PARIS — These are good times for fashion. But not such creative times for clothes.
Culturally we have never been more fascinated by the style, aesthetics, personalities and glamour that the industry produces and attracts. From an obsession with the hip-hop power chic of Fox’s successful drama “Empire,” to the Twitter storm triggered by a president exchanging his conservative navy suit for a khaki summer-weight one, fashion has settled into our consciousness as both entertainment and social barometer.
Kanye West can’t get enough of it. Paramount Pictures couldn’t resist using the Valentino runway for a marketing stunt to announce the upcoming “Zoolander 2.” The Internet went into a tizzy when an Oscar dress from Calvin Klein was pinched from a hotel room. And hordes of folks are buzzing about the $10,000 Apple watch.
From a business perspective, guys are shopping — lapping up sportswear and furnishings and fueling a minor Golden Era of menswear. And middle-class Americans, perusing the fashion capitals of Europe with their hard-earned dollars in hand, now stand a fighting chance against a recently weakened euro. Now is the time to satisfy those longings for luxury goods.
As designers presented their fall 2015 collections, during fashion week here, there was a sense of expansiveness and change. And yet. Several labels, such as Nina Ricci, and Carven, debuted middling collections by new designers. And Maison Margiela sent a significant rumble through the industry with the first ready-to-wear collection by its new creative director John Galliano. His debut was assured and witty, but he did not till any new ground.
The relatively new designer Cédric Charlier reminded his audience of his beautiful sense of color and his charm with a mix of sequins and sporty shapes. But his goal was not to make folks think about their public presentation in a new way. Veronique Branquinho poured her poetry into long, sweeping pleated skirts and crewneck sweaters. She encourages women to savor quiet ease — not reinvent themselves.
Sonia Rykiel’s Julie de Libran makes a pitch for an independent woman in silver metallic jeans, fur vests and with a soft-spot for the ’70s. The John Galliano collection — designed by Bill Gaytten — has become mundane with respectable little dresses and art deco reference. Roland Mouret still loves a fitted, sexy dress that stays close to the body with the help of a thousand darts.
Little is surprising. Few designers have been able to breath life into a dream. Few have even tried. That has been the disappointment during this fashion season, which ended Wednesday.
The runway is burdened with peanut gallery observers who look at photographs and wonder who would ever wear such a thing. (Does anyone ever look at a concept car and wonder who would drive it? Do we look at whiz-bang technology and deride the possibility?)
Iris Van Herpen is always looking to the future with her work — so far into the future that her clothes often resemble costumes from a science fiction film. Her fall collection focused on jackets cut from a fabric woven with stainless steel so that they shimmered like a rainbow of light shooting from a crystal. She continues to experiment with three-dimensional printing. And often her short dresses looked like they were constructed from some sort of glossy sea creature washed ashore.
But without designers such as Van Herpen, fashion doesn’t move forward, technology doesn’t enter our closets and fashion stops addressing our lives. The fashion runway should be a place for styles we can buy now with a generous smattering of concepts that will inform our day to day lives — one year or five years from now.
The Valentino collection, by designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, was wholly in the past with a nod to the present. It drew inspiration from London in the 1960s, Gustav Klimt and Vienna. There was, as always, a kind of ecclesiastical restraint running through each look. Garments brushed the body; they didn’t cling to it.
The Tuesday afternoon runway presentation began with dresses in graphic black and white stripes; it built to include lavish embroideries that recalled stained glass windows. It was a beautiful collection but it was virtually overshadowed by the surprise of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson strutting down the runway in the guise of their Zoolander 2 characters. The clothes, as beautiful as they were, didn’t stand a fighting chance.
Fashion should be opening its doors to the rest of popular culture. But that mingling should ideally make fashion better, more interesting and more inventive. It should not turn fashion into a bit player on its own stage.
Sarah Burton presented her Alexander McQueen collection in the Conciergerie, which was used as a prison during the French Revolution. It is a gothic, beautiful subterranean space with soaring arches. It was a wonderfully moody backdrop for a collection that ruminated on the female form and the melancholy beauty of faded flowers.
The collection didn’t shock the senses but it functioned as pleasant reminder of Burton’s sure hand at tailoring a suit and building a dress, her understanding of femininity and her willingness to present it in ways that range from intimidating to bleak.
Her palette was dominated by a dusty, pale pink, as well as black, and her most striking work was in the embroidered coats with fitted waists and her tank dresses that exploded into rose petals along the hemline.
Kenzo, by Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, was also a surprise thanks to its focus and precision. It was sporty and vital with shearlings and capes in jungle green. It was reassuring armor against Mother Nature.
Miu Miu, on Wednesday afternoon, came on like a jolt of color and fun, with herringbone and plaid skirts and coats in shades of yellow and orange, shiny crocodile embossed dresses in cherry red, mini skirts in bold yellow and giant ropes and medallions of crystal jewelry.
Even the shoes — frosted in gold glitter — sparkled under the lights. It was a romp through a fine flea market, a dive through the world’s best vintage store — at least as imagined by designer Miuccia Prada.
The season ostensibly ended, however, Wednesday morning with the grand presentation of the Louis Vuitton ready-to-wear collection at the Fondation Louis Vuitton — the massive Frank Gehry-designed gallery of contemporary art. Tucked behind the trees in the Bois de Boulogne, it rises on the horizon full of aesthetic bravado.
As guests arrived, a drone hovered some 20 or 30 feet above the ground in a small grove of trees. Off in the distance there were a series of geodesic domes glowing silver in the morning light and awaiting fashion show guests.
Inside, the bleacher seating rose like a pyramid to the ceiling. The very last row had room for a single person to perch atop the pinnacle.
Now in his third season, designer Nicolas Ghesquière has made it clear that his goal is to create garments that a woman can wear now. She does not need a year for her eye to adjust to his silhouettes, two years to find the nerve to don them and five years before her friends stop looking at her strangely.
Ghesquière’s white fur jackets have the louche attitude of a woman who equates polish and perfection with the bourgeois. His trousers are skinny and the jackets slim. The skirts are short and the shoes all have narrow but manageable heels.
Ghesquière gave Louis Vuitton customers a host of things to buy. But he didn’t give them a compelling reason to pull out their wallet. They were not dizzyingly desirable, daring or fabulously bonkers.
After the show ended, guests were invited to wander the galleries of the foundation. Artists such as Ellsworth Kelly and Alberto Giacometti were represented, but the collection was dominated by names that do not have such sweeping Art History 101 reputations. And their work was surprising — from glass flutes forming a sound sculpture on the ceiling to a video installation of a mutating hand.
Louis Vuitton surrounds itself with audacious architecture and daring art. But they only serve as reminders that their fashion, like so much fashion this season, is not equally free — or willing — to soar.