Chic Urbanity, Equestrian Elegance and Outer-Space Style – Viktor & Rolf, Hermès and Alexander McQueen
Viktor & Rolf featured men’s-wear looks with a Forties slant, while Jean Paul Gaultier explored the equestrian in his first collection for Hermès and Alexander McQueen’s styles had a touch of the alien about them.
Viktor & Rolf: The deep, dark forest — a classic fairy-tale setting if ever there was one, and the one chosen by Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren to frame the beautiful Viktor & Rolf collection they presented on Friday. “It’s about a metamorphosis,” said Snoeren before the show, about “the transformation of a woman into a deer.”
Anyone expecting such a tale to feature damsel types in various states of chiffoned, beribboned delicacy should not judge a show by its soundbite. Because, for all their doe-eyed makeup and fanciful antlers, Viktor & Rolf’s models told a story of chic urbanity, and the collection’s real transformation was one of classics made captivating.
Fall’s strong strain of men’s wear themes provides an alternate reality to the season’s assorted girly fare. Such clothes often exude a confident swagger, and Snoeren and Horsting bring to that attitude an artistic bravado, rendered now in a seamless flow of feminine elements into the tailoring. Thus, an unfrilly bow softened a coat’s strict geometry; and draping dolled up a pinstriped skirt’s bankerly bent.
Horsting said the purpose of the show was “to push classics to the edge.” After numerous seasons of high-concept shows, for spring the designers tempered the lofty level of their show with a playful turn to sportswear of the Forties movie-star sort, the better to show off their commercial side. Here, they refocused that glamorous aura on a more dressed-up kind of day clothes, with wide scarves threaded through slits in jackets or worn inside a coat, but trailing a swoosh of glittering crystals, or a Hepburn-esque shirt-and-trouser combo glitzed up by a twinkling Swarovski crystal waistband.
As for evening, clearly the designers’ relationship with the intriguing Tilda Swinton has them thinking atypical Hollywood. While they haven’t fully resolved what that means, they’re working on it. They showed riffs on le smoking and took liberties with siren seduction. One gown fell from a strong shoulder á la Dietrich; another, a pale, misty green chiffon, draped over a thick crystal ribbon that laced down one arm, looked like a dream. Because most nighttime romance doesn’t happen in the forest.Hermès: A new fashion day dawned at Hermès on Saturday when Jean Paul Gaultier showed his first collection for the hallowed house. From the start, everyone knew his reign would contrast wildly with that of his predecessor, Martin Margiela, who projected his fabled personal reticence into the Plain Jane luxe he designed for the house. Gaultier prefers his fashion with a capital “F,” and like it, he is anything but anonymous, a longtime leader of the media-darling, designer-as-celebrity genre now the topic of heated industry debate.
Gaultier personifies quintessentially French fashion, just as Hermès personifies all that is quintessentially French about luxury. It’s no wonder that he and Jean Louis Dumas-Hermès were drawn to each other. The designer said he aimed his collection at a woman who is “classic and elegant and not afraid to be classic and elegant,” and that he would delve into the house’s equestrian roots and other “codes.” To wit, his choice of invitation and venue indicated he wouldn’t horse around with subtlety. An engraved card with a miniature horseshoe attached with an Hermès ribbon beckoned guests to the École Militaire. Upon arrival at the school, they were treated to a spectacular view: female cadets practicing dressage in the outdoor riding ring, behind them the Eiffel Tower rising above the building’s imposing central dome. Inside the vast stable, six grand crystal chandeliers hung in contrast to the immense installation of hay bales with which Gaultier created an elaborate maze through which his models would wander.
His first look out: full-on riding regalia, from veiled top hat to shiny riding boots. Over the model’s shoulder hung a black devoré velvet cardigan, ablaze in back with the Hermès logo. To finish, he showed a wrap-and-tie chiffon top, gray skirt and a horsehair tail bouncing from a wide leather belt. In-between, Gaultier offered a diverse range of clothes, and kept the horse bits deft but demonstrative. Everything was realized fabulously, perfectly cut in luxurious fabrics. And even if Gaultier gave in to an excessive yen for jodhpurs and extra-wide pants, many of the clothes were beautiful. Jackets came with the expected chic of a tailored navy blazer or the couture-worthy drama of raw-edged croc; he worked a chic kilt motif in both leather and silk, and inset other skirts with chiffon.Gaultier has a genius for keeping his own signatures ever-fresh, as he did with the trench, showing it reed-thin or girlishly pleated. But now he can find inspiration in more than a century-and-a-half of iconography. He worked Hermès’ beloved leathers every which way — blazer, aviator jacket, racy pants, a not-quite-lady suit. On a softer side, shearling tunics and long, slouchy fur-collared sweaters looked wonderfully protective. Gaultier adapted a scarf print or two into a dress and twin set and made hay with the house packaging, his orange-and-brown ribbon print going head-to-toe on Linda Evangelista in a scarf, shirt, kilt and hose.
With this collection, Gaultier seemed to trumpet clear messages while laying the foundation for his future at Hermès. First, he will champion the precious house traditions. Second, his is an ecumenical approach to luxury, indicated by the multigenerational representation on his runway: current models along with Lou Doillon, daughter of Jane Birkin of Birkin bag fame; Evangelista; Carmen Dell’Orefice and Alicia De Estrada, mother of Paris retailer Maria Luisa Poumaillou.
What Gaultier did not do was entice his audience with irreverence. Despite the riding references and the unavoidable kinky connotation of a high-glam, stiletto-ed woman with a riding crop, he played it straight most of the time, and those who expected him to gallop on the wild side of the archives left a bit disappointed. Perhaps Gaultier wanted to test the track before unharnessing his legendary wit. Time will tell.
Alexander McQueen: Even the most gloriously decadent dance marathon must end some time. Alexander McQueen’s remarkable run of fashion-rich theatrical masterpieces ended this season just as the first phase of his Gucci Group affiliation was also coming to a close. Recruited and signed by Tom Ford and Domenico De Sole, McQueen will now continue his own brand-building under the watch of a different, still unnamed chief. But first he paid public tribute when, at the end of his show, he walked over to where De Sole sat, bent down from the runway and embraced him. It was a touching expression of gratitude for the opportunity afforded McQueen at Gucci Group, where his remarkable talent and creativity have flourished so vibrantly.
McQueen’s fall collection was not quite so spot-on. He said he wanted to strip it of all theatrics, and certainly its big, barren circular runway said nothing if not spare. But rather than going AWOL, McQueen’s showmanship manifested here in a kind of alternative theater, its eerie austerity in sharp contrast to the designer’s characteristic lavishness. Unlike the manic speed of spring’s brilliant play on “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” this show progressed with slow deliberation. The models worked the circular stage like alien clones, their faces paled to near blankness, their hair in tightly packed pincurls, as if a troupe of Estelle Gettys from “The Golden Girls” had just stormed the Starship Enterprise.The monochromatic motif extended to the clothes, most of which McQueen delivered in variations on nude, from the faintest blush to taupe. This facilitated his desire to focus on cut, sans competition from his typical abundant embellishments. As always, there was plenty to study, as McQueen is a master technician who knows how to make ultra-complicated shapes utterly wearable. McQueen’s tailoring is impeccable, in lady suits and a range of terrific coats that went from the high chic of sleek crocodile to the enticing protection of fluffy, hooded Mongolian lamb. He showed smolderingly sexy jersey dresses, draped and knotted in front, and revived his fascination with the jumpsuit.
Ironically, though many of the clothes looked beautiful, at times they turned dull, due more to the repetitive blandness of the palette than the pieces themselves. Though their luxurious fabrics offered plenty of textural interest, it was often difficult to discern from the audience, and the only obvious decoration came in Space-Age yokes on some looks and gigantic floral photo prints by British photographer Peter Arnold, blooming boldly on languid evening gowns in ink blue or purple.
McQueen ended with an alien bride and two attendants done up in grand otherworldly regalia, their stiff collars aglow from within with the light of a zillion Christmas-tree lights. It was a peculiar ending to a peculiar, interesting show. But then, these are peculiar, interesting times for everyone within Gucci Group, McQueen included. “The show,” he wrote in his program notes, “explores the idea of new beginnings.”
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