Take Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, for example, where Stefano Pilati’s version of minimalism focused on skinny pantsuits. The suits are made feminine with explosions of delicately shaded frills spilling from the shirts beneath. If some critics complained that Pilati is resting on his laurels, then surely a little restraint is better than the gung ho over-designing of his previous two outings. At Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld is still intent on pleasing everyone by showing everything at once. But this is his genius: whatever the season, the runway is littered with clothes that adapt not only to the current mood but also to whatever might come next. Yet his insistence at showing what might be termed men’s wear, but seems more like bulky boys squeezed into their mothers’ clothes, is at odds with both the strength of the Chanel name and the low-key eveningwear that filled half the show.
At Dior, John Galliano faces the conundrum of adapting the brilliance of his haute couture collections to the commercial restraints of ready-to-wear. The spring collection was a watered-down version of his July tour-de-force: tucked tulle and corsetry came in more store-friendly nude shades, but the ethereal, artfully draped chiffon gowns that closed the proceedings more than made up for the deficit. Meanwhile, Jean Paul Gaultier‘s light-and-lovely peasant collection, liberally sprinkled with sexy widow’s weeds and much-appreciated men’s wear, was a successful take on his fall couture. Gaultier has a way of keeping the gentle puffs and embroideries of traditional femininity while still making the line far less dense. It’s the type of skill that only comes with the intimate knowledge of fabric learned through couture; in his fourth collection for Hermès, Gaultier showed it to stunning perfection. The jaunty hats, parasols, and jackets shrugged over the shoulders, could have sounded a bourgeois death knell. But Gaultier’s innate talent at cutting stripped away all but the most luxuriously basic and made sun-blush pleated chiffon dresses the essence of modern womanhood.
While Vincent Darré at Ungaro attempts to undo the house’s association with froufrou by exploring the flat surface, his predecessor Giambattista Valli is having greater solo success. Restricting himself to a pale palette, Valli’s collection united minimalism and femininity in dramatic clerical volumes and lightly-handled gossamer puffs trapping colored clouds within their layers. Strangely, if Patrick Robinson’s clean and beautifully constructed collection for Paco Rabanne put one in the mind of Nicolas Ghesquière‘s Balenciaga, Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga did not. Save for a few monastically pure, white dresses, Ghesquière did a 180? shift by embracing Cristóbal Balenciaga’s Spanish heritage and the house’s history of Rococo-style religious ornamentation. This ancestor worship took the form of gilded lace that flounced up necks and wrapped around skinny legs. It was a remarkably impressive collection from a designer staying one step ahead of the pack.
In his pressured ready-to-wear debut for Givenchy, Ricardo Tisci’s strengths lay in the spare white shirts and bolero detailing as opposed to the ungainly fishtail hobble skirts. His smoky blouses, with their swirls of trapped pleats, were quietly outstanding in the manner appropriate to a legendary couture house. If Tisci could be said to have embraced white, then surely Phoebe Philo at Chloé owned it, cutting stiff little white dresses with eyelet and flower appliqué detailing. They might have looked like Holy Communion dresses but these frocks will soon be just the thing self-aware young women realize they’ve been yearning for. Two other female designers, Véronique Branquinho and Stella McCartney, both dipped their hands into colored prints, but it was with slouchy pantsuits and unembellished and modern slim tailoring that both excelled.
Ah, the slouchy pantsuit! Such a headline-making story at Rochas, where designer Olivier Theyskens insists on sending out those floor-sweeping Edwardian numbers in the middle of the day. Actually, the commercial collections for Rochas have featured trousers ever since the young Belgian started at the house. Though the constant appraisals of slow evolution are undoubtedly true (or a clever gimmick), the fact remains that when he shakes off the historical shackles Theyskens skillfully creates gowns of extraordinary beauty. So can Christian Lacroix, another designer whose couture historicism sometimes weighs so heavily that the unaccustomed and unappreciative can smother beneath the intensity of it all. This season, Lacroix seemed to throw off historicism for his ready-to-wear collection. In its place was not only a newfound, stripped-down lightness he finds difficult to express outside the atelier, but also an urgent, youthful sunniness that was a delight to behold. It was in stark contrast to Alber Elbaz at Lanvin who substituted his soft femininity for a much harder, darker, and less obvious one. The collection was a master class in walking the precarious minimal/feminine line: he did it with bared backs, suggestive zips, obi belting, and playfully loud sequins on slim black dresses. And where did Louis Vuitton fit into all this? Well, why bother following trends when your annual turnover is in the billions? To wit, Marc Jacobs simply tapped a fun vein and whipped up clingy, drapey, short, sexy, and sparkly clothes for girls who want to have fun. After the tortured lessons in gender wars and design aesthetics we sometimes had to endure during a month of shows, it was a kick in the pants that said, “Hey, they’re only clothes after all!”
Yves Saint Laurent s/s ’06
Christian Dior s/s ’06
Chanel s/s ’06
Hermes s/s ’06
Giambattista Valli s/s ’06
Balenciaga s/s ’06
Givenchy s/s ’06
Chloe s/s ’06
Lanvin s/s ’06
Louis Vuitton s/s ’06