Tribal is a dirty word in fashion, a theme much overused and exploited, part carnival part couture. In sort, not very relevant for today. Wipe all such thoughts from your mind - Alber Elbaz took it as his theme for Autumn/Winter 2010, and our mental image of the word may have altered forever. There wasn't a touch of stereotype, not one tired reference that seemed regurgitated in Elbaz's masterful display - indeed, the only thing that seemed old hat was just how wonderful it all was, which has essentially become Elbaz's leitmotif.
For day, the big story were the coats: Elbaz cut his wide across the shoulder, strongly curved over the arm but without weight or sharpness. The first came outlined with fur along the sleeve, and the subsequent coats caught that shape and ran with it in felted textures of boiled wool - indeed, like material shadows of the chubby furs that popped up in maroon or olive fox. A few overcoats were cut so wide the sleeve-head fell off the arms like a dropped shoulder, seam cutting across the upper arm, while the rest draped casually around the body. Despite this width, Elbaz often fitted them tightly to the waist, exploding into gored fullness in the skirt or cropped into a tiny peplum jacket jutting forceful over the hips.
How was this tribal? Well, the simplicity of cut, shapes formed through tucks and gathers rather than seams, dresses draping around the body, a drape becoming a sleeve, the sleeve disappearing as if into the caped back of a chieftan's cape. There was a flatness of silhouette too that was reminiscent of African art, as were the colours - the lush greens and blues of plumage and congo foliage, earthen browns and blacks contrasted with lush, rich blood-red.
If day was covered under layers of wool, eveningwear was a glorious collage of bronze, dirty-gold and verdigris lamé embellished with glitter, paste jewels and feathers. This was the frivolous fun Elbaz always allows himself - a touch of Josephine Baker, a distinctly Parisienne version of 'le sauvage'. Sometimes, it all got a bit much - but intentionally so, with feathers, furs, jewellery and luscious fabric haphazardly layered like tribal necklaces or layers of primitive bricolage. The decoration was a refreshing jolt to the spare lines evident elsewhere - including the rest of Lanvin's collection - but in practice, would a modern woman really be willing to layer it on quite so brazenly? Even some of Elbaz's juxtapositions hung slightly heavy - a testament to his skill, as in lesser hands they would have floored the models. If these seemed like a glance to the past, however, the purity of his daywear looked unequivocally like the future.