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February 27, 2013 5:03 pm

Paris Fashion Week: runway report 1

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Dries Van Noten offers a powerful statement about dualism

“So . . . does France feel better than Italy? Is it the same? Is it worse?”

This is all anyone wants to talk about as Paris Fashion Week kicks off: what Milan Fashion Week was like, and whether things in that city are worse than things in this city.

There’s a shifting insecurity in the air, a half-desperate, half-competitive air whose subtext is: things are bad, sure, but maybe not as bad as they are somewhere else. Right? Right?

In some ways.

At a breakfast presentation in cashmere king Lucien Pellat-Finet’s atelier – as models swanned around in brightly coloured sweaters with Fair Isle prints, little boy jackets with tone-on-tone skulls embedded in the fabric – the designer noted that the shoppers in his store on Rue Saint-Honoré were 90 per cent Asian.

“There are no French customers any more,” he said, shaking his head.

At APC, founder Jean Touitou said of his presentation of hip daytime pieces – short jumpsuits, suede tunics, short rabbit coats and a collaboration with designer Vanessa Seward that adds a touch of éclat – “they reflect France, for me, for when France disappears. Because, you know it could, economically.”

This is the same story they are telling in Italy, just change the nationality.

Where things differ, however, is on the catwalk. If the last week in Milan was characterised largely by designers zigzagging between the extremes of playing it safe or embracing full-on kitsch, the Paris season opened with a powerful statement about dualism, courtesy of Dries Van Noten, whose entire collection was based on the idea of “fused gender: Fred and Ginger in one outfit”.

This sounds kind of creepy, but in fact looked strikingly chic, as men’s overcoats in basic grey were feminised via diamanté and the discrete use of ostrich feathers. White piqué shirts were paired with ankle-length marabou skirts slit to the thigh on either side, or cut pencil-narrow, twinkling with rhinestones and layered over narrow men’s trousers; and a fuzzy oversize boyfriend sweater sported a rhinestone lobster on the ribbing and was paired with a narrow tiered skirt – which also made an appearance in sleeveless dresses cut with a deep V in the front and sprouting more feathers between the tiers.

It was a little bit serious and a little bit tacky and generally proof that it is possible to have your suit and party dress too – not to mention some fun with fashion, even in a serious context. Maybe especially in a serious context.

In other words, when life is complicated and choices difficult, clothes don’t have to be simplistic, limited to one genre or the other. They can be complicated too. Which is not the same thing as difficult to wear. As a sartorial response to the complexity of everything else, it feels . . . right.

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