FROM YOHJI YAMAMOTO’S ATHLETIC MOMENT TO CHRISTIAN LACROIX’S HIGH-WIRE ACT AND VIKTOR & ROLF’S CONTROVERSIAL ALL-BLACK COLLECTION, THE PARIS COLLECTIONS GOT OFF TO AN INTERESTING START.
Yohji Yamamoto: Yohji, you devil! We thought high-minded art determined your every move. When, in your beautiful fall collection, you tossed out the elegant glamour of recent seasons in favor of athletic chic, we went digging for the deeper meaning. Death-knell for dressing up? Campaign for feminine defiance? Exercise in patience for those who expect a wedding-show blowout each season? Then came the news that you and Adidas are in cahoots, and let’s just say, the lights went on.
This fall, wherever there’s an Adidas store or a Yohji Yamamoto boutique, people will be able to buy Yohji Yamamoto sneakers. And what better way to kick off the collaboration than on his runway? Yamamoto did just that in fabulous fashion. And even if some in the audience left still longing for a major spectacle, this was hardly the stuff of suburban jogging suits. While other major designers have gone sportif, few have turned basic athletic stripes and baseball jackets exotic. But then, few have the inclination, or the brass, to bind arms to the body or layer skirts over pants with one leg cut off thigh-high.
Such is Yamamoto’s brilliance. He can delve into the cryptic or the mundane, and make either extraordinary. For fall, he focused on long, often layered silhouettes in somber black, navy or gray, brightened at times by those athletic stripes. His tailoring looked great, from rib-trimmed jackets to loose stadium coats. And if his wacky draping irritated some, it was always intriguing. Within his theme, Yamamoto offered different moods, for example, Olive Oyl Chic in a librarian pleated skirt and jacket with a stretched-out banded sweater, and uncharacteristic Aspen raciness in skinny California raisin hooded tops worn with sunglasses.
The footwear of choice — you guessed it — sneaker heaven. The collection, called “Adidas for Yohji Yamamoto” includes six styles, five sneakers, one with a kimono print, and a boxing boot. All are decorated with three stripes that, Yamamoto says, “have 50 years of history.” Now that’s performance.
Christian Lacroix: Those Barnum & Bailey boys haven’t got a thing on Christian Lacroix. For the girl who likes to gets her thrills from rock em’-sock em’ frills, his house is a real fun house. “I hesitated between showing something strict and something a little more musical,” he said before the show. Well, strike up the calliope — or better yet, let Lacroix play a little something solo. He’s a veritable one-man band.
Of course if he ever truly wavered in deciding what to show, it certainly wasn’t apparent. His fall collection exploded with brighter-than-bright collage dresses built around the bustier and was full of snap, crackle and pop; silver-studded leathers, a bubble-gum pink tux with saucy black lingerie underneath and electrified cartoonish sweaters and coats sprouting fur pompons, and trailing thin strands of beads.
When it all worked, the results blew the lid off the Big Top — a cherry red trench dress covered in square sequins as smooth and bright as 10 pounds worth of Jolly Ranchers, or a curvy gown in black leather lace with dozens of bright leather streamers kicking out from underneath.
But even a master juggler — and dedicated showman — such as Lacroix can’t keep all those balls in the air forever. As he went along his wild way, the designer’s sour notes were dowdy ones in grim moire and limpid satin. But if the clothes sometimes slipped out of his control, let’s not dwell on it. Lacroix does what he does best season after season, and sometimes that takes more guts than walking the high wire or swinging from a trapeze.
Viktor & Rolf: Heroin chic, homeless chic, all sorts of religious references — you can get away with a whole lot in the name of fashion. So here’s a new one for you — black face. For the collection they showed on Saturday, the Dutch duo Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren called their show “Black Hole.” They wanted to create “a two-dimensional image that becomes three-dimensional,” Snoeren said, “a flat image that comes to life, and a shadow is black inside the outline.” How to get that message across? With all black clothes, shown on models painted black, of course.
OK boys, swell. But for many people, black people, for example, and one would think, most Americans of any genetic persuasion, a face painted black not only triggers thoughts of the wicked stereotyping of blacks in 19th and 20th-century minstrel shows, but also of the huge racial divide that exists still in the United States. Certainly on an aesthetic level, the girls looked beautiful, the essence of kohl-dipped chic, with skin, lips and sleek knotted hair all blackened, their black clothes, utterly refined. And no one resembled in the least Bert Williams or Al Jolson, about to break into a rendition of “Mammy.”
“This is something so different; it has nothing to do with a racial issue,” Snoeren said. “But everything you do can be interpreted or misinterpreted by people. Of course, it was our thing to make sure that it had nothing to do with a minstrel show, and for us, we succeeded.”
Yet the issue is one of sensitivity: However innocent the motivation, was the result offensive to black people? Let’s poll those involved, starting with the black models in the show. Oops! There weren’t any. Moving onto the black audience members — look around, only two in the vicinity, Robin Givhan, fashion editor of the Washington Post, and Agnes Cammock, senior market editor at WWD. “The shock of seeing the first model was so overwhelming that it took me a few minutes to focus on what I thought were beautiful clothes,” said Givhan. “I always appreciate when people strive for creativity, but the sad fact is that you can’t do that [makeup] without all of the implications.”
“I understand what Viktor and Rolf were trying to do with shadows and silhouettes,” said Cammock. “But whenever you put someone in black-face makeup, it’s bound to stir up negative memories. I just wish the pair had found a different way to convey their message.”
As for everyone else, random post-show conversations indicated that outrage was a minority sentiment. Interview’s Ingrid Sischy, a native of South Africa who left that country as a political refugee, said she thinks she has “good radar” on racial issues and “my alarms didn’t go off.” Instead, for her the show referenced Japanese Noh theater. Others commented that they understood the designers’ point; one said the body paint “helped the clothes,” and still others started p.c.-bashing with gusto. And since fashion editors will be fashion editors, several just gushed over the beauty of the clothes.
And they were beautiful. After two seasons of straightforward ready-to-wear, Horsting and Snoeren injected some of the haute elements that have made their couture shows so stellar. And certainly, the all-black palette allowed viewers to focus on the cut and structure of the clothes. These guys like the kind of dramatic tailoring that demands attention while oozing elegance, starting with great coats and jackets — a peacoat with oversized buttons; a black, braid-trimmed coat with a huge collar; a short, padded jacket. And if suits with extra-wide pants worked in alternating strips of wool and satin with extra-wide cuffs are for the most statuesque of figures only, they still looked great. As for dresses, there were fluid, draped numbers and a glittery shirtdress.
For evening, plenty of women will love the sultry tuxedos that owe a debt to Saint Laurent — don’t they all? But the truly adventurous might go for the flamboyant flyaway suit. They packed both jacket and skirt in back with endless ruffles — and a powerful fashion punch.