It takes a lot for designers to be noticed these days. In the overcrowded calendar of ready-to-wear shows, couture shows, resort shows, men’s wear shows, bridal shows, fur shows, and trade shows that now keep the party going nonstop all year long, there is increasingly a worry that consumers are at risk of fashion fatigue. The couture shows, in particular, would seem anachronistic, given that only a handful of women in the world can afford to buy the clothes being shown this week in Paris.
And yet, at least from the perspective of drawing attention, they are doing a great job. Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel show on Tuesday, for example, was newsworthy for several reasons, not the least of which is that it was staged as a casino, with Kristen Stewart, Julianne Moore, Rita Ora, and Geraldine Chaplin among the glamorous gamblers (pictured, above). Of course, Lagerfeld had to make a big statement for Chanel, since he’s upstaging himself this week with a “haute fourrure” collection, an all-fur show, for Fendi. And in between, there have been daring collections from Giorgio Armani (opening with shocking pink jackets at Armani Privé; pictured, below left), Dior (I loved this show, with giant robe-like capes, pictured, middle; tiny floral patterns embroidered on stiff dresses, and somewhere a Raf Simons-filtered nod to Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights), and Schiaparelli (an appropriately eccentric debut by Betrand Guyon that had both great goddess gowns and some wacky fur and flannel pieces; pictured, right).
It strikes me, though, watching from abroad, that this is not the couture of the old days, the rarified handmade fantasies that once fueled fashion’s creativity. That position, it would seem to me, has been filled by the travelling resort shows in which the wealthiest fashion houses (Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Gucci) fly their best customers around the world at considerable expense to see the ready-to-wear collections that are equally as inventive as these. So much of luxury fashion of the last decade has been driven by ornamental details, exotic prints, and the flamboyant street style stars who make it all somehow seem accessible and inspiring, that the couture of today ultimately serves the same purpose in the end, which is simply to drive more impressions. Believe me, I’m impressed.
But what of the clothes? Lagerfeld’s boxy jackets for Chanel and Simons’s coats that began as a square piece of fabric and ended with the attachment of a single sleeve (often a loose drape of fur) were the most directional looks of the couture shows, and suggest a bigger play of volume in the next round of spring ready-to-wear collections (both pictured, below left and middle). Giambattista Valli’s enormous tulle skirts, one in bright orange, were eye-popping, too. And although there seemed to be a great deal of creative things going on in John Galliano’s latest for Maison Margiela, Matisse cut-out fronds over a polka dot suit, fabulous crystal embroidery over a belted coat made of humble feed bags (pictured, right), a tinsel skirt, a white plastic bridal cape, the concept, beyond incorporating found objects in the Margiela tradition, was fairly inscrutable from pictures alone. Surely, though, these clothes will be noticed.