Once Upon a Time, in Make-Believe

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

c.2014 New York Times News Service

PARIS — It’s somehow fitting that Sunday was the end of the fall men’s shows here, with Thom Browne among the last to show his collection, as well as the beginning of couture week, with Donatella Versace getting a jump on her fellow designers with a show on Sunday night.

Both designers take seriously the notion that fashion shows are, more than anything else, a “show,” and they rarely disappoint those who come looking to be entertained.

Versace, since her return to couture in 2012 after an eight-year absence, has embraced the full-on glamour that haute couture suggests, with celebrity-studded front rows, form-fitting and flesh-baring gowns and, last season, even a return to the runway by Naomi Campbell, whose appearance was greeted by whoops and hollers from the surprised audience.

In previous seasons, Browne’s Paris shows have featured models in military formation, tucked inside huge cones that collapsed to reveal the clothes within and, perhaps most memorably, garbed in Amish-influenced clothes as they pantomimed a barn-raising within the confines of a suburban sports center. Never mind that very few of these specific clothes found their way onto the backs of many customers (or even into stores). This was fashion as theater and an often amusing way to end Paris Fashion Week.

This year, in a show by the Seine just as the last of daylight was fading, guests were greeted with the image of a desiccated landscape of animals looking ready to pounce and trees stripped of all foliage, all of it painted gray, a kind of twisted garden of earthly delights. Tim Blanks of Style.com, sitting next to me, said the set was designed to convey the theme of “the hunted and the hunter,” his confident tone suggesting that all would soon be revealed.

The models then appeared, most in gray, as well, some wearing Stephen Jones-designed headgear of rabbit ears or elephant trunks, others with spider tattoos painted on their faces or wrapped in meshlike masks that suggested horses trotting by. It was Lewis Carroll crossed with “Equus.” (The clothes themselves were gray wool and tweed, in patterns ranging from chalk-stripe to windowpane to Prince of Wales.)

All the while, the music carried off the impressive feat of being both playful and menacing, like a bedtime nursery rhyme that would later prompt nightmares.

At the Versace show three hours later, there was no sign of Naomi, but Lady Gaga, the new face of the Versace advertising campaign, was in the front row and on the soundtrack, as a medley of her hits played while the models strutted down the runway. The clothes were, yes, body-hugging and, yes, flesh-baring, in colors that ran from silver to bright purple to tangerine.

At the end, Versace, clad in black, teetered out on impossibly high heels, blew a kiss in the direction of Lady Gaga and then disappeared into the crowd, looking as if she were having the time of her life.