February 27, 2014 2:47 pm

Paris Fashion Week: Mastered staples unpicked

It has been a moment of unmasking, from Ukraine to Wall Street, both serious – revelations of deposed President Viktor F Yanukovich’s over-the-top lifestyle – and frivolous: the real names of secret elevator Twitterers. Even in Paris, as the ready-to-wear shows got under way, designers seemed to be seizing the opportunity to undress sartorial prejudices; use clothes as a way to reveal, not conceal, preconceptions.

At Gareth Pugh, for example, the designer’s erstwhile pigeonhole – Goth who deals only in black – was on the table (or the runway, as it were), so Mr Pugh sent out a collection entirely in white, and cream, and silver, full of his signature exaggerated soaring collars, kimono jackets, full skirts and skinny trousers, but with a twist – a real one when it came to the pants, which were of a piece with the wedge shoes, and curlicued up the legs like a pretzel.

Beyond actual garments, however, Mr Pugh was dealing in bias: ideas about what is base and what is haute; what is worthy of being treasured and what is a throwaway. So though some dresses came in densely packed tulle ruffles like so much cotton candy, and coats in ice princess sheepskin, cumulus clouds of jackets were made from what looked like fabric softener, and one ball gown was built from layers of transparency that turned out to be garbage bags.

Even the straight silver trouser and matching razored jackets had a suspicious resemblance to boiler insulation. It was slick and challenging (and quite beautiful), and made you look and think twice about what you assumed you were seeing and how you might value it, in contrast to Ann Demeulemeester.

There, perhaps in reference to the eponymous designer’s departure last November for personal reasons, all was black save three white exits: loose trousers under flowing tunics often draped and tucked at the hip.

It did not seem to have any goal except consistency, unlike Jun Takahashi’s superb collection for Undercover, which used the markers of social strata and their subliminal associations, from crowns and trains to turbans, tartan, sashes, team slogans and toile de Jouy, to suggest the class ties that bind. Literally: scarves twisted through the shoulders and lapels of jackets, twined around the back and then flowed out what would otherwise have been pockets, or became capes, or swaddled the shoulders like a robe, and provided a through-line for a show that spanned great tailoring (straight camel trousers with outsize turn-ups and matching jacket; strapless tuxedo jumpsuit), biker leathers, little dresses and – well, you name it.

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If it was a fashion basic, it was probably in there. And it was, import aside, great. Which is the thing about messing with the staples: you have to master them before you can unpick them.

Perhaps that is why Alexander Wang finally had the confidence to drop the formal Balenciaga mantle that has weighed heavily on his shoulders, and instead relax into his own version of the brand, with notable success. Combining his street/sport aesthetic with the curving vernacular of the house, he sent out rounded wool parkas with fur hoods: slick trousers; tunic dresses; and knits treated like patent. The detail was in the zips, which ran up legs, circled arms, and otherwise criss-crossed borders and bodies (zips made a functional/decorative appearance at Carven, too, on elongated suits and slinky wool dresses, suggesting we may have a trend in the making).

The backs referenced the sack dress without shouting “heritage”, and though the looks occasionally seemed too stiff, and made for editorial, the evening wear – grey knits with shoulder plates of diamonds and pearls; abstracted tuxedo parts – spoke coolly to both past and future while also being entirely present.

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Even at Rochas, where Alessandro Dell’Acqua made a relatively unassertive debut, reworking many of the house’s familiar totems as developed by former designer Marco Zanini, from overblown trapeze shapes to 1950s couture dresses, he at least seemed to be edging into the idea of subverting his received silhouettes, pairing slightly perverse patent leather shirts with below-the-knee pencil skirts dripping silver bristles down one side; appending giant peplums to knits; and layering coats one atop the other – for extra bulk?

Though it was a bit too close to Prada for comfort, at least it did not take its references at face value, as was the case at Vionnet, where a show inspired by “the garden of Fleurs du Mal” and a sketch by Ernesto Thayaht involved . . . tulips. A lot of tulips. They came appliquéd on felt coats and strapless dance dresses, painted on to the frontispiece of bustiers, and represented by shades of new leaf green in knit jumpsuits and crocheted mohair dresses.

Less obvious was the influence of the Yokohama airport, also cited as a starting point, though maybe it was responsible for the greys and navy mixed in with the green, and the slightly awkward constructivist bent of some clothes. Only a few pieces – a dress pleated to curve around the body like an accordion; a simple grey fur jacket – had the honest appeal of their own identity.

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