HELMUT LANG: The hype and glory around Helmut Lang have been swelling for seasons, and now, the cult has gone mainstream. Among the throngs who rushed backstage after his show on Thursday were more than a dozen television crews, including one from NBC, there to document a major fashion moment. And major it was, a sophisticated fusion of subtlety and punched-up design.
On the subtle side, Lang touched on the trends of the season with refreshing discretion. While ethnic references are racing across other runways, Lang’s were so quiet you could almost miss them — vaguely Eastern, unfussy layers sprinkled with sequins. Ditto the military drill. Lang chose to forgo all the pockets, brass and epaulets that have become so familiar and merely work his palette around army green.
The designer said after the show that he wanted to shape these influences into “a new urban style.” But he really meant an evolved style, and he showed numerous fresh versions of the fabulous jackets and coats that have become wardrobe staples of the fashion set. There were also new pants, some with slouchy ribbed waistbands, cut in everything from super-shiny satin to corduroy. As for his layers, they’re simply breathtaking. He put sequins on nylon tanks, and then all but hid them under filmy lean wool gauze dresses and Ts. And he repeated those dress shapes, sans sequins, in fabulous floral lace cashmere knits.
As for the punched-up design, things weren’t as stark and pared-down as they usually are on Lang’s runway. The days when his sensible elbow slits were the sole details are gone, and they’ve given way to more intricate cuts and details that can occasionally get tricky, as with the obi-sashed yellow dresses that closed the show. Nevertheless, this was a great collection that managed to be both gentle and street-smart at the same time. How’s that for urban outfitting?

JOHN GALLIANO: In a season when thrills — the good old shivers-up-the-spine kind when something beautiful and imaginative slides down a runway — have been few and far between, John Galliano stood out like your first glass of champagne. Or firewater, if you happen to be an Indian. Ostensibly, Indians (the kind who greeted Columbus, not the kind who have been seen on other runways this week), inspired the breathtaking collection Galliano showed Thursday night. But the truth of the matter is that this was Galliano at his Galliano best — and there wasn’t a whiff of anti-fashion for miles.
As usual, Galliano staged a masterful production. His set was magnificent, a vast riding stable in the Bois de Boulogne. Its sandy turf was etched with colorful Indian motifs and made a perfect burial ground for all sorts of cast-off objects — oil barrels, car tires, refrigerators and an old Cadillac bumper with Wyoming plates. Feathers lined the runway, which was supported by massive bales of hay.
The show started when a frightened horse galloped alongside the catwalk, heralding the arrival of Galliano’s bevy of squaws, their faces streaked with glammed-up war paint under spiky Mohawk coifs. They roamed the runway in some of Paris’ most beautiful looks: Wrapped and ruffled dresses in dreamy chiffon, lace chemises with a trace of the Twenties and simple evening slips under flyaway bed jackets. There were little black dresses, the latest redo of Galliano’s signature suit and a group of “snow embroideries” — suits, coats and dresses cut in gray tweed flecked with white — that Galliano described as a “mix of the Duchess of Windsor and the Hopi Indians.”
In fact, despite the grand scale of his presentation, Galliano seemed to have worked hard to present some unmistakably “real clothes.” There were beautiful shirts, wide pants and a denim pantsuit with intricate “teepee pleating.” In a nod to his theme, he also showed some of his over-the-top, raw-edged cowhide coats, Navaho blanket coats over bright tartan pants and a host of suede string shimmy dresses.
One is tempted to say that the whole affair was simply fabulous, but there was nothing simple about it. This collection was elaborate, rich, imaginative and romantic in the way we sometimes forget fashion should be — at least on occasion. And that was precisely Galliano’s goal. “It’s so easy to be sarcastic,” he said yesterday. “It’s much more difficult to be romantic.”

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