There was something for everyone in Paris as the shows rolled along. Sweetness and light was Marc Jacobs’ winning formula for Louis Vuitton, while Tom Ford had a darker vision for Yves Saint Laurent. John Galliano, on the other hand, was wildly whimsical.
Louis Vuitton: Takashi Murakami’s happy monster balloons that decorated the plaza outside the Louis Vuitton show spoke volumes: Check your worries at the doorstep, and settle in for joie du mode. The playful hot-air giants heralded more than the wonderfully witty handbags on which Murakami also collaborated, carried by a fast-moving parade of pastel satin-clad flight-attendant types to open the show. The balloons also triggered memories of some of Marc Jacobs’ earliest work in New York, when as a just-out-of-school kid he put a whimsical icon of that time?— the smiley face — on sweaters. While here the grins are rendered on a smaller scale — tiny logo characters — and with far greater sophistication, the message rings remarkably similar. “I wanted everything to be joyous,” Jacobs said before the show. “People should feel good when they see these things.” Mission accomplished, as this collection was a feel-good girly fest from beginning to end — its youthful sexiness tempered by a guileless sweetness. These are clothes for cockeyed optimists and will keep a girl thinking pink, aqua and canary yellow. Jacobs showed nice-girl lingerie looks, faux-mumsie raffia tweeds, ingénue lace dresses banded in black ribbon. He dolled up men’s wear houndstooth with pink or blue dots, and then worked the contrast even more, putting a slim jacket over a satin half-slip or mini pouf in flocked tulle. And to keep his shapes interesting, he often worked in tiers for bilevel jackets and layered ruffles at the hem of a skirt. Jacobs’ girl showed her sleeker side and a yen for a trend in a surfer moment: body-hugging striped knits, tight dresses with peekaboo portholes and a Neoprene swirl-print coat and skirt. But who says techno has to look tough? Certainly not the Vuitton girl, who will love the madcap novelty of rubber in a red-and-white dotted trenchcoat and skirts, and pastel frocks showered with flowers — just the fashion ticket for a rainy Easter morn.Now about those bags — fabulous! Murakami, whose work is currently featured in an exhibition at the Cartier Foundation here, electrified the LV logo with bright, cartoonish characters on a stark white ground. (While the basic logo uses three screens of color, his most elaborate versions takes 93.) You can hear those cash registers ringing now — if the bags make their way to the selling floor in substantial numbers. (Memo to LV production: PLEASE!) Yves Saint Laurent: The rumors are true — he’s mortal. Everyone expects the world of Tom Ford, and more often than not, he delivers. So who could be blamed if, after three seasons of near-perfection at Yves Saint Laurent, his audience anticipated another blockbuster to keep its fashionista adrenaline pulsing wildly? Yet, with the collection he presented on Monday night, Ford just could not sustain the thrill factor that marked those masterful prior efforts.Instead, the designer’s spring show proved a peculiar affair. Ford is not only mortal, but very much a man of the flesh; no one knows how to sex up a runway better than he. Yes, those were penis pendants dangling from the necks of some of the models. But they were difficult to see. More readily apparent was Ford’s deliberation on breasts, manifested in see-through veiling, trapunto-embossed mammaries on a coat and jackets, and deliberately ill-fitting pieces, cut to reveal casual glimpses of nipples painted deep purple. Yet it all seemed less an ode to Saint Laurent, who first dared to bare a woman’s breasts to a runway audience back in the Sixties, or genuine sexual obsession, than a substitute for the kind of razor-sharp vision that marks Ford’s best work.While Ford usually presents a finely crafted convergence of commercial and artistic realities, here he seemed content to focus on the straightforward task of producing clothes for real women in the real world. And in fact, many looked terrific. He opened with shapely, strong-shouldered jackets in men’s wear suitings or brown leather over alluring dresses. These followed hourglass curves and came in pale neutral fabrics, draped, shirred and frilled for provocation. To that end, he sometimes slashed dresses in a manner that mimicked tribal scarification, or ran a row of bridal buttons down the curve of the spine. And he decorated one strapless number with a big flouncy rosette plopped you-know-where. While he clearly favored dresses and skirts, he also showed skinny pants with bare little tops, and a must-have brown suede trenchcoat. At night, Ford was atypically subdued, with smokings and graceful short dresses with fluid sleeves, although on occasion he went for the drama of a pale jeweled cape. When he tried for more oomph, he sometimes resorted to those breast-baring diversions, and they just didn’t work. Not so, however, the pair of stunning draped goddess gowns. They’ll turn heads anywhere — even without dyed-to-match nipples. John Galliano: Now that’s a really big show. John Galliano likes his fun super-sized, and no one does larger-than-life quite like he can. With their faces painted Krishna blue, his models stormed the runway, wearing jackets as big as zeppelins, clouds of roiling frills, layers of chiffon trimmed in marabou or beautiful chiffon sari dresses that wrapped their way up and around elaborate headdresses and hairdos built around party balloons. Tinsel trimmings, clown wigs and glittering platform flip-flops completed the look. And it was a riot. Galliano’s exuberance was contagious, and the collection thrilled an audience that had already enjoyed a weekend of thrills, with its sheer bravado and untamed colors.While he’s fluent in the language of the spectacle, this season, “working girl” is not part of the Galliano vocabulary, something he flaunted Sunday night as Dolly Parton warbled “9 to 5” over the sound system. Could his girls find employment as circus stars? Superheroes? Mascots for a chain of intergalactic burger joints? More likely, they’d work the 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. shift à la London’s famous club-kid extraordinaire, Leigh Bowery.But then again, why work? After all, Galliano’s girls are only visitors to this world. To top it all off, he blew up his dirigible proportions to the utter beyond with coats that crinkled and creased like elephant skins hiding pockets of magic dust, really just Pat McGrath’s gaudy bright makeup pigments. As each traveler arrived at the end of the runway, she shook off the unearthly powder, leaving behind a billowing rainbow haze. Talk about puff pieces.