An inordinate number of the Autumn/Winter 2011 Parisian collections seem dedicated to the indecipherable, indelible and iconic idea of French chic. That is, of course, Alber Elbaz's leitmotif at Lanvin - although his is a chic without the stuffing, raw-seamed and pre-washed. A chic with some edge, indeed.
For next season, those edges come metal-bound, with brass bands right-angling around the collars of neat but voluminous little capes, plating the edges of pocket openings and forming fastenings at the neck of neat tunics. Those opened the show, a touch of the industrial to all that hardware underlined by clunky flat brogues. It's typical that, after being one of the key influences to ignite the whole couture furore fashion is in the grips of right now, Elbaz distanced himself from it - those metal-bound edges and clean shapes reminded one of Bonnie Cashin and Pauline Trigere. The latter may have a French surname, but the designs of both were American couture through and through, just like Elbaz's easy. breezy and streamlined Lanvin.
Both Cashin and Trigere were also, of course, women - so was Jeanne Lanvin, and while Elbaz may always wear the trousers he has a palpable feminine side when it comes to dressing a woman stylishly and sympathetically. That, of course, includes breaks from the arch chic more normally associated with male couturiers - those flat oxford shoes are a prim, and prime, example. The headgear was another typical oddball Elbaz-ism - they resembled a wide-brimmed Amish hat, and tied aesthetically to the jaunty fedoras of the menswear.
For evening, however, Elbaz returned to his more usual stomping-ground - although 'stomping' is hardly the word for those floaty, feminine dresses, as light and air-filled as the puffiest of French souffles. These had that odd combination of structure and lightness Elbaz so loves, crafted from gazar which made their enormous, buoyant shapes float weightlessly around the body. These looked freshest in flower-spewed black and white and crazy polka dots - the hot pink and scarlet numbers were, for many, a little too frou-frou feminine, and highly reminiscent of Lanvin collections past (not to mention the small matter of that H&M collab) to have the same kind of impact as the graphic daywear. There's charm to that consistency, though - but it's the twisty-turny new quirks that really pull you in afresh at each Lanvin collection. And those quirks don't stop at the tailoring: this season, there was a very life-size weeping-willow on the catwalk courtesy of Shona Heath, and a soundtrack courtesy of Queen soundtrack. No explanations were immediately forthcoming for either, but those Queen lyrics rang true: 'Don't stop me now/ I'm having such a good time/ I'm having a ball.' A pithy summary of Elbaz's immense talent, right there.