PARIS - Luxury shares the stage with the street-wise sensibility and romantic styling running through some of the most notable collections for fall. It was in with the new, out with the old at Paris Fashion Week.
A bright light of Paris fashion returned to the stage when Nicolas Ghesquiere presented his debut collection for the luxury powerhouse Louis Vuitton.
The collection couldn't have been more different in Ghesquiere's hands than it was under the brand's previous creative director, Marc Jacobs, who left his post in Paris to focus on his namesake brand in New York.
For Jacobs, Louis Vuitton was all about beauty for beauty's sake. But for Ghesquiere, it is beauty for function's sake, a direction that taps into the brand's origins as a luxury luggage maker.
From the very first look - a slim, beautifully seamed and fitted black leather coat with a luggage brown collar over a cream mini-dress - it was clear that Ghesquiere intends for these clothes to be worn, not just admired from afar as a vision statement to support the bigger business of selling accessories.
The building block for the collection was leather, the dominant silhouette slim on top, short and A-line on the bottom, and the key piece a belted leather miniskirt with a cool, single front patch pocket.
"At Vuitton, the fashion could be quite timid compared with the leather goods," Ghesquiere said backstage. "I wanted to integrate the idea of the bags and the clothing to make it an entire proposition. What was interesting was to use the craftsmen in the leather ateliers to develop some pieces of the clothes, which was new for them."
Leather was a through-line, worked with panels of nubby boucle on sleeveless dresses and sporty skirts with zipper details at the sides revealing a sexy bit of leg; molded into vests, jackets and pants that looked as soft as French butter; and used as a canvas for sparkling sequin embroidery on zip-front dresses, which were as close to eveningwear as Ghesquiere ventured.
There was also a handful of crepe dresses, masterfully constructed in a softly architectural manner. One particularly gorgeous design fused a belted black bodice with a white, cape-sleeve top.
When it came to the leather goods themselves, the star piece was an LV-logo box clutch modeled after Vuitton's famous travel trunks, only shrunk to miniature proportions - just large enough to carry a cellphone. And the way the world moves now, that's all you need.
Going to the supermarket
Karl Lagerfeld transformed the Grand Palais into a Chanel-themed supermarket and stocked the aisles with Chanel-branded groceries.
Coco Flakes, Croustilles (potato chips), Jardin de Gabrielle canned peas, and more were stacked Warholian-style on shelves and displays.
Models weaved in and out of the produce and charcuterie departments wearing brightly colored sneakers similar to the ones that made such a splash on the Chanel haute couture runway in January.
Overall, the looks shown were casual, layered, street-inspired and knitwear heavy, with a nod to the Op art, Pop art vibe that's a strong trend for the fall season.
Tweedy duster coats and metallic cardigans were worn over sparkly leggings or baggy metallic pants, and long printed jackets over miniskirts with sneaker boots.
One group of looks brought to mind bonbons - a candy pink sweater with embroidered blossoms, worn with a giant knot of pearl necklaces. And the house tweed turned up in unexpected places, encasing a cool pair of pink sunglasses, and woven into models' ponytails.
When it came to accessories - the addictive salty snacks of the luxury diet - some models carried their quilted Chanel handbags in chain-link shopping baskets, and others had heavy Chanel padlock chain necklaces around their necks. A subtle wink at the cost of luxury consumerism? No doubt.
The bottom line for this collection was that it was full of delectable goodies and casual style that made it as friendly and shoppable as your local supermarket aisle.
Slimane stages another big win
After a big night for his Saint Laurent brand on Sunday at the Academy Awards, dressing host Ellen DeGeneres in three elegant riffs on "le smoking" and supporting-actor winner Jared Leto in a white tuxedo, Los Angeles-based designer Hedi Slimane staged his best Saint Laurent collection yet at Paris Fashion Week. The clothes crackled with teenage spunk, even if the show did make me feel like the uncool girl at the party.
Yves Saint Laurent might have had Andy Warhol and Bianca Jagger sitting by the runway in his day, but Slimane had Catherine Deneuve, Azzedine Alaia and two guys who looked like Miles Kane and Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys popping Champagne, although it was really too dark to be sure, which was probably the point.
Slimane commissions original music (the toe-tapping "Had Ten Dollaz" by L.A. band Cherry Glazerr was the tune, according to show notes) and a different portfolio of artwork to go with show invitations each season (this time, featuring works by L.A. artist John Baldessari).
The message? He's plugged in with the old guard, the new guard and the crossing guards.
It was announced via social media at show's end that the collection was made on 16-year-old model Grace Hartzel, who has gone from Indianapolis to international runway star in what seems like a minute.
But even if you've never heard of Hartzel or Cherry Glazerr, the collection appealed on a purely aesthetic level, from a sleek, hooded red cape to a crystal-embroidered tartan miniskirt, glittery go-go boots to a miniskirt with a foiled print of handguns. Slim coats, jumper dresses that sparkled like disco balls, and fun furs added to the party mix.
And if there wasn't enough to buzz about already, decades after Yves Saint Laurent was inspired by Picasso, Mondrian and Warhol in the '60s and '70s, art was on the runway again. Slimane showed three couture mini-dresses made in collaboration with Baldessari, which will be limited to a numbered edition of 10.
And just like that, Slimane's Saint Laurent went from collection to collectible.
Falling into place, grandly
New York-based designer Alexander Wang delivered his third, and most solid, runway collection for the French luxury brand Balenciaga.
He played with several classic Balenciaga standards - including architectural outerwear and sculptural volumes - infusing them with 21st century knitwear techniques and action-sports-inspired utility details. The result was a modern, urban look that felt like an elevated version of what he did for his namesake collection in New York: luxury for the speed-demon generation.
The collection was anchored in strong, sports-inspired outerwear with fur hoods, worn with fur-apron or reflective-yarn accessories. Other coats appeared to be knit but were actually embroidered for a trompe l'oeil effect. The most show-stopping outerwear was a casual yellow duffel raincoat that was anything but basic: It was made of a cable-knit base laminated to glossy perfection. A future classic.
Other marvels of construction that will look impressive in the pages of a magazine? Structured short-sleeve leather dresses hand-lashed together with knit skirts and turtlenecks and rugby-stripe dresses composed of laser-cut knit jersey links pieced together like chain mail.
In the more down-to-earth category, reflective canvas chevron pinstripe pants and wool sack dresses with more seam and zipper details looked cool and wearable. There were also several tailored looks in black wool crepe: for example, a jacket with a lapel morphing into caped sleeves and a pair of pants with a skirted side panel that had an edge.
And there were bags aplenty, including fur and crocodile totes with industrial-looking metal handles, almost as if Wang were willing women into the stores.
He needn't worry. This collection will be money in the bank for Balenciaga.
She's done minimalist sportswear, abstract art prints, slip-on skate sneakers, Birkenstock comfort sandals. And the world followed. But for fall, Celine designer Phoebe Philo moved on to a look that's more feminine, romantic and dressed up.
A long, lean, languid silhouette. Sweater dressing. Flared pants. They're all ideas percolating on runways this season. But it took Philo, fashion's great prognosticator, to crystallize them into the kind of collection that will move fashion forward.
Philo took us to the garden, and her collection felt soft and organic, from the flower-printed coats, to the sculptural blossoms on lapels.
The stars of the show were the coats, hugging the waist and flaring at the bottom, or oversized with raglan sleeves slipping off the shoulders. Knits were another focus, more elegant than slouchy.
Accessories were all about softness too. Gone were structured totes and color-blocked trapeze bags, replaced by squishy styles. And in the fall, it won't be sneakers but winter wedge sandals that will keep Philo's flowering new romantics firmly planted.
Couture with sporty vibe
Dior designer Raf Simons turned the focus away from the fantasy world of the red carpet, which the brand has virtually dominated in recent years, and toward the real world.
City lights were the inspiration according to the show notes, but it was more about the pace of the city. These clothes were made for speed, a sentiment underscored by the pace of the models, who walked the runway in quick succession, sometimes two at a clip, wearing sneaker-stilettos that looked like they could handle the mean streets.
There was an undercurrent of athleticism throughout the collection, from the bright color palette, to the sporty lacing details corseting coats and mini-dresses, to the quilted nylon used to create high-low gowns.
Another takeaway? Tailoring. Simons put the world on notice that in addition to unforgettable evening looks, Dior is also a destination for a great cashmere camel coat and a superb double-breasted pinstripe wool jacket with a decorative pleated flounce, worn over a white shirt dress.
When it came to cocktail hour, the most standout looks were hybrid fit 'n' flare silhouettes layered over mini-dresses, with a smattering of crystals nestled in the pleats. They came in dazzling color combinations, flame orange with royal blue, grass green with powder blue, sunshine yellow with pink. Embroidered mesh gowns layered over T-shirts or long jersey tanks also looked comfortable and modern.
Now that Dior has got the buzz going (I mean really, is there an A-list celebrity left that Simons hasn't dressed?), this collection should open the brand up to the rest of the world. And that's a powerful proposition indeed.
Under a magical spell
The scent of damp moss in the air, models floating across the runway like fairy-tale heroines wandering the forest, filmy white gowns trailing behind them.
Designer Sarah Burton painted a wildly romantic picture at the Alexander McQueen show. And it was impossible not to fall under the spell.
According to the show notes, the inspiration for the collection was flora and nocturnal fauna, "Beauty and the Beast" and wild romance. You felt it from the first dresses in eyelet or silk chiffon that fell in soft tiers, worn with flat boots made for wandering. Supersized hooded fur coats finished with silk ribbons at the neck made the models look like mythical creatures, as did a downy soft dress decorated with tiny, hand-cut fur pompoms.
It was one of the best collections we've seen from the brand in some time - soft, spirited and organic, rather than stiff and engineered - more Burton than the label's late namesake designer McQueen. It seemed like a return to the vision that guided her design of Kate Middleton's extraordinary royal wedding dress, with all its traditional handiwork and pagan symbolism. A welcome homecoming.