Talk about a great weekend. The past few days have been a joyous celebration of fashion. And the strong collections came in a wide variety of modes, from Viktor & Rolf’s wildly imaginative clothes — shown at a fab party — to Helmut Lang’s riffs on his own classics in his return-to-the-runway show. Alexander McQueen’s pirate-themed show had bravado and beauty, while the surf was the thing to play in at Balenciaga.
Viktor & Rolf: Fashion has its moments of pretension, sobriety, calm, outrage. But of all the emotions to which designers can and should give expression in their work, it is those moments of pure joy that touch the mind and even the spirit most profoundly. Let’s face it, no one is above wanting to have a good time. No matter how lofty the intellect, how deep the social consciousness or fears for the world, who doesn’t want to sing from Judy Garland’s songbook at least some of the time? “Forget your troubles. Come on, get happy!” And as long as people have been getting dressed, they’ve looked to fashion to help the process along. Everybody got happy on Saturday night, when Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren threw a fashion party extraordinaire. Their invitations gave a clue: all 700 were different and each was handmade, often in Technicolor doodles by students at an art school in Amsterdam. Once there, people settled into their seats, where they could watch the disco ball dapple the rest of the crowd, drink Hawaiian Punch and vodka and survive the sweltering heat along with Gloria Gaynor, whose anthem blared in the background. Then the show started. First girl out: Jamie Bochert, in a sweeping floral striped dress, her hair done up in pink “double-double-toil-and trouble” dishevelment. She danced and gyrated around the room, obviously loving every moment. Next, Karen Elson in tiered black witchy wear and Omahyra, in a delicate blue and white floral frock, a huge bouquet of flowers perched on her head. Out they shimmied, shook and smiled, one after the other, dancing up a storm, their hair wild and inhibitions shattered, their delight in the moment utterly infectious. When was the last time runway models looked like they were having fun on the job? But then, the only thing that beats a night of wild dancing is a night of wild dancing in fabulous clothes. Snoeren and Horsting’s were remarkable, divided between looks with chic tailored elements and all-out girliness. The designers indulged in florals, ruffles, color, the simplicity of a chic halter gown, the fluff of a Carmen Miranda frock, even a theft or two of grandmother’s favorite bed jackets. As for the tailored side, they de-uniformed a tuxedo with a huge multicolor ruff, and showed a pantsuit that might have been lunching-lady low-key, except that the pink jacket went with half pink-half yellow pants with lavender back pockets. Through it all, the models just kept on dancing, right through the final bow, when the designers appeared amid the swirl and flurry of colors, patterns and frills, dressed in black suits with skinny black ties, the lone wallflowers at their own resplendent orgy. But who cares? Next spring, countless women will be rushing to write Viktor & Rolf into their shopping dance cards. Balenciaga: Surf’s up all over fashion, and nowhere with more grace than at Balenciaga. Since Nicolas Ghesquière typically moves at least one stroke ahead of the school, the collection he showed on Saturday made for something of a surprise. For now, at least, he’s swimming along with some of the other big fish in that great fashion pond. And there, as in all of nature, a simple credo rules: survival of the fittest. Which suits Ghesquière just fine. Since his ascent out of nowhere several years ago, he has proven himself a designer of influence and audacity. When he works a look, it’s with complete assurance — no hedging. As a result, even when playing to the trend of the moment, he makes big waves, as he did for spring with his sexy, racy collection. After last season’s foray into shapes with lots of volume on top, Ghesquière returned to a sleeker line. But then, you can’t hang 10 in a multimop sweater. He opened with a group of short, precisely shaped jersey Neoprene impersonators. These sported vivid, Disney-worthy prints of deep sea life — flora, fauna, sweet seahorse, seething shark — that he kept playful and still très, très smart. These bore a hint both of Body Glove and the Space Age edge chic the designer loves and has worked so brilliantly in the past.Ghesquière kept everything skinny. His inside-out, exposed-seam dresses looked a tad forgiving, but as for his long pants and shorts, a girl should be serious-surfer fit to even think about them. He even transformed that beachy basic, the roomy hang 10 striped T, into a provocative corset.For evening, fitness still counts. At least, if a girl wants to slip into one of Ghesquière’s spectacularly sensual Greco-Azzedine mini dresses that played delicate ruched chiffon against corsetry. Talk about killer fashion. But then, if a girl’s going to swim with the sharks, she needs plenty of ammunition.Alexander McQueen: A shipwreck motif — art for art’s sake or a metaphor for disaster that might have been? The fashion life is seldom a smooth sail. No one knows that better than Alexander McQueen, who has steered his way through the roughest waters and survived to say, “Told ya!” Now, a year into his relationship with Gucci Group, life’s a beach. Domenico De Sole boasts that sales at McQueen’s New York store, opened in September, have made for a pleasant surprise, and that despite that hard-to-shake enfante terrible reputation, McQueen has proven himself a dedicated, dogged worker with a head for serious business. On Sunday night, he showed his second blockbuster under Gucci’s auspices. Now about that shipwreck. McQueen loves staging a great performance almost as much as he loves creating beautiful clothes. For spring, he signed up filmmaker John Maybury to produce a three-part film as a backdrop for the collection. Part one featured a girl overboard, trying desperately to save herself from the perils of the sea. A young man dives to the rescue, making for a tragedy, yet not one that’s total. They die together, unable to free themselves from the exquisite tatters of her pale silk gown. But the dress looks great to the end. This set up a parade of romantic pirates and forlorn maidens, the former in beautifully crafted jackets, vests and billowing blouses, the latter in chic shreds. McQueen then moved on to seemingly unrelated motifs, going eerie and eerier still with film shot in Night and Thermal Vision. As stylish ghouls stalked the screen, out came a host of vixens of the dark, all in black — a trench; a dominatrix party frock in leather lace. For the finale, the stage exploded with color, in sexpot swimsuits, huge ruffled jackets over pants, fabulous scarf-print dresses. One gown, a ruffled affair said to boast 60 colors and 250 meters of fabric, dazzled to the rafters. Yet not every piece was so flagrant. For all the bravado and beauty, there’s a downside to McQueen’s showmanship: Fabulous though this presentation was, the clothes are better up close, revealing a mind-boggling degree of creativity and work. While it was clear that McQueen has tempered and diversified his aggressive tailoring and that he makes an amazing event dress, there’s so much more to take in. But his models worked only the back two-thirds of the big, square floor, depriving even those in the front row of the magic of an exquisitely embroidered coat or a chi-chi ribbon-weave jacket, detailed with a dainty skull-and-crossbones motif. And who could see the leathers, perforated not with mere pin-dot circles, but with miniscule hearts? Even the butterflies suspended in Lucite platform shoes sometimes flew by unnoticed — something that will never happen when the McQueen woman steps out in them. Helmut Lang: He’s back! In Paris and on the runway, that is. And that’s great news indeed, because the collection that Helmut Lang showed on Friday in his old stomping grounds, the Espace Commines, was sensational. Lang has one of fashion’s most focused eyes and thought processes: He makes beautiful clothes for mean city streets. In recent years, that vision has remained remarkably constant, so much so that his shows have sometimes felt too familiar. But, coupled with the sex explosion that started in Milan, his two-season absence from the runway and his recent lower-than-usual profile in New York have made the heart grow, not fonder — no one ever stopped loving a Helmut coat — but more aware of the need for his specific grasp of reality. Season after season, for the best tony everyday urban chic, Lang’s your go-to guy. And he delivers it with more than enough flourish to keep it interesting. For spring, Lang inset his fabulous classic coats with sleeves and gussets in contrasting colors and textures — bold strokes of black, white and orange; a triad of neutral chiffon. He sent out his typical fast-paced parade, first in blacks, grays and whites, including a fabulous perforated leather. Most of the coats were shown over skinny pants, small, gracefully draped tops and stiletto sandals with double toe loops. If it sounds sexy, it was. Where others have gone chi-chi or wanton, Lang infused his clothes with a different sexual tension, one no less potent for its approachability. He played his pragmatic coats and pants against gentle chiffon, which he used for fabulous short dresses, faux-athletic jackets and ethereal tops. He went more delicate still with webby string knits, but then worked in latex for skirts, just to show he hasn’t gone soft.Throughout, Lang added plenty of the strips, straps and assorted flying appendages with which he loves to dress up his clothes. But here, he turned that good old utilitarian staple, the zipper, into his favorite embellishment, using it as fastening, border, necklace and body sling, adding the right dose of tough to his distinctive chic. For evening, Lang turned provocateur with smoking derivatives that suggested bondage without screaming it: white tanks worn with tuxedo trousers and suspender-harnesses.