Alber Elbaz has a problem. As one of the most lauded and influential designers in fashion, Elbaz's issue is the seasonal demand to surpass himself. Without wishing to polish too fine a PR point on it, how do you improve on near-perfection? He was touted as a prime candidate for the plum newly-free head honcho post at Dior, and Monsieur Christian himself lamented at length fashion's fundamental demand for a designer to surpass themselves season after season.
For some collections, Elbaz is content to develop his past triumphs still further. But every now and again, it's time for a volte-face. Monsieur Dior called them his 'coups de Trafalgar,' the jolts that moved the line on to something new. Spring/Summer 2012 is definitely one of them. For Elbaz, it's a cruel, cruel summer. Forget the softness he's been pushing for the past few years, this was Lanvin reduced to a knife-edge slither of a silhouette, firm of shoulder and skinny of skirt.
What that equated to was a new rigour and strictness, flesh revealed through winking seams and razored slashes. Necklines were generally high, sometimes coiled with a choker suspending a bejewelled cross. Was that a Biblical theme emerging - there were serpents coiling around everything, beaded into cocktail dresses or a mesmerising, serpentine print across silk, maybe Elbaz's ideal woman was Eve? Or maybe she was Cleopatra in hefty jewellery and mummy-wrapped skirts, an asp (or seventy) clasped to her bosom in bugle-beads and silk-screening. If we're thinking about the latter, all roads lead not to Rome, but naturally stray towards the late Elizabeth Taylor - she's reared her head as an icon a few times already this season. Nothing could scream silver screen icon more than Elbaz's pleated miles of tulle fluttering away from the body, a finale of soft to all that hard.
There was much here that seemed familiar - those hefty shoulders, for instance, barely three seasons out of regular rotation, have popped up on a few catwalks. These were done with conviction, with strength and power - not only the strength of the designer, but of the woman wearing them too.Power dressing is a trite cliche, but in a season devoted to the female form divine, but supine. And preferably wrapped in pastels. Elbaz, by contrast, clad his woman in monochrome (black is the new black, to borrow a cliche), breaking into vibrant, insistent colour, the rich reptile green and a flurry of orange at the climax. What an appropriate term.
Much as its satisfying to see Elbaz expounding on his perfect, it's exhilarating when he decides to take us to pastures new. There's no greater aphrodisiac than change, or so the saying goes - be ready to be seduced afresh.