x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Paris Fashion Week: From ashes emerges the Gallic shrug

Paris fashion week continues with a feminine take on menswear at Chanel, ultra-pretty froth at Collette Dinnigan and pure Parisian chic at Rochas.

Chanel explores layering for its autumn/winter 2011 collection.
Chanel explores layering for its autumn/winter 2011 collection.

Who would have expected one of the emerging trends at Paris Fashion Week to be the use of a drawbridge? Yet just a few days after Viktor & Rolf let theirs down with a cranking mediaeval chain, Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel opened his show with a similar device, albeit this time a crisp white one embellished with a giant black double-c.

That was the only clean-looking moment of the show, though, the bridge being used to ease the models' way across the smoking volcanic ash and coals that sat beneath the catwalk. Those picking their way around the set beforehand might have had problems with their high heels - in fact, though, the show began a good 10 minutes earlier than expected (only 20 minutes later than the official start time, rather than the standard 30 minutes), which meant that a number of guests stuck in Champs-Elysée traffic, including Chanel favourite Clémence Poésy, watched from the sidelines, while others weren't allowed in at all.

The collection itself held to the sinister mood set by the ash, with models emerging from an artificial mist to the suspenseful strains of The Cure's A Forest, wearing lean, masculine looks. Trousers were runkled at the ankles over heavy boots, and the palette was steely in black, grey and smoky beading, with the odd accent of muted green or red. Lagerfeld has previously expressed an admiration of Haider Ackermann, and in the slim silhouettes and layering there was something of Ackermann's signature apocalypse-in-Paris style.

Not that this was anything other than pure Lagerfeld and pure Chanel: the tweed jackets, either skimpily fitted over longer garments or expanded into curved-shouldered capes, lent themselves surprisingly well to this otherwise scruffy look, and above the urchin boots with their slouched cuffs were some exquisitely pretty wisps of organza, and smudgy, sooty leaf prints. And if the short, wide trousers looked like an odd proportion, especially on the boiler suit towards the end, the majority of the pieces were - unlike the wide-shouldered masculinity peddled elsewhere this season and last - a slender, feminine take on menswear, and an appropriately punchy start to International Women's Day.

If femininity is what you seek, though, you won't find more of it than at Collette Dinnigan. The Australian designer is known for her ultra-pretty, girlie aesthetic and always-flattering looks - something that may not garner critical plaudits but will always find a devoted customer. For her autumn/winter show, in a gilded salon in Le Meurice, Dinnigan was in a darker mood, with a decorous, 19th-century feel to some of the pieces, including a series of dresses featuring skirts of black tulle appliquéd with soft black silk curlicues, held stiff from the body by lighter tulle underskirts. The courtly approach - apparently inspired by the equestrian world of Argentina's aristocracy - continued with rigid gold lace or black-beaded crochet, white guipure lace appliquéd over black organza and, in the final dress, black lace spiralling round a white tulle princess dress. Trend-tickers included a metallic blue skirt, a black velvet dress and a graphic blue-dot print on a long chiffon skirt, but the most successful pieces were those that were pretty, whimsical and pure Dinnigan.

The last days of fashion week offer a chance to attend the showrooms and see the clothes close-up - a useful exercise for designers such as Viktor & Rolf, for example, whose theatrical shows can obscure the beautiful detail and the eminently wearable silhouettes that the duo produce. Exploring the Rochas and Vionnet collections at close quarters also paid dividends. Rodolfo Paglialunga's collections for Vionnet are always ingenious and understatedly complex, while never losing sight of the house's signature geometric cuts, and his confidence seems to grow with every season. Highlights of the autumn/winter collections included the guipure lace painted in metallic blue; a series of very disco overdresses made from hundreds of strings of sequins; tops and dresses knitted from a variety of ribbons - grosgrain, mohair, silk; the "pagoda" pieces, based on the circle and featuring soft verdigris or cobalt silk quilted into swirling patterns; and a fabulous art deco print that appeared everywhere from a circle-skirted organza dress to a compact little clutch bag.

Rochas, meanwhile, was an exploration of the very concept of Parisian chic. Thus the designer Marco Zanini offered preppy little suits with slim trousers and A-line skirts, pressed silk ruffled skirts, lots of cashmere and mohair, art nouveau prints and simple, silky dresses in glamorous shapes but with pockets and visible zips. It was nonchalant, elegant and effortless: the sartorial equivalent of a Gallic shrug.