Wednesday, 11 March 2009

FW09 Paris Fashion Week - Part 3 of 4

Here we bring you summaries from the latest Paris collections for fall/winter 09. In case you missed Part 1, including Balenciaga and Lanvin, it's here, and Part 2, including Givenchy and Comme des Garçons, is here. If not, scroll down and gear up for the latest from Chanel, Stella McCartney, YSL, and more...

1) Yves Saint Laurent

Images from - click to see entire collection.

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

Images from - click to see entire collection.

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.

3) Chanel

Images from - click to see entire collection.

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

Images from - click to see entire collection.

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.

5) Valentino

Images from - click to see entire collection.

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

Images from WWD - click to see entire collection.

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

Images from - click to see entire collection.

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

Images from - click to see entire collection.

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..

fall winter autumn fall/winter autumn/winter fw09 aw09 fw aw 09 2009 f/w a/w f/w09 a/w09 fall/winter09 autumn/winter09 paris fashion week
What did you think about these latest collections? Agree/disagree with us?


  1. I thought McQueen was a highlight, for the sole reason that he focused on the art of the clothing, even if it was at the expense of the clothing itself.

    I don't know if you read this NYT article ( but it pretty much sums up why the collection was so great. I am not a fan of exaggerated houndstooth, but I can appreciate the idea as to why he sent it out.

  2. I think I may, for what might be the first time, have to disagree with you about McQueen as well. The fact that the models were styled and made up to look like Shelly Winters as the Dodo in the 1985 version of Alice in Wonderland notwithstanding, I thought the garments themselves, while not necessarily wearable (though I would love to see someone try), were, as Annie suggested, stunning works of art.

    I also think a little bit of high-camp can be a nice distraction from the gravity of the economic mess in which we all find ourselves.

    All of that said, you are spot on with the rest of your critiques, especially Castelbajac, though I love that collection for much the same reasons that I love McQueen's.

    Keep up the good work!

  3. Alexander McQueen has definitely been the biggest opinion divider of the season… I've been thinking about this collection a bit more because it's been troubling me a little, partly because I don't normally have such a strong negative reaction towards collections.

    I agree the clothes themselves are wondrous creations - personally I didn't find them very attractive, but it was obvious that an incredible amount of work had gone into creating them. Still, I can't help but feel that we have Haute Couture to marvel at the ‘art’ of extreme fashion (HC collections are just as wondrous and, in my opinion, more visually pleasing, and less like the Zoolander parody of fashion design) - this was a ready-to-wear collection except barely anything from that show will be sold as RTW. It annoys me when designers do that, I think it's a bit of a cop out and there's a certain arrogance in showing a collection which has very little direct resemblance to what will be sold in the shops (presumably behind the scenes they will now create a whole different collection, 'inspired' by the runway, of sellable things).

    This collection must have been very expensive to create and given that McQueen is owned by PPR (Gucci Group), the other big fashion conglomerate along with Dior-LVMH, I'd guess he'd have had to have had blessing from the directors to do this (when their other brands like Gucci, Balenciaga, Stella McCartney and YSL showed much more grounded collections) which makes me think the whole thing was a publicity stunt, designed to get maximum press coverage and attention (it's succeeded here) ultimately helping them to shift (yet) more of those dull cash cow McQueen skull scarves that are long past their fashion use-by date.

    McQueen's a clever designer and surely if there wasn't a PR motive he would have known that now is hardly the best time to attempt a knockout, conceptual, extravagant exploration of fashion extremes. I agree it was ‘art’ to an extent, but for me that in itself is not the mark of a successful collection: he’s as much a designer as an artist and part of that is providing up-to-date, culturally relevant things that people are going to want to buy.

    I'm not saying ready-to-wear designers should never be allowed to venture into extreme fashion territory because that would get very dull, I just think he took it too far, especially with the current economic context. There could have been a happy medium, like at Louis Vuitton (and even Galliano, which I criticised for the same reasons, but he hadn't gone as far out as McQueen).

  4. I keep intending to craft a proper response to your well-articulated arguments against the collection, but I haven't been able to find the time to sit down and focus enough on it while at the computer to respond in any sort of an appropriate manner. It's been on my mind though, and you make a compelling case, especially when you point out that this is intended to be an RTW collection. While I 'knew' that, I hadn't actually thought about it. I can agree then that this was not the appropriate venue for a collection like this.

    Also, your economic arguments are sound as well. I guess I was looking at this from a hedonistic perspective and focusing only on the amusement and enjoyment I got from looking at the collection and not on the greater implications of the collection. In contrast, Junya Watanabe's collection, which is also high-concept and is much more arresting, still is subdued enough to deflect any criticism of needless excess.

    I still stand by my appreciation/admiration of the garments (not necessarily implying that I 'like' them. Some I do very much, some I just giggled at.) But after thinking about it further, and for far too long as there are a lot of other things I should be attending to, I am a bit more inclined to agree with you.