This season has it all, beginning with a proud lack of fear, noteworthy so soon after the November terrorist attacks in Paris that led to ramped-up security. Lesser logistical issues were created by a front-end snowstorm in New York and a midweek taxi strike that impeded different levels of transportation. But fashion folk are a stalwart lot and soldiered on. Otherwise, the shows progressed as usual.
Yet in the world of haute, “usual” can be anything but. Viktor & Rolf staged what Viktor Horsting called “a performance of sculpture.” The concept manifested in a series of cubist-cum-cartoon totems crafted from chutzpah and white pique and made possible by the designers’ parallel thriving fragrance business. At Maison Margiela, John Galliano took an artful approach as well, starting with a near-blank white slate and building up to intense, emotionally rendered collage. Flamboyance of a more traditional sort came from Giambattista Valli’s lavish, retro-tinged prettiness. He was inspired by four great Parisian gardens — Tuileries, Bagatelle, Palais-Royal and Luxembourg (with nods to Napoleon’s sisters). It was, he said, the right moment “to say thank you to Paris.” Valli’s three-tier pink confection had nothing on the Fifties’ grandeur at Ralph & Russo, where, to close the show, a bride in a megagown required the assistance of six handlers to work her skirt.
Other designers celebrated sportif. Donatella Versace proved once again that it’s not the theme, it’s what you do with it. She turned gymwear into the haute stuff of elevated heart rates and heavy breathing (minus the annoyance of working out) all skin-tight, stretchy and devoid of subtlety. Front-row guest Rita Ora embodied the mood as articulated in the specially commissioned soundtrack on which underground musician Violet offered this gem: “I was born with a body to manifest my power.” Ath-leisure indeed.
Jean Paul Gaultier celebrated a different kind of leisure, club culture of the early Eighties, in homage to Paris’ legendary Le Palace, and its favorite denizen, Edwige Belmore, who passed away in September.
For Giorgio Armani at Armani Privé, the message was shorts and a baseball jacket that, their haute pedigree notwithstanding, looked very much like shorts and a baseball jacket, albeit girlied up and glammed up in lilac and worn with Katy Perry marcelled waves. And Bouchra Jarrar, from the start a believer in couture for everyday life, integrated controlled flou in lace and crushed velvet into her precision tailoring, while providing a little high-minded soundtrack narration of her own — Proust.
Dior studio directors Serge Ruffieux and Lucie Meier set out to address “couture’s new realism” on the runway, which they did gamely. In another sense, they’re living that new realism behind the scenes. For the second time in four years, the house is without a creative director. The departure of Raf Simons thrust Ruffieux and Meier into an awkward fashion limbo, charged with forging ahead on all creative fronts while the search to replace Simons is under way.
At Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld always keeps it real; even at the loftiest level of couture, Chanel is in the business of selling clothes, and he’s proud of it. After last season’s ode to tech, for spring he went au naturale in a Zen kind of way, not a condition one usually associates with him. Guests arriving to the Grand Palais came upon a blue sky, green lawn and in between, a humble-chic oak house from which his models emerged. They wore mostly beige looks often in artisanal, hand-wrought fabrics embroidered with wooden beads and chards, the whole thing beautifully serene. But in fashion, serenity had its limits. Making his Instagram entrance preshow, Korean pop star G-Dragon sauntered toward his seat, chewing gum and oozing attitude beneath the cozy cool of his Chanel trapper hat, his swagger the antithesis of Zen. Then Cara Delevingne made her own entrance, not on the runway, but to her front-row perch, her spunky puppy Leo in tow. The dog was the prop of the day.
A different kind of serenity held sway at Valentino, where Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli found inspiration in fashion’s original pleat-meister, Mariano Fortuny, and his avant-garde dancing muses, Ruth St. Denis, Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham. The models strolled barefoot through a sprinkling of flower petals, personifications of extreme beauty and the stuff of dreams. You just had to buy into it.