A Gloomy Couture Season – Recap

July 7, 2011 § 1 Comment

I think Karl Lagerfeld is in a bad mood. For the Chanel Couture show last Wednesday, he transformed the elegant Grand Palais into a dystopic replica of the historic Place Vendome, replacing the iconic stone sculpture of Neopoleon with a robotic statue of Coco Chanel and minimizing the rich texture of the plaza into a smooth, mechanized landscape. The black set was lined with rod-shaped bulbs and the runway was speckled with reflective shards, creating what looked like a glistening lazer tag pen. Prepare for battle!

Looks from Chanel

Karl worked the moodiness of the set into the collection itself, constructing most looks in shades of black, grey, or midnight blue. There were a couple of looks in fuchsia, but those seemed as if they had lost their way from the 80s bash at Dior. The overall silhouette was less feminine than usual – lots of square shoulders and undefined waists – and some of the fabrics, particularly the tweeds, had the visual weight of shag carpet. Some added heft makes sense for a winter collection, but some of the clothes were so bulky that the models looked like they were trying to hide a paunch. Overall, the collection seemed a bit out of touch, but it definitely had its share of highlights. The strongest look for me was a stiff, shiny pullover in pistachio with a floor-length, transparent skirt adorned with speckles trickling down like raindrops. I loved the rough, protective look of the top against the airiness of the skirt – it created a nice tension.

Looks from Dior

The word “tension” was also present with me while looking at Dior’s collection, but it was for a different set of reasons. This season, Galliano’s absence led the design team, overseen by Galliano’s ex studio assistant Bill Gaytten, to send down a hodge podge of looks recalling the Easter Bunny and Saved by the Bell. The color palette was an explosion of pastels – light pinks, mint, sky blue – and patterns referenced graphics of the 80s – squiggles, shrunken zebra patterns, confetti. The silhouette and proportions were unflattering as well, shrinking the models to look like children at a birthday party. Karlie Kloss, one of the most leggy, statuesque models working today, managed to look like a Polly Pocket in the finale look – a voluminous ball gown constructed from numerous square pieces of violet fabric and accessorized with a ruffly ring around her neck as well as a hat that strangely looked to big and too small at the same time. It was a circus of a show, but at least it got Dior through a Galliano-less couture season.

Looks from Jean Paul Gaultier

There was a circus-like feeling at Jean Paul Gaultier too, although this one, with its more aggressive styling, was for the grown ups. Gaultier didn’t skimp on the luxe this season, striping gowns in fur and accenting coat collars and sweater openings with thick tufts of black feathers. The strongest looks channeled a quieter luxury, however, like a grey speckled sweater worn with an ankle-length skirt constructed with an under layer of tulle and what looks like curled balls of misty mauve fabric. It had a simplicity and subtle elegance lacking in the rest of the collection – a moment of calm in the mist of a storm. Although Gaultier offered a wide range of looks and showed mastery of technical abilities, there lacked a clarity to his vision. Too many refrences and too many themes. I think it would have benefitted from a little restraint.

Looks from Givenchy

The opposite was true at Givenchy, who produced a streamlined, coherent vision and the most sensational clothes of the season. There were only 10 looks total, a breath of fresh air among the visual clutter of other shows. Collectively, they had a grandness to them (it’s couture afterall), but they also possessed a poetry and purity that recall the flapping of a dove’s wings or a fresh mound of snow. I loved the first look in particular – a diaphanous, white, floor-length dress accented with caviar beading toward the hem and clusters of 3-D flowers swirling around the sleeves, neck, and chest. It was worn over a one-piece, white body suit. The look evoked a softness through its sheerness and creamy color, but it it also had a strong power – the floral patterns transformed the part of the dress covering the upper body into beautifully ornate armor. The model looked like an ethereal angel ready for battle. The closing look possessed a similar feminine strength – a floor-length dress with a sheer bodice, long pale gold fringe covering the legs, and gold bird of paradise motifs covering the groin. There was a vulnerability in the sheerness exposing so much of the body – the neck and breasts in particular – but the shiny gold fringe covering the legs had a protective heft.

Looks from Valentino

I had mixed feelings about the Valentino show, even though it was the best couture I’ve seen from designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Peter Paolo Piccioli to date. Their recent collections tried too hard to gain a “hip” factor and the result look silly and overworked. (If this gives you a better image, they put Freja in a white bird cage for their Twilight-inspired collection.) This season they worked around a 15th century fairy tale theme to create clothes fit for a modern-day princess. A handful of the dresses in red and black velvet looked heavy and stuck too closely to the theme – some of the models looked like they sold turkey legs at the State Fair. But as the theme and fabrics lightened up, the looks began to shine, particularly, a floor-length, long-sleeved, transparent white dress with opaque white chevron pattern rising up from a sea of tulle at the hem. It looked like she was floating down the runway on a cloud. Another stand-out piece was a dress with a transparent bodice covered with gold leaf details and soft, autumnal paillettes meeting a bed of ostrich feathers at the hem. It was a complicated dress, but the subtlety of the colors and lightness of the fabric gave it an overall ease.

Looks from Armani

As I wrote in a post yesterday, the Armani show was designed around a Japan theme, resulting in a stream of black looks accented with traditional Japanese motifs like cherry blossoms in shades of salmon. The clothes seemed to have a strong structure to them, perhaps as a nod to oragami or the sometimes geometric quality of traditional Japanese robes. Overall, the collection was fine, though the mincing of the models’s steps was too much and the general cultural performance aspect kept me thinking of Epcot. The finale look was quite spectacular, however – a form fitting, long, strapless dress constructed in a slick mandarin-colored fabric with a band of silk at the hem covered in a delicate floral pattern. The model looked like a giant, luxurious gold fish, in a good way.

There was a feeling of gloom that seemed to cast over the shows this couture season. It was in the clothes – muted color palettes, bulky silhouettes, heavy fabrics – but it was also in the dismal spirit of the sets and the conspicuously sad showing at Dior’s first couture show sans Galliano. Hopefully, the fashion world will get a bit brighter for New York Fashion Week in September. It’ll be the end of summer – not too late for some sunshine.

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