Paris Fashion Week: Powerhouses Give Way to Preened Talents

Although bigwig luxury brand houses like LVMH have controlled the Paris catwalks in the past, the recent Paris Fashion Week 2011 shows shone a light on a potential regime change. Amidst the uproar over John Galliano’s dismissal and anti-Semitic remarks, the social norms and graces of designers made for interesting conversation, while played-out powerhouses were put to the test with questions surrounding their relevance and practice. But lording over the rising design luminaries is a new face for French fashion: Belgian investor Anne Chapelle, who helps elevate designers who “have their feet on the ground” and are willing to be mentored.

Chapelle’s tender love and care has already proven to be a success with designers like Haider Ackermann, Josephus Thimister and Ann Demeulemeester, whose collections rivaled even the big branded subsidiaries of LVMH in Paris. Chapelle runs her show by opening up with designers about what buyers are saying, while offering a day of “mental support and confirmation of emotion” following her candid remarks. Her philosophy is simple and selfless, offering a halo of guidance to budding designers (and other artists) who are “paid well but not overdone” with an opportunity to grow and control their design aesthetic. Chapelle only sees the final product ten days before the collections are shown, thereby granting her mentees the needed distance to let the creative process be the heart and soul of their work. This indomitable individuality is why we can’t help but embrace each of the delectable talents that Chapelle has helped to nurture.

Belgium-trained designer Haider Ackermann opened his collection with black coats, followed by ivory, sequins, rose-kissed satin draping and jewel tones. Responsible for creating magnificent masculinity with a polished mastery of delicacy and poise, Ackermann is rumored to be the next Karl Lagerfeld, and a promising replacement for Galliano at Dior. Meanwhile, Josephus Thimister’s collection “Snow: Mystic Circles of Fallen Angels” exposed Chapelle’s wherewithal when it comes to a gothic show of menswear-inspired jackets and parkas reminiscent of winged creatures and supernatural beings. At the edge of darkness, the crow transforms its Gotham layers to a divine dove ready to take flight, and Thimister’s underworld reminds us of the fantastical intervention between dark and light. Likewise, Ann Demeulemeester played on the ‘bird-interrupted’ ambiance of the au courant Black Swan in her Amazonian-inspired use of dramatic silhouettes clad in goat fur and tipped in red armed feathers. As if the sun had burned Demeulemeester’s hybrid creatures, her peace-evoking collection was also beautifully twisted and powerfully seductive with its leather-proof belts and bustling.

With an encompassing and poetic take on the creative process, “It” brand designers seem rushed when compared to the Ackermann, Thimister and Demeulemeester of Chapelle patronage. Almost too ready to distinguish themselves, their collections are consumed by thought after thought of evolving the first look into something more powerful by the end. By contrast, Chapelle’s carefully crafted designers keep the fashion inferno alive with a new standard for how to gauge and strategize the process. Although it may be hard to imagine the umbrella of LVMH under scrutiny, Chapelle’s principles of business suggest luxury backed brands might need a shift in speed and tailoring. With a slower pace and emotional reassurance, Paris Fashion Week a/w ’11 leaves an ever-fitting feeling of changing ways in the future. Perhaps the designer is better seen than heard.

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