Springtime in Paris – via Dior, Chalayan, Rochas, Rick Owens and Balenciaga

Alexander Fury
dior 225x300 Springtime in Paris   via Dior, Chalayan, Rochas, Rick Owens and Balenciaga

The opening look from Raf Simons' spring 2014 Dior show

The third day of my Paris fashion week – the fourth overall – has just finished. Raf Simons showed his latest collection for Christian Dior this afternoon. The major editors are out in force. The week has truly begun.

It is already sparkling with talent. Literally, in the case of Marco Zanini’s Rochas collection. As expected, his organza-wrapped, tinsel-bedecked, crystalline ode to Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie was his final for the house. He sent profits soaring in his final twelve months, and is obviously on to bigger and better things. Alessandro Dell’Acqua, the Italian who designs under the label No. 21, is set to take over, no doubt continuing in Zanini’s mould of delicate femininity. No announcement about Zanini’s future has been made.

Normally, if you suggest someone’s making a song and dance of their fashion, it would be an insult. But Rick Owens revels in it. Maybe he’s so assured of his skills – and of the commercial and critical success of his clothes – that he just does whatever he damn well wants. You get the sense that he loves pushing and provoking, and also that he loves putting on the biggest “show” in Paris, in the truest sense of the word.

Owens advised us to Google “step-teams” to explain the dance troops that invaded his catwalk, slapping their chests and stomping their way through vicious dance routines with gritted teeth. Clad in cloven-hoofed trainers, their bodies wrapped in leather and jersey banded with contrast like medieval tabards meeting twenty-second century sportswear, the step-teams gave his clothes a vibrancy and life. It was about as far removed from his usual monastic presentations as humanly possible. It was also one of the most energising spectacles of the week.

Raf Simons’ Dior show was also energising. I’ve already written a great deal about this (you can read my review here), so I’ll spare you another diatribe. I liked that he showed something new, slightly frighteningly new. It felt like a beginning, which is what spring is all about.

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Short shorts from the spring 2014 Balenciaga collection by Alexander Wang

I wasn’t so convinced by Alexander Wang’s Balenciaga collection. It was wearable, admittedly, although limited in its focus on the very young. The very young and very rich can buy these clothes straight away, and wear them. Cristobal Balenciaga always concerned himself with wearability – his clients saw the clothes a month before the press, so they could place their orders unhampered by reviews.

But – and this is a big but – Monsieur Balenciaga never allowed that to limit his ideas. He pushed and provoked his clients. He offered them what they never knew they wanted, in the words of Diana Vreeland. Mr Wang isn’t of the same vein, nor frankly in the same league.

Maybe that’s an unfair comparison. No-one is in the same league as Cristobal Balenciaga, then or since. However, there was little original, ground-breaking or thought-provoking in the spring Balenciaga show. A few fancy textiles in sportswear shapes don’t cut it on the Paris stage. Especially when said sportswear shapes are so highly, highly reminiscent of Balenciaga’s recent past under former creative director Nicolas Ghesquiere.

Wang’s cropped tops with fancy pants (trousers for non-Americans) have antecedents in Ghesquiere’s final collection from last spring. Those short shorts, jutting into volume at the hem like fifties swimming costumes, reminded me of the collection he created for spring 2012. A shirt-dress in crisp cotton, like the white coats worn by the atelier workers in a Maison de Couture, felt fresh. Not new, though.

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A model inverts her jacket on the Chalayan catwalk

Hussein Chalayan called his show “Breeze Corridor”. Which sounds like the start of an Are You Being Served?-style punchline to me, but that’s just a bit of witless punning. Breeziness was just what you thought of with these clothes, an ethereal lightness. They were painstakingly thought-out, and intricately made. They were, in a word, terrific, and never hung heavy with effort.

Chalayan showed jackets that models shrugged off their shoulders easily: they were actually attached to the dresses or shirts underneath, hence they inverted and unfurled their linings. The last look, lined in multicoloured strip-like plastic pailettes that resembled something chewed up by a hedge strimmer, was the most spectacular.

However, when an ivory jacket inverted, attached to a plain white shirt, the fantasy became reality. His opening deckchair-striped looks were in humble towelling. The shoes were heavy clogs – clever clogs, with their bulbous, modernist-looking heels, but simple and workaday nonetheless. They looked like something so many women could have in their wardrobes, or maybe things they should have. Certainly there was a desirability that throbbed through everything. It wasn’t all about daywear either: Chalayan did wonderful things with very simple black dresses that felt like the most modern things to wear at night.

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Hussein Chalayan's black evening dresses for spring 2014

The reality Chalayan gave to everything, the grounding of these ingenious, inventive clothes in everyday life, was the strength of this show. One of them at least. Another was fabric, like the magical evening gowns that swelled and bubbled around the body, transforming magically from georgette to velvet via very clever flocking, their obviously considerable internal structure entirely invisible. I also loved Chalayan’s Hawaiian patterns, especially when depicted as minute aerations on ivory cloth, tiny holes punched through the fabric and no dye used.

Hussein Chalayan is one of the most criminally overlooked designers in all of fashion. This season he reminded us of how quietly spectacular his best work is. It’s difficult to express how brilliant the experience was. “God, when Hussein’s on it – he’s really on it!” murmured one editor approvingly as she exited. Another simply said “Give him Balenciaga!” I concur.

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