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WWD Collections issue 03/21/2011

The fall 2011 season will be remembered for the tragic fall of a rare fashion genius, John Galliano. The events that culminated in the designer’s dismissal from Dior rocked the fashion world, casting an imposing shadow over the Paris collections.

This story first appeared in the March 21, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Yet fashionwise, this proved a stellar season, the good news arriving in myriad ways. It came in the 30th anniversary of one of the most loved people in the business, Michael Kors. His is a tale of resiliency, positive thinking and the credo, know thyself. At a time when others of his generation won accolades for big-time artistry or outrageous antics, Kors kept to his vision of approachable chic. His muse: the sexy tomboy. “I’ve always been convinced that you could be sexy and sporty at the same time,” he told WWD recently. For fall, he kept to that ethos, working in a fab soupçon of Studio 54.

True to form, when it came to celebrate, Kors chose not the hottest-newest-trendiest-hippest places, but bastions of establishment chic: in New York, Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle for a postshow fete at which he was serenaded by Judy Collins, and in Paris, the residence of American Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin. At the latter, an oh-so-glamorous crowd sipped Champagne in gilded rooms before heading to an elegantly appointed tent lit with numerous chandeliers for dinner. “I feel like I’m on Murder She Wrote,” quipped Joe Zee, the ever-witty creative director of Elle. “The lights in the grand house will go out for a second, and when they come back up, someone will be on the floor dead.” Happily that didn’t happen, although numerous women looked drop-dead gorgeous, among them Claudia Schiffer, Hilary Rhoda, Zoe Saldana and Jennifer Hudson, she of the big voice and lean, inspirational body.

As Kors, long the self-proclaimed “oldest young designer in New York,” celebrated his very adult milestone, a number of the city’s younger set made strong showings, so much so that a coming-of-age feeling prevailed, as if a generation had finally shed its junior status, its members planting themselves in the mainstream. The big young guns performed gamely—Thakoon, Jason Wu and Joseph Altuzarra included. So, too, did Richard Chai, with his refined take on grunge, and out of Chicago, Shane Gabier and Chris Peters of Creatures of the Wind, who showed an eclectic lineup with an artful undercurrent.

Though their sartorial points of view could not be more different, Victoria Beckham and the ladies of The Row continued to amaze in a singular manner—with all outward appearances of being both good and serious about their second careers. Beckham maintained forward motion with a new, loosened silhouette and the addition of outerwear; Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s concept of essential pieces evolved toward a complete collection based on The Triplets of Belleville. The result: a charming broodiness injected with playful shots of color.

At Hermès, Christophe Lemaire delivered a debut collection that somehow felt more suited to the house’s image of high luxury than those of his predecessor, Jean Paul Gaultier. Lemaire’s lineup was clean and voluptuous, and if it occasionally felt a bit cumbersome, he managed to integrate the essential leathers and furs in a way that felt utterly luxe with just the right dose of fashion.

One of the joys of a collection season is to see how designers invoke their stated references. A master at transforming archival elements into au courant wonders, Balenciaga’s Nicolas Ghesquière once again took specific tenants of the house founder and from them created a bold yet surprisingly commercial collection. And how could one not love Rick Owens’ explanation of his reptilian-shouldered parkas?: “My Charles James reference.” But then, Owens takes great pride in his and his customers’ individualities, a stance clear in his approach to dressing overtly. “I don’t ignore sex, and I feel like my clothes are very sexy,” he said. “It’s kind of like these are clothes for somebody who has a very satisfying physical life and who has satisfied a lot of appetites and doesn’t need to talk about it that much anymore.”

On the other hand, Marc Jacobs devoted his Louis Vuitton show to fetishism. And who would expect Ralph Lauren and Oscar de la Renta both to sojourn eastward, while coming away with very different, divinely chic collections?

Sometimes, an obviously dark mood prevailed, most notably at Chanel, where Karl Lagerfeld installed an ominous, post-Armageddon set to foreshadow his new mannish aesthetic, bold, for Chanel, even by Lagerfeld’s audacious standards. At Lanvin, Alber Elbaz’s models emerged from the shadow of a big, mysterious tree. To open, they wore austere, dark clothes with hardware fittings, but the finale offered an explosion of festive floral hues.

Another enticing direction this season was that of the artisanal hand, notably from Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCullough and Lazaro Hernandez, who offered beautiful Navajo-inspired macramés, and Rodarte’s Kate and Laura Mulleavy, who looked to the heartland for homespun laces and embroideries.

And amidst rumors that she’s been tapped by Kate Middleton to design the dress of the decade, Sarah Burton delivered a de facto couture gem that was both lyrically beautiful and astounding in its level of craftsmanship. An ode to “The Ice Queen and her Court,” it featured two gowns with bodices made from shattered bone china plates, the pieces reassembled into stunning mosaics. A tiered lilac silk dress, meanwhile, had the edges frayed not by machine but by a small consortium of young artisans. The day before Burton’s show, six or so sat assembled around a table, brushes in hand—hairbrush, toothbrush, floor brush—painstakingly stroking the perfection from the fine fabric. “If you’ve got a brush,” one offered, “come join us.” Witnessing such devotion to craft—especially when it results in such mastery—is one of the joys of the collections.

Still, one often experiences less lofty amusements. As the Stella McCartney show was about to start, a slight woman emerged from backstage, three beautiful blonde children in tow. As she moved toward the designer’s family section, her back was turned to a front-row guest, who instantly perked up. “Wow,” she said, “look at the legs on the nanny.” Turns out the legs belonged not to the nanny, but to Natalia Vodianova, shepherding her own, rather than Stella’s, brood.

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