“Psychedelic optimism,” Clare Waight Keller offered backstage before the final show of her impressive six-year tenure at Chloé. Her goal: to provide a sense of escapism through fashion. “It’s not political, but it’s where people go when they feel a lot of what’s going on in the culture now,” she said. “They look for escapism.” Waight Keller looked relaxed and happy as she spoke, not at all overwhelmed by her valedictory moment. She said she is “thrilled to have been at Chloé for six years,” and, about the future, is “feeling really optimistic.”
Whether a source of that optimism is a new job at Givenchy, where rumors suggest she is a candidate, remains to be seen. But it was difficult to look at her collection without considering what she might do there. Despite her stated psychedelic theme, grounded in part from watching “Yellow Submarine,” the collection featured neither intense visual mania nor cartoon overstatement. Waight Keller’s take on escapism is pragmatic and pristine, rendered via patterns — prints of opium poppies and a Wonderland mushroom motif, both of which looked pretty, if too delicate to telegraph their connection to the theme on the runway. Another print, a face in profile against the night sky, proved more obvious, a la “Lucy in the Skies.”
One thing the designer definitely wanted to escape: a retrospective approach. To that end, she tempered her penchant for flou, along the way sacrificing the Chloé girl boho allure that she has worked so deftly in the past. In its place: little dresses cut short and straight in a late-Sixties vein. These were interspersed with limited shots of languid — a billowing blouse sleeve here; a lovely murky blue gown with floating appendages there — as well as glimpses of lace on the hem of a slip under a loose multicolor sweater. As for the tailoring, it looked strong: amply cut jackets and short coats in meaty fabrics and shearling, and a new pants silhouette, full-cut from a low-slung waist, in separates and jumpsuit versions.
The lineup had ample charm, even if at times it veered uncharacteristically contemporary. That oddity aside, it provided a window on what Waight Keller could bring to her next job. Even with a theme as open to exaggeration as the theme of opiate-induced escapist optimism, there’s nothing escapist about Waight Keller’s design ethos. She designs chic clothes intended to work at retail.