Paris Diary: Day Five

Published March 5, 2012

The room was so silent all one could hear was the models’ footfalls as they walked down the long, reconstituted wood runway at the Beaux-Arts’ Salle Melpomene to present Rei Kawakubo’s two-dimensional, vacuum-packed and color-drenched show for Comme des Garçons on Saturday afternoon in Paris. Imagine Henri Matisse doing a paper cutout version of Fall 2012, and you have the idea. All the strong silhouettes were present in paintbox bright, felt-like wool, larger-than-life tailoring worn with ankle socks and sturdy, baby doll pumps. Waisted coats, a suit featuring a cape-like jacket over a below-the-knee skirt, wide shorts with matching jackets, high-rise boy trousers and tent dresses offered an outline of the season. When the solid wall of color gave way to prints, they came in an oversized rush of simplified pattern from felt pen floral squiggles to leopard spots and velvet gypsy folkloric. With their heads dressed in neon-bright wig hats or even completely wrapped up by the prints, Rei’s girls looked like a Little Lulu fashion cartoon and a commentary on today’s two-dimensional life.

Earlier the same day, Junya Watanabe was also playing the two-dimensional twist, but his was more sedate. Watanabe layered his hourglass jackets over coats—a major trend for fall—only he went further, by incorporating the two pieces into one using the lightest wool checks and plaids so that these hybrids could considered as an extra-long jacket, or a featherweight coat, mixed with a bit of tie-dyed panné velvet for flash. Along the way, he indulged his penchant for trench play—exaggerating the collar, sticking a button in the middle of his double-breasteds to make a cutaway shape, and other intriguing twists. And then he began messing around with ’40s print dresses, turning them into coats, mixing plaids with silk tie prints, working old-time cut velvet evening fabrics into charmingly oversized looks, and separating linings and tops for two-in-one dresses all worn with men’s brogues and transparent ankle socks.

Haider Ackermann offered his audience more of the undulating ribbon-around-the-curves tailoring he has made his trademark in his shimmering palette of putty, purple, khaki, burnt orange, and red. What’s wonderful about his design is how he mixes downtown elements, like biker jacket tailoring, with a couture flourish that makes his girls look as though they’ve just stepped out of a cool bar and into a period shoot with Richard Avedon, Dovima, and Charles James. Ackermann’s leather jackets have biker stripe top-stitching over the shoulder and impossibly twisted peplum;  there’s a tie-front dress which looks like a piece of Japanese furoshiki cloth wrapping; and he makes the best case for high-rise, wide-legged trousers in fashion. His are worn with the simplest satin blouse, split open to the waist, which was perhaps the best look in this show. And to zero in on the hourglass—fashion’s latest focal point—Ackermann cinched almost every look with a belt that resembles the wood collar of a Chemex coffee maker.

A new ready-to-wear star is born. Her name is Olympia Le-Tan, and you will be hearing more from her for many years to come. Le-Tan made her mark with her unique embroidered book bags, faithful copies of first edition classics that have quickly become the red-carpet accessory of choice for stars with a head on their shoulders, notably Michelle Williams and Natalie Portman. This season, she added clothes to her repertoire. The petite collection she presented in the copper pan-filled kitchen at Paris’s all-but-forgotten Musée Nissim de Camondo, tucked away in a dusty corner of the 8th, was a triumph for everything that is spontaneous, sexy, classy, and irresistible about Paris. Le-Tan, a Bettie Page aficionado, styled her girls with the stripteaser’s black, banged bob and hot red lips to present a collection of twinsets, pink scalloped-edged coats, velvet jackets with frog closures, “Clever girl” T-shirts, hourglass dresses in tartan or stripes with Peter Pan collars and a terrific leather hourglass skirt with gold back zip. Le-Tan’s Betties finished by stripping down to their sexy black undies—one wasn’t sure if those were on offer as well—but it’s only a question of time! Oh, and the bags… displayed in Camondo’s period rooms as though some aristo had stopped readying midbag, they were all inspired by the glories and futility of cash, from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon to Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.

Jean Paul Gaultier, after his boisterous Amy Winehouse couture fashion tribute, looks extremely subdued for fall. This was one of the oddest JPG shows we have ever seen over the years. One can only wonder what’s up, because all the verve was missing, even his beloved sailor stripes. In their place paraded destroyed leathers, varsity jackets, leopard prints, and leggings, all apparently inspired by Andy Warhol’s New York, complete with a Factory-like tin foil backdrop. Perhaps the budget limitations were respected, but one will have to give JPG a bit more room to manoeuvre his imagination if the goal of Puig, his new parent company, is to maintain this house in booming, fragrance-promoting form.