As noted in our previous Paris Fashion Week dispatch, the autumn/winter’ 11 collections shown in the French capital have marked a formative shift in the reigning hierarchy of Parisian fashion houses. With particular scrutiny focused on brands in transition, an air of pressing expectation around even established designers and a need for fresh interpretations of ongoing trends, the collections were prepared to make bold statements about their brand identity and consumers. The results ranged across the board in terms of execution and theme, but, as usual Paris proved itself to be a stable ground even in the most unexpected times.
Transitional labels drew close attention, as the industry held its breath to witness the outcomes of several pivotal collections. Sarah Burton successfully kept Alexander McQueen’s name and vision alive with an aptly bold and eclectic collection titled “The Ice Queen and Her Court.” Live wolves looked on as models walked the catwalk in Marie Antoinette couture-inspired dresses that were modernized with dominatrix accessories. Furs, feathers and leather made the ice-inspired collection truly exude a savage-meets-civilized allure. Stefano Pilati, meanwhile, relieved fears that his position at YSL was in danger with a beautifully reworked masculine/feline collection that was superbly tailored and in tune with what the house is known for. And at publicity-ravaged Christian Dior, rich colors popped in jewel tones and fabrics consisted of luscious velvets, chiffons and lace. Babydoll dresses, cloaks and thigh-high boots were layered comfortably and confidently, but models’ faces remained mysteriously hidden beneath huge hats. The effect was at once ironic and seemingly coincidental given the heightened public scrutiny following John Galliano’s recent rant and dismissal.
Reliable unpredictability also continued to be an effective characteristic of daring designers. Riccardo Tisci, the chosen Galliano replacement, packaged his Givenchy show with laser prints, panthers and orchids, which proved to be a complete offset from his 2010 collection—a welcome departure that, as usual, kept buyers on their toes. Channeling a masculine-esque edge, the collection featured knee-length skirts of patent leather, organza and silk paired off with sweatshirts featuring beloved pinup Betty Page. Like Tisci, Balenciaga’s Nicolas Ghesquière has a knack for gear shifting from one season to the next. Drama followed by more drama seemed to be the theme this round, as muscular tops and jackets were shown with modest-lengthed skirts that blossomed with reptiles and colors. The boldly eclectic approach didn’t work out for everyone, however. Dries Van Noten’s overly ambitious attempt to combine David Bowie with the Ballets Russes rendered a confusing mix of less than poetic pieces, as dizzying blacks and whites interfered with prints and textures.
In contrast to Tisci and Ghesquière’s ever-changing aesthetics, other Parisian designers reliably adhered to what they know best. Lanvin’s show, in particular, was a dark and serene rendition of its opulent past collections. It opened with wide brimmed hats, stiff coats and capes with shoes befitting a true wanderer, but later graduated to booties and black lace. At Celine, Phoebe Philo’s wearable collection unsurprisingly didn’t exude the usual bells and whistles of fashion, but her aesthetic is clean, crisp and a cut above. She nailed the city girl look with long coats, trouser pants, turtle necks, chevroned sweatshirts, blazers and pleated skirts. Philo’s vision was to capture the “essential-ness of what it’s like when you get inside a beautifully made car” and she most certainly did just that.
Speaking to an affinity for archetypes and nostalgia, Miu Miu touched on the ‘40s with flat red lips, hair combs and World War II lean-fitted dresses. The collection transitioned from statuesque shoulders and notes of mink into eveningwear. Vanessa Bruno’s collection stunningly catered to the classic French girl with endless layers like smocks atop long skirts as well as oversized socks and beanies, which were featured as key accessory pieces. Familiar creams, canary yellows, golds and later bright oranges filled the runway at Hermès as mini briefcases embodied the beloved silhouette of the Birkin bag. Chic and powerful, the collection was completely refined from head to toe. Also channeling a familiar femininity, Damir Doma explained of his collection: “I’m putting the focus on dresses and pushing it in a feminine direction.” His clean-conscious show had a no fuss feel with Mongolian fur vests and lean dresses. Yohji Yamamoto was also optimistic this season with candied futuristic updos coned to perfection and drizzled in psychedelic hues.
Darkness and edge also abounded, albeit to varying degrees of success. While sticking to the Chanel’s recognizable textures and silhouettes, Karl Lagerfeld channeled a distinctly darker message with seemingly moth-eaten and distressed pieces. The collection’s denim leggings, biker boots, phantom-like capes and staple tweed signatures encapsulated the grunge-goth of high-end streetwear. Louis Vuitton’s bondage themed collection had everything from rubber boots and French maid uniforms to Kate Moss rebelliously smoking a cigarette as she walked the runway. Meanwhile, Rick Owens beautiful show hinted at a dark romantical theme with the longest of silhouettes and his trademarked plunging crotch shorts. Martin Margiela’s collection, however, was a lackluster experience as unzipped dresses gave off the effect of being unfinished products—though it was an intentional statement, it came up short.
Continuing with the masculine-feminine balance of recent seasons, gender-fluid interpretations of femininity set the tone elsewhere. Giambattista Valli’s collection was monochromatic that opened with black patent oxfords and a back to basics feel. Oxfords were also seen at Comme des Garçons, where models donned gender ambiguous pieces and termed “hybrid fashion” by baring flesh and nipples. A similar exploration of masculinity was seen at Stella McCartney with regard her feminine take on the powerful pantsuit, which Chloe patterned up with snakeskin. And despite the absence of designer Christophe Decarnin—rumored to be due to exhaustion and depression—the Balmain show went on successfully with signature mini-dresses, metallic leather blazers and the ever-popular boyfriend look.
For Thierry Mugler, Nicola Formichetti’s show—during which Lady Gaga walked the runway—was perhaps the most star-studded event of the season. Channeling ‘80s-era aesthetics and theatricality, the collection’s retro-inspired costumed “characters” were pure entertainment, and its livestream viewing worked seamlessly off the runway show. If anything, this is a testament to the simultaneous view forward and backwards at many of the autumn/winter ‘11 shows.