Fashion, to an extent, is Darwinian. It's all about the survival of the fittest. And, after 10 years in the wilds of Parisian fashion (including his period at Givenchy), Alexander McQueen has proved his talent can tough it out with the best of them. Darwin formed a central theme to his S/S 2009 show - witness the Museum of Natural History-style taxidermied tableaux and incessantly spinning globe that formed the backdrop. However, rather than Darwin's evolutionary theorems, it was McQueen's own twisted take on 'Unnatural Selection', namely the destructive influence of mankind on nature, that gave the show its focus. It was an ambitious and overarching concept, and one that could easily hang heavy on the hemlines of any catwalk, but McQueen ran with it and made it his own. Perhaps it suited so well because his woman has always been a survivor and because McQueen has always proffered femininity with bite. Whatever the reason, the collection had a touch of the acidic anger of McQueen's early shows, brutal, visceral assaults on the senses that hit the back of the throat. The collection developed ideas of human intrusion and modification subtly, germinating from a soft naturalistic palette of beige, flesh and white to harder, more artificial shades. Sulphur yellow, sickly petroleum blue and acidic red seeped into prints like bacterial spores, while said prints - straited colours on floating georgette and chiffon - spiralled around the body, looking one moment organic, then architectural, then suddenly skeletal. The cut too became more hard-edged, banishing soft curves and attenuating the line. The transformation was finally complete by the finale: a sequence of fitted trousers, moulded mini-dresses and finally a throat-to-ankle catsuit smothered in hard, cold crystal. McQueen talked about the Industrial Revolution, and indeed there was an oblique Victorian slant to many of these garments. The silhouette, according to McQueen, was moulded around a Victorian dressmaker's dummy, and the frock-coats, backwards-jutting silhouette and corsetted waists all evoke that era - and, of course, are found in McQueen's best work. Indeed, even the modernism of the collection, the monochrome engineering prints like shadows cast by the steel infastructure of the Eiffel Tower, seemed to be seen through Victorian eyes; the future as imagined by Jules Verne. For all it's apocalyptic imagery, McQueen's show was by no means dour. For those in love with his femininity, the ruffled silks and tulles, soft woodgrain-print frock coats and whitework embroidery will all suffice. But it was in the harder synthesis of man and nature that McQueen managed to work magic, offering a glittering, glamorous vision of hard, untouchable artificality that at once seduced and repulsed. Lest this all sound too grim and foreboding, a finale to The Pink Panther theme - accompanied by Mr McQueen in a giant white rabbit suit - proved he hasn't lost his sense of humour. He just has more important matters on his mind.
On the back of Thursday's sensational show, I quite frankly couldn't wait to get my hands on Stefano Pilati's latest collection for Yves Saint Laurent. And I was in luck as I managed to snag a re-see the day after the show. Spectacular as the runway shows usually are, its often an underwhelming experience to see the clothes in the flesh, but luckily, in this instance they clothes only got better up close. The tailoring, for me, was still the high-point: weightless jackets without lining or interfacing in feather-light kid mohair, with sidebodies extended into dolman sleeves to give that backwards-jutting silhouette at the shoulders. The idea of weightlessness continued with the sequinned pieces for evening, where despite the thick encrustations of sequins the garments were still simple, soft and pliant - seldom found even at this level of luxury retail. The real joy was in seeing up close and personal those intricate details that the catwalk cannot possibly express: witness the architectural whorl of sleeve and plump cabbage-rose bow on the opening babydoll duster in teardrop-patterned figured velvet. Simply stunning.
Visiting the Pierre Hardy showroom is always a pleasure: this time not least because I got to meet the eponymous Monsieur Hardy himself. The collect built on many of the codes established last season - those hit flat metal Escher cubes were reworked in enamel, and even patchworked into rather fetching bags. Inspired by surf, a new range of neoprene shoes caught next season's futuristic bent: I'm not entirely how practical 5-inch heels would be to windsurf in, but you'd look very chic trying. Pierre explained that this neoprene was not reconditioned fashion neoprene, but genuine surfer's fabric, and indeed the colours popped like a Cornwall beach in the midst of summer. To counter all this sportif, rope sandals in flesh and black - part Barbarian part bondage - came either monastically flat or with a towering, severe heel. I was especially taken, however, with the 'Lingerie' range, utilising suspender-elastic to tautly strap the foot into the skimpiest of stilletos and kinky little flats: refined and slightly, deliciously perverse. I do hope there are women brave enough to wear them outside of the bedroom.
Despite its considerable creative clout, London is unfortunately relative small fry when it comes to financial matters, therefore much of the selling of British-based design goes on in Paris. This season, The British Fashion Council exported a whole raft of Brit young guns to the continent under a single roof at the Galerie Artcore on Rue de Richlieau. Represented amongst the names were our Future Tense openers Mary Katrantzou and Todd Lynn, whose films also graced Diane Pernet's 'A Shaded View on Fashion Film' festival earlier this week. Lynn's slick, hard collection was as impressive up close as it was as catwalk drama: even more so when you can appreciate the exquisite finish, tailoring and intricate details (chains across the back of sweaters, jacquard knits and a wicked way with feathers). Building on the strong print foundation of her MA graduation show, Mary Katrantzou's small capsule collection of silk crepe dresses with Jeff Koons-esque Pop graphics that leapt off the fabric was sensational, as were her hefty, chunky metallic jewels - well worth the turmoil of handling them through customs. Much-feted over the past two seasons, Meadham Kirchhoff's intricately-worked lace and poplin shirts offered a slightly harder-edged, ravaged beauty, alongside their hand-tattered and bleached denim and hand-shredded chiffons. There were practical, salable separates alongside this Miss Havisham drama - although a shirt with fused veil of lace over the top half managed that difficult mix of catwalk sensation and retail reality so many have been striving after. With adjoining rooms housing Erdem's Monet-hued prints and lacy frippery and Henry Holland's inimitable print, and a downstairs entirely taken over by Lulu Kennedy's Fashion East Crowd, it proved there really is no place like home.
If anyone ever tells you fashion is glamorous don't believe a word of it. John Gallianos show is held way outside the perimeter of Paris in this rather unwelcoming steel bunker. Chic. We've ticked past the start time of 8, but as yet the doors remain bolted. I also swear I just heard them play the theme tune to the Scottish Widows advert during rehearsal. But maybe I'm hallucinating due to the cold. Balenciaga once said that fashion was a dog's life. Isn't it the truth...
Luckily, that ruddy glow does indicate a source of heat to stave off frostbite for another season. Galliano's set this time - far less schematically complex that his recent shows - is a railway yard's sidings, complete with barricades, bollards, jacked-up carriages and what looks alarmingly like a real catwalk.
That theme tune wasn't from Scottish Widows, it was from Lloyds TSB, and perhaps John Galliano had matters financial on his mind when creating his latest collection. Indeed, this show seemed very much grounded in the here and now - witness a catwalk of derailed trains and glowing embers eerily reminiscent of the British contingent's worst fears for the journey home tomorrow. The stripped-back presentation not only reflected these stripped-back times, but also a certain paring down of Galliano's more exuberant instincts: gone was the historical fantasia and unapologetic escapism of his last few seasons, and in its place was a commercially viable collection of the gorgeous dresses Galliano does best. No tricks, no dazzle, no dreaming. In a sense, that was what this show lacked: a full-throttle, white kuckle, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants Galliano fantasia would have been a welcome antidote to a season all too aware of harsh realities. That's not to say Galliano abandonned his trademark romanticism: far from it. Indeed, this collection was a ravishing deluge of slippery bias-cut chiffon, billowing in rich, saturated colours, vivid prints and unusual combinations. The opening outfits marrying acidic cyclamen, flame and clementine orange hues in short, flippy skater-skirts and slip dresses quickly sweetened into succulent rococo hues of aquamarine, primrose, powdery pink and bleu de Roi lifted from Sevres porcelain. Beautiful as they were, these are tried and tested Galliano staples, and although neither a practical trousersuit nor speck of the basic black we have seen everywhere appeared on this catwalk, a similar note of belt-tighening and reining-in was in the air. The collection was apparently inspired by Jeff Koons - and his kitschy influence could be seen in the multi-hued prints, and hefty, organic metallic shoes that put one in mind of his balloon-rabbit sculptures. His notions of parody could be read in Galliano's play on scale: as with his giant billet de train invite, details were blown to gigantic proportions on the Napoleonic frock-coats jackets and in Stephen Jones irrepresible millinery: a touch of pure, unadulterated ludique that kept the collection just the right side of madcap. At the same time, Koons' ideas of postmodern pastiche, irony and wry marriage of commerce and art don't exactly sit side-by-side with fashion's last great romantic. In a sense this show lacked a little emotion, in the same way that, arguably, Koons' art focusses on unfeeling superficiality. For a man whose very raison d'etre is to break the rules, to see Galliano playing them quite so slickly was a little disheartening.
Even before Star Trek and the Cold War Space Race, Cristobal Balenciaga's remit was always to go where no man had gone before. Nicolas Ghesquiere continues this house tradition, albeit often more in the vein of Balenciaga's decidedly Sci Fi protege Andre Courreges. This season, Ghesquiere was inspired by light: its refraction, reflection and perhaps the potential for us to travel at its speed - at least in fashion terms. His collection seagued from space pod to solar panel via Kubrick's vision of 2001. The opening pale mini-dresses ruched around a solid core were seemingly crafted from some futuristic hybrid flesh-fabric, but in the showroom this morphed into resolutely old-school stretch georgette and silk organza, gathered, stiffened and boned in the age-old couture traditions. His pleated dresses and jackets, with metallic foiled prints applied over the top were extraordinay, but at the same time minimally contructed to feel as light as they looked, while vacuum-packed and patchworked leather managed to straddle the tricky divide between headline-grabbing novelty and heirloom luxury. Alongside these showpieces were the core of Balenciaga's selling collection: the shapes and seaming of those solar panel jackets were translated into chantilly lace with taped seams, while the holographic prints became irridescent sheens on achingly desirable yet still directional chunky crocodile accessories.
Having missed the London Fashion Week exhibition almost entirely due to a jam-packed show schedule (who says we don't need six days?!), I had a lucky opportunity to venture into Paris' Marais disctrict to view the work of these two Future Tense designers, exhibiting together in a gallery space. Which, arguably, is where many of their precious and intricate pieces belong: El Odeh's beaded ray-bans for one (the solid silver shades I so admired last season were reissued in this 'sportif' shape also), and Flora McLean's sculptural jewellery pieces. Flora's first dress - the subject of her film - was also on display in the gallery window: a somewhat simpler affair, she says, than many expected. 'Everyone asked me what plastic it was going to be made out of... but it's a cotton shirt-dress!' Understated admittedly, but still a precision piece of cut, pintuck and pleat.
More of El Odeh's wares were on display a mere Marais walk away in Marios Schwab's showroom. Taking a decided turn for the commercial this season (then again, hasn't just about everyone?), Schwab was evidently looking to widen his fanbase by offering a piece of Schwab at every level. From t-shirts and swimsuits to buttery suede seperates right through to those spectacular jewelled rope slave dresses (if you have the stomach for both the fit and the price-tag), Schwab managed to give his creativity a sophisticated polish. I personally loved the prints of abstract drapery on silk jersey that was itself draped into complex cocktail dresses, El Odeh's electroplated rope jewellery and this cat's cradle of diamante-strewn twine around a khaki body-con frock.
Why should the velvet seats be restricted to an already-priviledged front row? Alber Elbaz - always a perfect gentleman - extends his way way back throughout his Lanvin venue, although with a flickering projection of the house's name on a backdrop of cinematic curtains and Marlene Dietrich on the pre-show soundtrack, the feel is more Silver Screen than Golden Age of Hollywood.
Alber Elbaz's show for Lanvin began, uncharacteristically, with an apology for lateness: unheard of in the fashion world. This note of politesse set the tone for the collection, a well-behaved, well-bred selection of basic satin skirts, trousersuits and cocktail dresses that carried on where his last outing left off. Decoration was restrained: a hint of ruffles, texture in cloque and silk boucle and a few touches of colour - French Navy, dark green and rich, buttery yellow - amongst many neutrals and of course the ever present black. Even jewellery was restrained: the sautoir and pauruve necklaces bouncing over a couple of knee-length trenches were self-coloured, adding texture without glitter. All very subtle, all very chic. But rather dull. The shoes offered a hint of glamour: multi-faceted, multi-coloured paste jewels applied to rich satin stilletos with a dagger-sharp heel and papery-flat front. These were what elicited murmurs of desire amongst the surrounding audience, raised eyebrows and covetous expressions. Well, as the saying goes, they ain't seen nothing yet. It's what Alber Elbaz did next that was the story - not only of this show, but of the week and perhaps even the season. He forgot his manners. He forgot those ideas of modern taste, class and refinement he has been instrumental in building. Instead, he decided it was time to party. And what he offered, appropriately enough, were party clothes: acid, acrid satins and silk gazars in shades of bottle green, fucshia and aquamarine encrusted with jewelled floral appliques, sequins, crusted layers of diamante, multicoloured gems at throat, wrist, ear, heels - anywhere that could be decorated. The point where I downed my cameraphone, closed my notebook and began to cheer and applaud until my hands stung was at the appearance of the first (but by no means last) neon leopard-print cocktail dress. That is, the first of this show, the first on a Lanvin catwalk, and the first in fashion for approximately fifteen years. The vulgarity, the unabashed bad taste, was more than a jolt to the senses: it was the aesthetic equivalent of the Heimlich manouvre. And god bless him, it was exactly what we needed. Alber Elbaz provided, finally, unabashed escapism - the silver screen references in the show were perhaps an echo of Hollywood's star system providing a cathartic fantasy to counter the dull reality of the depression. There was more than a touch of early Versace about these clothes, not to mention Lacroix's couture debut, ill-advisedly launched on the brink of the last big financial meltdown. However, its eventual form was distinctly Lanvin - and seeing Elbaz allow himself this indulgence was all part of the fun. The devil-may-care, caution-to-the-wind extravagance of Lanvin was exactly what we wanted, nay needed: a powerful, authoritive and most importantly new statement that showed us exactly how to dress on the brink of a recession. The best shows of this week have all been those that elicit and express emotion. We've seen anger, we've seen bravery, we've seen fear. This afternoon it was pure joy. Perhaps it's superficial to get that from fashion. But after Lanvin, the beauty is I really don't care anymore.
A triumph. And under multi-coloured disco lights, no less. A wonderful, wonderful way to end Paris Fashion Week.
I remember Wode first being touted at Boudicca's A/W 2001 show 'The Battle of Altruism', where an ever-evolving scent-scape of a battleground drifted across the audience during the presentation. While our own Violence perfume is currently under development, it is fascinating to see Boudicca's ambitious and unique olfactory vision finally becoming a commercial reality. Typically, Boudicca's foray into perfume is as unconventional as their contributions to fashion: Wode is named after woad, a tribal colouring used by Ancient Britons during warfare, and the fragrance emerges from its container stained the same violent, virulent indigo as said pigment. But fear not, the colour fades (although after I doused the lovely Laura Bradley rather liberally with the stuff yesterday, we had our doubts) leaving behind only the fragrance. No anodyne floriental, the heavy, heady fragrance has notes of raw opium and hemlock, inspired by the label's namesake, Iceni Queen Boadicea, who killed herself by swallowing this poison.
Contained within a spraypaint can wrapped with metal-tipped ribbon and bearing an engraved nameplate, there is no chink in Boudicca's aesthetic armour in this diversification. Wode exudes the qualities of rebellion, intellectualism and a subversive, agitprop luxury inextricably associated with Boudicca from every pore. And, most importantly, when the colour fades it smells absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, it was impossible to capture the scent, but the video above shows to some small degree the (frankly magical) visual play of the fragrance in action.
'Wode' can be purchased online at www.boudiccawode.com
The very idea of 'eco-chic' conjures up images of hemp, hessian and, to borrow the words of Colin McDowell, "do-gooders having a go at fashion". But the London College of Fashion went a long way to countering these accusations last night in a catwalk show dedicated to 'Fashioning the Future.' Opening a summit of the same name in association with the Centre for Sustainable Fashion and held today at LCF, the show presented the work of 26 designers, including fifteen finalists of a global student project sponsored by Adili.com to create directional fashion with a distinct ecological conscience.
Attempts to counterbalance the built-in obsolescence of fashion often come to the fore during times of financial strife - the distinct difference between many past stabs and these offerings, it seemed, was the fact that aesthetics were not relegated to second-place in favour of hemp-wrapped go-green proselytising. Not to say that hemp wasn't there - Susanne Johnson's rivetted, pleated and sharply-tailored organic cotton and hemp were proof positive that fair trade doesn't have to mean vilage fete. As with much fashion, recycling was key - although in this instance, recycled fabric was as important as revived ideas. Rie Munthe Rasmussen crafted found fabrics and accessories into new clothing (including a show-stopping opera-coat appliqued with dozens of hand-me-down purses), Sandra Rojo Picon reworked clothing and household textiles into sharp Liberty-patterned dresses, and Jessica Beyers adorned her dresses with reclaimed scrap copper.
Judged by head of LCF Dr Frances Corner, adili.com creative director Sim Scavazza, Caryn Franklin and Colin McDowell, the show's clear stand-outs were also, happily, the winners: 'Material' winner Nimish Shah used textiles created in his native India for crisply-cut shapes reminiscent of chic late-seventies separates, while 'Innovation' winner Manon Flener's 'modular' collection had opened proceedings on a strong note with sharp, angular and sophisticated shapes. Offering a solution both to fabric consumption and the waning UK textile industry, Flener's garments could be adjusted and reassembled at whim to provide endless permutations, while both the fabrics and striking gold hardware used to construct the collection were sourced from independent UK manufacturers therefore supporting cottage industry - quietly but decidedly green. By and large this was the story: reinterpreting conventional views of sustainability, the collections were glamorous, polished and often unabashedly sexy - something even a do-gooder can do with every now and again.