Stella McCartney: Undone
The sight of Stella McCartney backstage, fielding her four children with the help of her husband, and greeting her father Paul McCartney, said it all about working women and their crazy busy lives.
No wonder the designer’s first words to me were, “It is coming undone.”
But she was talking about the inspiration for her tough and tender approach to dressing in her powerful new collection.
“It is about finding softness and warmth in fluidity — there is a lot of cut work allowing the woman to come undone and find her gentler side,” said Stella.
She was referring to a fresh spirit that could best be described as calculatedly casual — ribbed wool swelling over the chest of tailored coats; asymmetrical cuts at one shoulder to leave an enticing sliver of flesh.
There was nothing vulgar or any deliberate exposure — just a sense of the woman behind the soft armour of a smart tweed suit or tailored trousers.
There is no doubt that Stella designs — as she has always done — for herself. But she has taken strides forward since her starting point.
She, the animal rights activist, even showed cuddly fake fur coats in a flurry of black or white, as a desirable and useful item for a winter wardrobe.
I could see how much work had gone into piecing together this tailored fluidity. A black-and-white coat where the skirt unfolded asymmetrically over little ankle boots suggested a shower of fabric running down the body.
There was a splash of vibrancy in royal blue and green, and a jigsaw of metallic floral brocades, but mostly the wool cloth, knitting or lace came in neutral colours.
So it was the tiny gestures that made the story significant, and showed the designer’s fashion maturity. Around the neck, fastened opposite to the bared shoulder, was a simple curl of pearls. This said more about femininity than sexuality displayed in the raw could do.
Growing up Sacai
The secret of Sacai, the label run by Japanese designer Chitose Abe, used to be a story of coming and going: two quite different elements in fabric and style at the back and front of the same garment.
The designer has put all that behind her, so to speak. There is now one message in fabric and shape to each piece. The magic-mirror effect has been eliminated, and with it Sacai’s girlish charm.
But growing up is not so hard to do for this designer. She focused on masculine tailoring, but dosing the structured coats that were on the dark side with pops of patterned colour.
Sacai also introduced fur in a lavish way, first as an outline at the collar, cuffs and hem of a black-and-white leather coat; then as Mongolian lamb decorating the cuffs and collar of tailored tweed. Finally, the designer presented a bold fur coat of many colours.
Perhaps there was yet another Seventies fashion vibe going on, in a vast macramé ‘apron’ with swinging fringe. The clothes looked modern and often enticing. And Chitose Abe still offers a trace of the Kawaii, or, cute, attitude with which she took her first fashion steps.
Saint Laurent: Living in a Social Media World
Surprise me Hedi! Give me good girls, not bad! Show me dresses without visible bosoms, skirts falling chastely down to the knees and stockings without holes!
It was not to be. As the floor at Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent show was raised up like at a rock concert filmed for TV — lights flashing, silver scaffolding glinting — out came the punk kids with their kohl-painted eyes and ripped fishnet tights.
The only new thing about Hedi’s take on Saint Laurent is that the tulle skirts were shorter and bouncier, set off with colours and sparkles. They were teamed up, of course, with sharply tailored leather jackets, or their volume might be diminished by a swaddling coat. Both of these supporting pieces were impeccable and luxurious, in another context.
Hedi is a master of marketing. In six seasons he has created an image for Saint Laurent that is instantly recognisable, super cool, rich in wild music from lesser-known bands. This time the music was not live, but recorded specially for the Paris show.
Look behind the patina of youthful rebellion and you will find nice, well-made clothes for a lot of different customers. Hedi has made the original Yves Saint Laurent tuxedo a must, worn as a tight-fitting jacket over braces, collar and tie. Another must-have: a little black leather dress, zipped and super sexied-up for the catwalk. Elsewhere it is just a chic LBD.
So the show went on, and I admire Hedi for his ability to update and eroticise pieces thought of as classics — a cape for example, worn over a silvered dress.
The heels seemed higher, the bags smaller and cuter. And what the clothes lacked in invention and imagination, was made up for by increased variety. A full-skirted dress even came with lashings of colour, as if an artist had splashed it with digital paint.
What else was on offer? Visible bras and one bare breast. The show came with a booklet of art you might not show your mother, with a front page announcing: “he drew the dirtiest thing he could think of.”
The garments do not have the wild energy of the music, the models or the show. But in the world of social media, where image is all, they will have magic.
Giambattista Valli: A New Type of Tantra
The mood board — that guide to a fashion designer’s thoughts — was filled with egg-like shapes in soft shades exuding puffs of colour.
“They are tantric meditation drawings,” said Valli.
I had heard vaguely about tantric sex, but I know nothing of India’s ancient cosmology of signs.
“I have all these drawings,” said Valli. “It is something that has always inspired me, magical things. It is abstract but it is also hypnotic in a way, you kind of get lost in it.”
For the rest of the show, I was trying to spot where this influence had landed, as on the sleeveless tunic using the same tantric colours — teamed with a pair of flared pants, fitting for summer holiday wear.
Was the entire set — with its circular yellow lines — part of this magic? Or was it just a collection suited to the ever-increasing ranks of society clients?
Eventually I stopped questioning the creative process and just admired the spectacle: the top, tunic and trousers in three chic layers, the smart sleeveless coat over patterned dress, the sexy boots laced from ankle to knee.
And so much more. All of it clothing for a clientele who appreciate the handwork hidden behind a nonchalant, patterned dress. Will these international jetsetters buy into the flares? Probably not.
But Giambattista’s skill is to offer a range of smart, casual clothes with a bold-is-beautiful attitude. A dark dress with a tantric drawing in the centre of the body would require little meditation before deciding to buy it right now.
Hermès: A Quiet Contender
Great woven rafters curved over a vast stable, where there was a whiff of horses, and an elegant wooden construction put in place by Hermès.
A new filly had arrived in the house, and the fashion crowd had come to put her through her paces.
Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski was making her debut at Hermès, and the result was one of those quietly beautiful moments: clothes as apparently simple as they were rich in fabric and execution.
In the fifth week of the loud and brash international fashion season, Hermès and its new designer offered a still centre in a turning world.
With journalists champing at the bit, Nadège emerged backstage, her russet hair spilling over a tailored coat. “I wanted to go back to the roots — to the house which is built on saddle making,” the designer said, discussing the “expert use of leather”.
“I wanted to pick up the heritage and ancestral tradition, and bring it along to a contemporary woman,” she continued.
The designer made it look so easy: a blouson riding jacket in ink-blue lambskin with a padded lining like a saddle.
Corduroy trousers and boots finished this horsie-de-luxe look.
The sense throughout this brief, quiet show was of subtle, in-built references to the Hermès history, such as what looked like stirrup leather imprinted on a red jacquard silk dress, or forming the base of a bold necklace.
Nadège also made an alteration towards abstraction of the famous ‘H’ Hèrmes belt. The same symbol appeared dangling on silver chains at the neck.
The show opened with a model of African origin — a fine gesture by this 36-year-old designer who had recently been working in New York at The Row, and previously at Céline, and with Martin Margiela, who himself had designed for Hermès.
Nadège’s attitude was therefore that which the French describe as, ‘luxe, calme et volupté’.
The vividness of colour — scarlet, yellow and the famous Hermès rusty orange — glowed from suede and silk, fabrics familiar but not often of such sumptuous quality. A bag had a yellow and orange strap that looked like it could be a new brand identity.
There were even elements of wit and whimsy in a pair of precisely cut dungarees, and a single reference to the famous Hermès silk scarves printed with horse bits.
The show felt like a work in progress, but one moving precisely in the right direction.
Axel Dumas, CEO of Hermès, talked about bringing in a new member to the family.
Nadège, who was so overcome with emotion that she spent some time backstage before daring to face the front-of-house press, finally ran to the stable in her yellow and orange sneakers. Were they trainers or high-tops like the ones that Hermès showed this week in their vast shoe collection?
“No they are Nike,” she said.