Paris Fashion Week: Designers take global temperature

Image of Vanessa Friedman

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report on global warming, greenhouse gasses and their potential long-term effects, a summary of a longer research paper that will be published this week, was released just before this weekend’s Paris shows and it made for an interesting, and oddly appropriate, context in which to view the catwalks.

Dame Vivienne Westwood even wrote in her collection notes: “I am going to call the show ‘Everything is connected’ because that is the main message of the Climate Revolution.” Coincidence? Doubtful, which is not to say she was sitting down at her drawing table announcing: “And now I will address climate change!” (although given Dame Viv’s politics, this is actually a possibility). But rather, that designers absorb issues and concerns and ideas floating in the general conversation and then filter them back out through clothes. It’s the job.

In other words, in Dame Vivienne’s case, just because a dress looks like a milkmaid’s paper-thin taffeta frock with a jagged edge doesn’t mean it’s all about costume. Just because plaid lumberjack shirts are layered over a sheer lace ball skirt, which is layered over little shorts, doesn’t mean they are just about creating startling juxtapositions. Sometimes what looks like fashion Dada is actually a wisp of romance about the world we have lost, or a practical solution to a problem.

After all, between unpredictable weather patterns, unpredictable selling seasons and a global clientele, designers have in effect been thinking in multiple temperatures for a while now – spring/summer and autumn/winter are more theoretic concepts than reality. They are creating for every possible eventuality, as was apparent in Raf Simons’ show for Dior.

In a “poisonous” hanging garden, with lush combinations of real greenery and exotic silken orchids and ginger and bougainvillea climbing the walls and dripping from the ceiling, Mr Simons sent out a parade he termed “Trans Dior” and described as “against nature” – though it might be more accurately described as “against Dior’s nature”. Which is to say: against tradition and the dove grey handcuffs of heritage. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but no one could accuse the designer of having a lack of ideas.

So there were classic Bar jackets chopped short over high-waisted black tap trousers (that looked a bit like haute versions of Bridget Jones’s big pants), which themselves were worn over floral print silk pleats, as though a skirt had become caught under the trousers and been left hanging out (not the best look). There were striped cotton shirtdresses, air conditioning windows cut in the shoulders or back, the buttons caught and twisted just off centre, worn with embroidered corsetry (better); mesh sweatshirts with appliqued badges featuring Dior semiotics (worse); and pleated skirts with odd ovals opened up on the hip, perhaps in order to let the backside breathe (who needs it?).

There were floral dancing frocks, the bottoms caught by bands reading “Primrose Path” and “Alice’s Garden” (flounces interruptus) and others with the skirts sliced into ribbons and then turned back on themselves like a kind of cage (very nice), until it all culminated in a finale of multiple versions of silver and black metallic tux dresses that spoke to Dior past, while hoicking it into the future (best).

Indeed, layering, both in terms of meaning and literally for warmth as well as clothes constructed specifically to let the air in, is proving something of a general theme.

At Yohji Yamamoto, for example, trademark tailored jackets had the shoulders sliced and tied on with ribbons or chains, while neon chiffons were piled one atop the other and under track jackets and sweeping frock coats to create a rainbow – plus maybe some sort of geothermal air pockets – and simple shifts came sliced into horizontal bands, held together like window blinds. Now you see skin, now you don’t.

At Viktor & Rolf, a play on schoolgirl uniforms, complete with blazers and spike-studded white shirts, featured as the big idea pleated skirts layered over culottes – a kind of less interesting junior version of the elegant combinaisons on display at Haider Ackermann. There, sheer gowns made from a single layer of tulle or silk Fortuny pleats were worn over narrow trousers and under exactingly cut blazers, the floor-sweeping skirts caught up on one side by a hand tucked in a pants pocket.

Though occasionally the balance was lost, too much sheer, too little scrim, when a burgundy silk and Fortuny smock appeared under a python biker jacket, it was hard to imagine a more potent expression of extreme insouciance.

As it happens, Maison Martin Margiela also used similar elements – precise tailoring and girlie frocks, here more cartoonish, sparkle-laden and circus-inspired – to make a point about the merging of what we tend to categorise, still, as oppositions. Male/female? Hot/cold? Neither are mutually exclusive any more and we might as well admit it.

Perhaps no designer took as many seeming contradictions and created as coherent and convincing a collection as Junya Watanabe, however. Starting with punkish shredded T-shirt dresses, the ends cut into fringelike strips on the diagonal and layered over similarly fringed skirts, he added braids and beads and then reworked it in ultrasuede, sometimes throwing a trenchcoat or a cutaway on top, sometimes tossing collaged denim underneath. Jackets were left open at the back, the sides loosely tied together by a ribbon (from the front, you’re spring, from the back you’re summer!) and all of it looked like the couture wardrobe of Pocahontas after a night at CBGB in New York, moshing with her home on the range counterpart. Which is not to say it was in any way reductive; more like transformative.

It was, in fact, exactly what you’d want to wear to a contemporary rain dance. Or perhaps the 2015 Climate Change conference. It’s going to be held in Paris, after all.

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