French Fashion, Day Two: Chanel, Givenchy, Armani
PARIS (AP) - A several-story-tall golden lion - a modest homage to Chanel founder Coco, a Leo - presided over the luxury giant’s over-the-top fall-winter 2011 haute couture display Tuesday, where models in sequin-covered sheath dresses and cropped jackets emerged from inside a giant pearl to trace figure eights between the towering feline’s oversized paws.
Cross-town rival Givenchy went in the completely opposite direction, opting against a runway show and presenting designer Riccardo Tisci’s Mexican Day of the Dead-inspired collection of featherlight tulle, lace and silk in a museum-like setting.
Givenchy’s decision touched off rampant rumors, with fashion insiders speculating that the choice of a presentation was a cost-cutting measure or aimed at protecting potential clients from unwanted publicity. The house insisted it was mainly in order to allow the collection’s meticulously workmanship to shine.
Extraordinary craftsmanship - the pillar of the wildly expensive, made-to-measure couture collections - was also on magnificent display at Stephane Rolland’s sea soaked collection. In deep blues and studded with rhinestone-encrusted stone shaped appliques, Rolland’s liquid silk dresses were technical and design marvels.
Another pitch-perfect collection - of plain-front pant suits in a neutral palette - graced the Armani Prive catwalk. The only flaw, really, was that there was none and that everything was tasteful and nothing was surprising.
Surprises emerged with almost each look at French designer Julien Fournie’s living dead display, where one model, her face a smudge of white and charcoal paint, wore a halter-dress with built -in breasts in flesh colored leather with button nipples.
Haute couture wraps up with a bang on Wednesday, with shows by Valentino and France’s former enfant terrible, Jean Paul Gaultier, whose theatrical high jinx is the stuff of fashion legend.
The French luxury supernova is known for its monumental sets, which recently included a giant bottle of its best-selling No. 5 perfume or a life-size barn with real - and really smelly - hay.
But a gigantic golden lion sculpture?
That was spectacular, even by Chanel’s standards.
Uber-designer Karl Lagerfeld explained it was an homage to the house’s late founder, who was born in August under the sign of Leo. The beast, the creation of set designers from the Paris opera, snarled overhead as the models emerged in A-line dresses and sheaths fitted with cropped square-shaped jackets with half sleeves.
"Those shapes make you look thin," Lagerfeld told The AP in a post-show interview. "Plus they don’t pinch so they’re comfortable."
Many of the looks, in rich reds, purples and chocolate browns, were entirely covered in sequins that glinted wildly under the flashes of hundreds of cameras.
"I tried to take a picture with my i-Phone but for this I definitely needed a Leica," model Milla Jovovich, one of a bevy of A-list beauties gracing the front row, told The Associated Press. Other celebrity guests included "Gossip Girl" Leighton Meester and Jessica Alba.
The show concluded with Lagerfeld’s favorite male model of the moment, Baptiste Giabiconi, escorting the bride - who traditionally closes couture shows - wearing a stuffed lion-head mask with his impeccable tuxedo.
Spectacular, Even by Chanel’s Standards
Why did Givenchy abandon the catwalk? According to the rumor mill, it was either a money saving measure or aimed at preventing the label’s ultra-wealthy clients from being targeted by kidnappers.
But the real answer, top staffers insisted, was much simpler: It was to allow potential clients and the media to appreciate the astounding intricacy of the hand-sewn, hand-embroidered pieces, some of which had taken nearly 1,000 hours to construct.
It’s true the collection’s 10 looks are impressively elaborate. Loosely inspired by Mexico’s el Dia de los Muertos celebrations, they’re feather-light confections of Chantilly lace and tulle, wispy ostrich feathers and duchess silks, given a hard edge by zippers, blinding gold crystals, alabaster beads and little chains that wind through the fabric.
A translucent bodysuit in buff tulle was embellished with cutout lace appliques mapping out the bones of the human body - the most expensive Halloween skeleton costume of all time.
A jacket in bone white leather was covered in beaded corazones sagrados, the bloody heart icons from Mexico’s Roman Catholic iconography.
An evening gown with a built-in corset glinted with golden crystals. It took 30 people working together two weeks to complete - the kind of embroidery work that demands much closer inspection than is possible as the looks go whizzing by in a runway show.
Following Tuesday’s media presentation, clients will get to give the collection a close inspection during one-on-one appointments with the label’s couture coordinator Wednesday. Get out your magnifying glasses, folks.
The looks were presented on mannequins dangling from a metal structure, like at an art exhibition - which was appropriate enough. A good, close look was all it took to confirm that outfits, born of the creative genius of designer Tisci and the skill of his seamstresses and embroiderers, were wearable art.
It was a pared-down collection for Rolland, who last season delivered dresses that bristled with mosaics of plexiglass spikes, like a dinosaur’s armor. Where that collection was all hard lines and edges, Tuesday’s was about fluidity and liquidity.
Floor-length capes that were built into the long-sleeve sheath dresses fluttered like gently running water as the models walked. The train on a slate-colored evening gown jiggled like liquid mercury.
A short navy dress covered at the hemline and the cuffs by glinting black oblong shapes - made from rhinestone-studded plastic - looked like the deep blue sea washing up on a volcanic beach.
Rolland, who is among the most artistic of Paris couturiers, said he looked for inspiration to the rounded, hermetic creations of Indian-born sculptor Anish Kapoor, as well as to memories of a youth spent on France’s Cote d’Azur.
"As a kid, I collected everything, and I used to come back from trips to the beach with my pockets full of these round stones, whose smoothness I really liked," he told The AP in a preview in his atelier.
Asked if a recent trip to the sea had brought back the childhood memories, Rolland responded. "It’s in me, so deep inside me that I don’t need anything to jog my memory."
Night of the living dead has rarely looked as good.
With transfixed upward gazes and their smudged palms held forward like sleepwalkers, the models minced around the catwalk in long, lean gowns in translucent fabric, with strategically placed opaque paneling and covered in dark ink smudges. Scarlet Swarovski crystals glinted like fresh bloodstains dripping down the shoulders of one dress, while terrible scenes of Medieval torture - showing little figures on the stake - enlivened its hemline.
"It’s about violence against women and the strength it takes to overcome that and turn it into something beautiful," Fournie told The AP.
The young Frenchman, who’s showing on the sidelines of the haute couture displays, was on-trend with his second-skin beige pants and a molded jacket covered in anatomical sketches that recalled Givenchy’s skeleton jumpsuits and his palette was steeped in the same somber shades of navy blue and black as Stephane Rolland’s.
The man who’s built an empire on his impeccable taste turned out yet more refined elegance.
An army of blondes in identical honey-colored wigs minced their way down the catwalk in pencil skirts and second-skin evening gowns so slim they constricted the models’ gait. Plain-front trousers in caramel, taupe and gray were paired with swingy daycoats in matching hues and artfully folded paneling embellished lean bustier dresses.
Though less blingy than in seasons past, when it seemed that every conceivable surface was smothered in Swarovski crystals, the collection had just the right dose of sparkle. Rhinestones dressed up the collar of a cropped blazer - its shoulders standing at attention in the hallmark Armani salute - and a black A-line dress shot through with silver Lurex gleamed blindingly under the spotlights.
Still, the downside of a collection that stayed so close to the label’s hallmark style was that it was absolutely lacking in surprise: There was not a single look that could have raised eyebrows - even if there had been a non-Botoxed eyebrow still capable of being raised in attendance. (It appeared there was not.)