When we're all battening down the hatches and toughening up for a hard winter, the interesting thing is to see the way this is adapted and adopted by those designers whose leitmotif (or even raison d'être) is fragile, delicate femininity. None have made that their hallmark more in recent years than Olivier Theyskens - first at Rochas and now at Nina Ricci, Theysken's vision is an Elysian idyll of wafting chiffon and doe-eyed maidens skipping in flowered meadows. Maybe I'm overstating my point, but you catch the drift. How then, could he step in tune with these rougher, tougher climes? With a teeth-rattling, bone-crushing jolt, it seems.
For next season, Nina Ricci offered bitch dressing to the nth degree, shoulders pumped-up, waists handspan and models attenuated into towering giants courtesy of precarious ten-inch platform heels. The deal was that the heel was gone - or occasionally hovering, uselessly, a good five inches off the ground. If this sounds a little schlocky, it was - and they came out with every outfit. Above the ankle, the look was similarly uncompromising. Models' eyes were shadowed by crin disks pulled low over the head, their bodies sheathed in sharp, slick, exaggerated tailoring. Shoulders were huge and overpowering, peplums jutted forcefully over the hips and skirts were sliced just a little too short for comfort - that or slashed, slat and fettered up the seams to carve out the whole front. Darkness prevailed in a palette of darks heightened with glittering flashes of cerise, turquoise and blood-red. All a shock to the senses - but bear in mind that Theyskens is a Belgian Goth at heart. Remember that hook-and-eye scarred chartreuse satin number he dressed Madonna in back in 1998, or any of his early forays into taxidermy? Hence, the dark roots of this collection could maybe be understood. Nevertheless, something felt awry - the super-short suctioned-in shapes scarred with rhinestone embroidery have never been Theysken's thing, ditto the clodhopping homages to Monsieurs Mugler and Montana. Theysken's huge, hunched shoulders slipped forward, his tailoring groped at the body and slits sped up seams sky-high. Glitter encrusted everything - and I really mean everything - from lurex-threaded body stockings to sequin-encrusted disco trousers to those heels, wrapped in metallicised leather or drenched in magenta sparkles. And what of Nina Ricci's trademark, elegiac and elegant trailing eveningwear? Theysken again cranked up the volume, with exaggerated, jutting ruffles and acid-bright silks that seemed to parody the winsome loveliness of his earlier efforts. A nude stocking-topped dress sprayed with the inevitable Vegas glitter and with a skirt of gold and bronze floral brocade looked more Bob Mackie than anything else.
Tough, maybe. Brutal, certainly. With a vision as singular and uncompromising as this, Theysken's chutzpah is admirable. But it felt somewhere and somehow as if Theysken's sense of femininity, grace and even taste had been thoroughly obliterated.