25-Sep, 20:39

11:47, July 05 199 0

2017-07-05 11:47:03
Fashion Review: Veiling the Runway at Armani and Margiela

That the Wednesday of couture week coincided with the state funeral of Simone Veil — feminist, abortion rights champion, political pioneer, iconic French figure — at first seemed like cosmic irony: On the one hand, a women of extraordinary substance; on the other, an art of extraordinary surface. It could have been one of those times when thinking about fashion was hard to justify. On the streets of Paris, French flags were dressed in black ribbons and European Union flags flew at half-staff.

But it was also a powerful and timely reminder that female strength — the kind Ms. Veil embodied — should be one of the lodestars of the couture: how it is defined over time, how it is expressed, what it looks like.

After all, these are clothes made to the dimensions of a specific individual, to solve her problems and fulfill her needs (that’s what you are buying, anyway, along with all the handwork; that’s why it’s worth it). At least when designers are paying attention.

Were they? Some more than others.

At Armani Privé, for example, before a bouquet of celebrities who have come to embody cinematic power in different ways — Isabelle Huppert, Sophia Loren, Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts, Priyanka Chopra (it was one of the most high-wattage front rows of the week) — Giorgio Armani recreated his own Milanese atelier at the Palazzo Orsini. In the bowels of the Palais de Chaillot, he projected white and gold doors and carvings on the walls to mimic those at home, and sent out a collection titled “Mystery.”

Which could have been a reference to the allure of the women in his front row, or what goes on behind closed doors, but seemed ultimately to refer to the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t nature of the clothes.

There were the signature trouser suits, sure, this time with narrow pants given the kick of a flare at the hem, and peplumed jackets with plunging necklines and small peaked shoulders. But they quickly gave way to a dance of the many, many veils (no pun intended): full ball skirts composed of layers of tulle and organza with big roses scrimmed underneath; sheer tulle shirts scribbled with italics (they turned out to read “Armani Privé,” though you’d never know it) or strategically dotted with patent leather roses; hemlines that faded imperceptibly into lace that climbed the sides of the leg; and beading that jangled as the models walked, swaying like some very noisy palm fronds.

The work was intricate, and the dangling promise of what lies beneath has its own magnetism (especially when it isn’t revealed; a laudable achievement in the age of sheer). But where Mr. Armani went awry was in the many tight hobble skirts, which trapped the models’ legs and prevented a free stride. Given his history as a liberator of women via the suit, it was a surprising choice.

There’s simply no place in the contemporary world for a garment that doesn’t allow a woman to move at her own pace, no matter how elegant the line.

At least at Elie Saab, the designer’s “warrior queens” had space to stride under their voluminous skirts of velvet and voile. Pearls and diamanté and gold embroidery included. Sometimes even pants.

Still, that vision of decorative femininity, complete with flowing capes and diadems, most resembles a live-action version of “Frozen” meets ”Game of Thrones.” What works on film can look like a costume party in real life, as Ulyana Sergeenko’s gun molls ’n’ roses ode to 1940s gangsters — complete with shoulder pads, hip pads, corsetry, revolver embroidery and lots of mink — also proved.

Coincidentally (and appropriately) enough, it was at Maison Margiela Artisanal — a show that had been scheduled to take place at the Invalides but had to be moved when President Emmanuel Macron of France chose the monument as Ms. Veil’s memorial site — that at least an attempt was made to wrestle the representation of female strength down to its essence.

Literally.

Reducing his focus to the building blocks of glamour, the fabrics and forms on which our assumptions rest, the creative director John Galliano stripped away and rebuilt. His elements were tweed and organza, the trench and the Fair Isle knit, corsets and sheaths, the nylon stocking — all of them twisted and taken out of context. This is not a new approach for Mr. Galliano, but it is an increasingly controlled and calibrated one.

A belted bustier that resembled corrugated cardboard but was actually organza silk topped a sheer flesh-toned stocking-cum-pencil skirt. Sherlock Holmes houndstooth coats had the sleeves sliced and draped at mid-bicep like an evening gown. And a classic schoolgirl knit had been boned and molded to the body, shoulder pads moved outside like epaulets, paired with a black-and-white feather skirt, the pieces strung together like a luxury clothes line.

In the end, where the traditional bride may have appeared, a model strode out in cowboy boots and a whitewashed ribbed-knit minidress, anatomy picked out in sequins and slices.

It had willpower woven into its weft.