Paris Fashion Week starts will frilly looks and reworked themes.
Favourite looks and themes reworked
Having enjoyed a rare couple of days' break after Milan's shortened schedule, the fashion pack began Paris Fashion Week refreshed - and many of the designers treated them to suitably rebooted collections, from Balenciaga's back-to-Ghesquière-basics looks to the fresh, floating parachute silks and organzas that appeared at many shows. The mood so far is pared-down, relaxed and, above all, wearable, as houses fight to keep their customers in the still-shaky retail scene.
Thus even avant-garde hardliners such as Rick Owens and Gareth Pugh sent out softened, more romantic versions of their usual garb. The big surprise was at Maison Martin Margiela, where (with Pugh in the front row, a few seats down from this season's Paris perennial Rihanna) the studiously odd ensembles of yesteryear were replaced by crisply sculpted and ethereally shredded little frocks, jackets and bodies in white, grey and chemically bright green and blue. These were not commercial or run-of-the-mill, by any means, but their extraordinary constructions and deconstructions acted as a timely reminder of Margiela's mastery of his craft, something that can be obscured by his more gimmicky collections.
When we're talking about fashion masters in Paris, of course, there are few who can get a crowd as excited as John Galliano, and the scrum to photograph celebrities such as Dita Von Teese and (naturally) Rihanna before the show began was as integral a part of the Dior presentation as the full catwalk strut executed by Galliano in lieu of a bow at the end. Yet for all the yells and cheers at the end, and the dramatically staged gangster set at the start, it was not one of the house's most memorable shows. Perhaps autumn's wonderful Eastern promise had set the bar high, but this felt like a reworking of some old favourites, with several styles showing up from last summer. Still, the legions of Dior customers will be delighted with the beautifully cut 1940s-style silken lingerie dresses, inspired by Lauren Bacall and film noir, which were certainly pretty and delicate; and the long, sheer skirts drifting from corsetry, in bright synthetic colours, that made for dramatic evening wear.
Most enticing were the tiny metallic trench, springing from a belted waist, that opened the show and a silvery short-sleeved jacket, both echoing the voluptuous drapes of Dior's couture collection shown in July. Another celebrity magnet, Lanvin, presented an exquisite collection at the Halle Freyssinet, the 1920s concrete bunker that biannually sees troops of heeled fashionistas totter through a seamy part of Paris to the hoots and whistles of amused locals. With an apparently thrilled Janet Jackson looking on, Alber Elbaz sent out short, fluid frocks, drapey jumpsuits and ruffled tailoring that reworked the themes of his autumn/winter collection in lighter, silkier fabrics. As a soundtrack, a remix of the dramatic Ravel String Quartet in F major set the tone for a parade of silhouettes that were bold and clean but darkly passionate, with pieces such as the strong-shouldered tuxedo jacket, its sleeves modishly pushed up, likely to become seasonless favourites. As designers struggle to identify what consumers will be buying during the messy short term, Elbaz seemed to neatly bridge the gap between want-it-now deliciousness (the spangled trousers and bugle-bead dresses spring to mind) and more-bang-for-your-buck long-term wearability.
A venue that could not be further from the Halle Freyssinet was the tiny salon at Nina Ricci off the Avenue Montaigne, where the designer Peter Copping, formerly Marc Jacobs' second at Louis Vuitton, presented his much-anticipated first collection for the brand. With the genius of Olivier Theyskens to live up to, it was a good start: the graceful character of the venerable brand was fully explored through delicately ruffled skirts, frilled lace, tulle and chiffon dresses and raggedy cashmere and cotton leggings, all in soft shades of oyster, apricot and nude, decorously punctuated by black and navy. Where fabrics were less fragile (as in a stiff cotton coat), they were washed and faded instead. A series of elegantly constructed evening gowns revealed some immaculate cutting, the cloqué silk and washed satin draping languidly from the body.
Those nude shades, together with restrained monochrome, were prevalent on almost every catwalk, occasionally spiced up with some colour blocking. One of the most successful takes was at Bruno Pieters, a growing presence on the Paris circuit. The Antwerp designer took many cues from his fellow Belgian and former employer Martin Margiela, yet in his minimalist, functional style produced an eminently wearable (albeit rigorously body-conscious) selection of pieces that very much chimed with the week's more cerebral themes.
At the other end of the scale, Gaspard Yurkievich threw himself fully at the sultry languor of a hot, hot summer, with crisp, cool dresses, belted jackets, bucket hats and cropped trousers in plain cottons and faded florals, the collection lifted by a droopy beaded flapper dress in tan and some sparkling prints. The final dress, a long, billowing, gossamer-light silk gown with antique-gold frills to the collar, was an excellent encapsulation of the first shows of the week: pale and simple, but with just enough sparkle to entice.