Even with all we know about the power of the fashion forecasters, it never ceases to be surprising just how similar the looks can be from one show to the next. If an Abu Dhabi taxi driver had to describe the season's collections so far, he'd probably use that old chestnut: "Same same. But different." As Paris Fashion Week rolls on, it becomes harder and harder to remember just which designer created a specific stiff ruffle or a certain strong shoulder, because the themes - pared-back colours, structured folds, diagonal draping, cinched waists, skinny belts - have been so consistent. That is, after all, what gives us those trends we love to talk about.
Monday, though, saw the "different" part of the equation, starting with Stella McCartney's outing, held in a crumbling market hall, the Carreau du Temple. Her Brit hipster friends got involved, too, with the backdrop consisting of a photograph by the artist Sam Taylor Wood and a sunny illustration by the controversial Chapman Brothers. Attended by Pink (who also voiced a video collaboration between McCartney and the now-ubiquitous Peta), Beth Ditto (naturally), Salma Hayek, Thandie Newton and, of course, her father, Paul McCartney (complete with his new girlfriend, the beautiful Nancy Shevell), the show polished up some of the designer's long-pursued themes, ignoring the concerns of her peers. Those roomy, masculine jackets for which she is known were present, of course, but a newer, more fitted, round-shouldered shape, with the requisite cropped sleeves and long gloves, looked grown-up and strong.
Trousers ranged from super-tight faux leather leggings to neatly tailored, loose-legged cropped pants and, in the one miss of the show, a knitted blue jumpsuit. The famous vegetarian played on the fur concept that has taken over fashion this season, sending out huge, fluffy coats made from looped wool, plain or tinselly. Evening wear was just as appealing, with a shimmering bugle-beaded black tux and silvery minidress and a series of stiff blue and green silk sack dresses. Delicate lace panelling made simple slips dreamily appealing, but undoubtedly the pieces that will please buyers the most were the silk tunic dresses, printed with greyscale brush strokes and spray patterns: easy, fluid and flattering, especially when belted at the waist.
Another who insists on going his own way is the exuberant Indian designer Manish Arora. Never one to follow a trend, this season - as every season - he eschewed the safer palettes in favour of a riot of colourful pattern that could be described as Mughal meets Mowgli. Inspired by The Jungle Book, his collection saw shoulders sculpted as lions in Swarovski crystal, flamboyant insect and flower patterns and beautiful stylised peacock motifs. And while the over-the-top accoutrements attached to the clothes - giant flowers and so on - could sometimes feel like an art-school project, beneath the fuss was a beautiful, bejewelled collection that stood out in winter's mass of black and grey suits.
Giambattista Valli's always-glamorous collections have a very specific luxe-loving customer, and she will have been delighted with his collection on Monday. Again, avoiding the recession-driven hard looks of the rest of the pack, he stuck to his silken brocades, simple Sixties shapes and metallic palettes. Also sticking to her guns was the rock-chick-loving Barbara Bui, who sent a series of leather-clad biker girls down the catwalk with cowboy-style boots, leather dresses, lace-up trousers and iridescent, embellished skins making suits and frocks. When she strayed from this somewhat repetitive look, the results were impressive, with beautiful sequinned minis, red cityscape tees and a pewter knit, leaving us to wonder why she so rarely takes this route.
Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren know how to turn a theme on its head. They picked up on all the same ruffles, drapes and ruching as everyone else, but took it one step further and, with a backdrop of classical statues in stone drapery, they presented a series of brilliantly executed trompe l'oeil drapes, sewn in, printed on or origami-folded with the precision of stonemasonry. The colours (stone, granite, alabaster), the marble prints and the models' mask-like make-up made the comparison explicit, but it was no gimmick: fine tailoring and unusually subdued, tranquil silhouettes reminded the audience exactly what it is that makes Viktor & Rolf so wearable.
Their ideas may be conceptual, clever, even crazy, but the quality is never compromised. And while the same-same shapes and details may define the rest of the crowd's looks enough to date them quickly, the buys that prove to have real longevity will be those that are, well, different.