1) Yves Saint Laurent
Stefano Pilati showed a very somber collection, at first glance almost pared down to the point of dullness. Look closer though, and amongst the sea of grey, black, and charcoal, you’ll see something interesting going on: the severity, the sharp cuts, the androgynous silhouettes, and the subversive black leather. This was a tough collection, not the rather frivolous ‘fierce,’ a term that’s been thrown around a lot lately to describe studs, fur, spikes, leather, but a collection that was strong and severe. As Suzy Menkes put it, “haute severity.” There were some wonderfully subversive Helmut Newton-esque moments too: the leather bodysuit, the black leather corset top peeping out from behind a jacket in a very mannish pinstripe... We thought the collection to be a rather apt aesthetic response to the times, and a powerful visual statement which was, if not exactly beautiful, undeniably chic. The more we looked the more this collection grew on us. It worked on a practical level too, because Pilati provided plenty of wearable options (classic YSL tuxedo jackets, sharp suits, leather jackets), all toughened up for these hard economic times.
2) Stella McCartney
It was the tailoring that really stood out at Stella McCartney: the elegant cocoon coats clinched in with skinny belts, the elongated tuxedo jackets, the well cut trousers. There were pretty slip dresses and floaty shirts too: nearly everything was elegant, and wearable in an easy way, which in many ways is the essence of Stella McCartney’s brand. The never-ending thigh-high boots (synthetic, of course – McCartney’s collections are always 100% animal friendly) and needle-heel shoes were a clever touch by which McCartney added edge and stopped the collection from feeling too inoffensive and nice.
Karl Lagerfeld pulled off quite the celebrity coup at Chanel, tempting Kate Moss, Lily Allen, Claudia Schiffer, Milla Jovovich, Slumdog Millionaire star Freida Pinto, and Beth Ditto, amongst others, to the front row of his show, thus ensuring that the paparazzi went wild (delaying the start of the show and reportedly destroying part of the set) and that the show was heavily reported in the media the world over. The clothes themselves felt as Chanel as ever, and the mood of the collection was upbeat with few, or no, discernible concessions to the current economic state (in a way, quite reassuring: if Chanel has to stop being ‘Chanel’ we’ll know we're really in trouble). Frothy ruffles embellished a good number of the outfits (Lagerfeld spoke of “Belle Brummel,” his fictional female incarnation of the infamous British dandy from the start of the 19th Century, Beau Brummel), and the colour of choice was black, with dashes of pale jade green and baby pink.
As usual almost everything was very elegant: classic Chanel tailoring, white blouses, slim dresses, and as ever Lagerfeld was more playful with the accessories. We liked the shoes, with their heels supported by a hollow ring, and the amusing clear Perspex cases which held a quilted Chanel bag, sunglasses, cosmetics, and an iPod, in the manner of plastic toy packaging. Interestingly, the Chanel logo scarcely featured, popping up only very small on some of the shoes and etched onto the transparent plastic cases – a small nod towards the recession perhaps, in terms of less conspicuous luxury?
4) Giambattista Valli
There was something slightly odd about this collection: Giambattista Valli’s signature ladylike elegance and polished glamour were rather absent. We salute any designer who does something brave and tries something new, but frankly we preferred the Valli of previous seasons: we just couldn’t get our heads our the ankle-skimming hemlines, the printed-on peacock feathers, the bulky feathered coats, the tomato soup colour, the odd gingham knits. Still, there were some elegant outfits that bared the hallmarks of his (other?) style which we like, and by the time this collection reaches the shops there will most be likely be plenty of sophisticated, wearable options to keep his high class fans happy.
This collection felt very elegant, very proper… in short, very Valentino, and therein lays the problem. There is a distinction between respecting the house’s heritage and finding new ways to innovate and push things forward, and merely doing more of the same which, however elegant, and well made, and nicely done, is prone to feeling staid, dull, almost lifeless… fashion thrives on change, fashion is about change. That is not to discount the importance of style and quality, but unless Valentino’s new designers find ways to interest people, they may start to find customers in short supply for their classic take on style, when there are plenty of other options available which provide style and quality but also project a more lively image. One almost senses that the problem is that Valentino himself, despite having officially retired a few years ago, is still exerting influence behind the scenes, preventing the new designers, Maria Chiuri and Pier Piccioli, from moving forwards as much as they might. This half-baked state is problematic: either we should have the master himself working in his signature style (inevitably the new designers can’t reproduce his own style with the same energy and passion) or the new designers should have greater scope to do something fresh, while still respecting the house's history.
6) Jean-Charles de Castelbajac
The recession, thankfully, did nothing to cramp the style of our favourite ‘pop art’ and wonderfully crazy designer, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, whose cartoon inspired collection was as fun and ‘poptastic’ as ever – just the thing to cheer everyone up after a long and fairly serious fashion season. Isolated, we can appreciate that for many people this collection will be just all too much, which is why you have to view Castelbajac collections within their context: a lot of the pieces aren’t very wearable and they probably aren’t meant to be anyway, given JC DC, a French aristocrat, is more of an artist, a purveyor of fun. He’s been designing collections like this for over 30 years (including back when ‘pop art’ fashion actually was Pop Art) and now, having inspired a younger generation of designers like Jeremy Scott and Manish Arora, he’s just having fun, reigning over the mad world of Castelbajac. That’s not to say nobody wears his clothes because he has still has a large, loyal fan base (including M.I.A, Yelle, and Santogold) and he sells more wearable clothes in his stores. What we love is the way that Castelbajac just does what he wants to, refusing entirely to bow commercial pressures, and all the magazine, retail, and PR politics.
7) Viktor & Rolf
Viktor and Rolf were inspired by ‘classical draping’ (the folds of cloth in clothing, intricately carved on marble Greek and Roman statues), a theme they closely stuck to, to the extent that the models’ faces were even whitened to add to the effect. It was interesting how they used the interplay between the folds of cloth and the carved draping: heavily draped pieces were sent down the runway, which looked like they would have a real fluidity and movement to them, but stiff woollen fabrics ensure they remained static, as if not cloth at all, but rather carved marble. Real clothes imitating carved representations of clothes. There were some distinctly odd notes, like the ensemble which consisted of high-waisted shiny trousers, with an overlaid glittery black brocade pattern, topped off with a printed sheer blouse with a thick white fabric swag, reminiscent of classical architectural (or wedding cake) decoration. Still, there were some pretty, wearable pieces, and there was skilful and intricate construction. We enjoyed the concept too, even if one feels Viktor and Rolf rarely better some of their incredible shows from the past these days.
8) Alexander McQueen
Normally we’re big fans of Alexander McQueen, but this collection managed to hit all the wrong notes. From the flashy showman attitude that fits not with the times, to the misogynistic sex-doll make-up, to the theatricality that seemed to be there merely for the sake of theatricality, to the gross parodies of Dior’s New Look and houndstooth print and Chanel’s tailoring, to the set decorated with piles of garbage (an unintentional metaphor, perhaps), this was not a good moment in fashion. Visually, we found this collection unappealing and at the same time we could not connect with McQueen’s vision or message, making for a double disaster. In its defence, there seemed to be genuine passion and energy behind this collection, and there were some individual pieces that were so stunning in their construction (like a sort of subverted Haute Couture) we had to admire them, if not just for that, and we would have enjoyed them much more under different circumstances: somehow now was not the moment for a piece of brash, high-camp theatre. Where were McQueen’s impeccable tailoring skills, his Romanticism, his normally perfectly-executed sense of drama? Still, we can forgive McQueen for having an 'off' season, and it will be interesting indeed to see how this runway collection translates into a sellable collection when it hits the shops..
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What did you think about these latest collections? Agree/disagree with us?