Paris Fashion Week Fall 2015: Day Eight
Chanel: Brasserie Gabrielle
The waiters in their starched collars, black ties and aprons outshone the guests grabbing a morning coffee at the Brasserie Gabrielle.
The carved wooden bar, tables and chairs installed as a set by Chanel at the Grand Palais was Instagram heaven – until the show started and the models took over.
They were wearing their versions of neckties or ankle-length aprons over long skirts and pants – and carrying ‘plates’ that turned out to be the chic handbag of the season.
“I wanted something very French, and what is more French than a brasserie?” said Karl Lagerfeld. “And it had to be done by someone like me, because if it were done by a French person it would look like a patriotic act.”
The café-society frolic was yet another stage performance from the master, following his art gallery and supermarket themes of previous seasons. But this was really a way for Karl to focus firmly on daywear. It is a long time since there has been so much wool, tweed and what looked like padded, puffed-up jackets on the Chanel runway.
Was it a step in a new direction? The models were wearing the slingback two-tone Coco shoes that Karl told me he had not used once in over 30 years at Chanel. (Better order a pair right now – they’re bound to be the fashionable footwear of the season.)
Karl said that the inspiration was those industrious waiters in their black ties, but that the context made the scene deliberately “more day-to-day and a little more dowdy”.
Well he said it!
If it had not been for the fun accessories, like collars crocheted to look like paper doilies, and the general amusement of watching models act out their parts, the clothes themselves may have seemed quite dull and even frumpy. A Chanel puffer jacket anyone?
But then having had the opportunity to speak to Karl at the studio, I discovered nuggets of invention hidden in this collection.
The parkas were, in fact, delicately made with quilted leather; knitted dresses were shaped by those magic ‘petites mains’, to follow the body shape and flare out at the knee-length hem.
Karl was smart to have the models hang out at the bar, so that the audience could see up-close the knitted weave of a rosebud-pink dress, the pendant medallion pressed like Chanel quilting, or the double ‘C’ pin in the hair.
Maybe the truth is that everyday life can be quite dull – even if you are wearing Chanel. Perhaps Karl thought it was time for a reality check for the fantasies of high fashion. And for clients who might want a lighter, brighter more fairy-tale collection – there is always haute couture.
Valentin Yudashkin: A Russian Forest
But the designer put just the right amount of primitive forest on his runway, splicing those references with streamlined clothes for international travellers – not least his glamorous front row guests.
The show opened with the flame red that became a motif of the collection, but as trousers with a long, shapely jacket or a satin bustier, these colours were just brief mentions of the burning effects to come.
Yudashkin’s sharp cutting was enhanced by metallic fabrics that put a sheen on his tailoring. Velvet absorbed darker tones in colours like ink blue and forest green.
I liked the poetry of a motif of velvet autumnal leaves on a bomber jacket or tunic. The designer delved deeper into the winter woods with a rich embellishment of ostrich feathers with holograms.
But Yudashkin’s skill was to embrace Russian folklore with those stag antlers rising from the bodice of a billowing evening gown, which would still have international appeal.
Whaaaaaat! It’s Ben Stiller. Ben Stiller! Doing his Zoolander thing. And there, on the parallel runway is someone in softly patterned silk pyjamas – Owen Wilson, prepping with Stiller for the sequel to the popular fashion-world spoof from 2001.
Backstage, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, the Valentino designers, explained that the sequel was set to be filmed in Rome, the city where the label’s founder established his fashion house in the Sixties.
Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson
As I looked at the mood board, I had another wild moment. There was a photo of Sigmund Freud’s couch, and the cover of his book, The Interpretation of Dreams.
Whatever thoughts the designer duo had – hosting a movie star on the runway, or realising their own dreams – they gave a very fine show.
The storyline, told in weave, colour and streamlined cut, came in various segments: first black-and-white geometry and then those plain black dresses, but less nun-like than in some earlier Valentino collections.
Soon, intense patterns appeared with red as the primary colour, framed in lace.
The designers said they had two inspirations: Emilie Louise Flöge, a couturier and life companion to Gustav Klimt; and Celia Birtwell, with a similar profile as textile and fashion designer, and the wife of consummate Swinging Sixties designer Ossie Clark.
The show could be described as reality versus dreams. A series of slender black or white dresses that flanked the beginning and the end, contrasted with the dense decoration.
Some of the evening dresses with their minute workmanship and dense patterns had an unearthly glow that put them in the category of dreams – whether visually or metaphorically.
This Valentino ability to turn fantasy into reality was as mesmerising as seeing those pop-up stars from the movies.
Alexander McQueen: A Rose By Any Other Name
It was only a rose – flat and blush pink on the bodice of a dress, or weeping its dying petals off a scarlet gown.
But with that flower, Sarah Burton spun poetry out of threads and cloth at the Alexander McQueen show.
While McQueen’s legacy is indeed the savage beauty that the exhibition title suggests, from her feminine perspective Sarah proved that dying can be as beautiful as life for her floral symbols.
“It’s the idea of beauty in imperfection,” said the designer, who was inspired by the drawings of Egon Schiele, and William Blake’s poem “The Sick Rose”.
But this was not a study in nature’s decadence. The show opened with a black embossed coat, tightly belted, though a spray of pink pleats and a rosy fur collar soon suggested how the clothes would all graciously open up.
The tailoring, as ever at McQueen, was exquisitely fine, nuanced towards the bodice, where a tiny lace brassiere or petal-shaped piece of mesh on the torso revealed flesh and suggested a loosening of control.
Then came dresses, the most beautiful with chiffon pieces in tatters, or with the back left unbuttoned right down the spine.
While black leather and lace faced off the floral prettiness, the mood was still sensual, especially as breast buttons burst open to display lace and skin.
Sarah, as much as her mentor, is a romantic. A flurry of roses, the blooms torn to shreds, covered the final dresses. Paul Weller’s voice, singing “English Rose”, echoed up to the arched ceiling – and so did the applause.
Iris van Herpen: “Hacking Infinity”
The shoes were crystal clusters on which the models’ feet were precariously balanced.
The dresses were mesh, but with an other-worldly effect, as though they had landed from outer space onto planet fashion.
But this was not just yet-another version of a space journey, inspired by the Sixties moon landing. It was Iris van Herpen’s exceptional research into fabric, and its performance for 2015 and into the unknown future.
For the first time, the Dutch designer put on a show that looked like fashion – not just some excursion into the digital universe. Yet behind the dresses, either slim and short or flaring out gently above the knees, were extraordinary inventions.
“The collection is called ‘Hacking Infinity’, and its overall inspiration is the creation of a biosphere on another planet,” said Iris. “It is on the edge of science-fiction reality. It is possible, and they are working on it. But this was my fantasy of what people could look like and how materials could evolve, and how silhouettes could change. So really it is the fantasy of living on another planet.”
I was utterly bemused by this explanation, so I asked Iris about the fabrics, which often had an ethereal, reflective quality, or looked as though they were created from metal. The latter was correct: it was a translucent, super-light, stainless steel weave.
Since these otherworldly fabrics were used for tops and thin trousers, there was a basic normality to the collection – discounting perhaps the heel-less 3D cluster shoes, which looked like a volcanic eruption. They were made in collaboration with Japanese shoe designer Noritaka Tatehana.
The backstory in fabrics was extraordinary. Nothing in four weeks of collections had prepared me for Iris’s explanation of the “burnt oil mesh”.
“We have been creating the collage that you see by fire only, so there is no paint or anything in it,” she said. “We created a really thin metal reef from stainless steel, and we literally melt it with fire, burning it, and we can decide the amount of heat. This is all hand burnt, so each colour that you see is done by fire.”
I know little about these scientific processes, but I have the greatest respect for Iris and her trail of discovery.