independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Dark and sombre side to Paris spring

Fun and colour reigned in Milan and London but more sombre and serious fare dominated at this year's Paris Fashion Week

You would be forgiven the thought that you are looking at current autumn fashions, judging by all the dark colours on our page today, when in fact this is a sampling of the 2013 spring/summer collections presented in Paris this past week.

As we saw in Milan and now in Paris, black, black leather, chains and chainmail are quite a theme for next year (see Nina Ricci for a nice example of where the look can go).

There was a decided seriousness, if not sombreness, about many of the looks on the catwalk. The recession's bite is being felt as fashion continues to be one of the hardest hit industries. The fact that colours seemed nocturnal and wintry was almost an admission that, for the consumer, fashion needs to last longer and transcend seasons.

The main news that Paris delivered was shoulders. They were huge.

Some at Lanvin, Stella McCartney and Balmain were so wide and straight you could have put a spirit level across them.

As one whose gut curls with tension and horror when the Eighties emerge as a fashion theme -- you only have to look at the John Hughes movies of my Eighties teens to see why -- I can happily say that everyone was avoiding those perilous, unflattering, Eighties lines and instead going for the more groovy silhouette of 'the end of disco'. Think wide shoulder, cropped jackets that taper into the waist, teamed with cigarette above-the-ankle trousers, with creases so sharp you could cut paper.

I liked it very much at Lanvin, along with their sharp, short, modern dresses. All were done in deep colours and fabrics with sheen that added a nocturnal vibe.

Stella McCartney held true to her signature style of sports luxe -- there were many versions of the tracksuit on her catwalk. She continued her love affair with oversizing and sent out top-heavy dresses with organza hems and chunky white shirts and suits.

Themes such as white shirting, small collars, broderie anglaise, transparency through the use of sheer fabrics and plastic, were on her catwalk and others.

I was reminded often of Simone Rocha's work, from the use of sheer and plastic in clothes with tight little collars, down to the transparent Perspex-soled shoes -- clearly young Rocha is part of a style zeitgeist.

Frayed edges made a frequent appearance in diverse design houses, from Chanel to Gaultier.

As in London and Milan, sheer was a consistently important theme. It was used as a visual play within garments (McCartney, Giambattista Valli) and as a device to emphasise length or to give drama ( Givenchy).

The wide shoulder jacket, either cropped or tightly belted at the waist, and the tapered cigarette trouser were key directions, worn with shirts tucked in whether the waist was high or low-slung at the hip.

The belted, swing coat was the main option for the more conservative. Expect to see lots of mini-skirt shift dresses a la Mary Quant and three-quarter calf pencil skirts and dresses a la Victoria Beckham.

Accessories were very strong. Platform sandals with clear Perspex soles and mid-height (at last!) stiletto heels and toes, in snakeskin, or tapestry, were most popular. Bags were either hugely oversized, or minuscule and box-shaped.

Sarah Burton's collection for Alexander McQueen was fascinating and extraordinary but begged a big question -- where were the clothes?

Using bees as her theme, she created some extraordinary constructs, especially lattice work hats and bodices, leather pieces and leg wear, while carrying on the house look of the highly defined, Victorian hour-glass, corset shape.

It was a wonderful show but left many people confused as to where she was going with this direction, and others thinking it was quite mad.

But it wouldn't be McQueen if it didn't buck the trends, f**k the establishment and do its own crazy and terrible-beauty thing.

Seriousness was a theme for many fashion houses, be it the normally girly Valentino, which for next season was a lot more grown-up and day wear oriented, to Miu Miu and Louis Vuitton who both best exemplified the biggest issue of all for next season -- length.

Both designers sent out youthful, mini-skirt-length outfits side by side with grown-up three-quarter calf-length pencil skirts, dresses and belted coats. The distinction was clear -- are you a young and swinging, free spirit, or a successful, forward focused femme? But it was also a sharp strategy to ensure survival: they were talking to two markets, trend-setting youth and sophisticated middle-aged women, trying to keep both interested and on side, encouraging them both to buy into the brand and keep it hip.

Miu Miu's collection was a woman-pleaser, featuring lots of innovative yet highly wearable dresses, coats and skirts -- we'll forgive the bra tops -- in navy, denim and cream, with flashes of red, flesh and green. Vuitton was so Sixties in a graphic way that it came across as less sophisticated and more youthful than Miu Miu, but I liked it for its carefree expression.

Nina Ricci, too, with its bondage-like tones laid over nicely created womanly clothes, could be a big hit with women who want to make an impression.

Though a lot of this collection was black it looked great. Which takes me to my conclusion.

All along the way until we got to Milan, colour, wearability and joie de vivre was being expressed.

But the designers who chose to show in Paris were signalling something else -- that the time now was for grown-ups. It's a time for confidence, both of sexuality and ability.

For all its lack of drama --excluding Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen -- Paris was a call to arms.

Yes, the intensely pleasurable, narcissistic days of Sex and the City and flighty, pleasure-seeking fashion are gone. But something better has come in its stead -- power.

Women are powerful. Fashion is supporting you.

Now get going and do something with it.

Act.

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