Paris Fashion Week: Final leg of womenswear marathon

And so the fashion hordes have descended on Paris, kitten heels clicking, for the final leg of the womenswear marathon.

Coincidentally, as the first global brands unveiled their spring/summer 2014 collections, François Hollande’s socialist government unveiled its full 2014 budget, and perhaps the potential contrast between slow economic recovery and glossy high-end, wholly unnecessary product accounts for the subdued atmosphere of the shows. For despite an upbeat message from the Élysée – “The recovery is here,” Mr Hollande was quoted in the Financial Times as saying last month – compared with Milan, where the message from Italian fashion’s governing body was relentlessly positive and promotional, French fashion seems in a much more cautious state. It is similarly a big national industry – France’s second-largest – but at least at the moment, it isn’t in bragging mode.

The biggest party of the week is shaping up to be a museum opening – the renovated Musée Galliera, which launches with an Alaïa retrospective on Wednesday night. A select group received a handwritten invite for a “home away from home” event hosted by Kering’s chief executive François-Henri Pinault and his wife, Salma Hayek: casual, quiet, behind closed doors. And the clothes themselves? They started on mute, and then began to make some noise.

Young brand Aganovich kicked things off with an understated, graceful parade of mostly black, cream and white looks, with the occasional shot of red for good measure. Silhouettes were elongated, and flowing, often based on the couture toile: all-in-ones with wide trousers caught in neat origami folds at a high waist; jackets and coats with a fluttering cape-like panel at the back. The net effect was pretty, and low-key, as befitted (no pun intended) pieces that would move quietly through a life.

At Dries Van Noten, however, a different note began to sound. Literally. Against the deep, sonorous riffs of a solo performance from Radiohead’s bass player Colin Greenwood (commissioned specifically for the show), came a melody ranging from the pure and unadorned – untreated cottons and linens in slouchy trousers, long shorts, peasant shirts and jackets – to the highly decorative.

Stiffly pleated ruffles “on speed”, as Mr Van Noten said, curved up full skirts, over the hips and hems of shift dresses, and across the simplest sweaters. Ethnic embroideries ended in outsize tassels or were woven through with tiny shells. A floral damask found in the archives of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (where Mr Van Noten will have a retrospective next year) was turned inside out, so the loose embroidery threads became the glossy surface of a car coat, or reproduced in silver on neat trousers and a sleeveless jacket.

It was, in other words, a little dangerous, a little romantic, a little earthy, and a little rock ‘n’ roll – the sort of melange of references and eras that could be highly dissonant, but in Mr Van Noten’s hands became, instead, lyrical. The result didn’t raise expectations, but rather crept up on you, and then created them. Given the broader context in France, it’s a pretty clever tune, really, with which to start the week.

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