What's New? Try a Watch

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

c.2014 New York Times News Service

PARIS — On Tuesday, the Apple Watch finally made it to Paris. Be still, fashion’s rapidly beating heart.

At a special, 24-hours-only preview, it took pride of place in the windows of Colette on the Rue St.-Honoré. You couldn’t buy (the watches won’t be available until next year, kind of like the clothes on the runway), but you could touch. The style set stopped in on its way to Chanel. Even Karl Lagerfeld made a preshow appearance. Everyone was, literally, a-Twitter.

But wait. Hold up a second. Didn’t we already have an Apple Watch moment, way back when the ready-to-wear shows all began? Didn’t some editors, in fact, miss shows in New York to go to Cupertino, California, to see it for themselves?

Indeed. But for the rest of them, the Rue St.-Honoré would suffice.

This is an industry obsessed with, and predicated on, the new. And even three weeks after its introduction, the Apple Watch apparently still qualifies. Unlike some of the stuff on the runways. Perhaps because of some of the stuff on the runways.

Like, for example, at Saint Laurent. A slam-bam, fast and furious, hard-rock tour of designer Hedi Slimane’s three favorite silhouettes — the A-line baby-doll mini; the slick trouser suit; the thigh-high miniskirt- or shorts-with-jacket — in more combinations than Joseph’s coat of many colors, from jewel-encrusted to alligator, leather, cherry-print, leopard-print, marabou and gold lamé (to name just a few). The show reiterated what seems to be Slimane’s particular modus operandi: the exploration and re-evaluation of found imagery. Which in fashion terms is a fancy way of saying vintage.

Last season, Slimane name-checked John Baldessari, the California artist known for his use of appropriated forms, whose work he used in his show invitation booklet; this season, it was Robert Heinecken, a self-titled “paraphotographer,” who often used shots taken by others. There is a pattern here.

It’s a great high-culture justification (ideological appropriation?) for what often seems like a trip down to the memory lane thrift stores of Venice Beach, albeit done in a perfectly finished, luxury fabrication kind of way.

There’s nothing wrong with finding your groove or, in Slimane’s case, your chest-crushing bass reverb. (Goodness knows, we all spend enough time complaining about whiplash from too much change for change’s sake.) And there’s likewise no question that, reduced to its constituent parts, the collection was full of pieces that will appeal to a variety of customers: bright red bandleader jackets to one age group; crystal minidresses to another; those slick trouser suits to a third.

But there’s also virtue in edging things along, just a little. Women’s lives don’t stand still; why should their wardrobes?

It was a question raised at Chanel, explicitly at the finale — when the models appeared en masse in a quasi-fashion protest, bearing signs crying “Free fashion” and other slogans — and implicitly during the show itself.

In the Grand Palais, designer Karl Lagerfeld recreated an entire Parisian boulevard, down to the potholes, and then sent an army of 85 women strolling down the street where they (supposedly) lived. On they came in rainbow-woven bouclé suits; washed watercolor flowers; pinstriped shorts with billowing white cotton blouses caught by gold leather belts; LWDs (little white dresses) blossoming with 3-D blooms; and a series of black and white geometric cocktail shifts.

Some of it was great — narrow pants under swishy hip-yoked pleated skirts under cropped jackets; a pair of silver mosaic column dresses that had a powerful, elegant gleam — and some a bit awkward (a dress macramé’d from thin strips of silk that flattened out like a rectangular placard, or potholder, from the front; waxed wide gangster pinstripes). But either way, at least Lagerfeld was clearly trying to rethink and rework the familiar. Even beyond ye olde house codes.

As were Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli in their superb Valentino show. Inspired by the Grand Tour, but freed by modern forms and the lightest of fabrications, it ranged from utterly simple navy blue princess coats and A-line apron linen minidresses to tiered multiprint Gypsy peasant frocks, white broderie anglaise cottons and denim culottes. Gowns came silver-beaded and layered print over print, or hand-painted with oceanic treasures: starfish and coral and sea horses.

It was a fairy tale fit for the modern day, told in the shape of reality — not unlike the story at Sonia Rykiel, where the advent of the new designer, Julie de Libran, at the once-beloved but recently sidelined house excited the kind of anticipation normally reserved for, say, baby Kardashians.

“It’s a happy maison, it should make you smile,” de Libran said backstage before her debut, held in the label’s first Paris flagship, complete with black-jacketed waiters from the nearby Café de Flore standing on the white carpet amid mirrored walls, holding silver trays of Champagne and finger sandwiches. (Rykiel went to the Flore so often that a sandwich, Le Club Rykiel, was named in her honor.)

Translated, this meant: stripes! Stripes woven into loose white tweed dresses and knit into long mink vests; stripes embedded via grommets into leather skirts; and created in sequins on shifts. And it meant jumpsuits and overalls of all types, in denim, khaki and jacquard, plus evening versions in silk, tiered in ruffles.

Why all the jumpsuits?

“I wanted to show that women have legs,” said de Libran, which sounds a bit ridiculous (we are bipeds; of course we have legs) until you consider that generally in the fashion context, such limbs are presented more as decorative objects than machines for motion.

Even though the clothes read quietly ’70s in aspect, it was a radical idea.

About, well — time.