c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

PARIS — It is starting to seem cruel, season after season, to keep asking young maverick designers to remember to make clothes that women will want to wear in real life.

If it serves to do anything, this instinct to be cool and commercial is what drives a rising fashion star like Anthony Vaccarello, a designer who demands clavicle perfection of his clients, to put something as mundane as acid-wash denim on his runway. Or a designer like Gareth Pugh to switch from making topiary dresses from shredded garbage bags to vampy, slinky silk gowns and feather head wraps that would not look out of place in a Parisian production of “Hello, Dolly!” Safe collections tend to fall flat.

There has to be a customer out there, somewhere, for a molded plastic bodice, and these designers know it. Pugh, at least among his peers, does not hesitate to pivot from the plain to the fantastical, even in a single season, so that in an unobtrusive collection shown this week there were still some gems. His look for spring was either a long, bias-cut skirt and a nipped-waist jacket with an origami collar, or bonjour, Dolly. (Pugh’s gray aesthetic normally gets lumped in with goth, so it was considered subversive that he would also include a dress in teal.) Most interesting was that he took the concept of a rounded shoulder to its furthest point, a full arch sprouting over a jacket as if it were still attached to its garment bag. And the plastic bodices, where shown, were more than welcome.

By comparison, Vaccarello’s inclusion of a jeans skirt and jacket that looked as if they had come direct from the 1980s (midway through a show of other skirts that had wide-open slits on the sides) felt like a ploy to get the audience to stop complaining that no one besides Anja Rubik can wear his clothes. Otherwise, the look was consistently sharp.

A more successful change of direction this week came from Cédric Charlier, whose onetime painterly aesthetic has settled into something more minimalist and mature, with elegant wrap jackets of fine tuxedo fabrics patterned on a karate uniform, and a coppery dress made of matte sequins in a simply draped strapless shape. And Olivier Rousteing, at Balmain, toned things down from outrageous to merely exuberant, with softly quilted jackets and heavily quilted fit-and-flare skirts (so heavy they looked padded or even like decade-old Chanel), denim overalls and, why not, a raglan-sleeve see-through sweatshirt made of a grid of silver crystals.

The biggest surprise, though, came from Paco Rabanne, a label that was once famous for making metal dresses and molded plastic bodices that women actually wore in the 1960s but which is now famous for churning through creative directors at an alarming rate. Executives there should hold on to Julien Dossena, who came to work from Balenciaga and was hastily promoted when the last designer left.

He’s extraordinarily well connected — he drew power brokers and fashion figures like Patrick Demarchelier and Ronnie Cooke Newhouse, to his first show — and his collection was a delight, with a fresh take on the Rabanne signatures with chain tops under tight little dresses that were zipped down in the front, and a few that were made of shiny molded plastic.