On a Positive Footing

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

c.2014 New York Times News Service

PARIS — Since Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, let slip during his U.N. visit last week that his government had uncovered information about an Islamic State plan to attack the subways in New York and Paris, there has been a niggling sense of unease hanging over the final fashion city of the season.

“You aren’t too worried about taking the Métro?” said one showgoer to another when the subject of how to get to Givenchy came up Sunday.

It wasn’t helped by the news of protests in Hong Kong, an erstwhile (maybe not so much anymore?) high-fashion retail Valhalla. At least the Air France pilots had stopped their strike. You take the positive where you can find it, and watch your back. It may be one of the lessons of the season.

Certainly it pretty much defines the approach of Chitose Abe at Sacai, who has made a career out of slicing and dicing garments into push me/pull you combinations.

This season, that meant army-green military uniforms collaged with navy guipure lace, khaki skirts sprouting sheer chiffon inserts, and floral cotton drill laser-cut into broderie anglaise. What you think you are getting is never quite what you see, but while the result is undeniably inventive, it is starting to feel overly complicated; seamstress-y wizardry for its own sake.

It’s the opposite of Stella McCartney, a label founded on the principle that you should never look as if you are trying too hard (a feat that takes quite a lot of work to realize). Witness this season’s washed silk pastel jumpsuits and matching trench coats and anoraks, plaid pajama suiting for day and ribbed knits, cut to flash a half-moon of skin here, a bit of waist there.

It was all so relaxed, it was hard to remember what was worth getting worked up about in the first place. If clothes served the same purpose as a smile (you know: do it when you feel bad and it will convince your body it feels better), these would be a stress antidote extraordinaire.

For those who needed reminding of life’s unforeseen complications, however, there was Chloé, where designer Clare Waight Keller found herself in the unenviable position of having to hold her show the day after the death of the house’s founder, Gaby Aghion.

Dedicating the collection to Aghion’s memory, Waight Keller sent out lacy baby-doll dresses and tailored shorts with matching boy jackets; draped and flowing crepes; neat suede sheaths, the waist demarcated by intersecting metallic links; and a navy evening gown, the torso entirely embedded in the same.

“I was interested in fabrics with history, almost a folklore,” she said before the show, and the airy volumes paid homage to Aghion’s initial imperative to create a freer, more fluid femininity.

A faded denim poncho sweatshirt paired with matching sweatpants was less successful — weightier and kind of kitschy (Juicy Chloé?) — but overall, by turning her face toward the light (weight) and literally ring-fencing her ideas, Waight Keller told her own story.

At Akris, the “quest for light” (designer Albert Kriemler’s words, handwritten with the run of show) was also the subject, as Kriemler found his grail in Kasimir Malevich’s geometries via white tennis leathers and voiles layered with irregular, almost invisible tone-on-tone rectangular appliqués. Black gowns in transparent tulle georgette sported strategically placed matte panels. And suits, T-shirts and dresses entirely woven into an open mesh proved an ode, yet again, to the square.

At Giambattista Valli, cherry-blossom-embroidered shifts and the tunic-flared trouser combo so ubiquitous this week wafted tiers of falling leaves and swinging fringe, brocade butterflies and baby bows. Not that it was all sweetness and more light: Across every print (or, to be fair, many prints), a black raindrop did fall.

It was at Givenchy, however, that things really took a tougher turn. Designer Riccardo Tisci seemed to be channeling gothic Tyrolean maids in homespun armor and new romantic pirates (or something like that) via studs and stripes, not to mention leather, lace, grommets and corsetry, all in black and white, with a shell pink thrown in here and there for good measure.

Some of it was cool, especially the squared-off collarless white tailcoats edged in black and laced along every edge, and some of it was over-the-top (crosses over the hearts on printed sheer T-shirts layered to create a double-vision effect, which will probably end up a best-seller nonetheless). Some of it was very Givenchy (the little black dresses, the flounced white lace poet shirts and shirtdresses), and some of it pretty derivative: Alaïa by way of Balmain, filtered through another lens.

We live in an era of found inspiration, and such borrowings are commonplace on many a runway. But just like the show’s alluring in-your-face sexuality and self-sufficient energy, it was also impossible to ignore.

In the Instagram world, however, where memories are short, such connections matter less and less. (We can debate that on its merits another time.) Instead, here’s what does: The blood-quickening impression that if you mess with these girls, they might stomp you on the foot with their nail-heeled over-the-knee boot.

Put another way: They wouldn’t just shrug off the heavy and take the Métro. They’d circumvent the turnstile entirely. Yow.