Paris Fashion Week: Day Three
Dior’s July couture show was so stunningly original with its mix of decades, dense embroidery and historical details, that it was impossible to imagine another round of Marie Antoinette in outer space from designer Raf Simons.
So anyone who had witnessed that fashion moment could only pick over the entrails of embroidery at the ready-to-wear, and marvel at the studio skills that turned fantasy into reality.
“I had so much reaction to the couture, I wanted it to reach not just couture clients,” said Simons backstage, wearing a sweater from his menswear collaboration with American artist Sterling Ruby.
Even as ready-to-wear light, the show was striking, as models in egg-shaped hoop skirts paraded through one of four shiny circles, my own inhabited by Carla Bruni, Marion Cotillard, Dakota Fanning, Li Bingbing and Natalie Dormer from Game of Thrones.
In one way it was fascinating to see how the couture had morphed from clothes with a perfume of history into just a bright, sleeveless redingote with a single line of embroidery at the diaphragm. The richness of colour, from bordeaux to marigold, suggested the gilded glamour of Dior, especially with the contrast of sporty white shorts.
There was a lot of white. And milkmaid dresses. Frilled at the neck and with cuffed sleeves, they looked like they might be a safer sell as nightdresses.
Raf Simons has got the hang of Dior, positioning it for a young, modern, international woman who wants her clothes to party, to travel – and maybe even to work – as hard as she does. Those categories were served by black lacy dresses, tailored pantsuits with geometric cuts on the jacket and slightly flared short coats, all shown with booties.
I picked out a bomber jacket with a subtly frilled collar and pink flowers that looked like 18th-century bedroom curtains.
For turning couture fantasy into luxury shop-floor reality, the show could not be faulted.
But I still missed that surge of imagination that a few months ago had taken the haute couture into another, magical place.
Issey Miyake: A Gentle Storm
I was expecting a full-on tempest – a wild tornado whooshing through an Issey Miyake collection entitled ‘Windscape’.
But the collection from designer Yoshiyuki Miyamae was not so much about violence, rather, the inspiration he drew from gentler gusts or, as he put it, “ripples that dapple the surface of seas or the ever-changing contours of majestic sand dunes.”
So that is why a soft white cloud of fabric like surfing foam, with a different version in sunny yellow, was the designer’s look from the latest Miyake fabric invention, 3D steam stretch.
Never mind the technical details, developed from the famous Miyake pleats. The essence is what the audience saw: steam-stretched fabric transformed with contours and creases.
Some of the garments were so effective that I was convinced I was seeing knitwear. Or that the bobbles on a white jacket, top and shorts were done in one of those haute couture, quilted silken fabrics.
The designer is following the master in experimenting from his generational standpoint, creating black and white Madras patterns for a modernised pantsuit or easy ankle-length dress.
Yoshiyuki Miyamae has also started a tradition of live music, channelled through what looked like magnetic cassette tape connected to helium balloons.
In an era when fashion designers constantly have their heads in reference books, reworking the Thirties, Forties or those dreaded Seventies, how refreshing it is to see this eager young designer face-to-face with the future, just like the great Issey Miyake himself.
Chalayan: A Moorish Story
The set of the Chalayan show was a Moorish trellis that first reflected on the floor then was later found on dress patterns.
The finale was an elegantly patterned dress with an illustration of a woman in a grey burka with her eyes peering out.
But no, said a puzzled Hussein Chalayan backstage, there was no link between this and his seminal collection of 16 years ago, when the models appeared in simple black cloth and in various states of undress, but for a covered head. That collection has gone down in fashion history and is now, in the light of attitudes that have developed in Arab states, seen as discomfortingly clairvoyant.
So you have to believe Chalayan when he denies any connection with this previous collection. His face blanked and he said that the inspiration for this season was the relationship between Spain and the Maghreb.
There were hints of North Africa in prints and embroideries of orange trees, or the patterns found in Moorish architecture on both sides of the Mediterranean.
Apart from one dress unrolling to create a longer skirt, this was Chalayan light: black outfits to start offered glimpses of leg through the split side of a long skirt, and there were many light, pretty dresses with portrait necklines and sun hats in filmy fabrics.
These often expressed the nobility of Spanish women and there was the shadow of Morocco in the trellis prints.
So all this was just a light and airy summer collection. Yet Chalayan named it ‘Moorish Gaze’. And there was something faintly unsettling about that title.
Loewe Breathes Some Fresher Air
A new day has dawned for Loewe, the Spanish fashion house that LVMH has put in the hands of Irish designer Jonathan Anderson.
“It’s about reaffirming the codes of the house, but bringing lightness and air – that’s why I wanted to do the show in the morning. It’s about daywear and seeing a character in the landscape.”
The designer waved his arm towards the modernist Unesco headquarters where the models walked along the outside terraces.
But like the men’s Loewe collection and the label’s advertising, these women in their sandy suede coats with flakes of the same material across the body were more likely to be found in that hang-out Ibiza, than Loewe’s ancestral home of Madrid.
Later in the show, a shredded bag was even more hippie-de-luxe.
Jonathan Anderson has been designing for women for only four years, but has got the point at Loewe.
The Spanish house is famed for leather, which the designer had treated to make it soft and pliable, while silk scarf patterns from the archives were printed onto Latex.
Without any overt reference to the Seventies, Anderson caught that vibe with hand-worked pieces of colourful leather which might form a neckpiece or a surface decoration.
The collection focused on tailored trousers, especially in vivid colours and taut sweaters paired with them.
The clothes were credible, and so were the bags, which are still the heart of the matter.
Maison Martin Margiela: Lost in Translation
he question of whether couture can translate into ready-to-wear was raised by the Dior show.
A couple of hours later, the same issue cropped up at Maison Martin Margiela.
The beauty of the house’s July “Artisanal” show, with its patchworks of historic fabrics arranged to reveal tiny slithers of flesh, was lost in translation.
The premise for Summer 2015 seemed to be, to start, the stretchy gauze that had punctuated “Artisanal”, but now in a starring role.
The hosiery-type fabric stretched here and there over the skin, opening not so much a little window but a wide door on thinly veiled nudity.
Underthings were then blotted out by angular pieces of fabric. This was often rather successful, as when a skirt wrapped around the thighs – not unlike a beach sarong. Yet fabric sliced on a triangle across one thigh was a repetitive and often awkward look.
The semi-nudity faded away as the show developed with prize pieces made of densely patterned fabric. There was plenty to like in the collection, but not to love.
Yohji Yamamoto: A Sweet Disorder in the Dress
Frank, fearless and free, Yohji Yamamoto decided to go where he had never gone before. “I wanted it to be sexy!” announced the designer known for purity, if not prudishness. His exploration of skin, so far, had been brief glimpses of flesh, often as a flash at the back.
But here was an entire collection based on what the French call “d?shabill?”, which was once described by an English poet as “a sweet disorder in the dress.”
So there were Yohji’s familiar 50 shades of black, with a shoulder falling out of a dark slithery column, a sober long skirt, the pattern burnt out to give a hazy vision of the flesh beneath. Trousers turned down at the top displayed a bared midriff. A tuxedo, with one side sliced off, revealed the length of a bared leg.
As the models wound in and out of the audience, who were perched on small, silver stools, the tension built up: from dangling undone threads to silvered mesh and a shower of golden tinsel, then gold satin slipping off the shoulders and gold gleaming from boots at the feet.
This unexpected exploration of erotica was daring only by Yohji’s standards. With the slow pace as the models moved sinuously around the clutter of stools, I thought first about the movie The Piano, and then about those erotic Japanese drawings hidden in the corners of museums.
Yohji’s long courtship with sensuality ended with a bride, fully clothed and decked out in flowers, as the smiling designer doffed his hat to love.
Undercover: From Light to Darkness
The show started with balletic beauties in pastel crinolines and finished with black birds. Or, as the designer Jun Takahashi put it: “The girls start innocent, then they gradually show their darker side.”
There was a lot else on display at this compelling show, starting with giant rosy cherries on the runway, one of which was sculpted into a skull.
A feeling of menace was interspersed among the well-designed, sporty clothes, such as a feminised trench coat or bomber jacket. The proportions of these pieces were subtly altered to refresh their classic shapes.
When live, digitised images blinked out of pockets or the sides of handbags. I thought it must be some new Apple gadget.
Then I grasped the storyline: Adam and Eve and all that.
But Takahashi is an intriguing designer who puts layers of thought and ideas into his collections. Dresses printed with images from Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights added another page to the idea of innocence descending into decadence.
The show ended with clothes as black as crows – with large black feathers to reinforce the illusion.
Young designers across the world should study Undercover’s collections, because they are always a lesson in research, imagination and originality, yet they are still made up of comprehensible clothes.