On Wednesday, my last night in Paris, I spied Karl Lagerfeld leaving the Café de Flore with a few friends. I guess Chanel Airlines was grounded and Karl had returned to Earth. Once again, in the vastness of the Grand Palais, he had taken fans of Chanel for a ride — this time in a kind of utopian airport lounge. Spotless white check-in counters staffed by pretty people. Models in cute Chanel tracksuits pulling fashionable wheelies and wearing sandals with LED lights in the rubber soles. A giant monitor showing departures and then the designer himself, which was handy if you were sitting in the equivalent of economy. More recently, Lagerfeld has created a Chanel brasserie and a Chanel supermarket, stocked with Chanel goods — a nice Warholian joke, I thought, about consumption.
At the Flore, Lagerfeld paused to shake hands with a waiter. He has been coming there for at least as long as he has lived in Paris, which is about 65 years. And he has always lived in this corner of the Left Bank, as he reminded me the other day in the Chanel studio. But seeing him in the familiar, clattery atmosphere of the Flore, I thought of his first big crazy spectacles for Chanel, like the Grand Palais shows five years ago in which he conjured an iceberg and a farm in the middle of Paris — there was a lightness and devilishness about these stunts. Since then, Karl has moved onto supermarkets and airports, and there’s no escaping the banality of an airport.
In fact, the Chanel show probably had too many plane motifs for its own good, including brooches and chevron patterns that evoked wings. Less obvious were extraordinary jacquards or weaves that truly looked 3-D (which, with all the distractions, I didn’t notice during the show), and some gorgeous evening looks in silver paillettes and layered black chiffon that capture the new vibe for a loose top over a simple skirt. Also not to be overlooked in the airport crush were sleek suits in light pink or gray tweed, all stripped of detail and as up-to-date as anything this season. As Lagerfeld said, “Possibly no idea is a good idea.” He might heed his own advice.
For Louis Vuitton, Nicolas Ghesquière invoked the digital nighttime of hackers and gamers. A decade ago, if designers mentioned a “cyberworld,” you tended to cringe: Please don’t go there. Their renderings of the future were lame. But digital technology is a reality now: It’s behind new music; it’s the subject of movies and TV shows; it frames our relationships, and it encourages a mash-up of styles, cultures, genders, and real and synthetic textures. That’s what gave the Vuitton show its energy. And that’s why people in the darkened space, configured as a grid, with banks of monitors set in grids, hungrily scrutinized every outfit that came out.
Ghesquière created fashion that very stylishly affirmed the world that we now know: the cartoonish pink hair of the Asian model who opened the show, her metal headband hinting of a camera’s eye in the center, her bright-pink jacket and black kilt an unclear mixture of natural or synthetic materials, print or embroidery. Ghesquière deftly blurred such distinctions. Similarly, there were faded blue jumpsuits (maybe denim, maybe not), and long, skimmy dresses in patterns that looked like tribal markings or maybe a digital board. The show opened with the creepily artificial voice of the narrator from Minecraft. “Let’s go places … no rules to follow … this adventure’s up to you …” I guess that’s sort of a link to Louis Vuitton’s heritage as a maker of trunks, which Ghesquière has been careful to utilize. But who really cares? This show was a dynamic presentation of new fashion.
And, more than his previous LV shows, it was a platform for the stuff that interests Ghesquière. Backstage, he dispelled the notion that the collection, which included a lot of black leather — kilts, hipster vests over romantic white cotton dresses with puffball hems — was more aggressive. Fair enough. But it was definitely more muscular and personal.
Although European designers since Poiret have looked abroad for inspiration, current politics make cultural appropriation a tetchy matter for high fashion. But Maria Grazia Chiuri and her partner at Valentino, Pierpaolo Piccioli, handled their African themes with affection and beauty. There were raffia and leather fringes, earth shades of blue, red, and brown in the swirly, sheer evening gowns, but the underpinning of the collection, like a constant ticktock, was the Valentino clean silhouette, sharpest in a slim, vaguely caftan style near the start of the show.
Miuccia Prada described her Miu Miu collection as a kind of tug-of-war between the rational and the irrational. That occasioned some vintage Miu Miu checked coats and jackets worn with glam-rock boots; chaste gingham shirtdresses overlaid with frilly pastel lingerie (or were they aprons worn in a sausage van parked in a lay-by on the road to St. Moritz?); and lots of dangling charms. I loved it. Miley Cyrus will love it, too, I feel sure. But I also had the slight feeling that I was being forced to love it, like medicine.
Afterwards, I cabbed over to Azzedine Alaïa’s. He wouldn’t be showing his collection for a few more days, but in his cluttered second-floor studio, between two dress racks and rows of new shoes, he put on an impromptu show with his three house models. Sanity was restored. My spirits rose. Okay, the fucking Earth moved. He showed the most perfect white suit, a suit for getting married in. There were sharp trousers — a rarity for Alaïa — with ruffled, semi-sheer voile blouses or a gold leather vest. And there was an airy black sleeveless dress, just at the knees, in a kind of cotton lace, and a sleeveless blouse in crisp white cotton worn over a long, jaunty black knit skirt.
In either style, in sandals, you’d feel part of the wide world, and need nothing more.