The clothes on the Loewe runway Friday morning, and those from Chloe the day before, sprang from wondrous imaginations. Loewe’s Jonathan Anderson takes warring textures and incompatible silhouettes and brings them together in splendid harmony. Chloe’s Natacha Ramsay-Levi merges notes of equestrians, sailors, forests and the Aurora Borealis to create a chorus of cool. What they do is death-defying — at least by design standards — because it can so easily go so terribly, ferociously wrong.
At its best, Anderson’s work looks spontaneous and unplanned — even if it has been meticulously sorted out. His is a daring high-wire act any number of designers try and at which most end up failing miserably.
For fall, Anderson successfully blended stiff and formal history with a modern need for loose-limbed peacocking. He was inspired by some of the earliest self-portraits in photography. His show invitation featured a reproduction of an 1839 self-portrait by Robert Cornelius, who might be called the father of the modern selfie. Anderson’s exercise had him mixing richly hued tapestry prints with silver, tinsel-like skirts; modest dresses with little peephole backs that called to mind a camera’s viewfinder; high-collar blouses with prim scarf ties; and coats trimmed with feathery boas like something from a depiction of a royal court mixed with hats that evoked a marriage between a tri-corner hat and Mickey Mouse.
The historical references were clear but nothing about the collection looked like a costume or felt as though it was plucked from the past. Anderson has a skill for making the unexpected connections, for riffing on some grace note until it becomes a stirring main event. To say that his accomplishment is a bit of a miracle would be overstating the majesty of fashion, but it is a feat of the highest order.
One is more likely to fail than succeed. That brings us to the alumnus of Loewe who is the latest designer to take on the revitalization of Lanvin. Lanvin became a case study in how to destroy a fashion company when its then-owner fired longtime creative director Alber Elbaz in 2015. Since then, the brand has churned through designers; each successive attempt at a revival further decimated the label’s reputation and alienated its core followers. Lanvin’s new owner, Chinese conglomerate Fosun, hired Bruno Sialelli, who once designed menswear at Loewe.
Sialelli showed his first Lanvin women’s collection on the runway earlier in the week at the 13th century Musée de Cluny, and, well, it looked like Loewe — but not really. In a collection called Mystic Pilgrims, he offered an eccentric blend of fairy-tale imagery, nautical themes, medieval references, pastels and more pastels.
Sialelli was never able to find the right proportions of all of these conflicting elements. The collection was a fashion equivalent of a Tower of Babel — so many voices, so many languages but without any discernible message.
Oh, yes, giving voice to the stylish fashion eccentric is hard. Terribly hard. Ramsay-Levi at Chloe makes it look as easy as a shrug. She plays a game of mix-and-match chaos, and cooks up concoctions that are both self-assured and cool. Ramsay-Levi doesn’t make fashion; she creates a sense of style. Her clothes don’t announce her inspiration. Instead, they tell a story about mood and attitude — about not fussing with your clothes or overthinking what to wear. Just toss it on — the whole $5,000 outfit.
Ramsay-Levi sent out slim-cut checked trousers that unzipped over mid-calf boots, expertly proportioned sweaters over shirts over skirts, a poncho that one actually might want to wear and dresses that were prim-sexy-chic. Most everything was worn with chunky-heeled boots, along with the occasional pair of infinity eyeglasses, chandelier earrings and berry-red lips.
Casual observers of fashion often believe style is something that comes naturally. That those who are deeply embedded in the fashion industry have always had a certain way with clothes, that they were born fluent in the language of personal presentation. Certainly there are those who were seeded from birth with a talent for fashion, who’ve always had the makings of style wizardry. But as with any bit of raw talent, it has to be nurtured. One has to care.
Watching the work of designers such as Ramsay-Levi and Anderson as it comes down the runway is to see skill that has been finely honed. Every look is not a success. For someone like Anderson, who swings wildly for the fences, there are plenty of devastating misses. But when he is hitting his stride and when Ramsay-Levi is oozing sophisticated nonchalance, they both offer proof that fashion is worth the effort.
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