Any fashion historian knows that in the 1950s there were, essentially, two overriding silhouettes: a highly-constricted waist, ample breasts, softly-sloping shoulders and a to-the-knee skirt either hobble-slim or massively buoyed with frou-frou petticoats. Night or day, town or country, that was your lot. It was pretty much the same story today at Giambattista Valli, a designer whose work always has a couture bent and who this season looked to the fifties heydays of Dior, Fath and Balenciaga. From Dior, Valli took the New Look, in its acres of debutante skirts and overriding, overarching (and occasionally overpowering) femininity. From Fath, a love of asymmetry and dramatic uses of cloth with obliquely-placed bows, peep-over collars and massed carnations decorating bodices and skirts. From Balenciaga, he took the cocooning silhouettes and slightly looser sacque shapes he has been playing with for a few seasons. Sometimes, Valli's mixes of couture past and pret-a-present fall flat on their faces, and sometimes they work. This, luckily, was one of the latter occasions. There was a light, sugary sense of femininity to the collection, enhanced by the bon-bon sweet sorbet shades of rose-beige, lemon and vanilla fondant used in delicate fabrics that still had the body to weightlessly hold Valli's ambitious shapes. There were - again - high-piled chignons, but this time they were more Madame de Pompadour than Marie Antoinette, lower, chicer and far less ostentatious. The Versailles flavour was picked up by courtly knee-breeches, worn with silken jackets slightly inflated at the hip, but rendered in black like mere shadows of the eighteenth century. Indeed, if this was Madame de la Marquise, she had met Marnie somewhere, as there was more than a touch of the clean, brittle chic of a Hitchcock heroine flexing on hauteur-than-haute heels in the tight and spare silhouettes.Fussiness was confined to the decoration, and even then Valli's sparing use of print and trademark self-fabric ruffles felt precious and yet restrained. And, in a season when so many designers have worked themselves into a tricksy frenzy and let all their better insticts be trounced by a flounce, Valli's easy way with ruching and gathering fabric into decorative milles-feuilles stood out - quite literally in his pumped, plumped but still controlled debutante circle-skirts. The finale of half-a-dozen frou-frou all-over-beribboned floor-length trained ballgowns had no sense of restraint at all, gorged as it was with the overblown Scarlett O'Hara school of sock-it-to-me femininity Valli so adores. But we can allow Valli to overindulge himself on the sweet stuff when the result of all that gorging is quite so gorgeous.
Androgynous clones rather than erogynous zones are the standard at Haider Ackermann (if you pardon the rather witless pun), but this season Ackermann proves he can do sex appeal with the best of them. His collection opened with the shortest of short tan suede romper suits, rising high over the model's hips and behind - surely the last thing we expect to see from a designer as cerebral as Ackermann. And yet, this piece was perfectly in keeping with his aesthetic. Detailed like a flight jacket, scarred and sliced with zips strategically allowing the garment to open and give a glimpse of the fleshy innards, this was sex appeal for the thinking woman. Those sinuous, spiralling zips were everywhere, slicing through suede, leather, silk and wool, part striptease part vivisection - we were on the Rue d'Ecole du Medicin after all. Where two zippers met, occasionally, the fabric rucked and twisted around the body, protrucing, creating empty space between body and clothing. More oft than not scissored away at the ribcage and popped at the shoulderline, Ackermann's jackets were luxurious and desirable and why only the brave dare go for the suede 'Perfecto' bodies (presumably with their own perfect bodies to encase), they will be well-served. Moving away from these rather hard looks in animal skins, Ackermann caught onto the Grecian feeling, something far closer in spirit to his slightly Nomadic, ethereal style. Draped chiffon and silk-jerseys had degrade effects in subtle palettes of beige, mahogany and silvery-grey, offering an equally powerful alternative to Ackermann's new body-consciousness. A foray into bruised hues of mauve, cerulean and black chiffon and shiny-shiny patent leather was slightly less successful, ditto silk scaves draped from the hairline to veil half the face: shades of Air Emirates stewardesses sprang to mind. Overall, however, these minor trips fell by the wayside in a collection that, for the vast part, pushed all the right buttons and then more. It was sensual rather than sexy, erotic rather than porno, and ultimately, supremely elegant.
The always-fabulous Diane Pernet outside Bernhard Willhelm. An even more dedicated fashion blogger than I!
Two out of three isn't bad - and here are two of New York's DJ trio The Missfits (although besides Leigh Lezark, I'm not sure which two thanks to Mr Willhelm's outfit!)
Castelbajac fan Carri Mundane of Cassette Playa heading backstage after the show.
Martin Sitbon's Rue Du Mail show was another example of fashion's flash-in-the-pan fascination with the polar extremes of the distant, even neolithic past and a brave new future of sharp tailoring, pointy fins and super-sheened fabrics. It's a pity that Sitbon's show came so late in the week and after so many others had presented similar visions of fashion's brave future, as there were elements of the show that looked and felt exciting - or would have done if the hyperbole to describe had not been used up during the start of the week. The glossy patent accessories, for one, were a strong contrast against the faded hues of flesh pink, eau de nil and beige, with washed-out chevrons of black and white or red and beige blurred by their printing of organza. There were touches or origami in Sitbon's folding and pleating of fabric into those future fantastic finlike protrusions, projecting stiffly over the poitrine or from the hipbones. The opening outfits looked fresh, with symmetrically arranged panels of taffeta in black, white and nude pleated and laid over contrasting tops and skirts like armoured exoskeletons reminiscent of high-impact crash protection or aeordynamic 'go faster' detailing on transatlantic jets. Stiff little taffeta jackets had the same impact, hanging firmly in place on the body and gently undulating with its movement, and when those fins and plackets were applied to a nude taffeta trench, it suggested they could have a very successful and viable life away from the catwalk. Later, limper fins of fabric flapped and wrapped around the legs, with patchworked and ribbon-appliqued bodices and rough, visible blanket stitching. This seemed to be the 'primitive' influence, along with more of the season's slit-and-sliced drapery, wrapping and binding and fretted leather details. Somehow, somewhere, it lost its way, and by the end the collection became more about folding fabric and less about creating clothes.
A taxidermied myriad of fauna form a fitting backdrop for Alexander McQueen's S/S 2009 collection , 'Natural Dis-tinction Un-Natural Selection'.