Cirque du solemn
In an unusual twist for summer, the designers showing at Paris Fashion Week revel in the drama of gowns, shadows and subtler hues, writes Jing Zhang
Henry Thoreau advised, “One must maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter.” Those are sound words from the noted writer, poet and naturalist, but the fashion world put a spin on them by making wintry looks the centre of the Paris spring-summer 2013 collections.
“Beautiful show, but what has happened to colour and print this week?” asked a fellow editor, as we hastened in insensible shoes towards a cafe on Rue de la Paix for an espresso recharge. “Are all the designers depressed?” Not depressed, but certainly contemplative. The few prints on show weren’t bubbly, retro or floral, as you might have expected; they were graphic and dark.
This might disappoint some, but next spring won’t be about flaunting it all. Instead, skin will flash through cut-outs and lace effects, and under sheer fabrics, as typified by Carven and Valentino.
Tight, tiny shorts and skirts have lost their popularity. Elegant column dresses and wispy, ethereal chiffon are the order of the day, with Ann Demeulemeester, Rick Owens, Yohji Yamamoto and Gareth Pugh all pushing long, flowing hemlines. Eveningwear is back with a bang.
Sensual jazz and film noir set a reflective tone at Miu Miu. Furs and stoles draped over shoulders, denims, tie-dye and crinkled fabrics are quirky touches that only Miuccia Prada can blend to great effect with 1950s-style long coats.
In the hands of Louis Vuitton and Rue du Mail, black and white dominate, as effective together as they are separate. It certainly isn’t the loud, brightly hued carnival that people have come to expect from spring-summer collections.
When it isn’t monochrome, it is softer, pastel hues, uncharacteristically appearing in labels such as Givenchy, Viktor & Rolf and John Galliano. Raf Simons’ debut for Christian Dior’s ready-to-wear line works pastels to perfection, with gentle iridescent details.
As seen in Milan, silhouettes are mostly loose and all about freedom.
However, the big new shape for next spring is sporty and bomber-jacketinspired: rounded shoulders, loose on the body and with full sleeves.
Chanel, Hermès, Stella McCartney and Chloé all agree. McCartney’s splashes of apple green and a fluoro melon on pure white are a fresh touch. Finely pleated organza on panels add an impressive sculptural quality to one of McCartney’s best collections.
Chanel’s usual space at the Grand Palais has been fitted with gigantic wind turbines, hinting at the fact that Karl Lagerfeld, even in his late 70s, is not short of energy. Lagerfeld’s Chanel girl is still one of the most stylish, especially in those wide, round-shouldered, cropped jackets.
This new introspection in Paris is expressed in the restrained sensuality of draped plain fabrics, at times twisting and loosely unfurling around the legs as models strut; at others, neatly folded like origami, inspiring Lanvin, Costume National and Haider Ackermann’s robes and leather obi belts.
After several seasons of boxy shapes cinched at the waist by chunky belts, a postnatal Phoebe Philo has softened. The gentle twist of fabric or panel of mesh she uses at the chest are divine. Maison Martin Margiela has found a similar, serene kind of purity with elegant dresses.
Lanvin, however, has traded much of its signature feminine fluidity for a more aggressive 80s silhouette in stiff Japanese origami folds on jewel-toned dresses.
The spirit of Yves Saint Laurent is everywhere: the tuxedo-inspired power suit came out at Jean Paul Gaultier’s camp – a throwback to 80s to 90s pop icons Madonna, Michael Jackson and Annie Lennox.
Volume is taken to extremes and, in the hands of Galliano and Vivienne Westwood, the effect is quite lovely, even though it could also easily swallow up petite Asian physiques. Soft ruffles are used in an effective, minimal way to pump up the volume.
Comme des Garçons’ “anti-fashion” calls for yards of white fabric, bunched and folded ingeniously.
If the quirky draping, clothing-asphilosophy and technicality is all a bit too much, fret not; some people just want a pretty dress to flit around in come spring, and that’s not a bad thing.
Among those who have embraced an easy, upbeat vibe are the Asian-American design duo at Kenzo, Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, who bring out a vibrant, young collection: fluorescent leopard print, safari styles and jungle fever.
Rue du Mail’s take on 60s monochrome is wonderful.
Marc Jacobs revisits the same era with Louis Vuitton’s Damier checks for the label, harking back to the days of Mary Quant.
Mod, graphic simplicity comes in the ubiquitous chequerboard, but it is the bright yellow that makes a fun, positive endnote on the final day of Fashion Week. It comes as a welcome reprieve from all that tortured soul-searching.
BIG DEBUTS: FLASH OF THE TITANS
In the shimmery corner, we have Simons, the man Dior hopes will lay to rest the ghost of his ousted predecessor, John Galliano, who fell from grace after being filmed delivering an anti-Semitic rant.
Simons reveals a fresh look as lovely and light as the wispy chiffon drapes decorating the venue. His approach is youthful, minimal and ultra-sleek.
The show opens with slim suits and a glorious sculpted grey "bar jacket". Girlish, powdery hues in loose, short and sensual A-line shapes then take to the catwalk - a radical departure for Dior. Iridescent overlays and sparkly details hint at Simons' playfulness.
From his corner, Slimane brings a darker, sexier mood to the proceedings.
The pussy-bow blouses are fussy, but skinny trousers à la Dior Homme, shrunken jackets and floaty evening dresses with deep V-necklines are sensual and commercial, and reference past eras at the brand.
Anticipation was high, because of Slimane's radical rebranding of the house (including changing the name from YSL to Saint Laurent Paris). The reception is mixed, though, as something more groundbreaking than what is shown was expected. However, since many other designers seem to be referencing the late legendary designer, why not Slimane?
HIGHLIGHTS: WOW FACTORS
There are plenty of checks this season, but only Dries Van Noten taps the link with 90s grunge. Long skirts float by, colours washed out – a balance of masculine and feminine, high fashion and the Nirvana generation.
Shirts are unbuttoned, with sleeves rolled up.
Who else could work an intricate floor-length skirt covered in appliqué flowers, a mannish jacket and a shrug-on grey jumper?
Haider Ackermann’s collection is high on intrigue, with monochromes, polka dots and lattice prints replacing the effervescent colours of before. Jackets reference “Le Smoking” and also Japan, all lounge-y and robe-like. Gorgeous, whispery dresses seem to hang by a silken thread. Lena Horne’s torch song, The Man I Love, plays out the poignancy of Ackermann’s graceful work.
The inspiration for Alexander McQueen is clear from the start, as a faint buzz gradually grows into a full-blast hum of bees. The graphic geometry of the honeycomb and a sense of a dangerous sting in the tail are expressed beautifully in a darkly divine and very sexy collection.
Here, there are stunning gold brocade jackets with wing-detail lapels and corseted off-the-shoulder dresses.
At Givenchy, once again Riccardo Tisci is ahead of the curve. Chiffon ruffles move almost as if they were in water. Black and white are punctuated by a gentle blue and dusky rose; it is all very sophisticated.
Fabric is gathered nun-like high at the neck, only for the model to turn and reveal the entire back laid bare.
The spring collections are uncharacteristically serious, cerebral and, dare we say it, introspective. Is this soul-searching in uncertain times? Designers seem to have wiped the slate clean of an autumn-winter that was all about baroque, embellishments and intricacy. Prints and colours are more ethereal and not as bold or bright as expected.
The Orient express Asia is a major influence, in the silhouettes, prints and origami folds.
Volume Everything is loosening up with an A-line silhouette and boxy tops with loose skirts or trousers. It's time for a relaxed fit.
Flowing chiffon-like fabrics Airy and light materials have been manipulated to maximum ripple effect on a tide of floor-length gowns.
Modernist, minimal and graphic Mostly expressed in checks, bold stripes, patterns with a visual trick and a hint of the mods of the 1960s.
Pastels A few bolts of bright hues give us a jolt, but a more muted, ethereal palette is revealed. Worry not, powder-soft shades have been given an edge.
Bold ruffles There is nothing girly about most of these ruffles, which have been employed instead for volume and dramatic effect.
Moody black Yes, even for spring-summer. Designers in Paris and many in Milan are exploiting the seriousness and severity of black. Some find it depressing, others mysterious and reflective.
"Le Smoking" jacket and trouser suits A nod to the urban working woman and Helmut Newton-style power dressing. These incarnations come in sharp new cuts.
Patent surfaces Shiny, cold and rather edgy - shirts, skirts and summer raincoats all have gone patent, whether in leather or plastic.
Stark whites Conveying minimalism and purity. There are bright white blouses, dresses and head-to-toe outfits, many with sheer effects or panels.
A straight silhouette There is a distinct lack of figure-hugging shapes on the runways. Ensembles hang effortlessly from shoulders and hips, and are relatively straight top to bottom. Minimalism, the 20s and the 60s are key theme here. Jing Zhang and Francesca Fearon
From left: Blumarine, Mugler and Gareth Pugh