12-Dec, 21:22

06:39, July 06 230 0

2017-07-06 06:39:06
Fashion Review: Ritual and Revelation on the Runway

PARIS — “We are in a moment where everything is visible, where everything is said, so what becomes special is what you don’t see.”

This was Pierpaolo Piccioli, the creative director of Valentino, speaking backstage before his fall couture show as around him models half-dressed in white robes were chased by makeup artists, cameramen jostled, and clothes hung shrouded on racks. He was talking about the ritual work of the couture — the “sacredness” of the hand (his word) — but his words had a broader resonance.

Well, President Trump did arrive in Poland around the same time. Paris was already gearing up for his Bastille Day visit.

Fashion is not often presented as an antidote to uncontrolled social media use, but as an argument for the truth of Mr. Piccioli’s words, there were no better examples than the final three shows of the haute couture season. Quietly, out of the invisible, magic was made.

It began with Valentino, where Mr. Piccioli not only largely eschewed the obvious, but many of the conventional rules of couture itself, treating daywear in a rainbow of colors with the throwaway mix-and-match ease of sportswear. He paired a long tuxedo shirt in blush chiffon with some slouchy trousers and a cape-cum-tabard; another louche pair of black pants with an oversize white shirt and an elaborately pieced cape flowing from a cropped vest tossed on top — oh, this old thing?; and a leaf-green pleated skirt with a bronze chiffon sweatshirt banded in burgundy topped with a bubblegum-pink cashmere coat tied together by a yellow ribbon.

But look closer: The fluid effect of the skirt was achieved through the application of thousands of minute feathers to one side of each pleat; the other side remained sheer, the better to create contrast. A tank dress wafted silver caviar-beaded cilia but was as light as tissue paper. A sleeveless lace gown was given depth by darker chiaroscuro sections collaged from three different kind of mink. It took 640 hours to make, and had the ease of a T-shirt.

Valentino has always been an emotive brand, one with its roots in an unabashed love of beauty. This time, Mr. Piccioli made it cool. In that balance, a new power lies.

There have been a lot of big productions this week. The Jean Paul Gaultier show was a weirdly conceived snow-bunnies-in-saris pastiche of well, exactly that, Norwegian sweaters and draped liquid satin. At the end, a model rode a lacy, feather-covered bicycle chariot off into the sunset, or at least down the runway.

Viktor & Rolf sent out a whole host of what the show notes described as “action figures” (models in giant doll heads), “rooting for a world that is creative, diverse and eco-conscious,” in recycled denim worked in a chevron pattern and T-shirts, under assorted reimaginings of the bomber jacket: puffers with an exaggerated portrait neckline, puffers with ruffles, puffers with patchwork. The invention was totally obscured by the presentation until the whole thing was repeated without the papier-mâché toppers. The doll heads were attention-getting — they were an Instagram moment — but they were also a distraction.

There’s a tendency to associate production values with actual value, but it’s not what reads on the small screen that makes the difference.

This is something Karl Lagerfeld seems to understand at Fendi, where, in his third haute fourrure show, he let the extraordinary confections of his imagination and his atelier speak for themselves. Although he has become famous for the sets he builds at his other job — as Chanel’s creative director — and though the Fendi show took place in the soaring Art Deco environs of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, it was merely a backdrop to a collection that took the tenets of impressionism and neoimpressionism and applied them to fur.

A pointillist landscape on an egg-shaped cape turned out to be made from hundreds of tiny fur pompoms. The daisies and poppies and pastel blooms on an evening capelet were fur; ditto the jacket and pencil skirt of a suit, shaved thin as wool and traced by inky blooms. Mink was given the suppleness of suede and appliquéd to sheer sapphire gowns, though the only way really to tell was to get up close and see it with your own eyes. Even then it would be hard to know for sure.

Just as it was almost impossible to understand at a glance the mechanics of creation at Azzedine Alaïa, where the how is as important as the what.

Mr. Alaïa, who long ago gave up on the fashion system in repudiation of the idea that a designer should be forced to be creative on a predetermined schedule (and has been something of a radical opposition party ever since), was holding his first couture show in six years. Jack Lang, the former French minister of culture, was there; so were Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, former first lady of France (and one-time Alaïa model); Isabelle Huppert, the actor; Jean-Paul Goude, the photographer; Marc Newson, the industrial designer; Fabrice Hergott, the director of the Museum of Modern Art in Paris; and Nicolas Ghesquière, the Louis Vuitton creative director. Without any fanfare, it was an event.

In the unadorned showroom of the designer’s headquarters — concrete floor, no formal runway — out came Naomi Campbell in a snowfall of a white fur jacket, roses woven into the pile like a promise. The stylized graphics reappeared on knits and dresses and boots and leggings, an explosion of color embedded in the fabric itself and entirely controlled by the purity of the line. Coats were sculpted just so, with two pristine folds at the scapulars to create a hint of cocoon at the back, princess collars raised just enough to transform the neck into an object of veneration.

There was not a bit of extraneous fuss or fantasy; each stitch, every motile moment, had a reason for being. But it was the dresses at the end that revealed the extent of the alchemy.

Composed of strips of velvet, leather and chiffon covered by thousands of minute silver studs that had been pieced together, shaped to the torso, and then released, the dresses spoke to both the past and the future, but were unrestricted by any moment in time, just as the body beneath was unrestricted by any corsetry or binding, yet protected and powerful in itself.

In the end, the applause went on for about five minutes. Mr. Lagerfeld, too, had gotten a standing ovation (three of them in fact). Mr. Piccioli, a roar. For an industry where the traditional finale clap has been reduced to one finger tapping against an iPhone, that’s practically a miracle.

Or maybe it’s just the clothes.