By  on November 19, 2012

Fashion as spectator sport. No wonder the notion has achieved cliché status, given the multitiered gaping that goes on these days, fueled by the red carpet, the Project Runway effect, the endless paparazzi stalking of celebrities for publishable, post-able photos.

Much of fashion’s appeal as mass entertainment centers on the collections—once on the radar of almost no one other than participating insiders, but now a monthlong global media (both new and old) event. First came the celebrity takeover of the front row, and more recently, the social-media-celebrated external fashion show starring dressed-to-the-hilt editors stalked by a new genre of blogging paparazzi, many of whom themselves dress for the lenses of others.

Lest we forget, some of the actual runway fashion is also delivered with ample showmanship; we’ve come to expect no less from two creators in particular. This season, Marc Jacobs went Pop in New York with a high-drama treatise on the spectator black-and-white that he’s long loved but seldom restricted himself to. (Others were on the wavelength; black, white and graphic developed into one of spring’s most important trends.) At Louis Vuitton, Jacobs took the same visual bravado on a glossy ride to the Sunny Side via yellow-and-white graphics and a major set of escalators. At Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld’s installation of sleek, giant wind turbines provided a bold backdrop for clothes that, stripped of the obvious iconography, nonetheless radiated modernist Chanel. Increasingly, Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton has upped her production bravado to better reflect the theatricality of her clothes. This time, moody lighting and a mesmerizing video of bees at work telegraphed “a matriarchal society” in which everyone looked high-glam fabulous. Others, too, have shifted toward showmanship, notably Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, who inhabited a decrepit office building in the bowels of lower Manhattan for a dazzling technology-informed collection, and Alexander Wang, who punctuated his audacious, edgy lineup with glow-in-the-dark fun.

Still, the season’s biggest entertainment fest played out in the Battle of the Debuts. One hallowed fashion city, Paris. Two revered names, Dior and Saint Laurent. Two powerhouse groups, LVMH and PPR. Two designers deemed cooler than cool, Raf Simons and Hedi Slimane. Not surprisingly, the anticipation was inevitable. What could not have been predicted was the divide between critics and retailers on Slimane’s Saint Laurent. From this vantage point, Dior and Simons won hands down on the aesthetic plane, delivering what Dior has long needed—beautiful clothes that celebrate currency over camp. I found Saint Laurent oddly sweet in its reverence and mundane in its approachability. Yet I also saw how those two characteristics—and an oft-repeated riff on that good old rock ’n’ roll favorite: the leather jacket and skinny pants—could make a sound prescription for resuscitating the Saint Laurent brand around the world, a theory supported by the retail raves the collection garnered.

 

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