March 10, 2010 11:18 pm

Change of designers rocks the houses

Whatever happens to the house of McQueen – and the rumours have already started, with Gareth Pugh’s publicist forced to issue a denial that the young English designer had even talked to Gucci Group, McQueen’s corporate parent , as the whispers were so loud – the difficulty of moving from one brand vision to another (even if it’s because of the quotidian, like retirement, as opposed to the tragic), was on full display on the penultimate day of the women’s wear season.

At Chloé, for example, which is on its second designer since its super-buzz days under Phoebe Philo (she resigned to spend time with her family four years ago), creative director Hannah MacGibbon is still struggling to craft a new identity for the house. This season her focus was on camel, and a 1970s Charlie Girl feeling, with large men’s coats, flared, high-waisted trousers, and knit sweat suits on the runway.

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The only dresses were simple two-beige-tone shifts; the only sparkle came from a bizarre gold-embroidered black-velvet on denim moment, and a sequined herringbone twin set, worn with matching unsequinned trousers.

As pieces, they were nice enough – simple and pared-down, in line with seasonal trends – but they have a look-back-in-irony edge that is a luxury of boom times, and feels discordant today. The show notes claimed a “nonchalant attitude”, but most consumers who can afford these clothes have seen
their bank balance dip precipitously in the past two years, and chances are nonchalance is not what they are after; a sense of the future, maybe, but not the past. It’s time to lower the raised eyebrow.

By contrast, at Valentino, Pier Paolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri, who assumed the helm following an interregnum with another designer after the brand’s founder retired, are working hard at building a language of their own for the house . And whatever you think of the clothes, in this they have almost succeeded. Their Valentino is built on light-as-air luxe components – lace, tulle, chiffon – that are grounded by shade and shape.

To be specific, t he palette is predominantly nude, white and black, and the silhouette is unstructured and based on a T-shirt. This works well in blouses and tops of sheer lace layered over openwork black leather mesh, thin as thread trench jackets with rosettes blooming on one side; and car coats in black cashmere finished by an undulating edge of black leather – though is less successful in trousers with a ruffle on one hip, and tiered dresses over-egged by chiffon
at the neck.

What’s interesting is their inversion of the traditional fashion hierarchy: they treat leather like lace, and lace as though it was cotton. It’s Valentino, but not as we know it. And that is as it has to be.

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