Alexis Mabille wears his heart on his sleeve. In fact, he usually sews it into the sleeve - whatever his overriding passion is in any season, it will be worn loud, proud and evident from the very first exit. Overriding is perhaps an apt phrase, given that often his themes can ride roughshod over considerations such as 'aesthetically pleasing', 'modern' or indeed plain 'wearable.'
Of course, the above can be disregarded if we feel a designer is pushing our taste level somewhere new, to some heightened (or, occasionally, lowered) state of being. That simply is not the case with Mabille. His is a traditional, even old-fashioned feel for femininity - there's something fuddy-duddy about his clothes, something unavoidably staid and stale. In itself, that's no big problem. Rich old ladies will always want rich old clothes. The issue is when Mabille tries to get conceptual.
So we come to his latest couture collection, and a collision of concept and couture. 'Color (sic) Therapy' was the title Mabille gave his collection, alongside a pretentious quote from Proust and some cant about woman as a monochrome femme-fleur. That's one of those timeless, timed-out archetypes of haute couture: the keynote line of Dior's spring 1947 collection was titled 'Corolla' after a corolla of petals unfolding (it was Carmel Snow of Harper's Bazaar who dubbed it the 'New Look'). John Galliano revisited the theme in his winter 2010 couture collection for the house. The trouble with Mabille's interpretation was that, despite those therapy claims, it brought absolutely nothing new to the mix. Mabille's femmes flounced through the gilded salons of the Hotel Shangri-La clad in single hues: glowing cyclamen for a satin day-dress, maybe, or a saturated satsuma for ruffle-sleeve blouse and paillette-rinsed skirt. Sounds dodgy? Here's the real clincher: atop each model's painted face nodded an oversized, overblown, serving-platter sized bloom in the same hue.
That sounds farcical. It was - but decapitated, the models fared little better. The clothes themselves smacked of provincial dressmaking: macarena ruffles spiralling around the body in cobalt blues or hot, fleshy pink. A few pieces could stand up to scrutiny, a sequinned Le Smoking in acrid yellow had an odd charm, and although the aforementioned ruffle-cuff blouse looked God-awful in orange eyelet lace (but what wouldn't) there was an air of fifties couture sophistication to it. Likewise a powdery-pink, lace-inset ballgown cinched with a simple ribbon belt. That one was picture-perfect as is. So perfect, indeed, it was almost sad to see it emerge, a fleeting glimpse at what this collection could have been.