Jeans, Cardi B, and Armor, or what i saw at the couture

(Photos: NYTimes)
PARIS — The couture shows began in Paris in the shadow of national unrest over the police killing of a teenager of Algerian and Moroccan descent, with its accusations of racism and discrimination.اضافة اعلان

For a while, there was a question about whether the shows would — or should — take place, given their symbolic ties to privilege and insularity. Hedi Slimane cancelled his Celine menswear show, scheduled for the night before the couture was to begin. Bulgari cancelled a cocktail party.

The rest stood fast, monitoring the situation and noting, when asked, that there were few industries as representative, globally, of France’s economic and artistic strength as fashion. And that the couture is a celebration of that craft at the highest level — escapism and beauty that, thanks to social media, is now escapism and beauty for everyone to look at, not simply for the elite few to buy.

But it was jarring to walk past protests in front of one set of historic buildings (the Assemblée Nationale, the Palais de Justice) on the way to see extraordinarily elaborate frocks in another (the Petit Palais, the Musée Rodin).

Perhaps as a result, there was less bidding for social media virality and more restraint. Even at Schiaparelli, where last season’s life-size wild kingdom heads-on-dresses broke the internet, the surrealist cliches were toned down and the imagination turned up.

Designer Daniel Roseberry abstracted thoughts of Lucian Freud, Yves Klein, and James Whitton into black collars swirling around the shoulders of exacting white coats, wooden accessories piled on bronzed body parts and suits covered in mirrored mosaics. The show was supposed to be Part Two of a couture “Divine Comedy” trilogy, but rather than suggesting purgatory, the results seemed closer to divine.

Here is what else we saw.

Jeans were a trendJeans, or their very fancy doppelgangers, were the biggest trend of the week. At Valentino, Pierpaolo Piccioli opened his magical show at the Chateau de Chantilly with jeans, but not just any jeans: jeans made from silk gazar entirely embroidered in micro beads dyed 80 shades of indigo to resemble denim.

Later, amid the feast of lush colors, cashmere and taffeta as casually tossed on as a pair of sweats came a pair of upcycled Levi’s from its rare 1966 Big E edition appliqued in gold, worn with a plunging white shirt and a nubby knit coat in deep sapphire-blue shrugged off to the elbows so it slithered behind like a train.

There were more jeans, likewise made from trompe l’oeil beading, in the Jean Paul Gaultier collection guest-designed by Julien Dossena, and lots of jeans in all stages of distress at Balenciaga, which also were not denim but oil-painted canvas that took two and a half months to make.

The idea of luxury faux jeans is not exactly new — Matthieu Blazy transformed leather into denim for his Bottega Veneta debut a year ago — but it may represent where all of this is heading: toward clothes as a secret only the wearer would know, because only the wearer knows how much work it took to make something so apparently simple, something that is impossible to make, except by hand. In the age of artificial intelligence, that may be the most precious thing of all.

Gwyneth Paltrow appears
Rather, Paltrow’s words did, courtesy of Viktor & Rolf’s 30th anniversary collection, featuring a whistle-stop tour through its past show concepts, all remade in the form of bathing suits. Case in point: the 2008 “No” collection of bas-relief quotes-in-clothes, here represented by Paltrow’s famous last words to her antagonist during her recent ski crash trial: “I wish you well.”

Thom Browne had a theatrical debut
Browne, an American designer who has made his name redefining the gray-flannel suit, finally took his mission to the highest level: the couture stage. Or, to be specific, the stage of the Palais Garnier, home of the Paris Opera Ballet.

There, in front of an audience of 2,000 cardboard gentlemen in gray suits (the real audience sat in the wings), he told the tale of a man (represented by model Alek Wek) alone at a train station, watching his life go by in 58 iterations of gray and prepster suiting, each one more intricate and referential than the last.

They came in patchworks etched in gold bullion that painted pictures straight from Cape Cod, in stripes and plaids picked out in beads or shimmering micropaillettes and in Irish knit woven from strips of tulle. At the end, there was a bride in a simple white chiffon shirtdress with a very long train. Double entendre alert!

Browne can get overly enchanted with his own skills — hence his penchant for putting his models in unwalkable shoes to inch painfully, and tediously, along. His dramas can veer very close to high camp charades.

But there’s no denying his achievement in taking a garment once synonymous with anonymity and reinventing it as an expression of individuality. Couture may be the vestigial tail of fashion, but that’s a resolutely contemporary idea.

Cardi B was everywhere
To every season there is a celebrity, and this time, it was Cardi B, embracing her role as paparazzi catnip with aplomb. She made an entrance at Schiaparelli as a high fashion yeti; modeled two different but equally enormous coats at Balenciaga; stood patiently in the middle of the Fendi catwalk as her stylist tended to her hair; and showed up so late for Gaultier that she didn’t even make it to her seat.

So was ‘Casual Couture’
Beyond jeans, “casual couture,” as Demna called it backstage after his Balenciaga show, or “couture you don’t see,” has been a hallmark of the season.

At Chanel, Virginie Viard set her show on a cobblestone bank by the Seine and sent her models out carrying straw baskets of flowers, as if they just happened to pop out to an open air market in their boucle after raiding their grandmother’s closet. As one does (if, maybe, one is French).

At Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri offered a minimalist take on the goddess in every woman, one of her groaningly favorite subjects, though this time with enough alluringly fierce rigor in its expression to evoke armored high priestess rather than new age claptrap. At Gaultier, Dossena (creative director of Rabanne, formerly Paco Rabanne) created a bricolage version of a “crowd of characters,” the kind you see every day outside the window, out of a mishmash of Gaultier-isms (marinieres, cone bras, the spring 1988 “Concierge” show).

And at Fendi, where Kim Jones said he was inspired by Delfina Delettrez Fendi’s high jewelry designs for the house, the result was less tiara, more sculptural, down to the asymmetric nude jersey columns and crystal mosaic wraps that slid off the torso with a calculated ease. That’s brand synergy for ya.

There was a Marvel-ous moment
It wasn’t all understatement all the time. Giorgio Armani played a game of how many red roses can one designer get into a single collection, and Iris van Herpen explored the life aquatic. Or rather, “architectonics,” as inspired by Oceanix, a floating city planned for South Korea.

That meant bionic minidresses, shards of abalone covered in silicon and iridescent chiffon that floated around the body like soap bubbles, like the wardrobe of a royal court on some far-off moon. Why Marvel has not yet hired her as a creative director is a mystery.

Some modern armor
The Balenciaga show began with Danielle Slavik, one of the brand’s original house models from the 1960s, wearing a velvet dress Demna had re-created from the archive, and ended with Eliza Douglas, the designer’s current muse, as a video-ready Joan of Arc in an armored dress 3D-printed in galvanized resin, coated in chrome and lined in flocked velvet. Together, they traced an arc of history in two looks by way of funnel-shaped silhouettes, overcoats molded to appear frozen mid-gale and dresses made from thousands of loose silk threads.

The obvious connection was “life is a battle,” or to Balenciaga’s own battles of late last year. (Celebrities, at least, seem to be over the issue: Cardi B, Offset and Michelle Yeoh were in the front row; Isabelle Huppert walked in the show.) Demna said after the show that he believed couture was a sort of “antivirus” for fashion; for the “fake creativity” and “endless marketing and selling and all this blah, blah that has cannibalized, I think, the whole industry.” Then he compared couture to the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, come to save the day.

Is it enough to inoculate everyone against the shift toward fashion-tainment, which increasingly seems inexorable (and for which Demna bears some responsibility)? Doubtful. Some of the Balenciaga content seemed more like a placebo. But when it works, it’s a gesture of faith: in humanity, imagination, and the singular power of transformation.