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Pump Up the Volume – Balenciaga, Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons, Junya Watanabe

Nicolas Ghesquière focused on big-volume, high-chic shapes for Balenciaga…Yohji Yamamoto explored asymmetry and layering once again…Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garçons collection featured round neoprene skirts…and Junya...

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Balenciaga: Who doesn’t want to impress the boss — especially if he’s rumored to have concerns about your commercial savvy? It’s difficult to imagine Robert Polet being anything other than thrilled with the captivating —and clearly consumer-friendly — collection that Nicolas Ghesquière showed on Tuesday morning. Ghesquière is among fashion’s true inventors, an intense and deliberate craftsman.

When he talks shop, he’s likely to focus on cut and proportion rather than on his inspirational reverie du jour, this season the Arcadia, a pirate spaceship from an Eighties cartoon. And increasingly, he invokes the name of the house founder with surety. “The bridge is growing. I feel more comfortable now working with the archives of Cristobal Balenciaga,” Ghesquière said the evening before his show. “The real clothes — not just the image.”

To best reveal his focus on shape, Ghesquière worked in black, white, gray and navy, done up with enough brass buttons to suit the River City Boys Band, though the likeness ended at the buttonholes. With volume swooshing its way to Trendville in the early going in Paris, he delivered it at its best and most modern by far. He took the deb-dress template to grown-up sophistication with a trio made from subtle fabric mixes and cinched in croc. And who would imagine that that traditional fashion fright, the between-the-legs dress, could look something other than awful? Ghesquière made it sensational, in multifabric “turban” shapes that twisted, turned, folded and looped every which way, allowing for graceful movement — and perhaps just a bit of that arrrgh swagger. He also introduced naughty-girl slip dresses that “have linings for production.” (Duly noted, Nicolas.)

As for the jacket-and-slouchy-pants combos with their souped-up cuts and gold galore in buttons and braids, one girl’s pirate is another’s admiral. But whether marauder or military, the clothes radiated refinement, high chic — and high invention — from one of the most intriguing designers out there.

Yohji Yamamoto: An invitation printed with lace prettily veiling a suggestive, yet hazily feminine, Peter Lindbergh photo set expectations for Yohji Yamamoto’s spring show. Would he, could he, deliver the romantic blockbuster his stalwart fans have been hoping for during the past few seasons? While it didn’t have the heart-stopping, adventuresome grandeur of some of his best collections, Yamamoto hinted toward a move in that direction. He’s still got a way to go, but the designer wisely steered clear of the athletic, street-inspired collections he’s been showing since his own romance with Adidas heated up a few years ago. Instead, he veered into abstract territory and revisited some of his favorite themes — asymmetry, layering and suits.

The look was unmistakably Yamamoto. Sculpted jackets as well as reconstructed men’s shirts were austere, yet hardly minimal, while tops twisted around the body or were hung with a panel of pleats. There were pieces done in Yamamoto’s favorite bright red, like a gown with flattened ruffles down its front worn under a straight gray velvet skirt. And, while the show itself was low-key, under different circumstances, say, should the girl pull a comb through her hair, dump the sneakers and put on a pair of proper shoes, some of his dresses would have looked downright glamorous — especially the gorgeous finale gown in delicate black lace over white.

One experiment that should have been abandoned were über-droopy pants, cut low, low, low in the seat so that the wearers waddled. For the most part, however, Yamamoto covered ground that he has traveled before, and offered plenty of wearable wardrobe options for the artistically inclined clientele along the way. Meanwhile, the editors pining for something to swoon over are still waiting for their romantic hero to make his valiant return.

Comme des Garçons: Only Rei Kawakubo could reimagine the “Swan Lake” corps de ballet as a flock of tough chicks in powdered George Washington wigs. And, to be sure, only an avant-garde powerhouse such as Kawakubo could make such a sight not only ridiculous but sublime. To Tchaikovsky’s famous tunes, the designer’s pretty-ugly ducklings took center stage in variations on her new look: a sculpted leather jacket lashed together with giant stitches and worn with a stiff tutu over bike shorts or netted pants banded with ruffles beneath. In cotton-candy pink, khaki, black and white, Kawakubo spun her magic, granting the best ballerina a white tutu stitched along its sides with silky gossamer wings. Skeptics might say the market for tutus is a slim one, and might even suggest that a grown woman dying to wear a tutu outside of Lincoln Center should have her head examined. But Kawakubo’s fabulous jackets could easily find their way into any woman’s wardrobe, no questions asked.

How to follow that daring flight of frilled fantasy? As only Kawakubo could. Her second act came courtesy of defiantly round neoprene skirts, odd, globular items stitched like big baseballs, but dented in like whiffle balls that had felt the smack of one too many bats. Either way, this season, Kawakubo hit a homer.

Junya Watanabe: The fact that a copy of Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, “To Helen,” was included in Junya Watanabe’s invitation suggested that the designer’s show would be something other than a laugh riot. Poe penned the verse for a woman to whom he became engaged but who eventually dumped him. So the engagement led nowhere good, and neither did this collection.

Which is not to say the clothes were bad. On the contrary, some looked quite beautiful, or at least as indicated by the partial vision afforded those guests on the wrong end of the models’ diagonal stroll across a square floor. That floor, by the way, was located in a sweltering space in the East Jesus arrondissement, selected no doubt for the keen manner in which its six-sided blackness and plank benches heightened the morose mood. (Memo to all advocates of such spaces: When the show’s over, if you’re standing by the light switch, turn it on.)

Watanabe opened with white shirts cut and detailed to distinct perfection, worn with heavy, drapy-droopy black skirts. He then moved on to long, sorry dresses, all in black save for the occasional spark of dull gold. Even a move to white for his elaborate pilings of fabrics offered little relief from the mournful desolation, which is a shame. Watanabe is a master of the kind of mesmerizing construction that provides no obvious boundaries to a single garment, and possesses limitless imagination. Time and again, he has proven his power to enthrall when he wants to. True, fashion serves many purposes, and a designer is hardly under an obligation to deliver a get-happy message every time out. Nevertheless, most women look to fashion for the feel-good fix rather than for yet another reason to run for the razor blades. That delivery of happy distraction is what feels right now.

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