Valentino: Before the show, Valentino described his fall collection as an homage to Helmut Newton’s photography, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s black-and-white films and the powerfully seductive mistresses of mischief conjured up by their work. Say goodbye to last season’s steamy flou. This season, when designers indulged in hanky panky, it meant major men’s wear on the runway. For his part, Valentino toyed with gender issues in the most abstract way, offering a glossy take on cross-dressing. His look relied on allusions to classic men’s wear, but never deviated from the feminine form and a strict silhouette the designer called “Skinny, skinny, skinny!”

In tailored layers of black and white, Valentino’s razor-sharp opening bordered on the severe. But luxe finishing and loads of embellishment — including a menagerie of sparkling brooches — kept things from turning austere. A delicate ivory lace shirt and black velvet men’s tie were shown with flowing white pants. A narrow black wool coat was collared in black fur collar, while a fur jacket came trimmed with bands of crocodile. Suits, while ladylike in bias-cut plaids or pretty tweeds, conveyed a no-nonsense chic with their sleek lines. Meanwhile, Valentino kept things spicy, showing open cardigans and plush fur jackets that spiralled around the arms over beaded bikini tops.

His eveningwear was searingly sexy, though it sometimes lacked the fanciful magic of Valentino’s feminine frills. Still, the winners among the lot, including a racy red curve-hugging gown with a giant rosette on each hip, bridged the two spheres. After all, as even the most ruthless Newtonian goddess knows, the power of romance is irresistible.

John Galliano: Over the sound system came that eternal question: “What do you do with a drunken sailor?” With all the enthusiasm of a pirate on shore leave in rum country, John Galliano cut loose with his fall collection, as he is wont to do, providing the answer to that age-old query. What do you do with a drunken sailor? Honey, just get the hell out of the way.

Galliano went absolutely wild creating elaborate ethnic costumes for his troupe of high-glam vagabonds to present one of his most eccentric globetrotting gettups to date.And these girls don’t pack light, not on your life. They hit the road with silverware hanging from their hair, suitcases strapped to their backs, plastic bags tied around their shoes and wearing swinging hoop-skirted dresses that put Scarlett O’Hara and her “Cold Mountain” kin to shame. Galliano’s worldly gals were layered with the frills, spangles, tassels and folklore of a multitude of nations. Peruvian sweaters, fancy corsets that bloomed at the bust with rosettes and Mongolian-like coats abounded. There were hints of Spain, Tibet, you-name-it. Items plucked directly from Galliano-land, however, were the best, and included a fur jacket embroidered with hot pink roses, a pompon sweater, glorious chiffon gowns in sweet floral prints and underpinnings done up in that house favorite — newsprint, which Galliano first introduced with his homeless chic collection for couture 2000. And it all made for a glorious mix.

While Galliano showed the looniest, jaw-dropping looks, he also sent out stunningly beautiful items that represent the best of what he can do. Sail on, mate!

Chloé: In a word, delightful. Phoebe Philo’s excellent Chloé collection was everything it should be — and more. A lot of designers throw around phrases like “offhand chic,” but Philo delivered. She drew on a reserve of insider knowledge, besting last season’s terrific show, to put together a collection that, from first look to last, described exactly how a certain type of hip but polished young woman wants to dress. It’s a look that’s easy, but pulled together and girly without plunging into camp. There have been many glimpses of Philo’s genius since her start at the house, but this collection was a breakthrough that could take Chloé to the front of the pack. And she has proven she has the stuff to become a real powerhouse

Philo breezily played sturdy men’s wear against featherweight feminine fare in Neapolitan ice cream colors and finished with pintucking and covered buttons. The show was replete with great items like an oversized anorak cut in a classic plaid, shrunken broiderie-anglaise jackets and loose silk dresses jeweled at the waistbands. A nubby cardigan with horn buttons topped a gauze camisole and wide-leg plaid pants. A kelly green silk party dress was belted with a crystal-studded bow belt.The designer freed her look from the forced toughness it sometimes suffered from in the past and from the need to impose any overt theme on the collection. She keeps a lower profile than some of her peers, but Philo’s natural feel for these clothes was apparent and provided her with a true advantage. It’s Phoebe’s moment — and her rose-colored reality looks plenty inviting.

Stella McCartney: Like they do in the movie business, Stella McCartney supplied a dramatic back-story to her fall collection. Why not, with her pal Harvey Weinstein sitting in the front row? As the show notes explained, McCartney’s clothes told the tale of a kicky glamour girl who flees the big city to hit the road with her outdoorsy boyfriend. Of course, she doesn’t leave all of her sophisticated wardrobe behind, but blends the sleek and sexy items from her old life with sporty, cozier stuff poached from her boyfriend’s suitcase. In other words, it was a masculine-feminine, urban-pastoral kind of affair. You got that, Harvey?

At McCartney’s hands the traditional parka underwent a major overhaul and became a smart substitution for all those elaborate furs seen on other runways. McCartney’s intricately sculpted down vests were cut with command, as were her fluid satin dresses inset with seams that arced across the body. Adorable Fair Isle sweaters knit with images of forest creatures came layered over men’s shirts and paired with cropped pants. But occasionally McCartney took a more techno approach to the sporting life, as was the case with super-tight pants inset with net panels and graphic dresses spliced with peek-a-boo seams.

There was an inviting sense of warmth that infused much of McCartney’s collection. At times, however, it seemed as if McCartney’s daring urban heroine, enfolded in all the layering and mixing, got lost in the woods. While she managed to introduce a sense of adventure in the collection as well as a slew of clever new clothes, sometimes that adventurous spirit carried her a little too far.

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