Paris Fashion Week: Moody Times, Bright Signs

Designers at Paris Fashion Week have born the burden of making sense out of a season that, thus far, lacked a cohesive creative direction. With the dark cloud of the economic forecast hovering overhead, the mood was mirrored by cranky editors, steel gray skies and sputtering rain that weighed on the spirit of the week. But amid this gloom, several collections showed off bright signs—a welcome message from Paris to the world.

Gareth Pugh decamped from London to show in Paris for the first time. His impeccably produced, Edwardian-influenced collection pulled in a wide international audience to witness his over-the-top showmanship—a worthy gamble that created an entertaining diversion at the start of the week.

Editors and buyers were more focused on the collections that would impact their bottom line, however. As the line with arguably the steepest ascendancy in Paris, Balmain was the first winner in this category—Christophe Decarnin’s rock chick look of distressed jeans, studded pumps and crystal encrusted one-shoulder dresses was one of the most prevalent styles worn by show-goers. Givenchy also conveyed this tough look with head designer Riccardo Tisci illustrating his “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” message in a collection called “Western bondage.” The line was rife with high-waisted leggings, jewel encrusted tops and dresses, a forward-looking group of denim accented by Western leather appliqués and cowgirl-inspired boots. A group of feminine yellow and nude lace dresses also picked up on the season’s pervasive transparency trend.

On the transparency tip, Olivier Theysken’s collection for Nina Ricci was on point for the season’s experimentation with innovative fabrics—also seen at Prada and Dolce & Gabbana—but accentuated by boudoir and lingerie details. Many of the dresses were shown cut away in the front and cascading to the floor in the back. It wasn’t the prettiest collection but it did highlight the flirtation designers are having with unusually textured and colored fabrics.

Over at Balenciaga, Nicolas Ghesquière showed no signs of letting up on his trendsetting ways. For this season, his vision went outer-planetary: alien creatures donning Space Age suits in light reflecting and absorbing fabrics, cyber sequins, color blocked jackets and sheath dresses. Ghesquière straddled a fine line between modern beauty and the ugly-pretty trend turning up on so many stylish women we saw across Europe.

In contrast to Ghesquière’s futuristic aesthetic, Alexander McQueen set out to make a Darwinian commentary. Taxidermy animals framed the runway while models exited in fabrics treated to all kinds of printing—from wood to crystals—some of which were as vivid as the shocking, eye-catching examples witnessed during London Fashion Week. McQueen’s other exercises in fabrics resulted in sheeny body-con dresses that linked to other future fabrics playing out on the runway for spring. Chloé’s Hannah MacGibbon also picked up on the metallic trend in a few not-so-solid shorts and bunchy drop crotch pants. In her first turn at the helm of the house, MacGibbon fared better with sporty, bright white and jewel tone separates embellished with frilling—a set of more grown-up options for the Chloé girl.

While there are designers who always hit the solid notes, there are also those who manage to hit a home run. Designer Alber Elbaz appeared to have concentrated hard on showing that his creativity could be in full force without losing sight of timely commercial demands. Elbaz showed his deft dressmaking techniques by introducing pleating, bunching and folding in simple sartorial forms that, in turn, produced thoroughly modern and voluptuous shapes. A leopard printed dress accessorized with crystal-strewn glasses brought in other unexpected elements to make for a strong and sell-friendly collection.

Dries Van Noten’s checkerboard prints and ombre colored simple sportswear looks were also in winning form. The breezy pants, soft-shouldered spring jackets, tie waist tops and day dresses were all worn with the opulent ease that will match any climate come spring. Where Van Noten stripped down from his usual layering bohemia, Marc Jacobs turned it up at Louis Vuitton by layering on the feathers and beads to accent a chic Mad Hatter mix of obi tie waisted metallic jackets, fitted suede jackets with leather cut outs, fringed skirts and pajama bottoms. The impact was a blend of tribal and an anything-goes ’80s vibe, resulting in a slew attractive options to either eye or buy.

Lacking any real competition on the cool girl beat, Stella McCartney keeps pumping out slouchy silhouettes for the girl that can mix oversize shapes with skinny silhouettes. The collection showed just the right measure of jazz in the jumpsuits (a professional favorite), easy boyfriend jackets, tailored pants and sequin sweaters in pale blues, dusty pinks and blushes—all of which created a nice contrast to the Chapman brothers’ mural of animals and children that served as the backdrop.

And what of the architectural volume that made such waves in Milan? There were hints of the severe architecture at Bruno Pieters, where squared off shoulders and 3D shapes jutted off the front of skirts. Similarly, Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons, Junya Watanabe and Tsumori Chisato each seemed to be answering a call for more lyrical volume. Yamamoto’s perfectly fitted jackets—many of them skimming the floor—showed off folds subtly extending from the body. Comme des Garçons was full of black synthetic fabrics such as vinyl and leather in graphic, soccer ball-inspired cocoon shapes. Watanabe starkly contrasted this latter look in his use of 3D shapes, showing his models with African prints bunched and draped over faded denim skirts and jeans. At Chisato, the waist was given some deserving attention, while oversized beach dresses for exotic holidays were also winners. It wasn’t so much that this group was chasing trends, but that the early ’90s Japanese eccentrics were having a moment.

Other historical news from the week was Sonia Rykiel’s celebration of her 40th anniversary. To mark the occasion, she treated us to a campy showing of more than 100 looks prancing down the runway in her signature bright and whimsical knits. Martin Margiela was one of the designers to create a few pieces for her presentation. One iconic piece he designed in homage to Rykiel’s red tresses was a tiered “fur” chubby, not unlike some of the looks made of hair that he showed in his own 20th anniversary celebration collection.

Though there was plenty to celebrate in Paris, the pervasive feeling was that the timing just wasn’t quite right. But lets hope the fog clears come spring.

—Jason Campbell

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