Fashion turned on its head

The glorious autumn sun has been shining in Paris and so have the ideas, with the early shows stirring the imagination. Big characters and big gestures have dominated the catwalk –from the youngest designers to the most seasoned pros. They have raised the stakes in Paris and this season the impact on the audience is just as big at both ends of the scale.   

Electric eccentric

“Lo-fi sci-fi with a high-fi finish” was how John Galliano’s latest collection for Maison Margiela was described. This meant a wildly off-kilter take on ladylike elegance in which classics were tarnished with streaks of paint and shattered mirrors to give galactic textures. Galliano’s love of Japonaiserie returned with cyber geishas in abstracted obi knots. To the soundtrack of FKA twigs’ Glass and Patron, Galliano proved that his wanton fantasies mixed with Margiela’s codes of deconstruction are a winning combination. 

At Dries Van Noten, the mix was just as heady as a string quartet played Kraftwerk and the clothes combined 1950s prim and proper with 1980s bold and zany New Wave. This came together in Van Noten’s signature prints, turned up louder than before, bolstered by printed tattoo body suits. It was a riot of colour that also communicated freewheeling eccentricity. At Lanvin, Alber Elbaz was inspired by a woman fraying at the edges – quite literally, as seams frayed with threads, edges were left raw and sequins and bows were applied haphazardly as though in deliberately bad taste. But that’s when fashion is at its most interesting – when what is considered to be wrong suddenly feels right. Elbaz took Lanvin down a messier and exposed path but that lady certainly looked a lot more exciting.

Odes to woman

You can never read too much into a show’s press notes. Half the time, it’s pretentious waffle that barely correlates to the collection on display. But you had to pay attention to Rick Owens’. His show began with the vocalist Eska singing UNKLE’s arrangement of This Land from the film Exodus. Then all of a sudden, female models – or rather, dancers – came out with other women strapped to their backs like a backpack. Or they were tied to the front, hanging upright or upside down, as though in a baby sling. They strode powerfully, looking like they were completely unburdened by the weight of another human being. The volumes of the clothes echoed those of the dancers’ human weights, gathering up in the front or jutting out in the back. To raucous applause, Owens took his bow and dashed out of the building: no interviews, no comment. And so the notes were all we had.

Apparently it was about “nourishment, sisterhood/motherhood and regeneration: women raising women, women becoming women and women supporting women.”  The straps binding woman to woman – rather than methods of restraint – were about “support and cradling” or “loving ribbons”. You left the show wanting to probe Owens more deeply but the words on the press release were heartfelt at the very least. Your heart couldn’t help but soar even if on social media, the sight of a human strapped to another was reduced to facile jokes. 

Olivier Rousteing at Balmain had a more simple approach to addressing women. By lavishing them in fluid ruffles and flesh-tone bodycon dresses (inspired perhaps by Balmain’s campaign star Kim Kardashian’s contouring skills?). His notes spoke about Balmain’s upcoming collaboration with H&M as a way of reaching out more widely: “And, with an ever-more diverse group of beautiful women of all ages and backgrounds – from film and music icons to eager young shoppers at one of the world’s largest retail chains – choosing Balmain for their most important moments, it will be clear that this historic house’s evolution continues along an exciting pathway.” Diversity and female empowerment: these have been Rousteing’s values at the house ever since he began and they will reach out far and wide come November. 

Fortune favours the bold

Who has the chutzpah to come out with a white horse followed by a child wearing giant fabric cravats? Or send the fashion crowd to a tacky Chinese restaurant out in Belleville, near the Périphérique ring road? Paris' young fashion designers are grabbing people's attentions early on this week. On the back of winning the runners up LVMH Prize, Simon Porte of JACQUEMUS showed his most pensive collection yet which began with a child rolling a giant ball out into the middle of the cavernous warehouse and also featured the designer himself leading a white horse. It was like a dream or a Michel Gondry film, interrupted by clothes that showed a new-found maturity in Porte's deconstructed shirting.

Likewise another buzzed-about young label, Vetements refined their designs with a nostalgic trip back to what they know and love, shown in a kitschy Chinese eatery. Oversized floral dresses, vinyl housewife aprons, thrash metal hoodies and a hilarious graphic that mimicked Leo and Kate in Titanic ensured that Vetements' cult status will continue to grow.