Alber Elbaz loves to say that he designs for real women rather than fashion editors. That mantra was put to acute test backstage at Lanvin on Friday night, when some of his models found his imposing metal heels too intimidating for the endless stretch of runway in the designer’s industrial venue. The solution: switch to flats. Exactly how many models wanted to change shoes and were allowed to is unclear, as is why there were ample pairs of Elbaz’s fabulous new flat sandals on hand. What is undeniable is that to many designers silhouette is all, and the thought of change shoes last-minute to indulge some spoiled models’ ambulatory insecurities would be uglier than taking a stiletto in the jugular.
By putting his footwear where his mouth is Elbaz enhanced the message of his show and ultimately, his career: He designs for a woman who wants to call her own shots in matters small (her shoes) and large (who knows what). She embraces fashion that enhances rather than dictates the way she lives. This collection played to that premise with strength, glamour and tons of style. “The whole idea of fashion is to make women fly and to make women beautiful, and to make women glamorous,” Elbaz said before his show. “This is the story of the collection.”
Fly? He referred perhaps to the show’s first three looks, long skirts with major flou, but worn with sleek bodysuits and brown leather harnesses — yes, harness — that looked neither silly nor insulting. The message: controlled flight. Such juxtaposition occurred also in transparent layerings belted over modest underpinnings and tight stretch dresses with fluid drapes attached with major industrial zippers. In fact, stretch was a major theme, including a bold variation on the three-piece suit: jacket, skirt, baggy leggings. So, too, were pleats, inspired by Fortuny but delivered horizontally and with guts. Equally audacious: Elbaz’ aggressive embroideries that featured big, bold, graphically arranged crystals on spare shapes for an artistic take on toughening up.
Some in the audience found the collection’s diversity veering toward disjointed, but that perception failed to recognize its overarching motif. Elbaz is pioneering a new kind power dressing, one spectacular in both its common sense and its chic.