PARIS — Variety is the spice of life. And that’s extra-true in Paris, where individualistic voices are avidly embraced. But an intriguing concept alone doesn’t suffice in the rough-and-tumble fashion world. A career is built on a solid foundation and clear vision.
Just ask Adam Jones, the 36-year-old British designer who spent six years working with John Galliano at Dior and another six at Kenzo. He launched a small collection of innovative knits three seasons ago that attracted insider acclaim. But Jones is now generating major buzz and seems to be on his way to greater things. About 50 stores carry his collection, which last spring did a wholesale volume of close to $600,000. For fall, he expanded his repertoire, adding leather pieces, rabbit and fake fur coats to his fabulous knits. In lieu of a show, Jones staged an exotic tableau vivant of models luxuriating on sofas among oriental tapestries. “My fashion’s about special pieces,” he explained. “I don’t want to get caught up in the industry thing of presenting just to do a show. There’s a reality in the fantasy, too.”
Another unique voice on the Paris stage is Bernhard Willhelm, the German designer who works in Antwerp. His intriguing show on Sunday evening used a German-language news broadcast instead of music. Deadpan reports on the Palestinian conflict and the war on terrorism created a surreal ambiance juxtaposed with his childlike designs: skirts embroidered with dinosaurs or slouchy harlequin tracksuits.
Can you think of anyone who more fully mines her British heritage than Vivienne Westwood? Certainly not. In her program notes, she cited British literature, gardens and cloth as inspirations. An inimitably Westwood collection ensued. There were eccentric, exaggerated proportions and a panoply of fabrics, from tweed to taffeta.
As for Martine Sitbon, she continues to be an exemplar of Paris cool. There were plenty of pieces that will appeal to Sitbon’s streetwise girl, especially the tanks with detached straps that were paired with razor-slim trousers. As for her floaty chiffon dresses, they were there, too, and were also cut in crushed velvet, picking up on one of the season’s key trends.
AF Vandevorst, the husband-and-wife team of Filip Arickx and An Vandevorst, were inspired by bumblebees. It was one of their best collections in recent seasons, with yellow-and-black striped knits in dresses or a snuggly sweater coat. They also turned in some nice leather pieces, including a topcoat worn backwards as a dress.
Olivier and Michele Chatenet, the husband and wife team who now design Leonard, are bringing the once dusty house new pep. Their collection referred to Leonard’s heritage of vibrant prints, but made them modern, concentrating them into neat color stories of black and white. Dresses with carefree silhouettes didn’t reinvent the wheel, but they brought the house a step closer toward broadening its brand appeal.
Girlish and woodsy, the fall collection Suzanne Clements and Inacio Ribeiro did for their signature line, Clements Ribeiro, boasted appliqued coats, weathered corduroy pants and delicate chiffon skirts and dresses. The designers took a feminine approach to folk, without getting too wrapped up in any of its rustic trappings.
Richard Bengtsson and Edward Pavlick launched their Richard Edwards women’s collection three seasons back. While their men’s clothes have received a great deal of praise over the years, the women’s collection the designers showed for fall didn’t display much of its flair. If skorts are skirt/shorts, then Bengtsson and Pavlick showed an experimental skirt/pants combo, skants, with apron-like flaps hanging at the back. A halter dress hung from its tight, twisted hood. Overall, their look was angular, artsy and a little awkward.
Back in the good ol’ days, Kenzo Takada charmed with his light, culture-blending designs. For fall, Gilles Rosier, who currently designs for the house of Kenzo, failed to capture this vibe. His combination of school stripes and plaids for kilts never got up and ran. Granted, there were some pieces that will sell at retail. And Rosier cashed in on some of the season’s trends: crushed velvet and ethnic, bohemian touches. But he didn’t capture the joie de vivre this LVMH-owned house once had.