“Help.” “Cool.” Those two words — telegraphed via flamboyant message necklaces — bookended Alber Elbaz’s brilliant Lanvin collection on Thursday night. The first came on a girl wearing a black dress; the second, the same girl, now in more upbeat platinum, though tears ran down her face. Whether the tears were genuine and personal, show shtick or the result of a wayward eyelash in her eye, they fueled the feeling that this show was as emotional as it was dazzling.
Casting fashion as an emotional discipline can sound pretentious or over the top; clothes don’t cry, laugh or feel. Yet they elicit intense responses, and any given collection also results from its designer’s mind-set of the moment. During a preview on Tuesday, Elbaz said that after presenting his spring show last season, he paid more attention than usual to the happenings of fashion. “I felt this change of direction, a kind of crazy [mood] in Paris that I didn’t see before. Bloggers and editors who are all about being photographed and then designers who are mad at each other, and all of a sudden, that whole thing. You question everything, and you start asking, ‘[Do] I belong here anymore? Is it what I want to do for the rest of my life?’” Soon after, Elbaz found the antidote to that despair in Tilda Swinton’s show “The Impossible Wardrobe” at Paris’ Palais de Tokyo. In it, against her simple white robe, Swinton highlighted various historic fashion items handed to her by curator Olivier Saillard. “What I saw,” Elbaz said, “is that it really is about the craft.”
The craft, and his long-held belief that fashion, his fashion at least, is first and foremost for the women who wear it. The fusion of those two tenets made for a breathtaking collection, one that, while utterly singular in its beauty and wistful mood, offered a rich variety of spectacular clothes. He started with a basic building block: a long-sleeve stocking dress over which he layered a range, from bustier dresses to coats. If one could identify a single item as dominant, it was the black dress, shown in renditions from the plainest charmeuse to moody tiered lace to a divine strapless dancing frock with pale organza rose at the hip. There were gorgeous day suits, a pair of divine day-into-evening frilly shirts (one with a two-tier black skirt, the other, mannish trousers) and coats worthy of the season, including a tweed trench with alluring godets in back. Elbaz went flamboyant as a myriad colorful butterfly brooches sewn onto a cocktail number, and sober as a black long-sleeve, jewel-neck dress. And he showed exquisite furs, dip-dyed jackets and endless boas, each with a knitted sleeve attached to one end.
It all reached the height of glamour without sacrificing the emotional tone. Perhaps that’s why Elbaz accessorized his last look with the necklace flaunting “cool,” though he claims to dislike the word. Fashion with glamour, beauty and heart — what’s cooler than that?