Being Bold Is the Point

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

c.2014 New York Times News Service

PARIS — “Oh what a beautiful bag! It’s flat, it’s not fancy, it will fit in all my belongings — until I do some more shopping. Then I’ll buy another. And another!”

Could those have been the thoughts going through the models’ minds on Thursday when they opened the Balenciaga show carrying multiple, fancied-up shopping bags? Or was it a witty way for the designer Alexander Wang to acknowledge that luxury houses build their empires on handbags?

“I love the idea that something as simple as a shopping bag can come in croc,” Wang said backstage.

As Cristóbal Balenciaga himself found inspiration for couture hats from fishermen in his native Spain, why not take the same high/low concept for 2014? This collection has references to that heritage in fisherman sweaters, although it was tough to tell whether the gleaming and glistening cable stitches were knitted or embossed; and whether a cheery, canary yellow toggle-front jacket, worn with a primary-red lattice of a skirt, was made with old-fashioned stitching or a laser-cut technique. Only the cute, fluffy, neck-to-wrist cover-ups with crystal sparkles seemed to be the definite product of knitting needles.

The designer said he had elaborated the industrial style of his prefall Balenciaga collection; hence the hefty zippers, perhaps in shocking pink and crisscrossing a khaki jacket. Texture was the message. And there was a real modern glamour when a full-skirted dress, with the rounded shoulders that twirled through the entire collection, was cinched with a taut, shiny belt.

But Wang is up against two things at Balenciaga: first and foremost, the energy of his eponymous show during New York Fashion Week, when high technology met modern sportswear in a brilliant combination. And there is the long shadow cast by Nicolas Ghesquière, who will make his debut at Louis Vuitton next week.

Wang is doing quite a good job of making Balenciaga relevant to the current fashion world. But there is that frustrating feeling that if he had no other commitments, the result would be extraordinary. (And don’t even ask the price of those shopping bags.)

There were two strong words to define Dries Van Noten’s show on Wednesday: optical illusion. Broad stripes washed down a skirt front like a breaking wave, flowers morphed from flat prints to three-dimensional sculptures. Every way the eye turned, there was another example: a wheel spinning visually on the midriff of a sweater or an eye-popping flash of elegant silver shoes.

“It’s a lot of things: unexpected elegance, bright colors, two-dimensional flowers, chic shoes — and Bridget Riley,” the designer said, referring to the British artist of the 1960s who was fascinated by apparently bendable squares and other geometric patterns disorienting sight lines.

Van Noten’s take was more palatable, or wearable. There might be just a circular fan of color, like a sunburst of lines, on a plain dress. And when a 21st-century silver fabric all but looked like a hologram, that cold, hard geometric view was set off by an oversize bunch of flowers, worn like a brooch on the chest.

The show seemed almost too carefully thought out: Each touch of eye-catching zigzags was balanced by something sensible, like a simple sweater and skirt or jackets with zippers.

But it was still a fine collection from a designer who pushes his creative forces while never forgetting the customer out there who wants something new to wear.

Meanwhile, Alessandro Dell’Acqua said, “I am very Italian — I like clothes to be close to the body,” as he traced a curvy shape in the air with his hands, standing beside a hefty brocade dress backstage at Rochas.

The designer said that his first outing as the house’s creative director would be about comparisons: the sensual Italians and the chic Parisians; dense fabrics against the light and wispy.

In the program notes he called it “a dangerous balance between romance and ‘noir’.” But the greatest danger might seem to be for the models carrying the weight of the fabrics on their fragile shoulders, with their feet in high-heeled shoes decorated to the hilt.

It was all very “couture,” as in fancied-up clothes, fantastic fabrics and fabulous accessories. Think gloves with spikes like a sunburst, or another pair in bright turquoise that was deliberately designed to clash with a jewel-studded zippered jacket and a flowery blouse appearing like a peplum above a shiny narrow skirt. Whew!

For women who want to show off a couture-style purchase (or even a discreet client who prefers a tailored navy coat with a tone-on-tone pattern worked near the hemline), there were some stylish pieces. But mostly there was a feeling that everything at Rochas was big: bold shapes, rich fabrics and women affluent enough to invest in such grandeur.