Robin Givhan, The Washington Post’s Pulitzer-winning fashion critic, is covering Paris Fashion Week. Follow along as she makes her way from runway to runway. Read her stories on Style Blog and follow her on Twitter: @robingivhan.
PARIS — Several years ago, designer Phoebe Philo sent a collection down the Céline runway that was a glorious manifesto on the beauty of minimalism. The shirts worn by her models had perfect little spread collars whose lines had been considered down to the millimeter. Philo relied on substantial fabrics that held their shape so that a woman could sit in an office all day wearing a pair of trousers and then stand up to go home without a crease or wrinkle in sight. Philo’s work was austere. And in her refusal of embroidery, ribbons and sparkles, there was a calm, graceful elegance.
But fashion can’t resist a flip-flop. And for fall 2015, her collection included exuberantly embroidered dresses and trousers that served as a reminder that minimalism may be chic, refined, powerful and authoritative — but maximalism can be a lot more fun.
There was a great deal of wit in this collection as well: blouses printed with furry woodland creatures and woven leather shoes topped with silver beaded tassels. Ribbed knit sweaters came with matching conical bras, which had gone a little droopy from lack of wires or other structure. Padded coats had detachable sleeves, long ropes of fur pom-poms hung from the models’ shoulders and harness-style bags draped over the torso.
It was a collection of strong shapes and bold notions. Philo did not follow the path that she so successfully carved out. That took a bit of nerve. After all, where she had previously gone, a host of fast-fashion brands followed. She’s shifted her gaze and adjusted her vision.
It can be difficult for a designer to change directions — to make even subtle adjustments in their thinking. The old adage of retail is that each season customers want more of the same, except slightly different. And all too many shopkeepers are unwilling to challenge and astonish their customers for fear of alienating them. Consistency is the fallback position.
But it can also be a snooze.
Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci shifted his aesthetic just far enough away from his reliably tough sex appeal to perk up an audience that was starting to take on the eyes-crossed malaise of the fashion-saturated.
His show began with a snarling baritone singing, “I woke up like this. . . .” It was a riff on Beyoncé’s “Flawless.” It echoed through the maze of chairs set up in an old high school gymnasium, which had been filled with vintage pinball machines, video games and boom boxes. The space had been turned into a graveyard of cultural detritus. The first models wound their way through the audience. One could see that their hair was in large looping braids and spit curls But what’s that under their nose? A mustache!
No, no. It’s a collection of black metal nose rings. Their faces have been faux-pierced by myriad jewels. Enormous chandelier earrings swing as they walk. Some are dressed in black coats embroidered with ribbons and jet beading. Others are wearing charcoal gray skirts trimmed in burgundy cord and topped with a matching tailcoat. The waists on dresses and jackets are often tailored into corsets. Trousers are lean and cropped.
Beyond the drama of black, there are ruffled dresses printed with peacock feathers and ankle boots that pull on like snug socks. At times the collection strays towards the masculine — or at least the vaguely androgynous. At others, it is flirtatious and feminine.
The look of the models calls to mind Spanish gypsies, Flamenco dancers and bullfighters. All those images play out on the runway with swirling dresses, strong tailoring and dark and mysterious embellishment.
Tisci has always been a romantic designer. Sometimes, his collections beat the drum for sweaty sex. This one speaks of foreplay, anticipation and the art of the tease — of a proud dance of enticement.
Tisci didn’t write a new aesthetic song. Why should he tamper with what everyone from Rihanna to Kim Kardashian have stamped with their approval? He simply rearranged the melody. And made one listen a bit more intently.