Yves Saint Laurent: Carpe diem. Maybe Horace got there first, but Tom Ford has certainly appropriated the thought. He first seized the fashion day years ago at Gucci and hasn’t loosened his grasp one bit. Since he stormed the house of Yves Saint Laurent, that grip has only intensified, and with the retirement in January of The World’s Greatest Living Designer, Ford became sole creative keeper of the Saint Laurent flame. Suffice to say, it’s a scorcher.
The collection Ford sent out on Monday night was magnificent, the kind of show that makes many a fashion girl’s heart skip and sends her gush reflex spinning out of control. Silly girl? Perhaps. But isn’t it the goal of every designer to make that gotta-have-it urge feel like a medical emergency?
Ford packed his latest archival riff with power, drama and bushels of beautiful clothes. “Belle de Jour,” the rumor whirled around Paris, including the possibility that the great Deneuve herself might sit front-and-center. Well, no turncoat she; she stayed away. But her essence wafted about, in the curves, the velvets, the bows, and in the smoldering passion felt beneath the models’ surface cool. Of course, Ford knows how to take a look and make it modern. Can you say, “Rock Me, Amadeus”? Tom sure can, and it was just that fusion of house traditions with the Fordean penchant for R&R (and we don’t mean rest and relaxation) that made the collection soar.
Typically, a bird’s eye focus characterizes Ford’s collections, and that was the case here. Throughout, he worked a reed-thin, utterly provocative silhouette, gussying up an hourglass shape with ribbon work in the best Saint Laurent tradition. He splashed bows on curvy jackets, spliced shirred skirts with vertical strips, and sewed random ribbons onto sexy dresses. Ford heightened his Belle fantasy by sewing layers of fluff under jacket peplums and adding the occasional poetic sleeve flourish. Stunning on simple dresses, on a navy sheared mink coat, the technique made for fashion ecstasy.
The evening wear played to the original Saint Laurent standard of lace and chiffon, once again set off by bows, and sometimes cut out to flash peek-a-boo fishnet. As for old Amadeus, well, “He was dynamite and whatever he did, it seemed all right.” Those knickers, for example — who’d have thought they were primed for a revival? How they’ll translate to the real world remains a question, but on the runway, they rocked. And so did this collection.

Chanel: In the center of the runway, a circular stage set with musical instruments awaits the arrival of the Belgian band Vive la Fete. In the front row, Mme. Claude Pompidou and the diminutive Liliane de Rothschild have settled in. Such is the split reality of so many fashion houses today, who want to hold fast to their current customers while doing everything possible to attract that oh-so-desirable young crowd. If anyone can mastermind such a fusion, it’s Karl Lagerfeld, even if it means that the boss has to stuff cotton in his ears to block out the blasting music, as Alain Wertheimer did on Tuesday, when Lagerfeld presented his fall collection for Chanel.
But no matter. In fashion, no cause is more worthy than courting the youth vote. While some in the audience thought that the live band distracted from the clothes, you can’t fault Karl for his yen to stay au courant. And it seems to be working, certainly among celebrities. Word is that Nicole Kidman — the number-one Oscars coup — is a good bet to wear Chanel to the event, although the house is keeping oh-so-mum on the matter.
Of course, Nicole would wear couture, and Lagerfeld’s last haute collection was a glorious ode to the house signatures at their most alluring and refined. On the other hand, his spring ready-to-wear was a far less focused affair, one of those idea-a-minute Lagerfeld specials that can leave your head spinning and your thought process a little confused. Vive la Fete, it seems, heralded a bit of a rock-chick sensibility. Lagerfeld did all he could to dress down the Chanel look, starting with those tweeds. He showed almost no matched suits, preferring to mix things up, often with a wayward schoolgirl attitude — a boxy tweed jacket over a leather mini, for example. He loves leather, and showed plenty throughout, usually in small jackets over skirts or dresses. When he went totally soft, it was with fluid silk dresses, some with jeweled bands suggestively hugging the hips. But when a girl really feels naughty, she can forget such subtlety and toss on a sportif mini parka over a tiny jeweled romper. Still, Lagerfeld knows that sometimes, even the baddest girls need a little more warmth, so he showed some fabulous long, swingy coats.
What he didn’t show was a clear direction for fall, and he left one wishing for a more finely honed vision to emerge from the wealth of great pieces.

Valentino: There’s gold in them thar hills! Just ask Valentino. For fall, he not only mined it, he brought it to sunny Valentinoland, a rarefied place where women lunch and the gala evenings are plentiful. Sophisticated denizens of that hallowed spot demand major clothes — wearable, correct and with plenty of oomph. For his Concorde Crowd, Valentino delivered ladylike tweed suits lavished with fur, the perfect camel coat and plenty of curvy jackets paired with long, pleated skirts. It was all carried off with the kind of glamour that women who believe in dressing up seek in even their most casual clothes — sexy sportswear worn with killer gold boots.
Those boots were only the first indication that Valentino had come down with a serious case of Fort Knox-itis. In his Midas madness, he sent out gold lace shirts, beaded golden skirts, a golden brocade coat, scores of big leaf-shaped gold belt buckles and loads of golden gowns. Flashy? You bet. But that’s Val’s specialite de maison, and his Golden Girls lust after everything that glitters.
Still, over the past few seasons, Valentino has also been courting a chic younger customer, one who appreciates his luxe touch, but embraces a more relaxed attitude. There is plenty here to please her — his elegant black leather jacket, tied at the waist with a bow, for instance, or a slinky little dress in black jersey. Discretion — as in low-key clothes — may be the better part of valor, but not in Valentino’s 24-karat, solid-gold world.
And the Italian manufacturing powerhouse Marzotto may soon enter that golden circle if its much-anticipated acquisition of the house of Valentino from HdP goes through.

Chloe: Can a man be a muse? According to Phoebe Philo in her show notes, he can. She cited not one, but two guys for inspiration: guitar god Jimi Hendrix and Ballets Russes designer Leon Bakst. Unfortunately, neither provided quite the material offered by last season’s inspiration, Talitha Getty. While that show was full of energy, this one fell a little flat. Bakst nudged in with quilted satin jackets decorated with Art Deco swirls, and Jimi lent his bandleader’s tailcoat to Philo’s cause. Faded velvet blazers, scrolled over with passementerie, gave the look a casually boho flair, while other classic rock pieces included a little motorcycle jacket and tight, faded gray pants, cropped to a sassy new length.
The Chloe girl knows she’s a cute little heartbreaker, as Hendrix once howled, and she has come to count on the house for girly chiffon tops built with a sexy edge and trousers that fit, a look that was defined under Stella McCartney’s reign. Philo has made it her own with pretty lace camisoles, a sheer chiffon blouse in ultra violet shot through with gold and slouchy gray velvet pants. But while Hendrix and Bakst may have lived a world apart, each was plenty revolutionary, and Philo could have used a little more of their daring. “Astonish me,” was the famed credo of the Ballets Russes. That’s a tall order, and the designer customer demands no less.

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