27-Jun, 18:54

15:17, October 02 132 0

2016-10-02 15:17:19
Fashion Review: Balenciaga and Comme des Garçons Play Different Games in Paris

PARIS — For the last few days, the Place du Palais-Royal, the gracious square abutting the Louvre in Paris, has been almost entirely occupied by a big black tent with a swoosh on the side and the words “We Run Paris” emblazoned on the front.

Officially the slogan for the 10-kilometer race through the city center that Nike organized on Sunday, it is also more broadly prescient, at least judging by what is going on in the upper echelons of fashion.

Where it increasingly seems like the variables of sport and street (themselves almost the same thing, as what is worn for sport is also worn all over the street) are running roughshod over the former sacred cows of couture. At this point, it looks less like a trend than a paradigm shift in dress.

You can understand it — there’s a reason activewear is everywhere, and it has to do not only with comfort, but with communicating a value system that prioritizes action over formality. And it is fashion’s task to reflect and respond to what it sees, or lag far, far behind. But every designer adjusts differently. And some better than others.

At Undercover, for example, it served as an easy base for Jun Takahashi’s riff on jazz, with the slouchy cargo trousers and striped tennis belts, floral golfing twin sets trimmed in ribbed knit, jewel-tone drawstring pants sporting (no pun intended) trombones, trumpets and treble clefs, and the needle-punched frocks that married military tailoring to album-cover-like silk screens. All worn with squishy sneakers and newsboy caps. If you’re team Sonny Rollins or Bill Evans, this was the look for you.

For everyone else, however, some terrific shirred military jackets, the backs patched by snaps of Renaissance nudes, might be better.

And at Haider Ackermann, it transformed the designer’s trademark gothic romance into something altogether lighter and less fraught. In cropped leather biker jackets, slogan tees (“Be your own hero”) and floor-sweeping daffodil-yellow origami skirts; micro-pleated tank tops and matching trousers; leather leggings with track pant stripes up the side and mud splatter tailored jacquard coats, his women were not exactly gym bunnies. Instead of trailing angst with their hemlines, they telegraphed a certain punky energy. Up and at ’em in a gold plissé T-shirt and tailored shorts!

But at Nina Ricci, the soccer referee striped silk shirts and trench coats, bathing suit bodysuits and Nascar checks edging a sequined T-shirt dress seemed like a needless distraction from what would have been an otherwise appealingly off-kilter take on the uniform of the French bourgeoisie in the shades of a Bogotá sunset. (Which is to say: purple. Whole lotta purple.) And at Emanuel Ungaro, a splattering of baseball jackets and leggings seemed like an afterthought in what was effectively an endless, monotonous, ode to the ruffle.

As Junya Watanabe said when describing his own work: “Neither extreme construction or streetwear stand alone stylistically; they are complementary, and when merged together, stronger.”

The most effective combinations — of aesthetics, companies, families, what have you — demand a rethinking of all ingredients, so that together they create something new. Otherwise you’re neither here nor there.

Certainly, this is what Mr. Watanabe did, in a pull-no-punches reminder that long before there was a recently exalted street-style brand that shall remain unnamed, he was there: ripping and shredding the iconic silhouettes of the Paris ateliers and rebuilding them in sweats and army castoffs, denim and deconstruction. That was also, of course, before he took a mesmerizing detour into heavenly geometry and, not coincidentally, a trip to Berlin.

This season, he returned with all of it intact and integrated: studded denim over ripped lace tights and band T-shirts under sea urchin carapaces and aprons of three-dimensional nylon spikes; Victorian petticoats and floral tea dresses and soccer shirts and silver leather motorcycle pants cloaked in a royal rebel yell of modernism and set to the dulcet tones of Nine Inch Nails.

O.K., well, maybe not so dulcet.

Still, it was convincing, as was the Muzak of Demna Gvasalia’s slyly sardonic, perversely appealing, 1980s cartoon at Balenciaga.

Spandex of the fitness craze kind met giant shoulders and shirred blouses of the glass-ceiling-shattering-kind in stretch stiletto boot-leggings under peplum shirts, battering-ram tailored belted coats and jackets, suitcase-size handbags, lace doily knits and latex evening capes. It was an exercise in kitsch chic.

Not everyone wants to play the game, however. Even though she held her show at the Tennis Club of Paris, for example, Phoebe Philo of CCéline took off the trainers and transformed the venue into an art gallery.

Two monolithic Dan Graham sculptures — one a curving glass S, the other a wall of steel mesh — made from what Ms. Philo called “corporate materials,” framed a collage of form and femininity: rolled suiting trousers with floral chiffon escaping at the ankles under oversize jackets; white cotton dresses with abstracted Yves Klein body blotches on the front (some with strange black widow webs over the breasts); and silk cocktail frocks looped up and around at the back to hug the shoulders and catch the breeze. They stretched the mind and eye more than the body. (And not always in comfortable ways.)

But she was a rare exception to the rule.

All of which is to say that when Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons summed up her collection with the koan “invisible clothes” (or rather, when Rei told her husband, Adrian Joffe, that, and he told everyone else) it was hard not to think that whatever she really meant (and who knows?), her words described as much as anything the current situation. Where fashion as it once was, a world of carefully constructed underpinnings and sculpted femininity, is being swallowed whole by the larger casualization of life.

So it was, anyway, with her women, encased in pillows of tartan, their bodies traced in stitches, so you could just make out what was beneath; disappearing under giant skirts of navy wool and tiny white ruffles that closed on top of them like a whale’s mouth; sandwiched between flattened forms of polka dots and red velvet; sucked into the maw of a velvet collared — coat? or cocoon? it was hard to tell. Maybe they are the same thing.

And maybe it’s the future, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it, but as a result, a period of mourning may be in store. (The soundtrack was from the Polish composer Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3, the “Symphony of 3 Sorrowful Songs.”)

Rumor has it that Ms. Kawakubo is the subject of the next big show at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Andrew Bolton, the chief curator, and Anna Wintour, chairwoman of the annual gala, were in the front row, which would suggest this is true (asked why he was there, Mr. Bolton just giggled). If so, this collection was proof positive as to why. You may not recognize yourself in Ms. Kawakubo’s constructions — you can’t really call them clothes — but they describe a psychic landscape that is piercingly familiar.

The result is an emotional workout. Ultimately, it may be the best kind — for fashion, if not for the physique. At the end, some audience members were in tears. But no one was running for the door.