Midriffs and Mod, Midway Through Paris

Back to black, hedonism, or adventures in space, designers in Paris are seeking out fresh air where they can reinvent themselves and fly above the mundane.

How sedate the Carven girl has become. That brainy gamine in a bubble skirt Guillaume Henry put in the spotlight not so long ago marched into spring in working suits and Safari toile de Jouy shifts with matching bags. This new grown-up Carven started out in black and thick muddy stripe weaves with serious below-the-knee skirts. But the gravitas soon gave way to more fanciful ideas: circle skirts curved short in the front, longer in the back, poor-boy sweaters to reveal an alluring slice of midriff, and a great new dress cut out over the shoulders and around the waist.

Over at Balmain, the party continues full blast. In his third season, 27-year-old Olivier Rousteing is irrepressibly upbeat. High after a visit to Miami last spring, he indulged his teenage passion for ’90s supermodels like Linda Evangelista, mixing the era’s extra-wide shoulders and cropped tops with intricate wicker woven raffia and black-and-white, diamond-studded checkerboard lace inspired by Cuba. Underneath all the eye-popping handwork, Rousteing mined a more soulful vein, the sleek elegance of singing star Sade; a girl dressed in high-waisted men’s trousers and a bandeau in leather with a curvy, drop-dead grain de poudre smoking jacket and oversized hoop earrings.

Julien David won France’s 230,000-Euro ANDAM young design grant this year, which gave him the means to present a bigger show in the Library of Paris’s Lycée Henri IV. His Spoiled Child collection made for cute grunge with a Japanese accent in cotton floral jacquard jackets with box-pleat shirts, graph paper dresses, holey oxfords and silver spoon patterned tunics, play sets in dinosaur prints, and patchwork pinafores with Mondrian stripes.

The show notes for Peter Copping’s Nina Ricci collection provided Baudelaire’s list of a woman’s airs culminating with “the air of a kitten, a mixture of childlishness, nonchalance, and mockery.” Shower-curtain coats and slinky polka-dot dresses, some edged with snakey zips, or all strapped up over fishnet body suits, followed suit. Steamy slashed pastel chiffon tea dresses, polychrome silver Chanel-like jackets and the continual swish of silk fringe maintained a martinis-at-noon mood from start to finish.

Rick Owens’ abstractions range from earthy to otherworldly, and this time he sent his goddesses up in soap bubbles. The orbs in nude tulle and satin layered over column skirts formed a fleshy rainbow and alternated with regal, floor-grazing robes enhanced with copper disks and vaguely symbolic geometric patterning. Their feet in gold chain sandals, these creatures eventually did come back to earth in great cocoon leather jackets.