WILD THINGS, ABSTRACT THINKING AND THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE
KARL LAGERFELD TURNED IN A WILD AND CRAZY COLLECTION FOR CHANEL, JEAN PAUL GAULTIER DID AN ABSTRACT SHOW, WITH MANY LOOKS DIVIDED INTO THEIR COMPONENTS, WHILE NICOLAS GHESQUIERE DID A LOVELY, GIRLY COLLECTION FOR BALENCIAGA.

Chanel: What was he thinking? Only Karl Lagerfeld knows for sure. But clearly, he had a lot on his mind for fall and he wanted to get it all out in the open. On Thursday, Lagerfeld’s Chanel runway exploded with ideas delivered at rapid-fire speed, and with such bravado that brilliance mingled with confusion as happily as the Mad Hatter with the March Hare.
One of the many things that makes Lagerfeld so fascinating is his ability to turn on a fashion dime. It seems like only last week that he presented an infinitely honed, single-concept collection for Fendi without making a misstep. Oh, wait, it was only a week ago. Similarly, for his breathtaking Chanel couture back in January, Lagerfeld’s message was all about elegance. How he got from there to closing this show with an apres-ski pretty boy in a puffy sleeping-bag dress is one of those little mysteries that keeps fashion interesting.
That sportif finale, replete with a bride decked in quilting and snowshoes and a lodge full of fun-seekers done up in parkas, shearlings and warmups lugging the showiest logo skis and snowboards imaginable, was but one frenetic element in a show packed with great clothes. What it didn’t have was a clear direction, as if Karl were saying: “Ladies, whatever your pleasure, I’m here to please.”
And to have a little fun, Paris’s Pop mania obviously infiltrated the Rue Cambon, and Karl did it his way with multicolor geometric motifs sparkling against black, and dresses splattered with neon ABCs. And who could resist his fabulous Coco Pop: cartoon images of Mademoiselle herself on T-shirts and next fall’s most-likely-to-incite-jealous-rage handbags? These were but a small part of the Chanel imagery, as Karl whipped up dresses in a logo-and-chain print, and splattered graphic CCs on fluffy fur muffs, earmuffs and scarves.
Lagerfeld left no possibility unmined. Tweeds — of course, in short coats and suits. But there were also ruffled leathers, tight, sexy knits, big floppy knits, lean shapes, loose shapes, a few caped crusaders and a pair of pink leather harem pants. In addition to the vibrant geometrics, for evening, Lagerfeld also showed graceful floaty black dresses. The perfect extras for all of this? Why, giant pearls and flat pins shaped like reindeer or jewel-encrusted guns, of course. Now that’s pop, in more ways than one.

Jean Paul Gaultier: Plenty of fashion people are abstract thinkers. They’re accustomed to making an imaginative leap between what’s put in front of them and what it might mean. But Jean Paul Gaultier’s fall collection demands some real deep thinking. Last season, he sent out sleeves in the singular and strapped them on over dresses. This season, he connected two sleeves (a good start) with a narrow strip across the back of the shoulders to create the world’s skimpiest bolero; or he detached sleeves from their blazers and left them dangling from chains. Now concentrate. We see the remnants of a jacket and we imagine it whole. It’s a terrific jacket, the kind that — when all in one — anyone would love, and the kind that Gaultier can do expertly with one arm tied behind his back.
But, besides those dangling sleevelettes, Gaultier hacked away merrily to create a new three-piece suit — a cropped tuxedo jacket, with its bottom half-turned into an apron miniskirt and worn over matching pants. Witty two-fers came in a trench version (bolero plus apron over a printed chiffon dress), a motorcycle jacket rendition (distressed leather sleevelettes plus matching zippered bustier), and a peacoat look (bolero plus apron thing over neat jeans). Will his customers go for it? You do the math.
Otherwise, Gaultier’s approach was layered — and layered and layered — to a point that required mental acrobatics in the extreme. Imagine pretty, printed chiffon or lace dresses with knit or leather miniskirts over them, plus stretchy tank tops — and, occasionally, a little fur sleevey thing. Now imagine them all hanging separately on a rack by their lonesome. Ahhhh. Without the attendant sandwiching, Gaultier’s delicate Chantilly tops and skirts, striped sailor dress and distressed leathers will look great. There are times when understanding fashion is challenging — otherwise we’d all be bored silly. But these are pieces that would benefit from being shown in a way that compliments their simple charm.

Balenciaga: These days the fashion rumor mill grinds along 24-7, and Nicolas Ghesquiere is one of its most potent topics. Is he almost a Gucci guy? Time will tell. But then, time reveals all, and season after season, Ghesquiere looks more and more like the real thing — a strong designer with genuine talent underlying his cultish appeal. His star ascended out of complete anonymity only a few seasons ago, and after the Balenciaga collection he showed on Thursday, it’s as bright as ever.
A savvy manipulation of the classic play of hard and soft forms the core of Ghesquiere’s work, and it keeps the copyists on alert. Remember those famous decorated shoulders a year ago? Think back — raccoon tails. But here, not a chance. Instead, the designer took on a different kind of structure, the 19th-century kind. It’s a huge trend in Paris, and he did it with both elegance and cheek. He opened with sleek, beautiful suits that became increasingly dramatic, evolving into a corseted shape with an impossibly tiny waist and padded hips. Not a look for everyone, including one or two of Nicolas’s models, but on the right body — divine.
When he went frilly, he reworked the kitchen-sink fluff of last season’s angel dresses, now in black and gray, into wonderfully complicated miniskirts worn with little jackets just right for a latter-day Gibson Girl. And should she have a “Star Trek” fascination, what luck! Bring on those little Jules Verne sci-fi dresses and tops, elaborately laced and beribboned.
Still, girly isn’t for everyone, even it takes a futuristic turn, and Ghesquiere got tough with great-looking grommeted aviator gear. Which may be doubly appropriate — if he’s about to take off and land in a new place.