Paris Fashion Week Fall 2015: Day Four
Undercover: Surgical Operation
Out of a smoky haze came figures wearing sporty clothes cut and shaped with surgical precision: a white top moulding the torso, a tailored coat decorated with the image of a sharp-bladed knife.
Living up to the brand's name of Undercover, designer Jun Takahashi had a secret to unveil. The smiling faces, so unexpected at today's fashion shows, were created by 'plastic surgery': masks that gave the models a perpetual smile.
Other signals that these women might not be as they first seemed were the unfashionable jewels - the type of droopy fake stone necklaces you find in thrift shops.
By the time that smooth faces and bodies were blown up giant-size on the full length of a dress or long skirt, I realized that Takahashi had a point to make.
But he also produced finely cut clothes that - take away the digital prints and plasticised faces - made an exemplary modern collection.
With the precision of that surgeon's knife, the designer traced curves in a bomber jacket or shaped a peplum in a tailored top. The printed faces, unsettling as they were, fitted perfectly to the torso of a coat rounded at the shoulders. By the time that silken shawls were lapped around draped knits, there was a sense of timeless elegance.
I didn't really understand the message. Was it that faces might demand the elixir of youth - but clothes can be eternal? By the time that shards of 'glass' were sprinkled over trouser suits like fallen leaves, I just admired the artistry of it all. And Takahashi made his point: he can cut like a dream.
Chalayan: Murder Mystery
A fur coat with arms savagely sliced off, a cloche hat with one side removed - what cloak and dagger reason had Hussein Chalayan for creating this fashion crime?
As I looked at this finely crafted collection of streamlined clothes and slender evening dresses, I did not get the story - not even when patterns of snow appeared on a neatly tailored jacket, or patches of blood-red oozed across a slender evening dress.
But Hussein Chalayan solved the mystery backstage with two words: Agatha Christie.
Inspired by Murder on the Orient Express, the designer had taken elements of that famous story and its film version and absorbed the tension and the mystery into fine modern clothes.
The cloche hat was taken straight from the Thirties, but the other clues were subtle: the snow gathering into a storm, so essential to the novel's plot, was absorbed as a digital pattern. So were the mountain ranges. Yet neither seemed intrusive.
Chalayan has often worked with themes, and his skill as a tailor and draper have sometimes been lost in the complexity of this thoughts. But this was a textbook example of how to take inspiration and absorb it into clothes. Every fashion school should put it on the agenda for students to understand the sophistication and sensitivity of weaving ideas into output.
Yohji Yamamoto: Fashion Poet
Like a flower unfolding from tight bud to full bloom, a Yohji Yamamoto show is slow and graceful.
It always starts in the darkness of black and ends that way, although this season had flashes of colour, starting with mud brown and dark navy and then swelling to a crescendo of vermilion.
The poetry is as much in the make-up as the clothes, with twigs of black drawn beside the eyes for this season. But that framing was nothing compared to the scaffolding holding up the skirt of a dress like a crinoline.
I have seen these Yohji constructions before, yet they never cease to add an element of poetic grandeur as these contraptions are worn so lightly. One, especially, was noble in its silver whiteness, the foiled fabric stretched over slender branches. Then all that fairyland was brought down to earth with bright brogues with a hot pink toe cap.
Yes, Yohji also makes many 'normal' clothes, the most interesting in knitted ribbing surrounded by other kinds of worked wool in deep purple with lilac.
The designer's work is instantly recognisable but infinitely inventive. And that is his lasting strength.
Maison Margiela: Telling Stories
A young woman clutches her bag, lips smeared scarlet, her hair orange, and runs bent-double down the street. Her hat is pulled right down. Something is going on.
John Galliano has always been fashion's great story teller, the designer for whom the stage set alone once exuded heartfelt emotion.
And in a fashion season where a little madness could only be welcome, that is just what John produced for his first ready-to-wear collection for Maison Margiela.
Just what these young women were up to in their clothes of many colours was not clear. But just stepping out in a canary yellow ankle-length coat with DayGlo orange gloves was a fashion statement.
There is something disingenuous about dressing up "Les Girls" in swishing long coats over mini skirts and enough mascara to look like their eyes were closed. Another young woman had an almost-bare chest and Mary Jane shoes so big they might have belonged to an older sister.
What did all this have to do with the original Martin Margiela, who would have been unlikely to take a fluff of fur, dye it a weird colour and turn it into a shoe? The answer is: nothing. But normcore be damned! The fashion world still needs a designer to prove that dressing up is not so hard to do.
Balenciaga: Subversive Elegance
The curving bosoms, the raised waists, the full hips - and a diamond arrow alongside strings of pearls. It was all so very Cristóbal.
Since Alexander Wang's tenure as Creative Director at Balenciaga he has never before designed a collection with such a perfume of the past. The inspiration of the original Cristóbal Balenciaga, who died in 1972, was helped by Lady Gaga vogueing on the runway before the start of the show, while Gaga and Kate Moss then posed together, showing off the formal and the casual side of the brand today.
"I liked the idea of including heirloom things and pairing them together with embroideries - it's a subversive elegance," Wang said, to explain the mix of past and present.
This show was a big test for Wang, who has previously given the historic house his sporty touch. For Autumn/Winter 2015, as the creator of a camped-up Cristóbal, he came out with flying colours. That meant, literally, bright scarlet, although the basic look was of black and white checks to match the carpet on the catwalk.
The idea of memory - of taking the scent of the past and spraying it over the present - was done with dash and style. The show still had sleek workwear, with rounded coats worn over narrow pants. Although no woman in the Fifties would have dared to wear the trousers, there was still a faintly retro feel.
The more general look was of top and skirt, where a taut bodice was tucked into a skirt bunched at the waist, the models walking with that thrusting, greyhound gait of haute couture in its glory days.
Somehow, the show managed not to come across as a costume party. Maybe it was the cute shoes with a tiny court heel, or perhaps the exuberant overkill of jewellery.
Towards the end of the show, when Wang outlined a portrait neck with fur, there was a nobility to this couture look that had even the most jeans 'n' sneakers members of the audience dream of fashion life as it could, just maybe, still be today.
Dior: Animalistic And Architectural
"I'd like one of those suits, and a couple of those boots," Dior guest Dakota Johnson said. "The show was awesome, really edgy." The star of the moment in Fifty Shades of Grey might as well have said "Those boots", for all eyes at the Dior show were on the seductive footwear with Lucite heels that the designer Raf Simons had already shown in January's haute couture. Intriguingly, some of the finest pieces in this down-to-earth (or at least down-to-elegant city street) collection had elements from the past that the designer is making his own.
First, a long, shrug-on, fondant pink coat was an atavistic reminder of one that Raf had produced in his final collection for Jil Sander. The fashion world had imagined that exquisitely stream-lined tailoring was the reason for Dior choosing him as Creative Director. If that were so, President and CEO of LVMH, Bernard Arnault, sitting front row, must have rejoiced in this Dior collection, with a focus on real clothes with a few lively pops of ingenuity - like the wildly patterned body suit that was also grounded in couture. "I like the idea that couture provides the initial concept. I had so many reactions and it makes couture seem more modern," the designer said.
As an offering to Dior's luxury clients, this was a near-faultless collection. It had not just coats but credible trouser suits, long and shapely in their tweedy jackets, the trousers cropped above the ankle. The proportions may not be for everyone, but the 'off' tones of jewel-coloured tweed were compelling. "I wanted the collection to deal with nature and femininity in a different way," Raf said. "Away from the garden and the flowers to something more liberated, darker and more sexual."
I must admit that I did not feel that sexual charge (maybe I should have consulted Dakota!), nor did I think in any shape or form that this Dior collection changed the direction of modern fashion. I did think, however, that Raf was cutting closer to the body, and was bolder with his patches of coloured fur. I never forget that he started as a menswear designer and his womenswear collections still feel slightly like a work in progress.
But through this baptism by fire, Raf Simons is constructing a new Dior. It is all about architecture, not decoration, which runs counter to the style and skill of Christian Dior himself. But the two did meet in surprising places. Dior's fascination with leopard prints in 1947 - nearly seventy years ago - came back for Autumn/Winter 2015 as digitally blown-up animal prints. And the sexually-charged bodysuit? Dior reinvented the corset in his time to re-draw the feminine silhouette. In its way, that onesie is talking the same language.
Loewe: The Life Scientific
As the last silvered skirt and puddling trousers crossed the stone floor of the Unesco building at the Loewe show, I went backstage to get the designer's take on his collection. "Scientific!" exclaimed Jonathan Anderson. "It had to be something that felt new."
How to suggest to a 30-year-old designer that the bold pants, reflective surfaces, metallic materials and bright colours looked rather Eighties - the decade in which he was born? More to the point, did the collection look like Loewe, the noble Spanish brand with leather in the heart of its soul and indeed the soles of its shoes?
In previous menswear and womenswear collections, Jonathan has been making a good job of capturing Spanish elements - the sandy texture of an Ibiza beach or the stone walls of a Madrid bridge. But if there were references here, I did not grasp them. A metallic silver top and royal blue pleated skirt? A Costa del Sol nightclub perhaps. A softly pleated cream top? Elegant for strolling the Rambla in Barcelona. Black broken lines on a red skirt? A Gaudi reference or a circuit board? Whatever.
I don't want to assign any outfit, like a long striped coat over patent-leather scarlet pants, to a Spanish monument, but I want to feel Spain, the nobility of its elderly gentlemen; the heat and dust; the horses' hooves on rough terrain; the green verdure and blue water. I got a taste of that in the Loewe accessories, such as the blue and white racing stripes across the toes of knee-high riding boots.
The colours that seemed so plastic for the clothes were splendid for the bags and ringlet belts. A bright blue squishy bag, a yellow envelope clutch, a green belt and even a beige bag with looped leather handles all seemed right for Loewe. Even the modernist jewellery was striking. Jonathan Anderson has a real flare for accessories. Maybe he should let the dazzling Spanish sun go down on the eye-popping colours and surfaces of his clothes and let the accessories shine.
Issey Miyake: Letting Off Digital Steam
Issey Miyake, the brand's founder, always had a sense of drama in his presentation. I remember many shows that brought the clothes to life in a spectacular way.
So it is good to see that Yoshiyuki Miyamae, who now holds the reins as Artistic Director, producing shows that enchant as well as inform.
When models in short skirts twirled around, the fabric unfolding to full length as if by magic, I recalled the many ways this company, over the years, has taken a presentation beyond mere clothing.
But the great skill of the current designer is to create performance art, this season using a Japanese musician and singer, and to concentrate visually on the way the collection takes shape in colour and texture.
It started with 3D Steam Stretch fabric technology developed by the Miyake company. The technique is that material pre-woven with 'mountain and valley' folds, becomes, under steam, permanent three-dimensional patterns.
It sounds complex, even weird, yet the effect was rich and colourful, with the depth of shades in plum, moss, and purple quite eye-popping. The designer explained the processes in show notes. The important part was that Miyamae and his Tokyo team have taken three seasons to perfect this textural revolution.
Like a fine artist, who mixes colours on his palette and works with pattern and texture, Miyamae made major visual impact while at the same time creating wearable outfits.
I hope that customers receive information about this 21st-century clothing when they shop at Miyake, and appreciate how smart it was of Issey to find a designer as ready as its founder for experimentation - but with all the fresh energy of a new generation steeped in technology.
Maiyet: Fashion's Bravehearts
The atmosphere was so peaceful at the Maiyet show that the hurried and flurried fashion crowd sank into the seats to enjoy the setting by architect David Adjaye, who created a canopy out of 10,000 metres of ribbon. Add the gentle music of Brooklyn-based composer Bryce Dessner and the scene was set for this company, which has succeeded in doing good while making fine clothes.
The knitwear told an exemplary story: a thick, fringed tunic with black and white woven checks, the woollens sustainably sourced from Bolivian and Peruvian cashmere goat-herders. Maiyet's founders, Kristy Caylor and Paul van Zyl, have strived - and succeeded - to avoid making this a do-good brand for so-called "pity purchasing". Their clothes and accessories are luxury products, all first rate in design and make.
Yet there was something half-hearted about this collection's embrace of Scotland. (Hence the knitwear focus.) The Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh was an inspiration for Kristy. "He was an architect and an artist and he did these beautiful floral motifs, combined with linear patterns, both Art Nouveau and Modernist," she said, adding that the cliffs and rolling hills of Scotland also influenced the collection. The designer used well the artist's flat roses and geometric tropes as subtle decoration.
The show never seemed to find the rough wildness of the Highlands, but it offered appealing clothes.