Paris Fashion Week has designers strutting their serious stuff.
Things are coming up roses, in fashion at least. How do we know this? Because the autumn/winter 2012/13 Paris catwalks are full of heavy black wool, the show soundtracks are hard, grinding techno and the models are stomping and glaring like angry robots.
Yes, I know: doesn’t sound too cheery. But it tells us a lot. It tells us that we no longer need comforting, cheering colour, nostalgic songs and soft, glamorous gowns to give us a little escapism from hard times. It also tells us that the designers of Paris have almost unanimously decided to defy the safe-playing of the past five or so seasons in favour of challenging fabrics and uncompromising silhouettes. They have increased the party quotient, too; that side of fashion week never really stopped, of course, but this season offered bigger and better soirées, from Alber Elbaz’s celebration of 10 years at Lanvin to Dior’s feting of Victoire De Castellane’s latest jewellery collection, at which the Caribbean-disco-funk legends Kid Creole & the Coconuts set the crowd whooping.
Parties aside, the shows themselves felt confident in their surliness – as they should, with luxury fashion continuing to pull in hefty profits. There was barely a reassuring smile to be seen, even at the usually giggly Sonia Rykiel, which offered some wearable 1970s-inspired pieces but rather lacked the joie de vivre that is the brand’s trademark.
Bookending the week, Nina Ricci and Chanel both went heavy on black and purple, though the results were miles apart. Karl Lagerfeld’s vision for Chanel threw together heavy black or grey tweeds, skin-tight trousers and jewel-coloured knits with giant pieces of crystalline jewellery, crystal-heeled shoes, iridescent metallic fabrics and even crystal-encrusted eyebrows on the models, who walked around a typically splendid set of Superman-style quartz stalagmites.
Peter Copping, meanwhile, went for an altogether more feminine approach at Nina Ricci, developing his delicate laces, lingerie silks, distressed tweeds and fluid satins to create a mood that was as exquisitely pretty as ever but far more gothic and even sultry – a haunting collection of exposed seams, torn tulle and dusty colours.
Copping was not the only designer to represent an eerie twilight in his clothes: Viktor & Rolf sent their models down a winding white path, watched over by a giant full moon and followed by wolf howls. The clothes were softer, smudgier, with rippling silk pyjama trousers and sheer, embellished 1940s evening gowns among the standout looks.
Those soft, silky pyjama pieces also made a languid appearance at the otherwise hyperactive Kenzo show, this time in jewel-hued block colours. The rest of the collection, held at a retro neon-lined university atrium (think The Jetsons meets Barbarella), was spikier, with the New York sassiness that creative directors Humberto Leon and Carol Lim have brought to the brand. Sporty, waisted silhouettes with springy skirts and big sculptural collars, wintry khaki and navy accented with sulphur yellow and Klein blue, and sharp little teddy-boy suits with big crepe-soled shoes had plenty of attitude.
Teddy boys also offered a subtle inspiration for Martin Grant, with clean 1950s-style silhouettes. Going for a presentation format rather than a catwalk made sense here, offering a view of the gorgeously origami-folded construction in springy silk gazar, to which the palette of cream, black, red and houndstooth check played a comfortable second fiddle.
In one coat, Grant panelled in black the yoke and sleeves of a cream leather dress, and that technique appeared elsewhere this season, including in some of Anne-Valérie Hash’s beautifully sharp shawl-collared coats, which also had more than a hint of the teddy boy about their lean proportions. While there was plenty of the twisty draping on trousers and tops for which she is known, it was the sharper components of her tailoring that made an impact: shiny cropped jackets, pressed pleated silk trousers and a sequinned black tuxedo jumpsuit as glossy as oil.
Origami folding was, as ever, an important component in Roland Mouret’s lovely collection, in which the blacks and greys were lightened by crisp pastel blue, yellow and lavender. The urban-girl-in-Aspen look was bang on the money – and a theme that reappeared at Paule Ka’s chic-jet-setter presentation and in Chloé’s warm, cosy duffels and jumpers.
Clare Waight Keller, Chloé’s creative director, packed this relaxed collection with pastel pinks and blues, belted sleeveless jackets, wide, ballooning trousers and pretty floral creamy lace contrasted with bright red wool.
Some suits at Chloé were deliberately on the cusp of dowdy, an edge that was also a theme for Rochas, where dressing the bluestocking is an art form. Marco Zanini’s charmingly gauche models wore either sweet, schoolgirlish knee-length pleats or leg-lengthening bell-bottoms, in a painterly checked silk. The overall palette was artfully off-colour, mixing mustards and browns with French blue, rust and aubergine.
Dior, still helmed by the interim designer Bill Gaytten, offered little to scare the customers, but the collections are becoming increasingly subtle and accomplished, even if they lack the extravagance of the brand’s former designer John Galliano. Up close, the fabrics were as exquisite and innovative as ever, while on the catwalk, the perfectly judged palette of muted pinks, greys and neutrals (with one zingy splash of neon pink) was gentle enough to allow the New Look silhouettes to shine. Skirts were at the knee, mid-calf or floor, while cigarette trousers were cropped to just above the ankle, with ankle-strap platform shoes featuring the squared toe of the en pointe ballerina.
That other lover of mid-century couture, Giambattista Valli, offered a newly spiky attitude in his clothes. Starting with a heavy black-and-white knit, followed by monochrome prints, checks and tweeds, it took several looks before a bright red wiggle dress draped with chiffon acted as a reminder of his signature feminine style. The red was later pitched against burnt orange and black as a graphic print on stiff, straight shell tops and trousers, and it felt like a strong development on his sometimes excessively girlish style.
Jean Paul Gaultier’s graffiti-splashed collection and Paco Rabanne’s dark take on retro futurism both packed a stroppy punch, too, while Vivienne Westwood’s play on royalty, from the Restoration to Marie-Antoinette, featured all her classic swathes of checked tweed and duchesse satin, as well as a feather-clad cyclist wearing giant platforms.
But it was Lanvin that stole the week. Elbaz knows just how to push the fashion crowd’s buttons (bright colours, huge jewellery, directional ruffles and disco-dancing), but more than that, his collections of the past 10 years have worked as a progression of his genuinely distinctive aesthetic. To hold on to that visual identity, whatever trends may come, while still exciting, flattering and inspiring his customers, is a trick few designers can perform consistently, but Elbaz’s sculptural pieces, which ranged from puritan simplicity to louche extravagance, tick all those boxes. This season at Lanvin? It was like last season, but newer and better.