Givenchy: Would the exit be graceful or as tumultuous as the tenure itself? The answer to that question, wafted about before Alexander McQueen showed his final Givenchy collection on Friday, proved a delight: Not only graceful on all sides, but gorgeous as well.
As with the Givenchy couture show in January, the typical McQueen blowout was canceled during the week, leaving plenty of people grumbling, especially since only a tiny number were ultimately invited. But unlike couture, shown to the press on hangers with a lone model donning a few looks and McQueen nowhere in sight, this time around, guests, press included, were welcomed at one of two mini-shows, and McQueen took the traditional post-show bow.
Whatever irritation simmered in advance, it fell away as arriving guests were greeted, well, civilly, by two young women in white-collared black dresses, who doled out seat assignments. No pushing, no shoving. Smiles all around, and ditto, the kind of French that even undereducated Americans understand — “s’il vous plait” and “merci.” Upstairs, Givenchy president Marianne Tessler worked the room ever-so-graciously, and you could imagine that this is how it must have been back when for wealthy ladies at couture shows, before hype muscled in on manners. The setting itself meshed old and new: Chalk-white boisserie contrasted with a wide plank floor that extended up one wall, with “Givenchy” graffitied on it in big letters.
All of which would have turned moot without great clothes. But McQueen passed on his final chance to throw a fashion tantrum chez Givenchy. Instead, he showed beautiful, elegant clothes, working in just enough editorial flourish to keep even the most jaded in the audience on alert. Ironically, though McQueen is a great showman, this presentation worked brilliantly. At Givenchy, his big-show tendency has been to go tough and tougher, often without the mitigating fantasy and romance that have made his best London shows so magical. Here, with most of that stripped away, you couldn’t lose the beauty of the clothes.
McQueen’s work is ultimately about tailoring, and he showed one great look after another, slick suits with pants’ hems fringed discreetly; beautiful coats, their shoulders strong but not demonstrative; a spectacular long trenchcoat that fell in tails in back. At times, he softened the men’s wear message with embroideries or floral prints, or by tying long aprons of tiered lace tulle around the waist. Conversely, when he wanted to toughen up, he corseted up with those ergonomic six-pack versions he loves — not a trend, but a signature.
McQueen’s leathers also went both ways — Tough Chic in skintight pants, or sweet, in a schoolgirl mini with a cropped pink ballet sweater over a T or striped shirt and tie. But his feminine tour de force was an amazing swirled dress in tulle and lace with a stiff skirt and a hint of the Fifties — the dress of the season. If some stylist doesn’t snap it up tout suite for the Oscars, all those starlets should just go do what they did in high school — shop for themselves.
After the show, McQueen continued along the high road out by chatting politely with well-wishers. He expressed relief, and said he had wanted to keep the presentation relatively simple — while, of course, his four-year-plus stint at the house has been anything but. Now, Julien McDonald gets his turn, and McQueen crosses over to enemy lines as fashion’s imperialist wars grow increasingly contentious.

John Galliano: Before the show, John Galliano wasn’t giving anything away. Not a hint. Even his hair and makeup artists were left in the dark, charged with creating a day, an evening and a cocktail look for the collection without ever getting a peek at the clothes. But if his backstage crew was clueless, Galliano’s inspirations weren’t any less obscure to those sitting in his audience. Galliano knows how to work a theme — from Masai princess to last season’s deconstructed trailer tramps — into a fantastic romp. But this time around, the story was beside the point, as he focused on beautiful, wearable clothes, more than he has put on his runway in some time.
One of the most obvious references, the club kid set, echoed Galliano’s latest collection for Dior, with witty printed windbreakers, candy-striped parkas, polka dot bandeaus and extra-wide raver pants in leather and in denim. Shiny little reconstructed athletic jackets played to another classic Galliano theme, while he turned rich shearlings wacky with a cut-out skull-and-cross bones motif.
Yet this wasn’t merely some youth culture carnivale. A delicate floral peasant top and embroidered coat said gypsy. A crocheted poncho countered with hippie. A parade of lavishly embellished coats flaunted bohemian luxe, and a series of stunning rose-print chiffon gowns seemed to herald a return to romance, Galliano-style.
Perhaps we should just call it John’s Rosebud collection, not in honor of those florals, but for Charles Foster Kane. That fictional tycoon’s last gasp in Citizen Kane sent the press on a quixotic hunt for its origins. Who was this Rosebud? Where? Why? What? Of course, they never figured out that it was the old guy’s sled. Galliano’s message here, while delivered in a wonderfully elaborate lineup, seems similarly simple. It seems he wanted to remind everyone that not only is he a masterful showman with a formidable, often wild imagination, but a great designer of wonderful, real clothes. When he wants to, Galliano can combine both elements into the same brilliant act.

Lagerfeld Gallery: It can take some people ages to come up with a signature look for a line. But, of course, Karl Lagerfeld isn’t some people. After only three seasons, including one practice run, the look of his Lagerfeld Gallery collection couldn’t be more sharply focused. It’s a tad spacey, a little experimental, completely wearable and coolly futuristic.
For fall, Lagerfeld continued with the sportif touches that brightened his spring line, sending out coats and jackets in shearling and cozy black-and-white houndstooth with hoods, and a bevy of red, white and blue-striped coats, dresses and pants. But, as we’re beginning to see, this line also has its tough side. This season, that bad attitude showed in Lagerfeld’s razor-sharp shrunken black jackets and angular miniskirts, while cropping up in a load of leathers, from a zippered dress, nipped in by a knit band at the waist, to a glittering jacket with beaded seams. While a few of his A-line dresses, including one with a buttoned bib, hinted at the designer’s Mod madness at Fendi, and a few schoolgirl looks winked at his work for Chanel, its incredible how Lagerfeld is able to compartmentalize his creativity to conquer house by house by house.