Paris Fashion Week weekend: Balenciaga, Valentino, Akris, Elie Saab and Givenchy
Balenciaga: Digging in the dirt
Returning refugees trudging through a mud-strewn landscape; huge holes in the soil like the aftermath of intense shelling, at Balenciaga, in the latest remarkable set by the house’s creative director Demna.
The models all marching in mud and huge puddles in a giant set built inside the Parc des Expositions, 20 kilometres north of Paris. Thundering techno music throughout in a co-end show, where several models carried papooses with lifelike baby dolls inside them.
“Yes, the babes were very realistic, rather creepy. We had a very hard time styling them,” laughed Demna.
A particularly striking image in a particular striking show, where most of the clothes were worn, muddy, smeared and stained. Some of the cast carried battered toy bears, pearls in their noses, B logo bracelets around their necks.
Opening with Kanye West, playing a security guard in black flak jacket, hoodie padded pants, boots and cap, splashing mud with every step. Skinny waifs followed, often shirtless and in mesh tanks worn over artfully worn and splattered oversized jeans.
“What is luxury?I have been dealing with it since I began. Is it a cashmere sweater or can it be anything? And, in my view, it can. Covering this in mud is a reference to that. The mud makes it all real,” explained Demna, wearing a greased and smeared black hoodie.
“To make this hoodie dirty is much more difficult than it appears. We have a whole department that dyes things. It’s polar opposite of what we think of as luxury, which is meant to be polished. But here the context is what makes it luxury,” he argued.
Very much the make-up tour de force of the season. A cast covered in horns, spikes shooting out of they cheeks, pearls from their lips.
Plus, Demna’s choice of bags were something else. A new arm-tote, composed of matching sleeve and tote wrapped under the arm. Some paired with two-meter long snake-like stoles. Many models with puffer bags over their arms or bags scrunched up in their hands. The latter on closer inspection were faux oversized packets of crisps reading, potato chips Balenciaga Paris, by Lays, a popular PepsiCo brand.
Clothes of considerable volume, from skirt/trousers slit at the front, to a brilliant post-nuclear punk dress with straps, zips and studs.
“The one thing that came from Balenciaga was a puffer bag, which he made as a muff. In this show, I am trying to find out why I am a designer. So this was very personal statement. Society and luxury put us all in boxes. That’s how I felt all my life. I have been punched in the face all my life. That is what society and the Internet especially does. But you have to be a boxer and when you get knocked down you have to stand up. I am naturally optimistic but we cannot be very optimistic right now. So I am more hopeful, than optimistic.”
Valentino: Maximalism meets minimalism
Maximalism met minimalism in a pathbreaking collection by Pierpaolo Piccioli for the house of Valentino at Sunday lunchtime, where a good quarter of the audience were admirers dressed in scores of pink looks from last season’s all pink show.
Even if the most beautiful image in the front row was Zendaya, glistening in black sequins. Her arrival, 40 minutes after the official start time, causing a huge chorus of screams from the thousands of fashion fans and fashion wannabes outside.
Suitably settled, the first model appeared in Piccoli’s new multi-V logo print named Toile Iconographe, made into a very fine cape dress with matching tights, shoes, clutch and, even, face, courtesy of some remarkably dexterous logo face paint.
Piccioli has rarely draped better clothes, from splendidly sculpted mat brown chiffon gowns, or ingenious black georgette cape dresses that could either wrap around the torso, or be flung over the shoulder to reveal an open back.
Pierpaolo’s big concept for next spring is called 'Unboxing', or extending the houses codes of chiffon, bow, sequins and a little grandeur depending on your personal take in terms of proportion and sizing.
This season he proposed a new flesh-toned lycra leotard and body, the better to accompany beautifully and somewhat revealing narrow cocktail dresses in marvellous displays of sequins and plastic shards.
An expanded casting, for an expanded repertory of ideas, as the designer brilliantly took the Valentino DNA into new territory. His cast even included a punk with giant Mohican. Hard to imagine Valentino Garavani trying that.
In a pre-show preview, Pierpaolo explained that he had met a young man in Rome, who told him he always wanted to model in a show, but would never change anything about his look to achieve his dream.
“I told him he would have to change nothing and cast him in the show,” chuckled the Roman-born, sending out a surprising cabine, that suited his path-breaking collection.
Akris: An authoritative anniversary
How do you dress women of authority, ladies of intelligence and females in position of power, without falling into the trap of reproducing masculine codes to allegedly empower them?
One designer who has repeatedly come up with smart solutions is Albert Kriemler, the creative director of family owned marque Akris.
One of the many proofs of his success is that the house this weekend celebrated its centenary with refined and noble collection, staged with elan beneath a threatening sky at the fountain of the Palais de Tokyo. With a special backdrop for the day, Ugo Rondinone’s 'We Are Poems' flickering rainbow sculpture, underling founder and grandmother Alice’s stated goal “to define a woman’s presence and enhance her charisma.”
Kriemler is also one of those designers whose work begins with a sketch. Non-professionals would be surprised how many of today’s creative directors do not make that their starting point.
Albert’s graphic sketch of a peak shouldered and belted wrap alpha coat reviving a classic of the house, appeared in his elegant show program. Before then a beautifully cut coat opened the show. Made in double face vicuna and worn with matching sneakers it looked super classy, and very today. It was culled from a version Albert discovered in the house’s archives dating back to 1978, part of an extended reconsideration of the brand’s legacy to celebrate its centennial.
Akris, which was born in St. Gallen, generally includes the defining fabric of its hometown, guipure lace, in most collections. Rarely with such distinction as this season with copper-hued blouses, faded gold dresses and romantic white blouse.
Seen before the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower across the river, his cast was marvellously heterogeneous - young ladies with giant funky afros; cropped black haired early thirties somethings; gray hair beauties and polished Parisians. Whatever their origins, they all had great poise.
Add in some great croquis-print jumpsuits or trenches; perforated mesh cocktails and gowns; and a quartet of sleeveless gorge front pleated gowns and you had a great fashion statement.
Grandmother Alice Kriemler-Schoch, who founded the business in 1922, would surely be proud to see this third generation led by Albert and CEO brother Peter make such a success out of the brand. Switzerland’s answer to Chanel, that has dressed everyone from Amal Clooney and Condoleezza Rice, to Angelina Jolie and Charlene, Princess of Monaco, who sat at Albert’s side at a celebratory dinner inside the Palais de Tokyo. Supper washed down by another Swiss discovery, Domaine Donatsch, a chardonnay to rival many great burgundies.
Givenchy: From the Jardin des Plantes to the Bermuda Triangle
The weather gods were cruel to Givenchy this season and the fashion muses were pretty mean too. An outdoor show delayed by rain for 40 minutes, and a collection that was truly a damp squib. From first to last.
Even the presence of supermodels like Bella and Gigi Hadid could not save this collection, so devoid of finesse, and so clichéd throughout. Gigi, in particular, dressed in a truly appalling logo denim combo of oversized jacket and cargo-pocket skirt. Bella fared, if anything, worse. Her hands stuck in a shabby denim mid-calf skirt and nasty denim bra.
As for the evening wear, a series of clumsily draped cocktails, often cut chopped off at one side to reveal an interior bra. Quite how anyone would think you could include these looks on the runway of one of Paris’ great couture house, was hard to fathom.
Plus, the less said about the laced hooker booties, which most of the cast wore, the better.
The one good thing about this show was the runway and setting made of dark brown cork. Which also made it easier to dry, allowing the likes of Kanye West, Olivia Palermo, Georgia May Jagger and Noomi Rapace to take their seats in some comfort.
Other than that, this felt like a train wreck. Avant moi le deluge. Doubly disappointing since the house’s designer Matthew Williams had presented a very fine and inventive menswear collection in June.
Quite why this brand has proved so problematic since the retirement of Hubert de Givenchy is hard to comprehend. Three British designers - John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Julien Macdonald barely lasted a few seasons, immediately turning Givenchy into a revolving door. Riccardo Tisci, at least made it a success d’estime in his extended stay with his gothic Mediterranean mode, without growing revenues significantly. And by basically ignoring most of the house’s codes. Before another Brit’, Clare Waight Keller, restored much of the founder’s DNA though without gaining much traction.
Little wonder, Givenchy appears to be the Bermuda Triangle of fashion, a storied house where even greatly talented designers tend to get lost. As Williams did, pretty completely, this season.
Elie Saab: Warm, wealthy and wearable
A swift change of direction at Elie Saab, where the Phoenician couturier injected a dash of cool artist into his aesthetic, and was all the better for it.
Playing with his preferred florals, though ramped up with some well-judged color blocking - seen in blends of canary yellow and white, seen in dip-dyed ruffled skirts and sporty bras.
Though Elie’s key idea was almost a dozen looks in sturdy lace, crocheted into charming crop tops, high-slit skirts, wide-legged pants and even hoodies, for a chill sunset. All anchored by clever rope covered platforms and platform wedges.
Yet the heart of the matter with Elie will always be evening, this season starring rock goddess. His gowns were jazzed up with bouquets of floral yarn-embroidery vines sewn over nude tulle and cocktail cut-out dresses.
Before changing gears again with flowing georgette dresses in dark pink and Imperial Roman purple. Finished off by enamel floral brooches on bows, Elie Saab monogram earrings and ear cuffs.
Just like the novel new take on Saab by Saab, his front row was an eclectic mix, including the likes of Olivia Palermo, Gulf TV host and star Diala Makki and Guram Gvasalia.
“Timeless chic with a touch of garden freshness,” was Saab’s comment.
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