IN PARIS, FOREIGN INTRIGUE AND THE POWER OF PANTS
CHANEL: Karl Lagerfeld changes his fashion platform faster than most people can say Senator Jim Jeffords. The designer throws out rapid-fire, didactic proclamations, and just as quickly disavows them. He might champion elegance one moment, cheek the next, then toss that for controlled modernity. So it should surprise no one that after spring’s divinely Deauville couture collection for Chanel — all about skirts and dresses — this season, he’s preaching a one-word gospel: pants. That’s because, according to his latest declaration, “Skirts look dowdy.”
While one can argue the premise with appropriate fashion vigor, there’s no denying the evidence: The Chanel collection Lagerfeld presented on Tuesday looked great. Although it didn’t achieve the blockbuster status of last season, at a time when so many designers of haute’s reality school are struggling to stay interesting, modern or both, Lagerfeld once again showed the way. He started with his venue: a boys’ lycee, where his models paraded around its two-story portico before the finale, when they lined up along the markings of the schoolyard’s sport court. It made for a bold statement: pants, pants, pants, for day and night, in every conceivable variation, including two wedding options.
For openers, Karl worked the suit to perfection, with a youthful spirit skirt suits elsewhere have lacked. Jackets came every which way — short, long, boxy, sleek, belted, opened — over pants. These were amply diverse as well, whether a woman’s pleasure is classic trousers or skintight Seventies pants. The fabric of choice: tweeds, although when you’re talking pants, the lighter the better, and Lagerfeld went for a few too many chunky weights. He also showed a few austere dark suits, some girlishly high-belted, which he called his “uniforms” in a nod to the student life. The stunner, however, wasn’t a suit at all, but a navy silk blouson with a white collar and cuffs tucked into chic flannels.
After dark, Karl wanted to float the theory that there’s not an evening concept you can conjure that can’t incorporate a pair of pants. And if some of his lovely frocks would have looked better on their own, who cares? Karl offered a wealth of ideas — power-babe brocade trimmed in sable, shredded storybook chiffon fluff, babydolls and schoolgirl shirtwaists, high-glam gowns and much, much more. He just happened to think they all looked better with pants.
As for accessories: pile of pearls. They may wear the pants, but girls will be girls. But what had folks smiling were the multiple gold-and-stone rings for fingers — and toes, amply evident in Chanel’s new open shoes. Talk about stepping out in style.
BALMAIN: Given its cast of characters, today’s couture is very much a foreign affair. So it makes sense that someone finally showed in France’s gilded monument to the world beyond, the Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres. The host: Mr. International Suave himself, Oscar de la Renta, who presented his couture collection for Balmain on Tuesday.
Once inside the elegant chamber, guests were instructed to queue up to go behind a gold screen, where knowing Americans expected a security check. Instead, voila! A merci for coming, and here’s a little gift: Polaroid’s new 1200FF camera. While the connection is a bit cryptic, it made for a lovely memento.
Still, to Oscar’s loyal Ladies, who again turned out in full force, no haute memento means more than that delightful purchase itself. De la Renta understands this and aims to please, his American pragmatism at the core of his work. Here, continuing with the international motif, he delivered it with a Spanish-Russian splash, a matador moment or two; a touch of Tolstoy. And if that made for some awkwardness, especially in the chapeaux category, who cares? Cossack hats and a full-fledged mantilla are just for show; snappy suits are for wearing and looking chic. De la Renta delivered plenty, sometimes side-draped or belted, always sleek and lean. His coats looked smart in double-face wool and soft tweeds, and the long, lush sable, utterly indulgent.
At night, the Balmain runway became a melting pot of stimuli, and when de la Renta didn’t control the borders, the ole factor spun out of control. But this was a problem of feast rather than famine, and he also showed his share of winners — curvy diva gowns in red and black, the latter under a fuchsia satin coat; gentle embroidered shirtdresses and black ballgowns that rustled with sophisticated romance.