Chanel: Baby, it’s cold out there. And that’s just the way Baby likes it, at least if she shops Chanel. 

While other designers have responded to fashion’s recent overload of faux gentility and retro embellishment with a turn toward sobriety, Karl Lagerfeld took a different tack in the delightful collection he showed on Friday morning. Want angst? Save for a mild wayward-schoolgirl moment in short pleated skirts, neckties and brazen boots scrunched the entire length of the leg, he showed not a bit. Minimalism? Try pilings of tweeds, crochet, bows, chains, crystal camellia-decorated mufflers, Ali caps and yes, the envy of everyone in Paris this week, leggings, worn with virtually every look that didn’t get a pair of over-the-knee boots. And amazingly, Karl kept it all ultra controlled.

Last fall he turned away abruptly from the style of gorgeous, dressed-up delicacy he had forged with the lemmings in hot pursuit, and embarked on a whole new course — sportier, heartier, banishing all traces of chi-chi, including the gently frilled pastels that so captivated fashion. He replaced them with thicker, gutsier tweeds while even pronouncing much of the line unisex, and if that claim was overstated to the point of delusion, so be it. The real news, that of a defrilled direction ahead, proved sage though, at the time, not entirely resolved.

Not so this time around, as Karl brought his more substantial attitude planted last fall into full flower. Once upon a time cold-weather called for cozy layers, right? As everybody knows, there’s nobody like Lagerfeld for making everything old new again — and making it sell like hotcakes, oops, make that gateaux. He started with hefty tweeds, now utterly inviting, sometimes going head-to-toe tonal — a pale gray suit with a full skirt and sleeves cut short over silken, extra-long shirt sleeves. At others he piled on the patterns — tweed, crochet, stripes, even Nordic riffs for sweaters and leggings.  Either way, he worked mostly in a neutral palette, a flash of pink here or lavender there to avoid the rut of familiarity. He also showed charming knit dresses in black or white with pearl necklines, and remember his megahit tweed-trimmed trench? Here a stunning shearling got the tweed treatment.Lagerfeld punctuated the collection with a series of little black dresses, pleasant enough, though non-events. Or they would have been, had they not served as mere foils for an element of house iconography, the classic black quilted bag, always a surefire winner at the register. Just like this collection.

Alexander McQueen: Hitchcock homage aside, there was no mystery to Alexander McQueen’s fall collection: It was stellar. Even when he’s not at the top of his game, as happened last fall, it’s clear that McQueen’s talent is as sharp as the cut of his clothes. At his best — the dance marathon, spring’s chess game, this collection — he can bring his audience to a state of fashion vertigo, intoxicating and dizzying.

McQueen loves to do that within the context of a good tale. And every practiced storyteller knows the value of playing to a receptive audience. Because too many ice-cold venues elsewhere had turned the fashion crowd into a mob of scowling cranks (not unjustifiably) he ordered up — and paid for himself — hundreds of Scottish lamb’s wool blankets to chase the chill in his venue, a school gym. The blankets duly distributed, the yarn commenced with a parade of Tippi Hedrens (and a “Misfits” Marilyn or two), French twisted or properly fluffed, cat’s eye liner belying their prim aura.  

It was entertaining, absolutely, but not to the point of diversion. Rather, McQueen scaled back the theatrics because the real story here was one of real clothes. Despite miniscule sales — and all the glorious showpieces that make his presentations so memorable — the widely held perception that McQueen does not make wearable, understandable clothes is just plain wrong. Like his Gucci Group colleague, Balenciaga’s Nicolas Ghesquière, he seemed determined to correct that impression this season with a wealth of overtly commercial, incredibly chic clothes. 

And did he ever. Tailoring worthy of Janet Leigh — but also a fashion editor, money manager or the best-dressed mom in the car pool — came in perfect coats and suits, tweeds or men’s wear grays. Conversely, women who prefer a little fettering might choose curvy flower-strewn knits or Pocahontas fringe. And there were clothes as well for countless other types from grand dame to ingénue, from party girl to beatnik — and of course, for every designer’s grail, the red-carpet diva. It all made for a lineup of sensational fashion, the kind with the makings of a real commercial success.Louis Vuitton: One didn’t have to see the artily blackened walls of the greenhouse at André Citroën Parc to know that Marc Jacobs was in moody-broody mode — just look at his New York collection, which was, fashionably speaking, the talk of the  town. But how to translate this new direction to Louis Vuitton?

“Somber feels right, but who’s the customer?” Jacobs quipped the day before his Paris show. “That person has been running around in candy colors and bows. She travels with logoed luggage. She’s not going to give that up for a life of austerity, so it’s about delivering a darker spirit in iguana.”

Consider it done, and beautifully so, in a manner atypically related to the New York collection, yet with a distinct point of departure. The Vuitton girl could be the Jacobs girl’s older, more sophisticated sister, her perspective — and wardrobe — influenced by extensive studies and post-graduate travels. History inspires such gloriously angst-y chic! This girl prefers curvy shapes to major volume, though she will amp up with big, romantic sleeves on a suit or even a party dress or vaguely Fifties coat. And though sober, she hardly likes things plain. Dresses and skirts came in intricate fabric combinations and layers; coats and suits with seams etched in gold. At times, Jacobs borrowed from the Wiener Werkstätte for decoration, Klimt-y prints and colors romanced the dominant black, while delicate yet powerful flourishes — black veiling over a print, or a cascade of black roses on a simple coat — evoked the dark side of a fairy tale.

And in typical Vuitton style, Jacobs kept it all oh-so-rich, with elaborate collars and even trimmings for the clothes crafted from semiprecious stones. Ditto the handbags. In yet another remarkable expansion of the house iconography, these came in materials from matelasse and a plastic-covered warp print to logo-engraved mink, done up with all kinds of elaboration — the jewels, passementerie, leather, fur and the aforementioned iguana. “Look at this one,” Jacobs said, indicating a dark-toned example. “It’s mohair covered in organza embroidered in jet and trimmed in mink.” A little chic brooding is fine. But it’s no reason to slum it.

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