Couture Without the Cuckoo: Paris, Day 1

The Fall 2011 Haute Couture shows kicked off on a brilliantly sunny Monday in Paris with young, to-the-point elegance from Bouchra Jarrar. In a show of just 17 looks, presented in the gilt salons of the Théâtre de l’Europe, Jarrar showed she understands what contemporary belles, for whom price is no object, are looking for. She calls it “couture ready-to-wear”—that is, clothes produced in small numbers in Paris employing couture construction techniques, but with a striking absence of the fireworks display of plumes, beads, and embroidery of classic couture.

Jarrar’s look is understated. In her fourth season, the designer says she’s progressing “with continuity and the addition of color.” This showed through brilliant, royal blue mixed with cool gray for dresses and tailoring featuring her signature graphic shapes including Mandarin robe crossover dresses and jackets, all defined with graphic patchwork stripe edging and belts.

Maison Martin Margiela took over the gilt hall upstairs at Paris’s new La Maison Champs-Elysées, a former hotel particulier that MMM has transformed into a new hotel. Described as a zone “between reality and trompe l’oeil,” the renovated space was a great backdrop for Margiela’s “Artisanal” couture collection. This continues to employ salvage materials: Scotch and duct tape, the insides (linings and edgings) of ’60s and ’70s Savile Row jackets, nylon curtain fabric, dismembered backpacks, and techno X-socks for tailored classics, notably the trench coat. The buzz is there’s a new head designer at MMM who comes from Raf Simons. And in fact, one of my spies got back with the name. It’s Matthieu Blazy, a French graduate of Brussels’ La Cambre and a former Simons assistant. In any case, this collection looks much sharper and more sophisticated than past seasons.

Dutch designer Jan Taminiau has a dedication to detail and an underlying fascination with Lady Gaga, perhaps? His “Nature Extends” couture collection featured women in a mythical wood with “timber” legs (sky-high boots with no heels, à la Gaga), and flesh-toned body dressing covered with intricate pleats and sprinkled with glittering sequins and feathers. This was an ethereal and a fantastic display of fairytale dressing for couture romantics.

What does it feel like to be Bill Gaytten today? John Galliano’s longtime collaborator was officially appointed designer of his namesake house last week where he presented his first men’s collection, solo. And yesterday, he took the reins—at least for this season—at Christian Dior Couture, assisted by Dior’s studio director Susanna Venegas. It looks, judging from the stills, as if Gaytten has paid an inspirational visit to the Memphis Group, Ettore Sottsass’ colorful design collective launched in 1981 to revive the radical aesthetic after overdosing on industrial black. Memphis inspired the decade’s acid-color geometric-pattern pop, and it was fun. This collection pitted graphic black-and-white pattern with acid pastels in ’50s-for-the-’80s cartoon-style circle skirts, and millefeuille tulle ruffles with hair in a punk princess updo, for all those Cyndi Lauper and Nina Hagen wannabes.

Alexis Mabille put a savage growl and a screech into his couture collection, accessorizing classic couture looks like a smoky lace, off-the-shoulder hourglass sheath with giant pheasant feathers. The wildlife touches continued with a black velvet and silk dress with what looked like shark’s teeth edging the sleeves and shoulders. Slinky sheaths with chunky fur sleeves and a rusty bolero sporting Davy Crockett-style fur tails over a matching velvet mini are a bit too rustic for most couture types. Best here were the ’50s style wasp-waist cocktail dresses, very va va voom Elizabeth Taylor circa 1956.