Last night, French Vogue celebrated its 95th anniversary — why wait for 100? — with a dance party that drew out Rihanna, Kanye West with his mother-in-law, Kris Jenner, and a beefy posse (followed in by a startled Victoire de Castellane, Dior’s jewelry designer), scads of models in slinky couture spangles, and designers. By midnight it was a big sweaty mess, with the nondancers ascending a staircase to the crush on the second floor, where there were bars, a buffet, and a VIP den. One paneled room contained an enormous model of a luxury shopping complex planned in Qatar, which underwrote the party.
Several women were wearing dresses straight from the runway, notably a fitted black dress with pom-pom sprays of silver tinsel from Jonathan Anderson’s Loewe collection. A number of people near me noticed the dress — in a way they did few others. I don’t know how the design stands up to the fashion represented in the 95-year run of French Vogue, but it certainly grabbed your eye. And isn’t that the goal of every designer and fashion exec? The dress will probably shake its way down a red carpet — unless, of course, it burns out on Instagram. That’s a reality, too, as Anderson himself acknowledged the other day. You constantly need new objects to stave off boredom.
But many of the Paris shows seem a jumble of ideas without content. As much as I loved the raw energy of the fast-paced Vetements show, held in a Chinese restaurant with a range of models — some beautiful, some sour-faced — I have to admit that, in the end, the clothes didn’t say anything to me. They were conventional shapes, like frumpy yoke dresses or a pair of blue cotton serge overalls, cunningly reconfigured.
I felt something of the same about the Lanvin show. Again, there were some terrific looks in Alber Elbaz’s collection, in particular sacky dresses in bright or silver sequins and some rough-looking tweed jackets. But the runway was awash in different styles, and Elbaz’s explanation seemed to put him on the defensive. He said that because collections are now viewed on mobile-phone screens, “clothes have to ‘scream’ to hold the viewer’s attention.” But do they? Is more of the same cutting through the noise? In fact, it seems to me that this pell-mell approach is contrary to the way that Elbaz, one of the most logical designers in Paris, works. He designs with a sense of proportion and of how the clothes will fit in women’s lives. Why not also give that sense of proportion in the presentation? Wouldn’t a single, emphatic point of view, on a plain runway, have more impact?
I couldn’t make heads or tails of Guillaume Henry’s Nina Ricci show on Saturday night. If a dumb straight skirt didn’t come with a see-through top, then it had a rigid-looking coat that fit awkwardly, drowning the waif models. An ordinary woman, even a slim one, would have a hard time visualizing herself in these clothes. As for Balenciaga, many of Alexander Wang’s frilly cotton and lace ivory dresses and separates — based on a hybrid of lingerie and sportswear, and worn with bedroom scuffs — looked sweet and girl-friendly. And I loved seeing the clothes on young actresses like Julia Garner and Sophie Kennedy Clark, whose bodies looked appealingly dumpy next to the lodge-pole models. Clark, walking with her elbows out, looked as if she was about sit down to a plate of hash. But you can’t overlook the fact that Wang’s three-year stint at Balenciaga wasn’t all that brilliant. Unlike Wang’s own brand, Balenciaga is not a contemporary label, and that is something that the brass at Kering, which owns the house, must consider when it seeks his replacement.
At the French Vogue party, I ran into a New Yorker who said she had looked at some of the shows but had not seen anything she would want to wear, much less buy. On Saturday night, I didn’t have an answer for her, but today I did: the Céline show. Phoebe Philo has the best woman-friendly clothes in the Paris collections.
She held her show in the usual spot, a tennis club. But this time she and her collaborator on Céline stores, the Danish artist Thomas Poulsen, known as FOS, created a series of tented rooms in bright yellow and red nylon sail cloth. Their idea was to suggest a tent — something portable. On the floor was packed earth. (Céline, as you might gather, spares no expense.) Somewhere in the back, not visible to the audience, was a live band, heavy on drums. The first looks out were ivory or black satin slip dresses, trimmed in lace and lightly creased down the front, as if taken from a suitcase. The models wore red lipstick, the international color of sex appeal; their hair was in a taut single braid. Some wore low, chunky boots, others a flat red moccasin.
From there the show progressed to simple, zip-front dresses in washed cotton with puffed sleeves and a flattering, drawn-in waist; scoop-neck cotton tops that belled gently over wide, utility-style pants, and some dark, slim dresses that looked almost like a uniform. There were also lightweight wool coats with a long, rib-knit waist that created an hourglass silhouette, yet because of the soft knitting effected a more relaxed, offhand attitude.
“I’m very interested in how clothes make us feel,” said Philo afterward. She said she had the idea of making things that you could wear anywhere and, as well, that you could “pack up like a tent.” Of course, most of Céline’s spring clothes, notably the zip-front olive jumpsuit and loose coat that closed the show, seem perfect for an urban life. But what really struck me was Philo’s comment that she was thinking about remote, perhaps rural places. “It’s where I long to be more and more,” she said.
How much we should take Philo at her word is difficult to say, but if a designer can access those feelings — feelings that are hardly unusual today — and produce distinctive clothes that women can immediately relate to, who are we to argue with her?
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