Eric Wilson's Front Row Diary: #PFW's Biggest Moment Had Nothing to Do With Clothes
The biggest moment of Paris Fashion Week, and fashion month for that matter, happened at the end of the Valentino show, and it had nothing to do, really, with the collection on the runway. In a well-timed marketing ploy, one that was entirely unexpected at a fashion show, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson walked the runway in character as Derek Zoolander and Hansel, male models from the 2001 fashion industry spoof Zoolander. After years of rumors, this was their confirmation that a sequel is in the works for a February 2016 release.
As the Valentino designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli know from years of showing on the same day as those no-expense-spared spectaculars from Chanel, it takes a lot to upstage Karl Lagerfeld. But they did, sending the audience into fits of hysteria. While the movie received an enormous amount of buzz online as a result, with #Zoolander2 trending on Twitter, so did the collection, with #Valentino ranking right up there with #AppleWatch. The show had a lot to talk about, beginning with long dresses in graphic black-and-white prints of checkers and stripes (pictured, above right), then a range of highly decorative kaleidoscopic motifs, and even a couple of dresses with a Chinese dragon print. These reflected a combination of influences this season, namely two women who were both artists and muses, Emilie Louise Flöge and Celia Birtwell, who were free-spirited dressers (Flöge was the inspiration for many of Gustav Glimt’s paintings). As a collection, it would make a good backdrop for a movie, an epic really, with 84 looks, only two of them worn by Derek and Hansel.
Chanel, too, was a spectacle (pictured, above left). In the Grand Palais, Lagerfeld recreated the atmosphere of brasserie, a functioning one as well, with waiters serving café and croissants to the models as they sat down to tables after walking the length of the runway. Besides being a great set, this was a great collection, full of some of the most approachable Chanel styles I’ve seen in a long time. And they all had such humor, like a buffalo check skirt, or a skirt-suit made with a grid pattern that replicated the pattern of a the tile floor of a café. The tweeds throughout featured a softer tailoring, and that was reflected in the spirit of the show. The models at first looked a bit grumpy, like I do before a cup of coffee in the morning, but by the time the show was over, with nearly 100 looks, they were laughing and even dancing.
This weekend in London, the Victoria and Albert Museum will open an expanded version of the popular Alexander McQueen retrospective that played to record crowds at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2011. I’ve wondered, since McQueen killed himself in 2010 at the age of 40, who among the younger generation of designers among them could demonstrate such brash creativity. Fashion is a different world today.
But one who continues to impress each season is Iris van Herpen, who is based in Amsterdam but shows in Paris. Her collection on Tuesday (pictured, above) included sculptural, complicated shoes and dresses made using 3-D printers, this season with sharp crystals protruding from the soles. But the clothes were softer, and more approachable, without losing their otherworldly quality. In fact, van Herpen said she was thinking of what life would be like on another planet that had been terraformed to resemble the atmosphere of Earth, when she created dresses made of porcupine-pointy latex, or a swirling print fabric with a pleated ruffle that folded up to cover the model’s face, or a halo around the body. Bizarre, but beautiful.
The label that survives McQueen, designed by Sarah Burton, has stabilized into a more romantic aesthetic with fewer sharp edges. For fall, Burton’s collection suggested Victoriana and English roses, both as prints on evening dresses with little bustles (some rendered erotically in transparent patchwork of black or red lace), and in the models’ frayed hairstyles (pictured, above). A sharp neckline, cut precisely straight and just high enough to offer some modesty on a pair of dresses with built-in bra cups and crinkle pleated skirts, echoed that lightly provocative sense of lingerie.