A MOVABLE FEAST
WITH THE LOUVRE VIRTUALLY DESERTED BY DESIGNERS, THE FASHION PACK SPENT THE WEEKEND SCOURING PARIS IN SEARCH OF A MAGIC MOMENT. THEY FOUND IT AT GIVENCHY. THEY ALSO DISCOVERED THE SEASON’S NEW RELAXED MOOD WITH SAINT LAURENT’S DELUXE SPORTSWEAR, VALENTINO’S FEISTY LOOKS AND LAGERFELD’S SPORTY SIDE.

GIVENCHY: It may be raining in Spain, but it’s sunny in the world of Givenchy. The first ready-to-wear collection John Galliano did for the firm, inspired by Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy’s early designs, was just what the venerable house needed: Cool, but not too cool; wearable, but not mundane; gussied-up, but not tacky. Galliano did what few expected him to do — made ladylike clothes that even the present Givenchy customer can understand.
This is not a collection for minimalists or Milanists. The clothes have ruffles and bows and polkadots galore. They also have a killer cut that Galliano somehow managed to hide in his couture collection last winter, but happily found in time for this season.
The show began with the voice of Hepburn from “My Fair Lady,” and momentarily got lost in stormy Spain, not to mention a cumbersome staging that confused the audience and the girls. But Galliano quickly recovered with those beautifully made clothes, all brought to life by his superb sense of color. There were intricately constructed suits in pastel wool and suede, curvy ruffled knits and a frothy aqua organza coat over a polkadot dress.
When Galliano went steamy, it was with a lineup of strong-shouldered evening columns, most in wines and berries — you could just see Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford in them, trading delightfully bitchy barbs in “The Women.” It was Galliano’s second hit of the week, and he was planning to celebrate appropriately, with a big wild bash at Le Palace.

VALENTINO: Oh, to be smart, chic — and just the tiniest bit hip. For fall, Valentino’s Ladies can have it all. The collection he showed Sunday — one of his best in years — will make them feel younger than springtime, without giving up an ounce of that smart Valentino style they live for. Valentino’s not shy about his surge of vitality. He showed the collection on a lineup of girls that included emerging stars like Guinevere Van Seenus and Amy Wesson, and he had their simple, sleek hair brushed with blatantly phony color.
But it was the clothes that really did the talking. Valentino’s cuts looked feisty, with a new relaxed attitude. While there were plenty of fabulous suits — some easy, some sleek — he has backed away from his recent romance with the dress, and in its place was a new emphasis on pieces.
Like some other designers this season, Valentino took the plunge with silk blouses, some inset with lace, unbuttoned to the waist and tucked into beautifully tailored pants. There were terrific coats, both short and long, all sorts of skirts and appealing knits. These came in sportif argyle sweaters over jumpsuits and tight, chi-chi little numbers with ruffled edges.
At night, Valentino offered plenty of diversity, and it didn’t always work. Some of his long white looks became cumbersome, and he occasionally put beautiful lace pieces together in unfortunate combinations. But then he came back with some chiffon and lace dresses that were simply drop-dead. The ladies will be lining up for them.

YVES SAINT LAURENT: Just when everyone else is dressing up, Yves Saint Laurent is dressing down. The Rive Gauche collection he presented Sunday morning was sportswear at its most deluxe: Strong-shouldered, nip-waisted jackets; beautiful sweaters; short or very long skirts, and flannel pants of the most impeccable cut. In fact, it was the daywear that kept this collection moving. The evening dresses, which are usually the most interesting part of Rive Gauche, were nice, even flattering, but unadventuresome — unless, of course, you’re mad for sequins.
It seems Saint Laurent has softened his cut. The suits and coats were elegant but relaxed, which is really what Paris is about this season. And no one can compete with Saint Laurent on color mixes. He should just send out Polaroids to all his best customers to show them how to mix gray, navy blue, magenta and emerald green with an effortlessness that is mind-boggling.
Saint Laurent also experimented with supermodels this season. Even La Schiffer was present and accounted for, apparently at her own request. The word is that she asked to be in the show. And in it she was: Claudia opened the collection with a drop-dead houndstooth jacket and gray flannel pants and closed it with a slate-gray wedding dress. In between, she had enough exits and star turns to please any diva.

KARL LAGERFELD: Nobody else in fashion spurts out ideas more furiously than Karl Lagerfeld, and it’s a rarity for him to home in on only a few themes in a collection. But that’s just what he did in his show Friday, and, for the most part, it looked razor-sharp. Karl must be feeling quite sportif these days because much of this collection had a decidedly casual tone. He abandoned the stodginess of the Carrousel in favor of the wide-open Espace Eiffel; it was the first time a fashion show has been allowed beneath the Eiffel Tower. He opted for an informal, ground-level runway, and showed everything with flat shoes or colorful boots. And he seemed positively consumed by coats — warm, roomy, functional coats. There were toppers, trenches, A-lines and wrap coats, and they came in bright wools, checks, sweeping alpaca and down-filled silk. Lagerfeld likes them to the ankle, or knee-length over matching pants. He always cuts them on the roomy side, and, as a result, a few added a little too much girth to the torso. Karl also showed good-looking suits, usually with wide-cut pants. But even at his most focused, Lagerfeld can be given to flights of fancy. His flying buttress collars were just not of this world, and the black evening dresses with Eiffel Tower cutouts were sweet but stiff. But when he went back to his sportier mode for evening, Lagerfeld’s lace Ts worn over skirts were simply beautiful.

Paris really dished it up this weekend — from Montana’s sweeping proportions and Westwood’s mixed-up tartans to Gigli’s intricate cuts and that good old Hermes luxury.

CLAUDE MONTANA: In the mercurial world of fashion, it’s comforting to know that some designers pursue a singular vision season after season. Claude Montana is one you can count on to stick to his guns — not to mention his leathers, his leggings and his sense of drama. For fall, Montana put great emphasis on coats in grand, sweeping proportions, often with voluminous collars and cowls. There were strong-shouldered jackets; short, swingy skirts, and some of the sexiest sweater dresses in Paris. A military mood was suggested in the fitted gray flannel coats and dresses with ruby velvet touches, and while there were some of those tough-chic Montana favorites in catsuits and stretch pants, the mood was just a little bit relaxed. Still, it was all delivered with plenty of attitude. Claude wouldn’t have it any other way.

VIVIENNE WESTWOOD: Can’t decide what to wear? Got a little problem with decision-making? Has Vivienne Westwood got a frock for you. On one side, it’s a tailored red riding coat and, on the other, a swingy spotted fake fur. But if Viv’s two-timing ways don’t suit you, there’s also a host of jackets, skirts and dresses cut with curves, swerves, dips, drops, uneven collars and otherwise off-kilter shenanigans. Of course, she occasionally gave glimpses of the romantic, beautifully tailored pieces that are her forte. But more often Westwood seemed swept up in outdoing herself. How many tartans can you work into one outfit? Viv managed to do at least a dozen. Now that’s tribal warfare.

HERVE LEGER: This may be boom time for Herve Leger. With all that 80-proof Bronfman money behind him, he’s getting ready to launch his first fragrance. The contract should be signed within the next few weeks, and other licensing deals are likely to follow. Leger’s fall collection is right on target for his customers, those youngish women with great bodies and a lot of confidence who like to project an overt sensuality. They’ll love the tough-chic pinstripes and dramatic maxicoats in bright wool or suede. But what they really want from Herve is that evening heat. This time he supplied it by putting a mandarin spin on those sexy bandage dresses and, for those ladies who prefer a more languid take on glam, gowns with velvet bodices over fluid jersey skirts.

CERRUTI: Expectations were high for Cerruti before Narciso Rodriguez presented his second collection for the house. Rodriguez, a Calvin Klein alum who also designs Tse, has a decidedly minimalist philosophy and has already infused Cerruti with considerable oomph. He knows how to make spare, commonsense clothes look hip — and often sexy — and did so with myriad suits cut in everything from checked wools to olive suede. He also showed some strong coats in knee and maxi lengths. But the show went on and on, and much of it looked very familiar. Still, Rodriguez sounded murmurs of his own voice when he abandoned the suit parade and started playing with pieces. Now he’s got to develop that voice into something more forceful.

HERMES: An Hermes fashion show is an odd experience. Everybody knows the company is one of the world’s most successful luxury goods manufacturers, and that fashion is secondary, yet Hermes still employs a team of designers to soup up its luxurious leathers and scarf-print blouses. The irony is that as long as the team keeps its designs simple and classic — and very Hermes — the clothes and accessories work. But when the designers get tricky, as with asymmetrical leather skirts and satin evening gowns, they lose the magic that’s launched a thousand — or is it a million? — Kelly bags.

ROMEO GIGLI: Not everyone loves Romeo Gigli’s clothes, but there was no way to dislike his show, held late Saturday night. The designer transformed the auditorium of a prestigious local high school into a magical setting filled with hundreds of candles and a runway covered in kilims. The latter caused Gigli’s staff much anxiety — they were scouring Paris for rugs until the last minute — but the designer was absolutely right. His shawl-collar jackets and Edwardian coats looked much more at home here than they would have in some harsh, modern setting.
Gigli makes delicate clothes of the most extraordinary quality. In fact, fashion shows sometimes do him a disservice. It’s not always easy to see the intricate cuts or understand the strength of individual pieces, whether they are the slimmest of pants or his new long and very tight black skirts. Gigli’s groupies tend to distort his image when they try to look like they just stepped out of some 19th century daguerreotype. But pair one of his velvet jackets with a simple skirt or pants, and you’ll look utterly of-the-moment.

KENZO: Kenzo Takada marched to his own drummer in the collection he showed Friday. As models made up to resemble Raggedy Ann tiptoed around 700 tulips, he showed everything from colorful pinstriped dandy suits for day to quilted variations of kimonos for evening. The presentation ground to a halt midway, when he sent a cotton-candy evening gown down the runway. But all wasn’t lost. Highlights included lace-trimmed slipdresses in watercolor-like floral prints and nubby black-and-white tweed fitted jackets and coats.

JEAN PAUL GAULTIER: Call it Gaultier’s Cubist period. But what worked for Picasso certainly didn’t work for Gaultier. Obviously inspired by geometry, Gaultier cut an entire collection based on the cube, including a group of tube dresses, jackets and pants with exposed seaming. What did work was when Gaultier put his own spin on the ethnic rage with ponchos in leather, wool, prints and feathers. But ponchos do not a collection make, and for a hip designer, his ideas were just a little too square.

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