Kanye West loves the drama of a fashion show. What he perhaps didn't realise when staging his first own-label outing last season, however, is that for a designer it is a cross between a rock-concert and a firing squad, adulation and condemnation equally possible. West has plenty of experience of the first, but the second is new territory indeed - although, after the reviews of his first outing (which many assumed would be his last), he's learned a lot about it.
West has learned a lot of other things in the short Autumn/Winter 2012 design season too. He's learned how to edit, honing his ideas down to a single concise catwalk statement. He's also learned the importance of fit, and there were none of the recurring problems with frocks slipping and sliding down (and, in the case of the tighter numbers, up) his models' bodies. His also learned that what he does really really well is to put on a show. That's what he gave us.
West dragged us all to the vast La Halle Freyssinet on the edge of Paris, installing a massive catwalk in a space usually divvied up for at least three. We've been to back-to-back showings of several thousand for Lanvin, Vivienne Westwood and Maison Martin Margiela here before. This time, it was Kanye. He unleashed a swarm of go-kart drivers at the end, a screeching finale to a show that had everything from Klieg lights to dry ice in the theatrics stage. You may think of them as (literally) smoke and dazzle to distract us, but we didn't need distracting as West actually had something to say this season, and it was something worth hearing.
West's message was tight and sexy, reiterated in the skirt shapes hugging the models' bodies and kicking out in a frill of volume below the knee. There was something feral and animalistic to his woman too, as evidenced by devore patterns that mimicked pelt alongside a mix of genuine skins, astrakhan and fox appearing alongside leather. They were sewn into the waist-defining shapes that marked this offering out, a hint of Alaia and Yves Saint Laurent evident in their suctioned curves without any vulgarity. Yes, I said 'without'. There was sex, but it wasn't x-rated, even when a crocodile-fronted dress came with stretch-chiffon sides.
When West and his design team stretched their muscles and experimented with looser, easier shapes, this collection seemed to offer something different. After all, those tight dresses were a perfection of last season's concept (if not execution) of clingfilm-tight lines. Best in show was a tight pencil skirt worn under a loose t-shirt entirely encrusted with chain, like a twisted, silver-plated take on an aran knit. You could imagine Kanye himself wearing it. And for many designers - Mr West included - that's a pretty hefty compliment.