October 1, 2012 5:28 pm

Paris Fashion Week: day five

Giambattista Valli was notably restrained, Hermès was hardly controversial while Marx prints offered an evocative turn of events

For an industry obsessed with making a statement, fashion is playing it very subdued all of a sudden. Designers are leaving the protesting and posturing to the demonstrators on the streets. Last week there was a march for the deaf (complete with marching band); yesterday the anti-austerity brigades were out chanting.

But aside from a somewhat overblown show from Bill Gaytten at John Galliano, with giant pantaloons, voluminous jackets and billowing drapery, as Sunday turned into Monday in Paris, all was quiet on the western fashion front.

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Vanessa Friedman

Granted, this is only to be expected from a house such as Akris, which has carved out an identity as a thinking woman’s always-appropriate brand. But this season marks its 90th birthday, and could have provided a legitimate opportunity for a blow-out. While designer Albert Kriemler did show 90 looks in a quasi-fabric retrospective, the aesthetic is so consistent no piece looked out of date, and all were marked by a characteristic confidence.

So there were flared or narrow leather trousers under crisp white shirts, slouchy matte sequinned cocktail dresses and T-shirts, suits created from layers of ultra-thin strips, and an embroidered material that went from chiffon sheer to being slightly sprinkled with thread to a dense texture without any clear demarcations at all. If woven checkerboard dresses were unusually see-through, it was in order to show the workmanship in the fabric, as opposed to the body beneath. And odds-are they’ll come with a slip once they reach the shelves in the shops.

It was the prints, however, that were most evocative, both in a micro and macro sense. Digitised photos of a garden by Roberto Burle Marx, the Brazilian landscape architect, evoked the curves and detail work beloved of Kriemler. But Marx is also a many-times-removed relative of that other Marx, and the generational progress from socialist revolutionary to landscape architect is not a bad metaphor for the turn of events in Paris.

After all, when Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy, who made his name by shaking up the house Audrey Hepburn helped build with his own gothic, streetwise obsessions, sites “neoclassicism and the essence of Parisian couture” as his influences, and then sends out a parade of ruffled crêpe dresses and shirts over skinny trousers in shades of powder blue and white, it suggests a broader change in direction.

Add in ecru tunics with half moon curves at the sides to create faux shoulders, offset the ruffled organza transparency with priestly tabards and high collars, finish with balloon-sleeved pleated taffeta blouses – and what were once naughty looks become more obviously nice.

Even Giambattista Valli, who can get so excited by ruffles that he turns women into topiary, was notably restrained, alternating neatly tailored suiting with pretty white-on-white day dresses and decorating cocktail suits sparingly with crystals.

Maiyet has always worn its politics on its sleeve, with embroideries and block prints done in challenged areas such as India and Indonesia, combined with classic tailoring and high-fashion references, be they safari or soigné. The drive to create sustainable businesses and high style don’t always sit seamlessly together but this season, which has been heavy on both prints and wildlife influences, the pairing worked well, especially in dual-layer spaghetti strap dresses, a terrific black tie jumpsuit, a white over-embroidered vest melting into black silk trousers. They were quietly effective.

Likewise, at Hermès, designer Christophe Lemaire played it his most non-controversial yet in scarf-patterned silk pyjama separates in jarring pattern combinations; neat leather or crocodile city shorts; and graphic trim on rough linen outerwear. It was a commendable attempt to translate the expertise and identity of the brand’s accessories into clothing (and when an enormous Kelly bag with geometric, Josef Albers-like prints in a strip on the side came out to match the clothes, it was notably cool), but it was also a little boring.

There’s a fine line between moderation, in fashion as in all things, and muffling a distinctive voice. Finding a way between the two is the challenge, as Stella McCartney well knows. Her very accessibility, and refusal to put it at the service of design bells and whistles, has always been her statement. Consider her stretch pleated sheaths, built on a curve of neon orange and transparency but made to allow for the longest strides; shirtdresses wrapped and belted low on the hip; and dual-print strapless all-in-one with contrasting dots. Trousers were cropped to display longer sheer linings, jackets were oversized and sweatshirts were see-through mesh. It was all part of her usual idiom but lightened up and rendered more sporty for spring.

This being Paris, however, which tends to swing from evolution to revolution at the blast of a flashbulb, things may look different tomorrow.

After all, next up is Hedi Slimane’s debut for Yves Saint Laurent. He’s already changed the name of the ready-to-wear line (it’s now Saint Laurent), redesigned the stores and overhauled the website. It’s hard to imagine he’s going to compromise on the catwalk.

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