While Wang waxes elegant, Slimane goes grunge

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 March, 2013, 10:35am

Another Paris fashion week has passed and, along with it, a seasonal cycle of controversy. Because of the sheer newness, the famous fashion houses involved and a mountain of PR brouhaha, Alexander Wang's debut at Balenciaga and Hedi Slimane's second womenswear season at Saint Laurent made the biggest headlines.

The Balenciaga show was the eagerly anticipated debut of a young, commercially minded American helming one of Paris' most prestigious couture houses. The house founded by Cristobal Balenciaga has a history of serving the aristocracy. Previous designer Nicholas Ghesquiere had been receiving positive reviews. So when it was announced that the American urbanite would be stepping in, there were some detractors.

Wang, it seems, is aware of the pressures of proving them wrong. By showing an incredibly tight collection, largely black and white (one of his own signatures), with clever and unconventional cuts, knife-edge folds and technical fabrics, he won over some diehard Balenciaga fans.

It was sophisticated and subtle, grown up and European. Wang also acknowledged his role in making the collections more commercial and saleable.

We shall soon see his plans to replace the more feminine and dramatic flourishes of Ghesquiere that many fans might miss. But all in all, he attained initial success. Beaming as he walked onto the catwalk to take his bow, the sailing seemed rather smooth.

Hedi Slimane, on the other hand, seems to find it hard to stay far from controversy.

In a way, Slimane might be refreshingly "punk" in his attitude - you can't deny that honest emotional reactions (at least in public or to media) and a conviction to go against the current are things many designers are losing in an increasingly PR-savvy industry.

While Wang set out to prove himself sufficiently high-brow for Balenciaga, Slimane sought to show that Saint Laurent could go downtown - downtown '90s California grunge, specifically.

Super-short baby-doll dresses with Peter Pan collars, slouchy grandpa jumpers and large plaid shirts recalled Nirvana. A pale pink chubby fur coat was fantastic, as were the crystal-studded tights, and well-cut skinny jackets. The look is enjoying a revival by many designers, but few took it so literally.

Some establishment figures frown upon his interpretation of such an upmarket French fashion house - and this rough rock'n'roll autumn collection is unlikely to soothe their angst. But despite the controversy, it's clear that Slimane has fans. Celebrities from Kate Moss to actress Jessica Chastain have been supporting the label along with a host of music industry stars, a more direct tap into the youth zeitgeist than high fashion.

Yes, there is room in fashion for another rebel. I just wish that in proposing this vision, Slimane would have also served up more appealing shapes (like last season) for more sophisticated women - who make up most of the brand's clientele. Grunge is all well and good, but it need not smell so much like teen spirit.