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October 2, 2013 6:29 pm

Paris Fashion Week: Fitting end to a weirdly chaotic season

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Paris Fashion Week – and the month-long circuit of the spring/summer womenswear shows – drew to a close under a cloud of chaos. In the US, the Republican party shut down the government, while in Italy, Silvio Berlusconi made an aborted attempt to destabilise the coalition government. In France, there was strike after strike and the traffic didn’t move. No one knew what was going to happen next.

It made for a weirdly fitting end to a weirdly chaotic season, marked by trends and politics and interest groups and gossip, the latter reaching its apogee at the Louis Vuitton show, where, following months of speculation, it was finally revealed that Marc Jacobs was leaving the brand after 16 years.

Though LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault did not confirm the news until the show was over, there was little doubt that the collection had been conceived by the designer as his own memorial: all-black, complete with set pieces from seasons past (the escalator of spring/summer 2013; the carousel of spring/summer 2012), dirge-like music, and clothes that served to remind everyone of how much Mr Jacobs had brought to Vuitton over the years, in sheer imagination and skill. He transformed it from a luggage house into a designer brand.

From the LV graffiti of the Stephen Sprouse collaboration, here transformed into sparkling sheer leggings, to the shaved fur shifts, the midsections inset with a lattice of jet, the embroidered tulle flapper frocks over jeans and increasingly elaborate, jewel and taffeta and feather-encrusted bombers and skirt suits and gowns, it was, as Mr Jacobs said, an argument for the idea that “connecting with something on a superficial level is as honest as connecting with it on an intellectual level.”

The point is the connection itself, wherever you find it – though the corollary to this is once you have it, you can end it. Leaving the question of what happens next still in the air.

Such fuzziness also surrounds the house of Vionnet, albeit for reasons more to do with the current definition of the house than its future direction: the way owner and creative director Goga Ashkenazi mixed tailoring and sheer drapery, rectangular construction and pared-down cottons to neat, if slightly obscure, effect.

At Moncler Gamme Rouge, Giambattista Valli has the complex task of creating puffa coat couture. And though he approaches it with great verve, this season combining animal prints (giraffe, zebra, cheetah, leopard and feathers) into not-in-nature creatures via zip-up active-frocks, it seems more of an exercise in concept than reality; fashion meets performance art. Complete with skateboarders in gorilla suits.

At least at Miu Miu, Miuccia Prada offered a recognisable proposition: coats. Coats – 1960s-inspired, with big buttons and a wide belt in back – in two-tone jersey, python, suede, fur; coats with wallpaper embroidery of love birds or kitten faces or fish; coats over everything from ruched mini prom dresses banded in velvet at the thighs to beaded and sequinned spaghetti strap sheaths. And if this seems a confusing approach for a spring/summer show, remember: the clothes deliver in February. So who’s addled now?

Still, no wonder at Valentino designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli were focused on clarifying “identity, because otherwise why would anyone listen to what we have to say?” In their case that meant focusing on their Italian roots, which in turn led to “opera, because opera is part of the Italian memory”, which led to thoughts of all sorts of exotic locales where operas take place.

And that led to extraordinary feats of workmanship via appliquéd and embroidered adornment on single layers of tulle that rendered their trademark silhouettes – austere, almost nun-like dresses with round necks, long sleeves and sweeping hemlines – alternately medieval, Ottoman, and baroque. It could have been heavy but wasn’t, thanks to all that encrustation sitting on top of a single layer of tulle, and some skirts that were cut to mid-thigh. Besides, leavening the lux were simple suede tunics and a blue blouse paired with wide leopard print trousers.

It was beautifully calibrated and singular, as was Sarah Burton’s show for Alexander McQueen, her first after a maternity leave that saw her sit out last season, and which also made a powerful argument for, as she said, “the personal”. Which is to say, what defines the brand. Which has nothing to do with logo.

It has to do with trademark McQueen shapes – layered, laser-cut skirts pleated on a knife-edge; baby-doll dresses marked by elaborate layers of ruffles; tops constructed from leather bands – in an Amazon-meets-Mondrian geometry of red and black and white rectangles; leather and zippered layers and beading; all of which became stripes, which became squares. Layers of horsehair created swinging skirts, and plumed peplums traced the hips on evening dresses striped by glossy black feathers and sparkling beads.

You’ve heard of extreme sports? Well, this was extreme detailing. It pushed the limits, and raised the stakes, and not in a to-hell-with-the-consequences-GOP way, but in a wow-how-will-you-reconcile-this-vision-with-that-one? way. Which left Hermès to have the final, soothing word. From the rainforest silks to the supplest crocodile culottes, wrap blouses, suede tunics, raw linens and leather blazers, designer Christophe Lemaire kept his classics as understated and perfectly finished as the trademark bags: clothes for those who would glide smoothly, almost imperceptibly, through life.

Which doesn’t mean, as the style set flew out of Paris and back into autumn/winter, the varying visions of the past few weeks had been fully reconciled. As it happens, LVMH, Louis Vuitton’s parent, owns a chunk of Hermès, and the two groups are embroiled in a lawsuit. If a butterfly flaps its wings in one place . . . 

Who knows what you’ll want to wear next?

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