It seems almost unthinkable to mention Balenciaga and the R-word in the same sentence (it looks like it will take more than a recession to dampen the enthusiasm for Balenciaga's ultra-covetable £1,000 jeans and £5,000+ jackets), but Nicolas Ghesquière's latest collection did seem to be slightly pared down compared to previous collections, and less conceptual: a reaction to the financial crisis that many designers seem to have taken on board. A subtle luxury, with a strong emphasis on prints, seemed to be the overriding theme, with things getting more experimental with the cleverly draped silken skirts, trousers and jackets, and with the shoes, with their curious fabric ankle adornments. We enjoyed this collection, which overall felt rather lovely, but not as much as other recent ones (like the breathtaking florals from SS08, or FW08's cool futurism) when Ghesquière's visions seemed to be less restrained.
To put it bluntly, it was more of the same at Balmain. Perhaps you can't really blame Christophe Decarnin, given Balmain's meteoric rise to fame (in just a few seasons it's become one of the most influential - and most imitated - fashion houses in Paris), which seems to have been largely thanks to his characteristic trashy-luxe rock chick aesthetic (with the now infamous broad shoulders), which he repeated again for FW09. This collection is likely to be just as popular with his fans, but the danger of course is that change is an intrinsic part of fashion, and fashion is very fickle: stay static for a moment too long, and in a flash you'll be off the boil, and relegated to obscurity. Although the brave, and most exciting, thing to do would have been to change tack completely (quit, or at least change direction, while you're at the top, leave them wanting more etc.), perhaps in these hard times a bit of tried-and-tested, more of the same isn't such a bad thing. We'll give it another season or two to see if Balmain is just a fad, a hyperactive trend, or if there are better long term prospects for the brand, as a leading innovator and point of influence.
At Lanvin it also seemed to be a case of back to basics (Alber Elbaz said "I thought with my heart about what women need from fashion—dresses, suits, blouses, coats. Life isn't just parties and lunches") except, of course, chez Lanvin nothing is 'basic.' Things may have been less experimental and less dazzling than in previous seasons, but we still absolutely loved this collection, which was incredibly elegant and as luxurious looking as ever. Designers may be toning things down aesthetically to fit with the times, but that's not to say they're skimping on luxury, so the theme at Lanvin was 'basic' pieces (e.g. no extravagant evening wear), injected with Elbaz's signature elegance and luxury. Of course this isn't a 'real' recession strategy, since the prices will be as high as ever, but frankly Lanvin wouldn't be Lanvin if the luxury was diminished, and we're glad that there are still enough people who can afford the clothes to keep beautiful (if not mostly out-of-reach) collections like this alive. There was a continuation of some other trends we've seen developing since Milan, like the sombre colour pallet, punctuated by a dull-ish red, and the 40s/50s style tailoring with the nipped-in waist.
4) Gareth Pugh
Gareth Pugh eschewed a traditional runway show in favour of a video presentation (which you can watch here), which most critics agreed showed off the three dimensional elements of his clothes better (and it also highlighted the characteristically haunting/surreal elements of the collection well). We enjoyed the film, which we can well imagine playing in the video rooms of fashion museums around the world in the future, and we enjoyed the collection too, which you can see better in the pictures from the showroom. That said, it wasn't our favourite collection he's done as even Pugh, king of subversive experimentalism, seemed to have made some concessions to the economy: the collection felt more commercial and sellable than previous ones, which is probably a good thing, but we in a way we love Pugh best when he's being totally wild and really pushing the boundaries. The deal is, he's likely to be immintently snapped up by a big fashion house (rumours abound that it's Dior Homme), and we hope that with the security a job like that would bring he can continue to do amazing, if not very sellable, things with his own line, because they're what really attracts us to it (and, one senses, what Pugh enjoys doing most), and what makes him such an exciting name in fashion. There were several elements of the collection taken from his debut men's collection, like the chains hanging menacingly from cuffs and the pieces covered with razor sharp spikes.
5) Christian Dior
Dior by John Galliano was a typically colourful and glamourous affair, which started off with the characteristic smart French tailoring (with its nods towards 50s and 60s Dior), before moving into less structured, more floaty Eastern inspired outfits. The collection felt very cohesive and to the point, and Galliano was remarkably restrained with the Eastern references, which lent an interesting edge to the 1920s Parisian glamour that this successful collection also conjured up. A few pieces brought to mind the style of our favourite styliste (and possibly most fabulous person in the universe) Catherine Baba, which is never a bad thing.
6) Maison Martin Margiela
Style.com delivered a damning criticism of this show, even going so far as to suggest that Maison Martin Margiela had died (not literally) and that the mysterious Belgian designer himself possibly may no longer be behind the collections. Sure it didn't feel as exciting as previous seasons, and it felt like we'd seen some of it before, but why the total vote of no confidence from American Vogue? Unless they know something we don't (and we sincerely hope that's not the case), is it not just possible that Margiela, like so many other designers this season, simply felt now isn't the time to introduce boundary-pushing new ideas, and thus stuck to a core of what has served him well in the past? It seems a bit odd that Sarah Mower at Style.com acknowledged that Margiela was responsible for the massive current trend for broad shoulders, only to then completely tear him down for not providing anything sufficiently new this season. Is it just that such a big name, with so many past successes, should expect harsh reviewing, or is there something more political going on?
7) Nina Ricci
Olivier Theyskens' last collection for Nina Ricci was elegant yet edgy, with stunning construction and tailoring. There were incredible individual pieces and it worked really well as a whole too (to fully appreciate it you really need to click through to see all the images at Style.com), creating a distinctly surreal, rather troubling, yet very elegant collection. The towering fetishistic shoes with their missing heels (which we can already picture Victoria Beckham tottering around in) perfectly completed the collection, in all their subversive glory:
8) Yohji Yamamoto
The way Yohji Yamamoto infuses outfits which sound set out to be frumpy (long, heavy skirts and big jackets, floor skimming day dresses with floor length coats) with a real understated elegance and almost sculptural quality really is something to behold. Sticking to a characteristically black colour range, with the odd bursts of red and white, Yamamoto pulled off another of his exercises in 'intellectual elegance' with aplomb. The tailoring was beautiful, and everything was so subtle, and so elegant in its Yamamoto way.
Stay tuned for more of Paris later in the week, including Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, and Miu Miu. fw09 fall/winter 09 f/w0 aw09 a/w09 a/w f/w 09 autumn/winter autumn winter fall 2009