x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Galliano brings theatre to the catwalk

At Paris Fashion Week Galliano brings theatre to the catwalk

John Galliano's Spring-Summer 2011 ready-to-wear show.
John Galliano's Spring-Summer 2011 ready-to-wear show.

You couldn't ask for a greater contrast than that between Céline and John Galliano, the two biggest shows of the day. Phoebe Philo's three seasons at Céline have forged a strong identity for the brand: pure lines, neutral colours and minimalist tendencies. The spring/summer 2011 collection - shown in the utilitarian environs of the Tennis Club de Paris - refined this approach, taking it beyond the merely tasteful and flattering into a brilliantly clear, future-luxe vision; a sort of more relaxed version of Jil Sander.

Like other designers this season, Philo has gone for the simplest, squarest of shapes, devoid of the fluttering chiffons and scrunched-up ruching that remains modish. High-necked, chest-flattening tops fell to a lower waist than before, where they met mannish white wide-legged trousers that billowed over sandals. A low-rise shape, sitting on the hips, these trousers are made for drifting immaculately and serenely through Essaouira or Fez - perfect summer pieces. When reworked to a kind of bleu de travail effect, flat-fronted with an exposed gold zip, the collection hit on that south-of-France mood that so many designers are channelling.

It wasn't all neutrals - blue-and-green-striped silks were also used for skirts (below the knee) and pyjama-style trousers - but it was the textural combinations that really stood out: burnished leather next to crisp, blue cotton; starched-solid shirts and almost translucent slouchy trousers; a knotty, thick cream knit over white cotton so crisp it looked like hospital scrubs. It was an immensely wearable collection, and lovely for its fad-free lines, but nevertheless somewhat humourless, and it was a relief to return to the reliably extravagant Galliano.

As the crowd took their seats in the tiny golden jewel box that is the theatre of the Comédie-Française, a Belle Époque masterpiece, it was clear the great man had something wildly theatrical up his sleeve. When the models coquettishly traversed the catwalk to a melancholy string quartet version of Snow Patrol's Chasing Cars, followed by The Man Who Sold the World, there was a palpable thrill in the room. Shorn of the parameters of the Dior house, Galliano sometimes seems a little lost in his own prodigious imagination, but this time, while the dramatic make-up and hair and uninhibited styling were all present and correct, there were also plenty of luscious pieces in the vein of early 20th-century bohemian decadence, inspired by the con-artist-turned-artist's-muse Maria Lani.

Tulle-trimmed bonnets may not make easy dressing, but the silvery hobble-skirted frocks, Poiret-inspired orientalist silks, opium-den kimonos and layer after layer of spangled, bias-cut ruffles were exquisite and wearable, as were the simple jackets, belted high over the bust and worn with super-wide trousers. The silks were printed kimono-style, either pale and painterly or in rich peacock blue with cherry-blossom patterns, and the beading and embellishment of the eveningwear was as delicately intricate as the antique pieces from that era now to be found in museums.

It's always hard returning to earth after a piece of Galliano showmanship, but return we did with an eminently approachable, if far from groundbreaking, collection from the Australian designer Martin Grant. The colours, limited to black, beige, brown, red and fuchsia, felt rather dark, even wintery, and his silhouettes inclined, as always, towards the simple. Some lovely coats and a couple of va-va-voom dresses in pink lifted the mood, but there were moments when it felt more middle-aged than minimalist. With Grant, of course, the skill is in the cutting, and no doubt these pieces will shine on the rails.

Running concurrently with Fashion Week are a number of fashion trade shows where designers who do not show on the catwalk rely on being able to sell their pieces from the clothes rails, and the Vendome Luxury show in Le Meurice is where I caught up with the Qatari designer Lama El-Moatassem, whose collection Toujouri sells around the Middle East and at Harrods. Her collection, an accomplished combination of eastern embellishment and western shapes, is in fact best seen at close quarters. Exceptional tribal beading, executed in Mumbai, some vivid colours - particularly orange and cobalt blue - and fluid silks are her trademark, but her standout piece was a reworking of a black silk jumpsuit with a brightly beaded belt, that has the drape and length of a maxi-dress. Hers may not be a household name yet, but this is definitely a collection to seek out in the UAE next spring.