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Power Play

The season was centered on the strength of pure fashion.

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Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Collections issue 11/08/2010

The medium is the message? Happily, not this time. At a moment when it seems all anyone wants to talk about is how social media is changing the face of fashion—which it is—how fabulous that spring 2011 was first and foremost about the power of pure fashion and its brilliant creators.

We get it: Tweeting, blogging, app-ing, checking in, personalized digital connections with the customer, and monetizing said connections, all are the future—make that the present—of doing business. But it all means nothing without the kind of strong, glorious fashion that will bring women to stores, whether of the brick-and-mortar or online varieties, even as the economy continues to flounder.

Looking back on the runway season and ahead to the retail season, if women are at all willing to spend, they will find plenty to entice them.

The news was bountiful, starting with the prevailing Seventies vibe and ending with Karl Lagerfeld’s watershed Chanel collection in which his remarkable lineup of clothes managed to outshine the magnificent three-fountain garden he installed in the Grand Palais, as well as the 80-piece orchestra that provided the music.

On the Seventies note, the shade of Yves Saint Laurent infused the season with a buoyant sensuality as, obviously, numerous designers found inspiration in the recent retrospective of the designer’s work at the Petit Palais. Yet, there was ample diversity in the widespread homage, from Marc Jacobs’ decadently charming ode to Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver mode to Dries Van Noten’s subtle references and Stefano Pilati’s best collection ever for the house of Saint Laurent, in which he checked his Saint Laurent references against a spare point of view.

Less specific but as important, an aura of optimism radiated throughout the season—from powerful places. Ralph Lauren’s glorious Western fringe fest was really all about urban chic, while Miuccia Prada engaged in some fanciful monkey business, complete with a primate and banana print, in her quest to do what she called “minimal Baroque.” A very different kind of optimism rose up at Alexander McQueen. In an emotional collection, Sarah Burton proved herself a worthy successor to one of the greatest designers of our time.

Despite the season’s numerous trends, from pleats to punk to sheer to snakeskin, a strong strain of iconoclasm prevailed. Jil Sander’s Raf Simons reveled in vibrant color as he juxtaposed plain T-shirts against couture-inspired evening skirts. Rick Owens worked his signature Goth with a gentler, romantic hand and Haider Ackermann cross-pollinated Parisian chic with an ample dose of Japanese-warrior bravado. Along the way, all three offered stunning hope to fashion lovers who are bored to tears with the current wimpy state of the red carpet.

And speaking of iconoclasm, Tom Ford celebrated his return to the women’s arena by daring to take back his fashion from the clutches of cyber immediacy. He opted for a supersmall, no-cameras-allowed (except for those of “house photographer” Terry Richardson) show that made fashion insiders feel special again, while securing for himself complete control of his message: no Internet posting until December on his own Web site; no magazine editorials until January, at which time “they serve the customer…when people are starting to think about their clothes,” he said.

Nor was Ford the only designer thinking of how best to serve women. Perhaps the season’s biggest, most optimistic message came from Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz. Right before the show Alber suffered through a “disastrous” rehearsal, as did his models. His pain was psychological, theirs, physical, as they found his titanium-heeled stilettos unbearable to negotiate. Luckily, his team had brought the entire commercial collection—including a big batch of flats—to the show site, and the girls were given leave to change their shoes. “Damn with image,” Elbaz told WWD. “I’m not an image-maker, I’m a dress-maker. If you don’t feel good in something, you don’t look good with it.” Which is precisely the transformative power of fashion.

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