At Paris Fashion Week, Maison Margiela and Dries Van Noten Go on a Road Trip

Photo: Estrop/Getty

Waiting for the Maison Margiela show on Wednesday morning in an upper gallery of the Grand Palais, the audience was treated to a soundtrack of disembodied voices speaking in Chinese, quietly at first, and louder as the minutes ticked by. Even with the language barrier, it didn’t take long to recognize the voices were those of airline departure announcements as heard in an airport in Shanghai. They grew more urgent, and annoying, to the point that I could suddenly no longer continue a conversation with the person sitting next to me. I was starting to feel as agitated as I typically do when faced with a long line at security.

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And then the show began and the reason for mood-setting disenchantment suddenly became clear. In a terrific collection that seemed utterly free of self-imposed restraints, John Galliano delighted himself and his audience with an ode to the modern era of dressing for travel. That is, he showed carefree clothes that had been torn apart as if they had been well traveled, or rather, mangled during a snafu in the cargo hold. Tormented trench coats, shirts and bras ripped down to the seems, and funny (if impractical) handbags designed as quilted travel pillows became the makings of a clever travel wardrobe.

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Some of the models wore “priority” luggage tags to hold back their ponytails. A blouse featured a collar made of those ugly bar-code covered stickers that you can never quite get off your suitcase. Clever, for sure. But there was a lot of substance, too, including a remarkable skirt that combined pleating and origami, a spectacular floral tapestry coat, and some tricked-out booties that are destined for the season's accessories hit list. What I really loved about this show, beyond its humor and energy, was that the clothes had life, telling a story without looking like gimmickry, and that speaks to the soul of Martin Margiela himself.

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Dries Van Noten also had a destination in mind, some place tropical, perhaps a beach made of crystal sand that sticks to your toes and your clothes, and his passengers arrived safely and chicly, as always. Van Noten’s mood for embellishment is known to vary from season to season, and his spring feeling is for high adornment, notably in the crystal beading shaped like starfishes and jellyfishes that dangled hypnotically from the floral printed fabrics below. The designer’s romantic nature often reads darkly on the runway, but this show seemed especially optimistic. Perhaps it comes with the knowledge that life is about the journey and not the destination.

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