Sleek and sexy designs dominate at Paris Fashion Week
Like the cities that preceded it, Paris Fashion Week offered a long list of looks for women to choose from next season, be it tweed, flares or an embellished coat. With the financial crisis still looming over the European Union, wearability was top of every designer's list, and many of the collections were perfectly merchandised, making it easy for retailers and customers to buy into them.
That being said, it didn't stop many designers from challenging themselves and pushing the limits when it comes to creativity.
Sexuality has been a hot topic since the Milan shows - see Gucci - and this spilled over to Paris. Animal instincts were the focus of Raf Simons' collection for Dior, which definitely had more sexual undertones. Shimmering knits were paired with laser-cut patent leather skirts while spliced kilts and pinafores revealed the hems of tailored shirts worn underneath. Second-skin jumpsuits came covered in abstract animal prints.
Hedi Slimane may have referenced punk this season at Saint Laurent, but his models looked more like sexually charged groupies dressed in ripped leggings, barely there sequined dresses and breast-baring one-shoulder minis.
Phoebe Philo did some soul searching at Céline with a collection that pushed women to new naughty limits with conical knit bustiers, leather holsters and quirky fox and otter prints. These were accessorised with fur pom-poms thrown over the shoulders casually. Many of the models looked undone in duvet jackets that peeled off at the shoulders and lingerie-style layered dresses.
Sensuality was also on Stella McCartney's mind when she sent out thick knits that revealed a bare torso on one side, and wool bustiers worn over a white shirt or that morphed into a jumpsuit. For the evening there were chic metallic brocade dresses that slid off the shoulders.
Roses were the theme of Alexander McQueen's collection, although there were dark undercurrents in the leather bodices, bra tops, lacey sheers and spliced leathers. These contrasted dramatically with the feminine rose embroideries on sweeping gowns and dresses covered in rosettes and cascades of petals. It was more beautiful than savage (a reference to the brand's sold-out exhibition that opened in London this week).
Like Sarah Burton, designer Julie de Libran is intent on bringing a modern femininity back to fashion. Her second collection for Sonia Rykiel was peppered with chic Parisian staples - think peacoats lined in shearling, striped knits and fur vests - but she also added some high wattage glamour with body hugging sequinned knit dresses, silver trousers, miniskirts decorated with grommets and a velvet print jumpsuit and matching cape.
Also showing a confident collection that women will love was Clare Waight Keller at Chloé who tapped the free-wheeling spirit of Fleetwood Mac singer Stevie Nicks. Her shadow hung over looks such as pleated velvet dresses and the sheer maxis paired with waistcoats and finished with trailing neck scarves. Keller's interpretations were light, airy and firmly rooted in the 21st century.
While Rykiel and Chloé girls frequent the cafes of Paris' Left Bank, Karl Lagerfeld channelled a different cafe society for his collection at Chanel. He transformed the Grand Palais into a traditional French brasserie complete with red leather banquets, marble tops, mirrors and bow tie-clad waiters. Models sat down at tables reading newspapers in tuxedos, ruffled skirts reminiscent of napkins, and sequinned pieces that resemble traditional tile floorings. Accessories included clutches made from bistro plates and ladylike black toe pumps. Theatrics aside, it was one of his best recent collections.
Alber Elbaz of Lanvin was also on top form this season, perhaps because the brand just opened an exhibition dedicated to the work of founder Jeanne Lanvin. While many of her signatures have inspired him over the years, he decided to delve into his own history for autumn by seeking inspiration from Morocco. Cue Berber stripes, sculptural leather harnesses wrapped around dresses, fringing and ties with tassles around the waists.
Equally confident was Riccardo Tisci, whose collection for Givenchy was inspired by Victoriana and Mexican street gangs. There was plenty to love, from conservative red and black velvet dresses to the razor-sharp lines of his peplum coats. However, it was the intricate jet beading on jackets and dresses (to match the jewels on the models' faces) that really shone.
If there were an award for best craftsmanship, however, it would go to the Valentino ateliers. Not even a catwalk appearance by Zoolander duo, actors Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller could take the spotlight away from the show-stopping gowns including a sheer black number embroidered with a fantastical nightscape or another made from lace and covered in floral prints by Celia Birtwell or embroidered geometric shapes done in gold thread. They were the epitome of elegance.
Paris wouldn't be Paris without its youthful edge and that was provided by designers such as Carol Lim and Humberto Leon of Kenzo whose camouflage florals, poncho anoraks and motorcycle leathers paid homage to the street.
For his second collection at Loewe, J.W. Anderson set out patchwork leather blouson tops and long leather coats paired with wide-legged trousers. Stamped graphic patterns, long-sleeved pleated metallic lamé dresses and skirts referenced the 1980s, but they looked modern paired with cut-out belts and bags in vibrant colours.
Another transplant, New York's Alexander Wang, paid tribute to Cristobal Balenciaga by referencing his most iconic silhouettes such as the cocoon coat, sculptural rounded jackets and hobble skirts in fabrics such as boucle tweeds and windowpane checks. Wang may not be a master couturier, but he added edgy urban details such as grommets and staples. Heirloom-style jewellery and masculine flats boots made the collection his own.
As with every season there are a number of debuts, and the most talked about was John Galliano's first ready-to-wear collection for Maison Margiela. The styling was very much Galliano, but up close the clothes had all the Margiela touches fans will love, including deconstructed linings and jackets, tailored latex coats and nude bodysuits (this time in lace). And let's not forget those hairy shoes, which are sure to become collector's items.
Also showing her first collection, for Hermès, was designer Nadége Vanhee-Cybulski, who previously worked at The Row. She paid respect to the foundation of the house - its leather - which she cut into riding coats, blousons, quilted jackets, panelled trousers and even leather dungarees. It was a promising beginning.
To close the week were the Louis Vuitton and Miu Miu shows, which, like most of the Paris collections, featured wearable clothes that still make a statement. At Vuitton, Nicholas Ghesquiere sent out plenty of new wardrobe staples, from alluring body hugging peplum knit tops slashed across the decolette to drawstring tailored trousers and brocade dresses.
There was plenty of sparkle at Miu Miu as Miuccia Prada went for layered looks punctuated with a mishmash of patterns and textures, including tweed coats, embossed patent leather skirts and printed shirts. The colourful crystal necklaces and earrings added to their allure.