The uniqueness of Paris is the sheer, unparalleled richness of choice one can enjoy over a week of shows; from a multiplicity of cultures. From couturiers distilling their ideas into ready-to-wear; to iconoclastic French-accented classicists; to Japanese Zen masters; Mitteleuropean modernists and two magnificent Americans as dissimilar as chalk and cheese. We look at eight important designers with practically nothing in common, except two key elements. Their determination to respect their own DNA; and their ability to create clothes that empower women, even if in a multitude of different ways.
Maison Margiela: Degenerates digital mash-up meets austerity
John Galliano began his latest collection for Maison Margiela with a half dozen austere, anthracite black looks, playing with the root of this house in exaggerated volumes, before suddenly going, well, rather degenerate. Both digitally and beyond.
In this ready-to-wear collection John riffed on the key element in January couture collection with digital mash-up prints, insisting this is part of his “pyramidical” concept of designing for Margiela. Moreover, as the show progressed, the garments themselves gradually degraded, partially falling apart.
The same blotched and slurred cyber prints also turned up in a great video installation shot by Nick Knight for Margiela and shown earlier this month inside the Serpentine Gallery during the UK season.
Galliano’s first looks dozen looks in black and beige came with disarticulated sleeves; capes with army boot-like shoulders or little black dresses composed of jumbled up blazers. The cutting was so bold, it almost felt like there was a fourth dimension.
His materials were very Margiela, i.e. sturdy and unexpected: herringbone, flannel, equestrian twills, felt, organza, and wadding overlaid with chiffon.
“Through this inverted excess, Maison Margiela proposes a new idea of purity,” read the program notes from Galliano, who again did not take any bow at the end of the show.
Paco Rabanne: Mock futurism for today
Got to hand it to Julien Dossena, designer of Paco Rabbane. He has managed to achieve that delicate balancing act – taking a brand defined by its futurism and making it relevant for today. As he did this season, in a show and collection full of pep staged inside a packed upper chamber of the Grand Palais.
His glass bauble-embroidered pink silk shirts; bright Roman Imperial purple sequined jeans; black and white check table cloth men’s suits; silk frock coats with tiny cloth buttons were all impeccable. Dossena mingled nature – huge fan-like leaf prints seen in soft blouses and the runway carpet with funky metallic touches. A wire mesh cocktail with a thousand crystal balls was quite beautiful. Plus his superb hussars’ coats with frocking and gold braid were the coats of the season. Paco Rabanne is a great French concept that defeated many of his predecessors; not Dossena. Who is carving out a great body of work at this house.
No other designer in Paris is more adept at creating an alternative fashion universe than Rick Owens. Who else could decided that nose prosthetics should now be all the rage?
As they are at Owens, who included a half dozen models that looked surgically enhanced for a sci-fi movie in his show, a brave, brainy and outrageous vision of fashion.
Cynics might quibble that the main place to wear Rick Owens clothes is while attending Rick Owens shows, but that would be to miss the point. Rick’s clothes are instantly recognizable, yet manage to break new ground each season; like his deep gorge redingotes in battered calico, finished with elongated Jesuit sleeves; or his felt coats, with curved peak shoulders and giant exterior patch pockets; or best of all his diva who survived Armageddon, swaddled in a vast circle of padded night and finished with a train.
The soundtrack was jangling Japanese blues. And the harmonica player was Yohji Yamamoto, accompanying his own soundtrack and show inside the Grand Palais on Friday night.
As is his wont, Yohji swaddled women protectively and poetically. Dressing his cast in long military great coats, deconstructed; cut on one side; rouched up theatrically; and finished with rough edges. He composed many long jackets with massive wads of vertical frocking and trimmed double-breasted floor-length coats in scores of buttons. Though wildly avant-garde, the collection imparted the air of supremely assured female samurai to the cast, heightened by the black lipstick and twisted braids of hair.
“I wanted a collection that was before fashion. Not professional people making clothes, but young women sewing the things they wear,” said Yamamoto.
His final five ladies appeared with dresses that had so much fabric they looped over the models like hijabs. Before one of them suddenly revealed herself with pride.
Though Yamamoto post show corrected that impression, explaining with his sibylline smile: “It’s about Spanish small island girls, who wrap themselves up to attract boys.”
Elie Saab paints it black
Paint it black was the big message at Elie Saab this season, in a show entitled Lovestruck. That effect could happen to lots of gents meeting ladies in these bold statement clothes.
Rippling Pacific blue silk cocktails; black asymmetrical versions worn with thigh boots; or most fabulously, jumbled up Art Deco print dresses with plush ruffles and dramatic sleeves.
Though Elie’s best moment was the all-black finale – marabou feather covered cabans; drop-dead lace jumpsuits; ; crystal studded velvet cocktails; or heartbreaker contessa gowns for an important grande soirée date.
Empowering women by enhancing their romantic sense of allure.
Equal rights at Thom Browne
Equal rights for women at Thom Browne, in a wickedly well staged show inside the Beaux Arts on the Seine.
Office wear with a twist, as Browne reinvented his signature gray flannel suit with elegant versions for career gals.
“All of them executives,” cautioned Browne, standing in his trademark suit with shorts backstage.
Think Madmen for Clever Women; as a dozen ladies appeared in managerial mackintoshes, and entered a giant cage to sit at an individual desk with typewriter, done in, inevitably, matt gray.
However, Thom’s chic lady managers also enjoy after-hours cocktails, gallery openings and balls. For fun times appearing in superb trompe l’oeil dresses that looked like a whole outfit composed of tie, blouse, jacket, coat or redingote.
The muse of the collection was Lady Troubridge, painted by Romaine Brooks, the American portraitist who painted in Paris and Capri. Seen embroidered into several fab coats.
“She was just so confident and beautiful. She was the ideal muse for this more masculine sensibility in these clothes,” explained Browne post-show.
Akris: Empowerment began in St. Gallen
Few designers are more loyal to their principals than Albert Kriemler, the Swiss-based creator whose architectural style, cross-referenced with fine arts, was on full, elegant display on a rainy early evening in the Grand Palais. His starting point was the artwork of Richard Artschwager, noted for his horsehair exclamation marks, seen on the backdrop of the Akris catwalk.
Horsehair, a substantial sustainable fabric par excellence, also featured in many details adding an air of sturdy refinement to this collection.
Moreover, Kriemler, a veritable fashion intellectual, also linked in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Theory of Colors of the early 1800s, especially in a beautiful opening trilogy which riffed on Goethe’s Farbtafel.
Perfectly cut double-face cashmere coats; a superbly neat jacket and a crepe silk blouse all featured the Colorama print. Though in many ways the real highlight of this collection were a selection of gloriously cut trouser suits, in sapphire blue velvet; red double-face crepe; dark tobacco corduroy or pine leather.
His mini, asymmetrical boleros were also impeccable as were his pine velvet python print jackets. A master designer creating classy, flattering and contemporary chic for women to be proud of their success.
Everything added authority, a soupçon of mystery and a injection of what the French call “envergure,” meaning the patina that comes with maturity.
“The exclamation marks represent empowerment. Though to be honest, I believe I have been empowering women for 25 years, long before it became the fashion buzzword,” Kriemler smiled quietly post show. Who hails from the lace capital of St. Gallen.
Olivier Theyskens: Sexy Victorian replicants
You have probably all not been aware, but 2019 is the year the original Bladerunner movie was set. It did not pass Olivier Theyskens by.
Like the beautifully bio-engineered replicants of the film; Theyskens’ cast wore re-engineered elements of couture in this rather wonderful display of haute gamme fashion with a downtown attitude.
“I wanted clothes for women to make an impressive entrance,” explained Theyskens, in the backstage of a 10th arrondissement hotel particulier, or Paris mansion, half way to being restored.
Hence he cut with broad shoulders and nipped-in waistline for a statuesque silhouette. Working mostly in black, with a savvy sense of frisson he used mesh tops, exterior bras, lace and lots of cutouts to inject some steamy sensuality. Though nothing ever looked cheap, as he finished all his looks with ladylike jet-black clasps and buttons. Divine little black dresses and a brilliant double-breasted power coat worthy of replicant Rachel. It all added together in a great display by a truly special designer.
Talking reinventing the familiar for today, just like the soundtrack, which was recognizable yet strange. It turned out to be Bladerunner theme music played backwards.
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