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Paris when it fizzles: Balenciaga, Rochas, Dries Van Noten and Jean Paul Gaultier

Alex Fury
rochas AW14 001 199x300 Paris when it fizzles: Balenciaga, Rochas, Dries Van Noten and Jean Paul Gaultier

A look from Alessandro Dell'Acqua's Rochas show

Paris fashion week is the great consolidator, the grounder of the fashion season. It rounds off the ideas we’ve seen emerging in the other three fashion capitals, adds a few more of its own and a distinctly Gallic flourish, and ties the whole thing up in a fancy, florid Frenchy bow. It adds the punctuation. It makes the whole thing make sense.

It does usually at least. This season, however, Paris seems, somehow, subdued. It’s throwing up questions rather than answers, and bucking the trends. It’s an intriguing turn of events. It also asserts the authority of Paris as the fashion capital of the world, and the authority of many designers within. Raf Simons at Dior, Junya Watanabe and Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons, Haider Ackermann. All showed superb collections. Simons was a landmark. A landmark that deserves to be written about alone, and with some time to digest its intriguing and multiple messages.

That’s not to say we haven’t seen duds: Dries Van Noten may be the subject of a retrospective impressively punctuated with inspirational art and artefacts at Paris’ Musée des Arts Décoratifs, but his autumn/winter 2014 collection felt limp. Jean Paul Gaultier has an exhibition opening at the Barbican in April, celebrating his past achievements. Unfortunately, they often serve as an unfair foil to his current output – his journey from designer definer to odd relic of another fashion era. His latest jarring show paraded mink spacesuits with plumped-out, zip-scarred shoulders and Union Jack-plastered punk pastiche to a dissonant soundtrack of Sex Pistols and retro cheese. Once Gaultier’s hell-raising fashion work chimed with the former. Now his affiliations lie firmly with the latter. The two questions that arise again and again: why would anyone buy these clothes? And, more fundamentally, why would anyone design them?

Alessandro Dell’Acqua’s Rochas debut seemed to pose the same question. He retreated back into the archives – of Marco Zanini and Olivier Theyskens, his immediate predecessors, rather than the original Marcel Rochas – but he came back with a pastiche. Dell’Acqua isn’t a great designer. Hence the fact the clothes he offered either pushed too far, or barely shoved at all, especially in terms of silhouette. The wearers either ended up looking like a sofa, or a deflated balloon. Understandably, neither seems especially appealing. The issue with Dell’Acqua’s debut is that he didn’t bring anything new to the house, bar a lumpy, dumpy sense of disproportion. And no-one is going to be buying that. Perhaps it’s cruel to critique a debut like that. But Dell’Acqua has been on the Milan ready-to-wear schedule since 1996. He’s no ingénue.

By contrast, Alexander Wang’s Balenciaga collection at least offered something people will want to buy. Quite a lot, actually – bags. Trios of the things, dangling conspicuously from the models’ wrists. They were a nod towards the sales tills at a house that is, increasingly, defined by the bottom line.

Which is fine.

An epiphany came over me at Balenciaga: I should stop mourning what Balenciaga was, or what it could be, and enjoy it for what it is. Which is, basically, a souped-up, satin-trussed version of Alexander Wang’s New York streetwear. It’s Wanglenciaga. And they’re laughing all the way to the bank.

A few observers interpreted the clutch of carry-alls as a face-off against Louis Vuitton: former Balenciaga designer Nicolas Ghesquiere will show his debut ready-to-wear collection for the label on Wednesday morning. That seems a naive comment to make. Fashion loves a fight – preferably one akin to that memorably Dynasty tussle between Alexis and Krystle Carrington in an ornamental fountain. Alexander Wang may be lots of things – derivative, overtly commercial, and frankly not long for this house – but he isn’t stupid. He wouldn’t pit himself against a man who helped to define fashion for the past fifteen years, especially when his oeuvre is one Wang has referenced readily, and frequently.

Let the man get on with his day job: designing the new, slick, saleable Balenciaga. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. I’m sure other people will. In short, today’s Balenciaga shifts product. Not the earth.

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