18-Oct, 02:25

12:48, July 04 202 0

2017-07-04 12:48:03
Fashion Review: Protective Cover à la Parisien at Dior and Chanel

PARIS — On Monday afternoon Christian Dior held its couture show in the historic gardens of Les Invalides, the gold-domed military monument where Napoleon is entombed, which had been transformed for the event into four quadrants of unexplored territory.

There were skeletal wooden crocodiles, giant tortoises and giraffes as well as palm fronds, bamboo and red rock desert. It was all arrayed under the canopy of an artful suspended map of the mind — the better to symbolize the way French fashion, and Dior, originally conquered the world.

Later that day, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, an arm of the Louvre, threw open its doors to “Christian Dior: Couturier du Rêve,” the largest-ever single brand exhibition and an extraordinary retrospective of 70 years of Dior: the work of seven designers, more than 300 couture dresses and almost 32,300 square feet of space. (The French first lady, Brigitte Macron, also attended.)

And on Tuesday, under the domed glass ceiling of the Grand Palais where Karl Lagerfeld had the Eiffel Tower recreated for his Chanel show, guests including Kristen Stewart and Katy Perry were seated on the green folding chairs found throughout the gardens of Paris. They watched as Mayor Anne Hidalgo bestowed the Grand Vermeil de la Ville de Paris, a medal that is the city’s highest honor, on Mr. Lagerfeld for his services to the French capital.

Before there was Silicon Valley and the tech world, there was Paris and its couture. Rarely has there been so much synergy between a place and an industry. And the more the one comes under threat, the more the other rises to the occasion (and vice versa).

Little wonder, then, that at the brands that still form the beating heart of couture, the designers seem to be providing a variety of ways for their clients to armor up.

Literally so at Atelier Versace, where the 21 looks by Donatella Versace radiated a gilded Wonder Woman look, from a caped gold lace dress suspended by 3-D printed bronze metallic ropes around the neck to a sharp-shouldered catsuit as flexible as a pair of leggings but pavéd in approximately 8,000 sequins cut in different geometric shapes, fading from a 24-carat gold color into ivory. Not to mention a minidress made from hundreds of crystal orbs with silver foil embedded in the centers, like a sort of magical shield for the body.

And more subtly so at Dior, where the artistic director Maria Grazia Chiuri said her sweeping 1940s postwar silhouette — long skirt, small waist, rounded shoulders — realized in 50 shades of gray and nude, and men’s wear fabrics such as tweeds, houndstooth and Prince of Wales check, were inspired by female explorers such as Amelia Earhart, Freya Stark and Louise Boyd. (Also, maybe, Wonder Woman. In her Diana Prince incarnation; she seems to be something of a muse of the season.)

Trousers were cut wide as skirts and paired with wrapped shawl-collared jackets soft as cardigans; coat dresses given an aerodynamic bow at the neck; and skirts seamed to create a waterfall of extravagant pleats — all of it paired with fedoras, flats and the skinniest crocodile belts, or layered over tulle ball gowns and clouds of mousseline.

The palette was earthen and angsty, save for some bright patchworks; embroidery on jackets and coats mapped, literally, the world, and far-flung continents were picked out in flowers made of feathers. Despite the sheer shirt dresses, the overwhelming impression was of clothes as protective covering.

On one level, of course, that’s what couture is supposed to be: not just frocks that make you stand out at a party, but clothes that make you feel safe. We just tend to forget it in the dazzling lights of bugle beads and paillettes.

Examples were the 1960s macramé minidresses, every inch encrusted with embroidered, sequined flowers, and the organza ball gowns cut thigh-high in the front and sweeping into trains at the back that are so beloved of the designer Giambattista Valli. As it happens, Mr. Valli was a recent recipient of a minority investment from Groupe Artémis, the holding company of François Pinault, himself something of a Paris institution, who was happily applauding the show in the courtyard of the Petit Palais.

But as the new Dior exhibition demonstrated, Ms. Chiuri’s restraint (and many of her silhouettes) come straight out of the founder’s original playbook. Indeed, her show notes cited each historic look referenced in her work. While such consistency provides security, however, it can also read as monotony, which is why an assortment of perfectly distilled velvet gowns with deep portrait necklines and an ineffable richness ultimately had the most force.

Though it was also striking that clothes that cocooned — that fortified and buttressed — were also a theme at Chanel, where under the shadow of his Eiffel homage, Mr. Lagerfeld sent out a parade of meaty tweed in exaggerated and oppositional lines.

Shoulders were curved wide to battering-ram proportions, achieved via cut, not padding, or they were narrow; skirts tentlike and mid-calf or skinny and spilling long under tunics. Trousers were full, boots thigh-high leather — matte and patent — and where there was skin there were often detachable gauntlet sleeves (see one starry midnight blue one-shoulder cocktail frock in particular).

Rosettes of flowers made from multicolored feathers gave necklines and pockets a vaguely ceremonial air; harnesses were bejeweled; stiff feathers stood at attention on shoulders; and party dresses came in glinting steel or full-skirted satin, layered like doublets.

There was plenty of prettiness, too: a column dress with sequin fireworks traced on the body; a strapless black tent gown with rose-trimmed tiers. One of Mr. Lagerfeld’s hallmarks is cramming his shows with a little something for everyone. But despite the bride in white satin, this was a tougher, darker vision from Chanel than we have seen in a while.

Made, after all, for a city that girds itself in fashion.