Suzy Menkes at Couture: Day Two
GIAMBATTISTA VALLI: A COCO CONCOCTION
'I always build my collection around a woman - and this time it's two women - Coco Chanel and Janis Joplin,' said Giambattista Valli, as he talked backstage about his double inspiration.
On the runway, set with squares of flowered carpet, the tug was between elegance on Coco's side - white ruffled prettiness and discreet black veils - and the sportier look of tailored trousers under dresses.
No, that was not quite how the Woodstock crowd would have dressed, but the mannish cuts set against fluffy female prettiness created a powerful combo.
Giambattista's collections are increasingly light and airy. Each season as he perfects his techniques, he also scores in his understanding of how his young, stylish, international crowd want to dress.
The designer may have the burden of paying the no-doubt hefty bills for his self-funded house. But he also has the freedom of a lack of heritage.
The concoction he has created of light embellishment, and a way of making even an evening gown move with the body, is intelligent and artful. His colour palette, too - lemon sorbets, the palest raspberry and primrose yellow - look good enough to eat.
Set against more substantial, but enticing, embroidery, there is a genuine offer of haute couture from this designer.
And since Chanel looks kept popping up in the show, I suddenly thought of Giambattista, some time in the distant future, moving into Coco territory. Now there is a fashion thought ...
DIOR: DIPPING THROUGH THE DECADES
At Dior's haute couture, the models' hemlines dipped through the decades: a swirl of a skirt from the Fifties; short, bright and striped from the Sixties.
And those tasteless Seventies? There were catsuits, shimmering in silver or multi-coloured jacquard, competing for attention with shoes where chunky transparent heels gave some height.
Raf Simons's couture for Christian Dior was a conundrum - the handwork so beautiful that you wondered which fairy fingers could have pressed flowers into a translucent plastic coat; or embroidered tiny sequins on guipure lace.
As the models walked down the scaffolding ramp set, you could tell that each stripe, each decoration - even the double rings that tied the ponytails - were works of art. Front row guests such as Natalie Portman with Benjamin Millepied gazed in wonder at each vertiginous descent.
The show could be called retro and David Bowie's voice from across the decades rang through the room. Yet there was still a streamlined, modern feel, even to full skirts, when teamed with a racy sporty top.
"Last time we went right back into the past, and I thought it would be interesting to imagine three decades together: the romance of the Fifties, the courage of the Sixties and the liberty of the Seventies,'' said Raf backstage. He was referring to last season's haute couture, which had taken themes from the eighteenth-century through to the moon landing.
Like any journey, there were dynamic, speedy passages, others less sure-footed - and some trip-ups. Perhaps the scaffolding set was significant, suggesting a work in progress.
I do not think of Raf as a romantic or a decorator - rather, as an architect. Yet the puffed-up skirts were sweetly beautiful. They looked good, too, as part of an extended circle, the skirt cut in pleated hoops in vivid shades of grass green, orange, yellow, red and a line of navy.
Cutting the sweetness with popping colours modernised the effect, not least with acid-bright vinyl boots.
The short skirts seemed more of a problem, although a tailored lemon-yellow coat was cute. Even when the same striped pleats were used, the thigh-high boots, as if from the set of 1968 movie Barbarella, made me doubt Dior's journey into space.
While I don't think that Raf Simons quite hit the target, there is a sense of energy at the house. Monsieur Dior would have said it with flowers in the most conventional way. The current designer has a more radical point of view.
And although I did not have a chance to go to the studio, I would imagine that the "petite mains", or, seamstresses, would be invigorated by doing new things with embroidery and paillettes.
And the catsuits? So-called onesies are currently all the fashion rage - so why not a twenty-first-century haute couture version?
SCHIAPARELLI: FUTURE PERFECT?
With France's former first lady Carla Bruni sitting front row with her good friend Farida Khelfa, a pink glow suffused the Schiaparelli show - right up to the windows which designer Jean-Paul Goude had created in memory of his famous Chanel 1990 Egoiste ad.
All the key 'Schiap' codes were there: sharp tailoring, funky hats, witty prints and dresses smothered in bows like so many kisses.
But on this second day of the summer couture season, there was no named designer. And the truth is, she/he was not really missed.
This show seemed less historical and fresher than the previous remake of Elsa's codes by Marco Zannini - although he should be credited for establishing a workable heritage out of Schiap's flamboyant life.
The show opened with a streamlined white pantsuit, with embroidered pins as decoration and a tasselled Moroccan hat. It continued with a few day outfits and a focus on the back - especially huge, flat bows, or perhaps a stamp of hands around the spine.
The prints were from Schiap's heritage: exploding stars, hearts stabbed with pins, a padlock embroidered on a pocket and shaded effects worked on grass-green satin. Mesh, draped around, looked like a leftover from the past.
Programme notes listed the intricacy of the details, proof that this is couture.
Missing was any new look or any glancing reference to the modern, digital world - nothing so crass as cell phones or laptop prints was needed; but perhaps a hint of current times.
For that, you would need to delve into a creative designer's heart and mind.
But Diego Della Valle, who is behind the relaunch of the Schiap label, believes that there are enough books, drawings and other archive information from the life of the designer who pitted herself against Coco Chanel in the 1930s.
"We may bring in very young designers fresh from college, but it will be about working together,'' said the executive before the show.
The system worked this season. But the challenge for any famous brand is the same: to find in a noble past a dynamic future.