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Whether it was a matter of using rich trims, such as passementerie, lace and fur or special techniques, like puckering and making indentations, it was the distinctive details designers chose that created their most memorable looks.
Emanuel Ungaro: When the designer’s erudite octogenarian uncle is left to his own devices among the fashion hordes, themselves being denied entry to a show well past the invitation hour, you know the house has a problem. But that’s what happened to Jorge Semprun, uncle to Vincent Darré, newly installed at Emanuel Ungaro.
It’s long been rumored that the Ferragamos would love to divest themselves of Ungaro. Whether that’s true or they still expect to grow the business themselves, they must come to grips with a two-part problem: One, this is a house in disarray, and two, its designer clearly lacks the power of fashion resurrection.
Is there somebody in charge, making decisions, charting a course — much less, making sure there’s someone available to help an old man to his seat? Paolo de Spirt was brought in as chief executive officer a while back, but he’s a financial and operations guy, and fashion is more than a numbers racket. Upon the exit of a longtime designer, especially the house founder, any company has to grapple with some basic questions. Does the house still reflect the founder’s philosophy and aesthetic? If so, are they still relevant? And depending upon those answers, how do we evolve or reinvent?
For some time now — well before the Ferragamos pulled the plug on the couture, thus finalizing Emanuel Ungaro’s exit — chez Ungaro has been wrought with problems, problems addressed, it seems, with mere Band-Aids. But the Band-Aid approach doesn’t work, especially when hiring a designer. Darré debuted with what can kindly be called a doozy of a collection — a big-bowed, kimonoed, geometric, green-eye shadowed, plastic-shoed marvel of confusion. But that’s almost beside the point. While his efforts gave little indication that he’s the person to jump-start a successful reinvention, the matter of designer succession is only one glaring problem for this house in apparent free-fall.
Costume National: What looked good at Ennio Capasa’s fall Costume National show were his coats: fluted, decorated with subtle passementerie, edged in lace or bordered in fur. These demonstrated good common sense while paying homage to the season’s pervasive folkloric Seventies revival — just the sort of retail level no-brainers that have earned the label a dedicated following among professional, well-dressed women who like to keep au courant.
What seemed less likely to get that crowd hustling into the checkout line, however, were Capasa’s suits — a purple velvet tux, anyone? — or several among the many of his peekaboo Heidi dresses, which were worn under tiny, tight lace-up vests. From time to time, these teetered toward the tawdry. Capasa’s fans are real women, and they count on him for real, honest-to-goodness, wearable clothes.
Sophia Kokosalaki: “I wanted to work with samurai armor and make it wearable,” Sophia Kokosalaki said after her show. Of course, that study of ancient Japan — as ephemeral as it was — came through Kokosalaki’s Greece-meets-London lens. But whatever the inspiration, the cross-cultural mélange added up to a sharp collection full of great clothes. Leather jackets were woven through with long silver-tipped fringe or trimmed in glittering knit bands, while gauzy sweaters and dresses crisscrossed and wrapped like the most delicate, ropy armor. Kokosalaki, who lives in London, showed in Paris for the second time this season, and her day clothes — chiffon blouses, narrow skirts, tailored trousers and elegant cashmere coats — were more polished than ever.
As anyone who has followed her career knows, Kokosalaki’s party dresses are magic. They seem to come into being by force of will — and, of course, by dexterous craft — swirling, winding, twisting, puckering and pleating round the body. “I like to create new surfaces,” she said, describing the labor-intensive process. “It’s centimeter by centimeter, and very painful.” As complicated as things must have been in the studio, however, the clothes never lost their mysterious, cool-girl aura. This season, Kokosalaki’s pain is every fashion lover’s pleasure.
Andrew Gn: Andrew Gn’s sumptuous clothes aim to please the jet-setting members of his ever-growing fan club. And this season, luxe embellishment turned even his simplest blouses and skirts regal, with built-in bijoux, lots of fur and metallic embroideries galore. Gn set the majestic tone with ladylike iridescent taffeta suits, all carefully tailored, trimmed with wisps of fur and streaks of leafy gold embroidery, while chiffon blouses were edged with faux jewels. But even an astrakhan coat was pushed to the limit, trimmed with embroidered foliage, passementerie and plush mink cuffs for good measure.
Did the collection ever cross the border into luxe-overdose territory? Sure — and why not? Just like his very social, very savvy customers, sometimes Gn goes just a bit beyond, and that’s part of the fun. Following in spring’s over-the-top mood, Gn’s evening dresses were the best of all, bejeweled, fur bedecked and not-so-simply gorgeous.
Undercover: When the lights dimmed at the Undercover show, it was to the tinkling sound of children in a schoolyard. But those expecting recess should have taken a closer look at designer Jun Takahashi’s invitation — an elementary school timetable with arts-and-crafts class circled.
But just because you’re learning doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Quite the contrary, the trompe l’oeil effects that the designer utilized in his dark riff on classic English countryside clothes and riding gear both fooled and delighted. Using copious amounts of wool felt, Takahashi gave his wide-legged suits, coats and dresses a stiff paper-doll-like flatness. Felt caps sculpted to simulate hair emphasized the doll bit. The fooling came in the form of necklaces painted on a sweater and less expectedly in the blank shallow indentations on jackets and coats to suggest the absence of a pocket or button. Another jacket sported a hem of inset razor blades. Cleverly cut felt became a ruff of feathers, and a voluminous coat was crafted entirely of black felt cutouts of skulls. And just when it seemed that all was said and done, a plaintive trumpet announced a cavalry, a dozen strong, of tomboyish soldier uniforms, ending the show with a delightful visual flourish.
Rick Owens: After Rick Owens’ experimental and mostly unwelcome trip out on a limb last season, the designer made the journey back to his classic look. But what was that old expression about being damned if you do and damned if you don’t? The stream of lean fishtail skirts in velvet and nubby wool and skinny pants paired with fur boleros and Owens’ typical jackets quickly became repetitive and uninspiring. The palette of dreary neutrals and the models who were so hobbled by their skirts they moved at an escargot’s pace did little to help his cause. Still, there were some welcome sights, especially a lovely capelike fur coat worn over a floor-length dress. In fact, the most covetable of his pieces were the animal skins, such as the shrunken fur boleros and a seamed shearling jacket. Nonetheless, it’s obvious that Owens needs to move beyond his characteristic grungy rut and bring some new life into his work.
Issey Miyake: Romance and poetry describe the solid collection designer Naoki Takizawa delivered for Issey Miyake. Inspired by the texture and contrasts in a black-and-white film by Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, Takizawa’s outfits came out two at a time — in white and black — exploring the idea of light and shadow. In most cases, one was decorated with embroidery or ruffles, while its pair bore worn-off traces of the same decoration in trompe l’oeil. The effect was artistic but not forced, resulting in plenty of fetching, inventive clothes. Skirts and jackets came trimmed with satin ruffles, while a top had concentric circles of gold sequins. On the sporty side, Takizawa featured puffy ski jackets decorated with a wavy pattern. He closed with a beautiful satin ruffled gown that, when the lights dropped, glowed in the dark.