In Paris, Chanel goes arty-farty while tricky Saint Laurent trickles up

Alexander Fury
222 5 200x300 In Paris, Chanel goes arty farty while tricky Saint Laurent trickles up

From the 14 October 2013 Kerry Taylor Auctions sale, lot 222 - an original Yves Saint Laurent 'Lips' dress

I’m still brooding over yesterday’s Saint Laurent show. Which means that Hedi Slimane has achieved one of his aims. The brand has become one of the most discussed labels, one of the most dissected shows of Paris fashion week.

Personally, I don’t think it’s worthy of so much attention. There is no hidden depth, we should all stop searching for one. What we saw last night was an exercise in styling rather than design. The designs, after all, were culled from the Saint Laurent archive. Slimane confessed as much, crediting artwork to the Fondation Pierre Berge – Yves Saint Laurent. If you know your fashion history you’ll be able to spot the references to Saint Laurent past.

Incidentally, an original dress in the lip-print Hedi Slimane used last night is being sold by the London vintage clothes and textiles specialists Kerry Taylor Auctions on 14 October. So you can see just how similar the two are. Miuccia Prada also created a print inspired by this for her spring 2000 “Sincere Chic” collection.

The entirety of the Saint Laurent collection looked familiar. I live in east London: I see girls dressed like this everyday. The rich ones wear vintage Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, the others their many eighties descendents. That’s the trouble with this kind of archival retrieval at Saint Laurent. The house was too influential. A metallic leopard mini-skirt doesn’t remind you of Yves Saint Laurent haute couture so much as Bananarama. Trickle down is much easier than trickle up. Monsieur Saint Laurent may have found inspiration on the streets for the Beat collection of 1960 that got him fired from Dior, but his blouson noir was in black crocodile lined in mink. It was luxurious, it was fashion. This was neither.

06 Chanel PAP SS14 224x300 In Paris, Chanel goes arty farty while tricky Saint Laurent trickles up

A tweed look with painted handbag from the spring 2014 Chanel collection. Photo by Karl Lagerfeld

It’s odd to place Saint Laurent and Chanel in contrast, because Karl Lagerfeld’s early Chanel collections often caused a similar storm of controversy. His resuscitation of Chanel was through “shock treatments”, blowing the Chanel chain trims to jumbo size, the pearls to the scale of golf balls, marrying the Chanel tweed with leather and denim. It had nothing and everything to do with the heritage of the house of Chanel.

Ultimately, however, Lagerfeld is a great designer, not a great stylist. His Chanel collections worked – and continue to work – because they are great fashion. The spring collection he showed this morning was the perfect example. Lagerfeld kitted out the Garnd Palais as a fake art gallery, filled with fake artworks. They were all Chanel-isms, but seen by the likes of Claes Oldenberg, Cy Twombly, Allen Jones or Andy Warhol (he actually did silkscreen a No. 5 bottle, so there was precedent).

The arty-farty stuff made a great backdrop, but didn’t infect the clothes too much, bar a few quilted Chanel art portfolios and the male model Marlon Teixeira toting a graffitied backpack with paintbrushes sticking out. There were flap-fronted blouses and jackets, as if a piece of canvas were draped over the model’s torsos, paint-daub prints and painted finishes on jackets and jeans.

Other than that? Chanel business as usual. The opening looks were frayed multicoloured tweed, reflected later in bubbly boucle jackets. Accessories were omnipresent, but not overpowering. The shoes fused with socks, wrinkling down the models’ calves. They resembled an extremely well-dressed bunch of art school slackers marching around the Tate Modern.

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Chanel's painted dress and art student backpack for spring 2014. Photo by Karl Lagerfeld

Maybe Karl was making a barbed comment about art schooling being only for the wealthy these days? Probably not. The background was just that – and this show was just about some really, really great clothes. It’s the sort of simple, straightforward statement you yearn to see.

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  • Michael Bian

    very well said, nice.

  • cherie city

    Hedi Slimane’s tailored suits and leather trousers look exquisite, however there’s no innovation, just recycled ideas – both from the archive and his own career. I can’t help thinking he’s zapped the soul out of Saint Laurent.

  • BalladCafe

    I wish the art students I see dressed like that, I’m tired of seeing jeans too small, as distinct from tight, on women with shapeless oversized tops falling off the right shoulder revealing straps like carrier bag handles.

  • Troy Ygnacio Soriano

    I rarely have enjoyed a piece of fashion writing as much as this. Insightful, historical without being a lecture, yearning for fashion designers to be their utmost, and to reach deep.

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