The gossamer gowns that opened the Vionnet show were arresting. Pale sheets of techno organza, cut on the bias by a laser, hovered gently over the model’s curves: a scalloped train trailing, a target pattern of cutouts becoming a window onto the legs.
Making his couture debut after more than 20 years in fashion, Hussein Chalayan’s first effort for Vionnet signaled a conceptual and forward-looking approach to the craft. (Dubbed demi-couture, the collection requires only one fitting and is priced less than pure haute couture.)
These clothes remained true to Madeleine Vionnet’s legacy: her penchant for fragile fabrics and her architectural approach to dressmaking. During a preview, Chalayan noted that in addition to sketching, he drapes fabrics on miniature bust forms, just as she did in the Thirties, when she dominated high fashion.
A wind machine accentuated the drifting quality of the gowns — pleats fanning out to the floor from shoulder harnesses densely beaded to resemble coral; panels of fabric spilling off one shoulder.
Chalayan’s industrial inspiration — electrical wire, circuit boards and other work-site detritus — were expressed in belts and jewelry made of colorful cables. A dress and a vest fronted with a lattice of “liquid shelves” looked as awkward as they sound.
The show climaxed with a series of roomy columns with jutting samurai sleeves meant to exalt the intense patternmaking behind couture. The crisscrosses on these fashion blueprints were embroidered in blue thread. While abstract and a bit stiff — more about ideas than something to wear to an event — they made you think.