Paris Fashion Week: Day Seven
After a couture show heavy with history and references, the Valentino collection for Spring/Summer 2015 was about travelling light.
The moodboards backstage showed images of the Grand Tour – that 18th-century cultural journey taken by young aristocrats wanting to find the roots of Western civilisation.
“But it is not nostalgic; it was the idea of reflecting our past and thinking about a voyage – there is always a story,” said Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli backstage.
For the two Valentino co-designers, the theme seemed more like “See Naples and fly!”, as the show opened with what looked like travel clothes in bright navy blue with appropriate handbags.
They were followed by shift dresses that took the show back to the days when Valentino Garavani was creating the look for Jackie Kennedy Onassis.
Even when outfits became patterned and dressy, Roman sandals were the order of the day for padding around Herculaneum – or hosting a party.
The clothes swiftly slipped into the signature exquisitely worked and embellished fabrics, although a sea-blue or foam-white shirt would lighten the look. A sweater in coral and turquoise, worn over a long skirt, had just the casual attitude to look modern.
If the show had been pruned, it might have been a stand out. One theme was the long dress with intricate patterns, and it came out so many times that it seemed that the duo had never packed to travel on Easy Jet, where luggage is limited.
On the one hand, I admire Maria Grazia and Pierpaolo for their dedication to making beautiful clothes. One chiffon dress decorated simply with starfish was fresh and lovely.
But the show lost its impact because, like so many journeys, it felt too long.
The sound of the sea breaking over the shore set the tone for Elie Saab’s show, where ocean blue with an illuminated glistening surface gave a fresh feel to the Spring/Summer 2015 collection.
The show opened with naval stripes and bold, digital flower prints – not new to fashion, but pretty and colourful.
Many outfits had both a seashore vibe and a sense of energy, while pieces in beautifully worked lace seemed less influenced by eveningwear and more inspired by a mermaid’s fishnet.
The clothes seemed different from Saab’s more familiar cocktail and evening looks.
The sea was not always calm. There was a Tequila Sunrise of yellow shading to orange and lagoon green.
But whereas the gowns that ended the show might have been mermaid shaped, there were options: flirty, wide-legged shorts and simple streamlined dresses.
But one thing the evening clothes had in common was a sense of movement, as dresses were split open to the thigh, giving a sporty dynamic to the collection.
Alexander McQueen: A Geisha Fantasy
The invitation was placed with exquisite care inside a lacquered card, with the fragments of a Japanese flower print gleaming in pink and black.
The set included two voluptuous orchid sculptures by artist Marc Quinn, blossoming out of a black lacquered floor.
Sometimes you can capture the fragrance of a show before it starts. And so it was at Alexander McQueen, where designer Sarah Burton said that she had been inspired by a personal collection of antique treasures.
"It is a box of geisha kimonos I have collected for years,'' she explained backstage, as the fashion crowd took a closer look at what appeared to be black and white bead patterns on garments, but were in fact tiny snowballs of silk worked into geometric patterns.
The word "exquisite" kept coming to mind as the models in demi face masks walked the runway on their geisha-inspired lace-up sandals, carrying the weight of Japanese symbolism on light tunic dresses or, just occasionally, a fitted dress with the bodice a cage of leather straps.
If you took the pieces singly, they were all beautifully worked and very different: the flat, stiff silk surfaces, decorated with cups of flowers and squares which gave way to a softer vision of tiny cherry blossoms cascading down an evening dress.
Taken out of the context of the show, it was possible to envisage a black leather trench coat worn with plain black cigarette pants and the tunics used in a more sporty way.
Sarah Burton's adaptation of a different culture was a feat of the imagination: translating the compliant and stylised geisha of Japanese history into a more independent, modern figure, even with a touch of those McQueen warrior women in straps and helmets.
But Burton has to fight her instinct to make a tableau of each outfit, and instead integrate into her shows some of those well-tailored clothes she has designed for the Duchess of Cambridge, or recently, Amal Alamuddin Clooney. Otherwise, McQueen shows are in danger of seeming like drawings and dreams brought to life in cloth with fantastic workmanship - but not really of this world.