by Alexander Fury .

Paris Collections Spring/Summer 2012: An Unbearable Lightness

Paris is in meltdown. Well, at least I am - I'm British after all. But there's nothing the British love more than complaining about the weather, or so a few American editors have told me with a roll of their eyes (it was broiling in New York, so they've packed accordingly). The meltdown, of course, comes from the pace of the shows as much as the brick-cracking chaleur outside.

Heat be damned, we've seen some magnificent things. For me, Paris has reasserted its dominance this season, designers creating idiosyncratic, entirely individual collections. It's nice that they all seem to be pulling from a similar bag of ideas this season, but the interpretations are so disparate and unique it never feels old. Even when it's referencing the past boldly and consistently - Rochas' late-fifties schlock chic, for example, managed to be old and new at the same time. The whole idea was that you knew everything but nothing was entirely right. Imagine an alien trying to do fifties chic and getting it almost right. That off touch was the seduction in this soft show. It didn't shout for attention. It whispered, you listened. 

Yohji Yamamoto is another clothes whisperer. His show earlier this week was brilliant, full of pomp and circumstance, swaggering tailcoats and grand ball-dresses, but all still deft and light. Lightness is something every designer should strive for in their spring collections. Karl Lagerfeld's Chanel collection today was obsessed with lightness, gowns as fragile and ephemeral as sea foam, hair scattered with pearls like water droplets or air-bubbles. Lady Amanda Harlech pointed out to me that she was under the water, not outside of it - so she wouldn't actually look wet. Nothing here seemed damp, but crisp and clean and refreshing. That was the feeling too at Phoebe Philo's Celine show, where peplums (she called them basques but they're all the same, and all over Paris) danced around waists and hips in a play on proportion and femininity. It managed to be decorative and Minimal at the same time, a fraught struggle.

Femininity is an overarching theme of the spring season. It is womenswear we're seeing after all, so I'm quite glad designers figured out that women quite like looking like women. But it's more than that. 'Sometimes women want to look fragile,' was something else Lady Harlech said to me that has stuck in my mind whilst seeing all these terribly feminine clothes careen down the catwalks. I was looking for a riposte to the stereotypical sweetness of women, but maybe postfeminist women sometimes like to embrace that fragility, confident in their equality.

Rei Kawakubo's fashion is rarely fragile, but for spring she showed Comme des Garcon's softer side. Well, sort of. This was about the slavery in beauty, about the strength behind fragility, expressed through ruffled upon ruffle, pile-ups of bouquets and untouchable mountains of pristine white fabric. That description doesn't make clear that it was also, oddly, about clothes that could easily be stripped down into something lots of people would want to wear a piece of. That's an extremely difficult mix to pull off. It was interesting to see someone handling it with such aplomb.

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