Marc Jacobs' departure from Louis Vuitton steals the show in Paris

Paris Fashion Week had it all, but Marc Jacobs' departure from Louis Vuitton took the cake

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 October, 2013, 7:00pm

"For Robert Duffy and Bernard Arnault, All my love, Always," read the final page of the show notes at Marc Jacobs' last Louis Vuitton collection.

This season, America's most powerful designer bid an emotional farewell to 16 years at the world's most famous fashion brand, the note referring to his business partner Duffy and LVMH chief, Arnault. The darkly glamorous collection was staged against sets from several of his memorable shows: the carousel, the "Night Porter" elevators, the railway station clock, even a pair of escalators. All were now coated in black, the most chic colour since the Victorians.

Although the almost all black collection might at first seem a bit macabre, it was also an ode to the city of Paris - headquarters of the house of Louis Vuitton, and all its dazzling decoration and ornamentation. "It's not about thinking; it's about feeling ... Adornment for beauty's sake," says Jacobs' show notes.

The superficial connection is as honest as the intellectual one, he argues.

Dedicated to the women who inspire him, including Jane Birkin, Anna Wintour, Lady Gaga, Édith Piaf, Vivienne Westwood, Miuccia Prada, Coco Chanel, Rei Kawakubo, Jacob's Vuitton finale was "to the showgirl in all of us".

And the showgirl certainly came through. Models wore risqué sheer dresses and tops with stunning beaded embellishments and workmanship. There were elaborate feather headdresses (a toast to Paris showgirls) and touches of American sportswear, including a varsity jacket with Paris written on the back. But apart from the sequined Louis Vuitton graffiti logo tights, Jacobs remarkably managed to sway from too camp and towards a noirish 1930s drama. Wide-leg, blue utility jeans worn under these sexy tops were a curious and interesting touch.

It was all perfect for Jacobs' poignant, resolute finale for a French company that has defined him as surely as he has defined it. Before he took the job, in 1997, with his business partner helping him, Louis Vuitton didn't have fashion. It was an esteemed luggage maker. But Jacobs gradually gave it credibility through his sense of what was new and relevant. He also, in a corporate environment that might fill some with apprehension, became a more proficient designer.

More than anything, what you felt in that sombre, tented space in the middle of the Louvre was an American's infatuation with Paris. Those 16 years were a journey, and Jacobs never got bored. The show also paid homage to his friend, Stephen Sprouse, whose graffiti splashes on Vuitton bags were the first barrage of change.

You need black to do justice to all that beauty. As it happens, this was a sublime show of clothes, largely because his feelings came through in the many plain, sensuous dresses etched with black lace and maybe, above all, in the amiable jeans, shown with lacy T-shirts and the decorative jackets. For Jacobs, jeans remain a basis of a culture obsessed with cool. It was a wonderful departing gesture.

The other shows closing out the spring collections didn't produce an immediate reaction, although that may have something to do with my own exhaustion. Also, many designers seem to be trying too hard, and the chance to put across real emotion, as Jacobs did, is hindered by all kinds of heavy obstacles, such as early 20th-century art references and female warrior themes.

At Valentino, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli found inspiration in the Rome opera. Whether embroidered in saturated colours or in white lace, their favourite dress was long sleeved, smooth to the waist and bell shaped, and worn with sandals. The models had centre partings, with gold headbands.

Despite the sense of theatre in the embellishments and the stiff modesty of the shapes, their clothes felt youthful, maybe because of the equal number of pleated minidresses and the welcomed addition of sportswear items such as belled jeans and medallion-printed pants with crisp powder-blue shirts.

Earlier that week, with a snap of his black-gloved finger and the backing of a Chanel budget, curator Karl Lagerfeld had transformed the vast interior of Paris' Grand Palais into his very own gallery space.

"It's like the days of Andy Warhol," Lagerfeld said backstage, raising the age-old philosophical question: Is fashion art?

The question was answered with an emphatic "yes" with Chanel's painterly clothes palette of 150 colours. A series of strong brush-stroke patterns on flowing and fitted dresses in dark to light hues gave way to humorous touches such as large portfolio bags, painted with Chanel handbag logos, and a rucksack with large wooden brushes poking out.

But the true artistry in this collection came from the numerous designs that played subtly on the styles of Scottish bagpipers - showing the depth of Lagerfeld's constant evolution.

If clothes could make music, what would they sound like?

This was the abstract question that Iris van Herpen - better known for her couture creations - answered during her official ready-to-wear debut.

Van Herpen employed hi-tech touches to stage a performance in which models writhed against each other clad in dark, shimmering dresses with touch-sensitive electronic chips inside sinewy ribs on the material. Additional reporting by agencies