One in a series on the clothes that had a moment at Paris Fashion Week.
PARIS —In today’s fashion world, particularly in New York, the drudgery of being an apprentice seems quaint. The modern way is for freshly graduated design students to launch their own collections. To be a fashion designer is to be an entrepreneur. So many designers with little experience working on their own have the admirable belief that lightning will strike and they will not only draw critical acclaim but the resources, business savvy and luck to support a commercial endeavor that satisfies the demands of fickle consumers and finicky retailers alike.
Of course, such one-in-a-million success stories have happened, and they are referenced like Biblical truths. Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler skyrocketed to fame after Barneys New York championed their college graduation collection. Zac Posen became an overnight sensation thanks to a single dress and a lot of fashionable friends. John Galliano went from Central Saint Martins directly into the warm embrace of a bedazzled fashion industry.
All of those mythic tales have dark sides as well: financial turmoil, legal travails, personal tragedy, public humiliation. But the downside barely registers. Young fashion all-stars are akin to top student-athletes eager to ditch the prerequisites for a chance to go directly into the big leagues.
But the work of Kei Ninomiya and Antonin Tron makes strong arguments for biding one’s time, honing one’s craft and sharpening a clear aesthetic point-of-view. The two could not be more different as designers. Their single similarity is a particular affection for black. Ninomiya, after all, named his collection Noir, which is French for black.
Ninomiya spent more than a decade working with designer Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons. His ability to fully realize the most complicated silhouettes is surely a testament to his time with a master designer who is renowned for her conceptual approach to fashion.
He has an artful sensibility, but in his collection, the sculptural dress in which it’s impossible to sit is only an interlude, a soul-enriching digression Mostly, his clothes are extraordinarily creative, powerfully captivating, blissfully surprising — and wearable. But they are also outliers in an industry now dominated by streetwear, socialite drag and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink costumes.
Ninomiya presented his collection Saturday afternoon at the Faculté de Pharmacie. It was a building with the usual sort of Parisian grandeur: stone carvings, soaring ceilings and walls that might best be described as Old World gray. His first model down the runway wore a sculptural black dress that gently vibrated as she walked.
The models’ faces were often obscured by floral bouquets of dark red roses, orchids and black calla lilies. Or sometimes they were merely crowned with flowers. It’s always disconcerting, this masking of women. But here, the women didn’t disappear. They seemed to grow bigger — taking on the power of nature, the mystery of shadows and the romance of the unknown.
Ninomiya shifted with ease from the conceptual to the desirable. There were cropped motorcycle jackets, full skirts, coats embossed with the shape of daisies and jackets trimmed in faux fur. It was all in black and it was a rich and diverse and mesmerizing as if he’d used every color in a rainbow.
This was his first full-scale show after having unveiled his previous work in small, informal presentations. Despite the name of the collection, Ninomiya is not adverse to other colors: white, red, navy. But his use of black showcases his ability to breathe three-dimensional life into bolts of fabric. It was an exciting coming out for Ninomiya. One that was full of emotion. Of solemnity and joy. Dreams and practicalities. And, of course, one full of beauty.
There was nothing conceptual about Tron’s work. It was precise and technically adept without being cold. His focus is on knitwear and he is a master with jersey. He can drape it around the body in a way that is flattering and sexy but without making a woman feel that she must be double or triple-Spanxed to feel comfortable.
Tron, who is French, studied in Antwerp and worked for Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and eventually Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga. The result is a designer who has emerged with a fully formed sensibility.
His sense of proportion is perhaps his most notable skill. He crops a jacket just right, so that it accentuates a woman’s figure rather that compressing it into the proportions of a fire plug.
He blends sportswear with athleticism, but it’s more formal than athleisure. Even his leggings have polish and panache. They are not an afterthought.
This is a tough city in which to make an impression. Designers come from all over the world to take the stage here, and the breadth of their imagination is boundless, their technical skills unrivaled. But amidst the big brands with their bullhorns and the mad fashion scientists who dominate the spotlight, it’s still possible to be heard and to be seen. And enthusiastically applauded.
Also at Paris Fashion Week: