Eric Wilson's Front Row Diary: A Familiar Figure Returns to the #PFW Runways

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Eric Wilson is InStyle’s Fashion News Director. Sit front row at Fashion Week with him by following him on Twitter (@EricWilsonSays) and Instagram.

As the Paris collections kicked into high gear over the weekend, a familiar figure of French sophistication returned to the runways – the gamine in a slip dress, with a man’s jacket draped over her shoulders. She looked as if she had nonchalantly walked out of her home to fetch a paper, while not unintentionally turning a few heads. She is a caricature, to be sure, but she is resilient one in fashion, and can be seen in many guises.

At Nina Ricci (pictured, below left), where a new designer, Guillaume Henry, made his debut this season, she appeared as a sophisticate, independent and anything but frail looking in a terrific first show for Henry. Nina Ricci is a house built on perfume and femininity, a look Henry’s predecessor, Peter Copping (now of Oscar de la Renta), interpreted in louche, sometimes risqué lingerie-tinged ready-to-wear. Henry, formerly of the younger-skewing French label Carven, proved he has a mature eye for sensuality as well, opting for a cleaner approach, but no less interested in all of the lacy details. His slip dresses were shown beneath topcoats, which made a stronger impression, as did his precise sequin dresses (sparkling red, glittering blue, or plain white) cut in shapes as simple as a T-shirt, and sharp, slightly oversize camel coats – always worn with kitten heels. It’s a clear change of direction, and a great new start.

At Chloé (pictured, top) gamine might not be the right word for the woman in mind, as she listens to Stevie Nicks and wears a wardrobe of free-flowing paper-weight caftans, fringe-dangling shawls, and killer maxi-coats. Creative director Clare Waight Keller has been on a roll lately, and that’s not just because the Chloé aesthetic is particularly well suited to the overarching trend for 1970s styles in fashion. That helps, but so does Waight Keller’s approach, which is to push a little more playful one season, a little more elegant the next, and for fall 2015, both at the same time. Her maxi-coats were the best of the trend thus far this season, both in a navy admiral’s coat style and a double-breasted version that appeared to be made out of cuddly shearling. Wouldn’t you know, the latter was shown over a lace slip dress.

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Phoebe Philo at Céline continued to pursue a more experimental direction with her once minimalist, now purposefully messy statements, as if she had thrown out all the rules – and those self-imposed restrictions, too – about what constitutes a collection (pictured, above right). Interestingly, Philo included a fair number of satiny nightie-like dresses, hers color blocked like the roomy shoulder totes on her runway, but also loose jumpsuits with plunging necklines (over tops that retained a distinctive modesty). There were strange, intriguing touches, like sashes with big pompoms of fur on the sides, and padded coats that looked like they had lost some of their stuffing, with detachable sleeves that peeled away at the shoulders. It was an entirely new proposal for how to dress, and one that will take some adjustment of perspective to understand clearly.

Ending the weekend collections was a beautiful, exotic, fascinating, and mind-blowingly pan-cultural collection from Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy (pictured, below left). The woman he had in mind might have been Bettina Graziani, the model who was an original muse to Hubert de Givenchy, who inspired his famous “Bettina” blouse, and who died at age 89 only one week ago. Tisci has paid tribute to Graziani, one of the most popular models of the 1940s and '50s who came to symbolize the post-war New Look, both through his social media posts and the invitation to his show. But his collection strived to reach further, and succeeded on so many levels that it is hard to recount without sounding like an encyclopedia, a world atlas, or just a fan boy.

At first, the clothes seemed to depict an affinity for the flourishes of Spain, perhaps a nod to Givenchy’s close relationship with Cristobal Balenciaga, but then quickly transformed into Orientalism with nods to Indian maharajah, with peacock feathers appearing both as prints and insets into elaborately twisted, jewel-toned ensembles. The models were ornamented with incredible jewelry, including bejeweled nose rings and embellishments on their cheekbones and dimples, plus earcuffs and bangles dangling from their lobes. It was one of the most hyper-decorated collections of the season, enriched by a stunning range of shapes, from dresses over velvet pants to sparkling black corseted coats, all worn with shoes with lacquered heels the size of soda cans.

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Kenzo designers Humberto Leon and Carol Lim also traversed many cultures in their show on Sunday morning, featuring a live performance by Saint Etienne and an amusing set design that appeared to come to life either by mechanics or some pretty fancy footwork (pictured, above right). The first model on their wide stage was actually trailed by a moving wall – which then broke apart into large pillars that moved around the stage throughout the duration of their show of nomadic fashion. I thought the pillars, large boxes covered in green and silver foil, looked rather like Christmas presents, and would make a fabulous backdrop for the Rockettes, should they be so inclined. As for the clothes, the assortment of layered ponchos and exuberantly printed jumpsuits and tunics looked especially good this season, enhanced as they were by a couple of fabulous red-carpet-ready dresses and a plethora of super shearling jackets. A long crimson draped dress with a tinge of the East was made super modern with a strip of color block detail and a contrasting shoulder.

PHOTOS: Runway Looks We Love: Balenciaga

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