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Fantasy and Reality – Comme des Garcons, Christian Lacroix, Hermes, Chloe

<STRONG>Comme des Garçons:</STRONG> And now, for the bride-to-be who’s not afraid of bewildering the in-laws when she takes to the aisle, comes Rei Kawakubo’s beautifully quirky fleet of fantasy bridal fare. Making up for every season...

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Comme des Garçons: And now, for the bride-to-be who’s not afraid of bewildering the in-laws when she takes to the aisle, comes Rei Kawakubo’s beautifully quirky fleet of fantasy bridal fare. Making up for every season when she ignored fashion’s traditional bride finale, Kawakubo sent out scores of achingly pretty dresses in champagne, ivory, cream and pale rose, all frosted with yards of ribbon, bushels of bunting, bitsy bows, antique-y swagged lace and what-have-you. Yet, take away the towering tinsel-and-roses headgear, lose those gorgeous veils and wipe down the models’ bejeweled white-face, and the collection was a joyful celebration of femininity, one full of clothes — including dresses as well as cropped jackets, full pants, and circle skirts — that could be worn not only on that special day, but any day.

Banded with bunting and asymmetric frills, and constructed from spliced panels — some in delicate tiered ruffles, some printed with photos of tiered ruffles — Kawakubo’s dream dresses were appealingly complex. After all, with Rei at the drawing board, romance is never simple. Exploring the boundaries of union and illusion, she merged dresses with elegant coats to create a hybrid all-in-one silhouette. And, countering all that sweetness and light, she showed dresses trimmed with sharp black as well as a handful of stunning all-black gowns. In the spirit of the occasion, these were clothes to have and to hold.

Christian Lacroix: Christian Lacroix wears adversity well. With the sale of his house looming in January, he showed a breathtaking couture collection. And on Friday, Lacroix concluded his 18-year run under the LVMH umbrella with a a collection that had a major message: “Yoo-hoo, out there,” it called out. “I’m commercial.”

Given its transitional timing, it’s hardly surprising that Lacroix produced this collection within a lean budget. Whether out of financial necessity or to prove his critics wrong, it made for his most restrained showing ever, as he even dumped his typical elaborate hairstyling in favor of long, fluffy, side-parted manes. This newly spare beauty approach matched the clothes that he all but stripped of fantastical embellishments. Here, a dress, however lovely, did not burst into 3-D romantic reverie; it remained a dress, understandable to all. And rather than turn foil for collaged exotica, a jacket remained just that, chic and sensible. Lacroix even kept his colors in check, as eager to show a curvy black suit or jaunty pinstripes cut off into cuffed bermuda shorts as he was a studded, embroidered willow green coat over a printed Empire dress with a jeweled waistband. Evening, too, stayed relatively simple with short, flirtatious dresses and alluring columns trimmed with velvet ribbons. It all looked ripe for a vibrant retail run, and if along the way Lacroix sacrificed a bit of wonder, he retained the essential beauty of the clothes.

This reining-in indicated not a core philosophical shift, but a moment of self-evaluation brought on by external circumstances and the designer’s desire to stay current — and engaged in his work. Recent rumors have the Falic brothers close to hiring a chief executive for their newly acquired Lacroix business; if true, the designer’s input has not been solicited. At the same time he remains contract-less and with numerous outside projects in the works, Lacroix’s ongoing association with the house bearing his name is anything but a sure thing. Next up: the lawyers’ volleys. Stay tuned.

Hermès: Now in his third season at Hermès, Jean Paul Gaultier is starting to cement his approach to designing for the house. The aesthetic gap between Gaultier’s  eponymous collection and his work for Hermès remains gulf-wide. And that’s just fine. Still, by imparting a citified chic to his patrician countryside garb, the designer let his characteristic wit and love of French style shine through the veil of library-quiet luxury.

Speaking of the L-word, even frozen showgoers in Paris must admit that cold weather is the best season for it. And nearly every look here was equipped for the great outdoors in enough buttery leather, plush cashmere, cozy shearling and velvety suede to make your heart skip a beat. Relaxed robe-like coats, sometimes layered nattily with fringed mufflers, were tossed over suede and velvet skirts, turtleneck sweaters, softly tailored jackets and trousers in men’s wear fabrics. Long granny cardigans covered up even longer pleated silk dresses, while tall boots, leather gloves and all manner of hats sealed the deal. Gaultier turned up the volume on the company’s logo, smartly wearable in a burgundy-and-navy printed silk shirt and surprisingly even  a black leather tunic with a torso-sized H. All in all, it’s a collection that should make the Hermès customer reach into her Kelly bag for her credit card, consequently bringing smiles to those who sign the designer’s check.

Chloé: A good support system — what every new mom needs. So let’s hope that Phoebe Philo has found a nanny as supportive as her design team. After the birth of her daughter Maya in December, Philo worked through the overall tone of Chloé’s fall collection with her assistants and then left it to them to get it to the runway. In the show on Saturday, they delivered beautifully. 

The team — The team — Sara Jowett, Natasha Lee, Valeska Duetsch, Adrian Appiolaza and Yvan Mispelaere — maintained the delicate balance of gentleness and edge Philo brought to the house to delightful and influential effect. Here it came wrapped in a nouveau Victorian attitude, its inherent girliness tempered by elements borrowed from the boys. Takes on her now-signature dresses, all gentility and flou, retained their essential casual cool despite often-complicated pastiches of layers, insets, pleats and frills. At times, spiffy weskits or military-mien jackets tempered the flou, while a lovely beaded filmy dress cozied up under a chunky black cardigan. Conversely, gentle blouses softened the bad-boy vibe of trousers cut off at the knee. Most of the clothes were smartly detailed — lace trimmed up in velvet; a navy coat inset with satin panels — with not a clunker in sight. What the collection lacked was a clear sense of forward propulsion. But given Philo’s absence, who could argue with a one-season status quo, especially so engagingly delivered?

At the end of the show, Philo’s designers came out for a communal bow, and then walked to where she sat in the audience. She joined them as they retreated backstage, now officially back at work.  Philo must be plenty proud, of her staff for performing, and herself, for having developed so clear an identity for Chloé in so short a time.

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