Chanel: More is more — the perfect credo for the most prolific designer working today. But in Karl Lagerfeld’s case, more doesn’t only refer to stuff, although there’s plenty of that, but to the riot of ideas that complement, converge, conflict and still gush like a geyser after all these years. Yet for all his far-flung points of reference, he knows that, in the end, only one reference point really matters — the woman who totes her credit card inside her Chanel bag.
Ultimately, she is Lagerfeld’s constant muse, and he won’t let her play second fiddle to editorial folly. But then, he doesn’t have to. Lagerfeld is skilled enough to hold her interest and throw a party on his runway, which is just what he did on Thursday morning in a big, bold, witty collection for Chanel. He constructed a long, multi-level runway edged in thin strips of multicolor neon lights at the Carrousel du Louvre; in other words, not a sober show. And he kept those stairs jumping, sending his models out in fast-moving groups that didn’t allow the audience to linger too long over any one look.
That’s because Karl’s basic message was about abundance from which a woman can pick and choose. Every Chanel signature was well-represented, from the sublime — Coco’s Deauville — to the feistily camp — the pour-it-on Eighties, another golden era for Chanel. And if at times a certain A.D.D. quality took over, it’s only because, in his excitement over great clothes, Lagerfeld wanted to show everything. Tweeds, minis, beachwear, athletic touches — he touted them all, sometimes several in one outfit. And he finished nearly every look with indiscreet “Coco” veiling that mocked the vampy elegance of long-ago cocktail hats. Along the way, some of his combinations ran amok: for example, the frothy whites worn with pearls, sneakers and sweats, and the gorgeous embroidered lace gowns dressed down over catsuits.
On the other hand, Lagerfeld offered rare moments of graceful calm, such as the Zelda-worthy black lace cardigan over a long-waisted top and pleated skirt. And when time is of the essence, the modern woman can just shower, wrap herself in Chanel’s plush double-C towel, throw on some pearls and go — just as long as she doesn’t leave home without that credit card.
Jean Paul Gaultier: There’s a dark, Mad Max kind of a mood in the air this season that has turned collections on both sides of the Atlantic different shades of grim. So when Jean Paul Gaultier’s models stomped out across a field of packed dirt — gripping and then throwing beer cans — while stacked speakers pulsated in the background, it wasn’t such a shock. What was a real surprise, however, is that it all came on the heels of last season’s collection, a paradigm of Parisian chic. One wanted to cry out, “Apocalypse now??”
Yep. Gaultier’s grungy biker babes wore their pretty printed silk dresses with hacked-off pieces of roughed-up leather jackets strapped on top. Remember Michael Jackson’s one-glove moment? If Gaultier has his way, women will be wearing everything from the single sleeve to one raggedy denim pants leg over their prettiest things. But hey — take that sleeve plus another just like it, and you’ve really got something there.
“It was nouvelle garcons,” Gaultier explained after the show, “feminine things worn with a boyfriend’s or a father’s leather biker jacket. If it’s old and it’s not in a good state, you just make it into an accessory.” Gaultier even rummaged through his own archives and chopped up some of the vintage pieces he found there to create the look.
It was all very “behind the bleachers at a Joan Jett concert,” as one editor described it afterward, and that’s not a place where chic lives. Unless you dig. While his freakish accoutrements were distracting, there is tremendous treasure buried in Gaultier’s collection, including loads of light and lively dresses for day and fluttering chiffon gowns bound tight with slinky knits. These were classic Gaultier, but he also showed cool new clothes: convertible tent dresses inset with lace that were one part boudoir, one part butcher’s apron, and T-shirts — even those cut in the hallmark sailor stripe — which were sliced up then restitched in a way that was rocking but wearable.
“Everyone knows I can do real clothes,” Gaultier said, “but I was finding it boring.” Surely the retailers weren’t. The best clothes in the collection made sense without relying on the weirdo half-jacket, half-pants gimmicks. Besides, Gaultier rarely does anything half-way.

Balenciaga: Expectations were running higher than high for the designer whose influence has dominated the spring runways, from New York to Milan and Paris. Could he live up to the hype? You bet. In fact, Nicolas Ghesquiere’s collection for Balenciaga was so heavenly that you would have thought that a choir of angels singing up on high accompanied his spring show, instead of an Eighties tune sung by Stephanie of Monaco during her short-lived pop career.
It all started from humble beginnings: the engineer’s stripe. Ghesquiere went into nouveau utilitarian mode and worked the stuff into slim overalls and tiny miniskirts that were shown with cropped spencers or big-shouldered tuxedo jackets. Call it Oshkosh Balenciaga; it wasn’t the least bit hard. Now that everyone has copied Ghesquiere’s tough, pleated pants — among other signature designs he’s done for the house — he’s moved right along, softening his tailoring, and coming up with a look that’s much more approachable.
While he opened with tailored looks, the designer slowly worked his way toward the feminine, adding one plain-Jane frill to the hem of a jacket or the edge of a camisole, then another and another, until he could resist no more. Out came the silky things, the pretty things, and the girlish frilly things in droves.
Ghesquiere was conversing in “the vocabulary of the wedding,” he said before the show. Besides showing something blue — gorgeous lace tops — he combined the old and the new by trading on last season’s rag-mop shoulder. This time when he used sugary stuff from the trimmings shop to spice things up, it was no editorial trick; it was simply beautiful. The bodice of a white shirt glistened with pearls so fine that from a distance it looked pintucked; and strings of pompons were festooned like party lights around the shoulders of a peasant top.
There was no cake-topper at the end, but a host of gently deconstructed disco dresses in white covered with bits of dotted tulle, dangling strands of pearls and Chantilly streamers a’flying. You know what? They could have been made for angels.

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