Gaultier's Last Looks

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

c.2014 New York Times News Service

PARIS — The curtain came down, literally, on Jean Paul Gaultier’s ready-to-wear career amid a shower of gold spangles raining from the sky. It was such a major fashion moment, it overshadowed even George Clooney’s wedding.

A gaggle of models whose ages ranged from the usual 20-somethings to the recently famous (Coco Rocha, Karlie Kloss) and the famous of long ago (French television stars in their 70s and 80s) shook their stuff on the stage of the Grand Rex theater, Paris’ most storied cinema house. They strutted through a brief tour of Gaultier’s greatest sartorial hits — marinière stripes, pinstripe suiting, cone-bra corset dresses, crystalline Americana and gender-bending Smokings — cast as a Miss Gaultier competition and “hosted” by the actress and Gaultier acolyte Rossy de Palma and the Paris-based Brit Alex Taylor.

There were boys riding bicycles, and spoofs of famed fashion editors who had supported Gaultier in his career, and it had the designer’s longtime celebrity friends and collaborators Catherine Deneuve, Boy George and Farida Khelfa laughing and cheering in their velvet seats, alongside fellow designers Alber Elbaz, Rick Owens, Alexander Wang and Jeremy Scott.

It was a happy end to one part of a long story. (Gaultier will continue with his couture line.) How many of us get to stage-manage our own semi-exits?

“I don’t think I registered even one look,” said an attendee on the way out, so distracting was the spectacle. No matter: The garments were the least of it (though they will be sold, and as Gaultier’s final ready-to-wear, may end up as quasi-collector’s items, especially the white tie/black tie amalgams and the “Loco Logo” Tour de France jumpsuits, if not the Mexican superhero costumes).

The message was, rather, about how you could transform a nominally sad occasion — retirement, at least from the most visible part of fashion — into one marked by joy.

A reminder, if any were needed, that this kind of transubstantiation is what fashion does. Or should do, anyway, when it is doing its job. It takes the difficulties and confusion and complication of the world around it and remakes them into something manageable. Occasionally beautiful. Ideally (though not always) thought-provoking.

Strange as it may sound, sometimes whether or not you can actually wear it, or would want to, is beside the point.

Backstage after Céline, the designer Phoebe Philo said: “I was interested in how edited the world is, and how edited fashion is, and I am, and what would happen if we were less edited? We have this obsession with certainty and the need to know the outcome of everything. But what if we try to just let it be?”

Her answer: high-water flares ironed on a knife edge; knit tank dresses, the skirts kicking out in three tiers of fringing; neat navy coats secured by three gold locks in place of buttons down the front; and 1970s floral bias-cut dresses sliced high on one side to reveal trousers in a contrasting print. And aside from some odd circular cutouts on the sides of sleeveless tunics, and horizontal strips of silk set into tops and left to flap from the sides, the show made a convincing case for the virtues of relaxing into a process, as opposed to only focusing on a goal.

And Rei Kawakubo, after her Comme des Garçons show of swirling, structured volumes and red leather, said she had been thinking of “blood and roses, but not a pretty rose. Everyone feels so heavy about things these days, I wanted to do roses in a more profound way.”

Crimson strips of leather dripped down from trench coats, whorls of frills in satin and silk formed two curving spheres on the torso and legs, a jacket of tubular swirls was stippled by splatter, and hoop skirts were basket-woven from chiffon. For refuge from it all, there were enormously hooded capes, and the net result wasn’t Carrie at the prom, but rather the flower at the end of a gun. In gore, Kawakubo had found grace.

As it happened, ruffles also played a major part in Haider Ackermann’s collection, though it was a bittersweet symphony of a different kind, from the dove gray chiffon dusters, as insubstantial as an English fog, to the slouchy silk trouser suits in ballet-shoe pink and washed-out Army green halter tops belted into shape with their edges curving sinuously up and around, often offset by the addition of white vinyl pants or ultra-mini skorts.

And they showed up again in various forms in Jun Takahashi’s Undercover show, a tour de force of “Swan Lake” storytelling in 51 looks.

It began with sugar-sweet crinoline New Look dresses that segued into tutus, milkmaids in tree-trunk striated moiré and forest green and principessas in neat little frocks with scenes from Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights,” then to biker jackets atop full tulle skirts with prints of many feathers, and ended with an all-black ebony-winged motorcycle gang.

Oh, and in the middle there was a group of candy-colored trenches and anoraks with cameo inserts of moving video screens on the chest or sleeves, because, well ... life is a video? Whatever the answer, it was eye-popping. Also relevant: Who can really dispute that in the never-ending battle between Odile and Odette, the black swan is currently winning?

In a collection based almost entirely on geometry, Junya Watanabe took up Kandinsky’s color theory, which paired form and the emotional associations of color, and tested it on clothes. Or at least their simulacrums. Circles were flattened, plasticized, layered and Crayola-bright; cut up and reconfigured into a shift made of three-dimensional diamonds; combined with linear stripes and T-shirts printed à la jean jacket; and reshaped into triangles and hexagons and parallelograms, one form fracturing into the other in a kaleidoscope of shifting shapes.

Was the circle really blue, the square red, the triangle yellow? It depended, as most things in life, on how you looked at it. But, boy, was it fun to see.