c.2014 New York Times News Service

c.2014 New York Times News Service

PARIS — It ended not with a bang, but with a building. And a farewell. Also some perspective.

After four cities and hundreds of shows, it came down to this: Christophe Lemaire taking his final bow as artistic director of Hermès womenswear after a serene tour of desert tones, butter leathers and slouchy separates, parachute silk and sueded python. He closed the collections without any drama, letting his work whisper softly and leave a discreet impression.

It was kind of anticlimactic. But that’s no bad thing. Fashion has a role to play in life, but not always the starring one. Really, it’s more a support: of character, ideology, intent. This was a fitting reminder. Pun intended.

The wake-up had started with the Louis Vuitton show at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Bernard Arnault’s new Frank Gehry-designed glass-and-steel museum/arts performance space, which looks like nothing so much as a sailing ship from another planet come to earth in the middle of the Bois de Boulogne. The structure is so startling (in a good way) that it was hard to focus on anything else. Clothes? What?

Perhaps because of that, the designer Nicolas Ghesquière decided to hold his show in the darkened “belly” of the building, the better to let his audience see the neat high-necked white dresses crocheted from ribbons of cotton and raffia, the just slightly undersize navy blazers and A-line skirts made of strips of leather, one side vertical, the other horizontal.

There were fluid ruffled poet dresses and velvet chiffon floral trouser suits echoing the idea of denim jackets (plus some real denim, of course); a print made up of matchbooks and cars and cosmetics; little black dresses over lace stocking arms and little sequined dresses over lace stocking legs, all united by a universal focus on a narrow silhouette, and a refusal to over-weight the message.

“I was trying not to think too much,” Ghesquière said after the show, reiterating the idea that he wanted to offer up pieces that might fit into a life, not define it.

After all, on the scale of what form had the most impact, those on the runway or the structure outside, there was no contest. Ghesquière’s was a realistic acknowledgment as to where, in the end, fashion belongs in the hierarchy of amazement.

When even Moncler Gamme Rouge, which has a tendency to gussy up its basic offering (technical outerwear that works in the city) with the pyrotechnics of fancy sets, drops the extras and lets the clothes — trapeze T-shirts in lacy crochets, chain jacquard or gold beading with matching shorts; blouson jackets in the same fabrications — stand on their own, you know a certain understanding has been reached.

Certainly, such was the case (in relative terms, admittedly) at Alexander McQueen, choreographed around two glowing Marc Quinn bronze flowers, an orchid and a calla lily (“Etymology of Desire and Prehistory of Desire”), which were lent by the artist’s gallery and shipped over for the event. Around them eddied the designer Sarah Burton’s ode to the East, from kimono silks to cherry blossoms and samurai dress, reconfigured in her imagination until it had the subtle power of the sculptures, the same spareness of shape and harnessed allure.

Leather straps or their graphic representations bound the torso on many dresses, from pink and black skater numbers, their sleeves curved in an exaggerated lantern shape and waists belted tight, to flowing silken wraps and mille-feuille skirts of hundreds of petals. Flowers were stylized and set against the darker background; jacket sleeves were slit from wrist to shoulder; trousers were flared on a sword edge.

And though the black face straps cupping the models’ chins or obscuring their features lent a distracting and needlessly disturbing dimension to the show (Was Burton commenting on the way women are bound beyond the feet? Was she making a Ninja reference?), the mood was less aggressive than restrained; the clothes, especially the suits and day dresses, easy to imagine in the outside world.

This — well, let’s call it a trend, the last one of the week, became even more apparent at Miu Miu, where Miuccia Prada seemed to be focusing on pieces for the woman who is just a little off-center, with myriad iterations on one basic idea: the pencil skirt, jacket or coat, and midriff top. They came mixed and not matched in plaid and tuxedo ruffles, embroidered in luminescent flowers or trimmed in fur, inset with suede or all in leather. It was a catchy combination, merchandised with a practiced eye, if a lot repetitive (save for some terrific peg-leg pants and the shells to go with, all of a print).

Yet so are many closets. And judging by the reaction from the new generation of celebrities in the front row (Shailene Woodley, Liv Tyler and Hailee Steinfeld among them), the connection could go from the runway to their wardrobe in the swish of a skirt, or the turn on a heel.

Stuff to buy, stuff to wear. Sometimes, maybe, when there are lots of other things to think about, that’s enough.

At least until next season.