SENSE, SENSIBILITY AND SUBSTANCE
GAULTIER GAVE THE SIMPLEST PIECES A DISTINCTIVE BOLDNESS AND ELEMENTS OF SURPRISE, WHILE PETER SPELIOPOULOS SHOWED HIS GOOD SENSE FOR CERRUTI AND NICOLAS GHESQUIERE STAYED EIGHTIES — AND BROAD-SHOULDERED — FOR BALENCIAGA.

Jean Paul Gaultier: A bohemian smoke-filled room. A runway that simulated a wet asphalt sidewalk, strewn with cigarette butts, while a voice on the sound system warned against the dangers of smoking in multiple languages. No rock ‘n’ roll set here, nor mere Eighties send-up, although there were elements of the latter. Instead, Jean Paul Gaultier presented an exercise in French chic.
Disparate elements converge at every Gaultier show — humor, irony, high chic and sometimes, as was the case on Wednesday night, less-than-ideal conditions. Gaultier showed at the Salle Wagram, an old firetrap of a building, to a far-beyond-capacity crowd. As for the humor, the cautionary voice belonged to house president Daniel Potard, whose warnings fell on deaf ears as the models hit the runway — smoking, of course. “I know it’s bad for you, but it’s such a graceful gesture,” Gaultier said after the show.
But then, graceful gestures were the essence of this collection. Fashion’s one-time enfant terrible has become its guru of Parisian chic, which he delivers in a manner both timeless and au courant. A staunch antiminimalist, Gaultier crosses a strong Saint Laurent influence with a seemingly endless stream of ideas. While for spring he created a boho paradise, this time he went for urbane sophistication with a recessive beatnik gene.
As Gaultier collections go, this one revolved around relatively few anchor concepts, with numerous little digressions and subtleties. Throughout, he layered linear pieces, punctuating the mood of mystery with fedoras worn over hoods or head wraps. Then he worked his magic — trenchcoats, suits and coats were all cut to perfection with little extras, as in pleats that fanned out from one side of a skirt or a seemingly straightforward jacket that was open in back. Gaultier can make the mundane glamorous, as with wide-legged corduroys, and the tacky chic. Who else could slide stirrup leggings into stilettos with such security? His dresses, lean wrapped and draped jerseys and velvets, were the stuff of seduction, while his sweaters again distorted themes — a lightweight orange Aran motif, a dazzling sequined twinset. These were strong, distinctive clothes for women who wear their attitude — and they have plenty — wrapped in refinement.
Despite the bounty, however, too much of a good thing is too much. Gaultier went on way too long, never once indulging his fantasy-loving side, which some in the audience missed. Nevertheless, in a season that has too often veered toward camp expressions of luxury and sexuality, a dose of genuine French chic looked great.

Cerruti: Leave it to Peter Speliopoulos to create a collection full of sensible clothes for Cerruti — from the first look out to the very last. There were full-skirted girlish suits in glittering red wool; paper-thin knits paired with flippy, pleated skirts, and an airy navy dress with delicate tied straps. Proper tweed coats had proper fur collars and tweed pantsuits were cut just so. They’re clothes for the sophisticated Everywoman that suggest a mood without insisting.
Speliopoulos isn’t the type to fall head-over-heels for the latest trend. He gestured toward the ladylike, but kept things from turning sentimental. Glamour was another ingredient he brought to the clothes, but only in small doses, tempering any brazen notions with a light touch. Silver sequined tops glimmered without glaring and gold metallic leathers were almost discreet. Part of what held these two elements in check was that Speliopoulos played the ladylike and the glamorous off each other, pairing one of those sequined charmers with the tweed pants. It was all so polite, polished and discreet — and who could argue with that?

Balenciaga: When a trend clicks with the masses, is it time for the ultra-hip to just say no? Not according to Balenciaga’s Nicolas Ghesquiere, one of the earliest and most-watched champions of the Eighties fever now consuming fashion. Yet, with so many others shouldering in on his turf — accent on the shouldering — Ghesquiere is holding firm, and in the collection he showed on Thursday, he reprised his take on the decade.
Ghesquiere’s are not the Eighties of status logos and gold chains, but of Tough Chic proportions crossed with a Goth gentility. The former came in strong-shouldered trenchcoats and jackets over sexy, skinny pants and often they looked strong, playing into a mood of French sophistication. A tougher sell: the side-pleated, yoked harem pants. As for the Goth element, Ghesquiere has always shown a softer side, which for fall appeared in witchy dresses cut with floaty hanky hems. And for those women, poor things, who in a philanthropic moment sent their Michael Jackson “Thriller” jackets off to the thrift shop, he offered enough for a Jackson family reunion.
Now about those shoulders: They’re not only strong, they’re decorated, sometimes with a trapunto brocade applique on one shoulder and sometimes with make-your-own epaulets. Anything will do — fabric scraps, mops, little raccoon tails. All it takes is a little imagination. Certainly, Ghesquiere has captured the imagination of fashion insiders, including stylists, and as a result, he has quietly ascended to a level of powerful influence. But if the appeal of those clothes is to expand beyond cult status, sooner or later, he will have to move on.

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