Paris Couture Fall 2009, Part II

It’s true; people look more majestic in black and white. Just think of Cartier Bresson. So it was clever of Giorgio Armani to cast nearly his entire Giorgio Armani Privé couture collection in black and white flashed with silver and diamonds. Claudia Cardinale was in her usual front row seat at Armani’s Palais de Chaillot show and Glenn Miller was playing reassuringly in the background.   Would this be another riff on 1950s couture like the one John Galliano produced yesterday for Christian Dior? Nope. What emerged was a line-up of grey pantsuits ornamented with big diamond buttons and sculptural necklaces. After that it was a nonstop parade of diamond-encrusted classics in black satin, black velvet, tin foil metallics and steel grey which dipped into animal patterns in a sort of black and white safari. It all began to look a bit like Liza Minelli in Cabaret, until Armani sent out the long hourglass columns he has become red carpet famous for. One in blue was absolutely dazzling and the only proper description of the actual shade is sapphire.  All of a sudden it felt like watching an awards ceremony on television. The models walked all alone down the very long runway, as though destined for some future greatness. (LEFT: ARMANI PRIVE)
Armani was not a young designer on his way up when he began couture in 2005.  He was the reigning Prince of Italian fashion with a refreshing sense of realism. Even though he had nothing to prove, he came to Paris to show couture. And he very quickly became the couturier the stars—men and women alike—went to for the Oscars, followed by everybody else who wanted to look like them. In his mid 70s (he turns 75 on Saturday), Armani is a powerful character in every since of the word. He runs his enormous business independently with an iron fisy, and he’s not known to delegate in the design department, either. And so Giorgio Armani Privé is one mature designer’s idea of how to look larger than life, as though you were cast in sterling silver like the Flying Lady hood ornament on a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow.  
On the roof of the Palais de Chaillot, Maison Martin Margiela was showing Artisanale, its offbeat answer to couture.  This was held in the Elle Decoration Suite, within the Cité de l’Architecture museum, once the apartment of 30s architect J. Carlu. Every year, the magazine asks a designer to restyle the space. Margiela’s idea, in white, silver and transparency, is the morning after a big party in a hotel particulier. On the huge terrace covered in ghostly white Astroturf,  MMM showed Artisanale’s latest salvage couture, which went to prove that diamonds are not the only best friends a girl has. The smoking jacket made with 200 Bic pen caps, rainbow fake eyelash vest and reflector jacket made from approximately 200  bike reflectors smashed by hand and assembled stained glass style were standouts. Back inside, MMM showed off its new fine jewelry collection.  With tough times, jewelry is shaping up to be the  last resort for the exceptional. MMMs idea is to offer two in one bracelets, chain link hanging off a cuff for example, which creates a deformed perspective, a bit like the melting pocket watches in Salvador Dali’s “Persistence of Memory.” (LEFT: AT MARGIELA)

Vincent Darré, Inès de la Fressange & Mario Testino; Natacha Ramsay, Nicolas Ghesquieres & Camille Bidault Waddington


People are fond of saying that Paris is not like it used to be, and they love to say that fashion has become one big corporate champagne-swilling photo-op. And business-oblige, that’s true. But then there are exceptions.  And Vincent Darré is exceptional in every way. Maison Darré—a pun on his name which means prison in French—is his design house that produces everything from needlepoint pillows to lighting, chairs and carpets. It’s located in a sliver-thin shop on rue du Mont Thabor,  around the corner from Chanel and Smith’s book store on storied rue Cambon.  It has become the place for wild and wacky décor, fresh from Darré’s mischievously chic imagination, which tends toward animal anatomy and operating room lighting. This translates to  a mirror framed in a huge silver cow’s  tailbone, apparently much more beautiful than a human  one, and  a new series of  coasters from Yazbukey  inspired by the garden of Eden including an apple slice and the Devil, of course. Yesterday Maison Darré celebrated its first anniversary and the whole gang was there: Mario Testino, Lee Radizwill, Nicolas Ghesquiere, Vanessa Seward of Azzaro and her husband, the French crooner Bertrand Burgalat. Darré, who recently did the décor for hip Paris bar Le Montana is tight-lipped, about his private clients, but they are lining up for his zany take on modern style. Next up is wallpaper designed by Darré’s pal, French comic Valerie Lemercier which, he explains, “looks at first like strange flowers and turns out to be very dirty.” 
The wonderful thing about Dior Joaillerie’s Creative Director Victorie de Castellane is that she doesn’t seem at all concerned with cost.  There’s something candy-like about her designs that makes them look like sweet nothings when they cost about the same as a Lamborghini.  This collection  features  the skulls of 10 kings and queens  (the kings are pendants and the queens rings)  in cat’s eye, jade and jasper covered with diamonds and pearls, inspired by the baroque era ‘vanities’, which were meant  to encourage  people to make hay will the sun shines.
Are the ranks of the happy few shrinking, or is it just that the stakes have been bumped way up? In any case Haute Joaillerie, rather than haute couture, is beginning to look like the   arena where those with truly unlimited resources can burn maximum bucks in the pursuit of the most exclusive beauty. What’s a couture gown, priced in the six figures, compared to a watch, in a limited edition of one, featuring rubies from a Siamese mine which closed thirty years ago, priced at 1.3 million?  The Dior Christal 42mm calibre Dior Tourbillon (baguette diamond, white gold case and bracelet, bezel and  bracelet  set with baguette diamonds and rubies, crown set with a rose-cut diamond, tinted red mineral glass dial) is beginning to look like the King of Paris’s couture week jungle. Or is it Boucheron’s Marc Newson designed Julia  necklace featuring 2000 paved diamond and sapphire fractal whorls  which took the Boucheron artisans over 1500 hours to create using rapid phototyping technology?  The necklace is also one of a kind and although Boucheron won’t name the price, they do admit it’s probably the most expensive the house has ever produced and they’re celebrating with a big fête at their  place Vendome headquarters this evening. (LEFT: THE JULIA NECKLACE)