At the Close of Fashion Month, An Embarrassment of Riches from Chanel and Louis Vuitton

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In Paris, more is more. This is a city where restaurants routinely offer a choice between a cheese course and dessert, expecting full well that most diners will opt for both. And so it was not entirely out of line with the spirit of French gluttony at the close of fashion week here when both Karl Lagerfeld and Nicolas Ghesquière offered collections that seemed to have a little something for everyone.

At Chanel, Lagerfeld started with a set that once again defied belief. On Sunday morning in the Grand Palais, guests encountered a recreation of the cliffs and waterfalls of the Verdon Gorge – a landmark that is known as the Grand Canyon of France. With trees sprouting out of rocks and stony pathways growing moist with the spray of the waterfalls, under the glass-domed building the set began to look like a botanical garden in Singapore, or perhaps a leftover set from Avatar. The waterfalls grew more powerful as the show began, spraying gallons of water – I am told no more than would be required to fill a 25-meter pool – in such torrents that the clear plastic Chanel hats worn by the models began to fly off their heads.

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Clear plastic has been a theme of spring. At Céline, there were tiny clutches tucked into plastic bags that served as invitations to the show. The Givenchy invite also came in a clear plastic envelope. And there were clear plastic skirts all over the place. (Raf Simons must have been on to something in his fall Calvin Klein collection.) At Chanel, their purpose was practical, as there was water all over the place, and as he added plastic to bracelets and boots, skirts and dresses, even weaving the material into Chanel tweeds, the thought occurred that it might be some kind of statement on the environment.

But Lagerfeld has always been fascinated by the incorporation of mundane materials as luxury fabrics (from cement to fake furs in the past). So it was probably just the novelty of the medium that inspired such a plethora of lacy dresses with plastic bits incorporated throughout a series of styles shown in groups of aqua, teal, pink, and finally a group of opalescent whites, ending on a fringy blouse that looked as if it was made from bundles of fiber optic cables. It was a lot, but as I said, people need options.

Ending the season on another note of indulgence was Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton with a collection that incorporated Edwardian or possibly Victorian styles of formal cutaway jackets shown over super casual silk shorts and exaggerated athletic shoes. The jackets came in an extensive variety of fabrics, jet black jacquards and metallic embroideries, some shown with waxed or bonded jeans that flared slightly at the hems. There were lots of other incongruous ideas as well, including one T-shirt printed with a Vuitton watch and another with the cast of “Stranger Things.” The setting, by the way, was literally medieval: the ruins of a 12th century moat beneath the Louvre, so let’s just say it wasn’t easy to pin Ghesquière down to one period of inspiration.

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I wouldn’t read too much into all of these elements, other than that these are things that appeal to him as a designer, and the formal jacket over shorts and sneakers look was cool, and recognizably Ghesquière, if not a little impractical for working into an everyday wardrobe.

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By contrast, two of the best collections of Paris turned out to be from designers who have lately been reconsidering the pace and production of fashion, and the critical need for clothes. That is, we don’t need any more of them, really, and conspicuous consumption seems so woefully out of touch in this dreadful global environment. Jonathan Anderson of Loewe answered those concerns with clothes that appeared to recycle pieces of discarded garments – patchworks of gingham and quilts of old prints were turned into beautiful, if slightly tea-stained, dresses. The clothes looked as if they might turn up as wonderful discoveries in some global bazaar.

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Sarah Burton, the designer at Alexander McQueen, also has been moving into this direction of fashion with the feeling of a personal history, creating designs that look handcrafted, and often not quite finished. For spring, the formal dresses with bits of floral embroideries and three-dimensional flowers sticking out of them at odd angles – all worn with shiny, decorated combat boots, gave off a bit of a DIY scrapbooking vibe. They were beautiful mementos of her process, anyway.

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