect; other times the flaring piece of fabric was only partially attached to a pair of trousers at the hips. That might draw the wrong kind of attention, but the slightly A-line leather tees and the collared cotton shirts with the graceful pleats down the back are a different story. And Philo didn&#39t save her proportion play for the upper half. This season&#39s pants were as billowy and fluid as last season&#39s were linear.

 

It was an ambitious new message from a designer who&#39s made a virtue of “reduced” fashion. Whether or not it has anything to do with the rumors she&#39s been considered to replace Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton if and when he leaves for Dior, we&#39ll have to wait and see.

 

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Hermès

Considering that Hermès has built an entire corporate mythos around travel, it seems only right that Christophe Lemaire&#39s second collection for the house should take us on a journey, from serenity to sensuality. Hermès products are such profoundly tactile objects that every step of the way involved something you wanted to touch, from the flowing, snowy white linens of the opening group—with fagoted hems that made them look like they could have been cut from tablecloths in Greek nunneries—to the closing rich, dark suedes. In between, there were Moroccan djellabas, a Native American kachina-doll print, some Sahara, some Mediterranean.

 

If the luxury globe-trotter doesn&#39t fancy being weighed down with stuff, then Lemaire is her minimalist of choice. The designer&#39s own less-is-more orientalist aesthetic has found a home at Hermès, where even the least is more lush than the most of almost anyone else. In that, Lemaire&#39s work harks back more to the tenure of Martin Margiela than that of his immediate predecessor, Jean Paul Gaultier. But a palette that embraced flame orange and cobalt blue confirmed he has a way with color, and this collection was definitely not as wound-up-tight as his first effort. With any luck, Hermès might be Lemaire&#39s passport to a whole new world.

 

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John Galliano

Bill Gaytten cut patterns for John Galliano for more years than he cares to remember. “I&#39m used to putting clothes together,” he said after the show today. And that&#39s how he managed to make his own subtle mark on a collection that otherwise honored the codes of the house: tailoring, transparency, bias cuts, frills, ruffles, nostalgia, romance. Gaytten cut a slip of a dress on the bias in pink georgette and beaded it delicately with roses. That was pure Galliano. But the new architectural quality—the fabric inserted into seams, the chiaroscuro black and white evening effects—was Gaytten&#39s.

And the squashy boaters were Stephen Jones&#39. In other words, the world hadn&#39t revolved so far from the team that spun never-ending fashion magic out of complex, celluloid-inspired scenarios. John may not be there, but his spirit definitely prevailed in a show that was built around two Marys: Pickford and Poppins. Gaytten claimed Pickford inspired the silhouette of rounded shoulders, rounded sleeves, and the general sweet spirit of things like the printed lace skirt or the organza dress with puff sleeves that could have stepped straight out of Laura Ingalls Wilder. White linen ankle socks compounded the effect.

But Gaytten ultimately fell into the camp of Poppins over Pickford. “There&#39s that thing about nannies,” he mused. Not to say that Poppins was a vamp and a tramp, but the show made a slow and steady move from prim and proper to seductive, with a procession of sheer, bias-cut evening gowns. Gaytten was on solid Galliano ground here, and even if the state of professional turmoil in which he has been suspended would be enough to unhinge the hardiest soul, this finale suggested his conviction—”What doesn&#39t break you makes you”—will carry him through to the other side.

 

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Givenchy

Other designers may be going print-crazy for Spring, but Riccardo Tisci—he of the ubiquitous rottweilers and panthers—is moving on and focusing on tailoring. The designer claimed surfers and mermaids as influences, but we&#39ve never seen either species in sexy suits quite like these: jackets that were sharp and soft at the same time, with strong, confident shoulders, and, for contrast, suggestive, undulating lapels and come-hither peplums trimmed not in leather but eel skin, shark, or stingray. Speaking of exotic materials, the jackets themselves weren&#39t exactly cut from workaday fabrics. Chiffon sequins and lasered leather cutouts recalled the most stunning creations in his July couture show.

The bottom half of the looks is where Tisci&#39s hypothetical water babies came in. The second-skin tight pants could&#39ve been wet suits. And as for the satin short shorts and narrow little skirts, which revealed miles of bronzed leg perched on shark-tooth heels? Hang ten, baby.

After last season&#39s kinky ode to Bettie Page and Amanda Lear, we&#39re tempted to call this collection, with its focus on suiting and little polo dresses, the most accessible that Tisci has ever done. Gisele Bündchen in sequins and silk as tawny as her hair-—how could you go wrong? But close inspection revealed plenty of the designer&#39s provocative inclinations. Truncated shirttails and pelmet belts—posterior fins, if you will—directed all eyes to his models&#39 rear ends. It&#39s not hard to picture the sea creatures from this powerful collection replacing the omnipresent Givenchy panthers come Spring. Tisci is riding a wave right now.

 

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Stella McCartney

Profits are up 34 percent at Stella McCartney, it was reported today. Something is definitely clicking for the designer, who seemed more in control of her confident, sexy message than ever this season. “It&#39s a celebration of energy, freshness, and fitness,” McCartney said, right after negotiating a barter deal with front-row guest Cindy Sherman. “I worship the ground you walk on,” she told the artist.

This collection seems destined to ignite more fashion fandom for McCartney. The chief reasons: the clingy numbers she closed the show with. Last season&#39s L.B.D.s with sheer polka-dot insets were a huge hit (see: Kate Winslet, Mildred Pierce premiere). Today&#39s dresses are their summery sisters—shorter and in zippy mixed prints and white mesh separated by three-dimensional swirls of corded embroidery.

In counterpoint to those slinky dresses was a renewed focus on relaxed ease: paisley pajama sets, weightless knit polo shirts and shorts combos, the de rigueur jumpsuits that she put her stamp on eons ago. Some looks were accompanied by pool sandals to underscore the effect, and the lace-trimmed slipdresses the designer opened with had a sporty spin thanks to the athletic mesh details. The embroidered swirls held it all together. “In England, summer is so short,” she said, sweating through Paris&#39 Fall heat wave. Sporty or not, a good portion of the steam backstage was coming off the clothes.

 

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Chloé&#39s

Clare Waight Keller has replaced Chloé&#39s Hannah MacGibbon, whose contract wasn&#39t renewed earlier this year. MacGibbon had more successes at the label than her predecessor, Paulo Melim Andersson, did, but she never quite managed to recapture the magic of Chloé&#39s Phoebe Philo years. So, what are the new girl&#39s chances?

Waight Keller&#39s credentials include a fairly long stint at Pringle of Scotland, where she did a good job of getting to the soul of the cashmere company. Her stint at Gucci under Tom Ford doing knits couldn&#39t have hurt. The challenge at Chloé, which will celebrate its 60th anniversary next year, will be which roots to return to—the Karl Lagerfeld years? Philo&#39s heyday? The latter isn&#39t as strange a proposition as it sounds. Now that the nineties have been plundered, the aughties are inevitably next. Some saw shades of Phoebe in a navy silk and cream chiffon tuxedo shirt. But it was Karl&#39s name Waight Keller checked; the hyperreal flower embroideries on crisp shirts and flowy shorts date to his era.

Aside from those florals, though, it didn&#39t feel like a radical departure from MacGibbon&#39s recent work. “Fluidity and femininity, but boyish” were Waight Keller&#39s buzzwords backstage; she made them reality with lots of pleats, tented A-line shapes, foundation colors, and full trousers. The highlights were the belted, below-the-knee pleated dresses with marquetry patterns. Overall, the collection was pretty, but perhaps a bit safe. Right now, Waight Keller has the fashion world&#39s goodwill. We&#39ll be watching next season, rooting for her to loosen things up.

 

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Yves Saint Laurent

The shoes! The shoes! Front-rowers Kylie Minogue and Elettra Wiedemann could barely tear their eyes away from the footwear during the Yves Saint Laurent show today. Paradisiacal for the shoe guy, problematic for the clothing guy. Although maybe the haute bourgeois collection that Stefano Pilati delivered was designed to emphasize fetishistic extremes. In its allegiance to YSL&#39s classic codes, the one it cleaved to tightest was Belle de Jour, the bon chic, bon genre babe with the dark side. It was all there in the sepulchral color palette, in the couture volumes, in the restraint and release of scarf tops and kicky little godet skirts. The painted lips and hair held tight by a half-moon of Barbary gold took the message and ran with it.

It was a curious collection under the circumstances. An unusually unsettled, even sadistic atmosphere prevails in fashion at the moment, with some designers, Pilati among them, compelled to create clothes under the rumored threat of imminent replacement. That would be a perfect moment to go for broke. Instead, he denied whatever emotion he is surely feeling right now with precisely proportioned clothes in tones as muted as the loden green that colored a fair number of pieces. The low-key eroticism of Frederic Sanchez&#39s soundtrack offered a cue for something a little more passionate, but Pilati didn&#39t take it. Shame.

 

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Article/Picture Credit

Vogue Black

Vogue.co.uk

Style.com

Fashion Telegraph

 

 

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