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Sophisticated Realities – Christian Dior, Balenciaga and Yohji Yamamoto

John Galliano continued his love affair with reality at Christian Dior, while Nicolas Ghesquiere showed a surprisingly commercial bent with his modern version of high glam for Balenciaga. Yohji Yamamoto, for his part, worked a sober vein once more, in...

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For fall, John Galliano continued his love affair with reality at Christian Dior with looks that featured stylish contrasts of materials, while Nicolas Ghesquière, too, showed a surprisingly commercial bent with his modern version of high glam for Balenciaga. Yohji Yamamoto, for his part, worked a sober vein once more, in an intriguing collection full of great black pieces.

Christian Dior: Oh, the proverbial spring fling. In John Galliano’s case, it grew into something more — it being last season’s romance with reality. The designer exposed his starry-eyed fascination once again with every look of his fall collection for Christian Dior, one sure to keep the house’s numbers traveling upward through year’s end.

Still, affairs of the fashion heart and spreadsheet are seldom without risk. On the upside, Galliano makes gorgeous clothes, and it’s a pleasure every now and then to just sit back and enjoy without having to extract the square root of his message or to imagine how the heck a girl’s supposed to wear this or that in real life. His fall lineup looked characteristically beautiful in combinations no more complicated than a strong coat over flimsy dress. But in his embrace of reality, the designer gave short shrift to his yen for invention, sometimes allowing a glum familiarity to settle in, especially noticeable after his daringly triumphant couture.

Galliano’s program notes featured a Jean Harlow one-liner — “Would you be shocked if I put on something more comfortable?” — and posed the question, “But just what do off-duty icons wear?” By day, they go Mod, at least the Type E (as in Sedgwick) ones. While the Swinging Sixties opening did carry over from couture, here, Galliano rendered it not in witty, big-buttoned tailoring, but in gigantic striped sweaters worn as minis over fishnets and boots — apparently after providing a royal feast for a swarm of moths. But the real stars of the collection were the sheepskins and furs, shown in myriad ways. Galliano is borderline obsessed with the former, not only for his spectacular coats and jackets, but for a dress and bell-skirted suit. And he’s a master at taking the chichi out of the most precious skins, sporting up mink, for example, with crisp lines and croc or leather trim.

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Much of the collection’s interest lay in such contrasts, whether in individual pieces or in a mix. Thus, golden lamé paired as easily with sheepskin as with a khaki jacket; a fluffy white fur topped a mohair sweater, and a red croc jacket slid on over printed shorts. And throughout, Galliano incorporated utilitarian and sporty elements — D-rings, drawstrings, even dog tags — to give his reality a small shot of the ironic.

Galliano’s dresses came in printed silks, gently aged velvets and embroidered silks, shown alone or under terrific outerwear pieces. Here, he saved the best for last: a black peacoat embroidered with roses over a long, deep blue devoré velvet dress. They looked lovely, even if none came close to mimicking the glory of his haute couture ode to Josephine. But then, everyone deserves a little quiet time, even fashion’s greatest gasp master, John Galliano.

Balenciaga: There’s no question that Gucci Group is in transition mode as it struggles to reestablish its fashion influence and its commercial power base. At best, the returns are still out on Alessandra Facchinetti’s Gucci, while most of the group’s other houses are still grasping at profitability, a situation fueled by numerous factors. But one thing is crystal clear: At Balenciaga, the talent quotient is sky-high.

Hardly a bulletin. But the fabulous collection Nicolas Ghesquière showed so brilliantly on Tuesday gave testimony to more than his talent. At times, he and Gucci Group’s ruling powers have found themselves at critical cross-purposes, one dogged in his artistic determination, the other, weary with impatience. But as reported in WWD on Tuesday, Ghesquière now seems more than ready to play ball on a commercial field. And his collection did not suffer an iota for its obvious salability.

The designer claimed a Françoise Hardy inspiration, and certainly a Sixties-cum-Space Age vibe pulsed throughout. But it did so subtly, and not before the designer established his primary platform: a modernist take on high-glam, urbane chic, and despite lots of denim, zero pretense toward a casual mind-set. Rather, Ghesquière played to the woman for whom polish is all, while testing his ongoing fascination with cut and construction. Volume? So last season, in those soft, slouchy pants and multitwist dresses. For fall, the clothes couldn’t be leaner. What Ghesquière retained from spring, and in fact, took further, was the lightbulb-on awareness that there’s no place like the runway for fusing artistic integrity with bottom-line punch.

He worked in a compelling palette, camel and black laced with nearly colorless pastels. The show opened with precision tailoring in narrow cashmere coats and jackets collared abundantly in fur and closed with metal toggles. Others had a military air, their authority sometimes softened by a skinny, crystal bow belt. These came with très-skinny pants that should prove favorites of the no-carbs set, in versions either plain or decorated with the metallicized trappings of Apollo chic. Ghesquière’s dresses — a two-sided glory, the first, a constructionist exercise in shape and his lone nod to strong color; the second, an ethereal union of pale shades and feathers with clean, graphic cuts.

All in all, a serious “wow” factor, especially on the heels of dull Milan. More significantly, this collection radiated the allure of high-impact commercial clothes, beautifully conceived and executed, the work of a major talent in top form. That’s something Gucci Group needs desperately. Whatever issues remain between the designer and the group, let’s hope, as Ghesquière indicated in his conversation with WWD, that the two sides will work through them. Even in a positive mind-set, he made no promises, saying, “I want to stay, but it depends on what the plans are for the house, too.” At the same time, his stubbornness is renowned, so one can assume wiggle room on both sides. But should Ghesquière take a powder, his next situation is likely but a heartbeat away, depending upon contractual restrictions. (LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton has reportedly already come calling.) And at this point, Gucci Group can’t afford so harsh a gulp from its talent pool.

Yohji Yamamoto: Yohji Yamamoto may be in fix-it mode with his business, but his fall runway bore not a trace of trepidation. He can swing high chic, high angst and just about anything in between, all without losing his sense of self. Several seasons back, Yamamoto was determined to change course from his adopted très Parisienne glamour back to the darker haunts of his roots, a trip that caused serious chagrin among editors. Last spring, he worked in a bit of romance without trading darkness for the light, but the mood, though beautiful, still felt discordant.

Not anymore, as this fall, other designers have taken a turn toward the sober side. Now, Yamamoto’s attitude seems prescient. In the collection he showed on Monday night, he rendered it beautifully while continuing to move it along. The first look out set his audience up for a happy fest: a long coat in vibrant fuchsia tied up in front with voluminous bows. But a swift reversal to black indicated not a fierce mood swing, but that in fashion, as in life, conflicting moods can coalesce into something harmonious. Thus, Yamamoto offered a remarkable play of austerity and softness, often in the same garment, pieces in which fluid elements flowed in and out of structure sans obvious demarcation.

The results were plenty intriguing, and chic to boot (even with dreadful Gibson girl-turned-rockabilly hair that tried hard to kill the chic). Wools gave way to chiffon, first-glance simplicity became a look-again tiered marvel and coats morphed into dresses and back as the models passed by. From it all, one could extract a wealth of great clothes, starting with the abundance of black coats, each one distinctive — some might have found a trick or two — yet most with wear-every-day practicality. Ditto the jackets and pants. Sometimes Yamamoto embellished the moody goods with giant bows, shots of color and even rock ’n’ roll hardware on a shapely suit and otherwise romantic, full-sleeved coat. And in his hands, it made perfect sense.

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