PARIS — Does music soothe the savage beast? Not in Paris, where the fashion behemoth is gorging itself on musical references, most of which play to an indulgent Eighties rock beat. But with notable exceptions — Rei Kawakubo’s brilliant punk fest at Comme des Garcons, for example — the tune of excess often sounds a little off-key.
Everyone knows that Chloe’s Stella McCartney is a rock ‘n’ roll girl, but who would guess that designers as different as Alexander McQueen and Emanuel Ungaro would find common ground? On Wednesday, McQueen channeled his Tough Chic attitude into a relentless celebration of Chrissie Hynde at Givenchy, while Ungaro showed an elaborate extravaganza with a Billy Idol undercurrent. On Tuesday night, however, music took a backseat to conspicuous consumption at Celine, even if Michael Kors did borrow a pair of Eighties classics — the themes from “Dynasty” and “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” — for his soundtrack.
The collection Alexander McQueen showed for Givenchy exemplified his creative struggles at the house; so far, he has been unable to create a distinctive New Age Givenchy image strong enough to create the kind of editorial and sales frenzies other houses have enjoyed. Just two weeks after staging another dazzling display of invention for his own house in London, here he showed a collection which, for all its aggression, didn’t get very far. That’s not to say he’s not trying, McQueen is a great talent and hard worker who believes he can recreate the house image into something both modern and marketable, and he very much wants it to succeed. And he has shown some strong collections, most recently softening up a bit, as he did last season with a sporty chic look. For that matter, despite all its hard-as-nails accouterments, his show on Wednesday indicated his continued commitment to a type of tailoring that, though hardly soft, is far from his original arch, peaked-shoulder look. He opened on a promising note — chic tailored looks in black and khaki cut with McQueen’s characteristic quality and fit. His coats, jackets and pants, low-slung and lean, are some of the best around. He played into fall’s mini madness with skirts as well as jackets worn as micro-coatdresses. And yes, he showed a soft side, relatively speaking, in drapey sexpot dresses in the mournful palette of purple and black.
McQueen, however, insisted on delivering it all with an aggressive wallop. And after a while, too much pounding merely left you dazed. Rock references or not, extras such as thigh-to-ankle leather leg casings and a see-through harness bodysuit are less shocking than irritating.
If McQueen is going to create the ultimate Givenchy image, and he certainly has both the talent and imagination to pull it off, it won’t be on the strength of too-obvious androgyny and dominatrix innuendo.
Emanuel Ungaro’s runway-rock-romance was more difficult to comprehend. His program notes, written by Luigi Scialanga, described a “New York free spirit” whose “pinstripes are mixed in a state of confusion like a Pollack painting.” Delete the Pollack part, and Scialanga has a point. Confusion permeated this collection, starting with the simple question: Why? Why would a designer as good and refined as Ungaro fall prey to such silly business?
Ungaro took the more-is-more philosophy to the nth degree as he piled on color, pattern and embellishment with dizzying enthusiasm. He featured studs and flounces, stylized camouflage and gold chain fringe, thick knits and barely there silks, all worked into complicated combinations. A reprise of his couture theme emerged in the form of a mohair sweater inset with a transparent, breast-revealing butterfly and, as for his red and black motorcycle moment, his glammed-out bikers hold their conventions at Giorgio of Beverly Hills.
In the midst of all this, there were some strong clothes. Ungaro opened with a perfect pinstriped pantsuit and closed with a gentle tiered black dress. In between, he showed more suits and long, rich shearlings, as well as new and classic versions of his seductive draped dresses. Such looks are more than strong enough to stand on their own, without the styling overkill. Next time, Emanuel, forget about Billy. Pick another idol and move on.
At Chloe it seems that Stella McCartney can’t decide whether or not to move on.
There is still no progress in her ongoing negotiations with the house, and, asked about the situation after the show, she just laughed. “That is absolutely the worst question anyone could ask me right now,” McCartney said, adding, “I’m working on it.” There was news regarding her guest list, however. In addition to Dad, a host of other relatives turned up, as did the Jerry Seinfelds and another Beatle offspring. In Paris on vacation, Sean Lennon attended the show, although the McCartney camp did not extend the invitation to Sean’s mom, Yoko Ono, also visiting the City of Light.
On the runway, McCartney made positive strides, while the collection was not exactly refined — T-shirts emblazoned with “69” quashed the refinement quotient — it did look more grown-up and polished. Eighties? How about a tiny batwing minidress with diamond-pattern beading? McCartney loves a little glitz — not to mention a little sex — in her clothes, and carried it throughout the show, sometimes subtly, and at others moments, with full-on gusto. She also loves a good pair of jeans, and for fall, cut them as tight as possible, to wear with jackets, halters and zodiac T-shirts. Stella’s coats look strong, including those decorated with regimental ribbons, and some in fake fur — shown by the avid anti-fur campaigner for the first time.
And overall, her tailoring indicated an evolution from London street hip to a more adult expression of cool. On the other hand, McCartney’s eveningwear, dresses and tops done up with dangerous-looking feather-shaped paillettes just didn’t work. And, in general, Stella needs to to broaden her repertoire. Jeans and a T-shirt, no matter how good they are, can’t carry a collection forever.
The classics have always been music to Michael Kors’s ears, especially when they’re all luxed-up and tony. His spin this season at Celine, in addition to the “glamorous gamine” look of Chloe Sevigny: “Think of a young Connecticut Yankee riffling through her Parisian aunt’s couture closet.”
Such irony comes naturally to Kors, who can gently lampoon his wealthy customers while all but worshipping them and their well-heeled lifestyle. The “Dynasty” and lifestyle tunes may have been a joke — and a too-obvious one, at that — but they hummed, “You go, girl” with every note. Still, Kors’s cross-generational vignette posed a problem or two. While auntie’s clothes will look great on the gamine, add a few years and a few pounds, and you might be talking rumpola. Michael knows he’s not designing for teenagers, however, and there’s nothing inherently youthful about his proportions, which is fine. But when worked in big herringbones, bigger checks and big metallic brocades, they at times took on a matronly feel.
Nevertheless, there was a lot to like in this collection, starting with familiar shapes and a neutral collegiate palette — navy, camel, brown. One could find a comfort factor in corduroys and blazers suddenly turned chic, as in chesterfields and polo coats with matching mufflers. Of course, Kors fell in love with gold buttons and rich sable trim. And he played further into the Dynastic mood with diamond-studded chain belts and crystal-beaded leopard-print blouses for evening. Even the most practical Connecticut Yankee has to indulge sometimes. That’s what a visit to Paris is all about.

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