The spring collections have seen their share of new talents taking over at established houses, some with great success and others that turned out to be victims of their own hype. But a welcome new trend this season has been the arrival of a generation of designers who finally get their chance to grab the brass ring after having toiled dutifully and earnestly in the background for years.
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For critics, it’s heartening to see people who have paid their dues in this business to be rewarded for such. And for consumers, this means you will have the chance to experience collections from designers who actually care about design more than pushing marketing buttons to create a false sense of desire. Watching Natacha Ramsay-Levi’s debut at Chloé this morning was one of the most satisfying introductions of a new designer in years, namely because she more than exceeded the high expectations before her.
Ramsay-Levi is the latest disciple of Nicolas Ghesquière to enter the limelight on her own. At Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton, she was instrumental in helping to create the fiercely modern aesthetic that we all attribute to Ghesquière, but know well is the result of a talented and appreciated cast of dozens reporting to him. And it was telling that Ghesquière and another former Balenciaga designer, Julien Dossena who is now at Paco Rabanne, were there at the show to support her. It was a fine, fine debut, easily picking up on the sweet-meets-sour codes of Chloé while demonstrating Ramsay-Levi’s well-honed fondness for hard-edged modernity. In effect, with Ramsay-Levi and Dossena, Paris fashion now has a School of Ghesquière to tap for the future, and that is thrilling for those who love clothes.
At Chloé, Ramsay-Levi succeeds the well-loved designer Clare Waight Keller, who, perhaps feeling a little undervalued, packed up her bags and landed the coveted role of couturier at Givenchy (she will present her first ready-to-wear collection later this week in a do-not-miss event). It was time, anyway. Chloé, which has been home to a stellar cast of designers over the decades from Karl Lagerfeld to Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo, thrives on change, and it needed a fresh perspective, which Ramsay-Levi delivered.
Her focus was on lightness, as seen in ruffle-sleeved dresses, including a series with prints that looked slightly surreal, diagrams of organic plants, or perhaps a fallopian tube that had been modified with eyeballs, and others with tiny chain details that created patterns like winking lashes. Another series of velvety blazers and a teal jumpsuit were embroidered with little rearing stallions, a reference to past Chloé collections including those by McCartney and Philo. From the more contemporary perspective, there were some pretty great jeans and trousers, some trimmed with a circle detail on the seat pocket like the outline of a faded ring from a snuff can (oddly, she is the second designer to touch on this 1970s-era detail this season, after Brandon Maxwell in New York). Equally important for a house like Chloé, the accessories were terrific (those snakeskin boots!) and included updates on styles first introduced by many of her predecessors, even Waight Keller’s gangbuster Drew bag. And the finale of patchwork mesh dresses might have been a tribute to her old boss at Vuitton, but I suspect this is the real DNA of Ramsay-Levi at work.
As for her old friend Dossena, his Paco Rabanne collection had a real disco beat, set in an overheated gallery with dark lights and “From Disco to Disco” by Whirlpool Productions on the soundtrack. This was an effective accompaniment to Dossena’s party-friendly silver mesh dresses, which sparkled blindingly under the spotlights placed periodically along the runway. Short dresses, the length of tennis dresses added a good deal of kick, as did the pair of sequined jumpsuits that closed the show. It was a specific and tightly focused look this season, just dance, dance, dance, but it sure was fun.
Meanwhile, Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing, who built his game on an even more exaggerated party look, has gradually expanded his repertoire and now seems fairly confident even when delving into a lengthy segment of his collection that was plain old black and white. He even risked being described as tasteful. Admittedly, opening a show with Natalia Vodianova wearing what looked like black PVC overalls over a white shirt, may not sound like the act of a man restrained, but this is Balmain we are talking about. And one of Rousteing’s best looks was one of the least exuberant this season: A long-sleeved black mesh dress worn over matching trousers looked divine. Of course, there was plenty of glitz and shortness and sheerness and – was that a plastic skirt? – to follow, but it’s a mark of maturity to find a nice balance between the substance and the flash.