Balenciaga tried something very new for Autumn/Winter. The ‘ethno-rah’ as we knew her over here in the UK hovered a few balmy summers on the streets of Chelsea before the look was offset by the nipped-in waists of nu-elegance and the chromatic excess of nu-rave. Ghesquiere’s ikat-wearing, studenty sisterhood seems to emerge from somewhere amidst this throng, borrowing more from the haphazard dress sense of campus girls than the nonchalant sensuality of mid-noughties Kate and Sienna. In short, this was a look to discombobulate many journalists. Where ‘ethnic’ for Chelsea debs and It-girls meant earnest displays of floaty chiffon, Ghesquiere’s ultra-tailored velvet jackets, jodhpur-legged cargo pants and plasticised colours seemed a knowing stab at the tyranny of authenticity. It looked as if these girls had taken a stroll through a Moroccan market stall and decided to grab some garish knock-offs on the way home. Preferring to take trends from behind rather than up front, Ghesquiere seems to be onto something. The proof lies in his multi-coloured fuzzy felt jacket with yellow collar and cuffs which has bombarded editorial shoots like a rainbow grenade.
For the last few seasons at Chanel Karl Lagerfeld has been on a mission to breathe chic into sportswear. For those who take sportif to denote nothing more than tracksuit bottoms, T-shirts and trainers, it is his aim to raise the sartorial bar. In his estimation, sportswear has succumbed to a kind of slob-dressing that forsakes elegance for comfort when in fact it should mean wearing something chic and practical, so that you can flounce effortlessly from piste to chalet to the street without any style missteps -as this winter’s collection amply demonstrates. Rather than lingering in trackie-bum hell then, we saw the Chanel archive open up to an array of inventive reinterpretations. Coco would have been proud to observe her bouclé tweeds resurface in pencil skirts and cinched gabardines, embellished with fluro piping on the hem or metallic fringes on the upholstered bags. Other touches to keep the feel contemporary included plastic belts in acid hues, patent demi-wedged pumps in fuchsia, cyan and yellow as well as hard shiny cuffs with the house’s insignia logo. Black leather riding boots came with strappy detailing climbing the calf at the back and witchy looking gaitor-boots showed that even a sporty winter wardrobe can be injected with a frisson of spikiness. After returning from the slopes, the layers come off to reveal easy eveningwear that modestly veiled the upper body in black lace and chiffon, high waisted belts and shiny vinyl breastplates. If the Fair Isle penguin pattern knits veered a bit close toward the twee, then you always have the option of wearing them with Kaiser Karl’s house irony.
Comme des Garçons
Comme des Garçons explored notions of tactility and childhood in a bizarre collection of nursery-coloured little girl pinafores superimposed onto longer attenuated stretch dresses. Whether this was a metaphor for the imposition of fashion on women’s lives from girlhood to adulthood was difficult to determine but it was certainly suggestive: Comme des Garçons or comme Alice in Wonderland, we were left wondering? There is no need to intellectualise the hands that appeared on skirt hips and jacket openings in the form of filled out gloves, nor the Minnie mouse ears that could be seen crowning the frizzy teased-out hair of the calcimined models. It all contributed to a mood of childlike distortion that in a palette of pink, violet, black, grey and off-white seemed to mix playgroup with the office – an interesting conceit for the working woman. Padded, foamy shapes rose from bodice fronts in moulded flowers and bubbles, taking relief surface decoration to undiscovered limits.
At Dior John Galliano’s re-rendering of their Haute Couture of the previous season took the form of a marriage between Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and the New Look of the late forties. Hats became broad bamboo canopies, furs ensheathed the arm generously from shoulder to wrist in great caterpillars of decadent fuzz and aigrettes landed on heads as if they’d just flown in from the Pyrenees. Alligator-embossed skirts appeared below the knee, encrusted with cabochons that spread from the hip like trompe l’oeil chatelaines along Art Deco pleating. Then the multi-tiered dresses and skirts came out in chartreuse and fuchsia, emerging as key pieces from this collection and taking an acid swipe at Dior’s mood last season of fade-to-grey sobriety. Also memorable were skirts with shreds of silk licking around their base like flames in a delectable shade of Empire-era orange.
Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci
Studs, rivets, grommets and chains have been coming out of Milan in what seems an unmitigated sartorial panoply of female fury. Interestingly, this has been met with disdain by the Anglo-american fashion press. If Italian designers are still presenting the idea of strong modern female as ludicrously metalled-up virago, then is this really bringing fashion forward, they opined? Perhaps Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy has found an answer to mediating the season’s fancy for metal embellishment with other softer considerations. A naval theme made an imprint on the last third of his collection with jackets featuring studs of eighties-era proportions. These brazen affectations were worked skilfully into wool with ribbed panels of black knit twisted across the chest into spirals and festooned with yet more studs. It felt sensual, graphic and new. Meanwhile multi-layered organdy fan pleat skirts came out in a predominantly noirish palette and then, somewhat unpredictably, in dusky pink.
Corrugated velvet? Swarovski crystals fastened to tummies like rocket pad launchers? Black leather dresses resembling reticulated body-armour? If anyone’s managed to bring militarisme into the bounds of the truly gorgeous without falling into some hackneyed fashion statement about today’s tough female, then surely it’s Christopher Kane. The stiff depth and glow of velvet seemed just the right way to resurrect a new brand of girl-as-destroyer. In combative-looking mini-dresses made to look as if for some new genre of sex-war epic, these were prissy, flaxen-haired Amazons. Didn’t they look good in this ferocious line-up? The mix-up between slick, origamied leathers and nocturne velvets in deep jewel colours worked with a silhouette sharpened out by shorter A-line skirts, epaulettes that looked ready to store bullets and black leather harnesses punctuated with crystal doorknobs. If that sounds S&M, it was the girlish touches that Kane seems to channel so well that defused any tawdriness. It was safe to say that there was something sweet and naïve about these clothes yet at the same time, all delivered with a knowing bite. Kane’s body-conscious silhouette of Spring/Summer ’07 even opened up for winter into roomier chainmail tops and burnt ochre velvet coats. Did I hear someone say booor-jwah?
Maison Martin Margiela
Margiela, ouch, continued to jab us in the eye with his pointed take on the shoulder and proposed a new centre of gravity for the modern woman. Supposedly favoured by intellectuals and those of the avant-garde, the theme of this collection was surmised by two ideas of a more rudimentary nature: poke and dangle. ‘Poke’ because of the shoulders, expounding the newfangled female spikiness that currently has fashion in its thrall and ‘dangle’ because of what you can hang from Margiela’s new upper-body construction line. If the picture isn’t telling you, then the line that runs along the collarbone and juts out either side is. Margiela has even developed a kind of American football-style upper-body support that beefs out the shoulders ready for capes in black leather and neon crepe that drape on top; a dead cert for any art dealer who demands to be taken seriously. To complete the look the Margiela way, take one nude tulle-encased tube and dangle it around your neck like a friendly boa constrictor.
The Salem witch trials found their way into the depths of Alexander McQueen’s imagination this Autumn/Winter ’07/08. A discovery made by his genealogist mother that a family ancestor had been tried as a witch and executed during the seventeenth century inspired a fashion paean to the darker side of femininity through the ages. Of course, in this veritable fashion herstory of all things glamorously other, the McQueen girl would never consider crossing the temporal boundaries of style with something as obvious as a broomstick. Instead his coven whizzed from Byzantium to Ptolemaic Hollywood to Rude Girl in a fur-lined parka. The silhouettes varied from dramatic cocoon structures that enthroned the upper body to more reliable favourites like this micro cocktail dress with an intricate Levantine mosaic motif woven into silk.
If authenticity was being flouted at Balenciaga in favour of something reassuringly fake, then Miuccia Prada is surely a designer to have mastered this particular conundrum long ago; some even make claim that her visual show offerings are aesthetically mind-expanding. Cloque silk suiting that seemed to melt and ripple from tomato soup to mulchy green took the eye through all the colourways of a Highland ordnance survey map. Against this oh-so-savage hinterland were accent utility colours like bright orange and institutional pastels like cobalt blue and verdigris. What emerged as one of the most important pieces from the collection, if not the whole season, was Prada’s revival of synthetic fur. Think a blond, coarse alternative to astrakhan that looks like it’s just been put through the wash, also appearing in grey and green over-the-knee coats and gilets. And for that inimitable Prada clash, shredded vinyl disc skirts and boleros added graphic glamour against the rest of the nudey-moody-weirdo-pieces. This was in keeping with the brand’s reputation for cutting a strangely eloquent dash after all. With nothing precious about the way fabrics are procured and combined: synthetic solidifying mohair for a jumper; vinyl shreds to make up a skirt; or the hard plasticized leather in shoes that are frilled like a 1950s peach pit girl, as seen at Miu Miu. There must always be something delicate about the treatment that makes these pieces exciting – no doubt intended to broaden our understandings of what luxury means today.
Yves Saint Laurent
YSL is a brand whose contemporary appeal is perhaps rooted in the sound of those two little words ‘Rive Gauche’. Anything vaguely political on the catwalk today will send a fashion-conscious pseudo-intelligentsia reeling in search of the ultimate controversial statement piece. ‘Political’, though a word much overused in fashion, still remains one of the best ways to galvanise the appeal of a brand. This season Pilati gave us the excuse to use the word asceticism a lot. Whether this should be read as a forecast for the luxury market is yet unclear. Translated into clothes, however, it meant lots of grey: flannelly fabric in coats that segued into a bell-shaped silhouette in the spirit of the paysan who made it through the city gates- as well as a reprise of Saint Laurent’s pièce de résistance Le Smoking in a half-dress hybrid. Posturing aside, Pilati is pioneering innovative ways of using fabric, a skill that he no doubt cultivated while in tenure at Prada. He is also creating a new aesthetic for leggy, handsome women which through his expansive silhouette will serve to shrink them to mignon proportions, although those smaller in stature may risk drowning. There were a lot of very delicate touches to bring what at first glance were spartan-looking fabrics into Pilati’s new vernacular – think mini-pleats around the sleeves to create a flowering effect and a caped silk dress for evening that also gathered poetically at the armhole. Against these hard, sombre colours the luxe touches stood out. Croc was reinvented through a devoré effect or shreds of chiffon, lamé or silk were knotted into bucolic cornrows to make up a whole cocktail dress and evening bonnet.