October 5, 2011 10:28 pm

Chloé deals with the real

Today marks the close of the Conservative party conference in the UK, and David Cameron’s last chance to rouse the party faithful and convince them that his programme of economic sacrifice is the way forward. (What colour tie will he wear for his speech? Smart money says blue.) And across the Channel in Paris, conservatism is still high on the agenda.

How weird is that? A funky fashion/politics mind-meld!

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Well, not really. Big C political Conservatives and small c aesthetic conservatives no longer seem to bear much resemblance to each other, although they do apparently share one belief. As with the chancellor, George Osborne, and his speech at the conference, so with designer Clare Waight Keller and her speech before her debut Chloé show: the sense that this is time to concentrate on “the importance of the real” (Ms Keller’s words).

Mr Osborne said he, Mr Cameron and crew had changed the Tory party to deal with it; Ms Keller has been charged to change her house to deal with it. There’s no sticking your head in the tax-break sand, and no clothing your troubles in acres of baby-doll chiffon. Time to wake up and pile on the T-shirts.

Or, in Ms Keller’s case, the white shirts, which came paired with shorts and layered under a simple chiffon sleeveless dress as evening wear, or with hip-slung pleated skirts or easy, relaxed trousers for day. Indeed there wasn’t much difference between the two, which was, Ms Keller said, a conscious decision because she felt what people needed now is “naturalness”.

Certainly, she was not offering up the sort of fairy-tale or experimental construction that is often de rigueur on the Paris catwalks.

Case in point: Chanel’s all-white aquatic fantasy of a set, where designer Karl Lagerfeld began from the house’s classic pearls and plunged onwards. So little tweed day dresses came adorned with iridescent ribbons of blue, shortened sparkling evening gowns frothed barnacle-esque growths of ruffles at the hips and shoulders, and there were oyster-bed discs of organza-paved skirts.

It was oft-times beguiling; sometimes, as in the case of a long stretch-silver skirt with elastic waistband, forced. But unquestionably it was the embodiment of the popular fashion wisdom that says what people need is the “dream” – clothes that allow them, at least in their imagination, to escape to a better place, be it a mermaid’s realm, or Rome in the late 1950s and 1960s, as channelled in Giambattista Valli’s show.

Witness little shifts in a geometric patchwork of silver, silk and brocade, zebra tunics edged in ruffles over matching zebra trousers, or brocade versions of the same, and print shells trimmed in tiers of silk fringe or even feathers, all seemingly destined for La Dolce Vita.

Yet, beautiful as such clothes are, and happy as they look to wear, they are unavoidably imbued with the sartorial scent of nostalgia. (Mr Valli said his inspiration was “memories”.) In refuting such an approach in her first collection, Ms Keller is setting her vision up as an alternative candidate for the consumer closet. The risk is that natural, easy clothes are often harder to differentiate or justify than complicated, decorative ones, even if said easy clothes include a very good version of the basic shirt/trouser: here in white chiffon shirt with a navy placket in the front paired with white trousers belted in navy.

It is as yet unclear what is going to set Ms Keller’s Chloé apart, though the long pleated sundresses pieced together so each pleat was capped with a slice of colour were a beginning.

After all, it’s one thing to wipe a slate clean; another to propose a plan for moving forward. In her debut, Ms Keller did the first but not the second.

For that, look to Stefano Pilati of Yves Saint Laurent, who took the painterly palette of the house, rethought it in loden green, teal, raspberry and steel grey, and then trimmed it down. So skinny trousers came paired with organza halter tops (a look popularised by Haider Ackermann, though Mr Pilati’s version was more accessible), or jackets cut with a generous curve at the back, straight skirts with a bit of flounce at the hem and baroque paisley print dresses that swept the floor.

Conservative, yes, in YSL terms – in line with its Belle de Jour/sex-in-a-suit/pretend-boho history – but with enough heightened reality to withstand the public gaze. The big C sector would understand.

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