In Paris, Only the Moat Was Missing - a review of the haute couture collections (NYT) - the Fashion Spot
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In Paris, Only the Moat Was Missing - a review of the haute couture collections (NYT)

July 9, 2006
Fashion Review
In Paris, Only the Moat Was Missing



BERNARD, Cher, s'il vous plaît," the photographer cooed as Bernard Arnault, the luxury-goods king, and Cher snapped into a huddle. They were backstage at the Dior show to see John Galliano. Everyone, about 200 people, was trying to see Mr. Galliano, who had had the idea of ending his haute couture show of medieval clothes set in Botticelli's garden by coming out dressed as an astronaut.

"Yeah, it was a moment," the designer said with a self-mocking grin.

The haute couture, which is still the "degenerate institution propped by a sycophantic press" that Kennedy Fraser described more than 20 years ago, is in the last stages of a spaced-out race toward oblivion. Karl Lagerfeld, if he works to the end of his seven-year agreement with the Wertheimer family, which owns Chanel, will be nearing 80. Mr. Galliano will be past 50. And, at 32, the youngest practitioner, Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy, has the pretension to be a couturier but not the discipline or the honest imagination.

So enjoy! This is a historic moment. You are seeing the last great couturiers, the spiritual descendants of Charles Frederick Worth, make ridiculously expensive clothes, on sets that cost in excess of $1 million, and at a time when the richest houses, Dior and Chanel, have not only the means to indulge their creative madmen, but also the mental largesse.

Looking across the boxwood-hedged runway at Dior, as 500 or so people were furiously fanning away the heat, one saw Sidney Toledano, the chief executive of Dior. You thought, "The guy must be having a heart attack." There was hardly one among the 39 surreal-looking outfits that didn't have embroidery, feathers or a foaming train that would halt a small car. Yet like Alain Wertheimer, the chairman of Chanel, who was sitting with Mr. Lagerfeld up in the Chanel studio the other day, Mr. Toledano understands the creative process.

The scale of Mr. Galliano's clothes, which were inspired by the Marcel Carné film "Les Visiteurs du Soir," featuring the French actress Arletty in 1940's interpretations of medieval armor, is in direct proportion to the extremes of contemporary life, from its decadent displays of wealth to religious fanaticism. It is striking that both he and Mr. Lagerfeld drew on medievalism, though at Chanel the allusions were more subtle: a yoke of golden embroidery, say, on a black tunic dress, or a high-collared coat in ecclesiastical scarlet.

Though neither designer is especially interested in politics, Mr. Lagerfeld said the reason both may have chosen the same theme is the extent to which religion, and fear, can undermine rational thought. And certainly armor is a symbol of protection.

It is rare, in any case, to see such freedom on the runway. Mr. Galliano said he wanted armorlike sleeves to "morph" into 1940's suits. Among the most original (and wearable) looks were minicoats in dark shaggy layers of fox and yak hair. They seemed to combine the glamour of Hollywood and the raw energy of punk.

Though Mr. Galliano takes an exaggerated approach to fashion, turning layers of green tulle into ambulatory topiary and creating crackled surfaces with foiled fabrics, there is inevitably a new technique being tried. This, too, is couture's purpose. The bubbly ruched train of a blue and white evening dress could have been inspired by the shape of Hefty bags piled at a curb, but the technique may someday produce a hip down jacket.

"Glenda and Elton," purred the soft, cookie-baking-crimp-the-edges-of-your-pastry voice of Martha Stewart. Before the start of the Chanel show, in a specially constructed tent with a revolving platform for the audience, Ms. Stewart took snapshots of the guests, including Elton John and Glenda Bailey, the editor of Harper's Bazaar.

As if aware that Chanel's privileged clients can lend a musty scent of rosewater to couture, Mr. Lagerfeld seems determined to make the clothes connect with the pace of modern life. In this exceptional show, hemlines were several inches above the knees, with a breezy sense of proportion, as if he imagined all the day looks moving briskly along an urban sidewalk. A fuzzy caterpillar of yarn traced the edges of a trim tweed suit, but on the whole decoration was kept to a minimum. The focus was on the almost sculptural fit of jackets, and the smaller shoulder line of tiny cap-sleeved tunics. To make the body seem even smaller, Mr. Lagerfeld had sleeves built out just slightly in the upper part of the arm and then narrowed toward the wrist.

It was a great illusion.

"It's couture," he said with a huge grin. Well, he loves to say that.

And it's surprising that no one has thought to mimic how young women layer jeans under skirts. Mr. Lagerfeld's solution was to send stone-washed and black denim to the custom shoemaker Massaro and have thigh-high boots made with jeweled amber-colored heels. He showed the boots with the exquisitely embroidered and beribboned evening clothes, too.

As the new Balenciaga exhibition here makes clear, couture allows designers to refine and refine an idea. Balenciaga's particular obsession was with sleeves. Jean Paul Gaultier, who on Friday closed the fall couture collections, had a long black coat with an exotic bird embroidered on one sleeve, its red plumes quivering above the shoulder. Though the collection didn't quite come together, Mr. Gaultier displayed some great Surrealist magic, especially with chiffon dresses sliced into skeletal pieces and a shapely silver-fox coat with deep organza pleats.

Valentino, who received the Legion of Honor on Thursday, and celebrated with a black-tie dinner at his chateau, appealed to the client who has everything — well, maybe not a gorgeous chiffon dress clinging to one shoulder with tiny pearls rushing over the bodice. Microcheck tweeds and sun-ray pleats were the story for day, but the stunners were red-carpet numbers that looked as if the models had been dipped naked into small glittering stones.

The light hand of Christian Lacroix spun a veil of powder blue chiffon over a pearl gray silk taffeta dress, and came up with a short A-line coat in silver-appliquéd felt with a chartreuse fox collar. Beautiful and minimalist, but it would be nice to see him apply his modernity to more day clothes. Giorgio Armani's trouble is that he has a fixed idea of couture: all taut lines and sweetheart bodices trimmed out like a chocolate box. Dresses with asymmetrical pleating and tumbling organza ruffles were at least proof that he knows how to lighten up.

Mr. Tisci's collection was heavy weather. Staged in a dark room, on a black lacquered runway, with many black clothes cut with more drama than flair, the collection could easily be mistaken for ready-to-wear. There is no question that Mr. Tisci is talented, but he needs to simmer down and consider that couture's privilege is to take a few ideas — a proportion, a shoulder line — and refine them to perfection.

At the Dior haute couture presentation, John Galliano sent out dresses in topiary layers of ruffled tulle.

From left, two Chanel looks in a Renaissance mood; a Givenchy dress of silk charmeuse cut in ribbon strips; a pearl gray silk taffeta Christian Lacroix gown with powder-blue netting and a train; Jean Paul Gaultier's long wool coat with a plumed bird embroidered on the sleeve.

Left, a Giorgio Armani evening dress with whorls of embroidery. (Fans are optional.) Valentino's grass-green chiffon gown embroidered with beads and tiny pearls.

At Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld showed tweed minisuits and dresses with thigh-high denim boots and matching gauntlets.

And I am nothing of a builder, but here I dreamt I was an architect
And I built this balustrade to keep you home, to keep you safe from the outside world
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wonderful article... thx dos

"I have not a serious thought in my head"
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Great article.. although I sometimes feel like I have absolutely no idea what she is trying to say... nor do I know what moat is, so I think I'm missing the irony :p

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Originally Posted by Mr-Dale
Great article.. although I sometimes feel like I have absolutely no idea what she is trying to say... nor do I know what moat is, so I think I'm missing the irony :p
i dont seem to like what she is saying, especially about Riccardo! He is doing a great job! BTW a moat is the water that surrounds the castle to protect it from enemies....its a silly name for the article....

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^ Tks for clarifying that ... I didnt know what a moat was either :p

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just love her way of writing, this article proves that again...

"he waited for other people to understand what he was doing, instead of doing what they wanted.
Balenciaga never compromised."
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rising star
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And it's surprising that no one has thought to mimic how young women layer jeans under skirts.
I have never seen someone try so hard to seem so cool. Karl's ridiculously pathetic "finger on the pulse" whims are nothing but embarrassing. And it's even worse when the antiquated fashion press is just as out of touch as to not only find his work interesting, but relevant as well.

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Originally Posted by JJohnson
i dont seem to like what she is saying, especially about Riccardo! He is doing a great job! BTW a moat is the water that surrounds the castle to protect it from enemies....its a silly name for the article....
It's not silly. She was referencing the medieval styles that Chanel and Dior presented, and also the idea of a moat that isolates Paris couture from the rest of the world. Her article comments on the fleeting ridiculousness of the couture shows.

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It's nice to see how women respond to it, even in this professional capacity.

"Menswear is so limited so I'm free with my ideas. Otherwise I'd die of boredom."--Miuccia Prada
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I disagree with her on Givenchy's designer Riccardo. I think he's doing brilliantly, but the article is interesting nonetheless.

Yes I know I've misspelled everything... ask me if I care
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