Even though it’s technically incorrect to lump native Frenchman Joseph Altuzarra in with the American designers who took their runway shows to Paris in what felt like one fell swoop, it’s impossible to separate him from the lot. On Saturday, Altuzarra staged his first show in the city in which he was born in the courtyard of the Lycée Janson de Sailly in the 16th, where the graceful Parisian evening light wasn’t the only thing in the air. There was anticipation and raised expectations, too.
Altuzarra tacitly acknowledged as much during a preview a few days before the show, when he said he felt calmer than he expected. He has maintained that his decision to move was largely motivated by being French and wanted to show in his hometown, and otherwise it would be business as usual. “I didn’t want to suddenly do a super French show inspired by France,” he said. But still, in fashion Paris is Paris. Debutantes, even those with French passports, have to deserve to be here.
The collection Altuzarra showed earned more than passing marks — it looked perfectly at home without appearing too earnest to impress. He played it cool, chic and sensual, delving into his signatures — slim, sinuous dresses and skirts with sexy slits; seductive tailoring; shirtdresses, and refined folkloric details — with a focus on lightness and fabrics with a homespun quality. The crafty, hand-touch element came from his dual inspiration: the nature-versus-industry message of the anime movie “Princess Mononoke” and Charles Freger’s “Wilder Mann” photographs of pagan rituals, which are typically performed in clothes made at the kitchen table.
Homemade in the finest factories in Italy, the look was one of artisanal excellence. Altuzarra worked from a punchy palette of red, black, white and blue. Sweet broderie anglaise became sassy in red and white on a tank worn with a mini cardigan and a swingy, clingy black fishnet skirt. A black-and-white knit tabard tank was worn over a fantastic hand-stitched skirt done in squares of granny crochet patched with a few pieces of leather and cowhide for grit. Boxy jackets, tunic tanks and skirts were woven in featherweight, pastoral jacquard trimmed in pom-poms and undone tie closures. Silver leather Mongolian-trimmed vests decked with folksy patchworks and embroideries, and the fully sequined, fully embroidered finale were the collection’s biggest displays of showmanship, the latter more successful than the former. Otherwise, Altuzarra’s woman, in her alluring silhouette and fierce high-heeled gladiators, was a striking sophisticate — worldly, but also a little French.