Saturday night, I found myself in Azzedine Alaïa’s kitchen.
Well, I didn’t find myself there so much as needle myself an invitation to dinner while I was interviewing fashion plate Iris Apfel the other day, and she mentioned the designer would be hosting a night in her honor. So I tagged along. Alaïa’s dinners are about as exclusive as you can get, and this did not disappoint, with 30-some guests seated around one big table and two small ones in a large kitchen behind his store in the Marais. There were no speeches, just cocktails followed by good, nourishing food, slices of scallops and artichokes, lightly cooked bass served with what I took to be sweet potato-stuffed potatoes (seriously, the French know their carbs), and pineapple slices with passion fruit for dessert.
Here was Jil Sander, the real one, looking fine and talking of a new book she is working on, and Brandon Maxwell, who looked more rested than most people in the room despite his constant flying from New York to Los Angeles to Paris. And Apfel, who is the toast of Paris this week with an exhibition at Le Bon Marché, was browsing the racks of Alaïa’s designs before deciding she had better quickly get back to the states and sell some more jewelry on HSN.
“So I can afford some of this,” she said.
It’s funny, and sometimes I feel like a human splinter about to be rejected by the larger body of the fashion system for expressing such thoughts, but I wonder how much thought designers put into the mindset of consumers today when they charge such ludicrous prices for clothes that are becoming less and less relatable to everyday life. Midway through the Paris collections, here are the trends I have to report: Dynasty-sized shoulder pads are back, complete with tassels, too (Balmain, Lanvin). Shiny, almost wet-looking fabrics (Nina Ricci), yes, and really, really oversize shirts and sweatshirts that are part of a style movement that is paradoxically being described as anti-fashion (Vetements). It’s really no wonder the fashion director of a very prominent retailer complained to me this week that business is so slow.
Don’t worry, I’m not saying the fall collections are terrible. Actually it’s the opposite, and quite exciting, when you looked at a collection like Céline on Sunday – another showstopper by designer Phoebe Philo, who made a compelling case for some of the season’s more difficult items, from a sleeveless cotton trench to oversize shirts that resembled piped pajama tops in their silkiness. Her strongly flared trousers and smock-like tops in fanciful fabrics, drawn tight at the openings so that they resembled puffy clouds, were considerate of the customer who might buy them (top).
Increasingly, it takes a committed shopper to approach some of these labels with seriousness, and someone who has substantial financial resources at that, but with Céline, at least, you get a well-made product that has a reason to exist. The other big show of the day was Balenciaga, which gets a reboot this season with the super conceptual designer Demna Gvasalia, who became fashion’s flavor du jour with his insider-approved label Vetements over the last two years. Gucci’s Alessandro Michele and indie darling Simon Porte Jacquemus were there to cheer him on.
With Vetements, Gvasalia made enormously big sweatshirts, stiff shirts, and awkward prairie dresses something entirely cool, particularly for young people who have a sixth sense for clothes that will telegraph that they are in the know, even if that means those who are not in the know might mistake them for delivery people who were hired on the day when FedEx or DHL had ran out of size smalls. His fall Vetements collection (below), shown earlier this week, added many more traditionally designer-driven elements, like schoolgirl pleated uniform skirts and suiting made in surprisingly nice fabrics, so what can the luxury customer then expect from his streetified version of fashion’s holiest grail – Balenciaga?
There were crossovers, for sure, with staples like puffer jackets, sporty jackets, and a shearling bomber jacket, all restyled with drop shoulders that made the key pieces more like wraps, and yes, cool, too, if you’re the kind of person who can pull off a jeans jacket with sloping shoulders and truncated arms that creates an overall silhouette of a hexagon. A Fair Isle sweater was twisted into a cocoon shape in a nod to the Balenciaga legacy looked more approachable, while the show opened with a series of suits that demonstrated his extreme form of tailoring, cut to mimic the shape of a corset without the constraint. While the show was fascinating to watch with crazy-patchwork floral smock dresses and matching boots, and big, color-striped leather bags that were a play on cheap plastic shopping totes (like Marc Jacobs did for Louis Vuitton with his Tati-inspired bags in 2013), and artistic for sure in the vein of yesteryear’s Margiela and Kawakubo, it’s also certainly too soon to say whether Gvasalia’s buzz can translate into a commercial hit by today’s overnight-or-never standards of success, like Michele’s aggressively decorative vision has turned out to be for Gucci.