Puttin’ on the Glitz

Once upon a time, fashion week in Paris provided a sneak preview of the style trends for the upcoming season. However, after a blitz of frocks for the boudoir and creative ideas that never completely gelled as real clothing, many experts are currently pondering the purpose of fashion, or more specifically, the point of fashion shows. More than ever, it is apparent that there are clothes and there is fashion. Clothes are what we wear. Fashion is a whole ‘nother animal.

Just as today’s fashion magazines do more to promote the talents of  photographers and models rather than sell clothes, fashion shows have increasingly become gigantic advertising vehicles used to promote accessories, makeup, jewelry and models’ careers…. almost everything but clothes. For many attending the spring-summer ’98 prêt-à-porter collections, the most important trends revealed during fashion week were: 1) four-inch stiletto high heels that certainly will not be snapped by the teenybopper models who wobbled down the catwalks in them; 2) lingerie-inspired looks sure to be a big hit on rue St-Denis; 3) black as a major color for next summer; 4) the growing number of very young children present in the audience; and 5) that the most important element of a show is entertainment. That brings us to the first point, which I call “the Galliano factor.”
That’s Entertainment

Today, with the appointment of “wild and crazy” John Galliano at Christian Dior and Alexander MacQueen at Givenchy, two Brits given carte blanche to create a sensation rather than collections for the store, other designers are feeling the heat to “keep up” or fight back. Within a setting replicating a boudoir from an aristocratic chateau in the 1920s (which took four days to build in a room at the Carrousel du Louvre), Galliano showed a theatrical collection of roaring’ 20s slip dresses worn with ropes of pearls, lace-topped, black silk stockings and Marcel-waved hair, jackets slipped over deeply slit skirts showing a generous flash of thigh and pearl-studded flapper dresses. Though everything was gorgeous, there was one very important thing missing… real clothes for women who work. Compatriot MacQueen left the impeccably cut suits and draped dresses he designed for his own signature collection back in London and showed Wild West fringed cowgirl dresses and jackets for the collection he designed for Givenchy. Despite rumors that his collections do not sell well and the unfavorable reviews in the press, the house recently announced its intention to renew MacQueen’s contract for another three to five years. The message here is quite clear.

Fashion has become a spectator sport and the ones with command over the media are the ones in demand. Don’t confuse fashion with real clothes for women with lives, lord forbid. Christian Lacroix, in fact, announced on his press kit that his junior “Bazar” line and jeans line would not be presented during his show, only the ready-to-wear collection. His collection provided an insight into his rich and colorful imagination: clashing patchworks running over dresses and jackets sometimes worn with crocheted tops, tapestry peddle pushers worn under ornately embroidered, fitted, hip-length jackets with fringed epaulets or with a mini 18th century strapless bustle dress. But again, where were the clothes?

Even Chanel is affected by the Galliano factor. In his intent to maintain his rule in the industry, Lagerfeld’s collections have gone from being outrageous to sober. After all of Galliano’s high-class brothel looks, this season, Lagerfeld presented a very quiet collection, drawing inspiration from six great periods in fashion, beginning with long and narrow, post-WWI, pared down silhouettes with high-belted waists and 1930s slouchy plaid jackets worn over wide pants or narrow long skirts, to an early 1960s cowl-neck “sack dress” like the one worn by Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” It was a curious yet almost predictable collection in its diametrically opposed direction to that of Dior.
Zee Artistes

“I create therefore I am.” After seasons of being accused of sacrificing creativity for sensationalism, Paris has cleaned up its act. Transparency still abounds, but the body is suggested instead of bared for the sake of nudity. There’s a new breed of young designers, particularly among the Japanese, who are fascinating to watch as they make their own mark. They create their own fabrics, tell their own stories, play with silhouettes and textures. What they show are largely concepts (meaning there is still little to wear) but they breathe life into the industry by turning to new technology for inspiration.

At Atsuro Tayama, many of the garments had movement built right in. Necklines hugged the neck with folds on one side and slid off the shoulders on the other. The tops or skirts of dresses looked as though they had been twisted and frozen in place. Fred Sathal, who makes what looks like “young couture,” experiments with fabrics, materials and complicated construction. The body is sculpted with wool lace for an off-the-shoulder top and a hip hugger skirt that dips down from mid-thigh to the opposite calf. A rough animal hide is worked into a one-shouldered knee-length dress with a neckline that rises up to the ear on one side. It all looks very interesting… if I could just figure out where to wear this.

We saw Margiela-style deconstructivism: raw seams, garments turned inside out and garments cut from lots of innovative fabrics at Oh? Ya! Outside of the men’s styled slacks, there were few real clothes. However, we did enjoy the little sheer polyester puckered tops that look like sea foam and the tunics made from mohair spiderweb netting. We even imagined what it would be like to step out in one of Maurizio Galante’s black art overcoats made entirely of spirals, horizontal slits, “millefeuille” petals or latticework. We herald all of this experimentation because somewhere down the road, it will inevitably turn into marvelous creative clothes like those presented by Koji Tatsuno. This London-based designer known at one time for sending out concept clothes put together backstage with a hope, a prayer and a glue gun, has become more sophisticated in his execution. Using the theme of exotic plants, the seams of a jacket diagonally swirl around the body towards one side of the neck like a giant lily. A silver leaf pattern glides down a silk dress with an asymmetrical hemline and two different lengths of sleeves. The successful use of burn-out patterns on velour, spiderweb tops, chemical puckering and intricate seaming are the results of years of experimenting.
Sweet Young Thing

In some cases the young designers do a better job of coming up with creative wearable clothes than the more established houses. Though you have to be 20 to understand or wear it, rising star Veronique Leroy showed a small hip collection of dresses cut from perforated vinyl, white crinkle polyester, fishnet and funky Barbès lamé in bright trashy colors with matte latex jackets tossed over the shoulders. Stephen Slowik was the only designer to show us how sheer lace dresses really will be worn… with solid-colored body dresses underneath!
Business As Usual

At the end of the day, not everyone is buying into the fashion show-as-caberet trend. No matter how many times we’ve seen it all before, for buyers and seasoned journalists it is still refreshing to find real clothes that might be in danger of actually being worn next spring. Clad in knit pastel tank dresses and bathing suits, wide palazzo pants or peddle pushers and fitted little jackets, Sonia Rykiel’s models actually smiled wearing her signature looks as they pranced down the runway. Could this be the models actually enjoyed what they wore? When the models in Hervé Léger’s show stepped out in rhinestone-studded bikinis and mid-thigh Grecian togas, photographers responded with good old-fashioned cat-calls and whistles. At Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, we chuckled at his “Windows ’95” group: dresses, tops and three-piece cotton trouser suits bearing Microsoft’s familiar clouds, as well as safari jackets over narrow skirts with building prints and shift dresses splashed with photo-realistic prints (including one of Bob Marley). Ungaro was the first show where I actually saw things I’d buy for myself: ultra-feminine looks with beige lace jackets and tops married with silk pastel paisley trousers and ocelot-spotted silk shawls dripping with fringe. Valentino went as far as to project a slide show in the back of the runway, pointing out clothing and accessory details he didn’t want you to miss: short curvy jackets with narrow short pants, easy sweaters over knee-grazing lace skirts and skinny mid-calf coats, body-skimming knee-length cocktail dresses bouncing with spangles, or leopard spots worked in sequins and silk jersey evening gowns cut in simple lines pouring over the body like a cool drink of water.

Once again the question arises. Does fashion serve a purpose? “Fashion is something that moves, that evolves with each generation,” insisted the journalist seated next to me at Ungaro. “Today, fashion has changed, which is altogether normal. Though the shows make no sense to me either, you have to admit, everyone enjoys leafing through magazines gazing at some outrageous show on TV and commenting about how ridiculous it all is. And maybe we won’t buy the clothes,  but we’ll end up buying a new pair of shoes, a watch or something which helps us feel like we’re not completely out of sync with the times.”