September 30, 2012 8:41 pm

Richness betrays bankruptcy of ideas

Showy collections by Jean Paul Gaultier and Viktor & Rolf in Paris demonstrate that no amount of bells and whistles can hide a lack of inspiration

On Saturday, the truth that “richness,” when applied to fashion, does not necessarily have anything to do with adornment but rather the work and thought put into a garment, was powerfully driven home by two collections that came with all sorts of bells and whistles – and crystals and lamé – on the surface, but proved aesthetically bankrupt underneath.

The first was Viktor & Rolf, where designers Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren looked to “the Golden Age of Hollywood” (cue Jean Harlow and Joan Crawford) for a series of floor-sweeping asymmetric plissé gowns in black and white and silver – pretty enough, if straight from the MGM costume department – but then added odd sprouting bows at the belly of some harem trousers and the shoulders of a button-down shirt, and then mirrored appliqué roses and bows that resembled shards of a shattered disco ball, and then put it all together on what turned out to be shaved tulle tops and skirts, but looked more like a wearable china pet.

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Vanessa Friedman

It was gimmicky in an obvious way, trading subtlety for glibness (Knock knock/Who’s there?/Bow/ Bow who?/Bow-jangles!), though it was not quite as flimsy as Jean Paul Gaultier’s collection, which was like a giant Band-Aid placed over an even larger well of emptiness.

Mr Gaultier is a truly talented designer who can cut a tailleur or a tuxedo suit with an ineffable sense of the Parisian (witness his couture), so this ready-to-wear collection was particularly disappointing. Dedicated to the music stars who inspired him in his glory years – Sade, David Bowie, Boy George, Madonna, Annie Lennox – it came complete with models done up to look like said singers and a pastiche of clothing that looked like it came from the flea market bin: Chinese silk pyjamas; fishnet, harnesses and lace undies; a red metallic leather jacket and black trousers; jersey jumpsuits with kitschy silver leather trim; and so on. Only a few tux suits and raffia dresses came close to what Mr Gaultier is capable of, and even then they soon evolved into body suits with bumster trousers that left great swaths between the hip and the thigh exposed (the fleshy part most women don’t want seen), and peekaboo crochet numbers.

It was more like a 1980s pseudo-cabaret show than a womenswear show, and it was difficult to understand the point. At least when Kenzo designers Humberto Leon and Carol Lim indulged themselves in kitsch via embroidered lions surrounded by a “Kenzo Jungle” logo on the backs of jackets, or exaggerated Crayola-coloured leopard prints, they did it with a hint of irony, and balanced it with simple cotton safari jackets and off-the-shoulder dresses (let’s just forget the diaper skirts that draped through the legs leaving the thighs free). No matter what’s going on in the world, it’s never smart to be frugal with ideas.

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