Best of Spring 2012 Couture
The Spring 2012 couture shows just ended in the City of Lights. Here’s what we saw in Paris – the most rarefied of runways this season.
Alexis Mabille took a colorful approach – literally – with a collection of monochromatic ensembles worn with matching face paint and giant tissue flower blossoms atop the models’ heads. The resulting lineup read like an outtake from a Pantone catalog (or Crayola box) for very fancy ladies, with a fuchsia satin sheath, lipstick red lace-paneled cocktail dress, and an orange tablecloth lace, tulle-trimmed mini with chic folkloric overtones among the standouts.
It was wheels up at Chanel, where Karl Lagerfeld staged his show in a faux airline cabin (complete with double-C’ed logo carpet and planet earth hovering in the glass dome above guests’ heads). The clothes paid homage to the color blue – 150 shades in all – from first look (an updated take on a flight attendant’s uniform) to last (a shimmery cocktail frock). In between: lots of long, lean looks with low-slung pockets meant to mimic boys’ jeans, accessorized with faux hawks and sparkly stockings, and rendered in classic couture materials (tweeds, sequins, bugle beads) and others (such as cabochons, cellophane, and PVC flowers) that were decidedly more Space Age.
Giambattista Valli is for those who like their fashion with a capital “F” and have the lavish lifestyle to match (and I mean that as a compliment). The collection focused on after-dark attire (think: elaborately appliquéd cocktail frocks, crocodile peplum tops, exuberant floral print gowns) in shades of ivory and black enlivened by jolts of magenta, burgundy, and cerise. The result functioned as a tutorial on the unsung heroes of couture (the seamstresses, lace makers, and beading experts) as well as a visual history of the ever-evolving fashion landscape.
At Atelier Versace – the house’s first couture outing since 2004 – Donatella went uber modern with a 15-piece collection designed to appeal to the red carpet set (such as front-row guests Cameron Diaz, Abbie Cornish, and Diane Kruger) via futuristic lace panel gowns, cocktail frocks, short shorts, and knee-high spats – all of which would look right at home in a Las Vegas production of Barbarella or on more fashion-forward celebs come Oscar time.
At Valentino, designers Pier Paolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri cited Marie Antoinette as their muse, but this was not an overly embellished “let them eat cake” collection. Quite the opposite, in fact, with sweet floral-sprigged dresses, ladylike suits, and high-neck blouses that also recall Laura Ingalls in their modest silhouettes and artfully naive prints.
“Naive” is not a word you’d use to describe Jean Paul Gaultier, or his Amy Winehouse-inspired outing, which channeled the late, great singer by way of vampy, campy bra-baring tops, skin-tight sequin pencil skirts, lace corsets, latex leggings and just-this-side-of-tacky trench coats, all worn with towering, Winehouse-worthy beehives and thick eyeliner, while four male singers performed a cappella versions of her songs. It was a fitting, if sad, tribute to one woman’s inimitable style.
Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci, meanwhile, channeled the moody feeling of the films Metropolis and Aelita: Queen of Mars in his ten-piece collection, which utilized crocodile and crystals to create tough-luxe confections that would feel spot-on should Lisbeth Salander (aka, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) require more formal attire.
Designer Bill Gaytten (who worked beside John Galliano at Christian Dior for 16 years and is ostensibly filling in until they find a replacement) explored the house’s storied history by riffing on Dior’s iconic New Look silhouette (nipped waist, full skirt) and exposing the painstaking craftsmanship and techniques involved in every step (make that every stitch) of a couture collection. It was all very feminine – the effect only heightened by the models’ demure hair and makeup and ladylike slingbacks.
Bouchra Jarrar took a more wearable approach with beautifully tailored trousers, boy-meets-girl blazers, slinky rose-print day dresses, and cross-body fur and feather collars. For evening, Jarrar went long and louche with soft bodice-wrapped gowns and an easy-elegant organza T-shirt/charmeuse skirt pairing. Hers is a singular vision designed to appeal to a wide range of women who don’t stalk the red carpet for a living.
Giorgio Armani took the idea of metamorphosis as the theme of his Armani Privé collection, wrapping his models in soft cocoon-like tulip skirts or sinuous snakeskin print tops and skirts, making the wearers look as though they were emerging from a chrysalis or shedding a beautifully iridescent layer of skin. It was, in a word, breathtaking. At the end of the show, Armani presented Jessica Chastain with a bouquet to celebrate her Oscar nomination for The Help, which was announced just moments before the first look hit the runway.
Lauren David Peden writes for Rue La La as a Contributing Editor.