Imagine a collection in 150 shades of blue, boots made from the gilt foil that envelops champagne corks, countless folds turned into a dress, Amy Winehouse embroidered back to life and the Age of Enlightenment expressed in a frothy, gossamer gown. Paris’s Spring 2012 Haute Couture collections took to the high ground in ethereal, spirited collections designed to send the doldrums packing with an air kiss.
Karl Lagerfeld’s sets for Chanel’s shows are so mind-boggling they could overpower ordinary clothes, so it’s a good thing he deals exclusively in the extraordinary. The sleek jet interior for Chanel’s spring couture which took off from Paris’s Grand Palais expressed KLs desire to go up, up and away from it all in drop-waist dresses with a deliberate slouch “like boys with their jeans slipping off,” as he explained post-flight in the cockpit to Tim Blanks. The blue bouclé dresses, in spiced blues like two pieces in one, could have been a collection of trials for the perfect stewardess outfit circa 1962 all with stand away collars which frame the face like a cameo. Lagerfeld’s blue mood for evening is a series of jewel-encrusted puffy sleeve concoctions clustered with sequin pailletes in geometric forms all hand made one by one in Chanel’s ateliers.
Maison Martin Margiela’s Artisanal collection is the ultimate high/low indulgence, a obsessive assemblage of used up stuff transformed into pure couture. Each season’s round up of cast offs is a tour de force. This time MMM’s nimble-fingered team took 19th century embroidered linen bed sheets and made the house’s uniform lab coats, recreated the button dressing of London’s Pearly Kings, strung together a cocoon coat in nothing but Brazilian multicolored good luck bracelets and went through the trash after new year’s eve for champagne caps, wire and gilt foil patchworked for boots and a shirt.
Paris’s rising star Yiqing Yin held her second couture show after winning a design prize last year from France’s ANDAM and the river of pleats continues. Yin is the kind of self informed talent who invents her own design techniques and the pleats seem to veer in whirlpool currents over the curves of the body. The excitement this season is that she has also begin to work in liquid jersey, a more down to earth material that mere mortals will soon be able to actually buy. In Yin’s fairy fingers the slinky knits twist, criss cross and plunge over the torso for souped up goddess glamour.
Jean Paul Gaultier is a born showman and he’s funny, something fashion has in short supply these days. So JPG took Amy Winehouse, whose beehive and hourglass adorably trashy look is one of pop music’s strongest fashion statements, and danced through his entire collection with her. The fact that the singer’s dad found this homage in questionable taste is understandable, but fashion will celebrate it’s heroes and Winehouse instantly became one of them with her first song. JPGs Lace and sequins, bustiers and in bed all day satin dressing gowns flirt with Winehouse’s sassy neo-50s pizzazz.
Valentino’s Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli live in a different world in Rome at the house’s headquarters around the corner from the Spanish steps where their designs are carried out by teams of nimble-fingered seamstresses who spend countless hours on a single dress. Where big business couture seems to blast its message, Valentino whispers. Since taking the reigns of the house, the pair have shown a freshness and attention to detail that has lured a new generation of young customers without losing Val’s ladies. Inspired for spring by Rousseau’s dream of nature and the Age of Enlightenment, the collection of scoop neck and puffy sleeve dresses in pale silk florals looked airy and debutante worn with silky charentaise slippers. Smocking, lace over lace and tissue paper transparence closed the Paris collection with childlike grace.