COUTURE’S NEW RECRUITS

PARIS — It seems as if any young designer worth his salt this season has given up scrimping and found a sponsor instead. The couture is, of course, about luxury, and that seems to have been enough of an excuse for LVMH to dig into its pocket to take several off-calendar designers under its wing.
For his part, Pascal Humbert, the 34-year-old designer, also garnered moral support from Yves Saint Laurent dean Pierre Berge, who watched his show from the front row.
Humbert turned in a strong performance, starting with a smart, well-cut black pantsuit worn with a crisp, high-collar, white shirt — reminiscent of vintage YSL. In his third year of doing couture, Humbert designs for an intellectual woman who appreciates understated poetry in her clothes. This was illustrated by a silk organza dress, handpainted with a geometric kaleidoscope motif, and a cotton and silk trenchcoat, handpainted with floating pleats. Although he’s done them before, his painted trompe l’oeil dresses were pretty and refined, and his handknitted silk lace sweater worn over black pants was sophisticated and fresh.
Iranian designer Morteza Pashai, 31, made a sparkling debut by concentrating on silhouette and detail. There was a Fifties couture feeling overall, especially with his pared-down shapes and soft monochromatic palette. But he gave it all a twist by adding architectural pleats that were interesting without being ostentatious. He also showed a sure hand with dresses and skirts and did some of his best work in leather, as in a trenchcoat with a folded closure and gathered shoulders.
Ji Haye, a 32-year-old Korean designer showing her third couture collection, featured some fine dresses. She has her technique down, using a Far Eastern color palette of burnt orange, eggplant, moss green and yellow. The gowns with origami-like folds were exotic in an East-meets-West way, but the designer is still wet behind the ears.
And getting sponsorship doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good collection. Italian Carlo Ponti, 34, in his first couture outing, tripped by staying too focused on the past. His silk organza gowns looked outdated, even if there was an element of Dolce Vita glamour. Ponti still needs time to mature before he will manage to focus his ideas in the subtle craft of couture.
Experimental Dutch duo Michel Keuper and Francesco Van Bentum were backed by Amsterdam’s Foundation for Fine Arts, Design and Architecture. It all brings back memories of Viktor & Rolf, the avant-garde Dutch team, who launched their couture with similar help. Another similarity: Keuper and Van Bentum hardly deign to sell. Instead, they played with colorful Constructivist forms, turning in a childish, circus-like performance. It was all great fun, with a coat with a horse’s head on the shoulder and exaggerated, stiff, square, Lego-like silhouettes.
They might not have a sponsor — or do traditional couture — but Olivier and Michele Chatenet, the husband and wife team known as E2, are without doubt the young couture’s grooviest designers. They take vintage pieces from YSL to Christian Dior, irreverently altering the original cut and adding petal-like appliques around the hem. This season — it’s the duo’s third — the featured silhouettes were a reworked shirtdress and scarf wrap tops. There were also vintage silk and satin kimonos that were rejiggered and embroidered.
“Real luxury is exclusiveness,” explained Olivier Chatenet. “Our work is about providing a wardrobe for today’s woman, who doesn’t want to see herself wearing the same dress as the girl across the street.”

ADELINE ANDRE: It would have been easier to be charmed by Andre’s delicate use of layered chiffon if an unseasonably cold wind hadn’t whipped through the open-air tent the designer used to stage her couture. Still, Andre managed to turn in a fine — if repetitive — performance. Her plunging neckline peacoat tunic in silk georgette and a duo of handsome bias dresses, with simple, sensuous silhouettes, were evocative of ancient Greek styles. As is her custom, she worked almost exclusively in silk georgette and organza, adding texture by juxtaposing color and geometric lines.

DOMINIQUE SIROP: This season Sirop skipped the runway to present at Cartier’s Rue de la Paix salon. He dubbed the event a “Chic Happening,” but asked clients to wait shivering outside in a makeshift shelter from the cold rain, since the shop was too small to accommodate everybody at once. Otherwise, however, Sirop, who trained under Hubert de Givenchy, aimed to please: He accessorized the show with sparkling Cartier diamonds. And there’s no denying that he technically knows how to cut a gown. Still, he missed a beat. For instance, silk muslin evening gowns wrapped with bands of almond-green mink or decorated with crystal embroidery were too complicated. He was at his best when he kept it simple and sexy, as in a crepe de soie gown under a slinky chinchilla wrap.

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