One in a series on the clothes that had a moment at Paris Fashion Week:


The Kagura performance for the Kenzo spring 2018 collection. (Courtesy Kenzo)

PARIS — It’s a perilous risk for a designer to turn the presentation of a collection into performance art. On a theatrical stage, clothes are meant to add subtleties and nuance to a character; they are not the center of attention. But when a designer pairs a collection with singers, actors or dancers, the clothes must prevail. Otherwise the whole show becomes a game of misdirection.

This was the problem when designers Humberto Leon and Carol Lim presented their Opening Ceremony collection in New York this month. The clothes were costumes for a dance performance written and directed by Spike Jonze, choreographed by Ryan Heffington, and starring Mia Wasikowska and Lakeith Stansfield. That’s a lot of creative energy on stage and the pre-spring 2018 clothes, of which there weren’t many, got lost in all the whirling and warring couple angst.

Mia Wasikowska and Lakeith Stansfield In “Changers, A Dance Story.” (Erin Baiano)

The performance, “Changers, A Dance Story,” was also an hour-long affair plunked into the latter half of a day filled with fashion shows. For an overtaxed audience oozing anxiety about getting to the next show on time, the entire evening was an exercise in stress rather than pleasure.

By the time Lim and Leon presented their Kenzo collection here Wednesday as a two-act play with a runway show serving as intermission, they had wisely claimed a spot as the last show of the night — and also upped the amount of clothing on display.

Still, who could look at denim when there were dragons on stage?

In its continuing celebration of the house’s history, the designers explored the brand’s merging of traditional Japanese silhouettes with Western fabrics, cutting kimonos out of denim, turning worksheets into wildly printed camp shirts and matching them with workman trousers.


Keno spring 2018 (Mohamed Khalil)

Kenzo spring 2018 (Mohamed Khalil)

Keno spring 2018 (Mohamed Khalil)

They also turned to Kagura, a Japanese theatrical dance, as a vibrant mise-en-scene. Drummers pounded away upstage while wildly colorful giant dragons twirled and undulated downstage. A warrior appeared wielding a sword. Dragons were felled. The drummers thundered away.

Can a denim-bedecked model compete with dancing dragons and swordplay? Not really. The clothes are a bit of a blur. But one of the dragon’s glowing eyes made quite an impression.

Dragons stole the show. But that was okay. (Courtesy of Kenzo)

But in this case, the performance was more about the brand itself than the clothes. It underscored the Japanese roots of Kenzo and, as the designers said in the show notes, it highlighted their Asian-American heritage at a time when they believe diversity is being undervalued. The show put fashion into a broader story about modern culture, history and social shifts. And sometimes that’s more important than offering an audience an up-close look at French seams.

For Yang Li, presenting his collection to live music spoke to his own interest in performance, gave his moody collection a sense of place and gave vivid evidence of his clothes’ ability to exist beyond the artificial environment of a runway.


Yang Li Spring Summer 2018 collection (Raymond Chan/MCV Photo For The Washington Post)

A single musician, Swans founder Michael Gira, sat at the center of a stage with his guitar. The models walked out slowly and confidently. Their hair was plastered to their skull, their mouth painted with nearly black lipstick, wearing long pleated skirts in white and fuchsia. Floor-sweeping dresses in dusty aqua had military-like fanny packs strapped across a shoulder. Black dresses and skirts were photo-printed with faces that glowed orange from some unseen light source.


Yang Li Spring Summer 2018 collection (Raymond Chan/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

Yang Li Spring Summer 2018 collection (Raymond Chan/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

Yang Li Spring Summer 2018 collection (Raymond Chan/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

Yang Li Spring Summer 2018 collection (Raymond Chan/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

The presentation was a look inside the designer’s world, a peek at what inspires him and motivates him. And with only the solo voice of Gira offering a soundtrack, the clothes were the stars of the evening. And they delivered a beautiful performance.

Also at Paris Fashion Week: 

Clothes that could make air travel glamorous again. Well, almost.

Sexy and sophisticated, the Saint Laurent show was just plain glorious

Dior slaps a slogan on a T-shirt and tries to pass it off as feminism

There is just no excuse for this ugly, boring fashion

Lush, timeless beauty from fashion’s normal guy