Best of Paris Fashion Week

The Paris Spring 2012 shows got off to a great start with Dries Van Noten. Taking his cue from Spanish and Italian couture from the fifties (most notably Cristobal Balenciaga), the designer married structured shapes with prints inspired by nature, 17th-century etchings, and the after-dark cityscapes of English photographer James Reeve in this wonderfully elegant-yet-unconventional collection.

Meanwhile, at the actual Balenciaga show, collapsing benches were not enough to detract from designer Nicolas Ghesquière’s latest outing, which gave classic wardrobe staples – jeans, shorts, the denim jacket, the white T-shirt – a luxe makeover by way of fluid volume and gorgeous colorblocking, some worn with the mod, sloped-brim hat popularized by Cristobal B. himself back in the late sixties. Meanwhile, Rick Owens stuck to his modernist guns with long, column-like “pillar” skirts and easy cocoon dresses in shades of white, black, grey, and rust with a heavy focus on the arms and shoulders. The result? A covered up – and unconventional – take on sexy dressing.

The news at Balmain (in addition to this being the debut collection of 26-year-old designer Olivier Rousteing following Christophe Decarnin’s departure last season): the house is veering away from Decarnin’s heavy metal leanings and embracing its more traditional couture past. The offerings are still edgy (think crystal-encrusted minis, suede and leather blazers, and pale denim maxi skirts inspired by the glitz, glamour, and grit of Las Vegas), but there’s a newfound softness that will likely appeal to a wider range of women.

Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci eschewed print this season in favor of sea- and surf-inspired colors (watery blue, foamy white, seashell pink) and details (blouses with waves of undulating ruffles, scuba pants, eelskin peplums, and oversized shark’s-tooth pendants) worn by supermodels who don’t often walk the runway, including Natalia Vodianova, Karolina Kurkova, Frankie Rayder, and Gisele Bündchen. At Celine, designer Phoebe Philo played with the idea of shape and proportion by way of round-shouldered jackets, hip-slung pleated skirts, Watteau-back leather T-shirts and wide-leg pants with an asymmetrical peplum in Spring’s big colors (black and white) offset by rich shades of burgundy and evergreen, which also turned up on some insanely covetable envelope bags.

Alber Elbaz took Lanvin in a slightly different direction for Spring, leaving behind his signature ladylike draping and riffing instead on sportswear via ultra-luxe tracksuits, sweatshirts, and T-shirts, along with the more expected dresses and pencil skirts, many lavishly embellished or emblazoned with sexy snake motifs. Jean Paul Gaultier had his models dress in full view of the audience, then saunter from behind the racks holding numbered cards announcing what look they were wearing (as designers used to do in the forties and fifties), while a local TV personality described the looks in French and English (as was also the custom back in the day). The clothes themselves included such JPG favorites as double-breasted pinstriped blazers and menswear vests (worn this season with puffy shorts), tattooed prints (seen here on stockings, blouses, and leather jackets), striped mariner’s tees (elongated into soft knit tunics), and traditional trench coats fashioned into languid silk dresses and cropped toppers in non-traditional shades of royal blue and dusty peach. For the finale, the girls – all of whom sported elaborate Victory roll hairdos and flirty red lips – stripped down and walked the runway in their leather and lace lingerie. Ooh, la la!

Things took a sporty turn over at Stella McCartney – not surprising, given that she’s designing the official outfits for Great Britain’s 2012 Olympic team – with racerback tank dresses, slouchy knit polo shirts with matching shorts, and mesh-trimmed minis that recalled very chic tennis togs. Many of the looks featured swirly scroll details and were worn with shower shoes. Yves Saint Laurent’s Stefani Pilati went a more couture-like route with stiffly structured pieces (voluminous coats, boxy jackets, puff-sleeved blouses) in sultry – some might say wintery – shades of loden green, royal blue, and aubergine layered atop scarf-like halters, while newly installed Chloé designer Clare Waight Keller unveiled a winning range of feminine pleated and eyelet pieces with a tomboyish edge. Blouses, skirts, and pants embroidered with colorful trailing flowers were especially nice, as was a black-bibbed tuxedo shirt with sheer white sleeves.

Expectations were high for the Kenzo debut of creative directors Humberto Leon and Carol Lim (the founders of retail juggernaut Open Ceremony) and their primary-hued, workwear-inspired wide-legged pants, two-tone print blouses, sporty colorblocked anoraks, and high-waisted taffeta jumpsuits (the latter worn by a newly brunette Chloë Sevigny) more than lived up to the hype. Also on Paris Fashion Week’s hit list: Karl Lagerfeld’s thoroughly modern Spring outing for Chanel, a shimmery, iridescent pearl- and tweed-filled collection unveiled in a magical, otherworldly seascape at the Grand Palais, where Florence Welch emerged on a half shell at show’s end to serenade the audience with “What the Water Gave Me.”

Valentino duo Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli were inspired by the idiosyncratic beauty of Tina Modotti and Georgia O’Keeffe, which manifested in romantic lace frocks and embroidered peasant dresses. Over at Alexander McQueen, Sarah Burton put a pretty spin (lace! pleating! chiffon! matelassé!) on sensual, nipped-waist silhouettes, accessorized with delicate (and sometimes, fetishistic) lace masks. Her late predecessor would surely approve. And Louis Vuitton designer Marc Jacobs closed the week with a sweet lineup of pretty pastel broderie anglaise/feather/sequin/appliqué/pastel powdered croc confections – and sexy silver-trimmed mules – at the Louvre’s Cour Carrée, complete with a working carousel and newlywed Kate Moss on the runway. It was a fitting way to end a month of shows and say au revoir to the circus that is Paris Fashion Week.

Lauren David Peden writes for Rue La La as a Contributing Editor.

October 28, 2011