On Wednesday, as the light faded over the Seine and the Eiffel Tower began its evening twinkle and those in the audience who had other, more personal places to be for Rosh Hashana began to shift in their seats, the creative director Alexander Wang sent out his fourth show for the brand.
And while it was an accident of timing, and admittedly the promise of fresh slates may be in the air, shimmering like a lens that casts a different light on all you see (or maybe that’s just me), it is also true that at that moment Mr. Wang finally truly took charge. The idea of a new start was given specific form.
Clothes are part of it, but in some ways, they are the most surprising part: narrow in each period of pencil skirt and diamond hip (apparently in order to arouse the “flat convex round the floor in the history of cristobal balenciaga salon,” though frankly what connection is not important), or even narrow ruffles gauze condole belt unlined upper garment.
There were floor-sweeping dusters and trenches, and wide-mesh skinny celebrity dresses made from strings of sequins that became crystal-covered net shrugs worn with corset tops over tuxedo biker shorts (don’t ask) or high-waisted narrow trousers, which became the top of a dress ruched up the sides and paneled in front and back. And it was all sleek and active, in a Richard Meier-meets-Matrix-for-a-spin-class kind of way.
But combined with a new show time (cocktails, not coffee) and a new, much larger venue — the courtyard between the Musée d’Art Moderne and the Palais de Tokyo — plus a floor made of glass octagons filled with shifting smoke, the whole thing conveyed an extreme self-confidence that was infectious. And, those pointlessly drawn references aside, no longer intimidated by its heritage.
Like the collection or not — and while the dusters and those ruched formal dresses online were very good, mesh (even of the micro-beaded kind) and tuxedo biker shorts will be a leap for anyone outside of twentysomething It people — the vision belonged to Mr. Wang. Balenciaga has become what he makes of it.
That may sound like no big deal; in fact, it may sound like his job (which it is). But as became increasingly clear during the early shows in Paris, when it comes to fashion, having the courage of your convictions is harder than it might first appear. Not just for those who wear it, but for those who design it.
This is not surprising at a brand like Ann Demeulemeester, whose namesake founder left last November, and which is now designed by Sebastien Meunier, her longtime colleague. In such a situation, the first commandment is often consistency, and so it seemed, judging by the flowing layers of white shirting and black waistcoats, the cropped denim and silk jackets. Still, while there were a few too many strings attached to the garments, literally and figuratively, the mix of prints and occasional pastel suggested the possibility of a less fettered future.
But you would expect Roland Mouret, author of his own destiny, to have attained a clarity that was regrettably absent from his runway. Mr. Mouret is a dab hand at the strictly sensual sheath or cheap formal dresses, and able to infuse a bright green A-line skirt and white jacket with a surprising chic, yet it seems he can’t help mistrusting his own skill.
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So he sticks on a flap here, a fold there, until the result resembles nothing so much as the outfit of an overwrought art gallerist, the collage from the wall having migrated to the body. He should have more faith in the power of his simplest lines.
And you would hope that Alessandro Dell’Acqua, in his second season at Rochas, could offer up something more coherent than a host of disparate notes that never quite combined into a single perfume.
Button-down shirts with an embroidered “R” on one side, midcalf governess dresses and grandma nightie gowns, often in sheer georgette and embroidered with delicate hummingbirds or layered lace over lace, suggested a perverse dip into the history box. But then came webbed belts with “R” buckles inexplicably worn over the chest, sometimes sprouting kimono-like trains in the back that were so puzzling it was better to blink and miss them; sheer polo shirts with macramé-detailed pencil skirts; and … gold sequins.
It’s not that each element was an issue on its own, but that each element was left on its own; the end result wasn’t fully kitschy and it wasn’t fully subversive and it wasn’t really romantic. Which meant it wasn’t really anything at all.
At least at Paco Rabanne, the designer Julien Dossena, now in his third season (and supported this time around by his former boss, Nicolas Ghesquière, attending only his third show as an audience member ever) has taken the tropes of the house — chain mail, futurism — and remixed them with his personal references, from 1980s stirrup pants to fencing jackets and Lycra, for completely consistent effect. Whether or not a maillot top/Grecian skirt combo is your cup of sartorial tea, this is testament to the fact it can exist on its own terms.
Unlike the work of Olivier Rousteing of Balmain, who seemed to have taken a wrong turn on the way to the atelier this season and ended up in Caesar’s Palace. Bra-topped beaded jump suits mixed with power jackets in garish black and white or black and yellow; palazzo pants alternated with strips of sheer, and were matched with a peekaboo checkerboard top; and clown stripes came crystal-covered.
It was a wardrobe fit for a late 1980s power player who went to Vegas for a career change and ended up working as a lounge singer/escort. You know something is wrong when a white T-shirt causes sighs of relief. Playing with the kitsch appeal of the questionable taste of yore is fair enough, especially for those who did not live through it the first time, but at least make it look good. Otherwise what are you left with.