Alexander McQueen: Those who arrived early at the Alexander McQueen show, the designer’s first for Gucci Group, did an aural double take. What sounded like the grunts and snorts of a bull merited attention and amusement, and then faded into semi-awareness, as background sounds do, until they seemed to shift into the grunts and moans of a woman on the brink of orgasm. Your ears playing tricks? Nope. The morphing soundtrack was merely a teaser. It anticipated a Spanish-themed collection shown against a film that crossed bullfight and porn imagery, both ending in death: The matador about to slay his bull became a crazed man about to slay the woman who had enraged him.
Why McQueen chose to inaugurate his Gucci Group career with such imagery would have been perplexing enough a month ago. Accusations of misogyny have often clouded his career, and one might have thought that he would want to take that bull by the horns, so to speak, and put it away. But now, any overt reference to violence, whether intimate or war-like, seems wildly inappropriate. And this one seemed unnecessary, having nothing to do with what was, by McQueen’s standards, a calm, approachable collection, certainly not his best, but one with plenty of strong clothes.
The designer gave equal time to tailoring and frills. His tailoring is both bold and impeccably worked, shown here in countless suits. While some were of the matador costume variety, most looked completely real. He often softened strict jackets with a feminine counterpoint — a tiered, pleated skirt, for example. His corsets are some of the best in the business, whether worn alone over pants or shaped into a jacket over a leather skirt.
While McQueen showed some jersey dresses with warrior woman cutouts, and a sultry, stringy take on the little black dress, he more often preferred flamenco flourish, and he did it in grand style, countless creations of multi-tiered ruffles and flounces, often in mixed graphic patterns. Although repetitive, they were very beautiful. Still, one longed for the storybook romance and imagination of his London shows, which, however dark they might get, always seem to astound with the richness of unbridled imagination. Maybe next time.

Christian Lacroix: Though flirtatious ruffles are nothing new chez Lacroix, the designer’s attitude towards frippery is plenty fresh. Lacroix has always been a card-carrying member of the Joie de Vivre Club, even when he was in Eighties retro mode. Trouble and strife in the real world? Lacroix is the fantasy man who can fill your prescription for fun. But this season, while he’s as madcap as ever, his peppy work took a softer, more ethereal turn. He’s dumped the harder-edged geometry of recent seasons for something a little more organic, for example, pairing a pale blue slouchy sweater banded with lace and a distressed leather skirt in tarnished gold. He’s also loosened up a bit. Stiff little frills gussied up a men’s ribbed tank, while grander gowns cascaded gently with ruffled coils and soft Victorian tops were worn with crinkled chiffon skirts. Meanwhile, a calm polish infused his flippy scarf dresses, frothy tops and collage knits tacked with lace, tulle and even tiny chains.
Everyone knows that Lacroix’s no babe in the woods. He did, however, give his spring look a refreshing naive quality. But then, spreading his wings was something the designer did not only figuratively, but somewhat literally. Mini-dresses were cut with plenty of wingspan, while sweaters mimicked the pattern of peacock feathers and Lacroix’s fabulous stilettos came flight-ready, flanked at the ankle by a small pair of wings.

Hermes and Martin Margiela: Though he is mysterious enough, one never thinks of Martin Margiela as a glamorous guy. All the same, his spring collection for Hermes hinted at life lived in some monied seaside resort with references to spiffy yachting wear, men’s evening clothes and even some sexy little tops. A life of comfort is one that the Hermes customer finds plenty familiar, after all. For a leisurely stroll around the deck, a relaxed navy blazer with silver buttons paired with white pants is just the thing, while a black dinner jacket bound in off-white and matched with full-cut pants is perfect for dinner at the captain’s table. Whatever his seasonal references may be, at Hermes, Margiela never skimps on the clothes that say one thing clearly: classic. Among these were a soft suede shirt, wrapped scarf tops, cropped canvas jackets and sailor sweaters that buttoned at the neck, all worn with smart pants, and low-cut jersey dresses that were neat as a pin. How’s that for subtle glamour?
With his signature collection, however, the designer took a more overtly conceptual approach. In the back of a smoky cafe, white-coated Maison Margiela attendants manned a TV monitor, which was also wrapped in white, showing a five-minute video of the collection as worn by a digital shadow. Margiela took on the circle as a concept, with clean white shirts that come in two diameters, large and small, and cool leather jackets made by taking apart vintage versions, cutting them round and stitching them back up again. Of course, Margiela couldn’t resist toying with proportions. He has a real thing for oversized clothes and has been working the angle for years. This time around he did an enormous men’s trench coat that had been hacked off and left raw-edged to create a women’s jacket, shown over a simple silk dress. Glamour in this signature collection came via a boa made from a few fringy strands of upholstery trimmings.

Stella McCartney: After showing her new collection for Gucci Group on Monday morning, Stella McCartney sent her guests off with a musical message with which few could disagree: In the words of John Lennon, “Give peace a chance.”
Apparently, Stella has embraced a philosophy of peace through porn, or at least a naughty schoolgirl’s interpretation of the blue life. These clothes looked like they’re targeting Swedish porn stars who ply their trade wrestling in whipped cream. Who else would want a T-shirt, cropped high enough to expose the breasts, emblazoned with “Bristols,” worn over a teeny skirt? “Bristols” is cockney for breasts, one of the more obvious translations in a collection based on the slang lexicon. Other words were cut out — for example, “Wet,” decorating the front of teensy blue briefs. McCartney said she liked the way words provided a counterpoint to her soft shapes: “I did a lot of delicate things — one day I’ll grow out of it. I used graphics to make it less pretty.”
On that point, she succeeded, but one must ask why. Was it to shock the nearly unshockable fashion world, or just Daddy, his seat positioned exactly in front of the spot where each model stopped and flaunted her wares before continuing along the perimeter of McCartney’s square stage? While her take on girly flou played against British tailoring may not be revolutionary, it has plenty of potential to look good, and there’s nothing wrong with delivering a little humor with your fashion. But as Oscar Wilde said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” That holds especially true for the kind steeped in vulgarity. McCartney should have controlled her penchant for raunchy humor and focused more on making good clothes.